Imperfect Pro Days
For a draft prospect who played a full season, attended an all-star game and the Combine, pro day will only count as a small part (5% to 20%) of his overall draft grade. However, for those who didn’t, it’s their Super Bowl and their only opportunity to get in front of scouts. Pro day can account for 40% to 50% of their grade. I have had many players discovered and confirmed at pro day in my early years of being an agent.
Even for established high profile prospects, their pro day can be a fruitless effort. Here’s why:
Facilities: At most big schools, the football program has their own dedicated facilities. However, you may be surprised as to how many universities have to share their practice fields and practice bubbles between sports. Those schools that don’t have a dedicated field or indoor bubble facility will usually reserve it for pro day. This may cause problems with the lacrosse coach or other sports who use those fields for practices. Additionally, some schools indoor bubbles are too small for punting and kicking, their surfaces range from being soft and cushiony (slow) to hard and bouncy (fast). Thus forty and drill times can vary greatly from surface to surface making for varied times compared to the Combine.
By NFL rules, players can only be worked out at their college or hometown. Many agents, players, and scouts would like to have regional performance facilities where players train, as an additional workout location option.
Weather: For schools located in Arizona and California, pro days can be predictably sunny. this puts scouts and players in good moods. As for the rest of the country the weather usually plays a part in whether or not the event takes place indoors or out. I just left the North Carolina pro day and the players didn’t know where they would be running until the morning of, because of expected rain that didn’t show. At Iowa State on Tuesday, five scouts walked outside to watch their top rated Punter perform but three of them turned around and went back inside once they felt the 20 degree air and 20 mile per hour wind.
In addition to players getting cold during many indoor and outdoor workouts, scouts and coaches get cold too. Thus, they are usually focused on staying warm and the players don’t have their undivided attention. Inclement weather can also affect their flights in and out of many cities around the country. So when the weather is bad many scouts/coaches can miss a workout.
The other part that cold weather plays is that it tightens players up between drills and position work. The more seniors a school has the longer the pro day goes. Players may have to stand around for up to an hour and a half between doing combine drills and position drills. This is why a lot of players pull up on pro day.
With the draft moved back to May, many northern and eastern schools may want to push their pro day into April.
Logistics/timing: When a college sets a pro day it’s really just a courtesy to NFL teams (they know if they didn’t set one it will hurt recruiting and cause a backlash). If you’re a scout located in the mid-Atlantic region, attending four pro days in a row at South Carolina, UNC, Duke, and NC State is easy because the schools are located just a few miles from each other. It also works well when the schools work in unison of piggy backing each other’s pro day, which more and more schools are doing based on the suggestions from scouts. However, some schools have to work around spring football, baseball, lacrosse and other sports and may be limited to just a few days in the month of March to have a pro day. If one school’s pro day is the same day as an LSU, Ohio State, Alabama, USC, Oregon, and/or Florida (schools with many prospects) then they won’t garner top evaluators from each NFL club.
Another problem that scouts have is getting from school one school to another. Most universities are serviced by small airports that have a limited number of flights and require a layover to get to them. If a pro day at one school runs too long then numerous scouts usually miss a flight to the next school.
Several NFL execs I spoke to would like to see pro days coordinated through the league player personnel office to ensure that there is no overlapping and there is ample time for scouts to get from one school to another.
League meetings and free agency: There were some schools that had scheduled pro days in the first few days of free agency and during the owners meeting. Well guess what? That usually takes the GM and head coach out of the picture for attending pro day because they can’t be two places at once. Sure, each team can still send a scout, position coach and/or scouting director but having a heavy decision maker see a player for a first, second or even third time will make all the difference come making a decision on draft day.
Going forward, I would encourage universities to take the dates of the first week of free agency and the owners meetings off the board when scheduling pro day. It would help if the NFL would send a memo to these schools on these dates.
You’re not welcome here: Some schools simply don’t welcome scouts/NFL teams. There is one SEC school that doesn’t let scouts talk to coaches, trainers or any people associated with football and limits scouts to coming to the school just a few days a year. Scouts dislike this head coach and always leave this school with a bad feeling. Well guess who loses out, the draft prospects because scouts are human and they will at times penalize the player, or feel they can’t get enough information on the prospect so they can’t sell him with conviction. Ironically, this school and some others use pro day as a national marketing tool for recruiting. But as far as scouts are concerned it's just window dressing for recruits.
Another frustrating problem for scouts and agents is that many big schools don’t let players from smaller schools work out at their school. Small school players will suffer the most if scouts can’t get to them.
Northwestern for example is gracious in helping letting local kids workout at their school. Missouri Western lets all the small school players in their area work out there to consolidate several schools' pro day into one. Alabama even serves lunch to scouts and encourages them to talk to coaches. Coach Doyle at Iowa runs a very organized pro day as does Shannon Turley at Stanford. Scouts leave these schools with detailed evaluations, especially on character becuase they get access to more information.
While some strength coaches at some schools flex their ego and turn off scouts/team execs, others yield to letting the NFL scouts run the pro day. When Jacksonville scout Tim Mingey (aka "the General") shows up and takes charge, it puts a smile on all the scouts’ faces because he runs a legendary super efficient pro day.
If you ever wonder why some players fall through the cracks on draft day, a faulty pro day set up can be part of the culprit.
Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta