Thursday night, former Vikings and Dolphins GM Rick Spielman graciously agreed to join me for a one-hour Zoom session. Joined by about 40 NFL scouts and executives, we took a deep dive into team-building and player evaluation as I asked him 10 questions about the game. We opened it up only to NFL personnel eager to develop professionally and willing to give up an evening during their vacation to do it.

It was a riveting hour and he had some very interesting things to say. Here are four takeaways you might find helpful if your aim is to be an NFL scout someday.

  • Regarding analytics, Rick gave a lengthy, nuanced answer. One thing I found interesting is that the team was able to find some metrics for players who continually failed (i.e., defensive linemen without a minimum arm length, height and 40 time). They were able to rule them out as draftees. The other area they found analytics helpful was in sorting through the hundreds of players in the late Day 3/UDFA range. Again, the analytics team was able to find players with certain height/weight/speed combinations who had a better chance of success than others. He gave and return specialists Marcus Sherels, whom the team picked up as a UDFA in 2010, and WO Adam Thielen, whom the team signed out of Mankato State in 2013, as examples of players the analytics squad helped identify as possible success stories.
  • When asked how a young scout can get past the party line when trying to get sensitive information from a school’s NFL liaison, Rick didn’t sugarcoat things: it only comes with relationships and years of building trust. That’s a problem today with NFL teams hiring younger and younger scouts and sending them out on the road with very limited networks and contacts. It’s inevitable that these less-seasoned evaluators get fewer details until they become more familiar around the campuses they cover.
  • When asked about the worst thing you can do in an interview for an NFL job, he said that failing to do research was the easy answer. He gave as examples any correspondence that asked for a job from “Chris” Spielman, his brother (a former Lions player and current team executive). However, it was more about how much homework a job applicant had done. One dead giveaway: if Rick concluded the interview and asked for questions, but the interviewee had none, that was a dead giveaway that the applicant wasn’t prepared, and wouldn’t be hired.
  • He expressed concern about how elite prospects might approach pro days and the combine in the wake of David Ojabo’s injury at Michigan’s pro day last spring. He said the league has been focused on the player experience, especially at the combine, and could even see the league providing incentives to work out or making the combine less of a pure workout and more of a competition, though he didn’t expand on how that might be accomplished. Food for thought.

We’ll be talking plenty about the scouting industry, as we do every week, in tomorrow’s Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.