Despite the dismissal of general manager Scot McCloughan two weeks ago, and the lack of an official replacement, the Washington Redskins’ pre-draft evaluations have continued smoothly as the franchise enters its final month of preparations.
People familiar with the situation say that nothing has changed regarding the team’s approach to the draft, which begins April 27 in Philadelphia. Among the fan base, concern may abound over the team’s ability to effectively evaluate and select quality prospects without McCloughan’s expertise. But internally, the Redskins remain confident in their scouts, coaches and executives as they finalize evaluations.
The past two years, McCloughan received both credit and criticism for the Redskins’ draft moves. When hired, he was viewed by the fan base as a franchise savior thanks largely to his reputation as a strong college talent evaluator.
However, more went into the team’s evaluations and decisions than just McCloughan sitting in his office, studying film of players and grading and ranking them. As McCloughan himself often stated, all draft decisions were made as a team with input from the full scouting staff and in consultation with Redskins coaches and executives.
McCloughan, like any general manager, presided over meetings, and made draft decisions, sometimes joint, sometimes solo. However, he did follow Washington’s draft board, which was drawn up during hours of meetings with the scouting department, front office and coaching staff.
The Redskins formed their draft board in the same manner before McCloughan’s arrival in 2015, and this is the same approach taken by virtually every team in the NFL, according to multiple league insiders.
Because of his reputation from his work in Green Bay, San Francisco and Seattle, McCloughan was and still is viewed as one of the best talent evaluators in the league. During his two-year tenure, Redskins fans were optimistic that McCloughan would find the proper building blocks and hidden gems needed to improve this franchise. Now, without McCloughan and Bruce Allen again presiding, the outside confidence in the franchise has taken a hit.
While the Redskins’ draft process remains largely unaltered, there will be one change. McCloughan made the call when two similar prospects were available when the Redskins’ turn came around. This year, those tiebreaker calls are expected to be made by Allen and Coach Jay Gruden.
So just how does the draft evaluation process work?
At this point, the Redskins’ talent evaluators — and their counterparts around the league — are in the process of gathering their last bits of information on draft prospects. That information helps the team make any final tweaks to their player and position rankings.
The draft board, however, has been set for more than a month.
After a season on the road, compiling reports and awarding grades to all of the draft prospects assigned to them, Washington’s area scouts concluded their research by holding brief interviews with players at the East-West Shrine Game and during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl in late January.
The scouts, as well as director of college scouting Scott Campbell, reported to Redskins Park in the first week of February and shared their findings with McCloughan, Allen, Gruden and his coaching staff, senior personnel executive Doug Williams, director of pro personnel Alex Santos and their assistants during a series of meetings that began early in the morning and concluded in the evening.
Going by position, the scouts give reports on players and share the grades they have given them. The executives, scouts and coaches watch film on each player and decide if they agree with the grades before players are ranked. They are sorted by rounds — first-round talent through seventh-round talent. There is a separate group of undrafted free agents, ranked in order of priority, and a group of players deemed undraftable for reasons such as health, character or poor play.
Taking all those assessments into account, the draft board is set. That all took place before the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of February and beginning of March. (The Redskins formed their free agency board in the same manner, but relying on the reports of Santos and his pro scouts.)
At the combine, players are further evaluated, largely on medical evaluations, measurables and interviews, in which any character issues are raised.
Medical evaluations prove eye-opening for both teams and players.
Multiple league insiders said that at this past year’s combine — which is the case at those before it — some players learned of health problems or abnormalities they previously had no idea they had. Others learned of bone fractures or other physical defects for the first time. Such revelations can prove crushing to players, who are medically flagged and prohibited from performing, and in turn see their stocks plunge.
Washington’s executives and coaches returned to Redskins Park after the combine, but the scouts took to the road, attending college pro days for additional evaluations and interviews, including with some players who did not attend the combine.
Next week, Allen and his fellow executives and Gruden will attend the owners meetings in Arizona, and the following week, scouts will return to team headquarters where another round of meetings will begin. It’s expected Campbell will lead those meetings, although Allen will remain heavily involved, as he was the past two years with McCloughan and his four seasons as general manager when Mike Shanahan was head coach.
During these meetings, the draft board will be tweaked. Some players will move down or off the board because of medical concerns; others could move up slightly because of performances at the combine and/or pro days.
In early April, the Redskins will host a select group of up to 30 prospects for pre-draft visits as officials and coaches try to further educate themselves on players. Most are highly ranked on the draft board, so the visits rarely impact a team’s opinion of them.
The work is complete by the time draft week rolls around. As was the case under McCloughan, and in the years before him, the Redskins aim to take the best player available according to their draft board.
If a running back and a defensive lineman with nearly identical grades are available in the first round when the Redskins’ turn comes, they would likely go with the lineman because that position carries a greater need. Such tiebreaking calls went to McCloughan and now are expected to go to Allen and Gruden. And the decision-making generally unfolds in the same fashion throughout the draft’s following rounds.
So, there you have it. It’s as simple — or as involved — as that. And even after all those hours of research and planning, drafting the right players still very much involves a good deal of luck.
The absence of McCloughan’s acumen will be the biggest, and seemingly only, change to the Redskins’ process. And now the responsibility for those selections, the credit or the blame, will be placed more directly on Allen and the scouting staff. But, if the scouts who worked with McCloughan for two years are up to snuff, and if the Redskins remain true to the draft board, it’s possible the team could still have a quality draft despite the turmoil that plagued the front office earlier this month.