Secret of NFL scouts: Why 'workout wonders' can become draft busts

Secret life of NFL scouts

Part 1: How the Dolphins’ draft came together
Part 2: How GM, coaches work together in picking players
Part 3: Examining the player and the person
Part 4: What scouts look for at practices
Part 5: ‘We don’t want a team of exceptions’
Part 6: Why ‘workout wonders’ can become draft busts
Part 7: One grunt keeps tabs on all players, schools
Part 8: Memorable ‘Olympic marathon’ debate over Jordy Nelson
Part 9: Why scouts love visiting Nick Saban and Alabama
Part 10: The calm of Miami Dolphins draft night
Breaking down the 8 players Miami drafted

Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports reporter Pete Thamel spent nearly a year entrenched with NFL scouts in preparation for the 2018 draft. This is the sixth story of a 10-part series.

There’s a phrase in the scouting lexicon – building your library – that references the totality of players that a scout has evaluated over the years. Each season, the final evaluation and eventual success and failure of more than a thousand players shape and sway the perspectives, opinions and biases of scouts.

No one in the Miami Dolphins organization has a library more vast than Terry Bradway, as his 37 years in professional football span back to the USFL. Bradway won two Super Bowls as a Giants scout during the Bill Parcells era, two USFL championships with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars and along the way watched the profession transition from analog to digital, paper maps to GPS and 16-millimeter film to drones flying above practice.

He’s also been pilloried in the New York Post by headlines like “THIS BRADWAY SHOW’S A FLOP” and had a hand in drafting the linebacker considered the biggest bust in New York Jets history: Vernon Gholston. Throughout his football life, he’s served as a general manager, director of college scouting, vice president of player personnel, director of player personnel and has also overseen pro scouting.

Bradway, 63, has the official title of senior scout for the Dolphins the past three seasons. As the college games come to an end each fall, Bradway serves as part cross-checker and reality checker. His war stories vary from trading up to draft Hall of Famers and still being grumbled about on New York talk radio. Along the way, a philosophy formed. “I believe in production, it’s a big part of the final grade,” he says. “I want guys who play good football. That’s what I want.”

Vernon Gholston was taken sixth by the Jets in the 2008 NFL draft, and never recorded a single sack. (AP)
Vernon Gholston was taken sixth by the Jets in the 2008 NFL draft, and never recorded a single sack. (AP)

Bradway scouts primarily in the Northeast and still keeps all his notes in a spiral notebook before transitioning them to a computer to write his reports. He’s accumulated hundreds of notebooks, and along the way compiled just as an impressive library of stories. Bradway’s unofficial title is staff storyteller, as his war stories take the feel of the old joke about walking to school uphill both ways. Bradway remembers taking pre-dawn runs around Holiday Inn parking lots, long before hotel workout rooms were prevalent, carrying a 16-millimeter Kodak projector in his backseat and always having a piece of cardboard paper to project the film onto. “You take a splicer in case the film broke, it usually did,” he says with a laugh.

The stories come at a 4.3 40-yard dash pace:

The time when he intended to scout a Villanova punter, missed pregame warm-ups and the team never punted.

The time his son, Mike, now a respected young Philadelphia Eagles college scout, shadowed current Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider for a high school project.

The time the Stars had an intern named Jay Wright, who later left for a basketball coaching job at the University of Rochester.

A tenet of Bradway’s collective wisdom revolves around not getting lost in the mass of data from the NFL combine and pro days – what Bradway calls “The Olympics” – and attempting to focus on the player, background and college production. Bradway’s perspective – rooted in a time when GPS and iPhones were Jetsons creations – comes back to old-school ideals. “When he measures out and tests and jumps, they get credit for that,” he says. “What we do is submit our reports before the Olympics, it’s not infected by a pro day or a combine or interview or workout.”

Bradway admits the misses linger a little longer, as he recalls being on staffs that drafted former Jets receiver Stephen Hill (second round), former Kansas City lineman Trezelle Jenkins (first round) and former Jets lineman DeWayne Robertson (first round). But the one that sticks with him – and to him – the most is defensive end Vernon Gholston, who was the No. 6 pick out of Ohio State in the 2008 NFL draft. (Bradway was in the Jets room that year, as current Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager.)

Gholston reportedly set the NFL combine record at the time by bench pressing 225 pounds 37 times. He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. Gholston finished his NFL career with zero sacks in three seasons and annually serves as a cautionary tale for teams intrigued by workout warriors. “The ones that fail, they do a lot physically,” Bradway says. “They pass all the tests. They run, jump, they’re strong, but you know especially on defense, if a guy is not instinctive [it’s not going to work]. Once you get burned by that stuff, you’re always looking at it from somebody else. And if they don’t have it, the tendency is to ding them. For every D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold or Darrelle Revis, there’s a Gholston.”

The Secret Life of NFL scouts
The Secret Life of NFL scouts

There’s plenty of happier chapters in Bradway’s library. He recalls a scouting trip in March 1997 to Maples Pavilion, Stanford’s venerable basketball arena, as Kansas City’s director of player personnel. The Chiefs needed a tight end, and Bradway, coach Marty Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator Paul Hackett wanted a chance to see Tony Gonzalez moonlight on the University of California basketball team. Bradway jokes that Schottenheimer sat courtside with Cardinal coach Tyrone Willingham, while he and Hackett ended up in the nosebleeds. But more than two decades later, he remembers Brandin Knight and Stanford prevailing, 73-63, and Gonzalez showing a gritty edge. “Tony just played his ass off,” Bradway recalls. “And after we worked him out, we knew he was a special guy. We moved up to 13 from 18 to take him.”

Bradway recalls getting snowed in in Pittsburgh for Revis’ pro day. “He actually did the three-cone drill wrong, but he looked good doing it wrong,” Bradway says. “He turned the wrong way, and they made him do it again. Whatever he did the first time was more impressive. I remember calling up Mike [Tannenbaum] and saying, ‘We have no shot at this guy at 25.’ ” The Jets traded up to No. 14, and Bradway’s story will certainly be retold when Revis’ bust gets unveiled in Canton in a few years.

As Bradway rattles off the stories, he does so with a relentless enthusiasm. He claims the Dolphins job is the most fun he’s had in football since the USFL and swears he learns more from the Dolphins’ young scouts than they’ve learned from him. (The past few years, Bradway has given up his seat in the Dolphins’ draft room so a younger scout can gain that invaluable experience.)

“When I’m on the field before games, I always go up to the young scouts and say, ‘Do you realize we’re getting paid to do this?’ ” he says. “I don’t think you can ever lose that perspective.”

Next: The grunt who keeps tabs on all players, schools

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