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At Home Scouting 110: Gathering Your Materials

Once you’ve gotten to know your team, the next course in the At Home Scouting Curriculumis gathering your materials.  There are two major obstacles that the draftnik must overcome, time and lack of resources.  If preparing for the NFL Draft were our full time job, we wouldn’t be draftniks, we’d be scouts.  Scouts and coaches spend hundreds of hours each week pouring over game film and reading reports on players, there is no way we can replicate that kind of effort from home.  So the first step is to bridge the gap by obtaining scouting reports from a reputable source.  There are dozens on NFL Draft Guides that you can buy on newstands, but they are frequently out of date by the time they are published and not all of them come from reputable sources with background in the scouting industry.

My personal preference for years has been the Sporting News War Room which provides access to their full draft reports, mock drafts and player grades which are updated throughout the draft process.  However, this year a new player has entered the draft report arena, the National Football Post Scouting Department.  NFP has always had a portion of their site devoted to scouting and draft coverage, but their draft coverage hit the weight room since the 2010 Draft.  The NFPSD site even goes the extra mile and adds a “college lettering system” to their draft grades which gives extra info such as medical or character concerns.  This is a great feature and the first time I’ve come across it in all my years of draft prep.  It’s nice to now have more detailed character information so my board doesn’t resemble the Bengals’ board anymore.

Once I have scouting reports that I trust, I begin checking the high level grades for position groups.  For example, NFP has 11 outside linebackers graded 6.0 or higher compared to 19 cornerbacks.  That means there is greater depth at the cornerback position and I should value the outside linebackers higher because there are fewer quality prospects.  I go through and rank my position groups by value, highest to lowest.

Once I have my initial position group rankings, I then read through all the player scouting reports looking for players that fit the skill set I am looking for.  I will remove anybody that doesn’t fit, players strictly suited for a 3-4 or character concerns, and highlight players that really interest me.

The scouting reports fill in a lot of the basic information that draftniks don’t have the access to or the time to compile.  Once you have your starting point the process becomes more tailored to what you value.  I take the next step to do what film work I can based on the resources available.

The second set of materials to gather are Senior Bowl practices, Bowl games, Scouting Combine coverage, NFL Network’s Path to the Draft and YouTube highlights.  Each of these serves its own purpose in the evaluation process.

  • Senior Bowl Practices: You can see how the players perform in one on one settings, how they respond to coaching, do they look as athletic in drills as they do in games?  You can see how quickly they improve or if they stagnate and also if they seem overwhelmed or not.  All of these things are little details to use to slightly adjust your rankings based on what you see.
  • Senior Bowl Game: Since the game is technically an All Star game, it has specific schematic rules that each team has to play by.  Since this isn’t true game action I look for little things that aren’t affected by the All Star game rules.  Defensive back ball skills, tackling, pass rush moves and motor.
  • Bowl Games: It’s hard to do really good evaluations on televised games because the camera always follows the ball.  You rarely see the receivers and secondary in action and the sideline angle makes it tough to evaluate line play.  Again, mostly watching to see tackling, running, catching and ball skills.
  • Scouting Combine: There are two main reasons why I watch the combine coverage, the first is the positional drills.  It’s a good opportunity to see all the players on a level playing field and compare apples to apples.  When the players do the positional drills you can see athleticism, balance, agility and speed.  Then you can compare them to the other players at that position.  Ndamukong  Suh looked significantly more explosive on tape than the other defensive tackles I watched, and his performance at the combine backed that up.  Mike Williams looked like an athletic freak during games at USC, but at the combine he looked slow and stiff.    te second reason I watch the combine is Mike Mayock.  I have every NFL Draft since 2002 recorded and part of my draft prep every year was to rewatch the previous three years’ drafts to see whose opinions are worth listening to.  I no longer have to do that because Mike Mayock is so far ahead of the pack that second place doesn’t matter.  Mike Mayock has been offered jobs in the NFL as a scout but has declined them because of the travel and stress that go with them.  Mayock is the best draft analyst in the business and I value his opinion highly.
  • Path to the Draft: This nightly show on NFL Network provides daily updates on pro days and featured in depth analysis on the players and teams.  It’s the best draft show on TV.
  • Youtube Highlights: I’m pretty sure I watch for different reasons that Jim Schwartz.  Highlights are obviously just going to show a player’s best plays, but it’s still a good way to look at just that player on the field.  Watching Jahvid Best on Youtube last year gave me an appreciation for his open field vision and acceleration because I rarely got to see any of his games on TV. 

I use all these various tools to make updates to my draft notes and as the days go by I keep adjusting my rankings accordingly.  Once the draft is a week or so away, I take my final rankings and then match them up to the Lions’ positional needs and build my draft board. 

Looking back on the tools that used to be available for draftniks just 5 years ago versus what’s available nowadays is mind blowing.  However, the number one thing to remember when scouting from home is to find resources that you trust and have a good track record.  There’s nothing more disheartening than getting 3 hours into the draft and discovering that the draft rankings you based your entire preparation on have 5th rounders going in the first round.

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2 Responses to “At Home Scouting 110: Gathering Your Materials”

  1. Smitty says:

    Nice article. How deep into the draft do you go? I mean, that is quite a bit of research. I do focus on the Lions and take in consideration what other teams may need. If you have time to do all of that for 300 player in the Combine then you should be a scout. I am familiar with about 100 players year in & year out. Everybody else is just a position.

  2. Smitty-

    I usually shoot for knowing about 5 rounds worth of players. Even towards the end of the fifth it can be pretty tough to have any real adequate opinion of my own on players. There are a lot better tools at my disposal this year than in years past so we’ll see where I find the limit this year.

    Remember though, I really only target areas that I feel are needs for the Lions. Last year I didn’t pay any attention to quarterbacks, tight ends, very little time on receivers and just some mid round flyer types on the offensive line.

    That narrows down the field quite a bit and then I really just look at players I feel would be a good fit. When it’s all said and done, I have advanced knowledge/opinions on about 120 players, above average knowledge on another 50-70 and generally speaking I’ve at least seen/heard the name of 90% of the players drafted.

    I am going to go back to last years’ draft prep stuff in the next couple of days to see how I did after a year. Should be interesting.

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