Friday, April 24, 2009

NFL Draft Prospects in 5 minutes or Less: A Look Behind DraftguysTV

Any industry will occasionally see a shake up or development which shapes the way we interact with it for some time.

With the explosion of interest in the NFL Draft, there has also been an equally large explosion of coverage. And aside from the extra coverage from the usual suspects like NFL Network and ESPN, a litany of websites has sprung up around the internet.

Of the many out there, perhaps the most unique is or more specifically DraftguysTV, their video project. In the two years since DraftguysTV has launched, it has become a useful portion tool for my analysis of many players who might otherwise get overlooked due to a lack of accessible game footage.

But the Draftguys site itself first came to my attention in 2007, when it launched with the usual group of player rankings, mock drafts and player analysis that is prevalent among various websites.

"We loved talking football,’ says Cecil Lammey, who met the other two founders – Sigmund Bloom and Marc Faletti - at, working on his podcast The Audible. “So we thought, well why don’t we keep it going all off season? And if we were going to keep the talk going The Draft made the most sense to focus on.”

By 2008, Draftguys switched their focus from the usual stuff and moved towards into something fairly unique.

Video profiles shot in person at the three major College All Star games – The Shrine Game, Texas vs The Nation and The Senior Bowl – with player interviews.

The idea of video rather than written profiles seemed a natural one to Faletti. “Web-based video allows me to reach audiences directly,” he told me, “without having to navigate some sort of studio infrastructure that might dilute my product or ideas.”

Being a smaller company also has its advantages. “Like blogging to the newspaper industry, web video offers creators a chance to go uncensored, improve on immediacy compared to big media, and be more nimble,” says Marc. “Our budgets might be lower, but I think we compensate by bringing folks an uncompromised product.”

Aside from the budget, the next biggest hurdle would appear to be getting access to the practices and getting player interviews. But Bloom says that’s really easier to do than you’d think.

“If you're respected within the community and contact the right people, it's not that difficult at all. Ask nicely.”

Bloom, along with Lammey, had traveled the All Star circuit before. It was a simple case of just continuing those relationships and expanding them.

“The groundwork had already been laid,’ says Lammey. ‘We just took it to the next level.”

“The Shrine Game and Texas Vs the Nation were extremely forthcoming with permission and access. They have no television deal for their practices, and that made it easy for them to give us a chance to shoot everything,” Faletti said about reaction from the various organizations. “The Senior Bowl has an exclusive deal with NFL Network. While they gave us a chance to shoot the practices, we weren't allowed to use the footage. They did allow us to use still photos, though and that's given us a chance to make profiles like Alphonso Smith's and Peria Jerry's.”

Once in the door, the challenge became deciding who would be looked at and then shooting it. But even if they come in with a list, flexibility is a key.

“It's all about the footage. We can come in with preconceived ideas, but we never know who's going to stand out on film,” Faletti tells me. “Scouting always starts with an open mind, and that's how we try to approach our footage.”

And sometimes it’s the guys they don’t know who make the biggest impression.

“A guy like Dudley Guice, who we'd never heard of, blew us away from the start and earned himself a profile simply by excelling.”

“We see a ton of great players and make a ton of connections,” Lammey adds. “But you can’t profile everyone.”

Getting the footage can be difficult, knowing when to shoot and who. And sometimes, Bloom tells me, it’s even a little dangerous.

“Sometimes errant passes or players running out of bounds just miss Marc - thankfully most receivers have great body control.”

Occasionally the camera attracts other dangers, like concerned and suspicious looks from scouts.

“Most of the time while we are waiting to talk to players they are talking to team scouts,” continues Bloom, ”who sometimes want to make sure our camera wasn't recording anything while they are talking.

Even self financed, the Draftguys haven’t skimped. Digital cameras can be had cheaply and it’s not uncommon for college students or aspiring filmmakers to grab a cheap camera and run off a little avant garde film.

Not for Faletti. The Sony EX-1 camcorder he shoots with allows him to not only run the videos in High-Def, as they did in season 1, but gives them incredibly high quality images that can easily be edited in multiple ways.

“I've worked with a lot of gear over the years,” Faletti told me, “but that camera's the best bang for the buck in the history of video. Capturing in 1080P also allows me to crop certain plays when editing in 720P, and when you only use one camera on shoots like these, being able to "zoom in" in post makes a big difference.”

Then Faletti runs the footage through Adobe After Effects and adds music in Final Cut Pro on an
octo-core Mac Pro. The footage is modified a ton, so After Effects is a tool that can allow everything from graphic manipulation to time modification and much more easily than with just Final Cut Pro.

From there, it’s finalized and then heads to the web where arm-chair General Managers can take a look at some of the prospects their favorite teams are examining as well.

“A lot of fans tell us they want a player for their team after seeing the show,” says Bloom, who notes that Florida Atlantic linebacker Frantz Joseph has gotten the most response in this vein this season. Sometimes people will return to a video well after the draft as well. “Draftniks like to use our videos to prove that they were right about someone.”

It isn’t only the hard core Draft fans who took notice of the series.

After a first season where players like defensive tackle Eric Foster (started 11 games for the colts), corners Chevis Jackson (played in 16 games and picked off a pivotal Peyton Manning pass for a 95 yard TD) and Dwight Lowery (started opposite Darrell Revis for the Jets in 10 games) were featured, the media started to line up as well.

With several hundred players to track, it makes sense to Bloom. “Professional media like the ability to get a quick but informative overview of a player.”

Overall, the reaction has continued to be great from both parties.

The series has continued to gain steam this year as well.

"The NFL Network called us to say they enjoyed the show, and major sites like The Sporting News and USA Today have been running our work,” says Faletti of the reaction to season 2. “We have seen beat writers from coast to coast embed our profiles at their papers' sites, and we've seen fan messages boards for almost every pro team and dozens of college teams sending the show around. …right now, we're the only folks offering a show like that in any medium, and I think that's why it appeals so much to the media, fans, and draft aficionados.”

After two seasons of the video, the guys aren’t losing any steam. What’s next?

Bloom says he’d like to return to something they did in year one.

“We’re waiting to see if the NFL moves the draft up into February, or if the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl change venues to Tampa before making any decisions, but if the budget allows, we'd love to hit more training facilities.”

Lammey agrees, but thinks the next natural progression is Pro Days. “A camera hitting some of the big ones, checking some of the position drills would be great.”

Before any of that, though, Faletti says there’s one thing they have to take care of first.

“We hope to use the next several months to find support from an advertiser or possibly a large site with whom we could partner. Given what we did on almost no budget, imagine what some real financial backing would allow us to accomplish!”

With the following that DraftguysTV has gathered, it might not be long before we find out.

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