A Conversation with Angry Scouting Veteran (Pt. 5)

Today, we get a little more specific about the scouting industry by digging into the services that set the table for each draft the summer beforehand. We asked Angry Scouting Veteran (@AngryScout) his take on National Football Scouting and BLESTO, two services that are an integral (if mostly unknown) part of the business.

BLESTO and National are accepted parts of the scouting landscape. What are the strengths and weaknesses of using a scouting service? Do teams rely on them too much? Does the services’ reliance on mostly young scouts affect the validity of their work?

“BLESTO and National are not only accepted, but to me a VITAL part of the scouting process. To me, if a team isn’t using one, then they’re 1) cheap, 2) don’t understand the process, and/or 3) should be paying their scouts double, because they are doing two jobs. Using a scouting service is worth it, if for nothing else than to get a baseline on character and medical information. If a team relies on their combine info too much, it’s their own fault. If there are people in leadership roles that know what they are doing, then they realize that using a combine provides the baseline/initial look in the process, and that the information is useful, but should only be valued as one ingredient in the recipe. National has a lot more teams, so they are able to provide more in-depth coverage, given that their scouts have much smaller areas than their BLESTO counterparts. BLESTO is more of a family business, National is more corporate, but at the end of the day it’s like Nike or Adidas. They’re doing the same thing. It’s all a matter of what environment you prefer or what you are using the service for the most.

“A combine scout is young and entry-level; that’s fine, again, as long as the people running the teams who are in the services understand the purpose of being in a combine. A combine scout’s jobs, in order, are to surface prospects, provide as much information about those prospects as possible, and to grow as talent evaluators. If you are a GM and you’re concerned about what the combine scout’s grades are — other than those being the starting point for how many exposures you need at each school — then you don’t have a clue what you are doing, and you shouldn’t be a GM.

“Our scouting process really begins in May at a combine spring meeting. That’s where each combine scout presents all of the work that he’s done in the spring while the rest of us are getting ready for the draft. It’s unreasonable to ask area scouts to do this advance work, and it’s also disrespectful to remove them from the draft process to do so. The draft is a scout’s game day, and not allowing us to finish that entire process and be involved in the “big game” is like asking an Olympic athlete to train all year long but then not letting them in the stadium for the opening ceremonies or permitting them to compete. If you want to be stubborn (and cheap) and not use a combine, fine, then pay your scouts for two jobs, because that’s what they are doing.”

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A Conversation with Angry Scouting Veteran (Pt. 4)

Very often, scouts on the road are very different from the men they report to. For our fourth question, we asked Angry Scouting Veteran (@angryscout) if that’s something that rankles the people below the GM. It comes as no surprise that he continued to bring the heat on this and other topics related to the GM role.

Let’s say you could build the perfect GM candidate. What qualifications would he have? Can a legitimate GM candidate come from the cap side?

“I’ll work in reverse here. A successful GM can only come from the cap or business side if 1) he is very self-aware and willing to admit that he is a business guy, not a football guy; and 2) he hires very good football people, lets them do their jobs, and relies on what they say to make his decisions. Hell, 95% of the owners in the NFL don’t know jack squat about football (and that might be a generous estimate), and most of them fail because their giant egos won’t allow them to let their football people do their jobs. People can throw the dumb jock stereotypes out there all they want, but not everybody knows football, and just because you watch it, are around it, or even own a team, it doesn’t qualify you to make FOOTBLL decisions.

“As far as building a perfect GM candidate, my guy has to be a former road scout. If he isn’t, your scouting department and your team basically don’t have much of a chance. You build successful teams through the draft, and if you don’t have a guy who has been in the grass-roots role of this process, I’m sorry, but to me it’s both insulting and hopeless to think that guy can lead a team to victory. Beyond that, how about somebody who actually has LEADERSHIP skills and qualities? It is beyond bizarre to me how many people in the NFL (or in life outside the league for that matter) are in positions of leadership who have ZERO leadership skills and abilities. To be a leader, you have to realize that your primary role is to serve those under your leadership and always do what is right for all of them and the organization’s success as whole. It doesn’t mean that you have to be the smartest guy in the room at all times, and that everyone should kiss your (butt) or bow down to you; that’s not remotely what leadership is, but it’s how a lot of people in the NFL try and personify it. As far as other elements of this candidate: skilled with the media is a benefit for sure, because God knows that dealing with them can be a complete nightmare (and that many owners somehow believe that if it’s in the media, it must be true!). I’d like a guy who has been a coach, too, or at least around coaching enough to understand it. To me, you leave the business savvy up to business guys in the organization. Give me a guy who has worked his way up from a road scout position, has great leadership ability, inspires (and gives) loyalty, and is a legit FOOTBALL GUY who hires good people and lets them do the jobs he hired them to do, and everything else falls into place.

“That’s another thing the scouting community as a whole needs to have more of a voice and presence in, (and that’s with) the candidates that become GMs. Right now, you have owners who know nothing about scouting or the guys who work in it, who then turn to consultants, ex-personnel guys who usually pimp their former interns, young scouts, or anyone who has kissed their (butt). There are many highly qualified and deserving men who half the football world isn’t even made aware of because they aren’t media darlings, members of the league hype machine’s chosen ones, or kissing someone’s (butt) every day. Right now, there are area scouts who would make 10 times better GMs than quite a few guys with that fancy name plate on their desk. Believe it.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Veteran (Pt. 3)

Maybe you’re frustrated that Angry Scouting Veteran (@AngryScout) is hiding behind Twitter and should come out in the open to deliver such hot takes as the ones he offers up today. But I’ve spoken to more than one scout who feels the same way he does about the Patriots, but of course, were nowhere close to willing to being quoted. Is it sour grapes? Maybe, but the bottom line is that this is what a lot of scouts are thinking. That’s another reason why I’m glad we’ve given Angry Scouting Veteran this platform. I hope you are, too.

Here’s today’s question and answer.

The trend is to hire GMs from established ‘brands’ in the game (Patriots, Packers, Seahawks, etc.). Do you think these teams do a better job at evaluation?

“First and foremost, the Patriots system of scouting and their success at it is one of the most overrated things in the NFL. Any knowledgeable scout that isn’t a (sycophant) will tell you the same thing. The Patriots have some terrible draft picks/drafts as a whole just like everybody else. They got lucky drafting the best QB to ever play the game in the sixth round; there may have been one scout that thought that Tom Brady was as great as he’s turned out to be, and even that is doubtful, but that scout wouldn’t be given the proper credit even if it was true. When you draft a QB in the sixth round, you’re thinking he’s going to compete to be a backup, nothing more, which makes (Patriots owner) Robert Kraft a giant liar too, saying that “he knew” that Brady was destined for greatness when they drafted him and all of that crap. I’m not a fan of (Patriots head coach/GM) Bill Belichick for reasons I won’t go into here, but he’s obviously proven himself to be a very special and successful coach. Take those two guys away, and then show me how elite and superior the Patriot scouting system is. It has failed several places, and the only guys who have shown real signs of life were also educated in other places and aren’t trying to rely exclusively on a system that requires Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to succeed.

“There are teams whom I strongly respect the job that they do at evaluation, and yes, the Packers and Seahawks are two of them. Any time a team wins, it’s 100% natural for other teams to want to emulate what they do. There are certain teams year in and year out that draft consistently better than others, and that CAN lead to wins on the field. I say CAN because there are so many more things that have to fall into place for teams to be successful, but drafting well is a huge start. I’ve been with teams that drafted very good players and the coaching staffs were so bad that those players’ abilities were never maximized on the field. For organizational success, the scouting and coaching sides of things need to be on the same page, which is very difficult to do. It’s not just because of the egos involved, but coaches tend to think short-term and scouts think longer-term. I’ll fully admit that coaches aren’t given enough time to succeed, so that only makes their win-now mentality worse. I tweeted about it before, and I’ll say it again: Hall of Famers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf each won ONE Super Bowl as a GM with a one-of-a-kind, Hall of Fame, franchise QB. Either those GMs are overrated, or that should be a very clear-cut explanation of how hard it is to win championships in this league.  You can also have whatever system you want in place, but if you don’t have the right people to execute it, then it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you need good scouts who will stand up for what they believe in, and you need a GM who will LISTEN to those scouts. Otherwise you will not succeed.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Vet (Pt. 2)

For today’s section of our interview with Angry Scouting Vet (@angryscout), we discuss the state and value of young scouts across the industry. It’s something he’s been pretty vocal about, so I thought I’d get a sense of where he sees more youthful evaluators fitting into the business. What he gave us is, to me, must-read content for anyone aspiring to work for an NFL team.

You’ve spoken extensively about the value of experienced scouts vs. younger scouts. If you could build your own staff, how would you structure it regarding experience? Is there a place for younger scouts in the game?

“I started as a young scout when there weren’t a great number of them in the NFL. I have ZERO problem with having younger scouts on your staff. If I was building a staff, it would be a nice balance between veterans and youth, with the youth understanding that in the beginning of their careers that they DON’T KNOW SQUAT, and that they are expected to learn from the veterans, who in turn should be head over heels willing to teach and educate the youth to do things the right way. My only problem with younger scouts is that some of them don’t know that they don’t know, and use their mouths way more than their ears. That being said, if you subscribe to the philosophy that ‘there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher’ — I do…for the most part- — a lot of these younger guys haven’t been taught the right way, whether that’s referring to actual philosophies and methods as a part of the daily business of scouting, or just the reality that when you are first starting out in the business that you really don’t know anything. You can’t have all the answers; you haven’t seen enough or been able to make enough comparisons. It’s great (and necessary) to have an opinion, but when you’re still inexperienced, you should keep your mouth shut, your ears open, and only share that opinion when you’re asked for it. Then again, now teams are hiring GMs and personnel directors who aren’t qualified for their positions either, so it’s not just a scout problem.

“I love working with young scouts, as long as they show that they are willing to be realistic about their knowledge base and have a desire to learn from someone who has been there; are hard-working and willing to do things the right way; and have good character. I feel that this is a responsibility that veteran scouts have to the profession, to keep the scouting ‘circle of life” going in the right direction and teaching our up-and-coming scouts to do things the right way and then, hopefully, carry out the education process themselves someday when they are the veteran and there is a new batch of younger scouts. The problem with this whole process is that there aren’t as many veteran scouts that share my mindset on this issue, but it’s not entirely their fault. In order to properly educate young scouts, three things need to be present: the veteran scout must himself have a good and proper knowledge base (believe me, there are vets who barely know a stopwatch from a t-square if they weren’t taught or taught badly); the veteran scout must be capable of teaching (not everybody has that talent or is that patient); and most importantly, that veteran scout must be WILLING to teach. The problem with the last (and most important) element, being WILLING to teach, is for one, there are far too many insecure people in the NFL who don’t want to pass on knowledge to anyone else because they feel that they will somehow lessen themselves by helping others, or that the people they’re teaching will eventually replace them. Secondly, and this is the real issue I have with loading up on younger scouts on a staff, there are GMs who will get rid of veteran scouts simply because “they make too much money” and replace them with a 20-something that knows nothing so that they can pay them an obscenely low amount of money. This is insanely disrespectful to the profession; 1) there is no scouting salary cap, so that move, strictly for a financial basis, is totally unnecessary, and 2) it degrades those who have earned their stripes and mastered the art that is scouting.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Vet (Pt. 1)

Two recently created Twitter accounts, Angry Scouting Veteran and Angry Scout 2, have gotten a lot of attention in the scouting community and, to a lesser extent, in the media. I’ve become a fan of both accounts because of their straight talk and bracing opinions expressed. While some have questioned whether or not the accounts are actually manned by real NFL scouts, I believe they are. I think the authenticity and the views expressed are unmistakably legitimate.

Last week, I reached out to Angry Scouting Vet to ask if he’d answer a few questions. He agreed, so I sent him a few questions that I felt would really give him a chance to express his opinions in longer firm. He didn’t disappoint. All of his answers were insightful and some quite detailed. Rather than edit them down, I decided to run them in their entirety. I’ll be spooling them out in this space all week. What follows are the first two questions and answers.

Why did you decide to start a Twitter account? What do you hope to accomplish?

“Initially, to be honest, I just needed a forum to vent (laughs). Then, after that initial vice was satisfied, I thought to myself that this would be a very good way to both educate people both in and outside of the scouting business, as well as voice legitimate concerns to anyone who might be reading. I had a personal Twitter account a few years ago, and I didn’t generate near the amount of interest that Angry Scout has. My number of followers isn’t anything monumental at this point, but it grew instantly and keeps adding followers daily. I love the scouting profession, but there are a lot of things that should be fixed and/or improved about it. If this Twitter account informs and/or influences ANYONE in that regard, then to me it’s already a success. Obviously, I would like many of the wrongs I identify to actually be righted for real, not just by likes and support on a social media page, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and baby steps are better than none at all.”

You take some pretty strong stands and say things without a filter. Do you think the things you say are the things most scouting veterans would like to say?

“ABSOLUTELY! The NFL is a small league, and it’s filled with (sycophants), bad people attracted to it because of money and/or prestige, and people that can’t handle the truth. I’m a very blunt, direct, and exclusively honest person to begin with, so it’s really easy for me to say the things that I do. I firmly believe them and am passionate about our business. Some guys might rip me for being anonymous, but I am not independently wealthy enough to be blackballed from my chosen profession because a bunch of rich elitist (jerks) or delusionally uninformed people can’t handle the truth of what I’m saying, so that’s why I have to remain anonymous. However; if I were to round up every scout with 10-plus years of experience and beyond that’s not a sell-out or a (sycophant), I’d bet at minimum a few month’s pay that they would agree with and support no fewer than 98% of what I’m saying. There really should be a scout union, and because the owners would be terrified of such a thing and never let it happen, at the very least there should be some kind of scout council at league meetings. We have zero voice in this entire process, and that is beyond ridiculous and unacceptable.”

More tomorrow.

Examining NFL Teams’ Reliance on College Production

It’s been my theory that scouting has changed in the last 10 years, with more of a focus on what happens off the field and less on pure production. In other words, despite what scouts and executives love to say, the NFL Combine and pro days are more important than ever, and 40 times, media buzz and ‘it factor’ are a bigger part of draft day than ever.

This really came home to me a few weeks ago when I was having lunch with a scouting friend of mine. When I started discounting many of this year’s top picks as one-year wonders, he countered that the player I suggested as alternates were also  one-year wonders. That got me thinking: do teams really value the kind of production and staying power they used to value? It’s something I wanted to take a look at, but how do you measure such a thing?

I wanted to try, so I gave my intern, Griffin Rice, this project: take the top 50 picks from 2017 and put them alongside the top 50 from 10 years ago (2008), and give me a line about the season before their last season in college (for the ’17 draft, 2015; for the ’08 draft, 2006). In other words, I wanted to see what kind of resume they’d accumulated before catching fire, becoming a ‘star’ in the eyes of the media, and possibly riding the hype train to first-round status. I had him put it all in a spreadsheet, and this is what came out of it (sorry, it’s a pay link). My goal — determine how many ‘one-year wonders’ made it to the first round this year, and compare it to the totals from 10 years ago.

My conclusion: to get drafted in the first round 10 years ago, it was pretty simple. You had played at least two straight seasons in good health, at the same position where you were drafted. You had started every game for two years, no questions asked. Also, you might have come from a small conference or a lesser school, but you were highly decorated there. Finally, in most cases, you had four seasons of college football under your belt.

These days, all bets are off. Here are a few thoughts:

  • More and more top picks might have arrived at school with a nice pedigree, but they just don’t have a lot of experience (and certainly far fewer games started) before having a big season that vaults them into the draft discussion (and often, into the draft).
  • Program means way more, too; Ohio State players just seem to be tinged with gold as teams seem to value Urban Meyer’s eye for talent more. The same could be said for Michigan and Jim Harbaugh.
  • Of course, there are more juniors to choose from, which tilts selection in the direction of less experience and fewer honors (and more projection on the part of scouts). Ten years ago, 29 seniors went in the first 50 picks versus only 18 last year.
  • The biggest revelation, however, is the number of players with less than 10 games started the year before their last college season. That’s evident in the grid we assembled. Again, you can find that at ITL.

Based on these criteria, I would argue that, due to health or inexperience, 14 players who went Top-50 this spring would never have been picked so high 10 years ago: Bears QB Mitch Trubisky (1/2); Bengals WO John Ross (1/9); Saints DC Marshon Lattimore (1/11); Indianapolis SS Malik Hooker (1/15); Broncos OT Garrett Bolles (1/20); Falcons DE Takkarist McKinley (1/26); Cowboys DE Taco Charlton (1/28); Browns TE David Njoku (1/29); Steelers OB T.J. Watt (1/30); Saints OT Ryan Ramczyk (1/32); Panthers WO Curtis Samuel (1/40); Colts DC Quincy Wilson (1/46); Ravens OB Tyus Bowser (1/47); and Bucs SS Justin Evans (1/50).

Granted, the nature of football has changed, and colleges have followed the NFL in using a much more aggressive rotation system (especially at running back and on the defensive line), and that affects things. What’s more, the players that would have stuck around four years in the past leave early these days. Still, the change of philosophy in favor of risk has been, to me, unmistakeable.

 

A Look at College ‘Scouting’ Positions

This week, ITL’s Danny Shimon compiled a list of the Directors of Player Personnel or Directors of Football Operations at all FBS schools. We’ve never compiled such a list before. We did this because, most often, these are the coaches that are working with scouts when they come through, and usually the point men for coordinating pro days. In other words, these are valuable positions for young men aiming to build a network of NFL contacts that they can parlay into a job in the league.

We did this as a service to the scouts and agents who are ITL clients, of course, but also to take a look at the people who fill these positions. How do they get there? Where did they come from? What are their credentials?

Here are a few observations.

  • We counted only eight former NFL scouts holding these jobs. They are Bobby Merritt (Houston), James Kirkland (Illinois), Marcus Hendrickson (Minnesota), Matt Lindsey (South Carolina), Dave Boller (Louisville), Bob Welton (Tennessee), Dennis Polian (Texas A&M) and Bill Rees (Wake Forest). Paul Skansi also held a voluntary personnel role with the University of Washington this season, but he was recently hired by the Redskins.
  • This number is relatively, low which is surprising because as teams build out their staffs with more personnel and recruiting specialists, there’s a perception that dozens of NFL professionals have filled those roles as they wait to get back into the league. Not so.
  • Though we don’t have hard numbers, these jobs are held mostly by people under 40. There are no ex-head coaches holding these positions and no ex-NFL executives. It’s mostly area scouts in these roles.
  • Most of these positions require plenty of non-personnel duties like helping with administration, recruiting, and even fundraising. So former scouts looking to grab these jobs need to know it’s not as simple as serving as a team’s advance scout and watching film on next Saturday’s opponent, or catching up with old friends as they cycle through the team offices.
  • Unlike a lot of positions in college and pro football, these seem to be legitimate jobs that require total effort. One thing you don’t see much of in this list is last names that are common with the head coach or some other prominent football name. People in these positions have to have game. They gotta be locked in and hard-working.
  • Reading the bios, many have traveled with the head coach to multiple stops, indicating that they’ve proven themselves. Again, these aren’t blow-off jobs. They may not have the glamor of other positions, but people who don’t perform aren’t kept around.
  • These positions do seem to be populated by those who worked their way up. In other words, they worked in the football office as an undergrad, then took some low-paying job/volunteer position before landing in personnel.

We get dozens of questions about how to land NFL jobs. Well, before you land that NFL scouting assistant position, you might have to land a college job. Hopefully, you can find something in the above points that gives you a little guidance.

Taking A Look At Four More Renovated Front Offices

Last week, we took a look at five teams and their front office moves, making a few observations about how they’ve addressed their vacancies. This week, we look at four more teams after another busy week in the scouting world.

I should start by saying that most teams that made changes this late — it’s pretty unusual to be making front office moves after BLESTO and National have met — stayed in-house and elevated scouting assistants into key roles.

Eagles: In a series of moves that were formally announced today (but most of which we’ve already put out there via our Twitter), V.P. of Player Personnel Joe Douglas simultaneously put his own stamp on the Eagles’ front office (bringing in confidantes and former co-workers in T.J. McCreight and Ian Cunningham) and also rewarding some talented people (former Colts scout Brandon Brown and Philadelphia’s own Trey Brown, who aren’t related, incidentally). This is a very good-looking front office, at least on paper, in my estimation.

Rams: Los Angeles made a tremendous amount of moves this offseason, on both the pro side and college side, but it looks like the team is going to a more centralized evaluation philosophy. The team is moving up two scouting assistants into area scout roles, which isn’t especially unusual except that the team has seen longtime national scout Lawrence McCutcheon retire and four seasoned road scouts exit the building in the last year. Usually when a team sends a lot of first-timers out on the road, they’re looking for information-gathering rather than opinion. That strategy has become a lot more popular the last few years given the Patriots’ use of that approach.

Redskins: The ‘Skins moved a lot of people around and handed out new titles, but opted not to hire a new GM to replace Scot McCloughan. The team elevated a scouting assistant to fill one of its area scout vacancies, and also brought in former Chargers scout Paul Skansi. It looks like a good mix of youth and experience to round out their staff. Though the team lacks a GM, it looks like team president Bruce Allen carries the iron in the front office right now.

Vikings: Minnesota didn’t make a lot of moves. In fact, they made one — they brought in former Rams area scout Sean Gustus to replace Terrance Gray, who left for Buffalo. Sean did a little work for ITL over draft weekend, and I’m really happy his time ‘off’ was short. At any rate, the Vikings haven’t had to make a lot of major moves over the last few years, and usually, that’s a good thing. Stability tends to be a good thing for scouting departments.

Believe it or not, there are still a few pieces still yet to fall into place. We’ll be back with more observations and insights as the last moves take place across the league.

A Look at Five Teams That Made Major Front Office Moves

It’s mid-June, which means — usually — that teams have pretty much set the course for their scouting departments for the next draft. We’ve been waiting on a few teams (Eagles, Rams, Redskins, Jets mainly) to make official pronouncements and finalize things, but we’ll move forward without them for now.

What follows is our take on the changes several teams have made in the past month-plus, what and who we like, and where we see things going for each of them.

  • 49ers: It’s hard to know what to make of the Niners right now, with new GM John Lynch a total wildcard. What they have going for them is that they have ex-Lions GM Martin Mayhew around to help steer him; new V.P. of Player Personnel Adam Peters in from the Broncos, who’ve done a pretty good job in recent years; and most of the core staff of scouts that has done a mighty fine (and underrated) job of late.
  • Bills: I like the amount of talent Buffalo accumulated for its front office, with several annual candidates for GM jobs across the league. But that’s also the problem: with that many up-and-comers, the scouting department might be a little top-heavy.
  • Browns: Speaking of top-heavy, the Browns, despite presumably heading down an analytics-laden path, have eight (8!) people with either ‘director’ or ‘Vice President’ in their title, and that doesn’t even include the team’s de facto GM, Sashi Brown (Executive V.P., Football Operations) and Paul DePodesta (Chief Strategy Officer). There are also 13 scouts (thought at least two listed are no longer with the team) and eight ‘scouting assistants’ (and by the way, the Browns are known to be interviewing others). Despite the multiple layers of management and evaluators, I’ve spoken to several scouts who say they’re really impressed by the Browns’ draft this year.
  • Colts: I’d have to say Indianapolis has been the runaway winner this offseason. New GM Chris Ballard has a great resume and great energy, and I think he’s made some great moves so far. Not only do the Colts have some great new people in the front office, but they also have a clear chain of command, and maybe the move I like most is their hire of Player Personnel Strategist Brian Decker. More and more, it seems to me that diagnosing how a player handles when he’s drafted, and how he reacts to making big money, is mega-critical to the process.
  • Titans: I have to admit that the changes Tennessee made caught me off guard. After a few bumpy years, the team seems to have built a talented core and is on the way up. With that said, the area scouts the team has added (Mike Boni and Tom Roth) have been universally applauded by all the scouts I’ve spoken to. 

That’s all for now. Hopefully in a week a few more loose ends will be tied up and we can look at five more teams’ moves.

Ask The Scouts: Are Draft Sleepers A Thing Of The Past?

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.