In the last of three stories at BucsBlitz.com, Matthew Postins examines some of the factors that will determine who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select in this weekend's NFL Draft. Today, it's about all about what happens in the Draft Room.
Nothing seems to excite Tampa Bay general manager more than football. So this time of year he feels like it's Christmas.
Especially when his scouts, coaches and team administrators are all in the same room debating the upcoming draft.
"But there's nothing like saying, ‘All right, that guard vs. that DB vs. that linebacker vs. that wide receiver vs. that quarterback vs. that tight end,'" Allen said earlier this week. "When you have all your scouts in the room and all the coaches in the room, to watch the debate that ensues from that question is marvelous. The spirit these coaches (have) — they can become campaign managers when they're done coaching. They make up highlight tapes that are unbelievable. If the receiver's dropped a ball you would never know it. That part of the debate is quite exciting."
That's where the Buccaneers are right now entering the final 24 hours before the draft. The debate is raging in the Bucs' new Draft Room in the second floor of their new training facility at One Buc Place. By now Tampa Bay has winnowed its wish list to 125 players. These are the players the Buccaneers will choose from this weekend. They'll likely only get nine of them through the draft.
Getting to this point is a year-long journey.
"It's impossible to measure (the time spent scouting and preparing)," Allen said. "Some of these players are guys the scouts saw the year before. I don't think you could calculate the amount of time"
But whoever the Bucs take in the first round will have been on the Bucs' minds for quite some time.
The team's scouts began working in late May of last year, breaking down the senior prospects (the NFL prohibits teams from scouting potential juniors until they've declared for the draft). That's mostly film work. Bucs director of scouting Dennis Hickey said scouts watch at least three games on each of their assigned players during the summer.
Then during the college football season area scouts scour the nation watching football games. The higher-profile players, Hickey said, usually get three more viewings live. Then comes bowl season and the postseason all-star games.
"A highly-rated prospect, you can watch 15 games when it's all said and done," Hickey said. "Some guys are harder to figure out."
Once the games are over it's time for the National Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Allen said the Bucs, like most teams, put in 20-hour days interviewing and grading each of the players in attendance.
After the combine scouts become detectives, visiting with family, friends, former coaches and teammates of prospective picks to find out everything they can about a player. Among the red flags:
Violence against a woman, repeated drug violations more serious than marijuana, a pattern of problems with the law (DUIs and firearms) and past involvement with gangs. A player's perceived immaturity and bad work habits can also downgrade a player in the eyes of a team.
During March and April scouts are also hitting college campuses around the country for Pro Days, when prospective players go through the combine workouts again, plus do specialized work with particular teams.
Also in April NFL teams are allowed 30 in-house visits, which allow teams to work out prospective picks again, interview them again, have them interact with potential teammates and do "board work," or breaking down plays on a wipeboard.
By now, every team should be so close to their prospective picks that nothing should come as a surprise. Hickey said the final two weeks find the coaches, scouts and team administrators in the same room, engaging in that great debate that Allen seems to love.
"There's a lot of disagreements because it's a subjective thing, the evaluation of players," Hickey said. "That's where we're at now. It's not crazy. It's calm, it's collected. We're just trying to get each individual player rated right, know how we feel about them, what the concerns are, what will he be when he gets into our building, what kind of role does he fit. All of those things, we're just trying to hammer that out now."
In Tampa Bay's system, everyone has a say. A high-profile prospect, such as Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, could get viewings by at least seven different people, including the area scout, cross-check scouts, the position coach, the coordinator, coach Jon Gruden and Allen.
"It's supposed to be organized but sometimes it will get heated," Allen said. "It's all with the intention of improving the team."
Allen and Gruden are the chief decision-makers, and they don't always agree. Allen said that's to be expected in this system.
"It doesn't matter," Allen said. "The Bucs got better whoever you pick, and that applies to the seventh round.
On draft day, Hickey's role is that of value counselor. He enters the conversation if Allen or Gruden has a question about the player's value as it relates to that point in the draft.
And as each pick comes around, the Bucs believe they're accounted for every contingency — and that includes players they might have had their eye on that are gone by their next selection.
"You don't have just one player when it's coming to your time on the clock," Allen said. "Usually you have a group of two or three players. If it's close sometimes, like it was last year actually, and one of the early rounds we had two players, and it was three picks ahead of us. When the team didn't take it, we felt comfortable we were going to get one of the two players we wanted."
And the debates don't end after the first day, either.
"The seventh round has probably some of the greatest debates because you're afraid you're not going to be able to sign the other players (you're considering) as undrafted free agents," Allen said. "That's when you really get some heavy lobbying going on."