The path to the NFL Draft contains many twists and turns. While most steps are well-known, such as the NFL Combine, the Senior Bowl and each college’s pro day, others are a bit of a mystery. One, the local workouts, gives a bit of a monopolistic advantage to some teams over others.
In three short weeks, the world’s longest and most arduous job interview comes to an end with the commencement of the 2016 NFL Draft. After at least three years of college, and three months of scrutiny – not to mention the NFL Combine, where job applicants run for their lives in their underwear – prospects will finally find out if they have achieved their dream, and received a chance at making an NFL roster.
Most of the steps in the NFL Draft process are well-known: the Combine, the private workouts, and scouts poring over every inch of film. But some are less publicized than others. For example, the local workouts, in which some NFL teams are able to conduct workouts for local college and university students who fall into an area defined by the NFL as:
A combination of: (1) college/hometown within the metro area of city as defined by Rand McNally Road Atlas or (2) certain specific colleges outside that area assigned to teams by the NFL. Not every college is assigned to a team, so some schools have no “local” affiliation.
Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted twenty-six players from local institutions at their facility, conducting a workout for prospects that was not open to scouts from all teams – it was just for the Buccaneers brass and scouts, and an opportunity for Tampa Bay’s coaches and evaluators to see local prospects up close, to see how they respond to coaching, and to look at them away from the prying eyes of rival scouts. This year’s local workout is scheduled for April 15, and here is a current list of invitees:
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) April 7, 2016
NFL teams are not limited in terms of invites to these private workouts (providing they meet the criteria above), like they are with Top 30 visits from high-profile prospects in the lead up to the draft. The players who accept invites to these local workouts are not first round prospects. These players are most likely the type of prospects who will go undrafted, but may have a trait or quality that stands out to coaches and fills a role or roster need.
Prospects must have played their college or high school football inside that area defined above. As noted by Scott Smith, the Buccaneers were able to identify the talents of Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson two years ago at this workout, then signed him as an undrafted free agent, and saw him contribute for two seasons to their depth chart. Useful players can be found – especially by Tampa Bay and Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia, and now Los Angeles with the high school/hometown provision – for a franchise that digs into quality prospects available to them.
However, this aspect of the draft process provides a unique competitive advantage for NFL clubs that have rich high school programs or a large number of college programs in their area as it drastically increases the pool of players eligible to invite. Green Bay does not have a large pool of prospects and does not have a rich crop of homegrown talent from which to sift through. There are a limited number of prospects who grew up within the Rand McNally area and went to colleges/universities within the proscribed area. The Florida-based teams, as well as those in Texas, and California (including the Los Angeles Rams next year) have a clear advantage over Green Bay (and other franchises).
Because the prospects accepting these invites are not big names, and because the players who are invited to these events – like the one hosted in Philadelphia on April 6, and the one in Tampa on April 15th – are likely to be undrafted free agents, the competitive advantage does not get portrayed as large. However, undrafted free agency essentially becomes a recruiting period during the 7th round and hours after the final selection, and getting face time with prospects you value can help teams land a player as an UDFA. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots (and Russell Wilson’s nightmares) was an undrafted free agent. Every year there are players (Butler, Victor Cruz, James Harrison, etc.) who slip through the scouting net and become valuable NFL contributors despite not being drafted.
These local workouts give prospects one more chance to impress decision makers and show they have what it takes to contribute to an NFL team. It would be better if all teams had a chance to participate in these workouts, instead of giving the Florida-based teams, Dallas and Philadelphia, and now Los Angeles a monopoly over these local workouts.