Former NFL GM: Bill Walsh always said it doesn't matter where you pick them

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday April 26, 2017

You’ve heard NFL Draft analysis for months, most of it based on which round every player could go. But former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi says that’s all wrong.

Why is it nonsense? Because that’s not how NFL people evaluate.

When you describe the player as what round he goes in, it never made sense to me, nor Belichick, or Ozzie Newsome or people like that,” Lombardi said on The Rich Eisen Show. “Describe what the player can do for the football team.”

Lombardi was a 49ers scout in the 1980s and reflected on how Bill Walsh approached the draft.

This is a Bill Walsh-ism: You have to tell me what he can do for our team. Don’t tell me what round he’s going to go in,” Lombardi said. “Can you imagine sitting in a room in October, you’re at Washington State watching a prospect, you can’t honestly sit there and say, ‘He’s a first-rounder.’ How would you know? You don’t even know who all the prospects are in the draft.

“You grade the player on what you think he can do for your team.”

Lombardi said there are five categories in evaluation: starter, potential starter, backup role player, developmental player and guy who can’t make the team. Within those five, you break the position down.

“If I can formation you off the field, if you’re a defensive tackle and I think you can only play the run, if I go to 11 personnel, (you) come off the field. That’s hard for that guy to earn enormous amounts of money,” Lombardi said. “… Those are the things this grading system did.”

Tom Brady is looked back on as a steal in the sixth round by the Patriots. But the reality is it was a misevaluation, just less so by New England than everyone else. Lombardi noted that as soon as the draft ends, nobody talks about draft slot anymore. It’s how they fit the team. That’s how NFL teams always view it, just not media and fans.

“We drafted Charles Haley in the fourth round in 1986. I can still remember, Bill Walsh asked one of the coaches, ‘Where would you draft him?’ The coach said, ‘Well, maybe the 10th or 11th round.’ Walsh looked at him and said, ‘If we like him, we’re going to pick him,’” Lombardi said. “This is where we learned it. Walsh said, ‘It doesn’t matter where we pick them. It matters how they play.’ But that’s not how we talk about them. The only day we talk that is the day after the draft.

“When I come here next Monday, we’ll talk about what role, how the player will play for the team that drafted him. We will not discuss where he was picked. The only time we do it is leading up to the draft. Then they say, ‘Well he was a second-round pick.’ ‘Bortles was the fourth pick overall.’ No, ‘Bortles is playing like this.’ That’s how he’s playing. It doesn’t matter where he got picked. It matters how he plays. That’s been one of my pet peeves.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to