Merlin’s Magic: Going Long With DraftTek’s Long Ball, Part One

Any good mock draft is a combination of two factors. Team analysis matched up with a rating of talent, the Big Board. Often, we talk about the team analysis part, but what about the Big Board? What goes into making one? Well, to answer that question, I wanted to interview a friend of mine, Long Ball. Long Ball is one of the heavy hitters over at DraftTek.com. In addition to serving as team analyst for multiple teams, Long Ball is the man responsible for creating and maintaining the Big Board that we use on DraftTek to produce our draft simulations.

After a beer bribe, he agreed to an interview with me. The first part covers how the Big Board is put together and some general questions about the draft class. Next week will cover the draft including Long Ball’s evaluation of Chiefs, his prediction of who the Chiefs may take in round one (teaser, one name is one we have not talked about before) and his take on some draft prospects. Long Ball does a great job and I value his opinion highly. I want to publicly thank Long Ball for doing this and welcome him to the nut house known as Arrowhead Addict.

Merlin: How do you go about formulating a draft board for Draft Tek? How does your personal philosophy affect how that board is done?

Long Ball: My normal routine starts 2-3 months after the draft – beginning in the summer I start compiling the senior data base for the following year, plus the top 150 to 200 underclassmen. During the course of the year, there will be more prospects removed from the data base than added – this year’s data base was close to 1,000 prospects deep before dropping to 725, the current count. From this data, I create my “games to watch” schedule for the college season.

I do a lot of reading and research, utilizing NFL Draft Scout, Scout.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN, National Football Post, to name a few. I load the prospects into a massive Excel spreadsheet that seems to grow by geometric proportions and generate a macro-driven weighted ranking based on rankings from those publications.

I then take the “blended” Big Board and pull out my grading cards from games I have watched. As to my personal philosophy, I played and coached football (before I became old, fat and grey LOL!) and my grading is not just based on athletic prowess, but also how fundamentally sound the prospect is, basic techniques such as footwork, leverage, to get an idea of how coach-able they may be. Now, can you tell all that by just watching a game or two and not having access to observe practices – of course not, but it will give you an idea of how competitive the player is and whether or not they are a “gamer”. I use this information as more of a “tie-breaker” or “massaging” the formula-driven Big Board.


Merlin: Many folks, including myself, expected a record number of underclassman to declare for the draft. The numbers just were not there. Is there a qualitative difference in the underclassman declaring this year?

Long Ball: Good question and so did I – the possibility of a new CBA that includes a more stringent rookie salary cap may not have had the decision-making impact that many of us thought it would. Normally, the advice given to underclassmen is if you do not receive a draft grade in the first two rounds, you should go back for your senior season. Less than 100 underclassmen remain in our data base, 53 have a projected draft grade and only 38 are in the top 100, which would equate to the first three rounds. So there are a number that are not heeding the standard advice.

Taking the underclassmen qualitative analysis a step further, in the top 100 there are 2 QB’s, 3 RB’s, 7 WR’s, 2 TE’s, 3 OT’s (that are LT candidates) and the best OC prospect on the offensive side of the ball and 5 safeties, 5 CB’s, 3 LB’s, 5 DE’s and 2 DT’s (who are all excellent pass rushers) on the defensive side of the ball. It appears to me that the underclassmen have strengthened the draft, as they are in skill positions or positions that rush or protect skill positions.


Merlin: How would you compare the overall strength and depth of this draft to the previous couple of drafts?

Long Ball: Although this draft class may not have strength and depth at the so-called “glamour” positions, there are going to be a number of picks in the second (and maybe even third) round that could have close to first round value on different team boards. To take that thought a step further, without the compensatory picks, 32 teams multiplied by 7 rounds equals 224 prospects – on our last Big Board, there are players to be had at #238, #250, #281, #288, and #316 (which may mean I need to re-evaluate my Big board LOL!)

Merlin: Every draft is uneven in it’s distribution of talent. How would you evaluate this draft? What are the strong areas and weak areas?

Long Ball: This draft class is deep in offensive linemen (some of the tackles may become guards), but not necessarily at the center position. There are a number of safeties throughout the draft class but the top 3 or 4 may be the best in recent history. There are quality 4-3 defensive tackles and/or 3-4 defensive ends to be had in all rounds, and the top 2, maybe 3, are top-notch. There are several 4-3 defensive ends that can get after the passer and some may convert to 3-4 OLB. This is not a particularly strong draft for QB, RB, or WR.


Merlin: The NFL draft combine are approaching. Fans and the media can get caught up with 40-times and bench press reps. How much value do you put on combine? What advice would you give for fans? Has the combine taken on an importance in the media that outweighs its value?

Long Ball: Information gathered at the Combine is used to substantiate what has been observed on the field of play or eliminate borderline prospects. Scouts and coaches view the bench press from a competitive and endurance point of view and then translate the application of that strength in the game film they have studied. 40 times are more important for WR’s and DB’s (separation versus recovery) – you will notice that times are taken for the first 5 yards (explosion) and then in 10-yard increments, which is more important for the other positions. Keep in mind that track speed does not always translate into running with pads. The “skills and drills” provide an idea about the prospect’s agility, footwork, but more importantly their coach-ability. Quite frankly, the personal interviews may be as important as any other part of the Combine.

The top prospects need to attend the Combine; otherwise, teams will wonder what they’re trying to hide or do they lack a competitive spirit. The Combine has value, but performance on the field outweighs the Combine results. My advice to the fans is to listen to Mayock and watch the film clips of the prospect playing football that they insert during the analysis.

If you want to read more of Long Ball’s thoughts, check out the DraftTek message board. Long Ball is writing a very good series titled ‘Return Of The Big Uglies”. I recommend it highly. The series currently has three parts, chapter 1, chapter 2 and chapter 3. The entire message board is also worth reading. It is a great way to chat about the draft with non-Chief fans.

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