Part One: Linebackers; Offensive Linemen; Wide Receiver; and Quarterback.
Modern-Day scouting has become a science of algorithms, relying more on scientific data than trusting what our eyes tell us. Third-party scouting services collect data on players, input this information into a central scouting data-base, and team scouts log on and select players from what their monitors display.
Third-party scouting companies, such as BLESTO, National Football Scouting Services, and Optimum Scouting, LLC – rely heavily on scientific data to grade college players – much like the BCS does for college teams.
The irony is, the more technologically advanced the NFL and scouting services become, the more we see weak draft classes become the norm. I often wonder how many potential Hall of Famer’s never got to see an NFL field because the algorithms didn’t warrant them being drafted. One only has to look at the BCS ratings to see the short-comings of relying more on computer-generated data than the “human” side of football.
I’ve never aspired to create a program that determines the worth and skills of a player, relying more on human insights and my own theories of what makes someone potentially good, or potentially bad. Playing the sport since I could walk, and my deep love of the game – I have devoted myself over the years to understanding the make up of football players.
Due to surgically implanted rods into my spine, I was robbed of my dream to play in the NFL, but that hasn’t stopped me from creating my own NFL Dream Team – comparing myself to NFL General Managers – wondering, could I be as good as, or better, than any of them?
To do this, I had to fully research every minute detail of past and present NFL players – trust me, that was a very long and arduous task. It has taken more than a year, and many, many hours of research.
I went back to the early days of football, and moved forward from there; looking at players under a microscope. This entailed measuring those who succeeded in the NFL, those who were average, and those who busted. What intangibles separated each one from the other – not an easy task! I researched Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers, and measured those qualities to those who never became either. There had to be a commonality for all – those who made it, and those who didn’t.
To help guide me, I used the calipers used by Ernie Accorsi, Bill Walsh, Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown – men who were arguably the greatest talent evaluators of any generation.
And now, the end result of my efforts are:
Linebackers: The qualities I scout–
- Physical attributes.
- Quickness/Speed [the two are not the same.]
- Effectiveness against the Pass.
- Effectiveness against the Run.
- Ability to get to the quarterback.
- Play-making potential. Opposing offenses must account for his whereabouts.
- Pursuit – sideline to sideline speed.
Far too often, this position is over-looked, or devalued by fans. These players are just as important today as they were yesterday. Stopping the run; covering tight-ends; impacting the short passing game, and getting to the quarterback – the responsibilities for this position.
Offensive Linemen: The qualities I scout-
- Physical Abilities/Attributes [Strength, quickness, intelligence -ability to read blitz].
- Effective Pass Protector.
- Effectiveness in the run game – ability to pull.
- Continuous improvement throughout their college career. Very important.
- Stats against top-tier talent.
- Coachable weaknesses.
Offensive linemen are arguably the least appreciated positions on the field; games are still won and lost in the trenches. Despite the evolution of the game, the offensive line is no less important as the quarterback…maybe even more so. A quarterback either throws the ball, or simply hands the ball off to the runningback – a lineman never takes a play off. They either protect, open holes, or block downfield.
Wide Receiver: The qualities I scout-
- Quickness off the line.
- Play-maker potential.
- Physical Attributes [tough, agility, intelligent, body control, focus].
- Ability to make first tackler miss.
- Second gear – full stride speed.
- Route running.
Jerry Rice, the best at the position ever – wasn’t necessarily fast, however, he was amazingly quick off the line. In martial arts, we call it “explosion”. Explosion off the line historically trumps any defender. The faster the game becomes, the more important explosion is to the offensive passing game.
Quarterback: The qualities I scout-
- Rises to the occasion.
- Handles pressure with ease.
- A leader.
- Handles the blitz exceptionally well.
- Accuracy versus the blitz.
- Pocket presence.
- Extends plays.
- Deep ball accuracy.
- Short pass accuracy.
- Good Passer [timing, touch-pass, quick delivery, over-all accuracy].
Mobility and the ability to extend plays are not the same. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Dan Marino had/has exceptional mobility in the pocket, but not good runners. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger are great both inside, and outside the pocket. The ideal quarterback is a pocket-passer who can run, capable of using his arm first, and legs when needed.
The very first thing I look for is; How does that quarterback play when the game is on the line? If he stumbles; if he falters, I move onto the next quarterback. My quarterback must rise to the occasion, playing bigger than the game. The very next quality is: How does he handle pressure? My quarterback must handle pressure like a master teaching a student. Next, my quarterback must be a leader, this is too important of a quality to over-look. The greatest leader I have ever seen in my life-time was Joe Montana, a third-round pick the local media questioned and laughed at Bill Walsh for drafting.
The next thing on my list is; Does he do the little things right? That requires intelligence, and a quick mind. Does he check-down? Does he lead the defense? Does he throw the ball away? How many times has he not seen the open receiver? Is he quick to find his passing lanes? Does he take too many risks into tight windows? How many interceptions were his fault vs. the receiver? How does he handle a blitz? What is his accuracy against the blitz?
These questions lead me to his accuracy. His ability to move the pocket, stand in the pocket. His deep ball accuracy. His ability to extend plays. Does he make his receivers better, or do they make him better? That question can only be answered by the receivers. Do they have to adjust to the ball often, do they have to come back to the ball often, etc., if so, then the receivers make the quarterback look better, and I will move onto the next quarterback.
I prefer to stick to my own scouting, unafraid to be wrong – but I take comfort in knowing I am usually warm to hot rather than being cold. As human-beings, we must identify qualities in others that stand out, and mean something…I’ve been a professional talent evaluator in the corporate world, and sometimes, you just have to trust your gut-instincts; not everything is black and white, especially in the nature of humans – humans that make an NFL roster.