Join Date: Feb 2006
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Article:Understanding Scouting and the Draft
Hey guys. One of your readers here suggested I post this on the boards the last time I posted our mock draft. It's an article from our other writer Tommy Lawlor. It's a long one, but a good one.
The season is complete. The all star games are over. All we have left is The Combine and Pro Days/individual workouts. Then it is on to NYC for the Draft in April.
There have been a lot of good discussions and arguments on various players so far. I expect that will continue right up to and through the Draft.
This is a look at the process behind scouting and the Draft.
None of us has been in an NFL war room, but I have been following the NFL Draft for over 15 years now. I've read a ton of articles over the years. I've been trained by an NFL scout. I have a good feel for what goes on during the Draft and the process leading up to it.
These are the men who go out and gather info. The key to scouting is to be as thorough, precise, and detailed as possible. Scouts are the eyes and ears of the organization. Information has to be specific. A WR who made a leaping, one hand TD catch has to get more credit than a guy who catches a simple pass. A DE who beats an All American LT has to get more credit for a sack than a guy who beats a backup RT. Scouts are responsible for providing the teams with in-depth information that will help them to plan for the Draft. The more detailed, the better.
Scouts start each spring. They go to colleges and build prospect lists. Some teams use their own, while others use 2 scouting services, National Scouting and Blesto.
The goal is to get an idea of who needs to be studied in the upcoming Fall. Scouts will make a list of rising Seniors and get an idea of the height and weight of each guy. Some schools will have the Juniors run 40's for the Scouts or do some other basic drills.
The scouts and/or services then prepare a formal list for the team. Each team has their own individual scouts that they'll send out in the Fall to do hands-on research. The teams will take the lists and break them down geographically. The Eagles, for instance, will hand their Area Scout in the South a list of players at schools that he's responsible for. That scout will go to Florida State, Flordia Atlantic, UCF, USF, UF, Miami, etc. Normally, there isn't a set order for him. Most teams will leave it up to the scouts to make their own schedule. However, some schools are restrictive and only allow scouts to come on certain days. Penn State is very hard to deal with. They have an antagonistic relationship with the NFL. PSU will set aside one day for scouts. Miss it and you are up the creek. Smaller schools are very aggressive with the NFL and do anything to promote their players. They realize they don't have blue chip prospects and want to entice NFL guys to come and check out their players. Even some big schools are very user-friendly.
So what does a scout do on a visit? He'll arrive at the football office early, probably around 7am. The rule of thumb with scouts is to always bring donuts. You give them to the secretary or the coaches or whoever. You have to make the colleges happy and everyone loves donuts.
The scout will first go talk to the Pro Liasion. This will be one of the assistant coaches. Each school selects a guy on their staff to deal with the NFL. He gets to know them and they get to know him. He coordinates visits and helps in any way he can.
The PL will give the scout some info on the players. Most guys will be fairly honest, but there are those who won't say a bad word. Scouts figure out pretty quickly who they can rely on and who is being protective of the players.
The scout will then have several things left to do: watch tape, watch practice, interview misc. people. He'll do those according to what fits the team's practice schedule the best.
Watching tape is fairly self explanatory. The scout sometimes will be joined by scouts from other teams. You sit and watch a game or two and take thorough notes.
The misc. interviews can be critical. The scout will talk to anyone around the football team about the players. Maybe it's a trainer...a team manager...secretary...security guard...janitor...whoever. These people interact with the players on a daily basis and get to see the guys when their guard is down. Players nowadays can be pretty smart. They'll be one person for the media and the NFL, but another person entirely when the spotlight is off. These people won't offer much football insight obviously, but they can tell you whether a player is courteous, friendly, outgoing or shy, punctual, neat, organized, focused, etc.
If there are concerns about a player of interest or if it is an elite prospect, a scout may go talk to various people around the campus or the town. You can never have too much background info on someone you'll be paying a six-figure salary. Beyond that, scouts will call coaches in a prospect's background. Seahawks OL Sean Locklear was shocked to hear that scouts had called his 6th grade coach to ask about him.
As for watching practice...the scout isn't looking at pure football stuff there either. He wants to see how the player interacts with other players. Is he a leader or follower? Is he a clown or intense? He's also looking to see how the player responds to coaching. Does he repeat mistakes or does he soak up what he's being taught and change. You're also still looking at general behavior. Does the player hustle constantly? Is he in the front of the line for drills or does he lag to the back? All of these elements are of interest.
At some schools, the scout will get to talk to or interact with the players themselves. He won't get too in-depth, but might strike up a casual conversation just to get a feel for a kid.
The scout then heads off to a hotel for the night. He'll retreat to his room and write up reports on each of the prospects. He'll then email any pertinent info back to the team to be put immediately in the database.
This happens about every day from late August through late November. The scouts all head to their team's facilities for Draft meetings in early December.
This group mainly stays in the home city during the Fall. They gather all the info and build up databases. They collect video tapes of various colleges. They compile "hit tapes" of key prospects. This is a tape of plays where a player is involved. These tapes are crucial for assistant coaches and/or the HC. They don't have time to study lots of game tape on each kid. They get a "hit tape" from the video dept. and can get an idea of what a kid can do pretty quickly.
Some GMs/Personnel directors do go to games on weekends. They'll drive to a local school and check kids out.
It is also important for the Personnel Dept. to sort through the evaluations being sent in from scouts. Most big schools are cross-checked. Teams have 2 scouts cover them so that they have multiple opinions on a kid. If the two reports are far apart, a third person may be dispatched to check the school again.
So a team may have a handful of scouts looking at players. How do they judge them on the same level? How do you grade a kid from Florida State and a kid from Valdosta State?
You use the same criteria. Players are rated in two critical areas...positional ability and athletic ability.
Positional ability is learned football skills...how to catch a football...pass rushing moves...blocking techniques...etc. This isn't as important as the other area. Players can be taught technique. It is good, though, when you find a guy that knows about proper footwork or which hand to use to break up a pass or whatever. The more skilled a guy is, the more ready to play he'll be.
Athletic ability is simply natural ability. Guys have it or they don't. They can train and improve it, but there has to be something to work with. There are specific areas to judge players on:
* Straight line speed
* QAB (Quickness/Agility/Balance)
* COD (Change of Direction)
* Strength (lower body and upper body...functional vs raw)
Those were the key areas I was taught about. Each area has a varying level of importance to different positions.
You cannot simply look at stats and decide who can do what. They will act as a guideline when used properly, but don't tell the whole story. You are judging players on ability, not results. And that is crucial to understand. Results get guys listed on All American teams. The NFL rates guys according to his ability as a pro prospect.
THE ALL STAR GAMES
There is only one "can't miss" all star game. That is the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. It is coached by NFL teams and has the best players available.
The other all star games aren't as stable and have struggled to stay afloat.
* The East-West Shrine Game moved from Palo-Alto to San Antonio this year.
* The Blue-Gray Game has been held only once the last 4 years.
* The Las Vegas All American Classic isn't nationally broadcast.
* The Hula Bowl has moved from Honolulu to Maui and back.
* The Gridirion Classic wasn't held this year.
* The Magnolia Gridirion Classic was held for the first time this year.
* The Cactus Bowl lost its major sponsor this year. (Div. II all star game)
Each of those games has its own level of importance. Regardless, they can all be useful tools for NFL teams. The small games will only get one scout, and not even that from all teams. The EWSG and Hula Bowl may get a couple of guys to go out and attend practice. Unfortunately, the games are run by college coaches and aren't as intense as the Senior Bowl. Those games are as much a reward for a great college career as they are about feeding the NFL.
The Senior Bowl gets everyone. GMs, Head Coaches, assistants, and scouts all pile into Mobile to study kids in practice and to meet with them and get to know them. It is the only time all year when practice is more important than a game. Coaches and scouts study the practice tapes over and over to watch how the prospects do in various drills.
These games don't serve as a substitute for the regular season, but rather as a tool. They give scouts a chance to watch players all work under similar circumstances. A WR might suffer from poor QB play during the year. In Mobile, he'll get the same QB'ing as the other guys on his unit. NFL people can then tell who is really struggling or who is playing well. This will only be a small part of the overall Draft grade, but it can be very important. Imagine a final exam taking a student from an A to an A-, or from a B to a B+.
Every year in late February, NFL scouts and coaches gather in Indianapolis for the National Scouting Combine. Approximately 350 players will be invited to come to Indy to be tested, measured, and to work out in various drills. Like the all star games, this is not a way for players to make up for having a bad year. Rather, it is a tool that focuses on the prospects as athletes.
* 40 yd dash
* Bench Press (reps of 225 lbs)
* Vertical jump
* Broad jump
* 3 cone drill
* Short shuttle
* Long shuttle
Players will do some positional drills, but won't wear pads. Heck, they don't even wear helmets. It is just guys in shorts working out.
The 40 yd dash is the most famous (or infamous) test. As everyone knows, it receives far too much weight, from some teams and certainly the general public. NFL scouts put more focus on the 3-cone drill than any other. It lets them see a player's speed, quickness, agility, and ability to change directions.
The other key to Indy is that NFL teams bring a medical staff and do thorough research on certain prospects. They want to know about a lingering shoulder issue or how well an ACL injury healed or if a guy has some weird situation. Players hate being checked out like this, but teams think it is absolutely crucial. Last year, Tennesse RB Cedric Houston fell to the 6th Round because of a Thyroid condition that was discovered at The Combine.
Teams also meet with prospects and interview them. Some teams give aptitude or personality tests to players. The standard test is called The Wonderlic, but other teams use different material to help them. The Giants are famous for a 300+ question albatross.
Not all top prospects will workout in Indy. About 10-12 years ago, the running surface in the RCA Dome developed a reputation as being slow. Elite guys were worried about running there and having a poor 40 time. They opted to wait for their school's Pro Day. One of the attractions to the Scouting Combine is that you get to see guys workout in the exact same situation. There is no concern about weather or surface or any variables.
PRO DAYS / INDIVIDUAL WORKOUTS
Every school has a Pro Day. This is a school sponsored event where the team's Senior players will workout for scouts and/or Personnel people. It isn't a big deal at some places, but can be a Who's Who kind of event at Texas, Miami, or USC.
Players will be put through the same drills as those done at the Combine. The difference is that the conditions may not be ideal. Some will be worse, some better. Scouts will note this in their reports. A guy won't simply run a 4.59 40. He'll run a 4.59 - with the wind, wearing track spikes, wearing shorts, on a Tartan surface. Or maybe it is a 4.59 - into the wind, wearing tennis shoes, wearing shorts, on a soft surface. Maybe it had rained the night before and the conditions were wet. Whatever...the scouts will note that info so that people evaluating the information can tell that no 2 times are alike, unless they come from the Combine.
The devil is in the details.
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Understand what the Draft is and what teams are looking for.
At its simplest, the NFL Draft is about acquiring talent. The scouting process should help teams to identify who the most talented players are. However, it isn't just talent. You have to work in other factors. This is how teams develop final Draft grades and build a Draft value board.
Teams factor in character, personality, what positions are most critcal, what style of player fits their system, injury history, intelligence, instincts, and other miscellaneous intangibles.
The NFL Draft, in essence, comes down to 3 words: Value, Talent, Potential.
The whole process can almost be cold. As I mentioned earlier, achievements and awards go out the window. The NFL is looking for guys with raw talent...with pro potential. Go back to 1999. DE Tom Burke of Wisconsin had a huge Senior year and finished his career with 32 sacks. He was the 83rd pick that year. DE Tony Bryant played at Florida State and didn't have half that many sacks in his career. He went 40th in the Draft. What a guy did in college is nice, but the bigger concern is what he will do in the NFL.
Scouts and coaches are looking for guys with NFL potential, simple as that. They are looking for certain sizes and body types. They need a certain amount of athletic ability. And it has to be a certain kind of athletic ability.
Is the prospect fast? "Yes." "Great."
Is the prospect quick? "Yes." Great, again."
Does the prospect have good COD ability? "No." "Too bad. Day 2 guy."
There is always another question, another test, or another concern for the NFL. Guys are going to get downgraded for something. And that is how they whittle over 1,000 prospects down to 32 First Rounders.
Each team varies in the way they grade players and build a Draft board. The Oakland Raiders put a premium on speed and athleticism. The Cincinnati Bengals have taken several guys with character issues. Bill Parcells prefers bigger defensive players. The Broncos like athletic OL. The Rams like small, quick WRs. And so on.
Once a team has put together their Draft Board, they come up with a plan. No one knows exactly what will happen on Draft day, but teams will run different mock draft scenarios so that they are as prepared as possible for what might happen.
There are a couple of different philosophies on Draft day. Some teams draft for the future. They go about acquiring talent and building for the long term. Other organizations address immediate needs. You can be successful either way. The key is to do a good job at whatever your philosophy is.
Maybe the plan is to land a Franchise QB at all costs. Maybe it is to stock up on defensive lineman. Maybe a team is looking to add youth to the offense. Whatever. Have a plan in place and be prepared to execute it.
One of the things that makes scouting and the Draft a lot of fun is that everyone seems to see different things. Scouting is an art, not a science. There is no foolproof formula. I thought the Seattle Seahawks were crazy for taking LB Lofa Tatupu in the 2nd Rd last Spring. Ouch. I could not have been more wrong. Back in 2003, I was enamored with Anquan Boldin and thought he was worthy of a late 1st Rd pick. He slid to the mid 2nd and then went out and played like an All Pro. No one is right all the time, no matter how much work and research they do and how much logic goes into their pick.
Potential is a dirty word in some NFL circles. The preferred word is "upside". See the difference? biggrin.gif Teams want prospects who have the ability to grow and develop. "He's a good pass rusher now, but he's got upside. He could develop into a special player." Teams want guys that could sprout with NFL coaching. They also hope that through working out and a proper diet, the player can really develop physically.
Value is also a crucial word on Draft day. You want to spend a top ten pick on a top ten player. If a player has a 2nd Rd grade and you have pick 21 of the 1st Rd, he's not good value. You should try to trade back and go for him. Or take a different player who is worth pick #21. Taking a guy a few picks too early is not a big deal. Taking a guy 10 or 12 or 15 picks too early is a waste of your Draft resources.
There is one caveat...if the player has a 3rd Rd grade on your board and it is your 3rd Rd pick, take him, even if you are fairly certain that no other NFL team has that high a grade on him. We're not talking Draft day hunches. We're talking about grades. A good NFL team will place a grade/value on guys and stick to it. That does take discipline. Mike Ditka made it clear in 1999 that he would do whatever it took to get Ricky Williams. Dumb. Ricky was worth the pick, but he wasn't worth what Ditka traded for the pick. Mike failed to get good value. In 1997, Ray Rhodes had become enamored with DE Jon Harris of Virginia. He was 6'7, 270 and had some athletic ability. The scouts had a 3rd or 4th Rd grade on Harris. Rhodes didn't listen to them. He played a hunch. It proved to be disastrous. There was nothing wrong with Ray really wanting Harris. The problem was taking him so high. Jon simply wasn't worth it. Poor value.
Teams don't have to come up with incredible steals. If you can find Terrell Davis or Tom Brady in the 6th Rd, great. That is awesome. Those type of bargains can impact a franchise for years. You just need to get appropriate return. The Chargers spent a 4th Rd pick in 2004 on LB/DE Shaun Phillips. He's only started a handful of games, but has 11 sacks in his two years. Shaun has been good situational pass rusher and spot starter. SD got good value out of that pick.
And that is the Draft...acquiring talent, but getting good value out of your picks while doing it.
Now, as a Draftnik, I do some of the same things as an NFL team, but dumbed down a bit.
I don't have a staff of people to gather information. It is all up to me. I start by reading online articles about Spring football. This can give you a quick hint about any possible players that teams expect to emerge as Seniors. After the Draft is over in April, I watch tape during the late Spring and Summer to get a quick look at guys as Juniors. I will then buy The Sporting News College Football Preview magazine when it comes out in June. I start building initial prospect lists out of this and whatever online research I've done.
During the season, I watch and tape games. I have approx. 190 tapes with 2 games on each from the 2005 season. It is a complicated process, involving 6 VCRs and TIVO. I take notes from watching the games and begin to figure out who the top players are at each position.
I study the bowl games and the all star games and this helps me to really pare down my list. I'll watch whatever Combine footage I can.
I also read a lot of online newspaper articles. A lot. Some are just fluff PR pieces for the local college, but others can offer a lot of info and insight on a prospect.
I take things to the extreme. Most draftniks will watch games when they are on TV and do some research, but don't go to the lengths that I do.
I end up with a Draft board in early April that I feel comfortable with.
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Them dirty MFO put all my players for ya'll on the Colts board..We all know that ain't happening!
I think we can do better then that draft.
Last edited by BlueThunder; 02-20-2006 at 01:30 AM.
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: SE Houston
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Matt nice addition to the board big man. Way to help everyone understand a little more about NFL workings.
"Inconsistency is the only thing in which men are consistent" — Horace Smith. 12-7 Aggies!!!
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