The card, six inches by two inches, tells everything.
A glance can give anyone not just a player’s name, school and position, but height and weight – and where those measurements were taken – 40 time, alerts to medical problems, legal troubles or character flaws, or a positive test for a substance.
Most importantly, it has the player’s grades – a string of numbers across the bottom breaking down the thoughts of scouts and coaches, and then the big main number in black on the right side of the tag. That’s the number that ultimately is the foundation of where the Cards slot a player on draft day.
“Here’s this card, here’s the grade that represents the player, and that grade represents where you felt as an organization what kind of player you thought he would be,” Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim said. “A grade of ‘90’ is a superstar player. You feel rewarded when you are right.”
Last year, the Cardinals had a grade of 90 on cornerback Patrick Peterson, the team’s eventual No. 1 pick. His card told his top 40 speed – 4.31 seconds timed at the Scouting combine (noted with a K.) His grade as a return man was an 84. He had no medical or character concerns. And his stream of grades individually – seven all told, from different scouts and coaches – ranged from 86 to 90.
The process starts with every player getting introduced, and then reports come from the area scout, the cross-check scout and Keim, who oversees the entire department. Then the group listens to the reports from the position coach and perhaps offensive coordinator Mike Miller or defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Then the group watches a 10-play video cutup of the player which in theory resembles – both good and bad – how the player has performed in college. Further discussion ensues.
“I have to put the final grade,” Keim said. “That can be tough, because there can be big variances on the player, some more than others. You try not to hurt feelings, but at the end of the day, I sometimes have to make the decision on what is best for the organization.”
The man hours put into every draft process are astronomical. From the time the initial 12,000 players are looked at in May, the number is trimmed to 800 or so by the time football administrator Justin Casey has, with some help, organized all the information and printed out the cards.
Someday, probably soon, the cards will exist only on computer, no longer printed up and installed on magnets. Not yet, though.
“This is still a little bit of old school,” Casey said. “People want to put their hands on it, see it, touch it, move it around, rather than having it just in a virtual arena.”
Besides the height/weight/speed are colored dots. One red dot is a medical risk. Two red dots mean the Cards will stay away because of medical concerns. Three mean a failed physical. A green dot means a positive test for a banned substance at the Combine. Blue means a verified arrest. Yellow is a character concern.
“Sometimes a guy looks like a Christmas tree,” Keim said.
Such alerts – which include an “I” for an international player and an “A” for a player who is older than normal – don’t preclude a player from being taken. But they are a heads-up.
The “120” board, built to take the guesswork out of the actual draft day, sorts out the parts that can’t easily be listed as a number or letter on such a small card. It’s not as simple as putting the players in descending grade order. Instead, the grade is just the biggest factor in an equation that includes football character, the Cards’ scheme and yes, roster need.
All that is discussed as a second copy of the best players’ cards are stacked to make it easy on draft day to know exactly who to take when. The splitting of the hairs of why one player should be sixth on the board and one seventh has taken place long before draft day.
“You want those guys in the room to have strong opinions, because at the end of the day when you are moving cards around, you want them to have conviction,” Keim said.
As the draft unfolds, the cards are moved off the available board and over to a third board where each team is represented by division. Eventually the 253 picks are distributed over three days, and the remaining cards are used to target undrafted rookies.
In a few weeks, the process starts all over again.
“When you work and prepare for 11 months for essentially three days, it’s almost overwhelming,” Keim said. “You see all the names and numbers on those cards, and you feel tired thinking with all the time you spent on planes and hotels, visiting players, writing reports. In the end, it comes down to seven players.”