Many love the NFL Draft, specifically the day, or now days picks are made. Scot McCloughan loves it more.
Many believe they understand the draft. The Redskins general manager believes he sees what others cannot. He knows what makes a good football player.
Moments after arriving at the Bethesda North Marriott Saturday night for the eighth annual Washington Football Legends scholarship gala, McCloughan was asked about his favorite part of the draft process. After pausing long enough in thought for a DeSean Jackson deep pattern, a contemplative McCloughan answered BreakingBurgundy.com with hints of boyish enthusiasm.
"Draft Day," McCloughan stated. "Just the whole board is set. Looking at it, seeing what other teams are doing, trades that are made, where players are going."
Washington's second-year general manager, noted talent evaluator and roster building savant continued.
"Just watching my board go. It's like a mathematician. He's looking at it and things light up. It's really cool."
That description of how McCloughan views the draft day experience brought to mind a scene from the Oscar-winning film "A Beautiful Mind" which dramatized the life of Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash.
Actor Russell Crowe's portrayal of Nash in this scene shows a man fixated on various numbers and code over his surroundings. Even if McCloughan sees the overall board lighting up, he's not lost in thought, but rather "locked in and ready to roll" when the Redskins are on the clock. Washington has the 21st selection and eight picks overall in the 7-round draft that runs April 28-30.
Nash's research and work in game theory proved influential in economics and other fields. McCloughan's previous work with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks proved influential with putting winning teams on the football field.
Hired by the Redskins in January 2015, he brought those ideas to Washington. Understanding McCloughan's basic plan doesn't require a high degree in mathematics, but rather a sufficient grasp of what makes successful football players tick. Considering the approach isn't about a quick fix, plenty of patience is another requirement.
"What I want to do is build through the draft no matter what," McCloughan said. "We'll sign some free agents, but it's character, it's a flair, it's the passion, it's the competitiveness. I don't need the biggest, fastest, strongest. I need football players. We get enough football players, we're doing just fine. Win more than we lose and that's all we can ask for."
The Redskins did indeed win more than they lost last season. The 9-7 record didn't rewrite the franchise record book, but was good enough for Washington's first NFC East title since 2012. Several rookies drafted by McCloughan, including guard Brandon Scherff, pass rusher Preston Smith and wide receiver Jamison Crowder played important roles. Dashon Goldson and Ricky Jean Francois were among selected veteran additions McCloughan signed to help rid dysfunction from the locker room culture.
Three weeks after the start of free agency and one month before the 2016 draft, McCloughan is taking the same general approach with an even greater emphasis on the picks. Last year he signed several players and made 10 draft selections. Now he wants 12 picks, which would be four times the amount of outside free agents signed to date.
McCloughan attended the gala to accept an award on behalf of quarterback Kirk Cousins and participate in the event, along with coach Jay Gruden and several former Redskins, which helps provide scholarships for minority higher education assistance.
"Being [a part] of an NFL team is phenomenal. It's great. The players, the coaches, the fan base, all of that stuff is good, but to have the ability to give back something is huge to me,"McCloughan said. "We have the ability to do that because it's the NFL, because we're the Washington Redskins. To be able to help somebody else out, help people out, it's what we want to do."
Over three days in late April, McCloughan's wants will be clear. Actually, he's ready to share the first round plan before entering the ballroom.
"I can tell you," the GM said with a wry smile. Standing in the entryway, McCloughan lowered his head while moving closer to the reporter. His voice dropped to a volume level or two above a whisper.
"We're going to take a good football player."
That's no secret. Based on McCloughan's draft record and beautiful mind, that's the expectation.
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