How Significant Are Private Workouts in the Evaluation Process for NFL Teams?

Greg Gabriel@@greggabeFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles throws during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy

Most of the college pro days have come and gone, with only a few key schools left on the workout calendar. Miami, Penn State, LSU and Georgia are the main schools that still haven't held their pro days, and those will have taken place by April 16, per NFL.com.

The next step in the evaluation process is private workouts, and many players have already gone through some of these sessions.

What is the purpose of a private workout? Before I can answer that, let's take a look at what goes on at most pro days.

The Typical Pro Day

Pro days can be very useful, but when a team needs extra information on a player, the pro day is not the best way to get it.

A typical pro day at a major school lasts about four hours. At most schools, the workout starts early, usually around 9 a.m. First, each player is weighed and measured. The prospects then go to the weight room, where they will do the vertical jump, standing long jump and bench press. At the completion of those drills, everyone moves to either the indoor or outdoor practice facility (often depends on weather).

Clowney at his pro day, which was held this week.
Clowney at his pro day, which was held this week.Mary Ann Chastain

Once at the practice facility, the prospects will run the 40-yard dash and then do the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drills. Basically, the entire combine workout is repeated. The players who worked out at the combine can either repeat their combine workout or pass and keep the times they registered in Indianapolis.

After the conclusion of the "measurable drills," the NFL coaches are allowed to work out the prospects by position. At most workouts, no two positions are on display at the same time. They're usually separate, and the coaches have a 15- to 20-minute time limit to get their position workout done. This gives scouts and other coaches the opportunity to view each prospect independently.

Once the on-field workouts wrap up, some clubs set up meetings with the players they are interested in. If more than one or two teams need to "speak" with a player, there is rarely enough time, as many in attendance have another school to get to the next day.

This is where the private workout comes in.

The Private Workout

At many pro days, there can be anywhere from 20 to 30 teams in attendance—when you figure in both scouts and coaches, that's a lot of people. Because of that, it can be almost impossible to spend any "quality" time with a prospect.

There are no such constraints at a private workout.

Depending on the player and how highly he is rated by a club, a private workout can be held by just a scout or coach, or by a whole team delegation. If the player is being considered as a possible first-round pick, then the general manager, head coach, coordinator and position coach might be involved with the workout.

It was reported this week that Teddy Bridgewater would have a private workout with the Patriots.
It was reported this week that Teddy Bridgewater would have a private workout with the Patriots.Timothy D. Easley

When a team is considering a player as its top draft pick, a lot of money is going to be invested in the player. The team wants to make sure that it is making the right decision; it needs to know everything about the player and also feel that he will fit in with the rest of the team.

A private workout does not just consist of the on-field session; it also involves interviews and "board work." In the interview, the team has no 15-minute time limit like at the combine. It can spend as much time as it wants getting every question answered. If it takes a 90-minute interview, that's fine; the important thing is finding out as much as you can about the player.

If the player has issues that need to be resolved, this is the time to address them. If he is unreliable, you can figure that out quickly in a private setting. When you do enough interviews of college prospects, it becomes easy to figure out who is lying and who is giving straight answers. 

Then, it's time for board work.

Here, the position coach may ask the player to describe certain things about the scheme he played in at his school. The coach wants to know the player's understanding of the concepts involved. Does he understand his position, and does he understand what the other 10 players are doing?

The coach may also use this time to teach the player some basics of the team's scheme. When the coach is done with his "lecture," he may test the player on the material or have him draw what he just learned on the board. This will give the coach a good feel for the player's ability to learn, comprehend and take notes.

You may be amazed at how many players can't repeat the basics you just taught them. These are important things a coach needs to know.

I used to work with a coach who would have the player take notes of his lecture. When he was done with the teaching session, he would collect the notes and review them on his way home. Often, that session made the difference on if that coach wanted to go to bat for that player in the draft room.

After the board work, everyone goes to the practice field. Here, the coach will want to find out if the player is capable of doing things that are required by the team's scheme—much more specific than at a pro day. He will work on things that his team does on a daily basis. The coach also wants to see how the player responds to his coaching and get a feel for his work habits.

These sessions can be very telling, and the decision to either keep the player in the mix or drop him from the board can be made based on the results of that whole day.

The Benefits of a Private Workout

Like I said earlier, if the player is a possible premium-round draftee, the private workout will answer many questions.

I found private workouts to be very useful for potential later-round picks. Much like the workout of a premium-round guy, a later-round guy's session can be helpful in making a final decision.

The Atlanta Falcons held a private workout with Malliciah Goodman before drafting him in the fourth round in 2013.
The Atlanta Falcons held a private workout with Malliciah Goodman before drafting him in the fourth round in 2013.Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

I would almost always send out our offensive line coach to work out late-round offensive line prospects. More than any other unit, the offensive line has to be cohesive. Not only do the players have to play in unison, but they have to have a bond.

A coach knows his players, and when he spends a lot of time with a prospect at a private workout, he gets a feel for whether that player will fit in with his group. Will the veterans like the player, or will they be turned off by his personality? Is the prospect mentally and physically tough enough to compete with the coach's other players?

If the position coach buys into a prospect, he will sell the player to the decision-makers. He will also be motivated to coach the player—this dramatically increases the chances of the prospect being drafted by that team.

Conversely, if a coach doesn't want a certain player and you draft him, I guarantee that player will fail with that team. The coach has to be motivated to coach his players; if he has a dislike for a player, there will be no motivation, and no matter how talented the kid is, it won't work.

When you draft a player, you have to have a plan for that player. How long do you figure it will take for that player to develop? What do you expect from him as a rookie?

The coach has to be on board with these decisions. Why? Because it's the coach's job to develop him. If he likes the player, he will do everything he can to help him reach his ceiling.


Good scouting is about getting all the information. When I was a scouting director, our final draft board usually had between 75 and 100 players on it, depending on how many picks we had and in what rounds. We knew everything about those players.

I had a sign on the wall in our draft room: "I want to know a lot about a few, not a little about a lot."

Our scouts and coaches did an outstanding job getting information about the players on our board. This came from fall scouting reports, all-star games, the combine, pro days and private workouts. A large number of the players we drafted in my nine years took part in either a private workout or private meeting.

These private affairs gave us the "feel good" we needed in order to draft the player. They were invaluable to me, and they are invaluable to other teams in the league.

The Cleveland Browns have a strong need for a quarterback. Despite this, it has been reported on most sports websites and newspapers that they did not attend one pro day of the top quarterback prospects. Instead, they have scheduled private workouts with all the quarterbacks in whom they have an interest.

Rick Scuteri

Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reported that the Browns held a private workout with Blake Bortles on Wednesday. Over the next couple of weeks, they will work out others. Minnesota has done the same thing.

We will see agents and newsmen report about many of the private workouts. The reporters won't know the result of the workout, but they will know that it happened. While teams don't want this information made public, the agents feel it's important to "leak" it because they are trying to help their clients.

Every year, we are seeing more and more private workouts; this trend will continue because it's the best way to learn about a player.

Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Greg Gabriel has 30 years of NFL experience as a scout for the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.  


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