Senior Bowl week is one of the best times of the year. The NFL focus shifts from pro players to pro prospects. The NFL Network shuts up about Tim Tebow for a few days and talks more about the hotshots of tomorrow.
It is great to see the practice sessions from down in Mobile. Nothing beats going there in person (that’s the only way to eat at Dreamland Barbecue after all), but if you can’t make it, then watching the practices on TV is still a lot of fun. For a week, we all get to be NFL scouts.
About this time each year I get questions from people about how to get into scouting. The first key is to play as much football as you can. I only played for one year in high school. Most scouts were very good in high school and then played in college, whether at a big school, I-AA, or even D2/D3. The more you play, the better your football knowledge will be.
Majoring in sports administration or sport management can help. You will learn about sports from a professional perspective and that is something teams value. Teams don’t want fans. They want employees who can work in the world of professional sports.
Obviously internships can be invaluable. Teams love hiring young guys so anyone in college should talk to a local team about being an intern during the season or at Training Camp.
If you don’t have the right football background or the right connections, getting hired by an NFL team is next to impossible. That doesn’t mean you should give up the idea, but do be realistic about your chances.
You can also try simply doing some player evaluations on your own. The thing I try to stress to people is that football isn’t rocket science. With some reading, some research, and lots of tape study, you can develop a good sense of the game and what to look for. I can study physics books all day long for a year, but in the end…that stuff is way above my head. I’m lost. Football is something that just about everybody can learn…if they put in the work.
How do you learn about what to look for in players?
I was lucky enough to get some training from an NFL scout. The best piece of advice he gave me was this…”Write what you see.” Simple as that.
A scout’s job is to gather information, write reports, and make evaluations. Watch a player and write down what you see. Be as specific as possible.
You are judging players on athletic ability and positional ability. The athletic stuff should be pretty obvious. Is he quick? Fast? Strong? Does he have great body control? Etc.
Judging positional ability does require football knowledge. You need to know what it looks like when a WR runs a good route. You need to understand what a form tackle is. You must be able to identify good pass protection from an O-lineman.
One thing to be very careful about is not to focus too much on results. If a WR catches a long TD because the CB fell down, that tells you very little of use. If a DE gets a sack because an OL made a poor block, that can be a false positive. You are trying to find prospects who can be good NFL players.
Wisconsin DE Tom Burke had 22 sacks as a Senior. DeMarcus Ware had 27.5 sacks in his career at Troy. Burke didn’t pan out in the NFL, but Ware is on pace to be a HOF player. Burke was in a better situation (nutrition, weight training, coaching, team talent, etc.). Ware had an explosive first step, but is a much better NFL player than he was a college player. Ware was a 1st round pick. Scouts could see his potential. Burke wasn’t. Scouts could see his limitations.
One of the great resources for me was the writing of Joel Buchsbaum, who did draft reports for Pro Football Weekly. You could try to go on ebay and find the draft preview books from 1990-2000 and buy one or two. Read and re-read his reports. You’ll pick up invaluable hints on what to look for and how to phrase your writing.
The best advice I can give anyone is to watch players over and over, take notes, and write reports. That is the essence of scouting. Obviously what NFL scouts do is far more complex. Some of those guys are truly great at what they do and it took them years to get to that level.
I did say earlier that anyone can learn about the game of football with enough research and work. That does not mean you’ll necessarily be good at evaluating players. There is a talent to doing that well and not everyone has it.