NFL teams prepare two draft boards in preparation for the NFL draft, a horizontal board and a vertical board. The vertical board distills the scouting grade, need at the position, positional value, and any other relevant factors into one ranked list of the “best player available.” The first 11 players are gone? Take player 12. This keeps the team true to its evaluations no matter how the draft unfolds, which is both a positive and a negative. The team will ensure they get players they value highly, but they might miss out on a position of need because they won’t react to “runs” at a particular spot.
Most teams rely on horizontal boards for most of their picks, using vertical boards only to help identify “best player available” in early rounds. One team that has had excellent success with the vertical board are the Baltimore Ravens under Ozzie Newsome. This anecdote from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti shows the vertical board in action:
We had [Miami safety] Ed Reed above Lito [Sheppard, cornerback out of Florida] and I said to Ozzie, ‘I don’t understand this,’ ” Bisciotti said. ” ‘If they both have the same grade, why would you not take a corner over a safety? It seems like that’s a more important position.’ Ozzie said, ‘Because I am true to my board.’
Sheppard had a fine NFL career, but Reed was one of the most dominant defensive players of the past quarter-century. Newsome’s adherence to his vertical board made Baltimore the beneficiary of his Hall-of-Fame career.