Like most football fans, I’m always trying to crack the NFL code and think the way scouts and evaluators think. That’s why this time of year — NFL combine and pro day evaluation — has always been a bit of a puzzle to me.

Obviously, the NFL wants to beat the drum for its new class of prospects in March and April as it builds the draft to a fever pitch. Hype sells ads, right? But are pro days where teams really go to ‘discover’ players that somehow slid past them until the last 60 days before the draft?

More than a week after our seventh annual ITL Seminar featuring former Browns GM Ray Farmer, I’m still sifting through all the things he said. One of my takeaways is that in the passel of information he got from the various stops along the pre-draft calendar (from January until the draft) during his time with the Falcons, Chiefs and Browns, he always valued what he got back from the all-star games as the most valuable of all. After that, it’s the combine, followed by pro days.

To recap, when you consider that game tape is always No. 1 — former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly says that what a player did on the field is an unchangeable 80 percent of his grade — you can break each segment of evaluation into four phases. These are, in order of importance (and chronologically), playing career, all-star competition, NFL combine, and pro days.

This jibes with what I’ve most often gotten back from scouts and evaluators. Pro days are used as a screen or a net. When a scout goes to an out-of-the-way school and a player surprises him with his 40 time, the scout immediately goes to the tape to see if his physical ability matches what was on film. On draft day, according to former Jags and Browns scout Ken Moll (shown here at our 2014 seminar), teams put all the outstanding workout performances on a wall and use this list when they want to roll the dice on late-round flyers or post-draft signings. However, what they don’t do is move pro day all-stars into the top 3-4 rounds, which is kind of the ‘real draft’ when it comes to the players NFL teams genuinely expect to make the team. With combine prep having become a standard part of almost all prospects’ January and February, teams have learned their lessons from the Mike Mamulas of the world.

We’re in the midst of Phase 4 of the evaluation process. While’s it’s an important part of evaluations, it’s still fourth in importance by a rather wide margin. With the NFL combine in the books and pro days just kicking off, I thought I’d pass this reminder along to help you put the hype from the next 4-6 weeks in perspective.

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