Scouting In The Covid Era
Arguably, the most important department in any NFL organization is the scouting staff. This is where everything begins. Without scouting, you don’t get the 1986 AFC Championship story of “The Drive” watching John Elway lead the Broncos 98 yards to a Super Bowl appearance. Without scouting, Kurt Warner is still working at a grocery store. Nothing happens between the hashes if the scouting department isn’t there to find the talent to put on the field. But how does this vital piece of the puzzle do their jobs today in the Covid era of the NFL?
Covid has done a number on the NFL regarding revenue leading to a plethora of new regulations and new procedures, despite less than 1% of positive rates throughout the 2020 season. Not getting political about this, it very well could be because of those procedures and regulations that led to such a low positive rate over the whole league with nationwide travel. Well done NFL. Truly. So we know how this is handled on gameday and during normal operation, but scouting is all over the country almost year round. So how does it work now?
In 2020 we had the NFL Combine, but no pro days. This year, we will have pro days, but no Combine. I am a combine fan. I absolutely love it. The drills, the competition, the mindset of putting your future on the line. It IS football. This year, we have been informed that there will be no in person interviews, no private dinners with the team and the prospects. There is always something to say for that in person contact and communication. You can really tell a lot about a person by speaking with them in person. Sure, we will have the rapidly normalized Zoom call meetings and such, but I truly hope this doesn’t become the norm. Teams need to be able to sit in the same room and look these kids in the eye.
What we know for this year, is there will be a greatly reduced team presence for these upcoming pro days. Meaning fewer scouting personnel will be permitted to attend. Depending on how prevalent Covid is over the next 45 days, that number could increase. I don’t see it decreasing. So this could lead to a couple different outcomes. The most likely being you will see an expansion in scouting employment in the NFL. I know that sounds backwards, but think about it, most of these pro days are going to be condensed. For example, Alabama, Louisville and Ohio State have their pro days on the same day, March 30th. Teams will need to have representation in multiple cities at once. Hence, increased scouting intern spots, full scouting hires. Remember, tangibles like 40 times, 3 cone drills, etc. can only be timed on the pro days or at the senior bowl. As the Senior Bowl has passed, the only opportunities for teams to get confirmation on those timed activities are at the pro days. There will be no private workouts being sent to teams showing those metrics. The need for expanded scouting staff will be more vital in 2021 than it has in the past. And of course, standard Covid protocols are still in place. Mask requirements, social distancing, hygiene procedures etc. And that is good, but the connection and the intimacy is not currently present.
I think that ultimately, the more time these teams can get with the players the better. Sure, a fast 40 time is attractive, but I lean more toward what is between a player’s ears. I want a smart player, a quality character guy. I look for the intangibles as much as I look at talent. For that information to be gathered, in person contact is a huge part of that, so as I mentioned above, I am hoping this sterile, no contact trend is short lived. We humans need the connection and the
friendships we create in our lives and building a football team is no different. To really know who someone is, to know if they can handle the pressure that goes hand in hand with playing in the NFL, you need to be there with them. Spend time with them. Pro days are a big part of that. Meet and greets are a big part of that. In person interviews are a big part of that. This is me hoping that by the time 2022 rolls around, this Covid era will be a memory. Albeit a memory to look back on and see the ingenuity and the drive to keep our beloved sport moving forward. But a memory nonetheless. Progress in the sport is a good thing, but I don’t believe we NFL fans want a “New Normal” at the core of our passion. So, here is to the hope that we get back to OUR normal sooner rather than later.
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