With the college all-star games complete Buffalo's college scouting staff will be huddling up in the Bills team meeting room at One Bills Drive today. From February until the end of April the team meeting room becomes the scouting department's draft room. With the majority of the reports complete on upwards of 700 college prospects the process of assembling their primary draft board begins now.
"This is where we try to get the hay in the barn," said Director of College Scouting Chuck Cook. "We've been on the road. We've been through the fall season. We've seen the all-star games. That's phase one to get through the offseason and get the all-stars in and we get the board ready now pre-Combine. The Combine comes up here in a couple of weeks so we need to get every prospect situated in a round parameter at this point in time based on what we have to go on so far."
What the scouts are still working to complete at this time is putting together a full background character assessment of the junior eligibles.
"Putting the juniors in has really been what our scouts have been busting their tails on to get done," Cook said. "We just got them January 19th, which was the last day that the juniors had to be processed. None of them rescinded, so we've got all 73 of them and our guys have been working to get the information."
What makes the process a bit more challenging is the college coaches, upon whom the scouts often rely for background information on players, are busy themselves. They're out on the road recruiting high school players for their respective programs and at times can prove difficult to reach.
"The greatest thing about our scouting staff is we've had some continuity and they've been in their areas so they have a rapport with the coaches," said Cook. "So they'll often get the necessary feedback on the juniors. Really the only thing that gets in the way of getting the information prior to these meetings is the timing with the college coaches out recruiting on the road."
The other things that the scouts might not have for their reports at this point in time are defined heights and weights along with other measurements like hand-size and arm length. The Wonderlic test, which also measures a prospect's cognitive abilities, adds another missing piece to the puzzle. All of those will be provided at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis at the end of February on over 250 of the players in the draft pool.
For now the task is to take the prospects who have received draftable grades from the members of Buffalo's scouting staff and properly stack them in advance of the Combine.
"Everybody gives their report and we all have a round that we put on the guy," said Cook. "We talk and we shake it out. (Assistant GM) Doug (Whaley) is pretty much the overseer, and he'll ask, 'Why do you see him here? Is he better than the guy ahead of him here?' It's really a collaborative effort."
Cook admits that during this preliminary formation of the board is typically when the most debate on prospects takes place.
"I think it's fair to say that we do hash it out more now than in April," said Cook, who encourages clear and confident opinions on prospects from his scouts. "Some guys have a high grade from one scout and a lower grade from another scout. Doug's job and my job is to tighten that up. At this first meeting I want a good grading basis. One scout might say, 'This player had a really good three game stretch.' Well myself or Doug (Whaley) may not have seen those games, so we'll go back and watch them. That helps us tighten up the accuracy of the grade."
All told the process takes two weeks. The preliminary board is then used as the jumping off point for the NFL Combine where a lot of the remaining holes on players are filled.
"We're talking about 300-plus guys that we have graded from 1.00 to 1.90," Cook said. "A 1.90 is a grade where we'd let some other team take the player. It's a non-Buffalo grade. But from 1.00 to 1.79 is draftable. A 1.80 to a 1.89 is a free agent type. You're talking about maybe 200 guys on the board when we leave this meeting with draftable grades and some free agents as well."
The scouting department also has what they call a "back board" of free agent type prospects that stand a good chance of finding their way onto the draftable board based either on how they test or interview at the Combine or perform and interview at their pro days.
"Those are guys that scouts have gut feelings about where they feel he could move up predicated on what they could do in the pre-draft workouts," said Cook. "All told we're talking about 780 prospects or so that we've got some kind of report on. Now some of those would never come close to being drafted, but it's just us being as thorough as we can with this process."