Feeling a draft

On Thursday, Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of pro/college personnel, was the subject of the top story on NFL.com's look at next month's draft in a question and answer session with Christine Stewart. Q: What are your duties?

JL: My duties are many and varied. Certainly, scouting is first and foremost. I'm also involved in contract negotiations and organizing minicamps and offseason camps from a player-personnel perspective, not from a coaching perspective, obviously. Around here, the more you can do, the better off you are.

Q: What are the next six weeks like leading up to the draft?

JL: The next six weeks are a continuation of the evaluation process. Our coaches are presently on the road watching players at their positions who have been recommended by those of us who do the scouting. On April 15, we begin our draft meetings. We talk about every kid in the draft and then we practice the draft, which means that between now and then, we'll do an intense study of what we believe to be the needs of each of the other teams in the National Football League. When we practice the draft, we assign players to teams based on their needs. We do two or three mock drafts of our own.

Q: How do you compile a list of other teams' needs?

JL: We have everybody's depth charts on the wall in our draft room, so it's easy to walk by and just look at each team's roster and see where the holes are. Plus, you get video tapes of each team so you can watch them play. Sometimes you can tell by that, and other times, by word of mouth.

Q: How much video of players do you have?

JL: We probably have well over 800 college games here at the present time, and we have the entire NFL season.

Q: Do you draft differently based on your position in the draft?

JL: I think when there are only seven rounds in the draft, it's important to address your needs but you have to also use your head about it. You want to take the best player available, but at the same time you need to be very conscious of your needs.

You can't pass up a great player at a position that may not be a need position. As a matter of fact, we've gotten some of our better players over the years in the second round by taking people that we were surprised to still see available -- like (RB) Corey Dillon -- we were surprised he was still there in the second round the year we drafted him (1997). We didn't have it in our mind that we were going to take a running back but we just couldn't pass him up. (Wide receivers)Darnay Scott, Carl Pickens and (FS)Darryl Williams were all the same way.

Q: Are your coaches highly involved in player evaluation?

JL: We think it's important that the coaches are involved in the player evaluation because they're the ones that actually have to coach the players. To select a player without them (the coaches) having knowledge of the youngster may not be the most fair thing to them, or the most equitable. This way, it's a mutual thing -- the scouting department and the coaching staff all get together, pool our resources and information in order to make the best judgment. We think it's absolutely necessary that coaches are involved.

Q: What role does character play when evaluating a player?

JL: Being able to judge the character of a young man is certainly very important. One of the judgments you have to make is how the college player coming into Cincinnati is going to mesh with everyone else that's here. Are we going to be able to coach the young man, and how are we going to be able to coach him? The team chemistry and the locker room aspect of it are very important as well.

Q: How much emphasis do you put on a player's performance at the combine and individual workouts?

JL: Some of the interviewing (at the combine) is worthwhile. Some of it is not. These players get coached by their agents on what to say and how to interview, much like they practice for the bench press or the 40-yard dash. They can train for the combine in that regard. The biggest thing about the combine for us is the medical exam. We rely on that part heavily. It's fun to see them weighed and measured in the mornings, and you get to see the body types if you haven't seen them already.

As far as the drills on the field, I don't know that we've ever downgraded somebody because they didn't do well. There is a difference in running a 40-yard dash with pads on a football field. There are some people who are functionally fast and are not track fast. Others are track fast, but functionally and football-wise, they may not be as fast as you'd like them to be. Running the 40-yard dash (at the combine) is something we all pay attention to, but the true test is what they do on the football field in game situations and how fast they move then.

I think the individual workouts in March are a dangerous thing. I think at times, you're tempted to read into something that may not be there. Yeah, 'he had this great this and that', but how does he really play? That's the true test. On the video tapes, you can study how they run and move in pads. We're not running a track team here, we're running a football team. So it's very important that you judge how they play football, and not so much how they perform in offseason drills.

Q: How do you set up your draft board?

JL: It's not something that happens overnight. It happens over a period of time. I'll say this -- you don't have to be right until April. We analyze by position. As we go through the fall and into the winter, you get a feel for who's who at what position. For example, you see enough wide receivers so you can rank them based on your own taste. We like big receivers -- there aren't a lot of teams that are into small receivers. So that might be a criteria -- certainly route-running ability and hands come into play. As you go through the scouting season, you'll quickly be able to start ranking players at each position group.

Q: What year of a player's career is most critical in the evaluation process?

JL: There is certainly an improvement that takes place during the junior and senior year. Why is that? Because as a junior, players always say to themselves -- subconsciously, not intentionally -- 'Well, I always have next year.' The senior says, 'Holy Toledo, this is it for me.' There's a little more urgency to their play, so you certainly want to see them play and evaluate them as seniors a lot more than you would as juniors. But in the early part of the college season, you don't have that availability. Then you get to November and December and someone you saw on Sept. 10 early in the season may be a whole lot better at the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine game than when you first saw them. That's another piece of the puzzle, so your ranking changes.

Q: How important are games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game in the evaluation process?

JL: It's definitely an important part because you get to see them matched up against the top players in the country. Whether they're at the Gridiron Classic, East-West Shrine Game, the Blue-Grey Game, the Senior Bowl or the Hula Bowl -- if the practices are done the right way, you get to see them against the cream of the crop in college football.

Q: What are the Bengals' main needs heading into this year's draft?

JL: We were 6-10 last season, so we've got a lot of needs. It would be easy to tell you we feel good about our group of linebackers, we feel good about our group of running backs and we like our wide receivers, so those position groups may be on the back burner for us. I think we'd be most liable to address any of the other position groups on the field other than those three.

Q: Any of this year's prospects stick out? Bryant McKinnie? Roy Williams?

JL: I think both of those guys are excellent players, as are both quarterbacks -- (David) Carr and (Joey) Harrington. You've got Bryant McKinnie, Mike Williams, Roy Williams -- those are all great players. William Green of Boston College, T.J. Duckett ... more very, very good players.

Q: What is crunch time like right before draft day?

JL: Our goal is to be ready right around noon the day before the draft. We aim to be ready and finished with our preparation right around that time. I can't recall a time since I've been here where we found ourselves scurrying around the day before the draft. The hay is usually in the barn for us by then. Then it's a matter of waiting for the draft to begin and see how the players fall off the board.

Unfortunately for us, we've had the third or fourth choice in the draft so we really feel good this year [laughs] -- we're the 10th choice in the draft, so that's progress to us. When we get to the Saturday of the draft, we'll be content to watch the players fall off the board and see who actually falls to us. The one thing we're sure about is that we're going to get a very good player at No. 10.

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