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A Glimpse Inside the Saints' Draft Day War Room

I saw this article over at Fox Sports today and found it to be a very interesting peek into how Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton decide who is the "best player available" at any given moment on draft days. It seems it's not all magnets on a board as I had envisioned it before. They're actually utilizing the latest evaluation technology when choosing their BPAs and seem to be ahead of the curve on it when compared to other teams.

When it comes to dissecting the seemingly endless stream of empirical data that separates future NFL stars from expensive draft busts, Loomis, the New Orleans Saints general manager, has gone almost entirely digital.

From his smartphone, a digital tablet, the web or a desktop application on a computer that is flashed across a 60-inch television panel, Loomis, coach Sean Payton and the entire Saints coaching staff and personnel department have seen their traditional draft-day "big board" digitized into a virtual personnel management, player evaluation and game-preparation system.

The interactive tool is called ICE, which stands for Interactive Collaboration and Evaluation.

And Loomis — who first utilized the system in its beta form in 2009 to help build a Super Bowl champion team — is convinced ICE has given the Saints an evaluation edge over other NFL clubs that have yet to make the conversion.

"Teams are always looking to use technology in a way that makes sense in their organization," Loomis said, "and we’re not unique in that regard. But ICE definitely helps us more efficiently process the mountain of information we have on players."

When New Orleans’ turn comes at No. 24 overall, who may be available? If Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn (medical risk), Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward (ho-hum senior season) and Missouri’s Aldon Smith (raw, unpolished) are still on the board, how quickly could the Saints make a determination which player is best for them?

The draft is a high risk, high reward event. Adam Caplan lists the top 10 busts and top 10 steals of the past 25 years.

"In seconds," said John Pollard of STATS, a former Microsoft software engineer who created the system in 2009 after helping Loomis and the Saints build an interactive lounge filled with Xbox controllers and computers for their players two years earlier. "This information is literally at their fingertips."

That’s because, with a simple touch or command, the Saints will be able to not only bring up all three players on huge screens, computers and mobile phones for everyone to evaluate, but ICE also will allow Loomis and his personnel team to instantly access digitized game video showing how Clayborn, Heyward and Smith perform against like opponents or game situations.

Loomis likes to think his franchise has gone from the Stone Age of draft scouting to the Digital Age.

"We were looking for a more efficient way to process the information we get," said Loomis, who admits he hasn’t fully explored the potential of ICE’s capabilities.

"We’re just scratching the surface with how we use this. We haven’t fully integrated ICE into our draft," Loomis said. "It’s been an ongoing process, and we like it. As we go forward, we’ll integrate it into our entire scouting function."

But Loomis hasn’t given up on the old-fashioned draft board, either.

"No way," he said. "We still use the magnets."

Interesting stuff. It's got me envisioning a full-on War Games draft room complete with Matthew Broderick and Dabney Coleman. Shall. We. Play. A. Game?