By Russ Lande
I cannot speak to how every team's meetings or draft rooms function, but the ones I have been a part (the Rams and Browns) have provided some of the funniest -- and scariest moments -- in my scouting life. Below are some anecdotes from those experiences (well, at least the ones I can share without getting into too much trouble).
One year, there was a fullback that I had scouted at a Midwestern school to whom I had given a late round grade. I felt that he had the inside running ability, receiving skills, special teams production and other qualities worth taking a flyer on. However, during the pre-combine draft meetings, no matter how hard I fought to have this player kept on the board, I could not get it done -- the player was 5-foot-8 and nobody wanted a fullback that short. Then came the pro day circuit, before the final draft meetings in April. Amazingly, while none of the scouts had been there to fight for this fullback since our last meetings, he was now in play because he ran one of the fastest times for any running back at the combine. Although I was happy to see him on the board, it made me question if the team really knew what they were doing. Player should not move up the ranks so quickly just because they ran a great forty at the combine.
Another year, on draft day, my team's second round target was one pick away, so we called the player up -- but then things took a strange turn. Our head coach asked the scouts if we were sure about the pick. One veteran scout, who in my eyes is an outstanding evaluator, showed courage and said there was a player he would take over him. Thus, without any further debate, we told the player on the phone we were not selecting him, and instead selected the other guy our veteran scout wanted. We were fortunate when our pick came up in the third round that the player we had been on the phone with was still available and we ended up selecting him, but this raised a major concern. Why did we spend so much time meeting and setting our draft board when one scout could overrule the rest just like that? Unfortunately, although both players played in the league long enough to get their pensions, neither developed into a frontline NFL starter.
Perhaps the scariest thing I ever experienced in draft meetings involved a player who nobody on my team particularly liked. Our area scout gave this safety a free agent grade and, when I cross-checked that school, I did the same. Then three members of our defensive coaching staff said they had only watched the first half of one game and had turned it off at that point because the player was so bad. But after the safety's pro day, these same staff members said they were confident he may have been second best safety in the draft. As a result, we ended up placing him above Bob Sanders on our draft board. Fortunately for us, someone else drafted him (and he never turned into a quality starter), but it once again showed how dangerous it is to evaluate so differently from how a player works out in shorts and a t-shirt to his actual production on the field.
Another time, the area scout I was working with gave a college running back a free agent grade, which was seconded by others on our team. However, the man in charge of scouting at the time brought up that this player had been an outstanding high school athlete and had been recruited by some of the premier programs in the nation; he thought he was clearly more gifted than many of the backs in the draft. All of a sudden, this player was rated as a second/third round pick on our draft board. We didn't end up drafting him, which was a stroke of luck -- he never amounted to the talent that the head scout saw.
I am always amazed when I look back and see how many players are selected due to odd circumstances or hunched or faulty logic. The next year, I'll reveal more tales from my experiences in the NFL, so keep checking in.
Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.