April 02, 2015 - Greg Gabriel
What's wrong with the QB Pro Days?
This past Tuesday, Florida State held their pro day for their outgoing senior prospects. The main attraction of the day was quarterback Jameis Winston, who appears to be the consensus top pick in the NFL Draft at the end of this month. On March 12th, Oregon held their pro day and quarterback Marcus Mariota was the main attraction. Since Winston and Mariota are the only QB’s projected to go in the first round, these two workouts got a lot of publicity and were televised “live” on the NFL Network. A year ago, there were four headline quarterbacks in Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. All four had big media driven pro days. Pro days, as we know them, came about in the early 1980’s. Prospects were, at times, working out four and maybe five times a week for coaches and scouts. There were some days when a players would have scheduled two workouts for clubs in a single day. It got to be too much, and the school took control as they should have. When schools first started to have pro days, they would schedule two or three for their players during the month of March. The problem was that if a player had a strong workout for clubs on the first scheduled day, his agent wouldn’t let him work out again. While that may have been good for the player, it was tough on clubs, because not every team sent a scout to all of the workouts. If the club missed the “good“ work out performance, they were out of luck. Because of that, schools started going to just one pro day per year, and the system has worked fairly well. The purpose of the pro day is to let NFL scouts and coaches work with the prospects. They not only worked with the players who were at the combine but also the players who were not invited to Indy. Coaches were able to meet with the players, get some “board” work done and then do drills on the field that they felt were important in the evaluation process. In the last ten years, that has changed, especially in regards to quarterbacks. Agents are now hiring a “quarterback guru” to prepare the QB prospect for both the Combine and his pro day. Not only is the guru helping the player prepare, he “runs the workout” at the pro days. The NFL coaches have virtually no say in what a QB prospect does at his pro day. They can only stand and watch. What they are seeing is a heavily scripted work out. The guru sets up how many throws the prospect makes, what routes and receivers he will throw to, and usually has the player only make throws he does well. The script is practiced many times in the weeks leading up to the event so that the player performs at his best. It becomes almost a rehearsed workout. The problem is, football isn’t a rehearsed game. It is a game of instincts and reactions. Because the NFL coaches have no say in what throws the prospect makes, it can be frustrating for them. The only thing they are getting out of the workout is what the “guru” wants them to see. In the case of Winston’s pro day, what was done was absurd. Winston’s guru had him throw over 110 passes. That’s ridiculous! I’ve been to countless QB pro days and I have never seen a player make more than 65 throws. That is plenty, as he should be able to make every throw a scout or coach needs to see in 60-65 throws. Throwing an extra 50 passes is crazy and not necessary. Because of these “scripted” workouts, teams who are interested in a QB have to go back and have a private workout. Both Winston and Mariota have had or will have a number of private workouts before the draft. With a private workout, the team now “controls” the show. They might spend the whole day with the player including one or two meals and interviews. By spending that amount of time with the player, they get to know him much better and get a strong feel for his personality and work habits. During the course of the day, they may spend an hour or so “interviewing” the player. If there are issues that need to be addressed, it is done then. Mainly, they get as good a feeling as they can about the players personality. When the interviews are done, the coaches get the player in a classroom and put on the “board”. Here, they let him draw up some plays and walk the coach through the theory of the plays. The coach then will teach the player some of their own plays, erase the board, and then have the player come up and relate back to the coach what he was just taught. This gives the coach the ability to see how the player learns and retains and how focused he is in a meeting. Once done in the meeting room, they go out to the field and then practice what they have learned. This part is important to a coach because the player has no idea what he is going to be asked to do. He has to react, and being that football is a reaction game, the coach gets a lot more out of the workout. By the end of the day, the coach, scouts, and decision makers have a much better idea of what makes the player tick. They know if they want the opportunity to work with and coach the player. In short, the private workout answers a number of questions that weren’t answered at the pro day. It becomes much more significant in the overall evaluation process. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe