NFL draft becomes fact-finding mission

Teams go to great lengths in their scouting process to find the right players

April 09, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Gil Brandt remembers when scouting prerequisites for the NFL draft included rolls of quarters and a current Street & Smith's college football magazine.

The quarters were for players the magazine missed.

"[Personnel] people would come into the draft with a bunch of rolls of quarters," Brandt said. "There were no credit cards at that time. You had to put quarters in the pay phone to call a college coach at, say, West Virginia. You need an offensive tackle, you call and ask, `Got any good ones there?'

"You'd hear, `clunk, clunk, clunk. please deposit $2.75.' "

That was before the scouting combine pooled resources, before draftniks came into vogue, long before ESPN turned the whole thing into a television extravaganza. And it was before Brandt and the Dallas Cowboys computerized the draft, turning the scouting process into one big science project.

Brandt helped the Cowboys establish their first dynasty with his scouting improvisations and attention to detail. Today, he still evaluates college talent as a consultant to the NFL; his reports appear on NFL.com.

The draft as we know it is nothing like the draft Brandt broke in on. Now, it's the ultimate fact-finding mission, an exercise in scrutiny worthy of the CIA. It's also a lot more expensive. Instead of spending quarters, teams spend millions in the procurement of talent. Last year, for instance, the NFL spent $132 million in signing bonuses for first-round picks.

"The difference then and now is that teams are hiring very qualified people to scout," Brandt said. "Today you have guys like Phil Savage and Ron Marciniak. Today, people know what to look for. They know what's most important in the success of a player.

"It's like McDonald's. When they do a location, there are certain things they look for. They don't look for green grass and trees; they look for cars going by."

Savage is the director of college scouting for the Ravens. Marciniak, a former Cowboys scout under Brandt, is an area scout for the Ravens.

Savage estimates the Ravens will grade some 400 players this year, and only 250 will get drafted. "I spend more time weeding them out than zeroing in on them," he said.

The Ravens grade every player in five categories: athletic ability, speed, competitiveness, strength and explosion, and size. There are other sets of criteria for each position, and those include character and work ethic.

Because the Ravens want a quality running back and receiver out of this year's draft, Savage says he has focused more on offense than defense. Game tapes are the tool he relies on most.

"The answer's out there," Savage said. "And the tapes will lead you to that answer if you're willing to watch enough of them. Because all these guys have good games, and not so good games, and in-between games. But if you keep watching, eventually it'll become pretty clear to you."

There are a number of opportunities to evaluate players. Once the college season ends, there are All-Star bowl games, the scouting combine in February, private workouts in March and individual player visits in April.

Although the combine drills always draw the most attention, Ozzie Newsome said that's only "a piece of the puzzle."

"We collect as much information as we can," the Ravens' vice president of player personnel said. "But it always goes back to how a guy plays."

Savage said the combine and individual workouts have their purpose, nonetheless.

"A lot of times you can use the workouts and the combine stuff to verify what you feel like you've already seen, whether it's good or bad," he said. "If you have two players fairly close at the same position and one works out a little better than the other, maybe that breaks the tie.

"I don't think it changes a whole lot of where we end up putting a player on the board. Our No. 1 focus is how he performs in the game."

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