I did some... ok, quite a bit or research on the web and found what appeared to be, for all intents and purposes, the best draft software on the web. I found it from the folks over at Fandraft.com. I will say this now in full disclosure... this is NOT a paid advertisement, I received NO compensation for this post (despite all my best efforts), and paid the full retail price ($29.95) to order the draft board software. What follows here is a honest assessment of the software and its impact on the draft.
The ordering was easy, and the software was simple to install. It required nothing more than a download after purchase. There is an option to add a CD backup of the software, but I personally decided it was not needed. After downloading the software and putting in all my information, I gave it a couple of run-through's to get comfortable with it. This didn't seem too hard. A few hours before the draft, I hooked my laptop up to a digital projector and put it up on a screen. The projector and screen (as well as venue for the draft) came at the courtesy of my brother-in-law and draftmaster. Now, I have a 50' Plasma TV which would have worked just as well, but I choose the projector based on ease of set up and portability. SETUP - This was a very easy interface. Someone with little computer experience would not have a difficult time setting up a draft. It gave you all the standard set up you need for a fantasy draft such as league name, owner names, roster size and requirements, draft order and type. Very simple, very standard.
TEAM SETUP - This was one feature that I truly enjoyed. In addition to giving a team a name, it allowed you to upload a custom logo. Before the draft, I asked each owner to send me what they wanted their logo to look like. I spent the night designing each owners logo in PhotoShop, and then uploaded the photos to the owners profile. This was a little bit cumbersome, as the draft software only recognized certain file extensions and sizes. It took a little while to get the hang of, but after the first couple of logos, it became a cinch. The teams logo appeared before and during the draft. There was also a section for Team Notes which turned out to be a riot. The software has a pre-draft option, where you can show team logo and information on the board as kind of a presentation. If you know your owners well, this is a great place to insert some good jokes and facts. I ran the pre-draft directly before the draft itself, and it was well received. It gave everyone a real sense of the other teams, and brought bunch of solid laughs. The pre-draft wasn't a feature that I was looking for prior to purchase, but it turned out to be one of the best parts of the draft. I had wanted to use powerpoint for this, but this feature did just fine by itself.
PREFERENCES - Similar to the setup, this feature allowed you full control over the draft settings. Some of the features included:
- Selecting the number of available players visible by position. There was no need to show 100 QB's, as no more than 25 or so would likely be drafted. Likewise, it allowed you to expand other positions such as RB and WR due to the depth of the player fields, and likelihood of a large number of draft choices.
- Setting up the draft clock. I set mine at 4 minutes per round, including a pause at the end of each round. The designers of the software also included an option to make a change to the time per pick at any point of the draft. This was a smart feature which we utilized after the 6th round. After a quick vote, we changed the time to 2 minutes to speed up the draft. After another 2 rounds, we changed it again to 60 seconds. This helped set a good pace for the draft, making sure that owners didn't get too tired or worn out in the later rounds.
- Ticker Settings. The draft software came with a very cool little feature which showed a ticker at the bottom of the board showing the recent picks. It was very much like ESPN's coverage of the actual NFL draft. The setting allows you to stream the entire draft, just the current round, or tailor it however you'd like. I don't know if this feature really added anything to the draft, other than to the "cool" factor. But it most certainly was cool.
MUSIC - One of the unheralded, albeit coolest, features of the draft was the music upload option. This allowed you to upload any music that you wanted, and allowed you to chose if you wanted it to play during the pre-draft, or during the draft itself. I chose to play music through the draft itself, and it was a great choice. Throughout the draft there was a steady soundtrack which, again, helped to set the mood for the football environment. I uploaded the theme from "Monday Night Football" as well as some selections from "Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music" The songs reset after each pick in the draft and continued throughout. I can't tell you how cool it was to hear "Ramblin' Man From Gramblin" througout the draft. It was one of the most talked about parts of the night.
THE DRAFTWith everything settled, the draft began. It was evident from the very beginning that the draft software was an instant success. The main screen was a standard draft board. It showed the picks made, broken down by team and position. It was exactly what you'd expect from a draft board. Not much different from a old fashioned cardboard draft board, except for the bright movie theater quality. But when you coupled in the ticker, the clock, the logos and the music it made for the best draft board that I've seen.
But that particular screen was only one of the many available displays, which included best players available (by position), display by round, display by team position breakdown, and display by team. To be honest, while these were all good to have, we only really used two. The standard draft board display, and best players available by position. This latter display proved to be a nifty tool. Countless times throughout the night owners would call out to the draftmaster, "Hey, can you show me the QB's that are left?" With a quick click of the mouse, the draft board would show the best QB's left on the board. Players who had already been selected were dimmed in view. This was the single most important and useful feature of the software. It was like having an electronic magazine at your finger tips. The players were pre ranked by the software, but were editable before the draft. For the most part, the rankings were pretty much representative of what you'd see in a magazine or on the web. There were some reaches and misses, but most owners had their own rankings figured out.
The only drawback that I saw to this software, came in the later rounds, when you were reaching for a supersleeper. At times, it was hard to find some names on the board, that weren't obvious picks. For instance, I was looking for Eric Johnson (TE, New Orleans) in the second to last round of the draft. It took an eagle eyed owner to find his name amidst the sea of leftover tight ends. All in all though, this was a very small issue, and could be avoided by updating the preset rankings of players that comes with the software. The designers of the software also thought ahead, and created an option for "on the fly" selections. If you wanted to add a player that was not already on the list (very unlikely, as the list was quite exhaustive) you could do so simply and quickly. It also allowed you to enter a team on the fly, but I can think of no reason why this would be necessary.
There is also a very helpful and interesting feature on the board. One that we never got around to using. Assuming that your draft computer is connected to the internet, if decided that you wanted to know information about any player on the board, you simply had to right click on the players name. You would be brought to the corresponding fact page of that player on NFL.com. I didn't realize that this was an option until after the draft. Had I known it, I would have let the owners know. I just don't know that it would have been used considering all the magazines and cheat sheets available at the draft. A very helpful feature nonetheless.
AFTER THE DRAFTOnce the draft is over, the software continues to earn its keep. With a simple click of the mouse, you can immediately view and print a break down of the draft. Owners no longer have to hand fill their teams and submit them to the owner. Instead, everything is already supplied. You can chose Summary by Picks, or Summary by Team (among other options) and export draft results to file, or for print. This is a great option, that allows each owner to have a full draft report before they walk out the door so they can analyze their team, or any opponent's team. I found that it also came in very handy when I entered the results of my offline draft, to my online fantasy football league.
RATINGS (OUT OF 5 STARS)Graphics - 4.0
The Interface was large, bold, and easy to read. Both on the computer for the draftmaster, and on the board for the owners. Most of the colors and fonts were pretty standard. In future editions, I'd like to see a more stylish and refined look. The logos were nice, but they could have been more prevalently featured during the draft.
Sound - 4.5
The music feature was perfect, and worked flawlessly. There were no lags or skips. Played over a small amp, the music came off with CD quality. The only change that I would suggest is that the bell which sounds signaling less than 15 seconds be changed to something less effeminate... like a bullhorn.
Usability - 4.5
Simple, ergonmic, and very very user friendly. Anyone with a passing knowlege of computers can easily run this software. The changes on the fly features and editable content makes for flawless execution. I would have liked to see an auto-save feature to prevent loss of info during the setup phase. I happened to lose power during the initial setup, and had to re-enter the info. My fault for not backing it up, but an auto-save would be nice 'dumbass' protection.
Features - 5.0
They really covered everything here. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the features. They thought of things that I wouldn't have, and I'm a pretty imaginative guy. The little extras like the music and the ticker make it heads and shoulders better than any draft board I've ever used.
Cost - 5.0
I'll be honest, at first, I had a tough time shelling out $29.95 for something that I could have done with some poster board and a couple of markers. But hindsight is 20/20 and with the draft long since over, not only am I glad that I shelled out the cash, but I believe that its a fair value for all that you get in return
FINAL ANALYSISI took the leap of faith and ordered this software two days before my draft. I had no problems downloading it, setting it up, and testing it out. When it came time for the actual draft, all my fears of a crashing board, or software glitches flew out the window as the draft went off without a hitch. The bugs in the software (such as the display jumping down to the bottom of available players) were very small and easy to fix immediately.
I spent the weeks before the draft telling all the owners how cool the board would be. Neither the owners, nor myself, were disappointed.
And while I expected it to be fun and exciting, I did not expect it to be as helpful as it was. It really made the draft ergonomic and helped give an edge to smart owners. It bears repeating that this is NOT AN ENDORSEMENT. I recieved nothing in return for this review. This is an honest and true assessment of a draft software that I recently used, a draft software that I will use again, and a draft software that I'm amazed I've ever lived without!!!