Elias Sports Bureau’s Role at the NFL Draft

Ja'Marr Chase (LSU) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by Cincinnati Bengals as the number five overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Visit any website that covers the NFL this time of year and you are bound to find coverage of the upcoming draft. Mock drafts, player rankings, rumors, and whispers about whose combined performance helped improve his stock and who did not interview well. You could spend hours combing through all this content and still have little idea what teams will draft which players.

Such a blank slate allows fans to dream up best-case scenarios that kickstart an inevitable Super Bowl run. Teams convince themselves that they are one player away, and that player will be available when their time to make a pick arrives. College players find themselves one step away from the ultimate dream of hearing their name called by the commissioner and making the NFL. All that guesswork builds up enormous hype for what has become the NFL’s premium offseason event. And then, the clock starts.

“What actually happens is what matters.” remarks Alex Stern, a researcher at the Elias Sports Bureau when discussing everything that comes pre-draft. No one would know that better than the team at Elias, who has spent the last several weeks gearing up for their 25th year providing statistical coverage for the NFL draft to ESPN’s telecast. But you won’t find an Elias mock draft or trade scenarios for your favorite team.

Instead, members of Elias deal with the known to give perspective for what may happen the night of the draft. Chiefs fans, for instance, are probably wondering if a replacement for Tyreek Hill is coming with one of the team’s two first-round picks. But Kansas City hasn’t taken a wide receiver with a top-50 pick since 2011 when they selected Jon Baldwin in the first round. (For Green Bay fans wondering the same about Davante Adams, the Packers too haven’t used a top-50 pick on a receiver in the past 10 drafts.)

And yet, the draft is still a live sporting event that demands in-the-moment research to put into perspective whatever unfolds over the draft’s three days. Prepping for storylines can only cover so much ground before the narrative goes off-script. That’s when Elias’ expertise comes in handy, as research is done live and fed to ESPN for immediate use on the draft telecast. “The best notes are the ones you cannot possibly have prepared.” Stern asserts, citing the need for all involved to be ready to react not to what was expected to happen, but what no one saw coming.

A dive into the archives confirms that very point.

Back in 2000, as Elias prepared for its third year of providing research on the draft, the NFL sent out a guide on players who were eligible to be drafted. For teams looking for a quarterback, much of the focus was on Marshall’s Chad Pennington, who would be the only QB taken within the first two rounds of that year’s draft. But the first player to appear in the QB section of the NFL’s guide was a little-known prospect who would slip all the way to the 199th pick. Of course, Tom Brady is now prepping for his 23rd season in the NFL.

It won’t take long for the NFL Draft to deliver a surprise Thursday night. Odds are that it will be something no draft guru warned us about. But for the 25th year, Elias’ team will be at the ready when history is made. After all, what actually happens is what matters.