With the launch of Optimum Scouting and FBXchange on The Football Educator, I want to focus a bit more on the philosophies of player evaluation and some of the finer details to scouting NFL prospects. As I’ve stated in the past, there is no “best practice” or “science to the art”. I’ve met and worked with a number of outstanding talent evaluators in professional football. They come from varied backgrounds and experience, look at the process from numerous angles and points of view, and ultimately make their decisions based upon how they choose to put the pieces of the puzzle together. No one is always right, and very seldom always wrong.
Scouting in football continues to evolve with changes to the game, generational swings in players, and the addition of technology to the overall practice of talent evaluation. I look at the NFL as 32 All-Star teams whose success or failure is hinged to much more than the skill and ability of a 53 man roster. Outside forces continually pick at the inner fabric of a club’s competence in bringing these 53 pieces together to compete for a Super Bowl Championship that often you have absolutely no control over.
But as I stated in my book Taking Your Team To The Top – How to build and manage great teams like the pros, everything starts with finding the BEST and BRIGHTEST. Regardless of the industry, having the top talent to build your team around sets the foundation of everything else to come. So NFL scouts scour the country in search of the best fits and hope to find the missing pieces to the puzzle for their own organizations.
“Bigger, Stronger, Faster” seems to be the common mantra come draft time. Measure IT, time IT, test IT –all in hopes of finding IT. Position specifics, those criteria used to describe the play and production of a player at his primary position, are both as standardized and unique as the very teams trying to quantify their traits.
Football is football, and we all probably would illustrate the play of any position with similar descriptive categories. But going back to the understanding that one’s perspective is a result of their own unique perception of the game, or their team’s needs, or what makes a productive player, certainly there will be some of these “position specifics” weighted a little heavier than others.
Here’s my own take on a few overlooked items regarding each offensive position. Click on the position for a link to another pertinent scouting post in TFE.
Quarterback – Poise and Confidence
Let’s face it, if Peyton Manning were coming out today (take away his age) there’s very little from a physical skills standpoint that would get me excited. But Manning is arguably the best at his position, a result of Poise and Confidence. One begets the other, an inner calm that resonates from the game slowing down. When a QB sees and processes EVERYTHING being thrown at him, then deftly puts the ball where he wants it, it’s a thing of beauty. Manning at his worst? One or the other is missing.
Wide Receivers – Hip sink and knee bend at the break
The best example I’ve witnessed is Ed McCaffrey. The thirteen year vet out of Stanford amassed 565 receptions for 7,422 yards and 55 TD’s. At 6’5” and 215 lbs “Eddie Mc” portrayed more of a stork-like presence than feared downfield threat. But what #87 could do was drop his weight on a dime and explode out of his break. SEPARATION is key to success for WR’s. Having the required body control and flexibility to come out of a full sprint at a precise point of timing and position in order to expand the distance from your defender by less than half a second? That’ll create some Poise & Confidence for your QB.
Running Backs – 1 cut decisiveness
Speed and power? Both are great attributes to have as a running back in the NFL, but defenses have a lot of their own. Dance in the hole, hesitate to the outside? You’re done. The best RB’s, regardless of 40-yard dash time or standing broad jump, “See & Go”. Terrell Davis, a Hall of Fame talent cut short by injury, was the master of the 1 cut – downhill runners in Denver. T.D. wasn’t the fastest or strongest of the backs of his time. Most of you know he didn’t even start at Georgia and was a bit of an afterthought 6th round pick for the Broncos in 1995. But the 3X All-Pro/Pro Bowl RB “saw the hole, stuck his foot in the ground, and burst through the hole” as well as any at the position, setting the stage for Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Rueben Droughns, and Tatum Bell to collect 1000 yard seasons for the Denver Broncos.
Offensive Linemen – 2nd level blocks
Up kick, arm length, and “dancing bear” feet are all used to measure offensive linemen. But perhaps the most overlooked aspect for the “big uglies” in my book is getting to the 2nd level. You can spot so much more by following those OL’s that work their way up to the LB’s or hunt down DB’s in the open field. First, it takes a great deal of extra effort to go beyond your primary assignment and look for a 2nd chance. Second, you have to have the Athletic Ability (AA) package that includes balance, speed, quickness, and change of direction. Third, instincts/awareness lead to when to release up field and what angle to take in pursuit. Finally, I’ll take ANY OL that gives me a “two for one” block – force multipliers.
Tight Ends – Fluidity
Perhaps no position has evolved more than the Tight End over the last couple decades. TE’s were always a necessity along the line of scrimmage, but teams with a dual threat at the Y position presented a difficult problem; Mike Ditka, Ozzie Newsome, and Kellen Winslow were more exceptions than the norm. But now a Tight End that can stretch the field and work the seams is an absolute must. The prerequisite of size is now to engulf the mismatched DB in lieu of covering up a DE. But nothing looks worse than a stiff & awkward “Herman” in the open field. Today’s TE’s move with the grace, balance, and flexibility of a Thoroughbred. Oh, and still have the build of a Clydesdale (sans Jimmy Graham).
I’ll do the “D” next.