At this time of year in the NFL, there is no rest for the weary. And there’s certainly no rest for Rams general manager Billy Devaney and his staff as they bring together all of the information they’ve accumulated on draft prospects from the past year.
“I went home and went to sleep last night with (college scouting director) John Mancini’s voice in my head saying, ‘He’s 6’4, 240 pounds,’” Devaney said, laughing. “I’m thinking “oh my God, shut up Mancini.’”
After spending months on the road turning over every rock and talking to anyone and everyone, it’s finally crunch time for NFL scouting departments with the NFL Draft set to begin on April 28.
In St. Louis, just as any NFL city around the league right now, the team’s scouts have united in one place to bring all of that hard work into focus so the Rams can finally begin the process of piecing their draft boards together.
This week, all of the Rams’ area scouts have assembled at the Russell Training Center where every day they meet with Devaney, head coach Steve Spagnuolo and other members of the coaching staff to go position by position to create the draft boards.
On Monday, the Rams began their position meetings in which the scouts, Devaney, Spagnuolo and the appropriate coaches sit down and begin putting together what they call their “front” board, the list of players they deem draftable.
“We read each player, their strengths and weaknesses, we look at the combine workout,” Devaney said. “We discuss background, medical, any character concerns and put a numerical grade after everything is hashed out and work our way down. We start at the top with the top rated guys and work our way down.”
For example, the Rams sat down on Monday and discussed the offensive linemen with line coach Steve Loney and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in the room. On Wednesday, it was running backs with position coach Sylvester Croom and McDaniels in the room.
Save for the offensive line, special teams coordinator Tom McMahon will also sit in on meetings to give his perspective of a player’s special teams potential.
Once they assemble in that room, the meetings last most of the day and are a bit of a grind according to Devaney.
“This stuff goes all day,” Devaney said. “This is the grind part. This is the worst part of the draft preparation because it’s a necessary evil. You have just got to plod your way through. Every day is like Groundhog Day, you’re removed from everything else going on in the world right now. It’s all draft stuff and hashing out and kind of discussing – sometimes heatedly – where a guy should be ranked.”
Part of the reason the process is such a grind is because of the way Devaney has set it up for his staff.
In some places, gathering the input of every scout is not something that’s much of a priority. But Devaney has worked hard to ensure that every scout knows that the meetings are intended to be a place where ideas and thoughts can be expressed openly and candidly.
“It’s kind of fun because everybody has their say,” Devaney said. “Nobody is dogmatic. I usually don’t say anything and Spags may voice an opinion a little bit here and there but we want coaches and scouts to have the freedom to express themselves without thinking ‘Oh God, the general manager or head coach doesn’t like this guy.’ We want them to be absolutely comfortable giving their opinions on a player.”
Essentially, the meetings of this week (which will carry into next week a little bit) are the culmination of a lot of hard work and the part where all the plethora of information that’s been gathered is pulled together for final evaluations.
Once the work is done on the positional rankings, the Rams will begin the process of stacking their overall board. That process begins next week and entails the Rams ranking players up to five full rounds of this year’s draft.
That’s when they begin ranking players in an overall sense to build an idea of who they rank as the overall best players in the draft regardless of position.
“We take those front board guys we have by position and just pull off all the 7.0s and say how would we rank these?” Devaney said. “Let’s assume we have the first pick in the draft for the Rams, who are we taking and we‘ll put that guy up there. OK, he’s gone. We’ve got the second pick, which guy are we taking? And that’s when you hear us say your grades will lead you to the guy that you take.”
When draft day comes, Devaney’s philosophy is to stick to the board. That’s where the old need vs. best player available debate comes into focus. For instance, one position might be loaded on talent but those players could have rankings across a spectrum of the board.
With the 14th pick in this year’s draft, it’s possible the top three players at one spot could be ranked in and drafted in the top 13, leaving the Rams with a choice of taking someone they have ranked 12th overall at a different spot or moving down their board to take a guy who might be ranked 24th overall on their board.
That’s where Devaney says it’s important to rely on the work the scouts have done in establishing the board.
“You have to be prepared for everything but what you want to do is stay true to your board,” Devaney said. “You don’t want to reach for a player just because you may lose a position in the first round.”
In addition to the board stacking, there are a couple of other keynote events coming in advance of the draft.
Next week, the Rams will host their pre-draft visitors. Teams are allowed up to 30 rookie prospects to make a visit to their facilities and go through final physicals before the draft. The Rams will have fewer than the maximum 30 allowable in on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
Further, teams are also allowed to hold workouts for local prospects that are eligible for the draft. The Rams will host that on April 20, inviting four or five prospects from the St. Louis area to come to the Russell Training Center for a workout.
Beyond that, Devaney and Co. will spend the rest of the time continuing to stack the board and beginning to do the scenario game where they run through countless mock drafts so they are prepared for numerous situations come draft day.
“This is really when the grunt work is done, the important work, where our scouts do such a good job,” Devaney said. “We get our board and it’s pretty darn close. There will be a surprise or two but our scouts are on top of it. When I say we let the board dictate our pick, it’s because we have so much confidence that we put the right grade and the right evaluation and that are scouts have done such a good job evaluating these guys and getting them lined up in the right place, it makes our job that much easier.”