Ask The Scouts: 12 Questions for the NFL Scouting Director Zooms

Next week, as you might have seen, we will host three nights of NFL scouting directors discussing their hiring policies and philosophies as it relates to scouting interns and assistants. In other words, this will be How to Get a Job in NFL Scouting 101 with not one, not two, but three (!!!) experts. I’ve spoken on this topic before, but obviously, that’s not nearly the same as bringing in the men who actually do the hiring to talk about how they fill open positions.

You can register by becoming a #NextWave ITL subscriber (a discounted $75 student rate for aspiring NFL evaluators) here. Got questions? Email me at nstratton at insidetheleague dot com. Once you get registered, we’ll send you all the relevant links, etc. We’ll reveal the names of our three directors and their teams, times of the Zoom sessions, and provide Zoom links on Monday.

So what are the questions they will address? I’ve given them a lot of latitude on how they want to approach these sessions, but these would be some of the questions that I would expect will be answered.

  • When is the best time to submit a resume?
  • How do I know about openings?
  • How do I submit my resume?
  • How important is it to have a developed eye for NFL talent? Will I be evaluated on this?
  • How long are your internships? How long do scouting assistants typically work for your team?
  • Do you pay scouting interns? If so, how much?
  • What if I haven’t worked for a school’s personnel department?
  • Is a math/science/finance-based degree better than a sport management degree?
  • Should I include ALL my work experience, or just football-related experience, on my resume?
  • Do you hire every year?
  • What do your interns and scouting assistants typically do?
  • Where have most of them come from?

If you follow our Scouting Changes Grid, you already have an idea of who got hired this cycle, and if you study our Know Your Scouts series, you already know all about the people who are getting, and keeping, jobs in NFL scouting these days. If you haven’t, well, that’s one more reason to become a #NextWave subscriber.

As an added bonus, USFL CEO Brian Woods will join us on Zoom Wednesday, as well. Though his focus will be on addressing agents’ questions about roster population, etc., he might have a minute to talk about how the league will fill internship roles. If you read this blog regularly, you know how strongly I feel about building your network and having relevant work experience, and leagues like the USFL (and, soon, the XFL) offer golden opportunities for that. And these days, you don’t even have to live in a certain place to sharpen your skill set and be a key part of an organization.

We’ll be talking more about next week’s sessions in today’s Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you haven’t already, register for it here.

’21 Agent Class Wellness Check: Five Things You Should Know by Thanksgiving

Having worked with members of the ’21 agent class for the past several months, I hear their concerns and their questions every day. With the sub-FBS seasons over for teams not in the playoffs, and nearly over for about half of FBS teams, there are big decisions that are starting to be made.

Bottom line, there are certain things you need to know by Thanksgiving Day if you’re a certified contract advisor. Here’s what I came up with.

Know who you hope to sign: If you’re a newly certified agent, you are getting contacted daily by two groups. They are, people who hope to be agents some day and want you to hire them as interns, and players from previous draft classes hoping you’ll sign and train them to pursue their long shot NFL dreams. Well, we’re just getting started. As more and more players’ seasons end, they will start calling, too. I hope you’re recruiting, and not just waiting for something to float in over the transom. Sometimes those signings work out, but by and large, someone recruiting you is not being considered by NFL scouts.

Know who you can’t sign: Every year, there are agents who come into the business solely because a young man, or members of his family, promised that new agent that the player would sign with him or her upon certification by the NFLPA. For these people, I like to tell ‘the story of the high school girlfriend.’ I’m 52. So are Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez and Catherine Zeta-Jones, so all of them were in high school when I was. Now, let’s say I went to high school with one of them, and maybe I was even lucky enough to date one of them (I know, in my dreams, but let me tell the story). We might have expressed our love for each other, and maybe even made long-term plans, discussed kids, etc. Well, once those girls left Hometown U.S.A. and met the Brad Pitts, George Clooneys and Dwayne Johnsons of the world, suddenly, they don’t remember me anymore. That happens every year to new agents once the players they coached in Pop Warner or knew from the old neighborhood start to get recruited by the big firms. If this describes you, you better have a Plan B.

Know who the real prospects are: For most new agents without a network of NFL scouting contacts, figuring out which players have NFL talent takes real guesswork. Most aspiring NFL players have a well-rehearsed story explaining why they have been overlooked by draft pundits and scouts alike, and they can be pretty convincing. Have I mentioned that former NFL executive Blake Beddingfield writes scouting reports on any college player at any level for just $100+tax? We can turn a report in 2-3 days, most times sooner. Contact us for details.

Know about what you can spend: I would estimate that for every 100 members of a draft class signed to a 90-man roster post-draft (either drafted or signed as a UDFA), one makes it through the draft process costing his agent $1,000 or less. If about 600 rookies enter the league as draft picks or UDFAs, you’re talking about 5-7 players. For all the others, you’re looking at $5,000-$10,000 per player (again, we’re talking about actual prospects, not backup punters from NAIA schools). We discussed this extensively on our Zoom session last week. If you’re a new agent, I hope you caught it. Greg Linton (HOF Player Representatives) and Alex Campbell (Ajax Sports Agency) were magnificent.

Know, in minute detail, the all-star landscape: There are eight all-star games this draft cycle, more than any since ITL started in 2002. We had seven of the games’ directors on our Zoom last week, and they explained dates, schedules, costs (where applicable), invitation progress, roster sizes and scarcities, how to contact them and plenty of other details. I can’t describe what kind of opportunity these games are, especially if your client comes from a sub-FBS school or was only a one-year starter.

Whether or not you’re part of the football business community, and whether or not you’re part of the ITL family, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with family and friends. One of God’s greatest gifts is our loved ones. Have a blessed day, and don’t forget to sign up for our Friday Wrap if you haven’t already. 

 

ITL Zoom Week: Three Sessions, Three Speakers, Plenty of Fire

I think my genius — and I use that term very loosely — is that I’ve been able to befriend people who are way smarter than I am. From there, I’ve been able to talk some of them into joining me on Zoom to share their wisdom.

This week was one of those times when we threw the kitchen sink at the ITL family, hosting three Zoom sessions (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). I can’t possible relate how powerful my guests were, so I’m going to pass along their thoughts in their own words today, then give my thoughts afterwards. Here goes.

Greg “Tripp” Linton of HOF Player Representatives on the biggest problem facing new agents (Tuesday): “The one thing that I wish I would have known when I first started (is) . . . the worst part about being an agent is, you don’t know what you don’t know. That is the worst part about being a new agent.”

My thoughts: I could almost have run Tripp’s entire commentary on the agent industry, which is why I brought him on to talk about agent expenses. As always, he was riveting, forceful and transparent as always. I try to be adamant about how quickly costs can add up in this business, but a lot of people don’t want to hear it. OK. Well, if you’re a new agent, at least admit that there are things you don’t know. If you don’t want to spend $29.95/mo with me, you better befriend people like Tripp who are willing to spend lots of time with you and tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it.

Trevor Swenson of Dynamic Talent, on building an NIL presence (Wednesday): “So this is a store I built for one of my buddies who wanted to start his own personal training site. . . Yes, his name really is ‘Popcorn.’ . . . You got merchandise built right in there. . . . This site took me about four hours to build. So he went profitable, I think, the second day. Right now he’s averaging about $700 a day in sales, which is 100% profit because it’s training programs. So it’s super easy to do once you get it up and running, but you just have to market and brand it after it’s up there. . . I built his YouTube channel, and then he just stopped sending me videos — which is fine, he didn’t have to — but I will give you this as an example. I built his YouTube channel and I got him up to 305 subscribers in the first week. . . we got him almost 100,000 views in about a year. . . So we posted just videos of him doing the actual movements and most of these views came in the first 48 hours. So we got like 10,000 views of him doing a triceps pushdown.”

My thoughts: I realize that this passage requires a bit of context, but I think you can figure out what Trevor was saying here. I mean, have you ever heard of Popcorn Savage? Neither have I, but who cares?! He got 10,000 views in 48 hours of him doing a triceps pushdown, the least complicated move in the entire gym! I mean, I wouldn’t watch Arnold Schwarzenegger do a triceps pushdown, but somehow, Trevor got 10,000 people to watch a guy they probably hadn’t heard of do it. My YouTube page has probably been around for 10 years, and I don’t think I have 10,000 views on all my content put together. This is Trevor’s genius. He gave a two-hour presentation Wednesday, and my head is still swimming. I think everyone on that Zoom is the same way.

Damond Talbot, Executive Director of the Hula Bowl, on his philosophy on roster-building: (Thursday, as part of our Zoom with seven all-star game directors): “We all do this for one purpose and one purpose only, and that’s for the kids. I don’t care if my kids gets sniped from me by one of these guys, as long as they get an opportunity to play. I scout football, so I’ll find somebody else. It might not be the best player, but dammit, I’m gonna find somebody who checks some boxes. I’m confident in what I do. I’m not cocky, but I’m definitely confident that I can find a replacement, no matter what. . . and if you need any damn help, if you need a sleeper last minute, man, let me know. If I have one, I’ll definitely shoot it your way. Whatever you guys need.”

My thoughts: This is classic Damond, who always goes beyond the call of duty. I know when I ran the Hula Bowl, I was not nearly so magnanimous. I thought Damond earned a lot of respect and goodwill with his comments. I heard plenty of praise from agents afterward.

If you were part of this week’s Zoom sessions, as a speaker or as a participant, I’m deeply appreciative. It’s been a great week, and we’ll talk about it even more in today’s Friday Wrap. Make sure to register for it if you haven’t already.

10 Tips from Trevor: An NIL Expert Gives His Money-Making Advice

Wednesday night, Trevor Swenson of Dynamic Talent joined about 30 NFL agents on Zoom to talk about his area of expertise: name, image and likeness (NIL). Trevor’s company represents more than 400 bands, entertainers and influencers, and he’s seen the rise of social media and figured out how to exploit it for his clients’ benefit.

Here are just a few tips I picked up from listening to him Wednesday.

  • Even though football is our sole focus at Inside the League, it doesn’t mean it has to be an NIL agent’s sole focus. In fact, Trevor said track athletes “always sell,” partially because track is more individual in nature and therefore athletes are easier to identify with for potential customers.
  • Social media is very visual, so you’re going to have to identify clients that are pleasing to the camera. “Turn them into models,” Trevor recommends.
  • Facebook is one of the greatest commerce engines our nation has ever known, but it’s almost completely irrelevant to today’s athlete. Instead, get used to Google Ads as well as every vagary of each of the different platforms (especially Instagram).
  • If you’re going to get active representing players on NIL matters, get familiar with Shopify. Trevor calls Shopify “a huge tool” when it comes to marketing merchandise for his clients. 
  • If your client has a YouTube account, and hopes to make a few bucks with goofy videos or instructions on how to throw the ‘out’ route, he’s going to have to log 10,000 hours and gather 1,000 subscribers before his channel is monetized. 
  • Before a company is willing to spend money on your client, the industry standard is an expected return of three dollars returned on investment (ROI) for every dollar pledged in sponsorship.
  • If your client is a little low on followers, he can probably gain about 1,000 new ones per month if he’s aggressive about engaging with his followers and providing fresh content.
  • Before he can expect to have any sponsors, he’s going to need at least 10,000 followers on at least one social media platform.  
  • Trevor does not believe in deleting controversial posts. One reason is that no publicity is bad publicity. Another reason is that he believes his clients should own their posts and not run from them. 
  • He said the only reason he’d dump a client is not because of poor performance, but because of no performance. For example, if he represents a band that doesn’t tour for a year or more, he goes in another direction. Though they aren’t musicians, you should encourage your clients to have the same mindset. 

If you want even more, consider joining us at 8 p.m. ET next Wednesday, Nov. 17. For $100 plus tax, Trevor will present a case study on how to turn a garden variety college football into an NIL machine on a step-by-step basis. He’ll also provide the basic documents you’ll need to sign an agreement, to pitch a client to a vendor, and more. 

We’ll discuss it further in today’s Friday Wrap, which you can register for here. Ready to sign up now? Here’s the link

Ask the Scout: Reviewing Blake Beddingfield’s Greatest Hits

Today, we conducted our third review of the most recent mock drafts of seven top draft services at ITL, and later today, we’ll analyze the results in the Friday Wrap (you can register for it here). While it’s fun to see what mock drafters are thinking, it’s hard to compare it to what NFL scouts actually think and/or know.

We can’t know what the draft boards of all 32 NFL teams looked like leading up to the most recent drafts, but we can look at the reports our own Blake Beddingfield (former Director of College Scouting for the Titans) wrote on many of the players who got acclaim by the draftniks. We did that this week, and found several instances where Blake, who writes long-form scouting reports for agents ($100 plus tax) as part of the ITL Scouting Department, was right when the media was wrong. Here are a few of them.

Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami (proj. 1) — 1/30, Bills, 2021 — Blake projected Rousseau as a future first-rounder in Fall 2019, and all seven draft services agreed immediately following the ’20 draft. However, by the week before the ’21 draft, none of them had him in the first round. Buffalo (and Blake) disagreed, however, and today, he’s a member of PFF’s Midseason All-Rookie Team. “Rousseau has the length and get-off to be a genuine pocket-collapser at the NFL level,” PFF’s Michael Renner writes.

Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota (proj. 2-3) — TBA — Though he was seen as an oversized tackle with potential as a sophomore in Fall 2019, no one was pitching Faalele as a lock for Day 2 and potential first-rounder. Blake, however, saw him as a second- or third-rounder, and today, three of the seven services we monitor have him in the first round next spring.

Chase Claypool, WO, Notre Dame (proj. 2-3) — 2/49, Steelers, 2020 — Claypool never showed up on any of the first-round mocks of any of the seven services we track in any of the six reviews leading to the ’20 draft, but Blake had him in the 33-100 range in the fall of 2019, long before he began his climb up boards. Today, he’s a rising star in Pittsburgh’s receiving corps.

Jevon Holland, FS, Oregon (proj. 2-3) — 2/36, Dolphins, 2021 — Blake saw Holland as a second- or third-rounder in Fall 2019, but draft services had him in the first round immediately following the 2020 draft (four services had him in the 20s for ’21) before he began slipping during Fall 2020. Sure enough, he went in the second round in ’21.

Trey Smith, OG, Tennessee (proj. 1-2) — 6/226, Chiefs, 2021 — In the fall of 2019, people didn’t know (or, at least, the media didn’t) about the medical issues that would drop Smith into the sixth round. Smith is playing much more like the Day 1/Day 2 projection that Blake predicted than the sixth-round pick Smith turned out to be.

Jacob Eason, QB, Washington (proj. 4-7) — 4/122, Colts, 2020 — As of October 2019, three draft services had Eason as a late first-rounder, but Blake never fell for the hype, pegging him as a Day 3 pick. Sure enough, by next spring, he was right.

Zach Baun, OB, Wisconsin (proj. 4-7) — 3/74, Saints, 2020 — These days, Baun is a special-teamer and backup in the Saints’ linebacker corps, though by February 2020, three draft services were calling him a late first-rounder. However, Blake had him as a Day 3 type in Fall 2019, predicting that he’d be pretty much what he is for New Orleans today.

Want to get Blake’s take on a member of the ’22 draft class (or any other draft class, for that matter)? We can turn around a report in 1-2 days for any player in college football, no matter the conference, no matter the level (yes, even NAIA). It’s just $100 plus tax, and you won’t be disappointed by Blake’s depth and draft projection. Don’t rely on Draft Twitter. Email us and let’s get started.

 

Looming Zooms: Our November Slate

November arrives Monday. If you’re part of the football business, that’s the month when things start getting serious. Whether you’re recruiting, scouting, or inviting players (to all-star games), the end of the year means you’re getting a lot closer to making real commitments.

With that in mind, we’re stepping up our Zoom schedule. We’ll be trying several new sessions aimed at bringing respected and knowledgeable professionals to the people who need information the most. Here’s what we have.

  • We’re pretty excited about our upcoming three-session NIL class, which will be hosted by Trevor Swenson of Sacramento-based Dynamic Talent. While most people in the industry are pro-NIL, just as many are scratching their heads and wondering how to capitalize on it. I think NIL rules could change the way football biz professionals approach their work; it’s possible we see a dip in NFL agent signups as would-be player reps pass up the $5K exam cost and problematic training finances to take a shot at making money without nearly the sacrifices. Trevor is an NIL wiz, with decades of experience promoting entertainers and athletes. Though the barriers to entry for NIL success are much lower, you still have to know what you’re doing, and Trevor knows. Cost is $150 plus tax. Register here.
  • Speaking of training costs, our next New Agent Orientation will discuss budgeting for the pre-draft process. We get a lot of questions about what kind of player requires training — do priority free agents expect their combine prep to be covered? — as well as how to deal with sharing these costs. There are many ways, and if you’re not cognizant of them, you will quickly spend your way out of the game. We will have guests to discuss the pitfalls of agent costs, and whether or not you’re eager to hear the facts of life re: finances, you need to hear this. The date for this is TBA, but we’re targeting the second week of November. We tackled recruiting and registrations in September and the entire all-star landscape this month. To join us, you need to have passed this summer’s NFL agent exam and be part of the ITL family.
  • We may actually do two sessions for new agents. The executive directors of several all-star games have expressed an interest in talking to the new agent class, and we’re happy to oblige. We’re working on a Zoom that will feature Damond Talbot (Hula Bowl), Jose Jefferson (CGS), Michael Quartey (Tropical Bowl) and Dane Vandernat (NFLPA Bowl). It will be a way to introduce these gentlemen to new agents. Once again, if you’re newly certified and an ITL subscriber, you’re in.
  • We’re also working on a free session for aspiring NFL scouts among our membership. We’ll bring in a former NFL evaluator to discuss the finer points of grading players. This one is aimed at our younger clientele who are out there looking for morsels on how to scout, but all members of the ITL family are welcome.
  • One last opportunity: former Titans executive Blake Beddingfield will join us, likely in the second week of November, with his annual list of 50 sleepers. These are players that newer agents can target who aren’t in the limelight, but who are legitimate late-round prospects. Cost is $35 plus tax. More details, including date, to come.

it’s going to be a busy month. Stay tuned to the Friday Wrap (register here) for details on when our Zooms will take place. Got ideas for other Zooms? Let us know here. DMs always open.

Highlights from Wednesday’s New Agent Zoom

Wednesday night, dozens of members of the 2021 NFL agent class joined me on Zoom. Our topic was the 2022 pre-draft all-star cycle, which is bursting at the seams with eight games on the schedule from early January to mid-February. With so many games and so many changes across the board, there’s a lot to know if you’re a new contract advisor.

Here are a few highlights from what we discussed:

  • One of the crucial mistakes that new agents make is to wait until December (or even January) to start pitching all-star games on players. Granted, newer agents take longer to get real traction with draft-eligible players, so it takes longer for them to have a player to promote. Still, if you’re reading this and you’re a new agent, start reaching out to games as soon as you get a player to express interest in signing with you.
  • It’s also a risk to promote a player you haven’t signed, because often all-star berths make players more attractive to established contract advisors. However, when you don’t have a client list to point to, you need to have something. 
  • If you’re a new agent, you need to understand (a) the effect being placed on the Senior Bowl watch list has on a player and (b) the effect getting publicly invited to any all-star game has. Both artificially (and mostly incorrectly) enhance a player’s estimation of his draft status. Every year, about 500 players go to all-star games (far more than that this year). There are only about 100 players selected on the first two days of the draft, and most of those hundred are underclassmen or players who skipped all-star games. That means the lion’s share of all-star game participants are competing for 150 draft slots. Just because a player’s an all-star doesn’t mean he’s an NFL star. The math just doesn’t work. So if you’re an agent, understand this, and stick to your budget.
  • One question I always get from agents is a simple one: what should I wear to all-star games? It’s actually a valid question. You don’t want to over-dress and look dumb, and you don’t want to be too casual and look like some kind of weird fan. I recommend a casually professional look, i.e., slacks and a collared shirt. If you feel strongly about wearing a sport coat, that’s not a bad move. I don’t recommend looking like you just stepped off the set of the first Matrix movie, and I don’t recommend wearing a three-piece suit. In other words, don’t try to look like you’re the coolest person in town and don’t try to look like someone you aren’t. 

This is just a quick overview of what we discussed this week. Here are some of the other topics.

  • Who, how and when to contact about getting a player into an all-star game
  • Costs (if any) associated with each of the respective games
  • Background/insights on each of the games’ executive directors
  • The general form/schedule of an all-star week
  • Which ones will have significant scout coverage and which ones might not
  • When you should arrive, what you should do, how you should conduct yourself
  • History, success rate of participating players
  • Protocol/etiquette for withdrawing a player from a game
  • What to say when a game claims there’s no room for your client
  • What to tell your client before he goes

If you’re a new agent, or even a recent one, I hope you can join us next month. Next month’s topic will include the cost of representing players, choosing a trainer, how to retard excess costs, etc. All you have to do is become an ITL client. You can do that here if you aren’t already part of the ITL family.

Also, if this topic matters to you, make sure to sign up for our Friday Wrap here

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.