It’s probably not a coincidence that the NFL Draft has grown into a must-see event in the era of reality TV. Viewers are not just watching to see which rookies their team will select, they are eager to see the latest chapter in the lives of star players whose journeys they have followed on and off the field. To emphasise the fact that big name rookies are already stars, they even walk the red carpet before the event, as if they were big names arriving for the Oscars.
Although the Draft is more visible than ever, few fans know what goes on behind the scenes. Indeed, Andy Phillips has first-hand experience of the process and acknowledges that players who go through the Draft seldom know what is happening. He came out of Central Michigan as an offensive lineman in 2015 and had hopes of being drafted in a later round. Despite a strong pro day and interest from a couple of teams before the Draft, Phillips’ name wasn’t called.
Round Zero comes out of his desire to understand the process better and demystify it for others. Through interviews with GMs, head coaches, agents and players, Phillips shares stories of how teams plan their picks – and how those plans frequently go awry. Each chapter focuses on a different interview.
Among them are tales from Bill Polian, who took his successful Draft approach to three NFL teams, agent Leigh Steinberg, who has represented eight overall first picks, and Hall of Fame players like Warren Moon and Terrell Davis.
Title: Round Zero
Author: Andy Phillips
First published: Hatherleigh Press, 2023
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Interview: Andy Phillips
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Andy Phillips is a contributing writer at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is also a motivational speaker who speaks to a variety of audiences about the importance of character, perseverance, going after your goals, and the ability to view losses as lessons.
He is a former 2x Division-1 Football Captain and played as an offensive lineman in four preseason NFL games with the Green Bay Packers. Andy currently works as a risk manager for The Yurconic Agency. He is the author of Round Zero: Inside the NFL Draft.
“Steinberg emphasizes how much […] is reliant on the player ending up in a good situation. The situation must have stability at the ownership spot and a game plan for the future success of the organization. They need a general manager with a history of drafting well and constructing an NFL roster capable of competing year in and year out. Lastly, you need the coach that can put it all together and execute the organization’s plan. Steinberg believes New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the best he has ever seen at putting together a game plan that puts the players on his roster in the best positions to succeed.”
“When quarterback David Klingler was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992, Steinberg also learned the hard way that your Draft emotions don’t always mix well with cameras. Shocked that the Bengals would take Klinger, Steinberg’s true reaction was caught on camera as he said in his words ‘Oh no. Oh my God, Mike Brown. Not Mike Brown, again,’ Steinberg said referring to the Bengals owner.”
“In fact, Polian’s system found that over a decade span, there would be an average of about eighteen prospects with first-round grades each year. With the understanding that not every team would have the exact same eighteen players with those grades, they would estimate that anywhere from twenty-two to twenty-four players would have legitimate first-round grades across the league. Think about that for a second. Thirty-two players will be selected in the first round, so that means that the backend of the round is likely made up of players that did not have a first-round grade. Some of the players with second-round grades would end up going in the first round, which leaves even less of the targeted players potentially available in round two. That theme will continue to compound each round any time that players go ahead of their grade, which is why trading back is so popular amongst the best front offices in Polian’s opinion.”
“There was one base rule [Bill Cowher] wanted to follow. He always wanted the Steelers to come out of Round 3 with a lineman, a playmaker at either running back or wide receiver, and a defensive back. The order in which those positions went in the first three rounds was dependent on the value of the player available, but after three rounds, he wanted a guy in each of those position groups if possible.”
“Rodgers mentioned how a lot of the quarterbacks these days who are drafted in the first round don’t have the opportunity to be in the same room as a guy who is better than them. They don’t have the player who can help show them what greatness is, whether directly or indirectly. For Rodgers, that time with Favre was invaluable. ‘When you get to watch what greatness looks like every single day, you have no other option, but to soak up as much as possible and that was a gift that falling twenty-four spots gave me.'”
The 18 interviews in Round Zero pack in a lot of excellent stories. A scout telling Mike Singletary that he couldn’t be Mike Singletary, for example, or Steve Mariucci’s first conversation with Brett Favre coming when the Packers’ QB called from jail. There are also some interesting nuggets on the numbers game that teams must play during the Draft. Bill Polian estimates that there are only around 24 players each year worthy of a first round grade, which has interesting knock-on effects for later picks. Meanwhile, Bill Cowher explains how he always wanted the Steelers to come out of the first three rounds with a lineman, a defensive back and either a running back or wide receiver.
The decision to devote each chapter to a single interview works better in some cases than others. It works fine for self-contained stories like Warren Moon’s, but Brett Favre’s story comes up in the interviews with Ron Wolf, Steve Mariucci and Favre himself. For readers who only dip into books like this, that material might have been better in one section. Some chapters are a little underwritten too, with some interviewees getting more context and more of a post-Draft story than others.
Finally, the book would have benefited from a section of interviews with scouts – and perhaps even some of the media commentators, too. Those voices might have completed the picture in this otherwise thorough survey of the key figures in the Draft. Omissions aside, there’s still plenty here to keep fans engaged and it’s an ideal quick read as the Draft rolls around.
Shane Richmond, Pigskin Books
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