With the clock waning on the 115th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, then-first-year San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke decided to pick Oklahoma State running back
Steve Risser and Donovan “Doc” Dressler – the 49ers representation at Radio City Music Hall in New York – found out before the rest of us.
As the league allows teams to announce their own fourth-round selections to the national audience at home, Risser unsuccessfully nudged Dressler, an OSU alumnus himself, to announce the Hunter pick at the podium.
Risser took the role gladly.
“As a kid growing up, I never thought I’d be working for my favorite organization, but also to be standing up at the draft announcing on television who our pick was in the draft, that was very memorable,” said Risser, who has been with the organization for a decade and has worked full-time for the logistics department since 2005. “And it came out to be a good pick too.”
Risser and Dressler, who’s a veteran in the equipment room, have proved to be as well.
Come their eighth straight draft this May 8, 9 and 10, however, you’d be forgiven for not knowing their faces. These are the guys in sharp, dark-colored suits with neatly placed lapel pins sitting at the black cloth-covered table sporting the red and gold helmet.
But how’d they get the gig, and what is it exactly that they do?
Getting the Job
When he was still a top 49ers scout in advance of the 2007 Draft, Baalke enlisted Risser and Dressler to serve as the organization’s new on-site stand-ins.
It’s probably one percent of their daily, year-round duties – Risser can be seen booking flights for 60 football players, and Dressler has been seen tossing footballs to
They knew this when they first traveled to the East Coast on behalf of the front office that sets up its draft room back home in Santa Clara.
“The first year, I think we were a little nervous. It’s a big event, and you don’t want to screw it up. If you turn in the wrong pick or make a mistake, you probably won’t get a flight back home,” said Risser, who explained that NFL teams send reps from various departments in their respective organizations. “Once we got a feel and understood the process, it’s obviously not rocket science.”
Risser and Dressler routinely fly into New York on Wednesday and check into Radio City on Thursday. At their table, they’ll have multiple phone lines and a thick book full of draft-eligible player names, positions and schools. Getting the name spelled right and handing the pick into the NFL official standing nearby is one of the pair’s smaller tasks.
“A lot of people at home think we’re picking – it’s us, that we were working with the guys back home saying, ‘This is who we’re going to pick,’” Risser said. “The reality is that we’re just there as representatives to make sure that all the work Trent, Coach and the scouts have done for months and months is carried through.”
Reps with Big Role
There’s lip-reading and sign-stealing in Radio City’s main hall. The only man or woman you can trust is the person sitting next to you.
“It’s like covering your paper in school. You never know – a camera could catch your pick before it’s announced,” Risser said. “Any little advantage. If you know the team right before you is going to pick John Smith, well you can give that information back to our scouts. We don’t get a lot of time on the clock, and it’s a huge puzzle.”
Risser and Dressler alternate manning the phone line back to a half-dozen scouts who are also on shifts in Santa Clara. They’re in constant communication, even if it’s just to make sure the draft clock back there is on time (TV is off by a few seconds).
“Essentially, we’re the eyes and the ears for everyone back home, giving them the play-by-play,” Risser said. “The scouts ask us questions like, ‘Hey, does it look like they’re getting close to turning in their pick? Did they write anything down yet? Does it look like a trade is going down?’ We’re there to provide that feedback because ‘Doc ‘and I will be the first ones to see that a trade is going down.”
Never a Dull Moment
The glitz and glamour of round one wears off as the weekend wears on, but there’s no time to rest.
“Our guys are very good about getting us the picks ahead of time,” Risser said of team scouts. “A lot of times, as you see the clock ticking down from 20 seconds and people are getting nervous, saying, ‘Ah, you better get in the pick,’ we’ve got that name written down on the card and ready to roll.”
There are two reasons to wait until the last second. Baalke and the front office prefer to contact a draftee before he sees his name on TV. There’s also the potential for a trade; Baalke, who has given Risser and Dressler as many as three names before narrowing it down to one, has consummated 13 draft-day trades since he took over the draft in 2010, and all but two have occurred after the first round.
“That’s when we have to be alert and on our game,” Risser said. “You never know – any pick in any round could essentially be traded over to us.”
This time around, Baalke has 11 picks to work with and a deep roster entering the 2014 season. There could be a lot of movement three straight days, or there could be very little.”
“It’s a long process, but we love it,” Risser said. “Some say it’s like watching paint dry, but it’s exciting to watch that paint dry.”