With the launch of the NEW Optimum Scouting – FBX tool on TheFootballEducator.com, I thought it would be appropriate to delve into some of the intricacies of scouting football talent at the professional level. My experience as the Director of College Scouting and General Manager of the Denver Broncos would allow me to listen to thousands of NFL Draft prospect reports from scouts, coaches, and pundits looking to influence our selection with one player over another.
As stated in my first look at the offense, we could probably all come up with a similar list of coveted traits in the various positions on offense and defense. But having eventually pulled the trigger and then subsequently watching the success and failure of some of those picks, there are a few things that I feel go overlooked in evaluating EVERY position on the field.
Here is one thing that I feel often goes overlooked in scouting football talent of linebackers, defensive backs, and defensive linemen.
*Note – click on the headers for a link to more about scouting the position.
Linebackers – Perimeter plays
Linebackers are the proverbially “Blitzkrieg” of any defensive attack. Sure, the tackles and ends are your front line of defense, but in the NFL most linemen are tasked with keeping the 2nd level free and clear to run to the football. Linebackers are judged on a broad criteria of skills; speed, strength, quickness. I always found one telling statement in the play of young LB’s with their propensity to show up on the edge, to make “perimeter plays”.
A great indication of on the field work ethic, instincts, acceleration, body control, stamina, and determination is the number of times you find a linebacker racing to the outside to make a play; ILB or OLB. The first player I “stood on the table for” was a small school phenom out of Kutztown State. Though he was built more like a safety and played what most might call “small school competition”, John Mobley showed up all over the field. It was like watching a fighter jet in a dogfight with 21 bi-planes. There was no doubt in my mind this effort would transfer to the next level, and the All-Pro wouldn’t prove me wrong. It was John that dropped into coverage and batted down Brett Favre’s 4th down attempt to secure Super Bowl XXXII.
Defensive Backs – Replacement steps
Today’s defensive back is measured more for his “brashness” than his broad jump. But don’t get me wrong, it takes a ton of confidence to play defensive corner or safety in the National Football League. Secondary is one of the more enigmatic areas on the football field, with playmakers coming in all shapes, sizes, and athletic packages. Outside, emphasis always seems centered on speed; flat out, unadulterated, “catch me if you can” speed. Nothing catches the attention of the boys at the Network quicker than a sub 4.40 40-yard dash. Inside it seems we want more “pop”. Everyone wants the hybrid cover guy that can lay the wood.
The best defensive backs that I’ve been around understand it’s not how fast you get there, nor what happens when you arrive, but rather what you do in between. Wasted steps have killed the fastest of fast at the position. Those that can plant and go, without taking a replacement step off the opposite foot, are the quickest to close. And closing on the ball or receiver is all about tenths, if not hundredths of a second. Suddenly short becomes long, quick becomes cat-like, and separation becomes blanketed. The late Darrent Williams was one of the best I’d evaluated coming out of his pedal; no wasted steps, explosive acceleration off his plant back to the receiver and ball, big playmaker.
Defensive Linemen – Short area COD
Seems most evaluations on defensive linemen revolve around pass rush skills. Certainly on the edge it’s all about bringing the heat. Jadeveon Clowney was selected first overall for his explosive first step and upfield ranginess to the quarterback. Inside we’re looking for “The Great Wall” types that can hold position and disrupt blocking schemes in the process. An emphasis, perhaps at times overemphasis is placed upon strength and power at the position. Again, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, interior/exterior defensive linemen have to accelerate their mass to be a force on the field.
But to me there’s no doubt as to why the short shuttle and 3-cone have been the two most significant predictors of NFL success with defensive tackles and ends. Short area quickness and the ability to change direction is paramount. How often have you seen an explosive first step off the edge not be able to redirect to the QB, or inside penetration run a yard or two past the ball? The big men with a balanced center of gravity and footwork like a Point Guard are the ones that go to the Pro Bowl.