In just a few days, the city of Indianapolis will become a “Who’s Who” of NFL executives, coaches, scouts, agents, players, prospects and media. Hotels will be booked to capacity, dinner reservations will be hard to make, and the chatter of contract talks, trade rumors, and possible free agent movement will flood the airwaves and print alike. The NFL’s rumor mill will be in full swing, as Free Agency and Draft season seemingly collide during one long weekend.
Obviously, there’s more than just “informal” meetings with agents and rumor mongering going on during this time. 300 of the top NFL Draft prospects will be put through a slew of drills that are designed to test their speed, athleticism, explosion, and positional ability. The test results will be dissected, examined, and reported at nauseum throughout the next several weeks, with players’ stock “rising” or “falling” as a result of their individual performance. But should it? Should a player’s Draft stock be significantly impacted by how they perform in Indianapolis?
If you take a few moments to review the comments of the NFL Draft community on Twitter, you’ll find varying opinions on the subject. Some experts dismiss the value of the Combine and rely strictly on game film to evaluate the player. Others will use the information obtained in Indy to supplement their evaluation; it impacts the final grade. The following is FRG’s take on evaluating a player and the overall impact the Scouting Combine has on our assessment:
PHASE 1: FILM, FILM & MORE FILM (90%)
The first phase of FRG’s scouting process is film review. There are many resources available to obtain and watch game film, ranging from coach’s copy provided by long-time friends and contacts, to web-based broadcast replays of virtually every game you could hope to access. In addition, sites like www.DraftBreakdown.com are wonderful resources to watch player-specific cuts for many of the Draft-eligible prospects.
Roughly 90% of FRG’s final grade is based off of film analysis. I study the film until I know the player. If I don’t feel like I know the player, I get my hands on more film until the opinion is formed. I will never write an evaluation of a player if I don’t feel I’ve seen enough film to understand his strengths, weaknesses, and overall projection moving forward.
PHASE 2: BACKGROUND RESEARCH/INFORMATION (10%)
The second phase of FRG’s scouting process is research. I try to do as much research on the player as I possibly can, including (but not limited to): character issues, injury concerns, production (or lack thereof and why) . I choose to do this as step two because I don’t want my opinion influenced until AFTER I’ve watched the prospect play. If a player is a dynamic athlete and showcases first round talent, I want to note that after phase 1. Remember, that’s 90% of the grade. But if phase 2 research reveals some serious character red flags that simply cannot be ignored, it will impact the player’s overall grade. Things like multiple arrests, team suspensions, drug-related issues/allegations, or other major potential distractions are factored in. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for me to pull a player from round 1 and drop him down to day 3 as a result of off-field issues.
A note on stats and production: I expect a top prospect to be a productive college player, but it’s not a requirement. Production can be fool’s gold. It’s much more important to see how a player produced rather than the total numbers at the end of the season (or career). If a player fails to produce, it’s not an automatic red flag for me. I use phase 2 to find out why. If he displayed good technique, high-level athleticism, and overall solid IQ on film, I will do my due dilligence to determine if he was played out of position. In addition, the film will often provide those answers for you. If, for example, a player projects as an elite pass rusher but failed to register many sacks during a season or career, you need to dig deep in your film analysis. Was he constantly pressuring the QB into the arms of another defender? To me, that’s just as good as a sack.
The All Star game circuit, NFL Scouting Combine, and campus pro days are treated as extra credit by FRG. Much like we all experienced in the days of high school, college, etc., extra credit could provide a student in danger of failing with a chance to receive a passing grade. Additionally, extra credit was a way for the teacher to potentially separate the top of the class: Two students with a 100 mark for the year. Student A has 4 extra credit points whereas Student B has 3, Student A is the “top of the class”. For FRG, it’s the same kind of analysis.
If after film review, I have a player on the verge of being a “reject”, a scintilating Combine could help him achieve a draftable grade. The same holds true at the top of the Draft. If there are two players with equal grades, both jockeying for position in the first round, I may very well give an “extra credit point” to the player that performs better in Indy or at his pro day. Remember: This is when (and only when) their film review results in a virtual ‘tie’. But for those players falling in-between, it’s unlikely that their performance at the Combine or pro day will have an impact on their overall grade; A fourth round guy on film is more than likely to remain a fourth round guy regardless of their testing numbers.
So at the end of the day, and for all the chatter/hype/hoopla that will surround the 40 times, bench press reps, and sky-high vertical jumps, remember: It’s all just extra credit.