Gator Flavor: An NFL Scout’s Take On the Draft

College football is a wildly popular sport. Thousands of young men (and a few women) play in three divisions in the United States as well as four conferences in Canada. Millions of people not only watch it every week during the season, but live it all year ’round. We are obviously passionate about college football, and some of us are also fans of the NFL. The two come together in a yearly phenomenon known as the NFL Draft.

Most of these college football players vie for the coveted 250 (give or take) spots available to be selected in the NFL Draft every year. The rest play in other semi/professional leagues, most notably the Arena Football League, United Football League, Indoor Football League, and Canadian Football League.

Thousands of draft sites focus on the NFL Draft, many of them throughout the year. A lot of these sites have people that scout the players, and guesstimate based on several factors where these players will be selected in the draft. Hence, a mock draft.

If you were to google “2011 NFL mock draft”, you would find over 3.5 million results. To be fair, not all of the answers are strictly from the year 2011. We found some from ’09 as well as many for 2012. Yes, there are actually mock drafts for next year, even though the college season is a couple months away, the NFL Players are currently locked out, and the 2011-12 NFL season is in jeopardy.

This probably isn’t news to you. You’ve seen the weekend long broadcasts on ESPN and the NFL Network. Local sports radio stations throughout the country also take part in draft coverage, if you live in an NFL market that is.

So, who are these scouts that seem to know every college player in the draft? How do they know what the truth is behind Phil Taylor’s feet and why Quan Sturdivant was a steal in the 6th round? What happens with the guys that were drafted considering the NFL Owners were just granted a permanent stay on the lockout and there is no active collective bargaining agreement?

Most people are never given the opportunity, or can find a scout that will even answer these questions. We got lucky; we got both.

NFL Scout Jayson Braddock was kind enough to answer some of these questions for us. Some of the answers may be surprising and some may be frustrating, but they are all honest.

 

Could you give us a little bit of background about yourself?

I’m a student of the NFL game. I got my start by scouting the college prospects that were entering or on the verge of entering the NFL draft. I love the NFL game, so it was only natural for me to follow the prospects, that I scouted, throughout their pro career. This led to me writing more on the strengths and weaknesses of different NFL teams, from a different prospective.

I learned the majority of my talent evaluation from my mentor, Russ Lande. While Lande taught me the key principles that I still live by today, I strongly believe that you have to have the ”eye” for judging talent. You can teach 100 people the same principles but none of them will evaluate the same.

What sites are you affiliated with?

My articles can be found at TheXLog.com (formerly Xtra Point Football). The XLog is a group of experts from the RotoeXperts family. We have eXperts that cover everything from the NFL, NBA, NCAA, MLB, Fantasy Sports, MMA, etc. we even have our own TMZ type reporting for all the gossip that goes around in these leagues.

Could you explain what happens now with the guys that were drafted: are they just in a “holding pattern” until the NFL lockout is over?

Excellent question! For the rookies, that were just drafted April 28th-30th, they are really stuck in the middle of a stalemate right now. Hopefully, they have gone to a team with veteran leadership, that will reach out them to invite them to workout with the team in their own player operated workouts. If not, when the lockout ends, they’ll be so far behind their fellow draft class that has been developing chemistry with their new team members.

Not that it has as much impact, if the lockout is still intact, the same rings true for the guys that will be participating in the Supplemental Draft?

Exactly. These players actually benefit, in the sense that they won’t be behind on any workouts that their fellow rookies would have been participating in, if the lockout wasn’t in effect.

I want to ask you about your process for scouting players. When do you start taking notice of players? HS, NSD, Spring games?

Well, it’s a little different for me now. So much of my focus is on the NFL game now, that I don’t start as early as I use to, when all I did was scout. I play a lot of catch up these days but you don’t have to be the first to the party, to still bring value to it. So many people these days are just worried about not being wrong, that they’re hardly ever right, when it comes to scouting. There is so much misinformation now because everyone is a ”scout”. I routinely compare the influx of ”media scouts” in today’s society to the boom of No Limit Hold’em poker players, in the early 2000’s. To many it’s a fad, to the truly dedicated, it’s a 24/7 lifestyle.

In my opinion, High School is too early. Everyone is a stud in high school, due to the vast difference in talent levels at different schools and positions. There are so many players to keep track of in today’s game, that I don’t really start watching a lot of games / game film, until they are a redshirt sophomore or higher. They’re are exceptions to that though. You look at a player that you are too familiar with in Gator Country, in Tebow. Also, the running back from South Carolina [Marcus Lattimore] that came in as a freshman last year and lit the SEC up. What those players did in the SEC at a young age, wll automatically cause you to watch what these 18 year old men are capable of doing.

Do you talk with high school coaches or local paper high school beat writers?

Oh, most definitely. I talk to whoever I can, that knows him personally. I want to speak with ex-girlfriends, friends, former friends, kids he got into fights with, did he win the fight (haha, tongue in cheek, of course). But, honestly, you want as many stories and takes on him as you possibly can get. Most the people close to him will tell you what they think you want to hear. That’s when the local community comes in handy. Teachers are great to speak with!

Who is someone you started keeping your eye on out of high school and followed all the way to the draft?

Da’Quan Bowers comes to mind. I watched him in a high school all-star game and was blown away. He was 6’5 with 4.5 speed and just looked unstoppable. I followed his whole career at Clemson and was not only impressed with his on-field talent but the maturity he showed handling adversity in his personal life. Bowers lost 3 people close to him before the start of the 2010 college season, including his mentor Gaines Adams and his father. I thought he would check out and go into a shell. He came out and delivered the best year of any collegiate defensive end in 2010 with 15.5 sacks.

Do you attend/watch the combine?

Yes, I do. But, I do it in the right mindset. If you are having guys that you evaluated on film as a 6th round talent and then jump him up to a 1st or 2nd round pick due to the combine workout, then you’re fooling yourself. The combine is best used to gauge fluidity and compare side by side. Are there injuries these guys are hiding? Is someone dumb enough to fail a drug test here? Does this QB have the brain power to run my organization? You can also find out about players true measureables. Some players will become 3 inches shorter at the combine because their school fudge their height his whole playing career in college.

Have you ever seen someone in the combine that blew your mind that you never considered before?

Of course. These are usually Oakland Raiders’ prospects. Your ideal height, weight, speed guy. Even if they impress me with the measurables here, it’ll only make me go back to watch more film. Because, if the guy comes in and runs 4.3 flat, but I watched film and wasn’t impressed, then that tells me, he doesn’t play that fast. A lot of track guys and weight lifters can’t play football.

On occasions though, you’ll have a small school guy like a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie impress you. Then you go put on the game film and you’re like, DAMN, how did I miss this.

Same question for Pro Days?

Pro Days bring value because there are always some talented prospects that don’t get the invite to Indy. There will be some players that you seen on film and you like, but you want to see in person, to see how tall is he, how fluid, and more.

I know you’re a big tape guy. How much tape do you watch from Jan – March?

Man! Let’s just say I go through Visine during those months like most people go through oxygen! The tape is the key. Russ Lande will tell you. 90% of your evaluation should be film study. You got a question about a guys heart, put on the tape. Want to know if he’s high motor, put on the tape. The people who fail in the NFL at scouting are the one’s that trust rumors, workouts, and popular opinion, more than their eyes.

I want to talk to you for a minute about Colin Kaepernick (QB Nevada – drafted by SF at #36 in the 2nd round). You scouted Colin Kaepernick pretty hard, in fact, you were one of the first guys that I could find anywhere up until April that was really ”big” on him. When did you first notice him?

Yeah, over the last few years I’ve heard talk about the tall, fast, strong armed QB, from Nevada. I checked him out from time to time but just briefly. He really caught my attention in the win over Boise State and the bowl game against Boston College. It was the week of the Senior Bowl that finally had me say, ”wait a minute, I’ve got to get some more tape on this kid”.

The way he practiced and played against the best that college had to offer that week, really grabbed my attention. Then I started watching some game film. By the end of the first game, I was hooked. I had to watch another and another. I never got tired of watching this kid play. I made some calls and found out some background on him. Was impressed by his character and work ethic and felt that he was the complete package.

I heard the rumblings about being a project and awkward throwing motion and all the other stuff. But, I just trusted my eyes and the game film and felt confident to say that’ll have the most successful career out of this crop of quarterbacks. When we listed this on TheXLog.com, we took so much scrutiny and insults. You would be surprised by the names of ”media scouts” that reached out to me via twitter, email, comments, etc., telling me that I didn’t have a clue. I laughed it off because I heard it all before when I said that Jimmy Clausen wouldn’t be drafted until the 2nd round the year before.

You had a great interview with him a while back that was posted on TheXLog.com. He seems so incredibly down to earth, he has an amazing story, and his reps – XAM Sports seem really genuine as well. How easy was it to deal with them/him?

Obviously, I deal with a lot of people in this industry and some you just rather not ever talk to again. Then you have the otherside of the coin and that’s Colin Kaepernick, his family, and XAM Sports. Watching how XAM sports, which is a family owned and operated business, deals with their clients, feels like a throwback type of business. They treat them as family.

A lot of people in the industry give off that used car salesman feel, and are just worried about the bottom line. XAM holds their clients to a certain level of moral responsibility. Let’s just say you won’t see Pacman Jones or Aqib Talib sign with them any time soon.

Colin fits the mold of this perfectly. When dealing with him, he shows nothing but respect to all parties involved, great sense of humor, and humble. After communicating with a few members of his family through different venues, you see that the apple didn’t fall for from the tree.

Did your conversation confirm that you feel he will be an ideal starter and leader in the NFL?

It did as a matter of fact. I don’t know many people that are as competitive or confident as Kaepernick was/is. The biggest myth surrounding Colin is that he’s a developmental player that will have to sit 2-3 years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start games in 2011.

Were you contacted by other people about what you liked about him: did anyone call or email you ”Hey, talk to me about Kaepernick”?

Yes, most of the people reaching out to me were trying to warn me that I’m missing the boat here. That I was buying a lemon. I remember one “expert” telling me that I was basically crazy for having a 4th round talent listed as my best QB. The same ”expert” later moved Kaepernick all the way to a fringe first rounder and said the wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken in the first.

I know where you had him drafted in your mock draft (15th overall to Miami). I also know, because I was on TheXLog.com live chat with you throughout the draft, that you called San Francisco almost immediately Friday.

That’s correct, our college football editor, Danny Hobrock and I worked jointly on creating our weekly Mock Drafts. Danny was as high on Kaepernick as I was. We were both rather surprised on how low people had him at first. We decided that we weren’t going to do the typical Mock Draft, where you make guesses on what teams will do. Instead, at TheXLog.com we made ours to list what teams should do. In theory, you should be able to look back at ours in 3-4 years and think, ”yeah, so and so should of drafted him.”

What made him a first round pick to you?

Going into the months before the draft, I stated that there wasn’t a player worth drafting in the first round, since Andrew Luck went back to Stanford. Then as I watched more and more of Colin, I realized that he’s a franchise type of quarterback that can contribute early. In my mind he’s the best QB prospect in this draft, so it was a no brainer.

Why do you think San Francisco is a great place for Colin?

Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have to force the issue of playing time right away. If he feels it’s best for Colin to sit a few games, he’ll do that. Harbaugh is also a rookie coach to the NFL that is now tied to Kaepernick and not Alex Smith, his success runs parallel to Colin’s. Also, they have an advantage that other rookie QBs don’t. Coaches can’t talk to NFL players right now. But, Harbaugh can talk to Andrew Luck, who he taught how to run his offense to perfection. Luck is working with Kaepernick this offseason, to teach him the offense. Anything that Harbaugh needs Colin to know, what’s to stop him from telling Andrew so he can relay the message.

It doesn’t hurt that Jim played the position in the NFL and knows a lot of what Colin is dealing with as a rookie and a QB in the NFL.

Let’s talk for a minute about players in general and their extra-curricular activities. Have you ever been 100% sure about a player, then have a complete 180 on your opinion based upon their game play throughout the year?

I’m never 100% on any player until after their last collegiate season is complete. If you tie yourself down into being sold on a player before the whole evaluation process is done. Then you’ll subconsciously turn a blind eye to their flaws.

Regarding injury, academic probation, and off the field activities: Have you ever put a lot of work into someone, and they transfer to a Div 2 school, or get injured, or dismissed for criminal activity?

All the time. Every year there is a player with elite talent that either hurts their stock due to injury or off the field garbage. Sometimes teams decide that the risk is worth it. You don’t have to look any further than one of your local teams in Florida. Tampa Bay took a risk on Aqib Talib. Everyone knew all of the character concerns surrounding Talib coming out of college but the Bucs felt that when he slid to them, it was worth the risk. Now, that decision is about to back fire on them. On the same team though, they took a risk on LeGarrette Blount after the Titans cut him. So far, that looks like one of the best steals of the 2010 prospects.

How frustrating is that?

It’s the nature of the beast. We forget a lot of times that these are kids getting ready to hit the lottery. Most of these players are going from not having two pennies to rub together to millionaires. That’s a culture shock. That’s why I always warn against selecting players with character flaws. Whatever flaws they have when they’re broke, will be magnified when the entourage, ladies, and money comes in their life.

How do you feel about Ryan Mallett and why do you think New England (another pick you called before it happened) is a good place for him to be?

I think it’s one of the steals of the draft. I wouldn’t have touched Mallett anywhere in the first two rounds. This goes back to his character concerns and his two minute offense that gets overshadowed by his character. If I was drafting for certain teams, he wouldn’t have been on my board because they don’t have the looker room to sustain him.

I wrote a few weeks before the draft that Brady and Manning needed to find their replacements to mentor over the next few years, like Favre/Rodgers. New England did that. That got a top 15 talent, extremely late. Low risk/High reward. Mallett can get mentored by Brady and Belichek and if he matures, he will be the future in a couple years. If he doesn’t, they’ll keep it under wraps and talk him up to the media and get trade value for him. Remember this is the team that got production out of Randy Moss when no one else could and then he fell completely apart after leaving.

On this subject, without handcuffing you to anything, Florida Gators ALL-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins was dismissed by new head coach Will Muschamp in April after his third arrest. Apparently he had opted to stay his senior season to rebuild his image from his arrest in January. What do you think are the best options for Jenkins at this point?

There’s talk that he’ll go the Division II route. This is probably best for him right now. He keeps his name out there for the 2011 season and doesn’t have to sit out a year.

Do you think Coach Muschamp as a head coach has now set a precedence for other programs to take more extreme actions towards players who are repeat offenders of criminal activity?

No, most coaches make a move like this when they take over a big program, just to have people say ”see he’s cleaning up the program”. If there’s a player that comes along that Muschamp personally recruited and he becomes vital to the teams success, he’ll get as many warning as Jenkins, if not more.

What message does his dismissal send kids from big programs regarding their off the field activities?

The key word in your question is kids. These are kids that make bad decisions. They either feel like their above having to pay the repercussions for their actions or don’t think they’ll get caught. You’ll still see all the player arrests in 2011 that you’ve seen every year.

What makes the SEC players so dominant in the drafts lately?

When I was younger and played sports, I always played against kids a few years older and better. If you play against the best, you elevate your game to that level. Or at least that was my thinking. The SEC is the best of the best in college. Every week they are facing NFL caliber speed and talent. So, when they get into the league, it’s not as big as an adjustment to them as it would be for a kid that played in the Big East.

Because our audience is Florida-based, I want to talk for a minute about the Gators taken in this years’ draft, as well as how you feel the Bucs’ draft went. Let’s start off with the first round Gator pick, Mike Pouncey, 1rst rd #15 overall to Miami?

I think that Pouncey should give half of every check to his brother Maurkice. Because Maurkice’s success is why Mike was drafted this high. Mike is a solid guard but should have gone late round 1 and possibly round 2. Danny Watkins is the best interior lineman in this draft.

Marcus Gilbert (2nd Rd, 63rd overall to Pittsburgh)?

I was actually higher on Gilbert than most people. It didn’t surprise me to see him go this high. Funny that all the talk was around the Steelers getting another Gators offensive lineman but it turned out to be Marcus instead of Mike.

Maurice Hurt (7th Rd, 217th overall to Washington)?

Playing on the same line with the Pounceys and Gilbert, it’s easy to get overlooked. Shanahan knows the type of offensive lineman he wants for his zone blocking scheme, so expect to see a long career out of Hurt in Washington.

Chaz Henry (P/K) had a fantastic career at Florida. He went undrafted. Can you tell us why?

I don’t grade punters or kickers or watch any film on them. A lot of scouts are the same way and most teams live by the philosophy to not draft one. Henry will get scooped up quick, as soon as undrafted players are able to sign.

Also, FS Will Hill also was undrafted. He had the measurables people say Ahmad Black ”lacked”, what was the reason he was still left on the board after April 30th?

There is a lot of talent out there in the secondary that didn’t get selected in this years draft. Teams weren’t as high on the safeties at all this year. The top safety slid all the way down to the middle of the second round, which led to a domino effect on all safeties sliding. Also, without free agency taking place yet, a lot of teams are looking for veterans to fill this all important position.

I want to know your thoughts about the guy that brings both the Gators and Bucs together: Ahmad Black. I know you know my feelings about Ahmad, and I know you weren’t as hard on him as others were.

This is a simple equation. Slow and short. Teams didn’t feel that he can hold his own against the bigger, faster NFL receivers. Also, the previous mentioned slide on safeties played a big part. Where the Bucs got Black at, will equate to great value. I believe that Raheem Morris will make the most out of Ahmad’s skill set.

What are your feelings on tape versus measurables?

Measurables play a factor into the equation but it’s a small factor. Game Film = Gold

You said during one of your podcasts, (NFL Redzone Report on Blogtalk Radio, Thursdays at 10:30 pm CT), you think the Buccaneers had a pretty good draft. Can you shed some light on how it was a good draft for them?

I originally didn’t like the Clayborn pick,  felt that Cam Jordan would have been a steal of a left defensive end there. But when they followed that up by getting Bowers to play opposite of him and next to Price and McCoy it took all the spotlight away from the Lions defensive line that was assembled after drafting Nick Fairley.

I really liked the Mason Foster pick and especially where they got him. Luke Stocker was a great value pick and the Bucs need someone to step in when Winslow gets hurt again. Stocker is a complete tight end and getting him that late was as surprising as the Ahmad Black pick. Anthony Gaitor should see time immediately and Raheem loves him. I trust Morris opinion when it comes to cornerbacks. Didn’t like the selection of a second tight end but it was a late pick so I didn’t kill them on that. But, I’m not an Allen Bradford fan. Felt like there were a ton of better change of pace backs in this draft. I would have loved to see them go cornerback a little earlier to. Instead of 2 tight ends, they could of used to cornerbacks. But, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Raheem try Black in some nickel formations at corner.

Lastly, what advice do you have for younger college players out there moving forward: what do you want them to know scouts are looking out for?

It’s going to sound cliche but I want a guy that is a team guy. Don’t throw your teammates under the bus. You’re also worthless to me if you’re suspended due to getting arrested, failing a drug test or testing positive for PEDs. Remember, you’re getting ready to become a millionaire, live a respectable lifestyle, not only for the money but because you have the common sense to do so. Prove to me that you’re not in it for the money or the fame. I want football players not celebrities. Probably the most important thing I look for other than talent, is work ethic. You can’t coach what Jerry Rice had. He wanted it more than anybody else and he worked harder than anybody else. Most players feel that the longer they’re in the league, the less they have to work at being good. It’s the complete opposite. The athletes getting better every year and the veterans get older every year. That’s why when idiots are tweeting about enjoying the lockout, Peyton Manning is working his butt off as if the Super Bowl is being played tomorrow.

Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout, NFL Writer, and On-Air Personality. Jayson’s articles can be found at www.TheXLog.com and www.Rotoexperts.com. He co-hosts the NFL Redzone Report on Blogtalk Radio with Hank Koebler Thursdays at 11:30 pm ET/10:30 CT. You can also hear Jayson on Sports 790 AM in Houston (www.sports790.com) Thursdays at 12:19 pm ET/11:19 am CT, and follow him on twitter @JaysonBraddock.

XAM Sports is a Sports management and marketing agency whose clients include several NFL players as well as players in the AFL, UFL, and CFL. For more information on XAM Sports, please visit www.xamsports.com, or follow them on Twitter @XAMSports.

 

Dory LeBlanc is a contributing author at GatorsFirst.com and BourbonMeyer.com.  For more thoughts on the Florida  Gators (and more) follow Dory LeBlanc on Twitter (@Dory_LeBlanc).

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