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. Tommy Lawlor www.scoutsnotebook.com 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. SCOUTING THE SCOUTS 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. PERSONNEL DEPT. 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. THE REPORTS 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+. THE COMBINE 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.