Tom Donahoe Reflects On The Evolution Of The Draft

Under a ‘normal’ season, the draft should have taken place this past weekend. We would already be labeling players Hall of Famers and busts by now. Instead, we get to labor through another week of mock drafts.

The draft was pushed back into May in 2014. In the future, there are already talks of extending the draft to a four-day event, and it wasn’t long ago that it was only two days.

If it seems as though the NFL is changing up the draft on a near yearly basis this past decade, consider how many alterations it’s undergone over the past three.

Yesterday, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to former Pittsburgh Steelers personnel man and current Philadelphia Eagles senior adviser Tom Donahoe to get the veteran football mind’s take on how the draft process has changed since he first began working as a scout for the BLESTO company.

As Bouchette points out, the 1974 draft, which yielded four future Hall of Famers for the Steelers, took place in January. It’s now on the eve of May and we’ve yet to even begin selecting players.

To Donahoe, the extra time is not necessarily an advantage for teams. “With the draft now being later it may give people more time to mess it up”, he said. “You get over-analysis. At some point you need to just get your work done and leave it alone”.

Of course, part of the reason for delaying the draft is because the league had more information on players, which in turn necessitated more time to produce more thorough player evaluations. Back then, teams rarely brought players in for meetings. The scouting combine was nothing like it is today. And teams relied on the universities to provide information and tape on potential draftees.

But technology has made scouting a lot easier, said Donahoe:

Technology is probably the biggest thing that impacts scouting—the video, the availability of it. We used to operate where we’d get certain games, now you get them all.

You have a chance with video to really hone in on a player. For example, if you’re watching a wide receiver, you can pull up all the targets on video, you can watch him just catch the ball, or run a route or drop a ball.

A lot of teams have programs now where they can really do unbelievable things with videos, highlighting players, pinpointing exactly what they want to watch, so you don’t have to sit there and watch 10 full games to evaluate a guy…It saves time. It really gives you a chance to zero in on a specific player.

It’s interesting to gain some perspective on how this whole process has evolved over the decades, as the whole sport—including the business side—has grown. The average fan had little interest in the draft then, which 30 years ago was still going 12 rounds. Today, it’s a weekend-long major media event that turns young men into instant millionaires.

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