2013 NFL Draft – Ted Sundquist Interview, Part 2

Chris Gross sits down with former Denver Broncos’ General Manager Ted Sundquist for part 2 of their NFL Draft discussion.

Welcome back to part 2 of our 2013 NFL Draft discussion with former NFL General Manager Ted Sundquist. If you missed part 1, be sure to check that out here, while learning more about the work Mr. Sundquist has done throughout him time in the league. 

Today, we talk impending contract situations, “boom or bust” prospects, drafting value over need & vice versa, draft planning, and General Manager/Head Coach dynamic in relation to the NFL Draft.

We’d again like the thank Mr. Sundquist for taking the time to share his insight and experience with us. Be sure to follow Ted on Twitter, and don’t forget to check out TheFootballEducator.com and Eye-Draft.com for an even more informative and interactive experience in all things NFL and NFL Draft. 

Chris Gross: How much does a current player’s uncertain contract situation weigh on overall draft strategy and priority?

Ted Sundquist: It has the potential to quite a bit, but a lot of those particular situations are already well in negotiation & understood before the actual start of the draft.  If the player and the club can’t reach a deal after the initial start of Free Agency, the Draft gives the CLUB more leverage over the rostered player. It gives the club another avenue to acquire the necessary talent and they can just go in a different direction.

Most of the good agents are fully aware of this and want to get their players under contract as quickly possible, but certainly under the best of contractual circumstances.

Strategies and priorities in the offseason are dynamic with the additions and deletions that inevitably come from picking up and losing players in Free Agency.  A club is best to evaluate each and every position as if it were their TOP priority and then formulate their final strategy just before the actual draft commences.

CG: The phrase “boom or bust potential” is often used a lot when discussing draft prospects. What is the best method of evaluation to measure both the floor and ceiling of a prospect, and what is used to determine whether or not the reward will outweigh the risk? 

TS: If we had the exact answer to that question then we’d all be seven figure General Managers in the National Football League!  But honestly, I think the annual college player pool can only support so many elite type players and long term starters.  The best way to determine how deep that goes is through historical draft data.

There are a number of studies that have been done to show where the vast majority of long term, productive NFL players are picked in the draft.  Now, a lot of fans will argue that you can find GREAT players deep into the 5th, 6th, or even 7th rounds.  But these are the exceptions to rule, they truly are.  For every Tom Brady taken in the 6th round at QB, there are virtually none that ever even see the field selected in a similar position for decades.

3 studies that I like to incorporate into my own thoughts are;

  1. “Where 2-Deep rosters come from” by Joe Landers. (By position & round, % of players that are 1st & 2nd string)
  1. “Can you avoid a bust” by Chad Reuters.  (Players that start 56 games over their first 5 years; position & round %)
  1. “Sudden Impact” by Joe Landers (what positions outperform the average veteran as rookies)

The key to using statistical data and working it into your decision making process is coupling it with sound scouting reports, thorough in detail and across a broad spectrum of perspectives (coaching and scouting).

CG: In the months leading up to the draft, a lot of discussion usually circulates about drafting need over value, and vice versa. I find this hard to gauge because, outside of those working closely to develop a draft strategy, there is some uncertainty on how a team measures their own needs and how they value certain players at their respective positions. Based on your experience, what is the best way to find a balance between the two, and how can that affect a team’s draft day approach?

TS: I feel the answer to this particular question starts with an understanding of where your team is after the season ends. Has lack of production and or age decimated a position to the point that it no longer contributes to the success of your team? If so, you have a definite need to fill and certainly the draft is one avenue to fill it.  Otherwise, as you look at the long term health of your organization, adding upgrades across the board (while taking into account financial outlays) is always a good path to take.  I’m an advocate of Jack Welch’s 20/70/10 approach to a roster.

Most clubs will set multiple draft boards that lay out their preferences by both position and overall value (regardless of position).  Since most starters come from the 1st & 2nd rounds, then followed by college free agents, clubs would be well served to fill needs early but not force a “square peg into a round hole” if the player just doesn’t fit. This is where the majority of mistakes are made and as a decision maker in the War room, you just have to know when to turn away from a need if the player or players available can’t fill it.

CG: How many scenarios are accounted for in draft preparation to ensure a team is well prepared in the event that a highly rated player, one who has been targeted as the team’s top prospect, is selected just before they are on the clock?

TS: The number of individual scenarios well most likely equal the number of players that you’re willing to expend a particular pick on in the round in question.  The first round is probably the easiest due to the fact the entire player pool is usually in play, and that you have zeroed in on a couple players that you know fit the needs of your team and equate to the value of both financial and opportunity costs you’ll have to expend.  Rare is it to get stuck without an option, but it can and does happen.

So any club that says they’re well prepared for each and every situation will have gone through multiple “mock drafts” that have removed one and or multiple players from their list of selections (or those that you were willing to take with that particular pick).

In Denver, we tried to “mock” every plausible scenario and even some that were “out of the blue” to ensure that we had thought through every counter move that we’d be willing to take in order to maximize the value or leverage of our pick, regardless if our player was there or not.

CG: A popular topic of discussion when it comes to providing input on personnel decisions is the General Manager/Head Coach dynamic. Some feel that the best approach is for the coach to do the coaching while the GM & personnel department build the roster. In your opinion, how crucial is it to the success of a team that a Head Coach and GM see eye to eye on personnel? Do you feel as though this should be a joint effort, or should it be more of an approach like the one aforementioned?

TS: I think this has to be a joint effort, but ultimately overseen by a General Manager, VP of Player Personnel or President type position.  Here’s the reason why. Coaching by its inherent definition is a very emotional profession. Coaches are under a tremendous amount of pressure to WIN NOW, and therefore tend to look at things in a short term perspective. Problem is that short term decisions can often have long term consequences to health of your club, both from a talent and financial point of view.

Someone within the organization must have the long term health, sights, perspective, or whatever you want to call it at the forefront of decision making in all areas of football operations. I worked under a scenario where the head coach was also the Vice President of Football Operations, and had ultimate say over everything. Professional football is a multi-billion dollar business that ebbs and flows with many changing dynamics. It’s impossible to stay up on everything that affects the operations of and the manner in which an NFL Club conducts its business (on or off the field).

But what I do know is that players are the number one asset of any organization and should be handled as such. Coaches come and go, rather quickly if they don’t make the playoffs after their first 3 seasons. Players are with your club 4 to 5 years from a rookie contractual basis. I want my coaching staff involved and to have ownership in the process of selecting new young talent. I also want them to be involved in the development of young players on and off the field. A disgruntled coach can quickly sabotage the best efforts of an entire organization when it comes to developing players.

I think a position that oversees from “30,000 feet” so to speak, without the emotional swings of the day to day grind of winning and losing, can make the best long term choices for the organization. To me that’s the GM.