I wish I had an infallible draft strategy.
The truth is that over the years I have made some good draft picks and some not-so-great ones. Regardless of how a pick ultimately turns out, as a head coach you always have a solid rationale behind your decision. That’s only because there’s significant preparation involved.
Scouting, scouting, scouting
The first key to SuperDraft strategy is doing as much homework as possible.
Most clubs have a scouting department or at least some personnel they employ in this area. The more college matches those individuals can scout and the more college coaches they can speak to, the better prepared a head coach can be.
Agents also like to weigh in with background on their players, so the head coach needs to be able to filter through all the information.
All teams come into the Player Combine with at least a general idea about the players on show. In the case of some of the invitees, you are observing them extensively for the first time at the Combine.
As a head coach, you enter the Combine with a list and with each day you are constantly revising that list. Over long dinner meetings, coaching staffs begin to rank players by talent and by position.
Among the factors figuring prominently in a staff’s evaluation: Would the potential draftee occupy an international spot on the MLS roster? How old is the player in question? Generation adidas players always get a bump in your rankings because they do not count against the salary budget.
Every team goes into the SuperDraft with positional needs and the draft offers an opportunity to fill those holes. Is there someone at the SuperDraft who can meet a need? Only on rare occasions is a draft prospect exceptional enough to earn your consideration regardless of whether he meets a need.
Player interviews have grown in importance over the years and more teams are really concentrating on this area.
What players tell you and how they handle themselves might often alter an opinion or assessment that you have. But it is time consuming and the interviews turn up a lot more information to process.
Final Draft List
Once you have collected and processed all the information, evaluations, interviews and opinions, a coaching staff enters the draft with a final list. Some might print a hard copy of their draft book, or for others it might take on a digital format on a laptop. But the bottom line is that everyone has a list.
I always preferred to compile two lists: One was positional and the other was an overall "best player" list. The length of those lists varied from year to year, but I wanted the lists to get us through the first two rounds. So this year my lists would have been 44 players long (22 per round).
Actively selecting a player when your turn comes up is only one way to scratch an item off your preseason wish list on SuperDraft day.
Especially when a team has a high draft pick, there are opportunities for trades that arise and it’s imperative that a technical staff is aware of the players that other clubs are chasing. Based on that knowledge, sometimes you can engineer a trade, drop down in the draft and then still land the player you were targeting.
Every year and in every round, other teams will invariably pick players who either weren’t at the Combine, players who you’ve never heard of, or others still that don’t figure anywhere in your top 44 lists. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and only time will tell if a pick turns into a gem.
But every team shares one basic goal: leaving the draft with more quality assets than your team had going in. If your research, your lists and your trade strategy allow you to accomplish that, then it’s mission accomplished.