Former Dolphins scout Marcus Hendrickson is a more recent acquaintance of mine. I met him through friends only this summer, so I wasn’t sure if he’d even agree to do an interview in this series. But boy, am I glad he did.
He’s done a lot of thinking about the business and he’s very insightful, and though today’s interview is about twice as long as any of the ones we’ve published this week, my guess is you’ll read it more than once.
I’ll turn it over to Marcus and our Mark Skol for today’s three questions.
- What is the one thing NFL draft fans don’t understand about the evaluation process, and about how NFL teams scout players, that they should know?
“A lot of fans think we pick it up at the combine but we’ve actually been watching guys for two years sometimes. It’s a process. We’ve been gathering information on these guys for 18 months, but it’s not just what the guys did at the combine.
“The risers and fallers thing is kind of a farce in a sense. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole picture. A lot of times, the background that comes out a week before or a day before has been known for months. Size, speed and production are all keys, but also character, being able to fit in the scheme and intelligence. It’s way more complicated than the actual fan realizes. There’s a lot of hours that go into these decisions.
“It’s very rarely a gut feeling. It’s more programmed and thought out. A lot of guys think we picked this guy just because Mel Kiper liked him. And just because Mel Kiper likes a guy and a team doesn’t like the guys, it doesn’t make the team wrong. I have all of the respect in the world for Mel Kiper, but they are not talking to position coaches, they aren’t talking to parents, they are not talking to high school coaches. I’ve talked to their high school teachers before. It’s very in-depth, especially when it’s a guy who could be drafted in the top two or three rounds. You reach out to tons of people to try and get a good picture on who the kid is. You can evaluate the player off of the tape, but at the same time, if you are drafting a guy in the first round, he will be attached to your franchise forever, so there’s a lot of pressure on those picks. There’s so much that goes into it. It’s more than he threw for 4,000 yards and ran a 4.4 at the combine. I don’t think people really appreciate how much work goes into the evaluation process.”
- We all know the best advice for a young man hoping to play in the NFL is to play his best football this fall. However, as a former scout, what would you tell a young man’s parents?
“The hardest part for parents and for the kids is (that) when they don’t go to a program that produces talent, they sometimes don’t understand the process as well. They don’t understand the league as well. I always tell their parents to make sure they are on track to graduate. Don’t get me wrong: you make a lot of money playing in the NFL but there’s not guarantees in the NFL. The average career for a player is like three years. Get your degree and make sure you are smart with your money, because everyone thinks they are going to play forever and get that second contract, but a lot of guys don’t. You have to be smart with the people you put around yourself both personal and financially. Be smart. You might be a blown Achilles or a concussion away from your career being over.
“(Also,) if there’s a scout around, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Guys love talking to you and getting able to pick your brain to know you. At the end of the day, if you are a fringe guy or if I see you the same as another guy, but I’ve gotten to know you a little bit, those things change the balance when you are on the fence with two guys. Putting yourself out there or introducing yourself at a tryout helps put the bar in your favor when being compared with someone with similar characteristics.”
- If a young person asked you how to break into the scouting business, what advice would you have for him?
“It’s a very cutthroat business. It’s a small business and it’s hard to get in because a lot of people want to do it and there are not a lot of jobs. It’s a very limited field. But one thing that is important is to immerse yourself in football in any way that you can. If you’re a kid in college and you’ve never played before, work the equipment or video for your team. A lot of guys make their first steps in the game that way. Show that you are working. It’s not just putting your foot in the door it’s someone being able to say that you work hard. If you work in video or you are a coach’s assistant of some kind, from that, just absorb everything around you. Maybe a scout comes into your school and you are helping with the video, introduce yourself. He may pick your brain. Find a way to make a connection with someone in the game but also show that you can bring that work ethic or that awareness. If you are around athletes, pick up on, how does that guy treat other people or what is he like personally away from the cameras, away from the spotlight. Also, watch as much film as you can. If you have the ability to get your hands on a coach’s tape, write reports. Evaluate positions you don’t necessarily understand; show progress and show growth that way. I played linebacker in college and I played offensive line in high school, so those things came more naturally to me (more) than wide receiver and DB. So I had to force myself to watch DB tape and pick up on nuances. Put yourself out there. Volunteer if you have to. Do those little things to show you are committed. Also, watch as much football as you possibly can. You aren’t out of your realm because you have basic knowledge on what to pick up on.”