What’s the Profile of This Offseason’s GM Hires?

If there’s one question I always get from young people who love the game, it’s, “how do I become a scout?” Most often, they want to get into scouting because their ultimate goal is to be a GM. Shoot, I can relate. That was once my ambition, as well. 

With that in mind, I decided to look at the men hired this cycle. There’s no better gauge of what NFL teams are looking for than to look at who they hired. Five years ago, we took a detailed look at who was getting hired at the position, and found that teams sought people less than 50; with Patriots experience; and who had been around, but not necessarily a very long time.  

So what’s the profile of this season’s GM hires? Let’s take an alphabetical look at them.

Trent Baalke, Jaguars 

  • Age: 56
  • First NFL experience: 1998, Jets pro scout
  • Prior GM experience: 49ers, 2011-2016
  • Background: Baalke’s rise to the job in San Francisco, followed by his assumption of  the role in Jacksonville, has been pretty traditional. He’s got some pro experience with the Jets when he started out, but he’s mostly held a series of college scouting jobs since.

Nick Caserio, Texans

  • Age: 45
  • First NFL experience: 2001, Patriots personnel assistant
  • Prior GM experience: None
  • Background: Caserio is unique because he’s so well-rounded. Between being hired in New England in 2001 and taking over as Director of Player Personnel in 2008, he was an entry-level scout, an entry-level coach and an area scout for one year each. Then he was pro director for three seasons before jumping all the way to DPP, where he’d been for 13 seasons.

Scott Fitterer, Panthers

  • Age: 47
  • First NFL experience: 1998, Giants part-time scout
  • Prior GM experience: None
  • Background: Like Baalke, Fitterer followed an exclusively college scouting path as he climbed the ladder. Obviously, he’s had pro experience in his more recent senior roles in Seattle, but the lion’s share of his career has been on the college side. 

Terry Fontenot, Falcons

  • Age: 40
  • First NFL experience: 2003, Saints marketing intern
  • Prior GM experience: None
  • Background: Fontenot is unusual because he’s been exclusively on the pro side during his climb. Naturally, no scout does only college or pro, but he’s been decidedly more pointed toward pro scouting. He’s not unprecedented, though, as Bears GM Ryan Pace and former Lions GM Bob Quinn are two similar examples of pro-oriented hires.

Brad Holmes, Lions

  • Age: 41
  • First NFL experience: 2003, Rams public relations intern
  • Prior GM experience: None
  • Background: This is a hire I’m excited about, because Holmes is a scout’s scout. He’s done plenty of ‘road warrior’ work, all on the college side, moving from scouting assistant to combine scout to area, then national, scout. That’s the route most people perceive as the road to the GM chair, though it’s less and less likely to be true.

Martin Mayhew, Washington

  • Age: 55
  • First NFL experience: 1999, Redskins personnel intern
  • Prior GM experience: Lions, 2008-2015
  • Background: Mayhew has seen all sides of the game, having played in the NFL, served with the XFL in its first iteration, served as a cap guy, and worked for three organizations, gathering plenty of personnel experience with a team (49ers) that went to the Super Bowl last year. 

George Paton, Broncos 

  • Age: 50
  • First NFL experience: 1997, Bears scouting intern
  • Prior GM experience: None
  • Background: Paton, like Fontenot, has spent the majority of his career on the pro side. On the other hand, he’s spent more than a decade in a DPP role, so he’s gotten plenty of time on the college side, as well. That’s one reason he was seen as one of the most prepared candidates on the market. 

Conclusion: I like it when people who’ve paid their dues are rewarded, and we’ve seen that during this hiring cycle. We’ve also seen a refreshing respect for age; though Holmes and Fontenot are barely out of their 30s, the idea that no one past 45 gets hired is dead, at least for now. Here’s hoping all seven enjoy successful runs.

Ask the NFL Scout: Tips on Getting the Job from Minnesota’s Mike Sholiton

I was at the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth this week, and one thing I always try to do while I’m there is hold a professional development event for aspiring scouts. We have so many young evaluators who come here to network that I always want to make sure I do all I can to help them. 

In the past, we’ve had former scouts like Danton Barto (Rams) and Bob Morris (49ers, Browns) as well as scouts who are in the league now like Shawn Heinlen (Eagles) and Chris Hall (Cowboys). The point is not to talk about prospects, or even how to evaluate, but how to build a network that can launch your career. Many evaluators that I greatly respect have been willing to give back.

Tuesday evening, Vikings National Scout Mike Sholiton was kind enough to give about an hour of his time to 8-10 scouting hopefuls in one of the smaller ballrooms at the Fort Worth Sheraton. 

Here are a few highlights from Mike’s talk with the guys.

  • Like everyone else, Mike is a human being who likes to hear positive things. He encouraged scouting wannabes to get to know people in the industry, learn their backgrounds and preferences (perhaps by using our Know Your Scouts feature?), and use that knowledge to send encouragement. Know a scout’s birthday? Send him best wishes. His alma mater secure a great recruiting class? Great time to send him congratulations. Mike gave one specific example of when he loves to hear from his friends and family, but I’ll leave that to those who listened in on Tuesday evening.
  • Mike also cautioned members of his audience not to expect instant gratification. Just because an aspiring scout makes the effort to initiate a conversation or make a new contact, it’s not reasonable to expect it to lead directly to a job opportunity. The goal should be to make a new friend, and to develop and cultivate a meaningful relationship over time. Through those relationships, and the skills honed while developing said relationships, you will be more front-of-mind when job opportunities arise.
  • Sometimes effort isn’t enough. Mike told the story of his early days as a Vikings intern when combine interviews were taking place, and Minnesota’s scouts and executives were eager to spend some time with Florida DE Jevon Kearse. At the time, interviews had no time limits, and Mike waited more than an hour as Denver chopped it up with Kearse. Finally, Kearse emerged from the room, and just as Mike stepped forward to seize his opportunity, an older, much bigger scout (a former offensive lineman) stepped forward, grabbed Kearse’s arm, and commanded, “come with me.”

We’ll talk more about the week in Fort Worth in today’s Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

Also, if you aspire to work in an NFL front office someday, I hope you join us in Fort Worth next year. Get started here.

 

Getting to Know New Broncos GM George Paton

When I heard the news that George Paton would be the next GM of the Denver Broncos, I thought two things: at last, as it seems Paton has become the designated interviewee for nearly every GM vacancy the last 5-6 years; and, who really is this guy? I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Paton, so I wanted to learn a little about him.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one wondering. Try Googling his name and you pretty much get two things: he was a walk-on at UCLA, and he’s spent over a decade with the Vikings. Fat lot of good that did me. However, I had an advantage. I have a lot of people I know who know him well, so I asked them to give me a few thoughts on the Broncos’ new chief.

The following comments are what I got, mostly from friends and people who’ve known him longest. Are they glowing? Yes. Are they from his friends? Again, yes. Still, there were a few things I took away from the comments. But first, check them out.

  • “He’s awesome. He’s amazing. Doesn’t do interviews, not a self-promoter, media trying to do interviews but they can’t get anything because he’s not out there shoving himself in front of cameras. He’s everything you’d want out in front of your org. Strong evaluator, great with people, likeable, good chemistry guy, checks every box.”
  • “He’s really smart, organized and not only works hard, but works smart. He has earned everything he’s got. He will listen to all voices and then make a decision. Most of all he’s a great person. No ego. Big loss for us. He has zero ‘look at me’ to him.”
  • “I’m a big fan of George Paton. George has a great football mind, he’s a terrific communicator, and I think he’s been the unsung hero for the Vikings for many years. Runs the draft, runs free agency, communicates well with agents. College scouting, pro scouting, cap, he does contracts. I think the Broncos hired the best guy in the marketplace. I mean, Nick Saban likes George Paton. He’s really good.”
  • “George combines great player knowledge, experience and the ability to lead  and communicate in the building. He is both highly respected and liked by staffs he’s been around and his peers.”
  • “As good of an evaluator as we had in the building, smart, detailed, prepared. He’s been ready! Denver’s lucky to get him.”

So, like I said, very positive comments from several people in the game. What I took away from them, though, is that Paton seems to be the kind of communicator today’s game demands. As we see fewer dictatorial, Bill Polian-style general managers and more work-with-the-head-coach-who’s-the-true-face-of-the-franchise types, Paton is probably a perfect fit. That’s a good thing as he’s got a question mark under center, his best defensive player is 31 and coming off a season lost to injury, and he has to play the Chiefs twice each season.

He also seems to be a great evaluator, which as a fan of veteran scouts who pay their dues, I greatly admire. It’s interesting that the Vikes had to go “outside the building” to get their QB after mixed results on Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder. Probably Paton’s first big test will be determining if Drew Lock gets the benefit of the doubt.

At any rate, it will be fun to watch. I’ll discuss the Broncos’ move as well as the seats of power that are yet to be filled in tomorrow’s The State of Football with former NFL scout David Turner and several other great guests. It kicks off at 9 a.m. ET here. I hope you can tune in.

 

Thoughts and Observations on 2021 GM Searches

This week, Outkick published a pretty good page tracking interviews with the relative teams. Here are a few thoughts based on each team’s interviewees.

  • The time is now for Saints Assistant GM Jeff Ireland, who’s interviewed or will interview (via Zoom only) with the Lions and Panthers. Of the two, the Lions job makes a lot more sense for Ireland. Whoever goes to Charlotte will (a) need a strong analytics presence (Browns VP of Football Operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah fits the bill, and the Panthers have asked permission to interview him) and (b) will have to answer to Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Those are not the perfect conditions for Ireland. On the other hand, the Lions have a much bigger staff, more scouts (and more veteran scouts), and more responsibilities.
  • What’s more, given that former Lions great Chris Spielman has a major role in the team’s hire, he may be more likely to give Ireland the nod given that his brother, Rick, has been such a success after getting a second chance of his own.
  • Presumably, if the Lions had gotten blown away by Thomas Dimitroff, George Paton, Scott Pioli, Louis Riddick, Rick Smith or any of the three in-house candidates, they would have already made a hire. All of them are eligible for in-person interviews. On the other hand, Rams college director Brad Holmes, Saints Assistant GM Terry Fontenot, Seahawks GM John Schneider and Ireland are not. The question is, how long will Detroit be willing to wait?
  • It’s impossible to guess what kind of interest the Jaguars have in any of their five publicly known candidates. It all hinges on what Urban Meyer decides. Maybe that’s why the team has interviewed three former GMs; they have executive experience, but might be willing to defer to Meyer in order to get back in.
  • Similarly, until the Falcons decide if Raheem Morris returns, it’s hard to make a decision on a GM. If Atlanta waits for one of the hot coordinators, it might be one of the last teams to hire a GM. If so, the Falcons may have to take their second choice.
  • Washington has done little more than satisfy the Rooney Rule so far. Does that mean the team already has its pick made? Same is true of Denver. Bears assistant DPP Champ Kelly makes a lot of sense there.
  • Unless there are names missing – and that’s very possible – it’s surprising that Bills Assistant GM Joe Schoen and 49ers VP of Player Personnel Adam Peters (each with Panthers) haven’t gotten more interest. Based on our survey of scouts and executives last spring (here and here), they’re both highly regarded. Ditto for Seattle’s Alonzo Highsmith and Dallas’ Will McClay.
  • It’s mildly surprising that the Colts, one of the current “it” franchises under talented GM Chris Ballard, haven’t been targeted by teams with GM openings. So far, only scouting director Morocco Brown (Falcons) and Assistant GM Ed Dodds (Panthers) have gotten looks. 

We’ll be keeping an eye on the interviewees as they’re published and the teams as they make hires. Make sure to check out the mother ship as well as the Friday Wrap (register here) for more. 

 

 

Save the Date: ‘Inside the NFL Draft Process’ this Sunday at 8 p.m.

If there’s ever been a more uncertain time to be an NFL draft hopeful, I can’t remember it. This Sunday, however, several experts in the football business (along with yours truly) will try to make the picture a little clearer, especially for players weighing returning to school.

Sunday at 8 p.m. EST, Ric Serritella’s program for pro football hopefuls, Inside the NFL Draft Process, goes from a conference room in New Jersey (where he’s held it the last two years) to the Zoom platform. I’m excited about that, because it obviously allows far more participation. Ric has made room for 100 participants, and we’re hopeful we’ll be at or near capacity when things get started Sunday.

As you know, the NCAA handed all fall athletes an optional extra year of eligibility. That means seniors, especially those who are on the draft bubble, have a decision to make. Do they cast off for the NFL, knowing that they might have no pro days and maybe no rookie mini-camps (again)? Or do they return to school, hoping they can distinguish themselves from the hundreds, maybe thousands, of others in their situation who are gambling that the 2021 draft will offer a more back-to-normal experience?

Our panel will include Kevin Dunn, owner of TEST Football Academy, a major combine prep facility in New Jersey; Rich Salgado, owner of Coastal Advisors LLC and one of the leading insurance specialists in the industry; former Jets and Florida State standout Marvin Jones, who’s also the father of a budding college student-athlete; David Turner, a former NFL scout who runs Maverick Sports Consulting; Mook Williams, a retired agent and co-founder of Vayner Sports; and Carlos Dias, founder of MVP Wealth, a wealth management firm for pro athletes.

Among other questions we’ll answer.

  • How will the ’21 draft class look vs. ’22 and how does this affect players?
  • How will combine prep be different this year? What if I have to handle costs? What role will my trainer play in my pro day if my school doesn’t host one?
  • What factors should go into staying or leaving?
  • Is there a deadline for entering the draft?
  • What should I expect from an agent? Is there any reason I shouldn’t just take the best ‘package’ I can find?
  • What about a financial advisor? Is one really any different from another?

If you’re the parent of a senior college football player at any level, you owe it to yourself to join us and listen in. We’ll go about an hour, maybe a little longer, but we’re gonna keep it tight and concise. I sure hope you can join us. Just email sam@allaccessfootball.com. See you Sunday night.

An Outside-the-Box (and Country) GM Candidate

Chris McLaurin founded the American Football League of China (now known as the China National Football League) and Elevate Sports Consulting in Hong Kong. A former Michigan Wolverines tight end, McLaurin doesn’t make any of the usual “Top Ten GM Candidates” lists, but he’s young and energetic, and even better, has executive experience.

We checked in with him this month to get to know him a little better and, perhaps, allow decision-makers at any of the five teams with GM vacancies to become little more familiar with him, as well.

How did you come to start an overseas football venture? What were your biggest challenges along the way?

At 25, I moved to Chongqing, China, to work at a Chinese investment firm. Soon after finishing an internship at the White House, I decided to move overseas to work in the private sector to advance my business career. It was my first time in Asia and there was a lot I wanted to accomplish both at the company and in the community. However, there were few tools to do so without first gaining a firm grasp of the Chinese language and culture.     

Football became the language and common interest I used to connect with people in a city of over 30 million. A co-worker introduced me to a group of Chongqing athletes who were forming a local team (later known as the Chongqing Dockers). Realizing there were a few other grassroots teams in China at the time, I was invited to help train and coach many of them. My volunteer work with Chongqing, combined with my professional work as an analyst, led me to understand the market size and economic potential of football in China.  After a year of training and developing the team, I began organizing the first national league called the American Football League of China (AFLC). Due to my football experience, leadership and Chinese language skills, I was asked to serve as the league’s first commissioner. There were plenty of roadblocks in the skill development of players, language translation of common football terms, and gaining buy-in for football as a viable sports product in China. Challenges in government relations, intellectual property rights, and commercial laws unique to China also had to be overcome.

Football is still new to the Asian market. Do you see the NFL becoming truly integrated there? If so, how do you see it happening, and how long would that take?

The future is bright for football globally, but it will require further investment in order for it to truly develop its own global brand identity and make it more culturally relevant. Football, in most parts of the world, is still known as “American” football, and it’s important that the NFL help foster youth and cultural buy-in to the sport. 

Already, you can see examples of the NFL trying to do this in its NFL Academy in London and the NFL pathway program the league began developing in recent years. I think further collaboration between the NFL, grassroots sports communities and local institutions (academic, government, NGOs) is critical to global success. It’s going to take time, but we could see huge inroads in the next 10 years.

What football person – coach, administrator, teammate — has had the biggest impact on your life?

I’ve had the great fortune of being mentored and coached by truly remarkable human beings at all levels, but especially at the University of Michigan. Coaches such as Lloyd Carr, Jim Hermann and Mike Debord, as well as teammates like Jason Avant, Jake Long and Mike Hart to name a few, have molded me on the field, but they’ve also inspired me to be the person I am and hope to be in the business world. Nevertheless, more than any one person, it’s been the community of teammates, coaches and administrators of football that made an incredible impact on my life. 

You played at Michigan. How has your career with the Wolverines impacted what you do today?

The University of Michigan (Go Blue!) fueled both my intellectual and athletic pursuits in ways that few universities could. Unfortunately, I sustained career-ending shoulder injuries relatively early on in my athletic career at Michigan, but fortunately I still had supportive coaches and a community of professors and mentors who encouraged me to purse an honors degree, research consortiums and participate in fellowship opportunities that propelled me to work internationally in a number of different roles in the public and private sectors. In China, my experience and passion for football became a bridge for distinct cultures and created value that impacted diverse communities.

You’ve walked a non-traditional path. What do you think you’d bring to an NFL team?

I bring a core competency of football operations experience, team development skills, and agile leadership capacity to any NFL team. As a former athlete, I can quickly build trust with players and football personnel while adapting quickly to an organization’s vision for success. My understanding of recruiting, scouting talent, and building successful teams are beneficial in the NFL, but also on every level of the game.

My experience founding a start-up football league and navigating unique challenges in a developing country give me a competitive edge in making an immediate impact on an established NFL team. 

A Few Thoughts on Current GM Searches

So far, we’ve seen news regarding the Texans, Falcons and Lions as they take their first steps to fill GM vacancies. To date, we’ve heard:

  • The Lions will interview ESPN’s Louis Riddick and former Texans GM Rick Smith; Saints VP/Assistant GM for Player Personnel Terry Fontenot is also a candidate, as is former Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff. The team has also eschewed hiring a search firm, instead establishing a blue-ribbon panel (Barry Sanders, anyone? Chris Spielman?) to assist in its search.
  • The Falcons have also interviewed Fontenot, and a report on the team’s website lists former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie (now with the Dolphins) and Bears Assistant Director of Player Personnel Champ Kelly as candidates, though they haven’t been interviewed yet. Both make a lot of sense, McKenzie off his record in Oakland and Kelly as a fresh new candidate who narrowly missed out on the Jets GM job last year.
  • The Texans, who are using Korn Ferry to head their search (along with their own blue-ribbon panel), have interviewed Riddick, as well as former Chiefs GM John Dorsey, according to reports. 
  • So far, there hasn’t been a lot of coverage of the Jags’ GM search. That may be an indication that owner Shahid Khan will let the head coach determine who the GM is.

A few thoughts.

  • When I talk to my friends in the business who are scouts, it drives them crazy when people in broadcast booths get interviews before people working in the league. Riddick has an extensive executive background in the league, so I detect less rancor toward him. Others, however, are very controversial.
  • The modern model — as we’ve seen in San Francisco, Kansas City, Las Vegas and New York — dictates that the head coach determines who the GM is, not the other way around. It’s possible that the Falcons, Lions and/or Texans will go back to a more traditional model, but it seems unlikely, due to today’s coaching salaries. If that’s true, these interviews are just window dressing anyway.
  • Fontenot, Riddick and Smith are all on the controversial pipeline memo released by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent two weeks ago. Obviously, the memo got the attention of search firms and owners. 
  • It’s not a popular position to hold, but Dorsey deserves another shot. He may be a little brusk, but he built the Chiefs and the Browns, two of the hotter teams in the AFC with the playoffs around the corner. Don’t like Dorsey? Hire his right-hand man, Seahawks executive Alonzo Highsmith, who truly deserves a shot. He’s paid his dues, he’s passionate about football, and he’s got an incredibly good eye for players and talent.
  • One more thing. The modern scouting department model requires less of college and area scouts; more and more these days, going on the road is more about gathering information than developing an opinion on players. That means, more than ever, it’s important to have an evaluator at the top of the pyramid. Teams that consider GMs without significant college experience are making a mistake, in my opinion.

As always, we’ll talk about the game behind the game — including the latest on scouts and executives as they get hired and fired — in our Friday Wrap. Register for it here.

Five More Minority GM Candidates To Know

To date, there are four GM openings in the league. If you’re interested in finding out who the hot candidates are to fill these positions, there are many places to find them. Dan Hatman of The Scouting Academy does a great job of providing a full inventory of top candidates here. However, there are more.

My goal today is to provide some outside the outside-the-box candidates, impressive people who were not only not on Dan’s list, but also not on the controversial list of top minority candidates distributed by the NFL to the media last week (which had several glaring omissions). These are five top minority candidates that were not listed by Dan or in the league document, presented alphabetically.

  • Mike Martin, College Scout, Panthers: Martin is just an area scout right now, but he was the assistant college director with the Texans before the team cleaned house after a GM change. Vanderbilt-educated, his most impressive trait is his even temperament. He’s got an extensive network in the Southeast, too, which doesn’t hurt. 
  • Sam Seale, National Scout, Packers: Seale’s problem is that he’s on the wrong side of 50, which makes him decidedly non-sexy. However, he’s got decades with one of the best organizations, and if I’m hiring someone to run my organization, he has to know talent. One scout I talk to always raves about Seale’s ability to evaluate.
  • Jamaal Stephenson, Director of College Scouting, Vikings: It boggles my mind that Stephenson doesn’t get more exposure. He’s got director-level experience, he’s Brown-educated, and has spent more than a decade with one of the NFL’s best GMs, Rick Spielman. 
  • Sam Summerville, Area Scout, Bears: Everyone loves to trash the Bears for the quarterback they drafted and the two they didn’t draft, but don’t pin that on Summerville. He’s got experience with multiple organizations, he’s got pro and college experience, and he’s always looking to challenge himself and grow. 
  • Richmond Williams, Director of Pro Personnel, Packers: Whenever I talk to scouts and evaluators about who impresses them, they always mention Williams. He’s another evaluator with extensive pro and college experience, and his steady climb through a top organization speaks for itself.

Keep in mind that I don’t write this to simply canvas the league and name everyone who wasn’t on either list. These are people of respect that have the pedigree and the body of work that warrants their consideration for a top post, and I’m confident they’ll get that eventually. Their problem right now is they aren’t “hot,” i.e., don’t come from the right organizations, or maybe they’re still a little underdeveloped and their time(s) have not come. But they will.

Make sure to check out this week’s Friday Wrap as we discuss several big questions on the lips of scouts, directors, agents and college personnel that must be answered soon. Register for it here.

A Look at the Four Scouting Staffs Without GMs

After dismissals in Jacksonville and Detroit last weekend, there are four GM chairs open as we head down the season’s stretch run. And while today’s GMs are more likely to be beholden to the head coach than in previous eras, they’ll still have plenty of weight when it comes to building out the scouting staff. 

Today, I took a look at each of the teams who’ll hire GMs this offseason and tried to answer the question, what, if any, changes will be made to the team’s staff? Obviously, a new GM will bring in his confidantes, but will each team see a house-cleaning, Bills-style? Here’s a look at what I see (I’ve included ITL’s most recent Know Your Scouts breakdown of each team; sorry, each one is a pay link, but you can subscribe here).

Detroit: When we broke down each NFL scouting department by years of experience in August, the Lions came out on top with an aggregate of 268 years in the business. What’s more, the team has 18 scouts who’ve been with the team since at least 2016. Many teams don’t even have 18 scouts. In addition, the team is a little top-heavy with a V.P. of Player Personnel, a Director of Player Personnel and a Senior Personnel Executive. That’s a lot of salary to carry given the results. What does it all mean?: Whoever comes in as the next GM will likely heavily retool things. 

Atlanta: With two ex-GMs as national scouts, the Falcons are another team that has made a big commitment to its scouting staff financially. On the other hand, the team has done a good job of integrating its staff with younger blood with three area scouts having less than three years in the league (this also balances the ledger a bit financially). As much as almost any other team, the staff is well-versed in “the Falcon way;” of 16 scouts and evaluators on staff below the GM level, nine have never scouted for any other teams. What does it all mean?: Whoever comes in will probably have to adapt, at least in the short term, rather than turning over the whole staff.

Jacksonville: Depending on how successful a team has been, stability could be good or bad. Jags owner Shahid Khan is known as one of the most patient owners in the league, and it shows up on the staff with 11 of 13 staff members having been there five years or more. They don’t get much credit for it, but the staff in place built a team that just three years ago went to the AFC Championship Game with former draftees including Ramsey, Ngakoue and Jack (while the pro side fortified things with Bouye, Campbell and Posluszny). What does it all mean?: This staff probably needs tweaking rather than overhauling.

Houston: We won’t waste space describing the draft capital Bill O’Brien spent desperately trying to get to a Super Bowl the last few years except to say that the team doesn’t have a lot of picks in 2021. But that’s OK, because the team in place (fashioned by former GM Brian Gaine) is a good one. It’s not too heavy at the top and has several highly regarded future GMs already on staff, with a good mix of old and new. It also contains scouts from diverse backgrounds; it’s heavily flavored with evaluators from playoff-bound teams this year (Steelers, Cardinals, Bucs, Seahawks, Colts, Saints). What does it all mean?: It would be a surprise to see wholesale changes.

We’ll discuss all of this in greater depth in today’s Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. EDT. I hope you can join us

Ask the Scout: Five ’21 Sleepers Courtesy of Blake Beddingfield

These days, it’s not hard to find a mock draft from your favorite writer, and more and more, we’re seeing two- and three-round mocks, even in November and December. What’s less common is a look at the players at the fringes of the draft who might wind up earlier in Day 3, or who may get snubbed in all seven rounds but wind up as a solid pro.

My friend, former Titans college scouting director Blake Beddingfield, did just that this week when he presented 50 sleepers in the ’21 draft class in a 90-minute Zoom session. Participants were treated to a quick summation of each player listed, as well as stories, comps and insights on the ’21 draft class and how the game is changing. It was a blast, and I got lots of positive feedback from members of the audience.

Here’s a look at five of the 50 players and why he likes them.

  • Jaelon Darden, WO, North Texas: Undersized receiver with very good speed and agility. Slot-type on the next level with ability to return punts. Solid run vision. Good stop-and-go quickness with ability to get up to top speed in a flash. Solid hands; catches the deep ball well, tracks and secures. Not a starting slot in the NFL, but can be a solid backup and return punts. I like his ability to stick and make a team with upside to produce in a number of ways.  Versatility is a plus. Fifth or sixth round.
  • Devin Hafford, DC, Tarleton State: Solid size and frame. Good on-the-ball skills. Productive. Has some hip and back stiffness when turning and running, but has the frame to move to safety and play in sub packages. Straight-line speed is solid but lateral movement is adequate. Has good instincts.  Only played one game in 2019 due to injury, but has upside. How he comes back from injury is key. PFA for now, but could be a late-rounder with production and good pro day. 
  • Deon Jackson, OH, Duke: Good size and frame. Powerful runner. Experienced with marginal production as a runner, but he has been an all-around back with production as a receiver. Has good hands. Also a kick returner. Has enough quickness and speed to be effective. Not a frontline-type player, but versatile with good size. 7th/PFA. 
  • Tyarise Stevenson, DT, Tulsa: Massive guy who’s a classic two-gap nose tackle. However, he’s a run-down player only, and not a pass rusher. Limited-range player who takes up space and blockers. Dirty work-type, not a playmaker. Not a fit for every team. PFA.
  • Joe Schulthorpe, OG, NC State: Best at right guard, but has also played center, and that versatility is valuable. Solid size for both positions, and has shown effectiveness at both spots. Has backup traits on the interior offensive line and a. role as a three-position backup in the NFL. Fifth or sixth round.

If you’d like to hear the rest of Blake’s 50 sleepers as well as a breakdown of each of them, plus a list with notes on each of them, click here. You’ll be charged $35 and we’ll  ship out the link and the list immediately. For what it’s worth, several active NFL scouts have already purchased it.

We’ll talk more about Blake’s Zoom session this week in our Friday Wrap, which comes out every Friday at 7:30 p.m. EDT. If you haven’t already, register for it here.