If you read this blog semi-regularly, you know that, from time to time, I like to turn this space over to some of my friends in scouting and evaluation. This week, with the 2023 college football season just around the corner, I decided to reach out to several of my friends to give me their first impression of the strengths and weaknesses of the ’23 class. What follows are the thoughts of Greg Gabriel, who spent several years in the front offices of the Giants and Bears at the director level.
Trying to figure out if a draft will be strong eight months beforehand is not an easy task. Why?
Who’s there?: First, we really don’t know who will be in the draft. If the last 5-6 years is an indicator, we know that there will be well over 100 underclassmen in the draft. It’s the underclassmen who make up a good part of the early rounds of every draft.
Intangibles: Of course, what happens off the field and in the huddle counts, too. NFL scouts are already on the road making school calls where they begin to form a strong opinion on prospects, partially due to their character. When I say character, I really mean two things: football character and personal character. Football character deals with a player’s passion for the game, desire to be great, work ethic, etc. Needless to say, personal character deals with how a person lives his life. They are two very separate categories, and a scout puts a grade on each. Those grades have a lot of say in where a player gets selected.
Going up/going down: Another area that is extremely important is the players’ 2022 tape. Who will show improvement this season over last? Whose play will fall off, and last, who will sustain an injury that will have an effect on their draft status? Preseason ratings are based on what the player did the previous year. Often, players take a huge step in their final year and end up getting drafted much higher than anticipated in August. In August 2019, did anyone actually think that LSU’s Joe Burrow would dominate the 2019 season and be the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft? I doubt it. In August of 2020, did anyone feel that BYU’s Zach Wilson would be the second overall selection in 2021? I can guarantee there were none. Most had him rated as a high Day 3 pick at best going into the 2020 season.
Entering 2021, many felt Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater was going to be a premium pick, but the thought process was he might be better off at guard than tackle. Many also felt that, at best, he was a late first and more likely a second-round type. After a strong 2020 season, he ended up the second offensive lineman selected and the 13th overall pick.
The inverse of this also applies, and I’m going back a few years for this example, but it happens every year. During the 2013 college season, Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater was supposed to be a lock to be the top pick in the 2014 draft. The draft analysts kept this conversation going well into November even though his play didn’t warrant it. After following up a mediocre season with a poor pro day, not only was he not the first overall pick, but he went 32ndoverall!
Needless to say, what you read now as far as ratings can be meaningless. Yes, they can give you an idea of what the player might be, but until NFL evaluators can go through the entire scouting process, we won’t know for sure. That takes time.
No reason to stop now! I asked three more former NFL evaluators to give me their first impression of the strengths and weaknesses of the ’23 class, and I added their thoughts to this week’s Friday Wrap, which comes out tomorrow afternoon. You can sign up for it here.