What’s Next: What Evaluators Can Really Gain From Scouting at All-Star Games
By Eric Galko
The first step for evaluators now that these 2014 NFL Draft prospects have finished their playing careers is the post-season All-Star games. The two feature events at the Shrine Game (January 13th to 18th) and Senior Bowl (20th to 25th), and I’ll be attending both as an evaluator.
While everyone’s mode of evaluating is different, here is why I personally put stock into these all-star practices, how much I put into the final evaluation, and what makes them so valuable.
Neutral Offense and Scheme
Watching film on a player is the most critical piece in the evaluation of an NFL prospect. But, watching the same player, in the same offense, going through similar schedules over the course of their career can limit the variety of plays, situations, and types of opposing players one prospect can face.
In an all-star practice week setting, players at every position are put through as many different situations as possible. Quarterbacks throw across the field, at different distances, and in different drops. Receivers run the entire route tree. Running backs and lineman play with different timings. And defenders don’t have the luxury of their coaching staffs scheming based on their talents.
This gives evaluators a huge advantage because it allows for them to focus on plays/situations that fit THEIR particular team’s scheme, as well as eliminate the potential “system player” label.
Neutral “Supporting Cast”
Form some players, their team’s talent level is significantly better than that of their opponents, and they aren’t put in position to do much more than the basic responsibilities of the position. And for others, especially small schoolers, the lack of talent around them forces their teams’ to give them as many opportunities to make an impact, including plans that may deter from an evaluation standpoint (such as forcing passes to tight ends on generic routes, team’s leaving talented cornerbacks on island when they aren’t targeted).
The all-star game gives every quarterback the same receivers, every receiver the same three quarterbacks, every running back to work the same offensive lineman, and the defensive players to all be tested equally based on play-calling and one-on-one positional drills. This is especially helpful for small school players, quarterbacks, and defenders who play produce thanks to the talent around them in college.
Comparing players in the same class is always difficult. Every player is different, and most are VERY different in terms of where they succeed, where they struggle, and where they may fit in the NFL. But in the all-star setting, reps are one after another, sometimes the same player going for a few in a row. The coaching staffs let players all do the same or similar things in positional and team drills, allowing for consistent, fluid judgment situations for evaluators.
While the best use for this is for quarterbacks, cornerbacks, and defensive linemen vs. offensive lineman, it’s maybe the most useful part of the entire event. There’s no better way to answer a “who would I rather” question on a draft board than seeing the same players, side-by-side, one after another.
Character Evaluation Work
For a person such as myself that doesn’t have the ability to talk to coaches, players, staff, and family members during the season on scouting travels like NFL scouts, these all-star games are one of the key resources available to get a feel for these players. While you can’t simply find answers to the glaring concerns and many players are “prepped” on questions about their past that may come up, it’s a chance to use interview skills along with watching how they interact with people, coaches, and teammates.
For me personally, I try to speak with over half the roster, interviewing them on what I already know/has been reported on them, just to get the story straight. After that, I try to glean some of their football knowledge and honesty by picking their brains about minor football details or what happened during the day. Finally, I watch closely to how they interact within the team setting to see who becomes the leaders of the group, who reacts positively and negatively to coaching, and who picks up on scheme/technical terms easily enough.
The All-Star games are certainly not the end-all, be-all for prospects, and it’s naïve (and lazy) to make that the case for players during this week. It’s just four days of practice, in an uncomfortable setting, and dealing with the pressures and unfamiliarity that they won’t have after a few weeks in the NFL.
However, all-star week impact can range from anywhere between 10% to 60% of a players grade, in my opinion. Generally, for most players, it’s about 25%, thanks to its ability to compare side by side, neutral of other factors, and in a setting where everyone is equal in pressure. But for some players, such as small schoolers, guys who’ve been injured, or guys who’ve been asked to play in multiple systems, it’s an opportunity to show what they were not, and what they can be.
The key to evaluating these all-star practices weeks and games is to know what each player roughly can and can’t do, and know WHAT to watch, not just to watch in general. Doing your homework on each player leads to a more accurate and less drastic changes in an opinion of a player.