Posts Tagged ‘scouting’

What do Scouts do During the Summer Months?

scouts

The draft and rookie mini-camps are over, does that mean that college scouts have nothing but free time until training camp? Not really. While they aren’t on the road, there is plenty of work to be done. The cycle for the 2016 NFL Draft has begun.

Spring Combine Meetings

Between now and the

The draft and rookie mini-camps are over, does that mean that college scouts have nothing but free time until training camp? Not really. While they aren’t on the road, there is plenty of work to be done. The cycle for the 2016 NFL Draft has begun.

Spring Combine Meetings

Between now and the end of May, the clubs who are members of either BLESTO or National Scouting will have week-long meetings going over the prospects in the upcoming senior class. During these meetings, each of the combine area scouts gives a verbal assessment of each of the players in his area. His report will include some character information, plus the strong and weak points of each prospect.

The hard copy of these reports is also given to each member club as well as a school-by-school list of the senior prospects in each scout’s area. This list becomes the starting point for scouts at each school for their summer and fall evaluations. I say starting point because there are always going to be players at some schools who are not on the list. These could be players who, until this upcoming season, have never been starters and really haven’t shown scouts that they are a potential prospect.

The list also does not include underclassman who may be thinking about leaving school early and entering the draft. This is done by league mandate as the NFL does not want to encourage underclassmen in any way to enter the draft.

Summer Evaluations

With game tape availability being the way it is now, it is so much easier for scouts to get a jump start on their fall work. Five or six years ago, a scout had to have hard copies of tape made and sent to them from the various club’s video departments in order to do tape study.

Now, with technology the way it is, as long as they have a tablet and an internet connection, they can watch as much tape as they want, just about anywhere. Once connected to the club’s master video computer, every game tape form the 2015 season and prior is there. It’s as simple as clicking on on the game.

When the college teams begin training camps in early August, most scouts already have a strong idea of how each prospect has played, and they also have a good idea as to what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Depending on philosophy, some clubs have some or all of their scouts working on the next year’s draft right after the Scouting Combine in February. Other clubs have the scouts working on the current class through the draft, and then they begin work on the next draft. It’s just a matter of philosophy on when they want to begin the scouting cycle.

No matter what the philosophy, the summer months are still downtime to an extent, and scouts can do their work from home rather than on the road. With tape availability the way it is, there is no reason a scout doesn’t have access to two full years (usually junior and senior) of tape when making his evaluations. That makes scouting so much easier today than it was when I was a road scout.

A scout no longer has to go to the school in order to watch video, he can do it at home, and when training camps open, all he needs to do is watch practice and talk to people who can gave him pertinent background information.

There is no reason a scout doesn’t have a good evaluation of all the top players in his area at the beginning of the college season. Once the season starts, then his evaluation is more on if the player shows improvement in his play or declines. Tape availability also gives the scout more time to do background and character evaluations. That said, there is no reason for mistakes to be made come draft day.

Underclassmen

There are always going to be underclassmen entering the draft. By league rule, scouts cannot ask the colleges about an underclassmen unless the school offers up the information first. That does not mean the scout cannot begin doing tape evaluations of the top underclassmen at each school. As word leaks out that certain players will definitely be coming out, then the scout begins looking at tape of that player more earnestly. With league rules the way they are, club scouts cannot ask about an underclassmen entering the draft until after he is officially in the draft, and they won’t be until next January. He then has to play catchup as far as character evaluation, but the talent evaluation should already be thorough.

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The Final Weeks of Draft Preparation

NFL draft

With the draft being three weeks from Thursday, clubs are in to the home stretch preparing for the 2015 NFL Draft. Over the next two weeks, there will still be some private workouts, and clubs will continue to bring in prospects to visit with the coaching staff and scouting department.

Each club can bring in

With the draft being three weeks from Thursday, clubs are in to the home stretch preparing for the 2015 NFL Draft. Over the next two weeks, there will still be some private workouts, and clubs will continue to bring in prospects to visit with the coaching staff and scouting department.

Each club can bring in a total of 30 prospects for medicals and interviews. The last day a prospect can be brought into a team’s facility is Wednesday April 22nd. As for working out a prospect, that can happen at the prospect’s school or home town until the day before the draft. So, obviously, clubs are still very busy. Let’s discuss what goes on during visits and meetings over the next few weeks.

Personal Visits

Clubs don’t always bring in players that they hope to draft in the premium rounds. They may also bring in players who were not at the Combine but the team had a draftable grade on. Every year, we see 35 – 40 players who were not at the Combine get drafted, so it is important to get a medical on them. No team is going to draft a player who hasn’t had a thorough medical. It makes no sense. The club wouldn’t take the risk of drafting a player who may not be able to pass the medical.

When a club brings in a player, they may or may not publicize the visit, but I can assure you that most teams know who their competitors have brought in. Why? Clubs want to know who their competition may be for certain players. Because of that, some visits are purely “smokescreen” visits just to throw off the other teams.

Let’s say a club has an obvious need at defensive tackle, and they would like to take care of that need with their first pick. They aren’t going to just bring in the targeted player. They may bring in four or five players at that position and let the other clubs guess as to who they have the most interest in. A club never wants to show its hand. They may also elect to not bring in the player they really want, so that particular player is never tied to their team. It’s all part of the gamesmanship that goes on.

If a club is unsure of what position they will draft, they may bring in players from different positions who may be rated to get drafted in the slot they have. Again, this is done so the club never shows its true hand.

When a player comes in for a visit, he cannot be at the club’s facility more than two days and one night. He can only go through a medical and interviews, and under no circumstances can he be worked out, unless he is a local player.

As I mentioned above, the player will meet with a variety of people including the head coach, general manager, position coach and coordinator. While the coaches will mainly discuss football with the player, the general manager and scouting director may get into a conversation with the player that brings up family life, friends, etc. They want to get a good feeling for his personality. If there are some character concerns, you can bet that those are also discussed.

Visits don’t always turn out the way either side would like. Sometimes, a player can turn off a coach to the point that he says he doesn’t want the player. While that may seem harsh, it is better to find that out before the draft than after you drafted him.

Medicals

While the main medical is done at the Combine, there is also a medical recheck for players who had medical concerns at the combine. This process also happens in Indianapolis and usually is done in less than 36 hours. A recheck can include a follow up MRI or X-Ray to see how the injury has healed since late February. This gives clubs a reasonable idea of when an injured player will be able to get back on the field. It also shows them how hard the player has worked with injury rehab.

When a player comes to a club for a visit, the injury can also be checked out very closely. It usually gives the club reassurance, but also a club can decide to pass on a player because they don’t like how the healing process has gone.

For players like Georgia running back Todd Gurley, the recheck is very important. He suffered an ACL injury last fall. He didn’t let clubs examine his knee at the Combine. The recheck can/will determine if Gurley will have any problems with his knee going forward.

Final Scouting Meetings

Most clubs had preliminary draft meetings before the Combine. Now that all the information is in, the final draft board is set. While some clubs may have a 255 player draft board, most clubs have a more workable number of players on their final board. It’s not unreasonable to think that a team may have about 120 players on their board. These are players that they are interested in, not only in the first round but throughout the draft.

Before the Combine, coaches aren’t that involved in the scouting process. Beginning with the combine and through March and early April, the coaches spend a good part of their time doing evaluations of players at their position group.

The position coach’s evaluation is a very important part of the process. He is the person who will be in charge of developing the player and will work with him the closest, so it’s imperative that the position coach is on board with the selection.

When the position coach evaluates a player, he not only evaluates the player’s talent level, but also the player’s personality and intelligence. If the coach feels that the player is not a fit, the decision makers have to listen. The worst thing you can do is force a coach to work with a player he doesn’t want or like. That player will not succeed.

Not only is the coach’s evaluation an important part of the final grade, but so is the physical testing done at the Combine, pro days, and private workouts. Players who performed better than expected can see their grade go up, while players who worked out poorly can see their grade drop.

When moving a player’s grade up or down based on physical testing, you have to be careful. By this, I mean that if a player that looks like a 4.7 guy on tape runs a 4.50 at the combine, you have to be sure that is his “real” speed or a manufactured speed. Regardless of how fast he timed, if he doesn’t play fast you can’t just assume he is now going to play fast. In most cases, he will still play to the slower speed.

The same can be said about players who play fast and time slow. You always have to be careful.

When a club has had a private workout with a prospect, those results are always very important. The private workout is usually run by the position coach and the coordinator. He not only physically works out the player, but he is also spending time with him in a meeting room. He gets a good understanding of the player’s ability to learn and retain and his ability to play in the club’s scheme.

Another thing that is talked about in the final meetings is a player’s character analysis. By this time of the year, all information is in. The club has had plenty of time to research all issues and make a determination if they, in fact, want that player on their club. All information is put in the table. The difference between risk and reward is discussed and then the general manager and head coach will give the player a thumbs up or down. Making the right decision is not only important as far as the player’s career goes,  but also the career of the GM or Head Coach. Making the wrong decision on a premium draft choice can set a club back.

Clubs will also use these meeting to prioritize players. If two or three players with equal grades are available, who is the player you want the most? These decisions have to be made before draft day so there isn’t confusion when on the clock.

As we get closer to the draft, I will write about the final preparations clubs make and what happens on draft day. When you are in the football evaluation business, this is the best time if the year.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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2015 NFL Combine Notebook – Part IV

nfl combine

Going into this year's Combine, the safety class looked weak compared with the last few years. There have been a few scouts who have told me that they feel there is only one legitimate starter in this year's class and that's Alabama's Landon Collins. There are other players who have a chance to be eventual

Going into this year’s Combine, the safety class looked weak compared with the last few years. There have been a few scouts who have told me that they feel there is only one legitimate starter in this year’s class and that’s Alabama’s Landon Collins. There are other players who have a chance to be eventual starters, but it’s not a certainty.

As for the corner class, it has some depth to it, but when you look at the numbers posted yesterday, the athletic talent is average as compared to past years.

Trae Waynes – Michigan State

Waynes didn’t disappoint as he ran a 4.32 in the 40. I was a little disappointed in his agility drills, where he posted times of 7.06 in the 3-cone and 4.39 in the 20 yard shuttle. There are linebackers who had better times. Don’t be surprised if he runs those drills again at the MSU pro day.

Byron Jones – UConn

Jones was the talk of the day after jumping 44.5″ in the vertical and 12’2″ in the long jump to set a combine record. His 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone were also impressive. His 20-yard shuttle time was 3.94 and his 3-come was 6.78. The amazing part about those times is that Jones was just cleared to start working out after having shoulder surgery. He hasn’t spent the last four to six weeks at a training facility preparing for the combine. Those numbers were on pure natural ability. Going into the Combine, Jones wasn’t on many teams’ radars. After that performance, you can bet all 32 clubs will be visiting UConn over the next six weeks.

Kevin Johnson – Wake Forest

Kevin didn’t run as expected, timing 4.52 in the 40, but the rest of his workout was outstanding. He had a 41″ vertical and went 10’10” in the long jump, while his agilities were 3.89 and 6.79 respectively. With Johnson’s height and length and overall athleticism, he is a sure first round pick but I would bet he runs again at his pro day to try and improve on that 4.52.

Steve Nelson – Oregon State

After doing tape work on Nelson, I was excited because I love the way he plays the game. On tape he is quick, feisty and aggressive. What I thought might hurt him was his height. I thought he may be under 5’10, which is the cutoff number for many teams at the corner position. He measured an even 5’10 at Indy with 30 5/8″ arms. With him running 4.49, he will be on every team’s draft board and will most likely be drafted in the second or third round. He is a fun player to watch.

Adrian Amos – Penn State

With the safety position lacking quality depth, Amos really helped himself. At 6000 – 218 he has very good size. I think many people were surprised at how well he tested. He ran the 40 in 4.49, had a 35.5″ vertical jump, 10’2″ long jump and agilities of 4.03 and 7.09. Those were all very good numbers for the safety position.

Anthony Harris from  Virginia and Derron Smith from Fresno State did not workout, so we will have to wait until their pro days to find out what they can do.

Kurtis Drummond – Michigan State

There were mixed opinions on Drummond going into the Combine and if anything, he may have hurt himself with his speed. He ran 4.65 and 4.70 with his two 40’s. He did much better with the other drills, going 39.5 in the vertical and 7.09 in the 3 cone. He didn’t bench, so at the MSU pro day he will need to run again as well as lift.

Cody Prewitt – Ole Miss

Prewitt is another player who will need to run again at his pro day. He ran 4.60 and 4.70 on his two 40’s. With that difference, scouts are wondering which one is right?

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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2015 NFL Combine Notebook – Part III

Leonard Williams

One of the strong areas of this year's draft is edge pass rushers. During the college season, some lined up as 4-3 defensive ends while others were 3-4 outside linebackers. In either case, on passing downs, they were used to rush the passer. Most of these players didn't disappoint with their workouts yesterday and we could

One of the strong areas of this year’s draft is edge pass rushers. During the college season, some lined up as 4-3 defensive ends while others were 3-4 outside linebackers. In either case, on passing downs, they were used to rush the passer. Most of these players didn’t disappoint with their workouts yesterday and we could very easily see three of these players go in the top 15 of the NFL draft.

Dante Fowler – Florida

Going into the Combine, he may have been the favorite to get drafted the highest of the group. He didn’t disappoint. At  6025 – 261, he ran a 4.60. Where some hoped he would have done better is in the measurable drills. His vertical was 32.5″. his long jump was 9’4″, and his agilities were 4.32 and 7.40. Those are all good numbers but not outstanding. In the drill work, he moved around well, showing he could both drop into coverage and rush the passer. Fowler can play as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 OLB

Vic Beasley – Clemson

If anyone benefited from his Combine performance, it was Beasley. He stole the show yesterday and may have moved ahead of Fowler. Beasley measured 6030 – 245 and had a workout that most corners would love. He ran the 40 in 4.53, his jumps were rare for a big man with a vertical of 41 and a long jump of 10’10”. His 3-cone was a very quick 6.91. As good as all those were, the best may have been his bench press which was 35 reps. That’s the equivalent of a 470-pound bench press. In his drill work, he was just as outstanding, showing effortless movement and change of direction. He will be a 3-4 OLB

Shane Ray – Missouri

Ray couldn’t help or hurt his draft stock, as all he did was weigh, measure, and bench press. He is coming off a foot injury in his bowl game and we will have to wait for Mizzou’s pro day before we find out how Ray tests out. As for his height and weight, he came in at 6025 – 245 and did 21 reps on the bench. Ray also will be a 3-4 OLB in the NFL.

Randy Gregory – Nebraska

Going into the combine, many thought Gregory would be able to play DE in a 4-3. At 6047 – 235, he won’t be playing defensive end. At that size he has to be a 3-4 OLB. He has the athleticism, running a 4.57 in the 40 and his jumps were 36.5″ in the vertical and 10’5″ in the long jump. Both are excellent numbers. Gregory did not perform the agility drills but looked smooth and explosive doing positional work.

Davis Tull – Tennessee – Chattanooga

Going into the Combine, not many from the media and even in the draftnik community knew much about Tull.  I did my film work on him about a week ago, and he totally dominated FCS competition. I put a fourth round grade on him. After yesterday, that grade just may have to go up. Because of an injury, Tull didn’t do a lot but what he did do was remarkable. He measured 6020 -246 and his jumps were 42.5 in the vertical and 11′ in the long jump. You can bet there will be quite a crowd at Tull’s pro day! With that explosiveness, he could move up to the third round.

Leonard Williams – USC

Williams was looked at as the best defensive tackle entering the Combine. Coming out, I would say he still holds that position. At 6’5 – 302 he ran a 4.97. While some would have liked him to be a bit more explosive, he still showed very good change of direction and body control. He can play a variety of positions. In a 4-3, he can play left end or 3-technique. In a 3-4, he is an ideal 5-technique.

Danny Shelton – Washington

At 6’2 – 339, most knew Shelton wasn’t going to run fast. His 5.64 was slower than expected but his 10 yard time of 1.88 was very good. Where he was impressive, especially for his size, was the vertical jump where he jumped 30.5″ and the 20 yard shuttle, which was 4.65. At 339 pounds, those numbers are impressive. While he may not be a top 10 pick, he will still go in the first round. His tape is way too impressive.

Preston Smith – Mississippi State

Smith had one of the most impressive workouts of the day. He ran 4.74, jumped 34″ and 10’1″ and did 4.28 and 7.07 in the agility drills. Those are good numbers for a 245-pound linebacker and Smith weighed in at 271. With that athleticism, his value shot up.

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Which combine drills are most important?

Combine

No one seriously believes that the NFL Combine allows scouts or their geeky counterparts to sit in an office and evaluate talent based solely on Combine results. Where there is disagreement, though, is in how to interpret those results. Some believe the Combine data is relatively useless and that the true value of the Combine

No one seriously believes that the NFL Combine allows scouts or their geeky counterparts to sit in an office and evaluate talent based solely on Combine results. Where there is disagreement, though, is in how to interpret those results. Some believe the Combine data is relatively useless and that the true value of the Combine lies in its medical exams and interviews. I tend to believe that the data shows that the results of some drills, dependent on the playing position, do seem to be an indicator of success and should be an element in the decision-making process.

This article presents the results of an analysis that seems to support that case. It should be said up-front that no drill that provides an absolute guarantee of success. Rather, it is a matter of improving a team’s probability of success on draft day. Think of it like basic strategy in blackjack.

The analysis was performed using Combine results for the past 10 years (2005-2014) and reviewed each drill by playing position for top Combine performers and all Combine participants.  The metric used in the analysis to measure success is whether a player has started one NFL season, an admittedly low hurdle but one that fits the time frame used in the analysis.  A starting season is defined as any season where a player starts at least eight games. Top Performers are defined as the top five performers (plus ties) at each drill in each year for each playing position.

The analysis was intended to serve three purposes:

  • Identify the playing positions for which the Combine is most important
  • Place the drills in order of importance by playing position
  • Determine the degree of difference among the drills for each playing position
    • This recognizes that simply putting the drills in order of importance does not provide enough information to evaluate importance
    • More about the degree of difference later in the article

Before proceeding, here is a reminder of the six traditional Combine drills (plus the 40-yard splits) with the abbreviations for each as used in this article:

  • 40 yard dash (“40)”
    • Further broken down into the first 10 yards (“10”), the first 20 yards (“20) and the final 20 yards “F20”
    • The final 20 yards are often referred to as the “flying 20” because the player has a running start (the first 20 yards) to begin the timing
  • Bench Press (“BP”)
  • Vertical Jump (“VJ”)
  • Broad Jump (“BJ”)
  • 20 yard shuttle (“20S’)
  • 3-cone drill (“3C”)

 

Importance of the Combine by Playing Position

As a starting point, the analysis identified the playing positions for which Combine drills are most important. This was done by comparing the percentage of one-year starters from the Top Performers to those from all Combine participants. Table 1 reflects the aggregate result of all Combine drills.

Combine positions are used for each player with the only exception being that running backs and defensive ends were divided by size. Running backs were split into those under 215 pounds and those weighing 215 pounds or more. The dividing point for defensive ends was 270 pounds.

A large difference between Top Performers and All Participants indicates the importance of focusing on Top Performers at the Combine. Cornerbacks and defensive ends (both small and large) have the largest difference between Top Performers and All Participants.

 

Centers, Quarterbacks and Large Running Backs have only minor differences, indicating that Combine drills may not be all that important for those positions.

 

Importance of the Drills

The importance of the drills is measured by calculating the percentage of one-year starters for each Combine drill and playing position. The premise is that the higher the percentage, the more important the drill. Table 2 reflects the percentage of Top Performers that started at least one season by Combine drill for each playing position.

The information in Table 2 is then used to place Combine drills for each position in the order of importance. Please note that the Bench Press is not relevant for quarterbacks and wide receivers (very few even do the drill) and are omitted for those positions. There are also a few ties in order of importance that cannot be reflected in this table but will show up in the degree of difference.

The degree of diversity in the top drills for each position is noteworthy. Of the 15 drills ranked first (one for each playing position), six are some variation of the 40-yard dash, three are the 3-Cone drill and there are two each for the Bench Press, Broad Jump and 20-yard shuttle. Only the vertical jump is not represented.

Table 3 shows the ranking of the drills for each playing position:

A kinesiology expert might look at this table and say it does not make sense. But the results speak for themselves. Whether it makes perfect sense or is a statistical oddity, I will leave to others to debate.

 

Degree of Difference

The degree of difference calculation is intended to answer the question of how much more significant one drill is than another. The data from Table 2 was used to develop this index. The index value for the drill having the highest percentage for each playing position was set at 100. The index value for all other drills by playing position was calculated by dividing (1) the percentage of starters from each drill excluding the top-rated drill by (2) the percentage of starters for the top drill. For example, assume that (1) 50% of the top performing offensive tackles in the Bench Press started at least one season and (2) the Combine drill with the best outcome for top performing offensive tackles is the 10-yard split at 67.2%. The index for the 10-yard split would be set at 100.0. The index for the Bench Press would be 74.4, calculated by dividing 50% by 67.4%.

Table 4 presents the index values that were calculated. For centers there is very little difference among all the drills and the least predictive drill has an index value of about 87% of the most predictive drill.  For small running backs, on the other hand, there is a significant difference between the 10-yard split and the flying 20, indicating that the 10-yard split is clearly the most important drill.

Please note that the indices should be used within each playing position. In other words the Center index of 87.1 for the 10-yard split cannot be compared to the Guard index of 74.9 for the same drill.

 

One Last Question

A logical follow-up question is whether the probability of success for a player increases if he ranks as a Top Performer for multiple drills. The short answer is yes. An analysis was performed that identified players who were Top Performers in each of the top three drills for each playing position. Table 5 shows the outcome.

As can be seen in Table 5, those players who rank as a Top Performer in all three of the top drills at each position do outperform all Top Performers. The overall difference, though, is modest. Several positions had relatively few data points, though, and it is difficult to draw any conclusions from those.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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