Sports Outside the Beltway

Gil Brandt on NFL Draft Philosophies

Legendary former Dallas Cowboys GM Gil Brandt gives some insights into how NFL draft rooms work–and the importance of the draft in building a quality team–in an interview with the NYT.

NYT: How much can one player, a rookie, change the fortunes of a team?

BRANDT: I think that it all depends upon where the player goes. If you’re Dan Marino and you’re the 25th player picked in the draft and you go to a team that had a good record the year before, you’re going to do better than if you’re a Peyton Manning or a Troy Aikman, both of whose teams went on to eventually win Super Bowls.

Troy Aikman, in his first year with the Cowboys, went 0-11. And Peyton Manning went 3-13 with the Colts. Ultimately, both of them went on to win. One is in the Hall of Fame, one will be in the Hall of Fame. One won three Super Bowls, and one won a Super Bowl and is still active.

You can go to last year and Reggie Bush was the second player picked in the draft, so obviously that team had a poor record the year before and obviously Reggie Bush was a big factor in the New Orleans Saints making it to the N.F.C. championship game. It doesn’t happen often that one guy goes to a poor team and they make the playoffs the next year. It happens rarely.

NYT: How important is the N.F.L. draft compared to free agency and trades in building a team?

BRANDT: There is no question in my mind that it is extremely important. In last year’s Pro Bowl, there were 97 players. Of the 97, only one was traded from one team to another and was in the Pro Bowl last year. That was Champ Bailey of Denver. Only nine players of the remaining 96 had then signed as free agents. All of the rest of them were with the team that drafted them. What it kind of tells you is that the good players usually don’t get traded. Usually, people are re-signing them and recognizing how important it is to keep those people in the building of a team for success.

NYT: As the draft progresses, how much is done on the fly? Or do teams have all scenarios pretty well mapped out?

BRANDT: Everybody usually goes into the draft and they have their players rated in order from 1 to, let’s say, 200. Then they have those players broken down into plateaus. Let’s say 1-9 is one plateau and 10-21 is another plateau. What most people do is that they draft and take the best player available. So if you’re drafting at 32 and you have a player in that second plateau and he’s your 14th-ranked player – let’s say you’re San Diego and you have a great running back – I don’t think you want to pass that 14th-ranked player who is a running back, even if you have the best running back in football because you don’t want to pass up the best player available to go to a lesser player to fill a need. In other words, we want a linebacker and when we pick at 32, our first linebacker is our 37th-ranked player we have rated. Do we want pass on the 14th-ranked player for 37th-ranked player? I don’t want to do that.

I don’t think any of it is guess work. Every one of these players has been graded by scouts on their campuses, by people through tape. They’ve seen them at the combine, and they’ve had individual workouts. But some people like strawberry ice cream and some like vanilla ice cream. They’re both good.

But the thoroughness that goes into the draft is unbelievable. The one thing, even with psychological testing now, the one thing people can’t measure is, once a player gets money, is he going to work as hard to remain a success as he did before he got money?

For all that preparation, though, the number of busts is extraordinary, even at the top of the draft. The number of number one overall selections that just didn’t pan out in the NFL despite all the college game film, combine stats, and personal workouts continues to astound me.

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