NFL Draft Analysis: Is It Mostly Good or Bad to Skip Your Senior Year?

At Inside the League, we’re always interested in looking at the draft in ways others don’t. With half the college season wrapping up after this weekend, this week, we thought we’d look at the true juniors, redshirt juniors and redshirt sophomores that might be thinking of passing up their respective seasons.

We hear a lot about the poor decisions so many players make in leaving early, and how the number of early entries is inclining steadily. The NFL puts a lot of resources into educating players on their pro chances, yet still, the perception is that countless players are throwing away their college careers to chase wild dreams, often egged on by unscrupulous agents.

Based on our look at the numbers, that perception doesn’t match reality. Do players who leave early blow their chances of getting to the league? For the most part, no. Consider.

  • About one in seven players who leave early (15.5 percent) won’t make a 53-man roster or practice squad at all. Looking at those numbers as half-full, rather than half-empty, just over 84 percent will make an NFL team, at least for a little while.
  • Numbers aren’t available on what percentage, on average, doesn’t even make it to an NFL camp, but I’d estimate it’s about half of that. Again, turning the numbers to half-full, I’d estimate that more than 90 percent of those leaving early at least make it into a camp.
  • Would another year in college have made any difference? It’s impossible to tell. What percentage of those players left school with eligibility remaining, but already had a degree? Those are also numbers we don’t have.
  • More on education and degree completion: it’s worth noting that most often, offensive linemen make it furthest in their coursework because they redshirt their first seasons. However, of the 87 players in the last five years who left early but never made it to the regular season, just six were offensive linemen.
  • More on the players that never made it to the regular season: 26 of 87 (about 30 percent) were from FCS-or-smaller schools, which statistically only make up about nine percent of the league anyway. If you’re leaving early for the NFL and you didn’t play FBS, it’s like having to notch a hole in one for the chance to make a half-court shot. The odds aren’t good.

At the end of the day, if you’re a player who feels he’s had a good season, is ready for the league, and has explored all his options and submitted his name for review with the NFL, I don’t think it’s a completely outrageous idea. After all, the NFL can be a very fickle organization, and your chances this time next year are not automatically as good as they are this year, especially when you figure in the chance of injury.

At the same time, before you make any decisions, we recommend you look at the hard numbers, which you can do here (with an ITL account, that is; sorry).

One question we’ve avoided entirely in this space is, what are the statistical chances a player who leaves early gets drafted? We take a long look at that in this week’s Friday Wrap, analyzing our statistical breakdown, which is presented here (sorry, it’s an ITL link again).

Make sure to check out our full look at early entries, where they wind up, and why in today’s Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

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Ask the GM: How Does a Team Handle an Earl Thomas Situation?

It’s been a privilege to get to know former Bears GM Jerry Angelo over the last few years. Jerry is not only an incredibly connected and experienced veteran of NFL front offices (scouting with the Cowboys and Giants and serving as personnel director of the Bucs before heading to Chicago), but he’s a true gentleman and a man of great class.

Jerry has headed Inside the League’s interview prep work over the last couple years, and he’s worked in classroom settings and one on one with dozens of top draft prospects over the last several years. However, Jerry’s true value comes in drawing on his time in the league to address situations that arise in the NFL. He’s a great sounding  board and provides counsel on a number of football topics to people across the game.

For this reason, I reached out to Jerry this week to give me some perspective on a storyline that has dominated the early going of the 2018 season (and to some degree, even ’17): Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and his ongoing attempt to get a new deal from Seattle or to press for a trade to a team that will give him one.

There aren’t many people alive with first-hand experience in situations like the one that faces Thomas and the Seahawks, but Jerry is one of them. With that in mind, I decided to ask him about the Thomas scenario in Seattle as well as the Bell situation in Pittsburgh. My questions, and Jerry’s answers, are what follows.

  • Did you ever face a situation where a key player and locker room leader was openly dissatisfied with his contract with several years left on the deal, and campaigned for a trade? 
“I have experienced the situation you described where high-profile players were disgruntled with their contracts. I had several situations, one with (former Bears LB) Lance Briggs, (Bears) running back Thomas Jones and (Bears TE) Greg Olsen. All wanted new deals and requested trades if we weren’t able to accommodate their demands. For whatever it’s worth, they were all represented by the same agent. I’m not blaming the agent; it was just a coincidence.
“Saying all this, all I can say when you’re in those dilemmas, you ultimately have to do what’s in the best interest of the team. In Briggs’ case, we were able to work things out. Unfortunately, the other two situations ended up with us trading the players, which was my last resort, but we had to do something or potentially watch things continue to escalate and have a very negative affect on not only the player, but the team.
“The lesson is twofold. Do your best to stay in front (of) taking care of your core players. Secondly, when you come to an impasse, don’t put your head in the ground. It’s about damage control, and again, when in doubt, the only question to ask is, ‘How does this affect the team?’ “
  • How would you have handled this situation, starting with the time that Thomas initially expressed dissatisfaction with his contract?
“Really, I can’t sit and give a specific answer. I have a lot of respect for the Seahawks and their front office. I don’t know (if) they didn’t try to get something done, but couldn’t. There were some trade rumors, but we don’t know the specifics. These types of things happen all the time.
“All I can say is, that’s why they have contracts. A player can show dissatisfaction, but the bottom line is, he agreed to it. No one twisted his or his agent’s arm to take his last deal. Naturally, the next contract/contracts for players at his position are going to be larger in all likelihood, and why? (Because) the cap keeps going up. Players understand this, and certainly their agents do. Unfortunately for Thomas (I’m presuming), he won’t accept it. His gesture was child-like and uncalled for. Why? Because he didn’t get his way, and because he got injured, it’s the team’s fault? That’s what babies do.”
If the Thomas and Bell situations interest you, you’ve probably got a mind for the inner part of the game. That means you’d probably really enjoy our weekly newsletter, the Friday Wrap, which is read by thousands of people in the industry every week. In it, we talk about the news of the week that no one’s talking about, plus we look at trends and items of interest to people in the business of football.
This week, we’ll continue our conversation with Jerry, asking him several other questions, including how to maintain team harmony and salary structure in this situation; whether or not you risk losing the locker room in this situation; and how he would compare the situations involving Thomas and Steelers OH Le’Veon Bell, who’s also in a contract dispute.
And the best part is, you don’t have to be an agent, financial advisor, coach, scout, player or draft prospect to receive the Friday Wrap. You can register here. We promise we won’t spam you, and you won’t be disappointed.

Analytics and the NFL: Our Conversation Continues

Last week in this space, I talked about the changing way NFL teams build and manage rosters, and how it’s forced the people behind the players — agents, wealth managers, marketing professionals, trainers and everyone else — to adapt, though most of them are still not sure how. One of the points I made was about the disposable nature of draftees (even recent ones that were high picks).

My post drew an email from former NFL scout and longtime friend Matt Manocherian. Those of you who follow this column know Matt scouted for the Saints and Browns before leaving to pursue his Masters in Sports Management from Columbia (he got his undergrad from Duke, so he’s not lacking in the brains department). Today, he’s the Director of Football Development at Sports Info Solutions, one of the leading analytics-based services in the game and a vendor to multiple NFL, NBA and MLB teams. Matt’s also spoken at our annual ITL Combine Seminars in 2017 and as a panelist in 2018.

In his email, Matt (politely) took issue with his perception that I blamed analytics for the fact that teams have selected, and already cut, eight players drafted before the end of the third round. He wrote:

“I couldn’t help but get curious while reading the newsletter last week, so I had our intern pull some college stats from 2016 on the guys that you listed as high pick busts from last year.  You can see the attachment for yourself, but long story short: most of these guys had poor advanced college stats.  One exception is (Cardinals 2017 4/115 selection) Dorian Johnson, who we expected to play better based on our metrics, but in general, at least in the case of this analytics organization, we weren’t the source of volatility on these misses…if anything, we warned of the possibility!”

This prompted a few thoughts.

  • I didn’t express myself well. I never meant to blame analytics for these busted picks. I intended to express that we’re in a period where teams are weighing the value of traditional scouting, metrics, cost analysis, positional scarcity and other factors without a consensus on what’s most effective, and it’s created a very uncertain landscape for draft picks.
  • Matt listed the SIS analysis of several of the players listed prior to the ’17 draft. He makes a compelling case that, had the NFL been paying attention, teams might have known what they were getting with these players. There are numerous examples, and I encourage you to check in with SIS’ numbers on your own. Many of the better NFL writers I read regularly cite SIS’ work. For example, Ardarius Stewart was the ninth receiver taken in ’17, while Carlos Henderson was 10th, Amara Darboh 14th and DeAngelo Yancey 25th. Yet based on SIS numbers, all of them rank in the 50s and 60s, at best, among key categories like completion percentage, on-target catch rate, yards per reception and drop percentage among the 200 wideouts SIS ranked. Stewart was their No. 55 WO. Henderson was 58, Darboh was 60 and Yancey was 145, and this is just a cursory look at SIS’ work.
  • Virtually every NFL team is trying to figure out in-house how to skin the analytics cat. Meanwhile, services like SIS are spending big money to do an incredibly thorough job evaluating college and pro players alike, and they haven’t yet managed to offer a cost-effective information model for the independent consumer, i.e., agents, trainers, etc. This means there are an awful lot of voices out there but not one that everyone is listening to. Not yet, anyway.
  • Until one service shoulders to the front of the pack and becomes the industry standard, or one NFL team becomes the Oakland A’s/Moneyball team, I expect volatility to continue.

Remember: if you dig talking about the direction of the game, how different factors affect scouting and the draft, and what football insiders are doing, thinking and saying, I really recommend you sign up for our newsletter, the ITL Friday Wrap. It’s free, and you can do so here.

 

Some Deep-Game Observations on the Changing NFL

This week, an established agent from a top-10 firm who’s been a longtime friend had some time to kill while waiting on a plane, so he texted me with a couple observations from early recruiting. It turned into a lengthy text exchange on the present and future of the game.

It was pretty illuminative for me, and sparked a lot of thinking about what’s happening in the business, so I thought I’d break down the main points of our conversation here. Today’s post is a little long, so bear with me. There’s a lot to cover.

  • NFL teams are still furiously trying to pick the analytics lock: I think there has been a perception that the failure of former GM Sashi Brown in Cleveland ended the analytics push in pro football. Not so by a long shot. Teams are still looking for the Rosetta Stone when it comes to sifting out talent from pure numbers, and most seem determined the answer is in there somewhere.
  • This creates incredible volatility: Already, these picks from 2017 have been cut: Seahawks DT Malik McDowell (2/35), Raiders FS Obi Melifonwu (2/56), Jets WO Ardarius Stewart (3/79), Broncos WO Carlos Henderson (3/82), Patriots OT Antonio Garcia (3/85), Giants QB Davis Webb (3/87), Broncos DC Brendan Langley (3/101), Seahawks WO Amara Darboh (3/106), Packers OB Vince Biegel (4/108), 49ers OH Joe Williams (4/121), Bucs OH Jeremy McNichols (5/162), Cardinals OG Dorian Johnson (4/115), Colts OT Zach Banner (4/137), Bengals PK Jake Elliott (5/153), and Packers WO DeAngelo Yancey (5/175). And while this is far from an exhaustive list, that’s eight players drafted in the second or third round! Maybe 2017 was just a bad draft class. On the other hand, it seems like teams are less willing to live with and develop their picks than ever. There’s a disposable nature to the draft that we haven’t seen before.
  • Agents — even veteran agents — are scratching their heads: Do modern NFL teams want good football players from traditional powers? Most of the players listed above check those boxes. Or do they want former rugby players with lights-out measurables like Eagles OT Jordan Maliata (7/233, 2018)? Or ex-basketball players who look great on pro day, like Cowboys TE Rico Gathers (6/217, 2016)? Or players from other countries like Bengals TE Moritz Bohringer (6/180, 2016, drafted by the Vikings)? Or giants without any real position that they can mold, like Army-captain-turned-Steelers-starting-OT Alejandro Villanueva? Nobody knows.
  • Solid middle-class agencies are seeking shelter: These questions are pushing the middle class of agencies out of the business, or at least to look to other sports like baseball that have fewer risks. The friend I texted with said he thinks that within a couple years we could see 95 percent of all NFL players represented by about five percent of agents. He was exaggerating, of course, but he’s not far off. There are hundreds of good agents — rank-and-file guys that love their clients, work hard for them, and care about them, as well as the game — that are either trying to find a buyer/merger partner, or worried about how they’re going to stick around long enough to pay their loans and/or investors.
  • Uncertainty across the board: As teams become schizophrenic in their preferences, the trickle-down is starting to affect training facilities. As recently as 3-4 years ago, the perception by agents was that a $10,000-$15,000 training cost was baked into every player signed. There’s been a market correction, however, and fewer contract advisors are willing to go that route. That’s forcing some trainers  to limit their work with draft prospects.
  • Players haven’t caught up to this yet: Unfortunately, for lots of reasons, the draft prospects themselves aren’t aware of this cycle. The number of players leaving early is trending up, and the number of lesser prospects that expect to get the same training deals their buddies got remains constant. This is why we’re starting to see parents whose sons have NFL dreams rationalize that part of the money saved by a college scholarship can be spent on combine prep.
  • The new leagues are a wildcard: As we discuss in today’s Friday Wrap (register here), there are a lot of ways the new leagues, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) and the XFL, could move to take advantage of this volatility. With a work stoppage expected in two years, there are plenty of variables to weigh and opportunities that could be exploited, if the leagues so choose.

Obviously, the winners, both on and off the field, will be the ones who figure out how to exploit these opportunities and think in new ways. I think we’re going to see scouting and evaluation change drastically in the next 10 years, along with player representation, in ways as drastic as we’re seeing the on-field game change.

At the end of the day, these new trends will benefit the innovators and cripple those unwilling to adapt. I guess that means it’s a great time to be young and interested in working in the game, and not as great for those writing checks and hoping.

Does It Hurt An NFL Prospect Not To Hire An Agent?

Thursday, a longtime friend from one of the top agencies in the business asked me to list recent players who had gone through the draft process without an NFLPA-licensed contract advisor. When I asked if he’d come across a player in the ’19 class who was weighing whether or not to hire representation, he demurred. His firm was just “getting its ducks in order,” he texted. Fair enough.

Anyway, I came up with five names of recent agent-less draftees. They were, in order of draft class, Florida SS Matt Elam (2013), Miami (Fla.) OT Ereck Flowers, Louisville TE Gerald Christian (2015), N.C. State QB Jacoby Brissett and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson.

Today in our Friday Wrap, we take a detailed look at all five (plus one more who almost went without an agent, but hired one late) and try to determine if their decisions to skip an agent helped or hurt on draft day. However, whether or not they were better off on draft day, there are common threads among them.

  • All five played played high school or college ball in the Miami area. Elam, Christian and Brissett went to the same high school (William T. Dwyer in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.).
  • The lion’s share of them are offensive players, and two are quarterbacks. It’s probably no surprise that touchdown-scorers come to think of themselves as needing less help, and that may be at work here.
  • All of them played in the ACC or SEC (Brissett played in both, having transferred to N.C. State from Florida), and all of them were heavily recruited. When you’re used to being in demand and commanding the spotlight, it’s easy to believe there’s a market for you, no matter what you do. It’s no surprise you don’t hear of many small-school offensive linemen skipping out on an agent.
  • Though it’s difficult to know exactly how much money they made or lost in the draft, it’s fair to say most of them could have made more money in marketing with professional representation (and some of them did hire marketing firms though not contract advisors). I heard consistently this winter that shoe and apparel companies were frustrated in their inability to get call-backs from Jackson’s people.
  • Often, those who don’t have an agent initially get one eventually, especially if their NFL fortunes take a dip. Though Brissett remains without an agent, Flowers is now co-repped by Miami Beach, Fla.-based Rosenhaus Sports and his father. Christian has been in and out of the league over the last couple years and hired Huntington, W.Va.-based Rich Sports to help find him opportunities. For Jackson, it’s too early to tell what course his career will take, and it’s unknown if Elam has a CFL agent now that he’s playing for Saskatchewan.
  • Could it be having an agent has a settling effect during a player’s career? Most of those who pass on agents cite the lack of a need for one during the draft process, but as veterans, most have had up-and-down careers. Elam is playing in the CFL, Christian is out of the league, Flowers is having a rocky time in New York, and Brissett is a backup and on his second team.

If you’re not already receiving our Friday Wrap, why not register for it? It’s free, and thousands of people across the game read it weekly for a quick review of what’s going on in the business of the game. You can sign up for it here.

UPDATE: A reader reminded us that there was actually one we forgot since 2013: Stanford DC Alex Carter, who went 3/80 to the Lions in 2015. Alex is a little bit of an anomaly, as he isn’t from Florida (he’s from Virginia), didn’t play offense (he’s a cornerback) and didn’t come from a major East Coast conference (Pac-12). He relied on his father, former NFL DB Tom Carter, to guide him through the draft process. Like many others, however, when his career stalled, he hired an established firm (Priority Sports) to help him reconnect.

Going Inside 2018’s Opening Week NFL Rosters

The first week of the NFL season is always exciting, not just because it offers renewal and possibilities for all 32 teams, but because we always take a deep dive into the rosters to identify trends and find out how the game is changing.

This year, with members of the ’18 agent class having just received their results, we decided to look at opening-week rosters to determine how they were built with respect to rookies. We especially wanted to see how teams used the 1,926 players signed by NFLPA contract advisors in the ’18 draft class.

We also expanding our annual Draft Class by the Numbers report for 2018. It’s something we’ve been doing for four years now, and you can look at how many players, by position, were drafted, signed post-draft, invited to try out, or snubbed altogether for the ’17 draft class, ’16 draft class and ’15 draft class at our home site.

Here are a few observations we made based on the totals compiled this week.

  • Which position had the most players make a 53 or practice squad, based on the number signed by agents? Surprisingly, it was inside linebackers. Perhaps because so few were signed (87), more than a third of those on SRA (36.78 percent) landed on NFL rosters in Week 1.
  • Second-most popular, surprisingly, were running backs. This year, 35.71 percent of rushers signed by agents in the ’18 draft class (45 of 126) made a roster or practice squad. What’s more, 16.7 percent of running backs signed were drafted. That was the highest ratio of all offensive players except tackles (20.7 percent). Apparently, as backs become specialized and fewer teams give one bell-cow 25-30 carries per game, the position is becoming more popular.
  • Only three positions saw a third of all its signees make a roster or practice squad. Besides inside linebacker and running back, centers (34 percent) also made it a third of the time. Just missing the mark were tight ends (32.58 percent) and guards (32.58 percent). As we’ve been preaching for years, if you want to land a player on a roster in your first year as a contract advisor, think offensive line. And we count tight ends in that list.
  • Since the NFLPA expanded practice squads from five to 10 players a few years ago, there’s been a debate over how many PS slots would go to veterans — i.e., used as a reserve pool for when injuries strike — versus how many slots would go to rookies a team is hoping to develop. Based on our analysis, almost every team carried at least five rookies on their respective practice squads. The Broncos, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, Giants, Lions, Patriots, Steelers and Texans were the nine teams with fewer than five rookies on their respective practice squads.
  • It’s probably not a surprise to see teams like the Eagles, Patriots and Steelers — teams with legitimate title expectations — keep mostly veterans on their respective practice squads. However, perhaps it’s a signal that some other teams seen as developmental, like the Colts (only two rookies on PS) and Broncos (5-11 last season, but only four rookies on the practice squad), are really going for it this year.
  • Here’s a tip to clip for agents in the UDFA process next year: the Jags are carrying eight rookies on their practice squad, including three cornerbacks. In fact, Jacksonville is one of five teams (Bengals, Chiefs, Redskins and Vikings) with three cornerbacks on their respective practice squads. No team has more than three players from one position on its practice squad, and in all five cases, cornerbacks glut the PS.

If you’re into looking at rosters from an analytical perspective, make sure to check out the 2018 NFL Draft by the Numbers and our 2018 Roster Analysis.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about what it takes to sign and represent players in the NFL — especially the costs of signing and representing a player if you’re a rookie or second-year agent — make sure to sign up for our Friday Wrap. It comes out in about six hours, it’s free, and thousands of people across the industry read it every week. You can register for it here.

Ask the Agents: Is the AAF a Prime Option for Players Cut This Weekend?

Last week, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) circulated an email to all NFLPA-licensed contract advisors advising them of its policy for allowing signed players to work out for interested NFL teams.

The short version is that the AAF will require NFL teams to make formal requests before a player is allowed to work out for them, and agents will not be allowed to facilitate the transaction. It’s a policy that could get a little cumbersome this season.

I found out about it when an agent forwarded it to me. His initial reaction was one of concern. How could he in good conscience recommend one of his players cut by an NFL team this weekend take an AAF offer if it might jeopardize future NFL opportunities?

I was curious if other agents felt the same way, so I reached out to several of them, asking this question:

What are your thoughts on the AAF email last week detailing the procedure for allowing AAF signees to try out with NFL teams? NFL teams will have to formally ask permission, and the agent is not in the loop. Will that give you second thoughts about having your NFL cuts sign AAF deals this fall?

The answers were all over the map.

  • “I will do what’s in client’s best interest. If I feel he can still catch on in the NFL, I may hold out because of that process. Keeping agents out of the loop is not a good idea. I would be working the NFL side of things to get them to request in most cases anyway. Leagues like the AAF need to have success before making demands, in my opinion.”
  • “It’s definitely something to keep an eye on. I wonder if it’s meant to limit agents constantly bugging NFL teams about getting their guys a workout, and the agent getting too involved in the process. In all reality though, I think a good agent at this point will know what player realistically will get on a (practice squad) at some point and which ones should go to AAF immediately. .  . I’ve got a few guys that I’d send to the CFL or AAF, but there are a lot more that I can say with confidence will get a practice squad shot at some point. I think AAF is kind of confusing at this time. They shouldn’t be this vague about rules when players are trying to make decisions. Not a good look.”
  • “(Our client) signed with the AAF and we were able to get out of it no problem with (an NFL team). (The NFL team was) a little hesitant about it, but we got it squared away pretty easily. . . I’ve been really impressed so far and they’ve hired amazing staffs.”
  • “I always want to create opportunities for players, but the AAF should have a provision in contract that the agent may create NFL opportunities and tryouts without AAF permission. But it is hard when players want to play and create more film for NFL teams.”
  • “Probably not because the guys that are not currently in the league are jazzed about the new league and think it’s their shot at getting noticed. If (an AAF team is) offering a deal, they’re going to want to do it. Just another way they kneecap us agents but not sure keeping our guys from playing in a new league is the best option or that they would even listen to us on that. Probably the lesser of two evils.”
  • “Will still push for them to sign. We will work through those hiccups, but very disappointing, but not surprising. I wish they would bring back NFL Europe.”
  • “Not even a second thought. I have one player who was signed to the AAF, we did the consent form, he worked out for (an NFL team) and made the roster last week. The league office for the AAF was perfect to deal with in the process, and I know if for whatever reason he does not stay, he’ll have a job back in the AAF with his same team. Still a win-win for the client and that’s the important part. . . If I hadn’t gone through the process yet, I may have reservations, but the AAF has it together in the front office and I’ve enjoyed working with them.”
  • I think my players that get cut will be claimed or (practice squad) but if for some reason that doesn’t happen, I will address it at that time. That rule does seem dumb — I like the idea of it (because) no one was sure if you could work out, so I know some players would probably wait until late to make that move, but to make the NFL team have to go out of their way, I don’t know . . . It should just be proof of workout from agent or airfare gets you approval.”
  • “Well, anyone in the NFL right now would be a fool to sign AAF prior to the end of the NFL season, no matter what. Anyone that has no NFL option might as well sign, because odds are no one is calling, so honestly, it probably isn’t going to be much of a problem because of the timing. As long as agents are smart, AAF will just continue to improve signed talent as Jan/Feb gets closer and guys that played this preseason, who don’t resign, end up committing. There are a bunch of AAF guys under contract right now that will never see that league.”

Looking Back at the Post-Draft Grades for the ’17 NFL Draft

As any casual observer of the NFL knows, the Saints had a historic NFL draft last year.

The additions of Ohio State DC Marshon Lattimore (1/11), Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk (1/32), Utah FS Marcus Williams (2/42) and Tennessee OH Alvin Kamara  (3/67) vaulted New Orleans from a its three-year 7-9 sleepwalk to an 11-5 finish, an NFC South title, and an almost appearance in the NFC Championship game. The Saints’ performance on draft day earned them our first-ever award for having the Best Draft Class of 2017.

While hindsight is 20/20 and everyone acknowledges the Saints now, it’s far harder to know which teams did best immediately following the selections. Of course, that doesn’t stop every major media figure on the Web from trying. It’s interesting to look back on post-draft grades and watch writers balance their words, leave plenty of room for interpretation, and generally hand out marks that are hard to criticize.

Let’s take a look at the aftermath of the ’17 draft to see what the pundits thought of the Saints.

  • According to NFL.com, the Saints reached a little to take NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Kamara, “Not sure I love the future pick trade, though Kamara’s a very good player,” said draft expert Chad Kreuter at the time. He also wondered if the team should have looked to its defensive line at No. 32 instead of selecting Ramczyk, who became an integral part of the team’s o-line. “But should they have helped their defensive front instead?,” Kreuter wondered.
  • Dan Kadar at SB Nation gave New Orleans a solid ‘B.’ Though he “loved the picks of Lattimore, Williams, and Kamara,” he said he didn’t “see a lot of need in an offensive tackle for the Saints” in the first round, and added that “normally (he’s) not a fan of trading future picks,” as the team did to land Kamara.
  • Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar gave nine teams an ‘A’ or ‘A-‘ last year, but not the Saints, who earned a middle-of-the-road ‘B.’ Though he applauded GM Sashi Brown and the Browns’ “new regime,” which is “doing things differently,” he dinged No. 11 overall selection Lattimore, who was “not an ideal press defender at this point in his career.”
  • CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco was also pretty blah on the Saints’ draft, mainly because he “didn’t love” the selection of Ramcyzk. “Is that really a major need?,” he asked.

This week, we tried to get a professional opinion on the teams that excelled in April, asking scouts which teams they felt did the best, especially after two weeks of preseason games. They came up with four teams and cited some players who already look like draft-day steals.

To find out which four made the cut, register for our Friday Wrap. It comes out in about three hours, and it’s absolutely free. It’s also read by thousands of professionals across the football world — scouts, media, coaches, trainers, wealth managers, marketers and others — and will keep you up on everything going on across the football business. We think you’ll find it to be a key weekly read, as so many people in the NFL and NCAA football community do. Register here.

What Does a Successful NFL Scouting Department Look Like?

I’m always approached by young people who hope to be NFL scouts, and they often ask, what’s the best way to be hired? It’s a tough question to ask because no two teams look exactly alike when it comes to scouting.

With that in mind, we decided to look at the 12 teams who qualified for the NFL playoffs last year in hopes of identifying the template for good scouting and evaluation. What is the common thread between the Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars, Chiefs, Titans and Bills in the AFC, plus the Eagles, Vikings, Rams, Saints, Panthers and Falcons in the NFC?

First off, we have to reduce the teams under the microscope to 11 as the Panthers neither publish their scouts and their assignments on their website or publish a media guide with that information. So we’ll take a look at the other teams.

GM stability: This is a really hard factor to measure. There were teams in the playoffs like the Patriots and Saints that, technically, have had the same GM in place for the last two decades. While New England’s Bill Belichick is in a class by himself and not your typical GM, New Orleans’ Mickey Loomis is not your traditional, in-charge-on-draft-day kind of GM, and the team’s fortunes didn’t really turn around until Assistant GM Jeff Ireland was hired. In fact, if there’s a trend, it’s away from the centralized decision-making as several of the GMs in the playoffs last year have either had their personnel power stripped or haven’t been around long enough to really be judged (Buffalo’s Brandon Beane and Kansas City’s Brett Veach have been on the job two years or less).

Director-level scouts and executives: How many of these teams are loaded with chiefs and less-needful of Indians? There’s no real consensus, but it seems that less is more. The Patriots, a team that’s got most of its power in a tight circle around Belichick, has just three director-level members of its scouting staff. So do the Titans, led by former Patriots executive Jon Robinson. The Bills, Vikings, Saints and Steelers each have four. On the other end of the spectrum are the Jaguars and Eagles with seven each.

Total scouts: Again, no team defines every evaluator the same way. However, when counting actual ‘scouts’ in the 11 front offices — not people who are managing and making decisions, but those who are doing base-level evaluation of players — the magic number seems to be 10. The Steelers, Rams, Titans, Jaguars and Bills all have 10 members of their staff who seem to be primarily scouts, while the Vikings have 11. On the other end of the spectrum, the NFC champion Eagles have six and the Chiefs have eight.

To get a fuller picture of how teams build their scouting departments, looking at the average and the median number of scouting interns, national scouts, regional scouts, pro scouts, area scouts and more, check out the numbers on our website, and better yet, check out our analysis of each of the NFL’s scouting departments in today’s Friday Wrap. It will be out later this evening, and it’s easy to register.

You’ll be reading the same info thousands of members of the pro and college football community read each week. Register here.

Here’s What the AAF Has Done Right

If you’re like me, and you follow the business of the game very closely, you have to be impressed with the direction the Alliance of American Football (AAF) is going. Though I’m probably the biggest pessimist in the world when it comes to alternative football leagues, it’s hard not to like what they’ve done so far.

Yes, they’ve been able to capitalize on the absence of NFL games as they’ve grabbed headlines the last 3-4 months’, and yes, they’re capitalizing on a curiosity among football fans that won’t really be sated until the AAF plays its first games. At the same time, there are several things they’ve done right.

Here are the top five things the league has done to give itself a fighting chance of sustainability.

Good timing: It’s unclear how early the organizers of the AAF knew about the XFL’s 2020 launch, which was officially announced in January of this year, but hinted at last fall. However, it’s impossible to overstate what an advantage the league got by jumping into the pool first. Not only have they populated their teams’ front offices with credible names and credible people, but they’ll be able to scoop up the remnants of the ’18 and maybe ’19 draft classes without competition.

TV deal: The league’s deal with CBS sounds shiny and impressive, but what it all boils down to, mainly, is the Arena Football League’s old deal, with a Game of the Week on the CBS Sports Network, plus two other games — the league’s debut game and its championship — on the big network. It’s not like major networks haven’t broadcast summer football before, and they’ve never really gained traction.  All of that said, a TV deal still equals legitimacy.

Good hires: Just about every former NFL executive with any relevance has been hired by the AAF. The same can be said for the AAF’s head coaches. Critics say there’s a reason these guys aren’t in the league anymore. Maybe so, but the bottom line is that these men know how to run teams and, maybe more importantly, have relationships with the agents and media who are a big part of a league’s success. This also gets them an audience with current NFL scouts and executives when they have questions about players.

Plentiful resources: The league’s organizers were smart enough to know they needed stacks of cash before they fired their first shot, so to speak. It looks like they were able to do that.

Building up front first: One scout who’s been hired by the AAF reached out to me a couple weeks ago for help aggregating the names of as many available offensive lineman as possible. Though he still hasn’t been hired in an official capacity, his soon-to-be boss is already sensitive to the scarcity of offensive linemen across the game, and is taking steps to find the best ones. That’s brilliant. Though fans fixate on the touchdown-scorers, none of it is possible if you don’t have the big guys up front. Check out the AAF’s Twitter feed and you’ll see that many of their signings include offensive and defensive linemen. Wise moves.

So the AAF has quite a few first downs under its belt and maybe even a few touchdowns. Does that mean that its alternative league rival, the XFL, is dead in the water? Not at all. Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck and the league’s organizers can still blunt the AAF’s momentum with a few simple steps.

We’ll go over a few moves the XFL would be smart to make in today’s Friday Wrap. We’re also conducting a survey on the cover design of our new book, and we’ll have a wrap-up of the week in football — on the business side — in today’s edition. Here’s a look at last week’s Wrap. Want to sign up for the Wrap? It’s free, and thousands of football professionals read it each week. It comes out tonight around 7:30 p.m. ET. Register here.