Life as an NFL Road Scout in August
During the fall the air is often filled with hope and optimism. Everyone feels their team has a chance, and has a renewed sense of energy from a summer vacation. This is also a great time for area scouts to get some legitimate work done. Scouts usually visit their own teams training camp before embarking the road journey known as their day job. This is the best information gathering time – building the foundation that will turn into a report over the next 8 months.
Every team is different in what they require from their scouts over the summer months. Some guys will watch all the prospects from junior tape, some will watch guys who have draftable grades. Other teams will not require scouts to do anything but recharge their batteries. I am a big believer in getting a jump start in the summer. Watching all the players can give area scouts a huge advantage heading into the season. They can develop direct questions for coaches about the prospect once actually in the school.
Why does he line up there? Why does he come off the field on 3rd downs? Does he only play left corner or stay on the right side for a specific reason? These type questions give you a huge advantage when get the initial opportunity to sit down with a coach. Also if you never watch him as a junior, then he switches positions in the fall things could dramatically change. You want to have a strong base on the player, before sitting down with people who know him best.
Also with technology it’s so easy to get a jump on a players background. You can do extra work simply by ‘Googling’ players or by checking out his twitter, thus getting some extra insight. Each school designates one individual to deal with scouts. It tends to be an assistant coach or an operations/personnel staff member; this person is known as the “NFL Liaison.” Problem is staffs are constantly turning over, just because someone has that position doesn’t mean they know the players. A programs NFL liaison may not have been with the player his entire career. For example: the liaison may have no clue about a suspension he had in 2010 or the two kids he has with his high school girlfriend. Coaching and support staffs change all the time, so scouts must do side research.
This is the type information the top scouts are able to acquire because they are not afraid to go the extra mile. You want to be the scout who is controlling the questions, and obtaining the right information. The more you know going into a visit the better. More information is a plus in this business.
Training Camp visits
Unlike the fall, most scouts will not watch any film on the day of an August visit. They have either previously done the work, or are not required to watch anything but senior tape. The main purpose of this visit is about information gathering and relationship building!
An NFC scout on what he thinks is most important in an August visit, “Relationships without question. Body types, lifting numbers, and injuries are ever changing. I will see this guy a half dozen times before April. I will test him at both the combine and his pro day. This time of year is all about building relationships with coaches and other sources.”
This is a great time to get with coaches and other administration to discuss players. The weekly grind of game-planning has not begun and the majority of universities have not started school. Coaches are usually in a great mood, because their teams are undefeated and are much more open to talk. A lot of scouts tend to email or text position coaches who have top prospects beforehand – setting up specific times for a meeting. The more coaches you have personal relationships with the better. You never know when a position coach will become a coordinator, or a coordinator become a head coach. This is just the nature of the business.
Scouts need to be a aware during these times some coaches can be overly positive. Players haven’t blown games, not tapped out because of small injuries or missed several classes yet. I talked to a couple scouts about this:
One AFC scout on if coaches tailor their opinion this time of year, “Maybe more optimistic, but if they don’t like a guy, they don’t like him.”
As the season takes shape, things can revolve around how the team is doing. Scouts must have instincts on which guys they can trust, and which coaches are just blowing smoke trying to make themselves look better.
A veteran NFC scout talked about how things can change once the season begins. “I feel a lot depends on the teams record at the time. Winning equals like, losing can equal don’t like as much.”
I found this to be very true while scouting. I found losing teams or staffs on the edge of getting fired would just throw guys under the bus. True or not your scouts must be aware.
This is a great time to get body types on players. Despite having watched them play for years and even attending practices in the past – it’s potentially the first time you have ever focused in on what the player looks like.
Does he look like a pro? Does he have room for growth or is he maxed out? While I loved him on tape, man he is skinny!
This is a great time to make these notes, so you can talk to his strength coach at the school about specific questions you may have on a guy.
What would be his ideal playing weight? How much have you seen him grow in the last several years? Does he compare to your first rounder last year?
This helps you gain a specific base to take back to your team and help them understand the player. You want to be able to paint a picture for your director or GM. These men may not even see certain players until the Senior Bowl or NFL Combine, but because of your description they feel like they know him.
But you also must temper your excitement when laying eyes on players. For example – last year when I went into San Diego State and saw USC transfer Brice Butler, he just blew me away. I immediately emailed my GM and put a fourth round grade off of limited exposure. Obviously as the season played out that grade dropped dramatically to a fringe late round player, but the point is I put too much stock early into what the player looked like. While he has excelled early in Raiders camp, you have to base the majority of your evaluation off the tape – not the body.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you see guys like Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor in person and get turned off. But then you turn on the tape for both players and it’s a different story. Guys like Franklin and Taylor just continue to impress you. These type players get dinged because of measurements, yet both are just football players. I’ll be shocked if they don’t have solid NFL careers. That is the nature of this business, the tape doesn’t lie.
Like good NFL players, the best scouts are more than just hard workers, they have a natural feel combined with instincts that makes them different. These scouts will separate from the pack as August turns into the fall.