Authored by Jeff Risdon - 12th March, 2009 - 1:21 pm
Back in late October, I sat down for a lengthy interview with a veteran scout from an NFL team. He graciously agreed for a second round. We convened after Western Michigan?s pro day and talked about several prospects, risers and fallers, and what teams are really doing at this time of year. Here are some of the more interesting excerpts of our conversation.
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Jeff Risdon: Since we?re in Kalamazoo, your thoughts on Louis Delmas and Londen Fryar.
Scout: Well, Delmas sure is impressive. He?s got a lot of Brian Dawkins in him, some Mike Brown in him. Just a great run defender, real solid in the box. I love his leadership, like what we saw in Mobile. Here?s this kid from a MAC school just taking over the team with all these big names from big schools. And it was just natural. He?s not the best cover safety out there but he has some skills enough to handle it. We talked to him in Indy (at the Combine) and he knew our defense and what he would do in it, just real impressive knowledge of the game.
JR: And Fryar?
Scout: I think we talked about him before. I see a good nickel back but a kid that needs safety help over the top. Love his hands. He has all the intangibles you want but he?s on the small side and the slower side.
JR: Another area MAC player that?s getting more attention is EMU lineman TJ Lang. Give me the quick scouting report on him.
Scout: You know, he was an afterthought coming into this season and then he just jumped off the films. He?s a real bulky kid and he plays like a pit bull that just got the muzzle off. I like his tenacity, love his hands and his leg drive. We have him as a right tackle but I could see him playing inside just as easy. I gave him a third round grade but if I had to base it just off last season I would bump it to a second (round grade).
JR: What does your team think of Andre Smith after the Combine?
Scout: You know, he is a na?ve young man who made some dumb choices. First thing I would tell him is to fire his agent and get with someone more reputable. You know, someone who can do some damage control and earn some trust back in his corner. The kid is a monster on the field, just a beast. He?s probably the best run blocker I?ve ever seen coming out of college. But he has got to prove he learns from his mistakes. We worry about his weight too. He needs to show he is in top condition and is willing to work hard to stay there.
JR: I know neither guy is in your particular region, but I?ll ask you what everyone asks me: Your thoughts on Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez?
Scout: I really love Stafford. All these people talk about how he?s inconsistent, how he?s not accurate enough, how he throws too many picks. That was the same things everyone said about Matt Ryan and look at him now. Stafford has a better arm (than Ryan) to boot. Sanchez is a different type of quarterback. Real athletic kid, very smart. I see a lot of Brady Quinn in him. I like what you said about him in Mobile (we had dinner during Senior Bowl week). We haven?t seen enough of him, but everything we?ve seen of him is damn impressive. In my mind both these kids are better than anyone who came out last year. I just don?t get why it seems everyone is so down on these kids.
JR: Have any other QBs stood out or climbed the draft board for your team since we talked in Mobile?
Scout: We?ve been looking real hard at the (Stephen) McGee kid from (Texas) A&M. He looks great outside that (read-option) offense they ran. He?s got a much better arm than they ever let him show and he?s got the accuracy. He needs some work to get out of the habits that that offense teaches but he?s a kid who has already shown us how quickly he can learn.
JR: I think a lot of people don?t really understand exactly what front offices and scouting departments are doing at this time of year. Care to shed a little light?
Scout: Well, you?ve been there and seen what we do. Right now we are finishing up grades and sorting out the position ranks. My bosses (the GM and Dir. Of Collegiate Scouting) are talking to agents, looking at tape a little, going to the big pro days. (The GM) has been so busy with free agents and working contracts that he hasn?t spent much time on the draft yet. We?ve got a meeting next week where we?re going to start putting down our draft board. Then we?ve got some OTAs with our players too...It?s not like we have all those mock drafts going yet or we know who we want at certain spots. We have some idea but it?s all a rough draft right now. I know you don?t do this, but some mock drafts I see out there are just ridiculous in their assumptions. I?ll give you an example. Right now (a prominent network?s mock) has us taking a kid I can guarantee you we have no interest in. And the explanation he gives is that we have to love some things about him. No, we don?t.
JR: But you have an idea about the players you will be considering at your spots?
Scout: Well sure. That?s what we?re sorting out now. At this point it?s been more about eliminating certain kids for reasons than it?s been ?We like this kid at this spot?.
JR: How much emphasis does your team put on character and off the field activity?
Scout: More every year. Look at (Marshawn) Lynch. Great running back but what good does he do you when he?s suspended half the year because he?s an immature criminal? Same with the (Brandon) Marshall kid in Denver. Even when he came out we had him red flagged for character and he proved us right. That kid is as good as any wideout in the league today, but you cannot trust him at all. Some kids, you can see they realized it was time to grow up and move forward. It?s pretty easy to tell who?s sincere and who?s snowing you. Like this year, the (Vontae) Davis kid from Illinois. He?s had some problems but you can tell by talking to him and looking him in the eye that he gets it now. He?s a kid who needed to learn how to channel his frustration, and you can tell he?s worked on it. Rhett Bomar was the same way. He made his mistakes and he learned from them, moved on and grew up.
JR: I stepped in some hot water with the Rutgers fan base regarding my comments about Kenny Britt. I know you?ve spent some time looking at him and would like your thoughts.
Scout: Let me guess, you compared him to TO (laughs, because I did). He?s a load, that?s for sure. Real long kid. He?s always open even though he?s not the fastest kid, just great feet and body position. And that?s what I would say about TO. I?d like to see him hit the weight room a little harder. ...you know what else he does that reminds me of TO? He slacks on the concentration sometimes.
JR: What about his character? (note: I quoted another scout that called Britt ?Overconfident to the point of absurdity? and briefed him on this as part of the question)
Scout: Well, he doesn?t lack for confidence, that?s for sure. But that?s not a negative in my book. I want a kid to tell me he?s going to catch everything we throw to him and he?ll make our team better. He?s not a bad trash talker or a negative kid at all. He knows he?s good and isn?t shy about it, but his teammates never had any problem with him that I ever saw. Now, I do worry that he?s already peaked out. And that?s where that self-confidence can hurt, you know, if he feels like he?s done the work already.
JR: So are there any players who you have found to be, shall we say, disappointing in the interview room or off-camera?
Scout: Well I don?t want to give out his name, but we talked with a kid in Indy that most everyone thinks is a real high first round pick. And he was dumber than a fencepost. We asked him about school and classes and stuff like that and he was like, enough already, I?m done with that (excrement), where is my paycheck... Another kid we had in just didn?t get it. Everything was Jesus. Get him off Jesus and he might as well be a deaf-mute. Jesus wants you to answer a question without him, son. Real odd too, because his agent is Jewish (laughs).
JR: Enough negativity. What players really impressed your team in Indy, both in workouts and interviews?
Scout: The best interview we had was Donald Brown, the running back out of UConn. That?s the kind of kid you want your daughter to marry. Real bright, articulate young man. Knew his football too, and showed genuine passion for the game. Jason Smith out of Baylor was impressive. Let?s see...I thought Rhett Bomar handled his past real well, very forthright.
JR: And in workouts?
Scout: You know, the kids that everyone expects to kill it in the drills did it. What caught our eye was the kids who we didn?t expect to kill it. Scotty McKillop (LB, Pittsburgh) made himself some money with his legs. No way I thought he would run faster than Maualuga or (Laurinaitis). Our guy from SEC country told us about that (Ladarius, a CB) Webb kid from Nicholls State, so we knew he was coming. But I hadn?t seen him before and even in the position drills he looked great.
JR: The Giants are noted for drafting guys they haven?t met with. How much emphasis does your team place on meeting with a player privately?
Scout: If we want to get a better feel for a kid we?ll bring him in for a private meeting. But in a way that means I?m not doing my job real well, you know? They pay me to figure all that stuff out and learn all about these kids so they don?t have to spend time doing that. Our GM isn?t a big film watcher, so he wants the full scoop on these kids. The biggest reason we have kids in for long visits is to see how they mesh with our coaches, if we have questions about that kind of thing. Not every player fits with every coach, you know? ...We like to bring some kids in during OTAs to see what some of our vets think.
JR: How much smoke-screening goes on?
Scout: Probably more of it than I?m aware of. Some of it is the dancing between the front offices and the agents. The agents are trying every angle to build value for their kids...and sometimes we?re trying to build value for the pick too. Two years ago we brought in a player a lot of people assumed we had an interest in drafting. We didn?t really but we played along, you know, hoping to see if somebody else who wanted him would trade up. Well, what?s funny is that he was still on the board when we picked and we took another kid that we never brought in, and you could see the shock on Mel Kiper?s face. And you know what, he wound up not working out too well for the team that took him and we?re very happy with our pick. (Note: he told me the players involved, and his comments are a major understatement).
JR: Okay, I have to ask. I?m somewhat noted for being a draft guru, and when I tell people what I do they always ask me about Mel Kiper. What do you think of Mel?
Scout: I respect Mel because I know he has a passion for what he does. And I give him credit for being a guy who really opened up the evaluation process. He gives honest, frank opinions that are based on actual work, not just hearsay and guesswork. I think he gets too caught up in his initial impressions. You know, he tries to evaluate everyone by himself and there just isn?t enough time to do more than a quick look/see on most kids. I am a full-time scout and I spend 80 hours a week breaking down players, and this year I probably did serious scouting work on about 125 kids. A lot of those kids won?t even be drafted, not this year anyways. So when he?s rattling off his knowledge of every single kid who might be drafted, there?s just no way he has the time to do a proper evaluation of them all. Having said that, you can tell when he?s really put the time in on certain guys, and he?s almost never wrong in his opinions when he gets to do that.
JR: Back in October I asked you for three players under the radar. Can you give me three more?
Scout: Well, there?s one kid we watched together on Monday up at GVSU (Grand Valley State), Dan Skuta. He?s an end who dropped some weight and will be a rush linebacker at the next level. He put up some real nice speed and explosion numbers, so he sure looks like he?s got a chance and he?s a worker. There?s a kid from Cincinnati, Terrill Byrd. Real productive defensive tackle, kind of undersized but real quick and real tenacious. He?s not a great prospect but he can fit in the rotation as a 5-technique lineman...and Darius Hill, the tight end out of Ball State. Just a real good football player. Real tall but he?s got some beef to him. We like him quite a bit as a late-round kid who can step into a role right away. I?ll tell you what, the team that takes Nate Davis (Ball State QB) would be real wise to take Hill. Those two are special together.
JR: So when will you get to sleep in your own bed again?
Scout: I was there last Wednesday, and I hope to be home Saturday night. Then I?ll be gone to pro days or at the team offices pretty much until the draft. Lots of talking to college coaches and people in the network who can provide more information about certain kids. It?s fun but it is a real grind this time of year.
- Jeff Risdon is RealGM's senior football writer and draft expert. He may be reached at Jeff.Risdon@RealGM.com