Making the grade

During my time as a College Scouting Director, I was part of the College Underclassmen Advisory Committee for a number of years. As underclassmen are always going to be a big part of every draft, taking part in the actions of the committee was always a fun and rewarding process.

During this past off season, the NFL made some changes in the power structure at the League office. Former NFL player Troy Vincent was named Executive Vice President of Football Operations. With a new leader on board, changes will always be made. In talking to some of my friends around the league, I have been able to find out what changes have been made in regards to the College Underclassmen Advisory Committee. The changes are slight, with the main difference being on how the player is presented a grade.

The Old System

When I was part of the committee, each college could submit as many names as they wanted to be evaluated as to where a prospect MAY go in the upcoming draft. I emphasize “may” because then and now, it is an incomplete evaluation.

Why is the evaluation incomplete? The evaluation is made based on tape study, and there are important parts of the evaluation process that are left out. A player receives his grade form the committee based purely on talent. He is also getting that grade months before the draft. In the five month period between the end of the college regular season and the draft, much work is done. Much of that work includes in-depth character analysis, medical reviews, and of course, the combine and individual workouts.

When the committee made an evaluation, it was usually in December or early January and was based off of the current year's tape. The committee has no access to injury information, character information, interview results and verified measurables. All of that criteria is important data that goes into the making of a final grade. In other words, the grade is a best-case guesstimate.

After being evaluated by at least six clubs, the player would receive a consensus grade of those six clubs. While there were always slight changes made from year to year, the grade the player received from the committee went something like this:

"You have the ability to be drafted as high as the first round. You have the ability to be drafted as high as the second round or you have the ability to be drafted as high as the third round"

Or "You have the ability to be drafted somewhere in rounds four through seven" or lastly “You most likely won’t be drafted”.

While the grades the Committee gave out were fairly close, they weren’t entirely accurate mainly because of the lack of information I referred to above. It was a good, but imperfect system.

The New System

The main changes made in the evaluation system may seem minor, but they aren’t. The first change is that each school can turn in no more than five names to the league for evaluation. Once the league receives the names, the league still has about six clubs do an evaluation on a player.

Each club doing an evaluation turns in a round grade to the league. The grade the league gives the players is different this year. Each player can receive one of three grades. The first is “You have the ability to be drafted as high as the first round”. The second is “you have the ability to be drafted as high as the second round”. The last grade isn’t a grade. If the committee doesn’t feel the player will get drafted in either the first or second round, it tells the player “stay in school”.

The reason for the changes is that, last year, over 100 players with eligibility left decided to enter the draft. The number of underclassmen coming out has risen dramatically in the last few years. You used to be able to count on 45 to 50 new names with about 35 of those names being “real” players. Then, in about a three-year span, the numbers more than doubled. The league would like the number to go back to 50 or so players.

Part of the reason so many college players are leaving early is the new CBA. Under the new CBA, there is a much tighter rookie salary cap. The huge first round contracts of five and six years ago are no longer there. What agents are telling prospective players, is that they are better coming out now and getting a jump on the second contract. The second contract is where they will really make money. What the agents don’t tell the kids is that they have to have the talent get that second contract. In the real world, that is seldom the case.

Going Forward

While I feel that the new way the Committee is doing business can be beneficial, more still has to be done. The college players have to be better educated on the process. Right now, the players listen to agents and people like Mel Kiper to get their information. While Mel is excellent at what he does, he is not a real scout. He is an ESPN analyst. If you watch his grades, there is usually a huge change from how he has a player “graded” in August or September to March. As he gets more information from people around the league, he changes his grade. Just use last year as an example. At this time a year ago the “experts” all had Teddy Bridgewater as the consensus first overall pick. He ended up going 32nd. While the draftniks were high on Bridgewater, the “real” evaluators weren’t.

What I’m saying is, the last people college players should be asking about their draft status is the network analysts. What the league needs to do is start the evaluation process of underclassmen earlier and go to the major schools and educate the players on how the process really works. The process can’t be started in December and then hurried through to give the prospect a grade. It needs to be started in July or August and the league needs to start visiting schools when fall camps open. I guarantee that the extra time and effort will dramatically lower the number of underclass players who enter the draft.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe