When I read a piece like this one, it confirms my belief that the league is moving in a baseball direction when it comes to analytics.
More and more, the human element is being taken out of the scouting equation. We’re seeing this as the New England model takes root across the league. In other words, young scouts are hired to measure, weigh and time anyone and everyone who’s draft-eligible, while the directors back at the team headquarters make the real decisions. In other words, low-level employees go get measurables and facts, and evaluation is done by the senior-level minds.
This is probably one reason I’ve toyed for years with putting together a kind of flow chart that college players and their parents could use to give them a reasonable idea of their appeal to NFL scouts.
I’d start with these questions.
- Would others consider you one of the top 4-5 players on your team?
- Did you play for a team in a BCS conference?
- Did your team have a winning overall record the last three seasons?
- Did you play QB in high school?
- Did you play basketball in high school?
- Did you play any other sports in college?
- Did you start more than one season in college?
- Do you meet the size/speed minimums for your position (I’d devise a position-by-position grid to reference to answer this question)?
- Did you play college football east of the Mississippi?
- Do you play a position other than offensive guard, center, nose tackle, fullback, or inside linebacker?
Question 1 is a basic quality question — the NFL is only for the very best. I’ve seen players that don’t even start on their college teams that expect to play in the NFL. Though it happens very rarely, it’s just not realistic.
Questions 2 and 3 deal more with the competition level a team faced, and how the team fared. Though it’s exciting to talk about small-school sleepers, the facts are that the vast majority of NFL players competed at the FBS level. What’s more, I believe scouts have an unintended bias against losing programs.
Questions 4-6 deal with athleticism. I believe that today, the NFL is looking for explosive athletes first, and football players second. My observation has been that most teams feel they can ‘coach up’ almost anyone, or are at least willing to try.
Questions 7-8 deal with general individual success at the college level. Gauging this is incredibly subjective, but this is at least a start toward measuring ability.
Finally, questions 9-10 measure a player’s ability to be ‘noticed.’ There are simply fewer scouts working what I call the Far West Corridor, which consists mainly of the schools in the West that aren’t on the coast. These are mostly remote areas. Also, players at ‘non-sexy’ positions are often overlooked.
Obviously, you can’t truly determine a player’s NFL chances by simply asking him questions. Too many variables. However, as I try to refine this list, I think it’s at least a good starting point for gauging a player’s NFL chances.