I think one of the biggest reasons that Draft Twitter has exploded, and why the NFL draft remains as popular as ever, is because everyone wants to say, ‘I liked that guy that nobody knew about,’ or ‘everyone said that guy stunk, but I knew he’d be a big star.’
That’s all well and good, but does that still happen in the NFL? In the digital age, when everything is online, and when two major scouting services (National and BLESTO) pin their professional existence on leaving no stone unturned, is it still possible to find a lockdown corner at a tryout, as the Patriots did with Malcolm Butler (his story is still probably my best and favorite blog post)? Is it still possible that a senior who winds up as a Top 10 draft pick could have been completely overlooked by both scouting services, as Lions DE Ziggy Ansah was in the 2013 draft?
By now, if you’re reading this, you know I love to discuss the craft of scouting with people in the business. I asked several friends this question: Would you say that today, in the digital age with so much information out there, that true ‘sleepers’ still exist? Are there still players with some ability that no one, or very few teams, know about?
Here are three responses from those in the ‘yes’ camp:
- “Sleepers are fewer and farther between but they definitely still exist! It’s hard to keep anything secret in this league but there are prospects that still end up off the radar due to circumstances: running slow, playing at a small college, multiple transfers, etc. For example, (Patriots DC) Malcolm Butler, Oakland’s punter (Marquette King out of Fort Valley State). Then there are the rare cases where they are better pros than they were in college, i.e. (recent Jaguars free agent signee) A.J. Bouye. (Sometimes it’s) luck, but luck favors the prepared.”
- “As long as humans are doing the grading then there will be human mistakes and triumphs. No doubt! A true scout knows talent when he sees it regardless of what the numbers say. The ‘guy feel’ still is a noteworthy scouting tool!!”
- “Hell yeah! All the undrafted players who make a 53 every season vs. the drafted players who go to (the practice squad) or (who are) cut are proof!!! (It’s) all about the great area scouts!”
- “Sleepers pop up when young combine scouts don’t put size, speed and production players from small schools on the list! They don’t believe their eyes because of the quality of football. Example: DT from Albany State (Colts pick Grover Stewart) that popped up late in the year and went in the fourth round. Listen loud, talk soft and see with open mind and clarity comes!”
There were plenty of scouts that were of the ‘no’ opinion, and for many different reasons. We continue this discussion with professional evaluators in our Friday Wrap, which comes out this afternoon. Read the thoughts and analysis of several more NFL scouts who feel it’s harder to find a sleeper than ever — and maybe impossible — in our Friday Wrap. It’s free, it comes out every Friday afternoon, and you’ll be glad you read it. Register for it here.