A Scout's Take on How College Football Recruits Are Evaluated
Last week, we took a look at the skills of a prototypical QB recruit and broke down each skill with video examples and in-depth descriptions. It was a great read and really gave a lot of insight on what evaluators look for as they try to find the next great QB prospect.
This week, let's scale it back a bit from a specific position and speak from a more general and overall perspective. Many of you probably have always had the question of "how exactly does a high school football player stand out from the millions of other players and get recruited?"
Well, they get evaluated and a lot goes into those evaluations. Recruiting evaluations on the surface differ a little bit from NFL Draft and Free Agency evaluations. Evaluation in recruiting is more about projections since the players are young and also involve several other factors.
So for this read, let's take you through how a college football recruit gets evaluated step by step.
This is very crucial for college coaches on the recruiting trail. Many programs subscribe to some kind of recruiting service that gives them a list of thousands of players' names in January and February of each year.
Connections are also important because maybe a coach has a friend at a high school who has a good recruit or knows somebody who knows of a player in a small town who many schools are not in on.
So recruits first get known via the ol' network of connections. Now on to other things...
2. Film and Tape
Coaches and scouts have different ways to get their hands on film/tape of potential recruits.
Many programs subscribe to a recruiting service which loads footage of recruits onto a server or site where a staff can all watch and evaluate a recruit.
High school coaches and recruits are also very proactive these days. Colleges get thousands of highlight DVDs mailed to them everyday from all over the country from coaches, players and parents.
As a scout at heart, this is where I relish evaluating and many coaches at colleges do too. The tape doesn't lie.
Every coach in the country wants a big team, and to have a big team, you need big players. I don't care if a recruit can't play a lick, if he's big then he's at least going to get a recruiting letter or two.
Coaches and scouts are naturally attracted to size because the biggest players catch their attention because they stand out. So the first thing an evaluator looks for is size and this is for each position.
The 6'4" QB, the 6'6" OL, the 6'0" CB and so on. Size is the first thing everyone looks at.
So after a scout or a college coach sees that "big" player that they're initially drawn to, the next thing they want to see is if the guy can run.
Speed is so important these days because the game is played at an amazing pace on each play. Even the linemen recruits must have some speed to be successful for their position because if they can't run then that limits what they can do on the field.
Even the recruits who aren't the biggest for their position yet still have a ton of speed will garner a ton of attention. Last year, LeAndrew Gordon was a 5'7" WR but still signed with Kansas State because he's one of the fastest players in the country.
Even 5'8" WR Tavon Austin is on the verge of being a first-round pick next month.
So a college coach has a tip from a friend about a player he needs to go see. The coach sees the guy on film and likes him. Then he goes to see him play in person and likes his size along with noticing that he can run a little bit.
So far he's interested and is moving forward with his general evaluation. Next, the coach will want to see how good of an athlete the player is.
You've heard me millions of times use phrases like "athleticism", "athletic ability" and "movement skills". All of that refers to a player's agility, balance, change of direction skills, hip flexibility, knee bending, body quickness, lateral movement ability and leaping ability among other things.
If the coach/scout sees the player has adequate athleticism, then he's really interested now. If the player is deemed a bit stiff or straight-linish, then the player has to have a dominant trait or skill in another area of his evaluation to overcome his lack of athleticism.
The player that the coach/scout's connection tipped him on has passed the eyeball test, has some speed and is a solid athlete. So what's next?
Well, if we're talking about an OL or DL prospect along with perhaps a LB prospect, then his strength needs to be checked out. Aside from looking at tape and judging the player's strength from those studies, the coach/scout will look into the player's weight room numbers.
If the player is strong at this point then great, but college strength and conditioning programs are extremely beneficial these days.
A player who's not overly strong at the high school level can still get stronger once he goes through the rigors of a college weight training program.
7. Position Specific/Technique Evaluation Phase Begins
Alright, so now you have a player who the college coach or scout likes on tape, has good size, runs well, shows some movement skills and has strength potential.
So now we move into where the evaluator will begin to evaluate the recruit specifically at his current position. This can get tricky at the high school level because some schools don't have good coaching, lack a good scheme and play a lot of players out of position.
So if the recruit is playing QB, then this is where we'll evaluate his mechanics, arm strength, accuracy, decision-making and so forth. Or if the guy is a DB then here's where we'll evaluate his mirror skills, transition quickness, short area closing ability, awareness and instincts, etc.
8. Potential and Projection
So maybe that prospect grades out a little low as a QB, but his athleticism and speed are good. Here's where evaluation in recruiting becomes vital and differs from the draft and free agency.
This is where the coach/scout must project where exactly could the recruit fit and be successful at. So that athletic and speedy QB may be a great WR with some coaching.
Or that MLB may be a little too small for a college's defensive scheme, but he's instinctive and could be a good SS. Coaches and scouts have to do a lot of projecting and looking into the future when it comes to evaluating high school players, and the ones with a lot of potential get a lot of attention.
9. Camps, 7 on 7 and Combine Performances
Not a lot of stock is put into these settings, as college coaches can't really come out to these types of events anymore. However, this is where their connections come into play again.
A coach may know one of the staff members of the event and has him keep an eye on the recruit. The producers of these events also sell result lists to colleges who pay a fee to get their hands on them.
Also, many of these events get a ton of coverage from recruiting sites so coaches will read the recap pieces since they can't really come around.
These events can also serve a recruit well should he light them up. Last year, nobody knew who Robbie Rhodes was coming into the spring until he put on a couple shows at a few events and ascended up recruiting boards. Rhodes signed with Baylor and was one of the top 60 recruits in the nation by year's end.
10. Location, Competition Level and Production
You may be asking "what does location have to do with anything?", so let me explain. California, Florida and Texas are three of the best states for football.
Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and Ohio are up there too. If a recruit is from an area or school that is known for traditionally producing talent, then that bodes well and coaches/scouts do take that into consideration.
Honestly, coaches are going to flock to see Sony Michel because he's in Florida before they go see a RB from South Dakota.
With those hotbed areas come the assurance that the recruit has been facing good competition. If he's been producing against good competition then his chances of producing in college become that much greater.
I'm sorry to tell you this, but college programs have to win football games. So they need good players and that's what they look for first. Colleges want potential All-Americans more than they want potential academic All-Americans.
Should grades and academic standing be higher on this list? Absolutely.
But it's not the highest priority for coaches and scouts; that's just how it is. However, after the coach has taken all the before mentioned steps in his assessment and evaluation of a recruit, he'll look into the recruit's grades.
If the recruit is really talented and the coach is really impressed, sometimes they'll even offer the recruit a scholarship before ever even thinking about the recruit's grades. It happens more frequently than you think.
This is last on this list but many coaches and scouts will ask around about a player's character throughout the process.
From asking the player's high school coaches, teachers, counselors and principal about his behavior, demeanor and personality to looking into a player's family situation and background, coaches and scouts will check out the recruit's character.
After they evaluate him as a player first.
Edwin Weathersby is the College Football Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. He has worked in scouting/player personnel departments for three professional football teams, including the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns and the Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena League. He spent a year evaluating prep prospects and writing specific recruiting and scouting content articles for Student Sports Football (formerly ESPN Rise-HS). A syndicated scout and writer, he's also contributed to WeAreSC.com, GatorBait.net and Diamonds in the Rough Inc., a College Football and NFL Draft magazine.