By the time most of you begin reading this post I’ll be scouting prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. No, I won’t be IN my new least favorite football town but yes, I will be observing any and all college prospects — who have been invited to the combine — via high def flat screen heaven.
It has occurred to me some time ago that many everyday fans of our beloved K.C. Chiefs might be wishing upon the star of “Gee, I wish I was a scout for the Chiefs.” Well, first of all I can tell you… it’s tedious work. Now, I’m not someone who has worked for any football organization. However, I’ve been scouting football players for my own pleasure for years now. So, here’s a little bit of what I know… just in time for you to scout the NFL Combine.
Firstly, players have to be scouted so that they can eventually be ranked. On Friday, from Indy, Chiefs GM John Dorsey said,
"“I think that history has shown, that if in fact you stay true to that model, the best player available usually will prevail.”"
Dorsey was making a case for being disciplined about taking the best player available in the draft. That, places a tremendous amount of emphasis upon the observation, evaluation and ranking process… which is exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs coaches, GM and totality of their player personnel staff are all doing feverishly in Lucas Oil for the next four days.
For me, this is one of the most exciting events in the NFL’s calendar year. So, let’s take a look at what you can do when you’re tuning in… if you so decide to take the challenge.
When you’re watching a football game… what do you look at? If you’re like most of us, your eyes have a tendency to “follow the bouncing ball.” That is, many of us get stuck watching the ball and where the ball is going. Now, if that’s all you do when you’re attempting to fairly analyze a football player, then you’re going to come away with very little information about 95% of the players on the field.
Take a wide receiver for example. If you’re wanting to evaluate a wide receiver you also have to take into consideration the play of that receiver on plays when he knows he’s NOT getting the ball… like a running play. Successful teams have every offensive player engaged in blocking, and blocking well, to make their running game effective. If a WR doesn’t do his job on plays that he knows the ball is not coming to him, it should affect how you evaluate him.
Now, how is that going to help you analyze a player at the combine? It isn’t. Make no mistake about it, observing a player in game action can not be substituted by half-clothed calisthenics and half-cocked calculations.
So, what good can scouting players be during the NFL Combine?
While you won’t have the opportunity to see whether or not a prospect is doing his job when he knows he’s not getting the ball, the are a host of other important traits that can be determined by observing them in the sterile environment of these underwear olympics.
So, here’s “Laddie’s Little Tips” for scouting the combine.
Choose a part of a prospects body (hands, head, arms, feet, mid-section) and then stick with that focus throughout the whole exercise that the coaches are putting the prospects through.
One of my favorites is to focus on their feet. I recall a couple of years ago when the coverage was focusing up close on the feet of offensive linemen. A specific player really popped out at me and remember saying out loud to myself, “Wow, he’s got great feet,” because his lateral movement was not only fluid but the quickness with which he moved was apparently much better than any other prospects. That player turned out to be Rodney Hudson. So, when the Chiefs drafted him two months later I could say to myself, I have a good idea about one of the reasons they choose him.
2. Speed and quickness
One game I like to play by myself to test and see if my observations match the statistics is → as I watch the 40 yard dash segment, I guess if each prospect in that group is faster or slower than another prospect… like the guy who has the fastest time.
This little game not only helps me to trust my own eyes (which I often refer to as the “eyeball test”) but, helps me to more accurately analyze prospects.
The “speed” of a player is a bit of a tricky wicket. If you talk too much about the speed of a player, homers will call you the next coming of Al Davis. If your team doesn’t take speed seriously enough, they’re more often than not, on the outside of the playoffs looking back and saying, “They (the opposition) were just too fast for our players and we need more team speed.”
Take the most recent Super Bowl. It looked like the Seattle Seahawks defense was faster than the Denver Broncos offense. However, when I went back and checked, not that many of their players possess top notch top end speed.
So, there’s truly… a difference between “speed” and “game speed.”
Now, at the combine, there’s 40 speed and then there’s the speed a prospect carries over into all the other activities.
Four years ago, linebacker K.J. Wright out of Mississippi State simply looked (to me) like the fastest LB out there. I recall writing about him as a possible draft choice for the Chiefs. While Wright was timed at 4.65 in the 40, his on field play looked much faster. By comparison, Derrick Johnson was once timed at 4.52 in the 40 so, Wright was not to be confused with DJ.
As it turned out, Wright is a LB who looked terrific helping the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl victory.
3) Comparison Shopping
Contrary to popular belief, Free Agents aren’t necessarily compared to draft picks. When John Dorsey was asked, “Do the players you sign in Free Agency have any effect on who you select in the draft? He answered, “No, I don’t think so.” Consequently, let’s spend our time watching the combine without thinking about who the Chiefs may or may not sign in Free Agency.
At the combine, your able to see how players look in comparison to other similar prospects when those prospects are standing right next to them and performing right after them. “Maturity” has become a major issue in this draft. Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney have both raised red flags in the past year. Plenty of them and even though their talents make end up taking to the pinnacle position of this draft, their maturity, or lack thereof is a major point for comparison in this year’s draft.
Another reason maturity is an issue of this draft is the high volume of non-seniors coming out this year. Look for maturity to be a continued story for the next two and a half months with possible lingering side-effects until September and beyond.
4) Notes, Ratings and Rankings
It may not sound exciting to everyone who travels down this road of fandom but, if you’re going to go so far as to watch game day tape and YouTube Highlights, you may as well take notes. Write down whatever occurs to you at first. Then begin to take one aspect of a players game and follow it all the way through a game and maybe make up your own rating system.
One of my favorite places to visit regularly to get a feel for what many other homemade scouts are thinking about prospects is to visit Walter Football’s NFL Mock Draft Database. It’s a collection of dozens and dozens of mock drafts. Please be careful if you visit there. It’s too easy to allow other bloggers opinions to become your own. Nothing replaces watching players in game action so remember that. Not even the combine.
If you’re interested in putting up a little cash so you can have this kind of thing done for you, go to ProFootballFocus which will set you back $26.99 per year but you’ll be given access to a play-by-play- rating system of most players in the NFL.
Getting to see the GMs huddled in a group with their entourage of player personnel evaluators is always a thrill and telling. In many ways they’re like the tallest kids on the playground choosing up sides for basketball. Some GM’s and personnel people have worked together before and know each other’s tendencies, talents and weaknesses.
For example, Team A is seriously evaluating a WRs for a possible selection at pick #18 but they also know their conference rival, Team B, who is picking at #16, is looking for a top notch WR too… but during the process they become aware that prospect “J” … can not be leaned on hard by coaches nor prodded like other WRs (just as their area scouts and combine scouting report states) and if he is pushed… then he shuts down emotionally (sound like anyone you know of?). So, because Team A believes they have the right coaches to coach prospect “J” up reel-gud… on draft day Team A will have a trade with Team C in place for their draft spot at #15 in the event that prospect “J” is available there.
So, information learned, or confirmed, at the combine can have a tremendous effect and leave a lasting impression on team coaches, GMs and player personnel. Accordingly, this information informs them as to whether or not this is one of the players they’d like to invite in for a visit in the weeks before the draft… knowing full well that there are a limited number of visits that a team can give to prospects who would come in and see the team’s facilities.
Just yesterday, John Dorsey, from the combine in Indianapolis, had this to say about the mechanics of the draft,
"“Well, I think every year you go through the draft process, regardless if you’re drafting one, or twenty-three, you begin to build your board and you begin to identify certain players who will unfold at certain spots. And then as you begin to go through there, you can determine who these guys are who can fit those criteria that you’ve set up. And that’s how that unfolds. And you do have to be disciplined because when you build through the draft , discipline is so critical because you have to take the best player available not thinking instantaneously but also thinking down the road in terms of the future. Two years, three years down the road.”"
So, if you decide to do a little combine watching and then want a little bit more out of the experience, remember what John Dorsey said when asked, “What are you looking for in a prospect?” He chimed, “At the end of the day… does the guy make plays?
It might be harder to tell that while watching 24 hours (over the next four days) of the NFL Network’s Combine coverage. At least you’ll know now what you’re looking for. Or not.
In the end, Mr. Dorsey says his job in Indy is, “Looking for athleticism and competitiveness.”
Alright. That should be easy.