The NFL Draft beginning Thursday night should be sponsored by Zantac, as much of that stomach-soothing medication will be main-lined in NFL war rooms around the League this week. Every staff of every team is parsing, rating, rethinking, second-guessing and then lining up the candidates according to the best information they have. And after they have the players ranked from No. 1 to free agency, they sit in the war room and stare at the board for hours, zombies agonizing on their evaluations of players who are likely to be available when they go on the clock.
For the last month, Coach Sean Payton, GM Mickey Loomis and the Saints personnel guys have been sitting in front of the draft board, scheming, disagreeing and maybe arguing about the relative merits of this player over that one. There may not be a word said for long stretches, but then one voice will start the conversation. "We have more pressing need than another corner," one might say, "but what if Player A is sitting there at No. 15?" Several scenarios ensue and so it goes. Before Commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the microphone and says "With the fifteenth pick, the New Orleans Saints ..." come months of fact-gathering, chasing down rumors, listening to lies while telling others, and crafting scenario after scenario about what the team will do IF …
The weeks leading up to the draft is the annual cotillion that involves not only club people but the beat reporters who are trying feverishly to get inside the heads of those who will make the picks. But it goes both ways. Personnel people call their favorite reporters to trade a piece of inconsequential information for some intelligence on what the teams immediately ahead of them are doing. The Saints also have called every team in the League to determine these facts: To the team above them: Would you be willing to trade out of your position, and if so what would it take? To the teams below: Would you be interested in trading up into our No. 15 spot?
No scenario will be ignored, because that might be just the situation they find themselves in. Teams start with their rating, which is a cumulative assessment of opinions where one player ranks over others at his position and overall. The conclusion of the evaluation process results in the team identifying a handful of true difference-makers who would make their job easy if they were available at your pick. There might be three, six or ten players in this draft with that "can't miss" label. A difference-maker does not necessarily equate to need, in other words, if you need a rush end and a rush end is there, you automatically pick him. Not so. You look for the difference-makers, who are devoid of the need issue. Difference-makers can come at any position, even one which the Saints are relatively in good shape.
Sometimes, teams ahead of you will reach and make an unexpected pick. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is why one player rated down the board by most teams will inevitably be selected higher. If such favors push a difference-maker within tantalizing reach at, say, the No. 12 slot, the Saints would call the No. 12 team and get a solid offer of what it would take to move into that spot. I have even seen teams trade with the team directly in front of them, just so that team won't trade the pick to another team that covets the same player.
In the event the difference-makers are gone, they will have identified a second tier of quality players who would upgrade the team, regardless of position. But if one of those players is available when they go on the clock, that still is not a guarantee he will be picked. What if another team calls offering extra draft choices to trade down three spots? Will your top-rated guy still be there after two or three more teams pick? The Saints have studied the teams immediately below them and have a good idea of their needs. So you either take the additional picks and roll the dice that your guy will be around in three slots, or you pick him now and don't take a chance.
That decision was not made on draft day. It was made weeks before when that exact scenario was discussed. And this is the week when all that fact-finding and scheming is put to the test. The best possible scenario is that when the Saints go on the clock, one player will be available who the team believes will make a difference. At that point, the Saints will say a Hail Mary for their good fortune, take the pick and move on.
Hisnew book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is available at Amazon.com and at local bookstores. And don't forget his website: www.JWMillerSports.com