WASHINGTON — The lights went out at Redskins Park on Monday.
It was just a dead battery in a flood light and team staff quickly replaced it. Scott Campbell, Washington’s director of college scouting, deftly moved forward with his pre-draft press conference from the podium, joking that maybe the media garage was “haunted”.
In a way, Campbell said more than he meant. The ghost of former general manager Scot McCloughan hovers over Redskins Park still. He had an integral role in putting together the free agency list that Washington used last month to sign players and an even bigger role working with Campbell, the scouts and the coaching staff to put together the organization’s 2017 NFL draft board.
McCloughan, the man brought to Redskins Park for his innate ability to spot young talent, was fired last month just over two years on the job. It was an ugly end replete with anger and innuendo and recrimination.
“[McCloughan] certainly had influence on it because we all met – as we always did the last couple of years and every team does,” Campbell said. “You meet right after the all-star games before you go to the Combine and get an initial ranking of how you like the guys. Of course, Scot hadn’t been here since, so just like when he was here before, there’s adjustments being made to the board with the new information.”
The Redskins have 10 picks this weekend beginning with No. 17 overall in the first round of the draft, which begins Thursday in Philadelphia. That doesn’t mean they’ll keep them all. They can be used as capital to move up, if needed, to grab a player they like. Washington has picks in every round, including two in the fourth, sixth and seventh.
“It’s not an exact science. You’re not going to hit on all the guys,” Campbell said. “You’d like to think you can, but I mean that’s not reality, no one’s ever done that. Just increasing the odds adding more players.”
Campbell expressed hope that those two fourth-round selections – No. 114 acquired from the New York Jets last spring and their own, No. 124 – can help Washington move up to grab a player they want or drop down into a pocket of prospects they’re comfortable with while adding extra selections.
The Redskins draft room strives for a seamless few days. The coaching staff, including head coach Jay Gruden, will have their say. They’ve analyzed video of college prospects and given their opinion. The goal? No stupid arguments as the clock ticks. Those big battles were fought in meeting rooms in February and March.
McCloughan used to joke that coaches made the worst scouts, but thought they were the best. It’s a totally different skillset. But Gruden grew up the son of a scout and a coach, Jim Gruden, and in Cincinnati, where he was offensive coordinator for three years before taking the Washington job, assistants were heavily involved in evaluations during the draft process. He’s used to it.
Roles in the draft room are established beforehand. Eric Schaffer, vice president of football administration, and Alex Santos, director of pro personnel, are charged with calling teams picking ahead of the Redskins and behind them to see if there are any trade possibilities that seem intriguing.
Team president Bruce Allen will direct one man to reach out to five or six teams and the other to take another group. Schaffer and Santos will gather information and then tell the men at the head of the table – Campbell, Allen and Gruden – what’s available.
“It would be me and Bruce and Jay saying ‘No, no, we’ve got enough guys there’ or say ‘I like these guys,’ or like, “Hey, there’s guys there,’” Campbell said. “So it’s kind of a discussion amongst the people, and most times it’s Bruce saying, ‘Just tell them we’re not interested.’ Or he says, ‘Get the league on the phone. We’re going to make that trade.’”
Campbell’s role has changed since McCloughan came on board in early 2015 and asked him to focus on the college draft. Prior to that, Campbell had to oversee the pro personnel side, too. That kept him in the office tied down. He rarely attended college Pro Days, where top scouts can get an extra look at a player outside of the Combine and on his own campus.
“To me, that’s been the biggest difference and has allowed me to really get a feel for guys and in turn help [McCloughan] because he was the one trapped here more at the office, to bring back more information to him,” Campbell said.
An example? Wide receiver Jamison Crowder two years ago before the 2015 draft. Campbell came back from Duke’s Pro Day and said Crowder was “outstanding.” If the Redskins needed a slot receiver who could return punts, Crowder was a worthy choice. He had even run better than his 40-yard dash time at the Combine so Campbell saw first hand that Crowder had a higher ceiling than he’d though a few weeks earlier.
Washington took him in the fourth round and Crowder has 126 receptions and nine touchdowns over two years.
Days before the draft, the major questions are settled and the minor ones debated. Coaches have begun submitting their reports to Campbell and his staff and in meetings this week will argue how certain players fit – or don’t – from a scheme standpoint. It won’t change the board much. It’s a matter of degrees. But if the scouts disagree, they’ll explain why. Coaches often lack nuance about a players’ character red flags, how coachable they are, how hard they work.
The scouts have been gathering that information since August. Campbell thanked his staff on Monday. With McCloughan’s departure, roles were tweaked. Pro scouts had to attend some college pro days, college scouts had to do more cross-check reports. It’s been a long process for everyone. In theory, that work translates into a big payoff for the Redskins with a talent upgrade that will provide immediate benefits in 2017.
“I’m excited because I think it’s one of the strongest, deepest classes on the defensive side of the ball that I’ve seen,” Campbell said. “I’ve told the guys upstairs I’m excited because we’re going to get better. I know there’s going to be a guy sitting there at 17 – or if we want to move back, there’s enough thickness of the group…. the guys we’re going to bring in are going to help us.”
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