My Scouting Process
I’m not good at introductions so I’ll make this simple. If you’re confused about my process when it comes to draft content, this a step-by-step explanation for all of the things I do throughout the year. Enjoy!
May - August
Here’s the frameworking part of the year. By the point the previous draft has concluded I will already have a watchlist prepared for FBS players who match certain criteria (starters who meet statistical thresholds at each position.)
This is what the database looks like at the beginning of the year. Every position has between 35-100 players at the FBS level who meet the aforementioned criteria. They are organized alphabetically by school. After collecting basic information on these players (height, weight, year) I find viable cutups to use for studying them. For better known prospects I’m usually able to use pre-existing cutups. For smaller players I have to study with offensive line cutups (have all snaps of offense vs defense) or create cutups specifically for those players.
I study one or two games on the player for a preliminary grade, which is more of a conservative gut feeling than an accurate guess for where a player gets drafted. The goal of this is to organize a list of players who I believe are in a “comfortable” draftable territory. These are what the preliminary reports look like - I organize guys by team and then group them overall by conference.
This by no means meant to be perfect. Players are in formless blob groupings, not specific spots. QB20 might as well be QB16. These are more for my own personal usage than for public consumption, as it’s meant to categorize talent so I can prioritize future evaluations.
This is what a positional page on the database looks like as players begin to be organized by summer grade. Players that share equal grades are organized by personal preference. As you can see only one quarterback is listed with a draftable grade, so the only player who would receive a player card from this list is SMU’s Shane Buechele.
I won’t go too deep into the weeds on what I do to make my graphics, but I create a card for Buechele that looks like this in full color.
To clarify on the site that Buechele’s full report is not complete, I will add a grayscale version to the quarterback scouting reports page. This helps to keep track of which players I need to write reports on when the season gets underway.
This is what the Buechele card looks like on the site as it’s added.
I write summer preliminary reports ad nauseam on as many players as possible between May and August. I write them on underclassmen as well, and the scouting report pages on www.whatsondraftnfl.com eventually become giant walls of gray with all the seniors and underclassmen who I’ve given draftable grades to.
My preliminary writeups take between 30-60 minutes to complete. The cards and site updates take about 10 minutes. On a good day I can get 15-20 preliminary writeups done. Over the course of the summer I watch hundreds of players in preparation for the year.
I color code to organize which players have cutups and how old the cutups are. For instance
Jarius Morehead has one cutup - TAPE (1) - and that cutup is from the previous year (green coloring)
Evan Foster is the same as Morehead in terms of available cutups.
Tanner Muse has three cutups - TAPE (3) - and those cutups are from both the previous year and the current year.
My general rule for writing a full scouting report is at least one game from the current year and one from the previous year, although I can use offensive line cutups without the specific player highlighted if necessary. For the sake of this, let’s assume that the summer has now ended and games are being played again.
September - February
The foundation is set thanks to summer work, so I have a rough idea of which seniors and underclassmen are worth studying as the season begins. This is the part of the year where I make cutups and try to help get tape on players in preparation for writing reports. For an idea of how I do cutups - I take a full game off of Youtube, splice it into offense vs defenses, then make individual cutups that highlight players in that game. Good games can have up to 20 players that are worthy of getting a cutup. Each cutup takes about an hour at minimum.
Once a player has adequate tape I prepare their report and get ready to make the full report’s tape notes. Here’s an example of what a report looks like prior to a player’s information being added.
After I finish preparing the template it’s onto watching a player. Let’s use Ke’Shawn Vaughn as an example here.
So here’s what it looks like once I write the report’s main tape notes. Let’s break it down.
All positions have a tape grade scored out of 90 total points. For running backs the sorting is pretty simple.
Ability to Create Yardage is worth 30 points.
Speed is worth 15 points.
Power is worth 15 points.
Vision is worth 15 points.
Pass Blocking & Receiving is worth 15 points.
So why 90 points? Athletic testing is worth 10 points and levels the overall score to a crisp 100 points.
Ability to Create Yardage is my “totality” category that encompasses a runner’s total ability. Whether it’s winning with power, agility, speed, etc, these things all play a role in the Ability to Create Yardage grade. The goal of the category is to give a huge push for running backs who can create yards for themselves without the assistance of blockers to set things up. It’s definitely the most subjective of these areas, but it’s the key for any running back who performs at a high level in my opinion.
Speed includes burst, long speed, stop/start, and ability to maintain speed in uncomfortable positions such as after a tackle attempt.
Power includes contact balance, leg drive, toughness/effort, falling forward through hits and maintaining momentum, and the ability to sustain a high workload and wear down defenses.
Vision includes patience in allowing blockers to set up ahead, reaction time, peripheral vision, creativity, and general ability to navigate difficult situations without losing composure.
Pass Blocking & Receiving includes technique both as a pass catcher and as a blocker, size and effort to absorb defenders in pass protection, route-running, and awareness to handle stunts and blitzes effectively.
So here’s what Vaughn got in these categories.
Ability to Create Yardage is a 9 out of 30.
Speed is an 11 out of 15.
Power is a 6 out of 15.
Vision is a 9 out of 15
Pass Blocking & Receiving is a 9 out of 15.
Adding these scores together results in a 44/90 for Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Because the final grading scale is between 0 and 10 this score is divided by 10 to get closer to it. This gives Ke’Shawn Vaughn a 4.4 base grade. This base grade does not include testing numbers, but those are added at a later date and divided by 10 to match the scale.
For an understanding of how this results in a final grade, let’s say Vaughn receives a RAS of exactly 5. His final score would be 4.4 + 0.5 (RAS of 5 divided by 10), which becomes a 4.9 final grade.
Now that Vaughn's report is done, I add his colored name bar to the website.
As of writing this it’s January 8th, 2020. This is what the database looks like, as players only have base grades or summer preliminary grades.
If you click on any of the bolded names you’ll be able to access a report similar to Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s report. The “Preliminary Player Notes” tab will allow you to read my early notes on players - seniors are organized by conference while underclassmen have their own link. They are all formatted similarly to what is listed above this point.
For full reports I prioritize players who receive Senior Bowl and Combine invites over all others, just to give an idea of how I sort who to watch and who to skip.
March - April
Alright now we’ve made it through the section where I write all of the reports. Now it’s onto adding RAS and red flag deductions. For this section I’ll be using last year’s prospects as examples. Let’s use Kentucky RB Benny Snell.
So here is Snell’s full report. It includes his college stats, his player comparisons (I do one low, one medium, and one high to get a wide range of player comparisons), his athletic testing, and his medical/character concerns.
Let’s take a deeper look at Snell’s RAS.
RAS constantly changes with the addition of new information, but the goal is to give a grade for players relative to how their peers at the position performed historically with athletic testing. Snell performed below average in most areas, although he performed slightly above average in the broad jump and the 3-cone drill. Along with the RAS scores I listed how Snell performed compared to other backs at the 2019 NFL Combine. I don’t always include the height and weight RAS scores on the report, but Snell’s weight (224 pounds) helped to boost his overall grade with the RAS calculation.
Snell’s base grade from tape was a 3.9, and his RAS score ended up being a 4.20. Combining them led to a grade of a 4.320 total grade - but wait, what about medicals and character?
I noted Snell’s ejection from a bowl game, but he didn’t have any major character or medical concerns in his background. There were some minor injuries that limited him at times during his career, but nothing of significance. For character and medicals I deduct points from the total grade. Because it seems wrong to grade a high character guy as a 0/10 for character/meds, I flipped the method. A guy with a perfect 10/10 for character and medicals receives no deductions. 9/10 means a .1 deduction from the total grade. So on and so forth. Injuries and off-field incidents are deducted based on both severity and frequency. An arrest might lead to losing .2 or .3 off of the total grade. Multiple arrests or repeated severe injuries could end up leading to .8 or even a full 1 point off of the total grade.
After adding player comps, background notes, summaries (the book on player X), and all of the final scoring numbers… it’s a done deal. The player gets a grade that places them on my grading scale. Snell received a backup grade, for instance.
The scale is not perfect. The scoring isn’t meant to be pinpoint. The goal is to provide a ballpark guess for the player’s NFL future assuming they land in a spot that suits them. It doesn’t mean Benny Snell is a lock to be the 12th best running back in the 2019 draft class. His individual evaluation has no correlation with the evaluation of other players at the position. It doesn’t mean I’ll fall on the sword to claim Snell was a reach before the 6th round, it’s just a general estimate of where I’d feel comfortable taking a player with Snell’s skill set. No more. No less.
After everyone is graded and ranked accordingly, it’s onto next year to do it again. As time goes on I plan to adjust my scoring to get more accurate, but this only my 2nd year using RAS, and I want to get a much larger sample size before making big changes to scoring. I'm taking a long term approach to adjustments rather than rushing to make changes for one or two players. The growth I've had in evaluation ability in just a couple years has been significant enough to convince me that's the right choice.
It's that time of year where everyone gets angry on Twitter over ranking college football players, so let me clarify some things about my process.
- I do not, nor will I ever, alter my grades to match what other people see. If you read through my process you can understand why. I can't magically float a player's grade higher. It breaks the system and it's disingenuous as hell.
- I don't care how my rankings stack relative to expectations. If Joe Burrow ends up below Jalen Hurts it's because the subjective notes and objective testing/grading scale combined to give him a lower number grade. What matters to me is that I graded Burrow where I did and whether or not he performs at that level as an NFL player. Same for Hurts.
- I've been wrong more times than I can count, and trust me I've heard about it from people online. It doesn't scare me. I've learned how to evaluate players by working my ass off at it and taking L after L. Nobody will ever be perfect with their evaluations, but I intend to refine my work until I get very accurate with it. To give you an understanding of how much I've improved...
Here was my top 10 in 2017 when I first started writing scouting reports.
1. Sidney Jones IV - CB - Washington
2. Ejuan Price - 3-4 OLB - Pittsburgh
3. Jarron Jones - 3-4 NT - Notre Dame
4. Leonard Fournette - RB - LSU
5. Haason Reddick - 3-4 ILB - Temple
6. Budda Baker - SAF - Washington
7. Damontae Kazee - CB - San Diego State
8. Malik Hooker - SAF - Ohio State
9. DeMarcus Walker - 4-3 DE - Florida State
10. Chad Hansen - WR - California
Worth the lessons? Every time.
Cheers to another year of hard work and learning lessons.