This time of year, we are pretty active on Twitter publishing the scouts getting hired and fired by NFL teams. There is always plenty of misunderstanding of how this works and why it’s done, which we try to clear up along the way.
I thought I’d discuss a few archetypes in NFL scouting departments as well as some that are unique, for various reasons. I’ll be talking about this further with Matt Manocherian and Aaron Schatz on the Off the Charts Podcast this week.
Also, note that last summer we counted the members of each NFL team’s staff that had “scout” in the title, and we totaled it all up on our home site. We’ll draw on those numbers as we look at a few teams in the subsequent paragraphs.
Browns: The Browns are unusual in that they have more scouts and scouting assistants than anyone in the NFL (17 as of our count last summer). Most of this is a hangover from Sashi Brown’s days as GM, when the team was focused on a total changeover to analytics. That said, GM John Dorsey has been with the team for two offseasons now and he hasn’t reduced the size of the department, so apparently this is the Browns’ direction. By our count last year, only six teams had as many as 14 employees with “scout” in the title. Strengths: No one has cracked the analytics code, and with so many scouts on staff, Cleveland has as much chance to do that as any team. Weaknesses: Having so much redundancy makes for a fat payroll, and anyway, how many scouts is too many?
Patriots: New England is at the forefront of a model that’s gained serious traction in the last 10-15 years. Head coach/GM Bill Belichick and a couple selected confidantes sit at the top of a pyramid, and for the most part, the area scouts aren’t expected to come back with opinions. They’re expected to do the work that the combines, National Football Scouting and BLESTO, would normally do, i.e., bring back facts — injury histories, arrests and suspensions, heights and weights. Then Belichick & Co. do the rest. As we’ve seen teams (Lions, Falcons, Bucs and Titans among them) hire former Patriots officials as GMs, this philosophy has spread around the league. Strengths: The team has excellent continuity in its drafting philosophy between coaching staff and personnel department. Weaknesses: Though they have respected evaluators, Patriots have not always been as consistent on draft day as other teams, and must excel on the pro side.
Colts and Seahawks: Indianapolis and Seattle have gained a reputation of being the anti-Patriots, as they pride themselves on leaning on and trusting their evaluators, which is more of an old-school philosophy. Despite this, Chris Ballard (Colts) and John Schneider (Seahawks) both have excellent reputations and are seen as some of the best in the business. That’s why people like Ed Dodds, Dan Morgan, Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer, who all cut their teeth in Seattle, regularly get interviews when GM jobs come open. You’ll start to see the same happen in Indy as Ballard builds his team in Indy. Strengths: Talented people who have the trust of their GMs make for talented teams. Weaknesses: This structure keeps the pressure on the GM to constantly seek and hire talented executives as he inevitably loses some to other teams. Also, a couple bad hires can set the team back immensely.
Bengals: Cincinnati has always been known as a team that counts its pennies and checks them twice. This is why the team doesn’t employ a traditional scouting department, per se. Instead, the team tends to lean on its coaches to make the major personnel decisions, and though the team is slowly expanding its scouting presence, evaluators have to mold their opinions to coaches, instead of vice versa. Strengths: The Bengals may not be perennial Super Bowl contenders, but they have been remarkably consistent over the past 10-15 years. Weaknesses: The Bengals have been burned by character risks more than once; is that because they are more risk-tolerant, or because there are things they miss?
- The Broncos and Texans were historically teams that toyed with the Bengals model, giving their coaches more input than other teams, but subsequent GM changes have muddied the waters there.
- The Cowboys have had incredible continuity over the years with a rather lean department; given their turnover this year, it will be interesting to see if they adjust their philosophy at all.
- Green Bay has historically put a lot of value on hiring former players, especially those with Packers roots, but that seems to be changing under new GM Brian Gutekunst.
Check out Inside the League for more discussion of scouts totals, areas, hires, and team philosophies. You can also register for our Friday Wrap, which is a weekly wrap-up of what’s going on in the football industry. Also, listen in as Matt, Aaron and I discuss scouting departments in the Off the Charts Podcast this week.