Big Board Construction: Ranking Players Like NFL GMs
With the NFL Draft nigh, I composed the Big Board I would take into the War Room as an NFL GM and discussed the advantages of my format.
One week away, folks. That’s it. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
It’s also the capstone of the longest, most strenuous, and most rewarding time of the year. I’ve never evaluated more players (300 was the goal; 240 is the final on this board). I’ve never produced nearly as much content. And it was my first year with a numerical scoring system, about which you can read more here, if you’re interested. Lotta balls in the air, lotta pots on the stove.
Continuin with our theme of firsts, I’ve also never constructed a board quite in this fashion. Most draftniks will produce a pure list, a rankings-oriented Big Board (namely, a ‘vertical’ board) in which the Myles Garrett–excuse me, the best player is ranked #1, and the next best is ranked #2, so on and so forth. If they forego a full board, they’ll release their positional rankings–same concept, just divided by position.
I took a different approach:
You’ll notice that there’s still a ranking system, but instead of a frigidly sequential list, this board operates more liberally, utilizing tiers and showing the separation between prospects visually. The rounds of the Draft, 1 through 7, form the basic tiers, and the slots within those tiers simply add specificity and hierarchy to the tier.
This board has a horizontal component that you won’t see on the strictly vertical lists. Multiple players, even if they may have different grades and occupy different slots on the vertical board, may have the same value (i.e. the same vertical positioning) on this board. That, I think, is the crux of the matter when understanding this board. It doesn’t demonstrate rankings, the way a vertical board does. This board is about demonstrating value.
That’s why it’s called my “War Room Board”. The construction of this board is reminiscent of how an NFL scouting department would construct their board going into Draft Day–at least, as reminiscent as I understand it to be, given my limited exposure and secondhand information. Nevertheless, this is a GM’s weapon of choice.
Comparing Vertical Boards and War Room Boards
Now, the GM will certainly have the grades of each prospect at his disposal; I have my grades as well. Those grades give the GM the freedom to create the more stringent vertical board, and using those grades, he can split hairs between prospects of the same value on the War Room Board.
But if that’s the case, what then is the advantage of the War Room Board? Why do GMs use it predominately on Draft night? Well, it comes down again to that demonstration of value.
Let’s use an example. When discussing prospects, how much better is 63 OVR than 64 OVR? And how much better is 64 than 65, 65 than 66, 66 than 67? One of the main weaknesses of the vertical board is that it normalizes the difference between prospects. At first glance, the same margin of skill separates all of those players, as they’re all separated to the same degree: one ranking spot.
But, as anyone with casual draft knowledge knows, this simply isn’t the case. At some segments of the timeline, the Draft is loaded with talent; in others, the cupboards are bare. The distances in skill vary between prospects.
Of course, you can address this shortcoming by attaching numerical grades to your prospects, and those numerical grades will help reveal the concrete difference between prospects.
However, a more intense look at the ranking format reveals the chinks in the armor. Let’s take those same, mid-60 prospects again. I’ll give you mine, straight off of my vertical board:
- 63: Gerald Everett, TE (6.57)
- 64: Montravius Adams, Interior DL (6.55)
- 65: Josh Reynolds, WR (6.54)
- 66: Alvin Kamara, RB (6.47)
- 67: Marcus Williams, S (6.47)
So, here’s my question for you: You’re picking at 63 OVR, and these are your top options. You have a big need at S, a big need at RB, and a moderate need at TE. Who do you take?
Perhaps you had a gut feeling and pulled the trigger quick. You draft for need, RB/S was a big one, and .1 of a point is hardly that much of a difference, right? Or maybe you love that BPA mentality, feeling confident taking the best prospect regardless of relative need.
Okay. Cool. Let’s do this:
- Gerald Everett (6.57)
- Alvin Kamara (6.47)
- Marcus Williams (6.38)
And let’s make Gerald Everett a small-school prospect with tons of untapped upside (which he is), let’s give Alvin Kamara some off-the-field problems (he doesn’t really have anything too harrowing, but let’s overblow them), and let’s give Marcus Williams knee problems (he’s only missed two games in his career, we’re overblowing this one too).
Who are you picking?
What if I tell you the class behind Everett gets thin for almost a whole round, the class behind Kamara gets thick after about half of a round, and the class behind Williams is chock full of talent everywhere (all true, according to my board above)?
Who are you picking?
Obviously, I’ve dropped you into a patch of nettles with hardly any context–I know, I’m unkind. But I hope the exercise illustrated to you the intense deliberation necessitated by the many and precarious moving pieces that is player evaluation and the NFL Draft. And on Draft night, if you haven’t prepared for these tough choices, you leave yourself vulnerable to making the incorrect one.
Every deliberation through which you went is formalized in the War Room Board. Let me show you.
Check out the RB, TE, and S rankings respectively. You’ll notice Everett and Williams both sit in the second row of Round 2, while Kamara has dropped all the way to the fifth row in Round 2. The devaluation of the running back position hurts Kamara. We don’t need to go reaching for an RB just yet, especially considering the density we see in Rounds 3-5. We can get an impact player for better return on our value, there.
Everett and Williams, then. Well, the need for Williams is far greater than the need for Everett–time to turn in the card, right? Probably, but it’s worth a moment’s pause to note: the safety class behind Williams is quite thick, while the TE class behind Everett stays thin until Round 4.
Would I rather snag my TE at a good value and wait on the depth of the safety class to cash in later? Given the hypothetical needs laid out, probably not. That being said, the relative strength of the classes wasn’t even a factor we would have considered in a purely vertical system. Because the board reveals the value of each prospect, gleaned from the conglomerate of their ranking, their health, their off-the-field activities, their ceiling, and the strength of their class, it far exceeds the vertical board as a tool for the Draft.
And how does the board take all of these factors into consideration?
Well, I began by overlaying my grading system over the rows of the board (First round grades run from 8.0 – 7.0, so each row accounted for a range of .167 points). Then, I simply inputted my prospects into their appropriate slots.
Here, I should touch on a few of the issues I encountered immediately during board construction: primarily, a lack of scheme-specificity, and in consequence, over-saturation. Because I built this board for all 32 NFL teams, though it is meant to be constructed for one team alone, it’s scheme-agnostic. That causes some problems.
Take the EDGE rankings. No self-respecting 3-4 team would have Solomon Thomas as an EDGE, nor would they consider Taco Charlton or Derek Barnett as viable prospects; a 4-3 defense would likely lower the stock of both Takk McKinley and Tim Williams, given their much more natural fit as 3-4 OLBs, and have T.J. Watt in an entirely different positional group.
Because I cannot eliminate/adjust prospects based on schematic fit, an incredible EDGE class over-saturated the top of my Board. I have 22 players with a Round 1 grade on my vertical board, and 40 with Round 1 value on my War Room Board. Why? Because under the correct circumstances/with the appropriate adjustments, there are 40 prospects I could understand and foresee having a Round 1 value for at least one team in the NFL, and as such, they are all allocated accordingly. If I were building this board for one team, that would certainly not be the case.
Given the density of prospects, perhaps I had two players from the same position graded into the same slot. On a board with far more space, it wouldn’t be difficult at all to juxtapose them appropriately. Given the circumstances, I did the best I could to appropriately represent my understood value of each player.
In order to adjust those values, I continually re-examined my board horizontally, running across each name on a rung of the ladder. The questions I asked myself were: are these players of equivalent value? Do they bring the same worth to my roster? Are they an adequate return on investment for their draft slot?
I bumped up high-priority positions (QB, OT, EDGE, CB), and penalized low-priority positions (RB, Interior DL, Off-Ball LB) likewise. Without previous boards/data on past drafts to compare, this was not a scientific process, but rather a heuristic one. Over the off-season (or the season, as most football fans call it) I’ll have the opportunity to construct similar boards for past years, and collect data on the trends of adjusting for positional group value.
I also penalized prospects if their injury history warranted a drop. John Ross and Sidney Jones took the biggest hits, while Fabian Moreau incurred a smaller drop. Ryan Ramczyk–by virtue of a weak OT class–didn’t move at all.
I also adjusted for gaps in the classes. Rounds 3 – 7 for interior offensive linemen saw a boost, given the incredibly poor showing of the prospects in Rounds 1 – 2. Likewise, Day 3 linebackers climbed, addressing the dearth of talent in Rounds 2-3. In other words, I dictated before the Draft how comfortable I was with certain ‘reaches’, thereby ensuring I didn’t get trigger-happy and dive for a player far before his time.
And finally, players with major off-the-field concerns got tagged in red, as you can see. Again, if I were the GM of one team, I could choose who to leave be, who to penalize, and who to eliminate entirely. But for the sake of a thorough outlook, I only tagged them.
Running a Mock Draft with the War Room Board
I’ll leave you with a parting shot–a live-action look at the War Room Board. I ran a first-round mock with this board, and here’s how it turned out:
I’m an Eagles fan, so let’s take a look at the situation when Philly was on the clock:
Our options of value: Dalvin Cook, Mike Williams, and Cam Robinson. All three fit needs, but the off-field issues with Cook knock him out of consideration. The need for an OT is more about depth, while long-term starting WRs are a must-get for Philly. Some folks perhaps would like to see McCaffrey, Reddick, or Lawson here. However, our Board clearly identifies those picks as reaches, and thereby a poor investment of value. Williams is the pick.
Author’s note: the majority of information on War Room Boards came from an excellent Draft Dudes podcast, hosted by Kyle Crabbs and Joe Marino of NDT Scouting and FanRag Sports. They had Dan Hatman, ex-scout and Director of The Scouting Academy, on to speak about NFL Board Construction. I’d highly recommend you give that pod a listen: