Ask the Scout: Highlights from our Zoom with Rodrik David (ex-Falcons)

Last night, former Falcons area scout Rodrik David (if you don’t know his story, read this) joined ITL clients in an online Zoom session. Here are a few highlights:

On whether he could see big backs coming back into popularity on the NFL level: “I absolutely believe it’s it’s a cyclical game, and there is a growing place for that big back as you get more safeties playing down in the box and schemes change. . . Then you start bringing all the other factors of those guys, and they’re talking now about 18 games in a year and those guys take a beating. You know, the war of attrition comes in.”

On dwindling scout access at schools during the Covid era: “There are schools . . . where you are living on the phone with anybody you can find from that school that you can talk to, when you almost hope that you have some coaches get hired there that you’ve met along the way because they can be your resource.”

On how schools that bar scouts from practice penalize the the Day 3 prospects: “You’re focused on those top-round guys in game warmups. Some of those guys that you really like late, it’s harder to watch those guys (in pre-game). Those are the guys that are, a lot of times, you just kind of (see) reps in practice because they’re workers, they’re dudes that are just doing everything right, giving themselves a chance. . . And so those types of guys, that was where after the 2021 draft, that is where it felt like it was hard to really pound the table for any of those guys.”

On how to parse through the info you get from friendly sources when evaluating a prospect: “So you probably won’t get the warts, but it is with anybody you talk to, what you want to hear is is really what I would call a consistency of message. You know, (Bears QB) Justin Fields, I was just speaking specifically about Justin. I mean, if I hear one thing, like he was a leader from when he came in, had a voice from Day 1, and then somebody else talked about, it took him time to get going, then all of a sudden, I’ve got to reconcile that, and that’s where the phone calls keep going. Now if I get the high school coach, maybe a coach that was with him early . . . and he says it took him time to compete . . . like, OK, like this is who this kid is. He’s going to to take time, but when he takes a room, he takes a room. That consistency of message for me was always really, really important. You get that same message, and it’s probably going to tell you that’s a that’s a pretty good indicator that this is this is all lining up.”

On how technology is changing the way scouts and college personnel directors talk: “Most big colleges, Power Fives, I know a number of the MACs, will (use Catapult). It’s basically your tracer. It’s tracking steps, yardage and then it’s going to measure that top speed and then top speed for how long. . . This is part of the normal strength and conditioning cycle. . . Now it’s got to match (what we see with our own eyes). If we’re getting stuff that says things at 22 and he looks like he’s about a 20.5 Catapult . . . you may get those guys that may have a little bit of an asterisk or something like, hey, we just got to go back double-check this. But it is absolutely accepted and colleges are really leaning on that because they understand. I mean they want to put their best information on their players out. . . And it is absolutely something that’s in reports, it’s talked about, it is leaned on, especially as we don’t have some of that good testing data that’s kind of always been part of your spring process that guys have gotten used to.”

We’ve got a pretty robust Zoom schedule ahead over the next couple months. Some sessions will be no cost, some are free to subscribers, and some are priced reasonably. Some deal with scouting/evaluation, some are aimed at new agents and learning the game, and some at NIL. For more details and to keep up, make sure you’re reading the Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

Jim Hess: 1936-2021

The first time I ever even knew of Jim Hess was at the 2001 Blue-Gray Football Classic in Montgomery, Ala. He was an area scout for the Cowboys at the time, and as it happens, he was on the phone with another person who would become my mentor, then-Bears scout John Paul Young.

He was chiding John Paul, who had not arrived at practice yet, in his West Texas accent. With a smile on his face, Jim was needling him, accusing him of taking an early lunch break. I don’t remember much of what he said. I just remember the friendly ridicule, the way men bound by athletics do when they’ve been friends for years, and Jim saying “John Paul” a lot. 

The next time I remember talking to him was in June 2002 at the Angelo Football Clinic, of which Jim was one of the co-founders along with John Paul, Wade Phillips, Mike Martin and Jerry Vandegrift. I had driven out to San Angelo, Texas, alone in hopes of networking, knowing I would be launching a new website devoted to “inside football” in mere months. I stalked Jim for three days, like a hunter does his prey, hoping I could somehow talk him into giving up a few nuggets I could use for draft prep. In those days, ITL was very different from today’s iteration, and I needed something that would look good in a mock draft (“a scout I know told me . . . .”). At last, I found him alone on the second deck of the Junell Center at Angelo State University, taking in one of the lectures. I nervously approached, introduced myself, and asked if I could ask him about the 2003 draft. At the time, Jim was still in the midst of his decade scouting for the Cowboys. He politely declined, of course. “Neil, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable about it,” he said. 

There’s plenty more you could learn about Jim, from his sense of humor (I used to call him the Dean Martin of the plains for his dry wit and gregarious nature; he would always correct me with, “OK, but I don’t drink, though”) to his many accomplishments (too many to list here; here’s his Wikipedia page) to his humble nature (watch this video, in which he lists the various places he’s worked, then adds that he wouldn’t have gotten one of them without the help of a friend on the inside).

However, if you want two stories that describe Jim Hess’ character, those are the two best ones I have. If you were his friend, there was no better friend. Even though Jim had accomplished more in football than 10 men, winning a national championship and spending a decade scouting for America’s Team, he always treated me like I was as just as important as Bill Parcells, Tony Romo and Sean Payton, three people you might have heard of that counted Jim as a good friend and a trusted football man. Whenever I called, I didn’t have to identify myself, no matter if it had been months or even years since we had last spoken. “Hey Neil!,” he would always say as soon as he heard my voice.

Today, I and hundreds of others will say goodbye to Jim, who passed away at 87 Saturday night. As I write this, I sit in the lobby of a San Angelo hotel waiting to go to his celebration of life in a little more than an hour. Come early, I’ve been cautioned; the church is small and the crowd will be considerable. 

I hope to come across many more men of his stature, a true gentleman of the game who always made people feel comfortable and accepted even after he’d reached the heights of his profession. I hope to, but I doubt I will. 

 

Our First-Ever BART List Poll: A Few Thoughts and Observations

You may already know that, for the first time ever (that we know of), NFL scouts have been asked to vote on the top 10 members of their profession in each conference. Actually, it’s we at Inside the League who are asking them, and after four weeks of voting in the first-ever BART List (named after former Rams area scout Danton Barto), we’re ready to announce the results.

OK, so you won’t find the results in this blog post — you’ll have to wait till tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET for that — but we’re going to talk about the poll and a few observations we made about the poll and what it took to make it happen.

  • We only included on the ballots full-time scouts who had been with an NFL team on draft day five of the last six years, with no GMs and no one who has an operations, analytics or cap-related role. For the most part, we were looking at area scouts, not scouting assistants, and those a couple rungs above them (all the way up to Assistant GM). In other words, we didn’t get votes on the people who’ve already arrived, but on those who are the up-and-comers. By the time we sifted out all those who didn’t meet those specs, we came up with 200 scouts on the NFC side and 177 in the AFC.
  • There were 21 NFC scouts and 17 AFC scouts who got no votes. It was hard to make any observations on those who polled nothing. They came from multiple teams, some good and some bad. The only commonality is that scouts in this group are on the extreme ends of the scale, i.e., very young scouts and pretty old scouts. Obviously, younger scouts have had fewer years to distinguish themselves. It’s harder to figure out why the veteran scouts — some of them former GMs — netted no votes. Maybe, like many evaluators in the profession, they studiously avoided any form of fraternization or networking all along the way, and that manifested itself in fewer votes. 
  • Only 38 of 200 NFC scouts (19 percent) received at least 10 votes, while 36 of 177 (20 percent) reached the same total on the AFC side. I took this as good news. It makes it clear to me that scouts took the vote seriously, and that there is a clear consensus on who does it best. 
  • About a fourth of all scouts who received the ballots voted in the poll. We found that interesting give that only about a fifth fill out our annual salary survey. I would have guessed that establishing baselines on pay would be of more interest to today’s NFL evaluator, but maybe not. On the other hand, scouts are more diverted and scattered in the January/February lead-up to the combine, so maybe the timing is just better. 
  • I expected the vote to be dominated by the teams that are traditionally the best on draft day, i.e., teams like Baltimore, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Seattle, New Orleans, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Chicago, Minnesota and Seattle. However, that wasn’t the case at all, and several of those teams had no one in the top 10. That tells me that scouts recognize that evaluation is a team effort, and you can have a good scout covering a region but that’s no guarantee his team will consistently find the late-round gems and get things right on Days 1 and 2.
  • Similarly, there were dozens of scouts that I know are good, yet they didn’t collect many votes. Most of these evaluators are more old-school and have worked mostly with one team. I think that makes it harder for word to spread about their work. 

Anyway, those are a few thoughts. We encourage you to check out tonight’s Friday Wrap (register here), in which we’ll roll out the entire list of 10 scouts in each conference who have won the respect of their peers, and make your own observations. We look forward to making this an annual feature and, hopefully, to give more recognition to the talented people in the industry.  

 

 

You’re a New NFLPA Agent: Here’s How to Recruit

A little more than a week ago, prospective NFLPA contract advisors got the results from the CBA exam they took this summer. So what’s their next step? Well, getting out the checkbook, unfortunately — they now have to pay their NFLPA and insurance fees. After that, however, it will be time to get started on one of the most exciting years of their professional careers.

I get a lot of questions this time of year on what a rookie agent needs to do to jump-start their nascent careers. Here’s what I tell them.

  • Don’t even consider players that are rated Day 1/Day 2 by any draft services: Look, NIL signings (check our grid here) have reduced the number of players who are even in the draft pool, especially when it comes to the true marquee players in the ’22 draft class. You need to instead know which players are Day 3/UDFA prospects on the FBS level. We do that for all 120-odd FBS schools in our Profile Reports. By the end of the first week of October, we’ll have broken down each of the  129 D-1 schools.
  • Recruit locally: Yes, Zoom has changed the way contract advisors recruit, and your travel costs will be reduced. However, at some point, you will need to sit in a player’s living room and pitch your services. It’s cheaper and easier to do that — especially when a player gives you a last-minute invite — if you can drive there. We list the hometowns of top players in our Profile Reports. More on them later.
  • When recruiting, target non-sexy positions that are in high demand: Most agents are excited about the industry and want to sign players a little like they draft their fantasy team, i.e., they want touchdown-scorers. There’s a better way. Consider our Draft by the Numbers summaries over the past seven years to know exactly which positions are actually in demand, and which ones are over-saturated when it comes to NFL quotas. You might be surprised to find out which positions are  signed most heavily, and which ones are most scarce.

Here’s a look at 10 more questions we usually get:

  • Which states should I register in? Which ones are less restrictive?
  • Which all-star games should I pursue to for invitations for my players? How do I know who to contact? How do I contact them?
  • What do I say when I get to the final presentation with a client?
  • Who are the affordable and competent trainers? What do I say to a player who wants to go to a trainer I don’t know, or can’t afford?
  • The player’s school tells me I can’t talk to him until after the season. What do I do now?

For answers to these questions and more, consider becoming part of the ITL family. We will address all these topics in the ITL Rising Contract Advisor Newsletter, which starts in November and continues through draft day as part of our $29.95/mo cost. It’s no extra charge, and covers pretty much every topic that needs to be covered. If you used our exam prep materials, you already know what our newsletter is like.

Want even more? Make sure you’re registered for our Friday Wrap, where we talk about all these topics every week. The key to success in this industry is keeping abreast of all the information related to the business as it happens, and the Wrap (you can register for it here) is a wise step in that direction. Join the nearly 6,000 NFL insiders (agents, scouts, coaches, players and their parents, marketing professionals, compliance experts, trainers, wealth managers and more) who read our industry missive every week.

Ask the Agent: How’d the 2021 Exam Go?

As you know, the people who took the 2021 NFL Agent Exam in August got their results this week. It was an emotional time, for a lot of reasons, as some people got the news that they’d been waiting years to hear, while others found out they’d have to wait another year (or in some cases, five) to realize their dreams.

I wanted to get a feel for how test-takers felt about not just the test, but the industry, so I asked hundreds of them to take part in a brief survey this week. No surprise that most of those who responded (about 70 percent) passed the exam. Here are the questions and answers that I found interesting.

Whether or not you passed or failed, did the results surprise you?: After spending the week hearing from would-be agents shocked that they failed, I was surprised that the majority (55%) answered, ‘no.’ A little more than a fifth (22 %) said, ‘yes.’ I think this had to do with so many people who did well taking the survey.

What was your take on the exam?: Again, the survey answers didn’t match up with  my one-on-one conversations this week. There really wasn’t much separating the top three responses: pretty straightforward/not especially difficult (38.6%); tough but fair (31.6%); and tough and confusing (28.1). I heard quite often this week that some of the topics on the exam weren’t in the pre-exam seminar, but the response, ‘the subjects tested weren’t what I expected’ got only 1.8% of the responses.  

the next two questions dealt with our exam prep materials, and I was happy with the feedback. On the question, how helpful were ITL’s study materials, about half (46.6%) called them a “true difference-maker” and the other half (48.3%) said they were “more helpful than not.” Only about five percent total said they either “neither helped or hurt” or “minimal or no help.” On the question, which one of our study materials was most helpful, most (51.7%) said our study guide, edging out our practice exams (46.6%). 

Where the responses were more in line with what I expected was in the two NIL questions.

Whether or not you passed, how do you feel about the name, image and likeness era?:  The majority (50.9%) said “it’s definitely going to be impactful in the area of football representation,” while “it will be impactful to some players and schools, but not across the board” garnered 43.9%. Next, we asked the question, how prepared are you to operate in the NIL field? About a third (36.2%) said “I feel very confident I can make money with NIL outside of traditional player representation,” while almost half (46.5%) said, “not sure, but I see NIL as a real opportunity and a potential advantage, and I would like to learn more.” I agree.

We’ll talk more about the exam and the reaction to it in the Friday Wrap. Make sure to register for it here.

 

War Story Thursday: Calling (For) Your Shot

This week, as I interviewed former Giants scout Steve Devine for our weekly Catching Up feature in tomorrow’s Friday Wrap (register here so you don’t miss our feature on Steve), our conversation drifted beyond the interview, as so often happens. One story, in particular, was appropriate for this space, where I try to encourage and enlighten young people interested in getting in the game.

Steve made several stops along a lengthy coaching career that pre-dated his time scouting for the Giants, and late in 1988, he found himself at San Diego State as offensive line coach under Al Luginbill. That year, as one of his collateral duties, he was in charge of hiring the grad assistants. He had just about filled all his spots when he found one last candidate that fit the bill perfectly, but who hedged before accepting the position. Steve was a bit frustrated, but willing to wait. That’s when his phone rang.

The call was International, and it came from the obscure coach of an English pub team. The coach called because he’d heard the Aztecs had an opening and he wanted badly to be considered for the job. He explained that he’d played at Eastern Illinois, then bounced around indoor football leagues (even getting a cup of coffee during the strike year in 1987 with the Bears) before finding himself coaching and playing in an overseas league. Though Steve liked the young man’s initiative, drive and attitude, he didn’t have any openings.

“Thanks for your interest, Sean, but I think we’re full,” Steve said, politely dismissing the enthusiastic young coach.

The next day came and went with no word from the coach Steve was hoping to hire. It wasn’t late yet, but it was getting late. Still no call . . . from the coach he hoped to hire, anyway. There was a call, though. It was from his new friend, Sean.

“Hey Coach Devine,” said the overseas caller. “Just wanted to check and see if anything had opened up.”

Steve told him, no, still nothing, but thanks for the call, anyway. After a bit more friendly small talk, they hung up.

On Day 3, Steve was starting to get antsy and eager to fill all his openings. That’s why, when the young coach called again, it gave him pause. Still, when the caller expressed his interest in the position — and guaranteed that he would be there when needed, no questions asked — Steve could offer encouragement but no interview.

On Day 4, Steve could wait no longer. The coach he wanted still wasn’t calling, and it was time to move forward. Surprisingly, he didn’t hear from his friend Sean. That is, not until 11 p.m. PST.

“Hey Coach Devine,” said the young coach. “I’m still really interested in that job. Has anything opened up?”

Yes, there’s an opening, Steve finally told him. But there were caveats. No. 1, he could give him no more than an interview, with no guarantees. No. 2, the interview would take place in 24 hours. No exceptions. No. 3, San Diego State had no travel budget for its interviewees. Basically, the young coach would have to drop what he was doing, pay his own way to fly and drive thousands of miles, and be fresh and ready enough to interview immediately. Done, said Sean. Naturally, it wasn’t that easy.

For whatever reason, he didn’t fly directly into San Diego. Instead, he flew into Chicago and rented a car, then drove the 2,000-plus miles to Southern California . . .  barely. The day of the interview, Steve got a distress call from the coach. “My car is smoking,” he said. “I think it’s the radiator.” Somehow, he made it to Steve’s house, where he stayed for a few days, as he had no money for a hotel.

When he arrived at the coaches offices to interview, he looked just like someone who had only found out a day-plus before that he’d be interviewing for a Division I football coaching position, then flew and drove across an ocean and a continent to get there. Still dressed like he’d just walked off the practice field, his clothes were rumpled and wrinkled, and he’d brought nothing to change into. Steve scrambled for something to make him look presentable, but all he could find was his own sweat-stained San Diego State coaches shirt. Luckily, it fit Sean.

Though the interviewee was arriving from Great Britain, he didn’t look like he’d just walked over from Savile Row. Still, it was good enough, and he won Steve and Luginbill over with his fresh offensive ideas, his energy and his drive to succeed. He got the job, and launched a career that would include a Super Bowl XLIV victory, NFL Coach of the Year honors in 2006, and 139 NFL wins (regular season and postseason) — but not before pissing off some of the team’s offensive coaches in his first team meetings with his ideas (which Steve said were correct, by the way). By now you’ve figured out that we’re speaking of Sean Payton.

If you’re someone who aspires to be the next Sean Payton — or Drew Rosenhaus, or Chris Ballard, or Bill Belichick or whoever — you’re going to have to humble yourself, you’re going to have to ask for things (nicely) that have already been promised to others, and you’re going to have to dig into your own pockets for a Hail Mary chance at a great opportunity that could lead to something more. It’s called paying your dues, and it’s as true today as it was in 1988 (or 1888, for that matter). I think almost anyone who’s at the top of the business would agree with me.

Good luck, and keep working hard.

 

 

Reviewing the 2021 NFL Draft Class

Tuesday, NFL teams made their cuts to 53 for opening week, and Wednesday, they started populating their practice squads. Though teams will continue to tweak their rosters during the run-up to next weekend, we thought it would be interesting to take a snapshot of the rosters to get a sense of how the 2021 draft class shaped up.

The complete list of drafted and undrafted players who made rosters or practice squads in some form or fashion is here (sorry, pay link). As for analysis, here’s what we came up with.

  • We counted a total of 715 players who signed standard representation agreements with agents in the ’21 class. Of that total, 517 were either drafted or signed to UDFA deals (an unheard-of 72 percent of signees; usually, that number is closer to a third, at best). It’s important to note that there were no three-day mini-camp invitees this year; if there had been, and we would have included them in the total, the number of players who received some level of NFL engagement would have been near 90 percent. In other words, players who opted to stick around this year — especially fringe prospects — made a big mistake.
  • Eighty-one undrafted free agents made practice squads, while 42 made the 53, injured reserve, the non-football injury (NFI) or Covid lists.
  • The practice squad is usually the repository of a team’s draft picks and UDFAs that didn’t make the 53, but other teams look elsewhere to fill their slots. The Giants were the most aggressive about looking outside the team to stock its roster this year, with one player on its 53 (Ohio State OB Justin Hilliard, who signed post-draft with the Niners) and two on its practice squad (Auburn FS Jordyn Peters, who originally signed with the Jets, and Ohio State TE Jake Hausmann, late of the Lions).
  • For what it’s worth, the Falcons cast the widest net post-draft. They are the only team with more than 10 UDFAs (12, to be exact) now on the street. On the other hand, three teams saw all of their UDFAs make a roster of some sort: the Giants (who signed only three UDFAs, with one making their 53 and two making their PS), Washington (both their UDFAs made the 53) and New England (one UDFA, PK Quinn Nordin, and he made the 53).
  • Only three draftees are not on NFL rosters in some form or fashion, as of early afternoon today: Michigan FB Ben Mason (Ravens, 5/184); Georgia Tech WO Jalen Camp (Jaguars, 6/209); and Penn State OC Michal Menet (7/247, Cardinals).
  • Six cornerbacks made NFL rosters (active, IR, NFI or Covid list) after going undrafted (one is on IR). Also, six undrafted tight ends made it (two are on IR). This isn’t surprising news, given that every team is looking for an impact cornerback it can “coach up”, and tight end has become one of the sexiest positions in the league. Next most common was offensive tackle (5), which is again not surprising. If you’re an NFL agent or scout, you’re pretty much always looking for developmental players at these positions.
  • As for practice squad, oddly enough, the numbers were very different. Teams carried 14 wide receivers, far and away the most at any position, with 11 running backs next-most. Maybe this is a reaction to the success of undrafted 1,000-yard rushers like Jacksonville’s James Robinson and Houston’s Phillip Lindsay. At any rate, no other position had as many as 10 on practice squad.

If you like digging into the numbers and discussion of NFL scouts, how NFL agents work, how the NIL era is shaping up and anything else associated with what happens “backstage” in the NFL, consider signing up for our Friday Wrap, which will be out tomorrow evening. You can sign up for it here.

NIL Notes: Insights from Trevor Swenson’s Zoom Session

Thursday night, I hosted a Zoom session with Trevor Swenson of Dynamic Talent International. Trevor is a name, image and likeness (NIL) expert given that he works in marketing in the entertainment business. Succeeding at NIL is how he feeds his family.

Here’s the video. However, if you don’t have time to wade through it, here are a few tips he had for the nearly 50 prospective agents who await their exam results from the NFLPA:

  • Stop thinking about how to drum up business for your client; start thinking about making him a business: There are so many platforms (Shopify, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) that can monetize your client. You’ll need to learn them so you can capitalize on them (and there are classes out there to help you). However, first, you need to discuss with them how to create an LLC, how to select a good CPA and put money away for taxes, etc. That’s how you can develop lasting relationships and help prove yourself to the player so he will strongly consider you when it’s time to sign an SRA.
  • One size does not fit all: You have to get to know your NIL clients’ respective regions. There may be differences in the LLC you file based on the state where your player plays. It may also impact his taxes. All of this is to say nothing of your ability to market your client to local businesses, of course. On the other hand . . . .
  • Don’t stress out about endorsements: That is, in-person endorsements. Those will mostly go to the top 1 percent of athletes in your region, so unless you have the quarterback, or an 1,000-yard rusher or receiver, focus on social media plugs. Yes, they are endorsements, but they are much more economical.
  • Learn everything about social media sales and aggregation services (or have someone who is): Some of those services that Trevor listed are Google Marketplace, Facebook Ads Manager and the email platforms (Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and Email Octopus are a few). You need to be fluent with them.
  • Don’t forget about football: If your client handles his business well, compartmentalizing it so it doesn’t affect his game on the field, it could actually help him on draft day. Many scouts I’ve spoken to have said this will give them one more evaluation point, and if it checks out, it shows your client has maturity that will serve him well once every minute of his day isn’t plotted out for him.

Make sure you check out the our YouTube video for more tips from Trevor. For more about the business of football, as always, make sure to register for our Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. ET tomorrow.

Previewing My Next Podcast, My Favorite Draft

If you’re as fascinated by the NFL Draft as I am, you’re always looking for war stories about the process and what goes on inside the war room. That was the thinking behind my last podcast (first five episodes here) and it’s the thinking about my next podcast, which I’m calling the My Favorite Draft Podcast.

In the last series, we interviewed nine former scouts and executives about the 2017 draft. It was a lot of fun, and very informative and a learning experience for me and, hopefully, all our listeners. This time, I’ve asked 10 former executives to join me to discuss one particular draft that really stands out to them. These drafts don’t necessarily have to been particularly successful for their respective teams (though I expect they were), but hopefully, they’ll include recognizable names, both that they drafted and that they passed up.

Here are three executives who’ve committed so far and the drafts I’d recommend to them to discuss.

  • Seahawks, 1997: Randy Mueller was Seattle’s Vice President of Football Operations that year, and I hope he’ll go into detail about the team’s selection of two future Pro Bowlers in the top 10, Ohio State DC Shawn Springs (at No. 3) and Florida State OT Walter Jones (at No. 6). Randy has already discussed this draft in his excellent blog and as a guest on my first podcast series. Now, you may say, “big deal! You’re always going to get future stars in the top 10.” Well, first of all, Randy had to make a trade to get that second pick (with limited draft capital), and second, here are some of the other players drafted in the top 10 that year: USC DT Darrell Russell (No. 2), Texas SS Bryant Westbrook (No. 5) and Iowa DC Tom Knight (No. 9) also went in that draft, none of them hanging around past 2003 or playing more than 83 NFL games.
  • Titans, 2016: Having already discussed the Titans’ 2017 draft with former Titans exec Blake Beddingfield extensively in my last podcast series, I think 2016 would make a lot of sense. Not only did the team come up with Alabama’s Derrick Henry, but the team also landed Middle Tennessee State’s Kevin Byard in the third round. There’s also the issue of the team drafting Michigan State OT Jack Conklin the year Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil was sliding due to his infamous video, and that might make for an interesting story. If Blake wants to go in a different direction, other drafts with interesting stories I’d love to explore would be 2015 (Marcus Mariota, Dorial Green-Beckham), 2008 (Chris Johnson, William Hayes), 2009 (Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, Jason McCourty) or 2006 (Vince Young, LenDale White, Cortland Finnegan).
  • Raiders, 2007: I doubt my friend Jon Kingdon, formerly the Raiders Director of College Scouting, would consider 2007 his “favorite” draft, per se, but it was sure an interesting one due to the team’s selection of LSU QB JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick (over Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson at No. 2, Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas at No. 3 and Adrian Peterson at No. 7). Did the team try to trade down? How close did the team come to taking another player? Was the Russell pick mandated by colorful and controversial owner Al Davis? Jon already discussed Russell in the excellent book he co-wrote with another former Raiders exec, Bruce Kebric — even devoting a full chapter to the Russell pick (entitled “JaMarcus Russell: The Bust”) — so hopefully we can dig into that a bit. But if not, 2009 (Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bay and Ohio’s Mike Mitchell were interesting picks inside the first 47), 1998 (Michigan’s Charles Woodson went to the HOF, No. 23 pick Mo Collins, a guard from Florida, flamed out quickly, and second-round DT Leon Bender died tragically before he could play a game).

Remember, all of these are just my idea of an interesting draft class for them to discuss. They’ve got insights and stories I don’t even know about, so I can’t wait to hear which classes they want to discuss. And keep in mind that this is just three of the former executives we’ll be talking to, so we’re barely scratching the surface.

Stay tuned. It’s gonna be a blast. In the meantime, review my last podcast series here and make sure you’re registered for the Friday Wrap here.

Ask the NFL Scout: Who’s the Best Evaluator You Ever Worked With?

Now that the 2021 NFLPA Exam is behind us, we’re turning our attention to the NFL scouting industry. In this week’s Friday Wrap, we’ve got an exciting announcement aimed at recognizing the best evaluators in the game. Today, however, we wanted to get the ball rolling with a question we posed to several former GMs and NFL administrators. 

Here’s the question we asked about a dozen trusted and experienced scouting professionals: Who is the best evaluator you ever worked with? 

Here are some of the responses:

“I remember the bad evaluators more, I would say the best one was (former Bills GM) John Butler. All of us can see the obvious things you can measure, (but) John had a great knack for picking guys with the intangibles. He had a feel for players that fit team needs.” — Buddy Nix, former executive with the Bills and Chargers

“That’s easy, (former Chargers and Redskins executive) Dick Daniels. He challenged you to (look at) how the player fit . . . not only on the field but also in the locker room and in the position room. He always knew what the big picture was while planning ahead.” — Don Gregory, former Panthers Director of Player Personnel and evaluator with Chiefs and Chargers

“Can I say it this way? The best evaluator who worked for me is (Colts GM) Chris Ballard. We hired him in June 2001 and that was his first NFL job. From the start, he got it. Was especially good with DBs, and I have never seen a scout before or after be able to present a player like Chris did. I knew after 2-3 years he was going to be a future GM.” — Greg Gabriel, former Bears Director of College Scouting and evaluator with the Giants and Bills

“(Former Bears GM) Jerry Angelo. He has been a great mentor for myself and a host of other GMs. We all learned our evaluation chops from Jerry. He helped build the Cowboys of the late 70s and early 80s, the Giants of the early 80s, the Bucs of the late 90s and early 2000s and the Bears of the mid 2000s. All these teams went to Super Bowls. People don’t realize this about Jerry Angelo because he does not toot his own horn. He is as good and humble a man as you’ll ever meet. He is also as talented an evaluator as anyone in this profession has ever been.” — Tim Ruskell, former Seahawks GM and evaluator with the Bucs, Bears, Falcons and Titans

“Best for me was Russ Bolinger, longtime NFL scout (Jaguars, Lions, Redskins, Rams and Falcons). I was with him in St. Louis and Atlanta. He was detailed, had great contacts, not afraid to go with his instincts, held his convictions on a player, yet was never dogmatic. On top of that, Boli was NEVER dull!” — Billy Devaney, former Rams GM and evaluator with the Falcons, Niners and Chargers 

“Easy. Hall of Famer (and former Steelers executive) Bill Nunn because he knew how to investigate things not seen on tape, at a game or a particular workout that help clarify a guy’s ability. Shoe size (OL and DL base), can he dance? (DB’s hips), was he a basketball player? (overall athletic ability), did he play baseball? (WR and DB’s ball skills) and long or triple jump (explosion).” — Doug Whaley, former Bills GM and Steelers executive Doug Whaley 

“(Former Redskins and Chargers GM) Bobby Beathard had a good eye. (Former Bucs, Redskins and Texans scout) George Saimes was quirky and could spot a diamond. And (former Colts scout) Don Joyce had a nuanced good eye. — Former Browns, Redskins and Panthers executive Joe Mack

For more on the best scouts in the game, check out the Friday Wrap at 7:30 p.m. ET tomorrow.