Today we continue our series with Ken Moll as he discusses the value (and difficulty) of independent thought to scouts, along with a focus on why scouting grades can differ, even among knowledgeable evaluators.
Cross-checking — reviewing the prospects other area scouts on the team have seen (and liked) to verify their opinions — is an important part of the overall puzzle. Scouting isn’t an exact science, but effective cross-checking can provide for a more secure decision. Of course, it’s not easy. Obviously, the travel isn’t as familiar, but more importantly, the exposure to the players is limited compared to the previous scout, who had much more time to conduct the evaluation.
What’s more, I learned early in my scouting career that it takes balls to go against the grain and to counter the “conventional wisdom” on high-profile players. Obviously, every scout sees, reads and hears about most draftable collegiate players, but blocking the “noise” out is extremely important to the evaluation process.
Another thing that makes cross-checking difficult is that it takes place after a long, hard slog through the meat of the season. I remember one of my first seasons in the league (as a Midwest area scout for Jacksonville), my cross-check area was the West Coast. Hitting 11 colleges in 15 days can be a daunting task, especially after a full schedule of three-and-a-half months of travel through Big Ten country. Come November, going from the Arizona schools to Stanford, Cal, USC, UCLA and Fresno State, then out to New Mexico and New Mexico State, as well as a trip up to the great Northwest (University of Washington, State, the Ducks and Beavers, and others) is exhausting. There was also a stop in the state of Utah (where I wasn’t able to find a good cup of coffee at the campus at BYU), that really was difficult. No one was more excited about settling in at home for a Thanksgiving meal.
One other thought on cross-checking. It’s amazing how one “set of eyes” sees a particular player differently from another scout. Often this is due to a player being injured at a particular time during the season, or the marked improvement of a player due to more playing time, or a better understanding of the position that enhanced his development. Many people outside the industry tend to develop an opinion of collegiate players based on limited information and exposure, whereas NFL scouts are better-qualified to grade a player. This is because their evaluations are based on their experience and knowledge of specific programs; how a player is coached; and what has been successful in the past.