Washington Football Team public relations invited several fan-run blogs, podcasts, and forums (including Hogs Haven) to send a representative to join Julie Donaldson and Joey Colby-Begovich this past Tuesday night in a virtual discussion of the team’s draft and draft-day activities. The discussion included not just information about the events the team has set up for fans around the draft, but also a Q&A involving the football operations side of the draft. It was a long discussion so I won’t transcribe everything, but I include the highlights below so hopefully Hogs Haven readers will feel like they were part of the discussion too.
Julie: Thursday night is draft night and we are having fans back at FedExField! Three thousand fans are going to be coming in. We are making sure everything is very safe with respect to COVID. We are very proud of how we handled COVID last season, we did not have anyone on the active roster test positive and only two people not on the active roster tested positive. We are taking this very seriously, working with Prince George’s County to make sure all protocols are followed and make it an exciting experience for fans coming back to FedExField on draft night.
For draft night, we’re going to be throwing it back to the 80s, back to our glory days. We’re going to have neon colors, my hair’s going to be in scrunchies and crimped, we’re going to be dressed for the 80s, our set is going to be from the 80s. I’m going to have Bram Weinstein and Fred Smoot with me; Doug Williams, Joe Theismann, and Doc Walker will be joining for some of it. We’re also going to have a couple of players from the active roster live streaming into the event.
We will be streaming online starting at 7:30pm Eastern with pre-draft discussion. Then we’ll give instant reactions to the pick when it happens. Afterwards, we’ll live stream with the pick to get his thoughts and reaction to joining the Washington Football Team.
Let’s get into it though. We want to see your questions!
Q: Julie, having gone to Florida, would you trade up from 19 for Kyle Pitts?
Julie: Yes, I would, but it’s not my money and it’s not my pick. Here’s the thing about Pitts: I don’t have to tell you his measurables or that he has the largest wingspan of any TE in recent history. He is going to be a generational gamechanger. When he was on the field for the University of Florida, we did not lose! You cannot stop him, he is unblockable; you can double him and he can jump outside of everybody to catch that ball; he is a playmaker. I would love for us to be able to get him, but we won too many games last year and I don’t see this team selling the farm to go up and get him. But if it were my decision, I am loyal to a fault and I’d move up for Kyle Pitts. I do think he’s going to be the first position player off the board once the QBs go.
Q: Some teams give a behind-the-scenes look at their preparations for the draft. I’m sure you have a long list of content ideas, but do you have any plans to go behind-the-scenes for future drafts and talk to the team’s scouts or show more about the team’s preparations for the draft?
Julie: Oh, we’re trying! (laughs) Trust me, we’re trying! Our PR staff gets those requests, like: “we want to be in the War Room on draft night!” We actually will be able to have a camera there because coach Ron Rivera gets it. Before he went into coaching, he was in broadcasting, so he understands that fans want that content and he gives us more access than a lot of coaches probably would. He’s actually going to let us into the War Room on draft night, so if you watch the live stream, we will be able to bring you some of that content. Of course we can’t be there the entire night, but we are going to be able to show some of that.
I think the biggest challenge we had last year was just COVID. Any interview I did with any player or coach, I’m in the same building and they’re 30 or 40 feet away from me, but the interview was through Zoom because we couldn’t get near them. So hopefully, if we can be done with COVID, we’ll have the opportunity to do that.
Q: What kind of draft player grades (in terms of round-based, color-based, or number-based) does the team use and can you talk a bit about how they are determined?
Julie: I can’t say I know exactly how they do it, but what coach does have, because when you’re drafting at 19, you’ve got to be reacting to what happens in front of you quickly, so what they do is they put the players into “clumps” as he calls them and they have different clumps for each position. In terms of ranking, they have different ranks within those clumps to make the decision process easy for them. I know they were hard at work in that draft room. I wasn’t able to peak into the draft room to give you much insider intel into that, but I do know there are certain position groups that are more of a priority for this team. Coach plans to take the best player available, but there may be several best players available at multiple positions that we need. We know we need some offensive line depth, we know we need a linebacker, probably need to add to the secondary, maybe another pass catcher. Within those groups, they feel very confident [in their rankings]. I know they finished a lot of their draft stuff a bit early. So it doesn’t really answer about a color- or number-based system...
Q: So it’s a clump-based system then? (laughs)
Julie: Yeah, there you go. Coach is very coy! Every time I chat with him, he keeps everything very close to the vest. I get it, because you don’t want someone coming in and messing with your board.
Q: Can you rank the 5 most important people in the organization for determining the final player grades and the final draft Big Board?
Julie: Okay, so you have Chris Polian coming in with Pro Player Personnel. Great lineage in the NFL with him, coming up from Jacksonville, you see him around the building. Then you have Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney; the two of them really work in cohesion with one another. The titles are what they are, Martin Mayhew is General Manager, but they both bring these different, excellent backgrounds with them in terms of how they work and they have a good familiarity with each other. The ultimate decision-maker though is Ron Rivera, he has the ultimate control. When you put all of them together, I think it’s 120 years of front office experience in one room. Coach is quick to say there is no “ranking,” they all work really well together, but at the end of the day it is coach’s decision. If I have to throw a 5th in there, Dan Snyder’s got to sign off on the checks, right? But it is coach’s ultimate choice.
Q: Let’s say we had to do a redraft of last year’s draft, are you still taking Chase Young #2 overall?
Julie: Yes! He set out to be defensive rookie of the year. He was criticized halfway through the year because the sacks weren’t coming and you think of Chase, you think of double-digit sack machine and he only had 7.5 last year. But he was double- even triple-teamed at times and he still had an impact. He’s the sort of player that it’s not just the numbers that he puts up on the field. You saw what he did against the run. He likes that he draws attention to free up Montez and you saw that Montez really fed off that and that makes Chase just as proud. He doesn’t quit and at practice he goes hard. I think the biggest thing that makes me think he was the right choice is that he’s a captain. You watch those guys follow him as a rookie (and the vets follow him) because of the way he approaches the game. He’s all about ball, he’s got those guys’ respect, so wholeheartedly it was the right decision.
Q: At pick 19, is the philosophy of the front office more inclined to move up or move back?
Julie: I’d say back. That’s just my opinion, but everything I’ve seen from coach, when he tells you he doesn’t want to mortgage the farm, he means that. When you look at where this team is, they have a lot of needs. They did okay last year, but let’s be honest, the NFC East was atrocious. We know if you really want to be that perennial contender and team that’s in the post season, they have a lot of areas they need to address. If you’re going to reach up, you’re probably going to reach up for a quarterback and we don’t know that we have that long-term answer (as happy as we are to have Ryan Fitzpatrick). Unless we’re really in love with a QB, I think this team and the approach [Ron] has, I believe him when he says he wants to build the team. When they find that right quarterback, they’ll plug him in and they’re one step closer to going further than the postseason and contending for a Super Bowl. I like his approach of really building the team strong and finding a QB who can run the system, which Ryan Fitzpatrick can do, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heineke can do.
So if anything, I see them going back, but I don’t see them stretching too far to go forward.
In addition to draft Q&A, Joey fielded questions about fan activities planned for the draft and to a certain extent for the upcoming season. Rather than go through each answer individually, I’m summarizing the information in my words with some representative Q&A below.
Q: What kinds of fan activities are planned for the draft?
Thursday, the first night of the draft, we’ll be welcoming 3,000 fans back to FedExField for a draft-day event. Tickets are free, but capacity is limited to ensure compliance with COVID safety. Speaking of which, the Washington Football Team is very proud to be one of only two NFL teams (along with the Seahawks) to avoid any positive COVID tests on the active roster last year and will be applying our league-leading precautions to the upcoming events, as detailed on the team page.
The event will feature live music and an 80s theme. Fans are encouraged to dress in 80s style and there will be a “best-dressed” contest for those who want to participate. There is going to be a self-guided historical tour of the facility that includes a tribute to the Hogs offensive line and a self-guided locker room and press room tour. Fans will also be able to kick field goals on the field. In addition to that, we’ll be playing NFL Network’s coverage of the draft live on the jumbotron so people can follow the picks and we’ll have our own discussion, as Julie described earlier.
In addition to the first night of the draft, the team will be broadcasting live draft coverage on the subsequent days of the draft, including interviews with coaches, alumni, current players, the team’s new draft picks, etc.
Q: How can fans follow the team’s draft activities online?
Live streams of all the team’s coverage of all days of the draft can be seen on our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. On the first night of the draft (Thursday), the live stream will start at 7:30pm Eastern. On Friday, the live stream will start at 6:30pm. On Saturday, the live stream will start at 11:30am and go throughout the day. Each live stream will include interviews with the team’s draft picks after they’re made. In addition, the Saturday live stream will feature interviews with Ron Rivera, Jack Del Rio, and Scott Turner.
Q: Are there any changes we can look forward to in terms of fan experience in the upcoming season?
I can’t give away too many specific things yet, but we’ve got a lot of stuff that we’re tackling right now. That includes parking, we’re in the process of getting a new parking vendor. We’re re-striping our lots to make the ingress and egress out of those lots a lot smoother. The first time I pulled into FedExField lot H, I pulled right into a parking spot - that was not a great experience. We’re working with some of our food and beverage partners to have a cashless experience for the first time in the stadium. We’ve got a lot of other food and beverage concepts that we’re really excited about too.
I want to thank Julie Donaldson and Joey Colby-Begovich for taking the time to meet with fans and answer our questions about the draft. The new PR team seems to have an increased interest in engaging in two-way conversations with fans, which is a welcome change.
Which would excite you most during tonight’s draft day event?
This poll is closed
The team trades into the top 10 to draft an elite player
The team trades back out of the 1st round entirely
The team gets Justin Fields or Trey Lance at pick 19 without a trade
The team gets one of the top OTs at pick 19
The team gets one of the top LBs at pick 19
Which interview would you be most interested in seeing in a live stream?
This poll is closed
Ron Rivera explaining their choices and decision-making after making their 1st round selection
The interview with our new 1st round pick
(Post-draft) Jack Del Rio explaining how the defensive players taken will fit into their scheme
(Post-draft) Scott Turner explaining how the offensive players taken will fit into his scheme