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THE SCOUT: On the road in search of the NFL’s’s next star

November 22, 2018

Steam billows as he works the old hotel iron over the suitcase-created wrinkles in his familiar team-branded golf shirt. SportsCenter blares in the background. The clock reads 5:00 A.M. 

It’s the beginning of another long day for the veteran NFL scout. His shirt now pressed, he’ll head down to the hotel exercise room for his obligatory 45 minutes of cardio and pushups. 

The hotel is like so many others he’s stayed in over his two-decade plus career: full of cookie-cutter basic rooms with so little character that you’d never know if you were in Tuscaloosa, Stillwater or Corvallis unless you took a good look out the window. 

 

In whatever college town he finds himself today, he may drive by more Waffle Houses than Dunkin Donuts, more firework stands than five star restaurants. But, regardless, the day will follow the same familiar pattern of so many during the college football season: iron one of his many team-issued golf shirts (a scout’s official motto, after all, is “If it’s free, it’s for me and if it has the team’s logos on it, then give me two!”), get in his exercise and then head to the university football facility to watch game film, study body types, dig for information and write reports, all before driving another 250 miles to do it all over again tomorrow in yet another godforsaken college town. 

 

The NFL is a sixteen billion dollar industry where winning is the only source of job security. Winning is impossible without talent and so every NFL team needs its scouts. It’s their job to find the next Tom Brady, Barry Sanders or Julien Edelman, in whatever corner of the country (or even the world) he may be, all so their team can win. 

 

In many ways, the scout represents the lifeblood of the NFL. His eighteen hour days exemplify the work ethic of so many team and league employees. His willingness to drive miles and miles to find that “hidden gem” is demonstrative of their shared passion and urgency to win football games. His loyalty to Marriott Hotels is only matched by that of the Buffalo Bills Mafia or the cheese heads lining Lambeau Field in a blizzard. 

 

And yet, while the NFL remains one of the most watched shows on television, the scout will spend most of his time toiling in anonymity (save for the few moments the camera may catch him timing a prospect at the NFL Combine). He’ll spend more time alone than a sentry, and almost as much time driving as a long-haul trucker. He’ll spend more nights in a Marriott hotel bed than his own (and will accordingly drive thirty miles out of the way to stay at a Marriott and accumulate points) and is usually an authority on restaurant deals from coast to coast. 

Who are these road warriors? These grinders who are more likely to achieve Marriott Platinum Premium status than receive a post-Super Bowl victory Gatorade shower? What does it really take to find the next Jerry Rice? To weed out the future Pro Bowlers from eventual also-rans?

 

This is the story of the scout. 

 

WHO IS A SCOUT? 

 

Back in the day, every scout walked with the distinctive limp of a retired NFL player, his hips, knees and fingers mangled by years of contact and barbaric medical science. It was a natural transition and a long, distinguished NFL career used to be something like scouting’s prerequisite course. 

 

Nowadays, there is no such “one size fits all” description. Sure, some are former NFL players, but some may have only played football in high school or college, some may never have played at all. Others are burnt out coaches, tired of the pressure and long hours. Still others come from elsewhere: they’re math majors, MBAs, baseball players, ex-teachers and lawyers. What they all have in common, though, is their insatiable passion for the game. 

 

To be a scout may be one of the most challenging jobs to get in America, and it’s a job that is even more challenging to keep. The stakes are high, the hours long and the rewards far and few between. 

 

In the NFL, personnel decisions are always subjective and, for the scout, this subjectivity is twofold. First, the subjectivity in evaluating how a scout evaluates talent. As a scout, one general manager might like the way you evaluate talent, while another may prefer a scout who pays attention to just slightly different details or even writes reports in just a slightly different format. Those differences often have to do with who trained the scout. Scouts and general managers that came up under former Green Bay Packer GM Ron Wolf, for example, all employ similar styles and, in some circles, are affectionately known as the “Ron Wolf Mafia.” But if the team has a bad season and decides to bring in a new general manager, the entire scouting staff could find themselves on the way out as well. 

 

Still, even if a general manager may value a scout’s work ethic and instinct, the inherent uncertainty of talent evaluation looms large. Herein lies the second area of subjectivity in the scouting profession: sometimes a scout thinks a player will be a Hall of Famer, but the player just ends up not panning out. It doesn’t matter why. Whether for character reasons or for an inability to adjust to the pro game, what matters is that somehow, someway, the scout made some sort of mistake. At some point in his career, chances are that every pro scout will find himself in a similar situation. And every time the question is will the general manager cut him some slack or will he blame him for wasting a draft pick and send him packing? In this way, all scouts know their profession is somewhat of a daily gamble. 

 

There is no question though that a good scouting department is invaluable to any football team. Scouts, more so than deep pockets, fancy facilities or creative marketing teams, can keep a great team great and can turn a losing team into a contender. Winning in the NFL is increasingly challenging but there remains one constant: winning games starts with talent and finding talent starts with good scouts. 

 

THE COLLEGE VISIT 

 

The scout weaves his rental car through swarms of twenty- somethings, all groggily trudging to their morning classes. He’s on his way to the football office and has a box of fresh doughnuts to deliver. He’ll greet everyone from the strength coach to the secretary to the academic adviser by name and offer them a sugary confection. It’s all part of the job: food and kindness go a long way to helping him gather information. He parks in the football-only lot and, armed with his iPad and fresh baker’s dozen, heads inside. Student-athletes laser in on his team-issue polo, intrigued by the NFL insignia. Who is this guy? The scout just gives each a passing nod and a smile. 

 

The iPad is one of the scout’s best tools. With it, a WIFI connection and a subscription to a Cloud-based film database, he can watch any game, any player, anywhere. It’s a far cry from the days where a college visit meant sharing a projector with whatever other scouts may be there that day, squabbling over when to push pause. 

 

The football staff is happy to see him. The scout’s earnestness in greeting each by name and asking about their families is rewarded with smiles and, hopefully later, with candid conversation. 

 

Next on his agenda is gathering background information on all the school’s prospects. A prospect’s character profile is just as important as his game film and, in a way, a scout takes a similar approach to both of his evaluations. Just as he needs to know what sort of quarterback works best in the offensive scheme, he needs to know what sort of personality will work best in the locker room. He needs to know what sort of players the front office wants to represent the franchise and what sort of players the coaches want to coach. Only then can he start to gather his information. 

 

In doing this sort of gathering, everyone in the athletic department is like another play on the game film. They’re a possible source of information that may be important to the scout’s evaluation. So, building relationships is crucial. Bringing doughnuts is a start, but the scout must do more than pastries and free team apparel. He also must understand the sort of conflicted position a college football staff finds themselves in. 

 

On one hand, colleges want their former student-athletes to succeed in the NFL. It’s a motive as noble as it is practical. While a college coach may be attached to a certain player after his college days, he also wants him to succeed to bring publicity (and therefore more five-star recruits and more money) to his program. But at the same time, they want to have a good relationship with the NFL. Whoever comes through their doors with that beacon-like insignia represents an opportunity, whether it be for the coach to advance himself or to advance his players, and so he has great incentive to be truthful in his reports. The rub then is that sometimes being truthful may come at a cost. If a coach tells the truth and admits to the scout that a prospect has had a few brushes with the law, then he risks jeopardizing the prospect’s NFL future. A coach may only tell a few scouts this sort of information, and so their relationship is of that much importance. 

 

Nevertheless, the words “close the door” are music to a scout’s ears. It means he is about to get some “real” information. The conversation sometimes proceeds in code. Just as lawyers have their legalese, scouts have their own cryptic, sometimes difficult- to-understand language. He’s a “high rep guy” means the player needs a lot of repetitions to figure out what is going on (read: he may not be very smart and may have a hard time adjusting to the demands of an NFL playbook). Similarly, “single digit Wunderlik guy” is a slow learner, a “great motor” is an effort guy who isn’t very athletic, “coachable” means a great kid with marginal talent who performs well on special teams and “a great kid but lacks focus” means he’s probably a guy more concerned about marijuana than football. 

 

After the scout talks to the football coaches, he’ll seek out the strength coaches. Here again there’s a duality to be understood. While the strength coach spends a lot of time with the players, and so he may know them fairly well, the scout has to take his opinion with a grain of salt because he’ll probably be partial to the “workout warriors”, who, while admirable in work ethic, may not be the most talented athletes on the field. 

 

His last character reconnaissance stop is with the team’s academic advisors and a player’s professors. Both have a strong track record for being truthful and see the players in a different sort of environment than any of the coaches, so they can speak to things like how they treat people who aren’t their teammates, how they learn, how they self-motivate, all of which are important factors to consider in player evaluation. 

 

Once that sort of information gathering is done (at least for the time being), it’s on to film study. While scouts now rely primarily on their iPads and database subscriptions, they still will often watch film at the football facility. 

 

The scout’s study always begins the same way: choose the film, get out the spiral scouting notebook, pull the Copenhagen tin out of his pocket (it’s hard to tell if it’s a habit from watching tape or just addiction, but every time the tape starts, his hand reaches back almost involuntarily), and press “Play.” 

 

He can choose to watch full games or what’s called “cut-ups,” which are all the clips of a particular player doing a particular thing (all of a defensive lineman’s third down rushes, for example). A good scout will watch both, but will focus more on full games. This way he can see how a player may change throughout a game and get a better wholistic sense of his abilities. He’s looking for things like how he uses his hands, how he changes directions, the bend in his hips, what happens the play after he gets hit and how his production changes from the first quarter to the fourth quarter, from September to November. A guy may “flash” a little something on tape that piques a scout’s interest. Why didn’t the guy play more? Was he played at the wrong position? Film study can sometimes lead to more questions than answers. It’s difficult, a hybrid of instinct and science that is best learned, not taught. 

 

After film, it’s off to observe practice. The crisp fall air provides the sort of pick-me-up he needs after hours of film study and conversation. Watching practice is a critical component of his evaluation because on the practice field, the scout gets to see everything. He’ll pay close attention to coachability, effort, their attitude towards water persons and athletic trainers. He’ll get an up-close look at their body types. Are they lean, thick, muscle up, tall or squatty? All the while, he’s scribbling away notes in his notebook, an array of symbols and shorthand hopelessly confusing to anyone else. 

 

Practice ends and so begins the scout’s trip to his next stop. Another four hours across the heartland, the Florida Panhandle or wherever it may be. On an eerie level, scouts are analogous to truck drivers in that they also focus on knowing where the speed traps are and the rough highways. His hope is that he can get to his next Marriott early enough to grab dinner before typing up his daily reports and previewing tomorrow’s schedule. 

 

Tomorrow he’s supposed to watch an intra-squad scrimmage, which is a great opportunity to get an up-close look at his prospects, but in the college football world everything is subject to change (you are dealing with teenagers and sometimes egotistical coaches, after all). A glimpse at his phone shows a text from the school’s pro liaison director and the scrimmage will now be in the late afternoon, not in the morning. 

 

Now he and the 22 other scouts there have to scramble to change their hotel and flight reservations. While the change in plans certainly isn’t welcome, the scout had a feeling this may happen. This particular coach has a reputation for being dismissive towards scouts and making a point to show “the league” who really runs the show. A few clicks on his Marriott and Travelocity apps and a harried call home to say he’ll be late getting back, and he’s all set. 

 

ALL-STAR GAMES 

 

A scout’s calendar is of little resemblance to that of a normal American citizen. It isn’t punctuated by holidays and birthdays, but rather by scrimmages, bowl games, pro days and combines. From late August through February, he’ll be on the road evaluating players. Most of his days in the fall are filled with college visits and Saturday gamedays, but come January, the scout will turn his attention to January’s senior showcases. 

There’s the NFLPA All Star Game in Los Angeles, the East West Shrine Game in Tampa and, finally, the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. For the players, it’s one more chance to show off their talent and to make their first impressions. For the scouts, it’s a chance to not only confirm their own reports and add any missing details, but also to catch up with friends from across the industry. 

 

THE SENIOR BOWL 

 

Going to the Senior Bowl means going to Mobile, and going to Mobile really means flying into New Orleans. Why? Because in his years of making this sort of annual pilgrimage, he knows that driving that 140 miles from New Orleans to Mobile is easier than having to change planes in Dallas or Atlanta and ending up stuck on a small puddle jumper to Mobile. 

 

Cruising down I-10, he decides to stop at a Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, for some food, a Diet Coke and, most importantly, to watch his team play in the NFC Championship. He isn’t there in person because that’s just not his job. His job is to be here, on the road, evaluating talent. So, he watches alone, in hopeful solidarity. No one in the bar knows that he helped put those players on that field, but watching the lineman he had been so high on a few years ago get a crucial third-down sack fills him with quiet satisfaction. 

 

He continues on to Mobile and the next morning finds himself in another box of a hotel room, distinguishable only because of the murky, humid smell of the Gulf permeating the air. He decides to do his 45 minutes of cardio outside since he knows he’ll need to get in a good sweat to compensate for the pounds of butter, creole seasoning and lite beers he’ll consume later. He runs up and down Mobile’s historic main drag, again unnoticed among the shuffles of the morning commute. This is a sleepy southern town and the Senior Bowl circus is almost laughably out of place among Mobile’s antebellum era mansions and Spanish moss. Besides the scouts, the NFL’s “Who’s Who” are all here like Belichick, Gruden and Jerry Jones, who are all wanting to get a better glimpse at this year’s top seniors. 

 

Likewise, for four straight nights, the scouts will make the trip to the infamous bar, Veets. A run-down, Southern establishment looking more like the original home to Lynyrd Skynard than the choice watering hole of football royalty, scouts are drawn as much by the proximity as to the cheap beer and liquor. The male-to- female ratio is almost 99-to-1, and scouts spend their time swapping stories from the fall months spent on the road. Veets holds a special place in every scout’s heart. 

 

FEBRUARY DRAFT MEETINGS 

 

After the booze-filled insanity of bowl season comes the disciplined rigor of February draft meetings. Scouts report back to their team facilities and meet for 21 straight days. Days are long, sometimes 14 hours or more, and the demands are high: watch film, debate and come to a consensus on every single draftable player. 

 

No breakfast pastries this time around. February draft meetings are more of a venue for sunflower seeds and chewing tobacco than for pink frosting and sprinkles. It’s the first time that the scouting department will have met since last April, and it’s the first time the scouts get to share their reports. Perhaps more importantly, it will be the last time they meet as a full department before the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, so it’s important that they’re all on the same page, or close to it, before then. 

 

Post-run, the first order of business is retrieving his credentials. He’ll grab those and a few of the customary Krispy Kremes on his way to start player interviews. He has a list of 30 or so players he has to get to today. In each conversation, his goal is to peel back layers that another scout may have missed. He’ll ask things like “Who’s your favorite player?,” “Who had the most influence on your career?,” “What is your favorite color?,” and maybe even few curve balls to see how the prospect may react. 

 

Then comes the coveted weigh-in that the scouts call “The Underwear Olympics.” All 100 players dressed in matching shorts and Senior Bowl t-shirts parade in front of an audience of coaches, scouts and general managers to the Mobile Convention Center’s stage. Up on stage, in front of everyone, players are weighed, measured and analyzed for body type and composition. 

 

Despite its laughable nickname, the Underwear Olympics is important for the scouts. There’s a famous story among NFL circles that reflects this importance where an offensive lineman from an SEC school removed his shirt to show 390 pounds of unadulterated skin and fat, evidencing a clear lack of knowledge of nutrition and a lack of effort in the weight room. His height and weight were announced, along with the designation of “no agent at this time.” The sarcastic response from the audience was collectively, “no agent, no nutritionist, no trainer and no chance in the NFL.” 

 

At 1pm sharp, the entire NFL circus races from downtown to the legendary Ladd-Peebles Stadium to watch the teams practice. Scouts and coaches alike sit in packs, sharing sunflower seeds and dip, talking and evaluating players at the same time. As one esteemed general manager once said, “You can tell how good our scouts are because they can engage in multiple conversations on any number of topics and, at the same time, be scouting 50 or so football players. It takes a unique person to multitask like that!” 

 

Scouts watch the practices for four straight days. They’ll watch the North and the South team, individual drills, group drills and all team drills. Players rise or fall, set themselves apart or fade into the pack. Through it all, the players try to appear calm and collected, but they know that the people in the stands hold the keys to their future. 

 

They go through film position group-by-position group, players A through Z. This is another reason why being an NFL scout is so challenging because, unlike other sports, the NFL scout assesses every position and that’s not limited to the standard 11 on the field. You have quarterbacks, running backs, (but then there’s also halfbacks, fullbacks, and third down backs), tight ends (and also H-backs), wide receivers (and also slot players), and offensive lineman (and also left tackles, right tackles, guards, and centers). Then there are defensive tackles (and also 3 techs and nose tackles), defensive ends, linebackers (inside, outside, rush and cover), cornerbacks (outside and slot), and safeties (free and strong). Then you have special teams, which includes the punters, kickers, and long snappers. To know each well enough to evaluate it effectively is a major undertaking. 

 

How a player is discussed also depends on how the GM (or Director of Scouting) wants to run his meetings. He may have the area scout who went and visited that player share his report first and then invite other scouts to chime in with what they see on film. He may just roll the tape and have everyone say their piece. There may be ruckus discussion or a more structured debate of strengths and weaknesses. Regardless, the information the area scout worked so hard to gather is most important and, while the area scout won’t necessarily have the final say on where a player falls on the board, he’ll certainly be the one that the department looks to for his impressions and for answers to any of their questions. By the same means, if the team president ducks in to watch a player and asks the area scout a question that he can’t answer, that spells trouble. 

 

As the days tick by, the draft board starts to take shape. Row after row of players, organized by position and numerical grade (their view of where he should be drafted, if at all), are color-coded and marked with other symbols. If a player’s name is upside down, then that may mean he has talent, but is a character risk. If a player’s name is in green, he probably smokes too much marijuana. If his name is in red or has a red cross around it, then he’s a medical risk. It can look almost as cryptic as a scout’s post-practice notes and similarly, when done well, can be beautiful in only a way they can appreciate. 

 

There’s a front board and a back board. The front has the team’s top 100-to-150 players, while the back board lists non-draftable priority free agents, or “PFAs.” Scouts will eventually target these players to fill their rosters and, while a PFA seems a lowly distinction, the team needs them to fill their training camp rosters. The Sunday post-draft frenzy that ensues in the race for the best PFAs means that this back board must be done well. A scout can earn his salary for the year by finding a hidden gem who ends up making the 53-man roster and signing. Think of Kurt Warner, Warren Moon, Dick “Night Train” Lane and Wes Welker. All of them were undrafted free agents, and all were found by a good scout doing his job. Hopefully the meetings will end with just enough time for everyone to race home for a few days before heading off to Indianapolis and the Combine, known affectionately to scouts as the NFL’s Meat Market. 

 

COMBINE AND INTERVIEWS 

 

Walking off the plane in Indianapolis in late February, you’re hit by “The Hawk,” a cold blast of arctic air and frozen humidity that feels like a frozen baseball bat. It takes the air out of your lungs and seems to sting your eyes. The scout longs for the warmth of Florida and Alabama’s Gulf Shores, and to be able to wear his team- issued golf shirts instead of shivering in his team-issued beanie and hooded sweatshirt. 

 

The Combine is about all teams pooling their resources and inviting the top 300 draft-eligible prospects for a weekend of testing, prodding, quizzing, examining, dissecting and interviewing. For league personnel, scouts, coaches, agents, media and financial planners, it is also a week of networking, scouting and drinking. 

 

It all begins with a quick Uber ride downtown to the Crowne Plaza, the “Player Hotel” to any scout. This is where he and the staff will conduct player interviews. Given the layout, a small hotel room devoid of beds and replaced with folding chairs, it feels more like 15-minute interrogations. 

 

While a scout may have already interviewed a player at the Senior Bowl, this is the player’s shot to answer questions in front of more team personnel. General managers, coaches, team presidents and scouting directors, may all sit in on an interview and ask questions. This, plus the fact that the draft is now less than three months away, gives the Combine interviews a different sort of air. 

 

The player is dressed in his Under Armor Combine issued attire with his player number and position and sits in the front of the team’s entourage. Because of the area scout, the team’s personnel all have good background on the player and are prepared to ask rapid fire questions. “Who did you look up to as the ideal role model?” “Tell us about your parents.” “What comes to mind when you think about your home town?” What does it take to be successful?” 

 

The player will try to respond to each question as calmly as possible. It’s likely the eighth or ninth such interview he has sat through that evening, and it’s a lot of bright lights for any young man. But those lights will only get brighter, and that pressure becomes more intense once he gets into the league, so the scouts watch his body language, demeanor and eyes, trying to read the player and glean whatever other information they can. 

 

Interviews run back-to-back-to-back from 7pm to 10:45pm every night. Every so often, the scout sneaks off to the bar to grab a beer or two to ease his thirst and relax his mind. It has, after all, been a long seven months of football. 

 

Once the interviews end, just as they left together en masse from the Mobile Convention Center to the practice field, the scouts head off to the downtown watering holes. At infamous establishments like Ike and Jonesy’s, Champions Sports Bar and RAM Restaurant and Brewery, they’ll take the edge off another 18-hour day and reunite with old friends. 

 

The alarm breaks the chill of the Indianapolis morning at 6am. It’s too early, especially after last night’s festivities, but it’s time for the scout’s obligatory 45-minute sweat at the Marriott gym. Unlike in the fall, this time he’s joined by every other scout, all wearing some form of team-issued workout apparel. Then everyone flocks to the hotel’s “Concierge Room” for free breakfasts (access afforded by Marriott points), followed by a quick shower, and then off to Lucas Oil Stadium to “time” the players in their workouts. 

 

Each team scout will have an assigned seat in an assigned row somewhere above the finish for the 40-yard dash. Like so much of this industry, there’s both a science and a comedy to having each scout for each team time every player. Does a time change if ten people time a player? Is it different then the official electronic time provided by the Combine organizers? Probably not, but science may say it might. So, there stands every scout, armed with a stop watch and eyes glued to the player’s movement. 

 

Then it’s time for skill position drills. Again, the scout takes notes, cataloging flexibility, change of direction, ease of movement, coachability, ability to catch a ball and reaction time, just as he’s done so many times before. He’ll do this every day for every position group. Offensive linemen are on Friday. Saturday is for running backs, receivers and quarterbacks, Sunday is for defensive linemen and linebackers with Monday for defensive backs. 

 

Unlike most common fans, the scout isn’t fooled by numbers or shorts and t-shirt workouts. The scout knows what he saw on film is the best show of how a player will perform in the league. Sure, a slow 40-time, a number of dropped balls and a bad interview may send a player sliding down a draft board, but to the scout, film is king. After seven days of interviews, testing and nightly reveling, the Combine concludes in a rush to the airport. The scouts are off to their next assignment - following the Pro Day Circuit. 

 

THE PRO DAYS 

 

The Pro Day Circuit will take the scout crisscrossing the country once again. He’ll visit a few perennial top five programs, conference champions, small schools, maybe even a few JUCOs (junior colleges). Unlike the invite-only Combine, the Pro Day is a great opportunity for the scout to uncover a hidden gem. 

 

At Pro Day, prospects will run the 40 and do agility and strength testing. They’ll be weighed, measured and put through position-specific drills, sometimes led by NFL personnel. There’s a risk here that a prospect may get hurt doing drills (and lose millions of dollars) but, for some, a Pro Day is the chance of a lifetime. A team may be looking to complete their evaluation of a player who was suspended or injured. For some, it’s the first time they’ll have the opportunity to perform in front of an NFL scout. 

 

This particular trip finds the scout hearing from a friend about an amazing prospect playing at a junior college out in the middle of nowhere in Missouri. Angry that there’s no Marriott around, but still hoping to be pleasantly surprised, the trip is made to see the player. Then, it starts pouring. That’s one hardship with small school scouting - no indoor football facility means no place to run a 40 but in a relic of a basketball gym. But sure enough, 

the player moved as advertised, even on the slippery old wooden floor. The scout watched in amazement at the change of direction, soft, quick feet and explosive hands of the 22-year-old. The scout knew the player had a reputation for missing class and smoking marijuana. Was he worth the risk? He then took out the team’s standard questionnaire form to fill in some more blanks. Then, on a whim, he gave him the “Wunderlik” test, the standard 12-minute intelligence exam given by all NFL teams. His suspicions were correct. The results hovered high on the single digit chart, labeling the player as barely literate. 

 

The scout was unpersuaded, and so he took time to talk to the young man. He realized the player was highly intelligent, just not highly motivated in the classroom. As he wrapped up the interview, he told the player to keep the existence of the workout a secret and that he would call him before the draft to see how he was doing. The scout then innocently inquired as to whether any other teams had come through. To his delight, he found out that he was the only one. As opposed to including the low test results in his report, which would make the player undraftable to his boss, the test found its way into the school’s trash dumpster. Some things are just not worth reporting. He had found a gem and had to keep him a secret until the draft. Maybe the front office would be willing to take him in a late- round or sign him as an UFA. 

 

Now on to the next Pro Day, which was the last one of a long spring. So many months on the road were taking their toll and the scout missed his family. But maybe this small school’s all-time touchdown rushing leader might just make the scout look smart. After a few minutes, the scout noticed something - the player’s ability to back pedal, put his feet down and turn his hips was uncanny. It looked almost too natural. His reaction time was quick, his ability to grasp defensive concepts was even quicker. As the scout left Pro Day, he joked with the player about turning him into an NFL defensive back. 

 

THE DRAFT 

 

The last stretch of the scout’s marathon year are final pre-draft meetings. Scouts call every player they’ve scouted to make sure they’re healthy and training, and to see if they can get the player to share who their competition might come Draft Day. Are you healthy? What teams have called? What have teams said? Players may lie, but at least the scouts are doing their due diligence. 

 

In these final weeks, secrecy is paramount. A scout may not even know what the final draft board looks like. While there probably won’t be too many changes from February’s board, it’s an unwelcome feeling since their hard work built the board in the first place. However for a front office weary of leaks, it’s something of a necessary evil. 

 

Draft Day finally arrives, and the scouts pack into the team’s draft room. While there’s always an air of nervous excitement, the reality is that even though teams are graded contemporaneously with the draft, just how well a team did in any particular year can’t be known until three or four years later. 

 

And just like that, over a period of three intense days of tracking the board, giving opinions and praying that their favorites are taken, the scout’s summer vacation begins. It’s time to unwind and catch up with family before the cycle begins all over again. But, even though he’s happy for the time now to spend with his family, part of him is already itching to get back on the road and find that next hidden gem. 

 

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