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Drafting for Dummies – Part I

Making an Event

The NFL Draft has become quite the spectacle. Now a three night primetime television event, millions of NFL fans tune in to watch as their favorite NFL teams infuse their rosters with new young talent. These selections are followed by instant analysis and judgment, and this is not simply the jeers or cheers of fans. Every sports media member and proclaimed analyst across the country will comment, from the national level all the way down to local columnists. But who is right? How do we know if a team is actually successful? How do teams decide whom they should draft? To what extent is a strategy applied? How are college prospects evaluated?

Relative Unknowns

The weekend of the NFL Draft is the culmination of years of hard work.  While the media begins reporting on the Draft outlook of college football players in January, NFL teams are compiling information and analyzing these players YEARS before that.

One of the most under-appreciated and unrecognized departments within an NFL Front Office is the Scouting department. This group of individuals is typically made up of about 10 to 12 people, and they focus strictly on college football players so that their team can make the most informed decisions possible during the NFL Draft. The department is typically broken down as such:

  • Director of College Scouting
  • Assistant Director of College Scouting
  • 6 Regional Scouts
  • College Scouting Coordinator
  • Blesto or National Scout

After seeing this list, you may wonder why so many people are needed just to view college football players. Trust me, these departments are under-staffed for the most part. Think of it this way: If more information is acquired, a more informed decision can be rendered.

The country is broken up into regions, and each Regional Scout is assigned a region. The Regional Scout is responsible for knowing each and every draft eligible player in that region. Consider the number of colleges and universities across the nation. Now multiply by about 15 to 20 graduating football seniors each year. Divide by 6. That’s how many players each Regional Scout must report on! Could you do that? In less than a year, a Regional Scout must travel all across a region to gain knowledge and insight about the players in that region.

Aiding the scouting process of the Regional Scouts is the Blesto or National Scout. Almost every team in the NFL is either part of the Blesto or National Scouting Service.  These groups exist to assist in the information gathering process. The services themselves have a staff, but each team also sends a representative to be a part of either the Blesto or National group. These scouts officially begin reporting on college football players as juniors. They go to colleges across the nation and gather measurables (size, weight, speed, etc…) and background information (family history, injuries, trouble with the law, etc…) on these players. Consequently, a rough profile and report is then generated by the Blesto or National Scout for Regional Scouts to use on these players when they become seniors. This initial report contains an approximate grade on every player to provide the Regional Scout an idea of the amount of skill each player potentially possesses. With these initial lists and reports in hand, the Regional Scout can then begin the process of deciding how to allocate time, when to visit certain college campuses, which games to attend, and how much game tape to watch to properly analyze college football players for the NFL Draft the following year.

The Long Road

Regional Scouts must be efficient. They live on the road at least 9 months out of the year! Hotel room to hotel room, college to college, town to town. Their rental car becomes their best friend. It looks something like this:

  • End of July: Attend the Training Camp of their NFL team. Analyze certain players on the roster, assigned by player position or experience level.
  • Mid-August: Begin traveling around the country scouting players at each college in their respective regions.
  • Mid-November: Begin revisiting schools or reviewing game tape of players that weren’t available, weren’t playing, have incomplete reports, or need further evaluation.
  • December: Attend Championship and Bowl games to get a look at a few college prospects in a higher profile setting.
  • January: Watch additional game tape on players in their region. On top of the practices and 1 to 3 games they attended live, scouts will watch additional games on tape. They watch some during their visit to the campus during the season, but they will watch even more tape once the college football season ends and NFL teams have tape from all games available. Scouts do this to make sure they are familiar with a player’s skill-set and how he may have progressed from August to January.
  • Late January: Attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL to scout the top players in the nation against other top players in the nation. Submit rough reports and grades on their region’s Draft prospects.
  • Late February: Attend the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to conduct interviews with players, while also compiling official measurables and times.
  • Early March: Finalize reports and grades to present in late March at team Draft meetings.
  • Mid-March: Attend team Draft meetings and report on every player in their region. They present an applicable grade ranking the players based upon their judgment of the player’s skill level.
  • Mid-April: Attend final Draft meetings in which the team will decide how to rank all players.
  • Late April: Be present for the NFL Draft within the team Draft room. Their input is often requested last minute to decide between 2 players graded approximately the same. Immediately following the Draft, scouts make phone calls to undrafted college players to encourage certain players to sign with their NFL team.
  • Early May: Attend the Junior Pro Day of colleges in their region where the Blesto or National report is finalized, and the Regional Scout can begin their initial report on the player as a Senior.
  • Mid-May: Return home, schedule travel, organize materials, and formulate initial prospect reports.

Busy Bees

The Scouting department maintains a busy schedule.  On top of their responsibilities for the Senior class, Regional Scouts will often begin developing notes on Sophomores or Juniors as these athletes flash skills or they hear information on them. Do not be fooled: Regional scouts do not travel to colleges simply to see games live. They talk with coaches, trainers, equipment staff, football managers, counselors, and anyone else who might able to offer valuable information about the background and history of the Senior Draft prospects. After all, these players are multi-million dollar investments. And a player is more than just what one sees on the field on game-day! NFL teams must consider the background and character of players when they evaluate them.

The Director and Assistant Director of College Scouting are responsible for overseeing the work of the Regional Scouts, and they cross-check them by traveling to select schools nationwide. They often focus more on top prospects to provide more than one report on those players. After all, 2 or 3 heads are better than one! All year round, the Director scrupulously monitors and adjusts the overall list that grades and ranks all prospects. The Director and Assistant Director will also attend the Pro Day held by colleges in late March and early April where each college puts all senior prospects through a series of tests and drills very similar to those at the NFL Combine. While the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February focuses on top select seniors from each college, these Pro Days include all seniors at the college and provide a final series of data.

The College Scouting Coordinator will focus more on the day-to-day operations of the department to make sure that smaller details are not overlooked. They compile reports and information gathered from all of the scouts. They attend to matters at the team headquarters, because the rest of the scouts are constantly traveling. They also serve as a method of cross-checking college prospects locally, as these players are easier to attract after the NFL Draft or during the NFL season. A Player Personnel Intern and Executive Assistant are usually also a part of this department, and without the attention they give to the details, the department wouldn’t run effectively.

It is disappointing that the media doesn’t acknowledge these individuals within the College Scouting department. While the Head Coach and General Manager have a great deal of authority, they would be lost on Draft Day without the hard work of this scouting staff. The next time you hear a sports news anchor comment about a prospect or the decisions a team made, remember the staff behind the scenes. These hard working people are the ones with the actual knowledge!

Now you have a snapshot of department structure and the preparation for the NFL Draft away from team headquarters. Next Friday I will review the processes, people and decisions that occur at team headquarters. The amount of time and details involved is incredible!

Merry Christmas! Questions or comments? You can email me directly.

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