Dallas Cowboys Draft: What draft grades mean and their impact

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports /

There are questions on who the Dallas Cowboys should draft with the tenth pick. This primer should help understand how teams grade players, and why it isn’t just as simple as Best Player Available or BPA.

Every year the conversation before the NFL Draft turns to drafting “Best Player Available” (BPA) or drafting for “need.” The Dallas Cowboys this year are facing this very thing at pick ten this year.

Most people understand that BPA does have some part of “need” to it. For instance if the highest player on the board is a quarterback, but you have a freshly signed Dak Prescott, quarterback will not be the pick. So even in BPA situations, needs factor in.

The argument of “need” is a whole different conversation. It’s fairly self explanatory and for this article we will use need to reference any player that is an obvious upgrade or fills a hole on the roster.

Why drafting isn’t so clear cut for the Dallas Cowboys

Now, before we get into looking at grades, scouting reports, and “big boards”, let’s understand that not every team does things the same way. Reports are fairly standard in some ways, but can vary in others. Scoring, as we will talk about, can vary, but there are some consistencies we will talk about. Also, scouting does change in some ways as analytics, medical reports, etc all have new technological advantages than they used to and continue to evolve.

Dallas Cowboys Draft: What are grades?

The first thing we will talk about is a scouting report. When we go out to our favorite websites they have easily digestible details about the player we are looking at. There will be a write-up of the film study and findings usually broken down by pros and cons and even into specific parts of the positions, hands, route running, arm mechanics, footwork, and so on. Sometimes the sites will have a “grade” on a player. These grades could be as simple as round and what part of the round, some have numerical numbers assigned.

NFL teams have much more detailed, and usually, much longer reports. Many reports go on for pages and include everything from measurements, to stats, which games were watched on tape, which was the good tape and which was the bad, scheme fits, player comps, injuries, a projection of what the player could become, and notes that include scouts notes, behavioral notes, coaches notes, and more. These are the base for each player that gets put onto the “big board”.

The next part is a player’s grade. Numbers are usually assigned to a player to quantify where a player should fall in the draft. There is also a corresponding letter sometimes to identify the round. For instance, a player may be an “A 8.6” (or three-digit “A 8.67”), which means the player belongs in the first two rounds and with a numerical grade of 8.6. This helps build the board or boards depending on the team. These numbers are a way to pull all of the information a team has into an easy value to look at and make decisions on.

Building the board usually starts days before the draft occurs. Some teams use a single board with the current top 100 players on it, some use multiple boards where the main board has the top 100 or current players the team is considering drafting and the secondary boards have the rest. Either way, the boards get built first by scouts, then coaches have input. Come draft day the board is set and the team has their targets on the wall.

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The conversations building the board does have to do with scheme fit, medicals, any conduct questions, etc. The team then develops a plan for how they want to attack the draft. There is research for the past decade or so used to try and predict which positions could go when and what could be available as the draft progresses. So if they want player X in the first round, they will decide what they want to do in the second round. Should they draft player Y in the first, it could change the target in round two.

What this means for 2021?

How this applies to the Dallas Cowboys this year? Well, the talk is if a player like Kyle Pitts or Rashawn Slater should drop, the Cowboys have to take them because they are the “higher rated”. While we have no clue what the numerical grades a team has on players, teams don’t always simply draft the higher number.

The conversation of player grades, history, draft plan, all of it gets considered in the short time the team has to send their pick in. Sometimes they do pick the player and sometimes they do not. Sometimes, the team has a player higher rated than another player that everyone believes should be reversed.

Best Player Available isn’t as easy as it sounds when we speak about it. Teams have ranges they feel comfortable where multiple players are close enough and fall into their draft plan, scheme, or board. Many times we have seen a team believe a player was higher rated than the consensus of the experts, fans, pundits, everyone. We have also seen teams undervalue players who drop and end up “steals”.

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The Dallas Cowboys have some work to do before they send the card in for the tenth pick. We could take anyone from Pitts to Sewell, to Surtain, to someone we aren’t talking about, they could even trade the pick. The truth is we won’t know for sure until the pick is announced. But understanding how teams build a draft, grade players, and work the draft helps understand how and why they choose the players they do, and it isn’t always “BPA” nor is it always “need”.

  • Published on 04/06/2021 at 11:40 AM
  • Last updated at 04/06/2021 at 11:40 AM