Story by Chris Graham
Pete Williams is like the rest of us – he sees the glitz and glamor associated with what is basically picking names out of a hat and wonders what it is that makes the NFL draft the spectacle that it has become.
“What I wanted to show is how this progress came along through the eyes of players, pro general managers, agents and the college programs,” said Williams, a University of Virginia grad and the author of The Draft: A Year Inside the NFL’s Search for Talent.
Williams also admits to another fascination – “in watching the draft and seeing how some guy who finished third in the Heisman balloting doesn’t get drafted at all, and some guy who you never heard of from Southeast North Dakota State gets drafted in the first round.”
Williams’ book is an attempt to solve these twin mysteries – and for ACC fans, in particular, the way he goes about doing his job is of special interest. Williams spent significant time following the programs at the University of Virginia and at Florida State and following players including former UVa. stars Chris Canty, Darryl Blackstock and D’Brickashaw Ferguson to see how the draft process works from the programs’ and players’ perspectives.
He focused much of his attention on the UVa. program, he said, “because he does have his tentacles into so many NFL teams by virtue of his long career as an assistant in the NFL. I was really curious as to how he went about preparing players for the process.”
What Williams learned in his time following UVa. and FSU surprised him.
“You tend to think that there’s this focus on, Oh, the next game, and we can’t look any further ahead, let alone to the next level of play. But you go into most college-football programs in the fall, and you’d probably be surprised to see scouts pretty much having the run of the place,” Williams said.
“During the day, they’re talking to assistant coaches, they’re looking at film in the football office. They’re talking to everyone from secretaries to academic advisors to you-name-it. They’re watching practice.
“To me, when you have 20 to 30 guys wearing their team NFL-logo golf shirts on the sidelines, that doesn’t exactly reinforce the image of the student-athlete. But colleges are smart enough to realize that the more guys that they send to the NFL, the more they’re going to have a reputation as an NFL prep school, and the easier it’s going to be for them to recruit guys out of high school,” Williams said.
“It’s a fine line that they walk. They want to keep guys in college, don’t want them to leave early for the NFL, certainly, but they realize, too, that part of the marketing to high-school kids is showing themselves as getting guys ready for the NFL,” Williams said.
Williams’ book also goes into detail about what players do once their college careers are over and their attention turns to draft weekend. It’s all about finding an agent and setting on a plan for getting ready for the draft combine, he said.
“These days, players all drop out of school once their bowl game is over,” Williams said. “They enroll in one of these combine prep schools in these training centers in Arizona and Florida. What happens is an agent says, I have exclusive access with this trainer, who has gotten these guys prepared for the combine, and I have a far superior network of NFL contacts who can tell me exactly what you need to do in these three months in terms of your physical training and blah blah blah.
“But the bottom line is that an agent doesn’t really have that much of an impact on the whole process,” Williams said.
Williams is not a Mel Kiper Jr. type – he readily concedes that he doesn’t have any more insight into which players will be drafted by which teams than the rest of us.
He does know one thing.
“As soon as the draft is over Sunday night, the attention turns immediately to next year,” Williams said.