How important are All-star games?

This week, many NFL scouts and coaches are in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area attending practices for the annual East-West Shrine game. Next week, the traveling convention moves on to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. For years, these two games have been the premier all-star games of the college postseason.
Until the last 10 years, the rosters of these two games were filled with players who were just about sure shots to be drafted. That hasn’t been the case in recent years, mainly because so many underclassmen are now entering the draft.

Just to give you an example, last year over 100 underclassmen gave up their remaining college eligibility and entered the draft. That is just over three rounds of players. Many are the top players in their class. That strips away the top talent form the current class and that group of players is replaced with this year's declared underclassmen.

With the process being the way that it is, it weakens the current senior class and waters down the rosters at the all-star games. While we are still seeing some premier players at these games, the bulk of the rosters is made up more mid-to-late round types.

The good news for scouts is that with those players attending the all-star games, it gives scouts the opportunity to spend some more quality time with them. Not only do they spend time studying the players in practice, but it’s really the first opportunity they have to sit down and talk to some of them. Interviews are a very important part of the overall evaluation process.

When I got involved in scouting, the thought process was you could upgrade a player for an outstanding all-star week performance, but you didn’t want to downgrade him. The reason being that for many of these players, this is their first football activity in roughly two months. If their school did not participate in a bowl game, these kids have been away from the practice field since mid to late November. You can’t expect a player to be at peak form when he hasn’t practiced in six to eight weeks. The most important part of evaluating a player’s talent still comes from what he did during the season.

The players who can really improve their “stock” at all-star games are players from the lower level schools. Prospects from FCS and Division II programs get an opportunity to compete against players from Division I programs. When they show that their natural talent is as good or better than the kids they are competing against, then their draft value goes up.

Getting back to the interview process, during the college season, schools rarely let scouts sit down and talk to their prospects. Scouts go into these games already knowing a lot about the prospects background, character, and work habits. If there is some concern in any of these areas, the scout can sit down and talk to the player about it. Even if the player is “clean”, the scout has an opportunity to get a good feel for the player's personality. This time can be invaluable to the scout in putting together his overall evaluation of the player.

All-star games also give NFL coaches their first chance to see prospects in person. During the NFL season, coaches don’t spend any time studying college players. Their entire workload is coaching the players they have. After the season, the scouting department will give the coaches a list of players to evaluate. When the coaches go to these postseason games, they concentrate on the few players that were assigned to them.
The coaches will look to see if the prospect fits the position's height, weight, and athleticism profile. He will also study the players' work habits and technique during practice. The coach begins to form an opinion as to whether or not he wants to work with the prospect. This is invaluable to reaching a final overall grade on a player.

The draftniks, like to say that a certain player’s stock jumped or plummeted during an all-star game week. Trust me, that is nonsense. It rarely happens. While a player may generate a lot of publicity for his week at the game, it still is only a small part of the overall process. It is just part of the hype that goes into the draft. When you start reading a player's stock is going up or down, it is more media hype than reality. One thing is certain from now until the draft. When a coach, general manager, or scouting director starts making public statements about prospects, in most cases, it's a lie. We have now entered what is called the “lying season”, and you can’t trust anything a decision maker says publicly. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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