I have a player I am prospecting this year who is rated by National Football Scouting (NFS) as a late round to undrafted free agent. However, from what I can see, what his coach has told me and what scouts are saying is that he has talent that merits a second round grade. He still has a chance to be drafted in the 2nd round but I doubt he will because of some flaws in the scouting system.
ICONJames Harrison may have warranted a higher grade.
Why potential draftees don’t always get the respect they may deserve:
1) The initial Combine and Blesto grade NFS is an independent scouting service, which NFL teams currently belong. They are the people that run the Combine in Indianapolis. The group is responsible for assigning grades to players and capturing height, weight, speed stats, personal and medicals in the spring prior to their senior year. The majority of Combine scouts are also young and inexperienced.
Its member teams then use the list as a starting point to scout players. Sometimes when a Combine scout gives a player a non-draftable or late round grade, individual team scouts can easily overlook him. Especially in the case when a player may be the only prospect at that particular school as some teams may never visit the school to evaluate him. Conversely, the scouts who do discover that these players are way better than their Combine grade would prefer to keep that player a secret and get him at a discount on draft day. That initial grade can influence young inexperienced area scouts as well. In addition, those players with late round or undraftable grades don’t get on the radar screen of all-star games. And of course, may not get invited to the Combine itself. If a player is not invited to the Combine he automatically gets a huge discount because all teams think the other team won’t draft him. Thus the initial NFS grade can really hurt a player’s chance of being fairly evaluated.
2) The player’s school is hard to get to: If the school of a talented prospect is out of the way or it takes two layovers for a director, HC or GM to get there, the player may never be personally evaluated by a decision maker. If they never see him he will have a huge discount. An area scout only has so much power on influencing a team’s draft board. Even schools like San Diego State in my backyard seem to be overlooked heavily by east coast directors and GMs. Kabeer Gbaja Biamila, Adam Timmerman, La’Roi Glover, Az Hakim, Kassim Osgood, Robert Griffith, Brian Russell, Ephraim Salaam, Will Demps, and most recently Miles Burris and Vincent Brown all seemed to have merited higher draft grades. Some of these players weren’t drafted at all. I believe that if these players had similar college careers at “must visit” schools like Michigan or Oklahoma they most likely would have been drafted higher.
Some smaller schools with NFL prospects don’t even send their tapes to the NFL clearing house to be accessed by all 32 teams. Some determined scouts would covertly make copies of DVD’s to bring back to their bosses.
I also believe scouting departments are underfunded and undermanned.
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3) The college coaches hurt you: Some head college coaches make the environment for scouting players very unfriendly. Joe Paterno gave very limited access to NFL scouts and there were several years where scouts weren’t even allowed on campus. Once somebody convinced Joe that it was hurting recruiting so he eventually gave them limited access. Some schools won’t let scouts interview players until after the season while others give scouts free reign and access to everyone in the building. In addition, if college coaches don’t like a player they can say some negative things that may stick with that player until draft day.
4) To hard of a sell for the area scout: An area scout may see a player up to three times in person, watch every one of his games on tape, talked to him and to all his coaches and trainers. However, when the scout goes back to his “over-the-tops” (what they call their bosses) to sell a player, they may get hit with a lot of resistance. While the scouting system and its decision makers have always put a big premium on production and athletic traits, they consistently undervalue intangibles such as passion, toughness, intelligence, and football instincts. Thus the WR who is 5’11 and runs a 4.55 but has all the intangibles won’t usually merit a visit from an over the top. Nor will a safety or LB who just doesn’t fit the cookie cutter profile of the position. In addition, younger area scouts can be easily intimidated from holding their ground on championing a prospect. As one area scout put it to me; “I have to be like a politician when I want to really convince my bosses I found a player form a small school or if he doesn’t fit the typical bill. I become a lobbyist of sorts and start recruiting coaches and everyone in the building to get them to see what I see. Sometimes I will even give a player a 3rd round grade if I think he’s a fourth rounder in order to trick my bosses to giving him a fourth or fifth round grade.”
5) Pressure from the media is felt in the draft room: Not every team has the confidence, the rings and the power to makes the picks they really want. When a GM is dealing with a media sensitive owner or one that wants to be a part of the process, the picks may be influenced by what the reaction may be after the pick is made. Not everyone has the job security or courage of a Bill Belichick to pick a Logan Mankins in the first round while every one else called him a reach and knew the pick would be greeted with skepticism. Furthermore, there are some owners and GMs who may have only seen a player once at the Combine and was turned off by the player. Then the area scouts work and opinion may get tossed aside. Some GMs simply don’t have the wins in their favor to take risk to draft a player that will be met with much skepticism.
One of the GMs I spoke to about this subject made an interesting comment about the evaluation process vs. the actual selections on draft day, “sometimes there are too many people that have to be pleased (I assumed he was referring to the owners, the coaches, the scouts and the fans) so we find ourselves being influencing by other forces other then the talent, the production, the film and the intangibles of the player.
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This story originally appeared on Nationalfootballpost.com
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