The NFL pre-draft visits just wrapped up around the league and garner headlines as draftniks try to peg which prospects teams like the most. Bills GM Buddy Nix calls the visits “just a piece of puzzle” in getting as clear a picture on a player as possible. But the Bills do use the pre-draft visit for a specific purpose that goes beyond just medical updates and final background checks.
“One of the things that we bring them in here for is to be sure about their learning ability,” said Nix. “We let them spend time with the position coach when they’re in here. Our coaches don’t scout. They look at tape and they visit with the guys at the combine and then we bring them in here to put them on the board.”
Teams can watch all of the film that they want to, but these visits provide an organization a unique chance to really get to know a player in and out. More importantly, they get to pick their brains about football to see what they really know about the game and how much football knowledge they can absorb.
Pre-draft visits started for the Bills on March 28th and concluded on April 18th just eight days before the NFL Draft. The maximum number of visits that a team is allotted during that time period is 30. The Bills used all 30 visits during this three week time period.
Buffalo hosted star caliber players like Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne and Ryan Tannehill at One Bills Drive. The team received visits from potential top picks in the draft and from players not expected to go until the later rounds on either Friday or Saturday next week.
Every visit gives a rookie another opportunity to set the record straight on everything from their skill set to passion for the game, but such visits with coaches might be the best proving ground for players to convince teams they know the ‘x’s and ‘o’s of the game.
Players like LSU CB Morris Claiborne have the chance to show that a poor Wonderlic Test score should not deter a team from selecting him high in the draft. A quarterback like Wisconsin's Russell Wilson can make his pitch for why a team should use a late round draft pick on an undersized quarterback from the Big Ten.
“The test scores, all those things are indicators for you and they’re red flags that you have to check out,” said Nix. “A lot of times a guy can play football but can’t read and do tests. You’ve got to find out how much football he knows.”
It is crucial for rookies to prove to the coaches during their visits that they can fit well into their specific offensive or defensive scheme. Coaches can evaluate all of the film they want, but at the end of the day they want to know how versatile a player can be at picking up different coaching terminologies and styles. Players can show their football intelligence on the drawing board that may impress a coach more so than a play they made on film.
“The more you can find out, the more of the pieces you check out the better chance you’ve got (to get it right),” said Nix. “Again part of the reason we bring them in here to make sure that we don’t draft a guy and then a year later the coach says, ‘I can’t play him, he can’t learn,’ or he doesn’t know what to do.”
Solid game film is certainly the most important factor for a coach when it comes to the draft. On the other hand, two very similar players may only be separated on a team’s draft board based on their knowledge of the game that they show a coaching staff on a visit.
“Everything else about a player you can see,” said Nix. “But when you start trying to figure out how our guys are going to do as far as scheme and learning from the playbook or learning from the board you actually need to put him up there and see what he does and what he retains.”