What Really Goes On in the Draft Room & Jeff Diamond’s Favorite Drafts (Hint: A HOF Receiver)

Vikings Helmet Draft
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

With NFL Draft week here, I’m getting asked, as I do every year, “What really goes on in a team’s Draft room?”

NFL fans see the NFL Network Draft cam showing lots of high fiving when a team makes a selection, but there’s no audio to hear the discussion that takes place in the moments leading up to sending the card with the player’s name to be read by the Commissioner or his key staff. Other times it appears on TV as if nothing much is happening with key execs sitting around or on the phone. 

I spent 20-plus years in NFL Draft rooms with the Vikings and Titans. I can tell you it’s a mix of intense discussion, excitement when top-rated players you’re interested in getting closer to your spot in a given round, and exhilaration when a player you really want is available when you’re actually on the clock to make your pick. Combine that with excruciating disappointment when a player you want is taken just before your pick. It often was considered bad luck even to utter the name of a player you wanted when it was one or two picks prior to your selection. 

As your pick gets closer and when you’re on the clock to make a selection in any round but especially in the first round, the phones are usually ringing with calls from other GMs looking to trade up into your spot. Or perhaps you’re calling other teams about moving down and gaining extra draft choices if there’s not a player you feel is worthy of your spot or you think a good player you like will be available a few picks later. And you may be calling around every round about moving up to grab a player you’re high on. 

There’s a lot of time spent analyzing your draft board as names come off when players are selected. We always had five names on a sideboard that were our highest-rated players as we approached our pick. So there was lots of discussion pre-draft on final player grades, stacking your board based on talent while factoring in medical and character issues, and discussing how things may play out. But come draft day, you respect the grades and rankings, so it is pretty clear where you’re headed.

Meanwhile, a GM is getting medical opinions on players from the team doctor and head athletic trainer, who are in the room throughout the pre-draft time and during the draft. And there are stretches of relative boredom when you have just made a pick and have to wait 1-2 hours before your next pick comes up. 

I loved draft days as a team exec. It was a time of optimism as new player talent came aboard. 

Two of my favorite drafts were back-to-back in the late 1990s. As Vikings GM, I was a key decision-maker when selecting future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss. Working closely with our scouting staff led by Frank Gilliam, Jerry Reichow, and Scott Studwell, along with Coach Dennis Green and his assistants, we were mainly focused on adding defensive help in the 1998 draft as our offense was already in good shape coming off a playoff season. 

Randy Moss
Nov 25, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings former player Randy Moss. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

We had Moss rated as a top-five player but thought he might fall a bit due to character questions from his high school and college years when he lost scholarships at Notre Dame and Florida State and wound up at Marshall. We were picking No. 21 in the first round, and I thought the Cowboys would take him at No. 8, but they selected defensive end, Greg Ellis. Then surely the Titans at No. 16 would jump on him, but they picked the first wide receiver taken—Kevin Dyson.

Now it was very possible that Moss could slide down to us, and one of our scouts, Conrad Cardano, spoke positively about Moss as Cardano knew the Marshall coaches well and they told him there were no issues with Moss during his years there. We also got our all-pro receiver Cris Carter on the phone and asked if he would agree to mentor Randy if we picked him, to which he said, “absolutely, I know what kind of talent he is.” There was still discussion of our defensive needs, but Moss was clearly the highest-rated player left on our board when our turn arrived, and we had to abide by our philosophy of taking the best player available over a need player on defense, especially in the first round. 

We had two excellent, thousand-yard receivers already in Carter and Jake Reed but adding Moss (who caught 17 TD passes and was Offensive Rookie of the Year) played a major role in helping to elevate our offense to record-breaking heights on our way to a 15-1 season.  

The following year—in my last Vikings draft—we had the No. 11 pick I had acquired by trading our No. 2 quarterback Brad Johnson to Washington. Again the rather lively debate in our pre-draft and draft day meetings centered on whether to take a top defensive end to help our pass rush or a quarterback in a draft loaded with highly rated QBs. 

Since we had just traded Johnson and our starter Randall Cunningham was 36 years old, we decided to select Central Florida QB Daunte Culpepper at No. 11, but there was plenty of support for going with our highest-rated defensive end, Jevon Kearse from Florida, who with Culpepper sat atop our ratings at that point. 

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There certainly was keen disappointment among a few members of our scouting staff that we hadn’t taken Kearse. So I immediately got on the phone with the next several teams and offered our other first-round pick (No. 29 overall) and some other picks to move up so we could select Kearse. I had no takers, and my last call was to my friend and a former Vikings assistant coach who was the Tennessee Titans GM—Floyd Reese. He held the No. 16 pick and told me, “No, we have a guy we love, and we’re going to take him.” That was none other than Kearse.

The crazy windup to this story was two months later when I was hired as Titans President, and the first thing I said to Reese was, “thank you for not making that trade.” And Kearse went on to have 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, and helped lead our team to the Super Bowl.

Surely there will be similar great stories to be told in future years by GMs about how the 2022 Draft unfolded, and they were able to pick a player who had an immediate impact on the team’s success and perhaps was a future Hall of Famer like Randy Moss. 

Will new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah select such a player in this week’s draft that he can rave about in future years? Time will tell.

Around the NFL Observations:  

1.I’ve been involved in NFL Drafts forever, either as a team exec or media analyst. I have never seen a draft with so many teams holding multiple first-round picks. Eight teams are in this position—Lions (overall No. 2 & 32), Texans (3 & 13), Jets (4 & 10), Giants (5 & 7), Eagles (15 & 18), Saints (16 & 19), Packers (22 & 28) and Chiefs (29 & 30). 

This leaves eight teams out of the first round and facing a boring first night of the draft on April 28—Bears, Browns, Broncos, Colts, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, and 49ers.

This abundance of teams with extra first-rounders is mostly the result of a wild two-year period of blockbuster trades involving star players, including quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, and Carson Wentz, wide receivers Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, and safety Jamal Adams. The Seahawks made the trade to get Adams from the Jets, but they picked up Denver’s first-round pick in the Russell Wilson deal. 

With so many teams holding multiple No. 1s and so many teams on the outside looking in for Round 1, it should set up a wild first round with lots of trades as teams jockey positions to get top players they’re seeking.

2. Deebo Samuel and Baker Mayfield intrigue: both Samuel–the star wide receiver/running back for the 49ers—and jilted Browns QB Mayfield (after the Deshaun Watson trade/signing) have asked to be traded. Will San Francisco and Cleveland receive offers to their liking during this draft? I’ll guess yes in the case of Mayfield, who the Browns want to unload (leading candidates are Seattle and Carolina), and no with Samuel as 49ers GM John Lynch does not seem to be interested (nor should he be unless he gets a tremendous offer) in trading his best offensive player who has not shown up for the team’s offseason program due to a contract dispute. 

Coming Friday—Jeff’s reaction to the Vikings’ first-round pick.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl