The past four months have been pivotal for prospective NFL Draft prospects. Professional scouts have been scouring the country; showing up to watch film in the early hours of the morning, taking lunch breaks to speak with pro liaisons, grabbing a few minutes with position coaches as they walk out to practice, catching the first few warm up drills to get a sense of how a particular player might move around. Through the copious notes and detailed chicken scratch, they piece together the various components of a puzzle that will ultimately lead them to their evaluation of whether he “can or can’t” for their team. Then it’s on to the next one.
The job of an Area Scout can be somewhat like “Groundhog Day” in its monotony of the process; different school, different players, different coaches, same old outcome. Get in, get out, get the report written. Fill in the blanks, check off the boxes. The tedium can be mind-numbing.
Pro football scouts run the gambit of background and experience. When I first broke into the League the majority of NFL scouts were former college coaches with years of recruiting acumen that bled over into professional evaluations. As computers and technology took a foothold in the business, pro scouts became younger and younger. The shift from relationship building to data collection was the new scouting paradigm. Focus was on getting the information back to the clubs so that coaches and GM’s could process the “bigger picture” for themselves.
This seemed to create a scenario of high dollar busts and wasted picks over rookie players not vetted closely enough for both on and off the field character issues. So the pendulum swung back towards getting it right vs getting it first. Area Scouts trudge through their schools and grind out their grades in hopes of discovering the next All-Pro defensive corner or offensive guard. These initial grades help “set the board” as college football transitions into Bowl Season and All-Star games.
The “once over”
Most of the 700 to 800 prospects at every level have been given at the very least “the once over” by their 32 Area evaluators. The task at hand is to line them up and whittle things down to a more manageable mess. The days of taking one man’s opinion on a multi-million dollar investment are long gone (regardless of what some might lead you to believe). Personnel Directors lean heavily on a tiered evaluation process that involves multiple looks from varying angles; area, crosscheck, regional, national, positional, office, coaching. For example some clubs utilize area crosschecks whereby one scout goes over the top of another peer’s area to get two different looks. Other clubs prefer national “guru” scouts that gander at the best of the best in a broader regional coverage.
Either way, prospective prospects will be sized up on the various Critical Factors and Position Specifics that teams hold near and dear to their success. Unlike the network pundits that take a look from 30,000 feet, club scouts set out with a relatively secret list of skill set requirements to don the colors of their respective clubs come draft day. From my experience there’s really no way of knowing what those specifics actually are without having a camera in the War Room.
Raising the GREEN FLAG
Most clubs have their own unique way of transforming these graded factors into a final overall number that is reflective of their hard work throughout the fall. This number is a GREEN FLAG indicator of who the “decision makers” should shift their glance towards when they become part of the process once the NFL season ends for their team. It builds a list of focus and preference, and at this point “needs” mean nothing. It’s been generic, even keeled coverage . . . but the foundation is being set.
Bringing it together
Now it’s time to turn opinions into pecking orders and begin to verify the “package” of measurables (height, weight, speed) that a player brings to the table. There are certainly swings in momentum as coaches and others become involved. Players do move up and down the board, though not to the degree of severity painted by the media. But an Area Scout’s evaluation is only likely to harden one way or the other as the supplemental data starts to roll in over the next two or three months.
Stay tuned. The Football Educator will be all over the 2014 NFL Draft with extensive coverage from the guys at OptimumScouting.com.