Inside The NFL Draft, Part 1: Scout School

From the FanPosts. Great stuff. -Joel

I have been meaning to write this article for over two years now, and my excitement for the upcoming NFL Draft has driven me to finally put my thoughts into words. This will be part of a two-part "Inside the Draft" series where I will take you through the behind-the-scenes work that goes on leading up to the Draft. I will then follow with how scouting reports are utilized and transferred to the final draft board, which is used to make the ultimate decision of who to select.

The information I present to you here will be based on interviews and articles by current NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah. During his brief respite from the league, he operated a website and Twitter account called 'Moving the Sticks," where he shared a lot of information about the scouting process and what went into his final reports. Jeremiah worked as a scout under Phil Savage, who got his start as a scout under Bill Belichick in Cleveland. Thus, we may assume that Jeremiah's scouting style is similar to what Pioli expects of his scouts. Jeremiah has since been re-hired by Savage in Philadelphia and his site (and all of its great information) no longer exists. Though I cannot provide you a link to this goldmine, all the credit for this information is his.

Luckily for all you draftniks out there, I took notes and will go into detail on two positions that the Chiefs are likely to target this year. Follow me after the jump...

Offensive Line

With each scouting report, there are six position-specific skills that are required to be addressed:

  1. Run Blocking/Sustain
  2. Pass Pro/Anchor
  3. Pass Pro/Agility
  4. Hand Quickness/Usage
  5. Pulling/Adjust
  6. Blitzes Stunts

Run Blocking/Sustain: Does the player finish his blocks? Is he able to create movement at the POA? Does he latch and sustain? Does he time out? In scoutspeak, a guy that doesn't sustain is labeled a "one pop daddy". Does he duck his head? Is he a "gate opener" for the running back? Does he set the edge? Ideally, you want to see the prospect make all the blocks (scoop, trap, wall, short pull, long pull) as well as look at how he does at the second level. Is he a dancer or a road grater/mauler?
Pass Pro/Anchor: Can he bend his knees, sink his weight, and anchor against bull rushers? This is something that is vitally important for interior linemen, as they have to go up against defensive tackles whose primary goal is to push the pocket. Build becomes important here -- you want someone with a strong butt and thighs ("flat ass" is an actual scouting term).
Pass Pro/Agility: Here is where they look at how they kick out against speed rushers. How do they redirect against pass rushing moves? This section is of higher importance for offensive tackles than the interior linemen, since they are more likely to encounter a speed rush one-on-one. Athleticism and pad level are crucial here.
Hand Quickness/Usage: Does he have a strong initial punch and win the battle for hand placement? Is his punch quick and explosive or does he have to use a windup? The longer the player's arms, the better.
Pulling/Adjust: This section is largely scheme-dependent. Girth and strength are important for inside pulls and speed and athleticism are important for outside pulls, but teams utilize these blocks with varying frequency.
Blitzes/Stunts: Here is where you look at awareness and whether the lineman can recognize and pick up blitzes and stunts. Football intelligence (FBI) is something that Pioli places high value on and is important here.

Running Back

At running back, there are seven position-specific skills that are required to be addressed in scouting reports:

  1. Vision/Instincts
  2. Inside Run/Power
  3. Homerun Ability
  4. Elusiveness
  5. Ball Security
  6. Blocking/Blitz Pickup
  7. Hands

Vision/Instincts: Does the player see things develop? Does he set up blocks and find holes that aren't obviously there? I know this is something that Maurice Carthon values highly. Anybody can run through a hole, but can he make something out of nothing?
Inside Run/Power: This is where you look at how a player performs on inside runs and whether he can get low and push for extra yards. This isn't all about strength, but also pad level. Guys who run high get docked here.
Homerun Ability: If a player hits a hole, does he have the speed to break it? Guys like this are valuable in multi-back systems where you might give carries to a guy that might not be able to handle a full load, but has the potential to take it to the house each time he gets it.
Elusiveness: How does a player do with one-on-one situations? Can he make a guy miss in space? Here you look at lateral quickness and agility.
Ball Security: This is pretty self-explanatory. Does he hold the ball high and tight? Fumbles issues in college often translate to the pro level, but this might be a risk one is willing to take for "homerun"-type players.
Blocking/Blitz Pickup: Does the player understand protections? Does he have a good punch? This is very important in today's game and has to do with awareness and FBI more so than size/strength.

Hands: Can be pluck high balls and low balls (i.e. catching radius)? How does he run routes? Does he let it come into his body or does he reach to catch it? Jeremiah notes that Peyton Hillis has the best hands out of any player in the league.

The Essentials
Besides the position-specific requirements for each scouting report, there are also essentials that are included in each report, regardless of position. These include:

  1. Athletic Ability
  2. Strength/Explosion
  3. Speed
  4. Competitiveness/Personality
  5. Body Description

NFL Comparison

You see this thrown out a lot by draftniks. Each player is unique, but you might notice tendencies in skillset or playing style that draw comparisons to successful former or current players. Many people have called David DeCastro the next Steve Hutchinson, but is it a good comparison? If a scout thinks he sees a successful NFL comparison, the next step is to compare "apples to apples." Bring up tape of each player and compare them side by side at various levels of their college career. If you think Michael Brockers is the next Ty Warren, bring up their tape and see how they match up in their sophomore year and how they match up in their junior year. Are they following a similar progression and does the comparison still hold? While this is obviously not a foolproof strategy, it can give the scout a boost in confidence if he already has the player at a high grade.

'The Right 53'

So now that we have gone over the essentials of a scouting report for offensive linemen and running backs, the next step is assessing how they will fit as a Chief. I should note that prerequisite reading should be Michael Holley's 'War Room.' If you have not read it, here is a nice collection of snippets from a previous FanPost. Noted in the book are the six questions every scout must answer regarding each player and how they project into the Chiefs system:

  1. What will this player's role be as a Chief?
  2. Will the role change from year one to year two?
  3. How many downs can he be expected to play?
  4. What is his value on special teams?
  5. Does he have positional versatility?

There are only 53 spots on an NFL active roster and if you draft a player, you want him to have a defined role with the team and fill a "need." Pioli's term "The Right 53" may draw an eyeroll from HIV2Elway, but it is important. Outlining player roles and projectability during the scouting process is crucial and sets benchmarks for player evaluation down the line. I challenge you to answer the questions above with guys we have drafted in the past and it should help you better understand why we selected them. A guy like Rodney Hudson is a great example of changing roles from year one to year two, as well as versatility.

Bust Potential - The "STI" System

So now we have gone through all this work to "define" a player and project their hypothetical role on the team. But if you are taking a guy early, the last thing you want is a "bust." This system was developed by Phil Savage and it looked at three characteristics that were most predictive of whether a player hit or busted. This is far from foolproof, but this is why the draft is more of an art than a science at this point. According to this system, if a player meets all three of the STI benchmarks, they have a lower probability of busting than a player who doesn't.

S = Speed: Timed speed is important, but football speed is what you look at here. Ideally, you would like the two to correlate, but that doesn't always happen. A guy that Pioli has often mentioned that fits this description is Kendrick Lewis, who despite good production against top-level competition in the SEC, fell to the 5th round because of his timed speed. Pioli noted his timed speed was much slower than how he looked on film. The rest is history.

T = Toughness: This one isn't as easy to measure, but it is obvious from watching tape. Guys that are always seeking out contact and are just tough, hard-nosed players fit the bill

I = Instincts: How does the player react to playaction? How does he handle blocks? How often does he sniff out plays? This one is the hardest to evaluate as college offenses and defenses are often very different from those used in the pros.

The STI is addressed with each player to assess bust potential, except at the QB position, which has much more complex benchmarks. I would also like to add another criterion to the bust potential system that I feel Savage left out:

M = Motor: This can be qualified in different ways based on position. Does the offensive lineman finish his blocks with authority? Does the defensive player sprint to the ball carrier regardless of where he is on the field or does he jog to the pile? Is the pass rusher relentless or does he take plays off? This can give you a good idea of player work ethic and stamina -- two very important determinants of success in the NFL.


Well, now that I have gone into a little more detail about how scouts (with Pioli connections) look at players, I challenge you to emulate them as you do your mocks this week. Each team's scouting department will have slightly different things they look for, but the system explained above is likely similar to what is implemented over at One Arrowhead Drive. Here is a link to an old Will Shields scouting report, and as you can see, many of the features outlined above were in place back in 1992 with Carl Peterson at the helm.

Each scout will prepare 300-400 scouting reports per year, and the Chiefs will evaluate thousands of players. The scouting report is the most important assessment of a player and Pioli values his scout's opinions highly when it comes time to make the decision of who to draft. But how does all that information get sorted and ultimately end up on the draft board that is in the War Room on Draft Day? That will be the subject of Part 2, along with player grading/typing, and the role of player workouts, interviews, the Combine, etc. Stay tuned!

**********EDIT: PART TWO IS UP HERE**************

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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