Since it’s WSW, we thought we’d pass along a few stories about NFL scouts that we thought illustrated the inexact nature of the business.
I think there’s a perception that the evaluation process is very scientific, dry and unerring. Nothing could be further from the truth. No matter how many scouts a team has on staff, and no matter how long they’ve been evaluating personnel, there’s a human element to it, and people make mistakes. They always will.
One example of this is the Bears, who in 1991 drafted running back Darren Lewis out of Texas A&M in the sixth round (161 overall), though they didn’t mean to. In ’91, the combine was still in its early stages, but the league did perform drug tests on those they invited. Lewis failed his drug test, causing many teams to remove him from their boards. That includes the Bears. So how did they wind up drafting him? It turns out there were two running backs named Lewis in the 1991 NFL draft: Greg Lewis out of Washington in addition to the Aggies’ Lewis. According to reports, the Bears took the wrong Lewis off their board, then accidentally took the rusher struggling with off-field issues. Perhaps not surprisingly, the he lasted less than three seasons, getting cut by the Bears in 1993. As of last year, he was in jail after a series of petty crimes.
There are also a series of disagreements between scouts on teams that lead to players falling through the cracks. Longtime NFL scout Bill Groman illustrated this by telling this story at our first-ever seminar for parents of draft-eligible players in 2010.
“Dominic Rhodes was at Midwestern State, I think was the name of the school. . . Back then I was a national cross-check scout (for the Falcons), and I was in the Dallas area, up in that area, covering another school, and I thought I’d run into the school. Another guy had gone and seen him and given him a free agent grade. He was about 5-foot-8 and a half, 5-9, a short guy, and about 205 pounds, but I saw him run real fast, and I like speed, you know, and athletic ability, and I saw he had some stats, and he could really (play).
“I went and looked at film and tape on him, and then I stayed over on Saturday and went to the game. Shoot, the game I was at, I think he was at 200-some yards rushing, and did all kinds of stuff, so I wrote him up to be like a third- or fourth-round pick and make somebody’s team. The other (scout), I know what he was looking at was the fact that this was a Division II school, he doesn’t play against the great big guys, but I think offensive linemen, defensive linemen, from those schools, yeah, they aren’t playing against the big guys, but when you’re a skilled athlete, a receiver, a defensive back, a running back, I don’t care who you’re playing with. If you can do it, you can do it. He just stood out so much, and what ended up happening was, I was at Atlanta at the time and Dan Reeves was our coach, and so what happened is, I wrote him up good, and this other guy had just given him a free-agent grade, and for some reason or other, our Director of Player Personnel at the time put him as a free agent, and we didn’t talk about them, so we didn’t talk about him in our meetings, so Dan didn’t know anything about him.
“Well, he gets drafted late by the Indianapolis Colts (Rhodes was actually signed as an undrafted free agent after the ’01 draft), and doesn’t play, like, the first 5-6 games, and then they come and play at Atlanta, and the starting running back (Edgerrin James) gets hurt. Dominic starts the game and gets like 170-some yards rushing (Rhodes ran for 177 yards on 29 carries with two TDs in a 41-27 Colts win), and I get a telephone call Monday from Dan, and he said something about, well, this guy runs so well, and you know, I said just go look at my grade, which he did.”
For more stories from Bill, check out our video archive at Inside the League.
For another story discussing how players fall through the cracks, check out this interview I did with former Cowboys scout Jim Hess. In this YouTube clip (the interview starts at :34), Jim discusses how he, along with then-Cowboys quarterbacks coach Sean Payton, came to like an Eastern Illinois passer named Tony Romo. From obscurity, Hess and Payton came to champion Romo, so much so that he turned down a more lucrative UFA offer from Denver to sign with the Cowboys after the ’03 draft.