Part one of the NFL scouting and evaluation process will wrap up over the next few weeks as the two major NFL scouting services, National and Blesto, hold their annual fall meetings to review the grades and analysis of the senior prospect class. This is the primary time for area scouts to have their say as they read the synopsis of the games they have attended and film study from the past four months.
To date, the large majority of NFL general managers, coaching staffs and even some directors of scouting have not seen or read about most of the senior class outside of a glance here or there. However, several directors have started to hit the road as either cross-checkers at key programs or to evaluate the top 50 to 100 graded players from the spring.
Why is this so important? Easy. Once the postseason begins, the area scouts get assigned either certain positions to concentrate on or cross-check during the practice weeks of the all-star games. So they are not as involved with the evaluation process as they are during the regular season when others in the organization are busy.
Some teams prefer not to mix their coaching staff with the scouting process outside of them eye-balling a player's body type or attitude to help fit prospects into their team's scheme or philosophy. Others will give coaches a full vote in terms of identifying talent. The teams with the best arrangements have scouts and coaches working hand-in-hand, but that is often easier said than done.
An area scout spends countless hours circling his region for talent, but a head coach or scouting director can basically discount or override the scout's assessments in the postseason. Most head coaches have shared an idea of what type of players they prefer, but once internal meetings commence, it can be an all-out brawl to get your thoughts across the table. Many a prospect's NFL hopes have died on the draft room floor because the majority has a different sense of a player than the area scout.
Scheme and philosophy are often two of the biggest factors that are overlooked by media and other outlets that cover the draft, as they do not take into account a team's true needs or current depth chart. Instead, they decide to slot players into a team or position in order to look correct on draft day.
A prime example of this mistake last year involved Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who was incorrectly projected to go to the Buffalo Bills. The problem? The Bills had announced their plan to use more of a Cover 2 scheme, which calls for smaller and quicker defensive tackles that can attack one gap on each play, not 340-pound run stuffers like Ngata.
The scouting and evaluation process is just about to pick up stride as it is the NFL's version of a marathon. If you jump out to the lead too quickly by getting over-excited on how a player has or has not performed during a small stretch of time, you can either come up short in the later stages or burn out the accuracy of your reports.
Part of our year-round draft coverage will be to share more of these types of breakdowns with you over the coming months. When you're chatting around the water cooler, you will know who fits the Cover 2 scheme best.
- Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis plans to meet with his underclassmen this week to discuss their future and options. Those expected to meet with him include tight end John Carlson, center John Sullivan, defensive tackle Trevor Laws, cornerback Ambrose Wooden and safety Tom Zbikowski, all of whom have one year of eligibility left.
Zbikowski is considering the move to the next level, and Carlson has missed several weeks with a knee injury, which might have created an opening for him to return. Others like Sullivan and Wooden are expected to be told that another year with the Irish could bolster their draft grade.
- Virginia wide receiver Deyon Williams will enter the NFL draft after deciding to play through an injury-plagued senior campaign due to a stress fracture in his right foot that required surgery before the season. He ended up missing five games, four to start the year, and then sat out against Florida State.
Williams impressed scouts with a very productive junior year, which featured 58 catches for 767 yards and seven touchdowns. He was unable to produce any real numbers when he did play this season, as he struggled to get back to full strength and slid down the depth chart at times.
What stood out about Williams was that he really never complained. He worked hard behind the scenes to rejoin a team that was in need of senior leadership and stuck to his guns when he decided to play one more season with his classmates while risking his potential draft status – a rare trait these days.
Williams, just under 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, has above-average speed (4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash), but it's his heart and competitiveness that will serve him well as he tries to impress NFL scouts.
- Humboldt State (Calif.) linebacker Trey Randall completed his final collegiate contest with eight tackles and two tackles for loss in a 23-20 victory over Western Oregon two weeks ago. While leading the Lumberjacks to a 9-1 record, the school's best finish in recent memory, the senior helped spark a defense that limited opponents to 167 yards passing and 19 points per game.
Randall played on the same junior college team that produced NFL defenders Demorrio Williams and Ricardo Colclough, but after one year at Louisiana-Lafayette, Randall's college career took a detour until he became academically qualified last spring.
The 6-foot, 225-pound defender finished with 50 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 2½ sacks in eight games for a defense that featured a handful of other interesting senior prospects, including pass rusher Todd Eagle, cornerback Tyson Hampton and safety/return man Kyle Killingsworth.
SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS
The sixth annual East Coast Bowl was played in Petersburg, Va., last weekend. Nearly 80 senior prospects ranging from Division I-AA to NAIA received the opportunity to practice, work out and play in front of NFL scouts, which included the National Scouting service that caters to 19 teams. Another eight teams sent representatives during the four-day event.
The game featured several big plays, including a 56-yard touchdown catch by Norfolk State wide receiver Derrick Baker, two touchdown passes by Alma (Mich.) quarterback Josh Brehm to West Liberty State wide receiver Renard Stevens and then a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass from Earlham (Ind.) quarterback Justin Rummell to Fairmont State running back Wendell Johnson that covered just one-yard but gave the North a thrilling 26-24 victory.
Wagner (N.Y.) wide receiver Chris Turner made an acrobatic catch with just seconds remaining in the game, catapulting himself towards the end zone by falling just a yard short when he was gang-tackled by several South defenders. Indiana State kicker Kyle Hooper gave the North team a shot to win the game by converting field goals of 42 and 49 yards in the second half.
Bryant (R.I.) running back Lorenzo Perry, a Harlon Hill finalist, flashed his jitterbug style to bring the fans to their feet on several occasions. Other notable performances on the North: St. Francis (Pa.) quarterback Anthony Doria (two touchdowns, including one to former college teammate Michael Caputo), Albany (N.Y.) defensive end Andre Coleman (1½ sacks) and Morgan State defensive back Catlyn Clark (few good breakups, 4.5 in the 40 during the week).
In addition to Stevens, the South had excellent weapons in the passing game. Catawba wide receiver Lance Johnson had eight catches for 189 yards, and Lindenwood (Mo.) tight end Steven Kennedy made several key receptions. Brehm stood tall in the pocket and threw a live ball with very good accuracy while completing 20 of 24 passes for 240 yards and a pair of scores.
Other standouts for the South were: South Carolina State running back DeShawn Baker (seven yards per carry), Truman State offensive guard Patrick Murray, Central Arkansas safety Jasper Johnson, Fort Valley State defensive lineman Jeffrey Nweke, Fort Valley State cornerback Rashod Moulton (who also played running back and returned both kickoffs and punts), Mansfield (Pa.) center Jamar Foulks and Central Arkansas offensive lineman Justin Jones (who drew praise from scouts for his earlier workouts and ability to play both tackle and guard).
POSTSEASON ALL-STAR GAME UPDATES
Senior Bowl – Quarterback Jordan Palmer and highly productive wide receiver Johnnie Lee Huggins of UTEP have been added to the roster. Also accepting invitations to play in the Jan. 27 game are Pittsburgh senior quarterback Tyler Palko, Notre Dame wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, Fighting Irish safety Tom Zbikowski (who has yet to formally announce he is giving up his final year of eligibility), Penn State running back Tony Hunt, Texas Tech offensive guard Manuel Ramirez and Auburn offensive guard Ben Grubbs.
Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Challenge – The first group of players to accept invites to the Feb. 2 game was announced Tuesday on the campus of UTEP. In keeping with the concept of the game, the following senior prospects from the host city's college will play for their head coach, Mike Price of the Texas squad: defensive end Alex Obomese, defensive tackle Zach West, inside linebacker Troy Collavo, cornerback Bryant Tisdale and wide receiver Daniel Robinson.
Cactus Bowl – Organizers of the game, which originated as the Snow Bowl in 1994, announced they have canceled this year's contest in Kingsville, Texas, in order to concentrate on bringing back the game stronger in 2008. According to a source close to the situation, the game had lost its primary sponsor and would not have been able to afford the travel and other costs associated with the game. "It's a terrible loss for the small school players, since most were in the playoffs and missed last week's [East Coast Bowl]," one veteran scout said. "They will have an uphill climb in getting the chance to work out in front of scouts."