An Insider's Guide into the NFL Scouting Process

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An Insider's Guide into the NFL Scouting Process
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Now that we are done with the NFL season, fans will be looking forward to the NFL Scouting Combine and then the draft in early May. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take you, the fans, through the typical scouting process of an NFL club.

Having spent most of my adult life as an NFL scout, I have been exposed to different systems.

When I became the director of college scouting for the Chicago Bears in 2001, I put together a system than incorporated all the strong points of the previous systems I had worked in, plus some ideas of my own. What came about was a system that was very scout friendly and still gave the decision makers all the needed information.

 

Scouting System

The scouting systems an NFL club uses will differ from team to team, but they are all looking for the same thing—proper and useful information.

For my scouts, the scouting season began right after the current year's draft. I had a staff of six area scouts and we divided the country up into six different areas.

In each area there were about 15 major schools. By major schools I am referring to the major conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, etc. The bulk of the prospects from most drafts come from these schools.

Because of this, my scouts had to visit those schools at least three times per year. It was their responsibility to know everything about each prospect at those schools. Not only did the scouts have to give us an accurate report on the player's talent, but they also had to know about his personal and football character.

I always told scouts that they could miss on the talent evaluation because we had others to cross check that area. They had to be completely accurate on character evaluation, because character can really determine if a player is going to be a success. Most players bust because they lack a strong degree of football character.

Another thing that I felt was important was keeping a scout in his area all the time. By doing that, the scout develops strong relationships at each school, and those relationships become invaluable in getting useful information. By staying in the same area year after year, the scout knows the history of the prospects very well.

How Area Scouting Works
Scout Area
Scout 1 Northeast
Scout 2 Southeast
Scout 3 West Coast
Scout 4 Midwest
Scout 5 Southwest
Scout 6 Mountain areas

Greg Gabriel

Obviously each scout had more than just 15 or so major schools he was responsible for. Each area also had a number of mid-major and smaller schools. He would have to visit the mid-majors at least twice a year or more if they had a top prospect.

As for the smaller schools, I would only want a scout to make an in-person visit if that scout felt that there was a legitimate prospect at that school.

How would they find out that information without making a visit? The first thing they would do is make a call to a coach at the school to see if the coaching staff felt the player was a prospect. If he got positive reviews from a coach, then he would do some film work at home.

If after doing the film work he felt that the player was a legitimate prospect, he would make a call to the school. The last thing I wanted any scout to do is make a school call that he felt was a waste of time. A scout's time is too valuable.

Every week, I would talk to the scouts to find out if there were players in their area that they felt either the general manager or myself needed to see. These players would be quality players that played a position of need and were fits to our offensive and defensive system. This part of the process started when college training camps opened in August through the Thanksgiving weekend games.

 

Communication

The next phase in the process was the cross-check phase.

For me, the ideal time to start this process was the beginning of December. We would meet with the scouts for about a week and briefly go through all the prospects in their area.

These meetings were the first eliminations so to speak. We would eliminate all players that we didn't feel had any chance of playing for us. This may have included highly rated players who did not fit our scheme. There is no sense spending a lot of time on players that can't play in your system.

We would also eliminate players whom we felt were too much of a character risk to deal with. After eliminating probably a thousand players, we had a much more workable list of about 450-500 players to still do research on.

Getty Images/Getty Images
Legendary coach George Seifert watching film.

As for cross-checks, each scout had a cross check position, and I would assign to him about 30 players in that position group to do a film study on. The scout was required to watch 4-6 games on each player assigned.

My philosophy on cross-checks was similar to my feelings on scouts staying in an area. When a scout was assigned a cross-check position, he kept that position year-after-year; he became the "expert" of that position, so to speak.

That scout would have a close working relationship with the position coach so that he knew exactly what the coaches were looking for at the position. The cross-check scout's opinion became invaluable, because he knew most of the top players at the position and had a strong idea of how to rank the players in that position group. When the scout went to an all-star game or the combine, he would concentrate on the players that were assigned to him in his cross check group.

 

Coach Involvement

USA TODAY Sports

After the NFL season ends, the coaches start getting involved in the scouting process.

Each position coach would be assigned about 15-20 players to concentrate on. Each coach would watch tape and study the player at the Combine and workouts. This may also include the coach interviewing the player. This is important because the coach then can get an indication of if he can work with this player. The more time he spends with a player, the more the coach knows if he can co-exist with the player. 

Why is this important? I have learned through the years that you can never take a player that a coach doesn't want to work with. That player will never succeed. Not only does a player have to be motivated to succeed, but the coach also has to be motivated to want to help this player reach his potential.

 

Medical Checks

Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Medical checks are critical for players coming off major injuries.

After the combine and pro days are over with, there is another elimination phase.

Players can be eliminated because there is a medical concern that was discovered at the combine, or if during his workouts you find out that his speed and athleticism just doesn't match up to what the team is looking for.

There will also be another group of players eliminated because of character concerns. Many clubs do a more in-depth study on players who they have concerns about. If the new information comes back to be negative, then more often than not those players are removed from value boards.

 

Final Evaluation

The last thing a team does in the draft process is put together a final value board. This is done in the last weeks leading up to the draft and is a process within itself, which I will talk about in the coming weeks.

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