What does it take to be a scout? Long nights and early mornings, endless hours on the road and grinding the tape in an effort to find the next big thing before the next person.
Yeah, that’s the gist of things but where does it all begin?
Well, it starts like the regular fan. The memes run rampant between analytical stat gurus and ‘that boy nice’ watchers, using the eye test to identify which players stand out more than normal.
Sure, that’s a start, but in order to subject yourself to such a lifestyle, you have to be willing to lose your football innocence. It’s sort of like watching the game from a lens that typically leaves more questions than answers. See, the thing about this game is that while the 100+ year civil war of schematics leads us down the path of recycled ideology, the game somehow continues to change.
Being a football fan involves some ignorance to an extent. No one truly knows everything about the game and there’s always so much more to learn. Does that make you less of a fan? No, but it does open up a bevy of doors that could easily, like me, lead you down a path where your fandom becomes a passion.
So where was my scouting fandom born?
Welcome to 2007, what many consider to be the most chaotic College Football season of all time. How weird was it you ask?
Well, it starts with the game dubbed “The Greatest Upset of Them All.” As in the age-old Bible tale of David slaying Goliath, Appalachian State knocked off Michigan. Who could ever forget Armanti Edwards racking up 290 total yards of offense, including two of his three touchdowns to Dexter Jackson in what would become the first of a multitude of upsets throughout the season. This includes the infamous week 5 that saw eight top 25 teams fall victim to the mayhem.
The team ranked number two in the country had been upset four times in an almost unheard-of feat. This season was most certainly different but yet nothing could prepare me for what was about to occur.
The date is November 10, 2007, I sat anxiously in front of the TV awaiting kickoff as the Ohio State Buckeyes took on the Illinois Fighting Illini. A 20-game win streak against Big Ten opponent, a 28-game regular season win streak, National Championship aspirations were all on the line for the Buckeyes and a date with the most hated Michigan Wolverines loomed on the schedule.
Obviously, nothing could go wrong (or so I thought). That was until Murphy’s Law sat in and Illinois used the read option to play keep away from the Buckeye offense with a final drive that chewed away the final 8:09 left to play.
I was speechless and amazed. As former Ohio State offensive tackle, Kirk Barton put it, “This is a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Not for reasons, you may think, however — aside from my clear and obvious Ohio State fandom — this was the first time in my life I was able to watch and clearly understand the game within the game. Seeing how players fit into schematics amazed me. Watching the blocking schemes unfold and understanding for the first time how and why execution beats talent every time.
Watching the Illini offense and how they meticulously worked to put Buckeye defenders out of position time and time again from start to finish was poetry in motion. The way football should be watched. See, the league has a way of pigeonholing players when there have been blueprints laid out as to how a player can and should be used most efficiently.
After watching helplessly as Illinois drained the last eight minutes or so off the clock I thought to myself two things:
1.) This is how football is supposed to be played! Sure, it was here I fell in love with read options (and the origin of the Spread offense in general), but this was the moment I took the first step to understanding how to scout the player.
Not the helmet or the general consensus of them, but to understand how this player is being used and most importantly how this player’s skillset can be used to enhance the abilities of an offense and/or defense.
2.) Who the hell is Isaiah ‘Juice’ Williams, and when will I see him on Sundays?
Players like Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick opened up what could be considered the ‘Pandora’s Box’ when you watch the game of football today. When you tuned into Saturday football and saw the likes of Pat White, Dennis Dixon, and of course the aforementioned Armanti Edwards, and Juice Williams — and you see what the prospects of a dual threat quarterback could do for an offense, it makes you curious.
Of course, it’s reasons like this why you sit and watch what many consider the greatest College Football player of all time in Tim Tebow, and think that you have a future franchise quarterback on your hands, then watch Cam Newton and wonder why they never received the same opportunity. Oh my poor young friend, see this was prior to the knowledge of throwing mechanics and a typical understanding of what it takes to be a successful quarterback in this league.
Oh be honest, I’m sure there was a college football darling that you fell in love with at some point because of their electrifying ways, but never could understand why the NFL never viewed them in the same light as you. (To this very day, I’d still have a hard time explaining to childhood me why Troy Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy and was the signal caller for the number one team in the nation fell to the fifth round because of concerns with his size playing the quarterback position.)
The point, however, is to establish that there have been a multitude of players who have been GOOD college football players. But, to not only make the league but to make an impact takes much more than being the best athlete on the field.
Each position has its own multitude of nuances that help set apart the men from the boys. And the importance of measurements? Well, they don’t say ‘traits over tape’ for no reason. There’s so much to learn and even then some prospects just present harder evaluations.
So after years of curiosity, I took my thoughts — wondering why those who dominated the gridiron on Saturdays couldn’t translate that same success to the big leagues — and they ultimately lead me to (the first of what’s hopefully many trips to) The Scouting Academy. It was here where I had the opportunity to learn so much from a multitude of guys with experience in the industry including Louis Riddick, Jerry Angelo, and of course the great Dan Hatmann.
Much of what I’ve become today as a scout stems from many of the typical baseline lessons learned durning my time at The Scouting Academy.
“Stay off the fence! Find a way to see what pushes a player over the top — watch more film!”
“Always understand the context; WHO are you scouting? WHAT are you scouting for? WHY does this environment impact what you are scouting (coaching, scheme, level of competition)?”
And most importantly, “You are a product of who you surround yourself with, have an appetite to learn — criticism is a part of the game.”
And let’s not even get me started on positional value.
The purpose of The Draft Blitz is to explain what a prospect can do and how he is most productive. Will there be criticism? Yes, because as I always say; draft good football players. However, the perfect prospect only exists when utilized correctly, our job is to figure out how that is.
So if you enjoyed much of the draft content your friends over at The Philly Blitz released for you this off-season, understand that was just the beginning. The scouting process is a never ending cycle and if you are prepared to take this ride, not only will you gain extensive knowledge of many future prospects, but you will understand how, where, and why these players’ skill sets translate to the next level.
There is a plethora of content we have in store for The Draft Blitz, from podcasts, Big Boards, feature-style articles, scouting reports, and sp much more.
So welcome to the show ladies and gentlemen, buckle up and enjoy the ride.