Director of the Scouting Academy and ITP contributor Dan Hatman has written ten short pieces using Matt Miller’s tweet list as inspiration, hoping to illuminate readers on aspects of the scouting and player evaluation business that are misunderstood, glossed over, or ignored. This is Part 7, Be Open To Exceptions.
Scouts are looking at the same players, on the same field, against the same competition. But while it is, as Paul Warfield would say, “right there, on film,” there is much to consider that is not. For scouts and talent evaluators, the film is your primary source ‒ but not your only source. As discussed in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 of this series, there are other factors to include in the calculus.
Matt Miller’s ’10 Scouting Rules’ tweet captures the process-based approach scouts can mimic to find success. Miller is a transparent evaluator who has laid out the details of his process before, and shines light on many of the philosophies commonly used by the pros. This series aims to provide a starting point for delving into evaluation, showcasing the processes aspiring scouts can use to make reports and opinions as thorough and professional as possible.
Russell Wilson is the exception, not the rule.
Players like Russell Wilson are an outlier at their position group ‒ most players who are that far below the physical dimensions required for the position do not pan out. Scouts must always be looking for the exceptions, using a process that captures elite players who lack physical measurables. You want to make sure that players like Sam Mills, Doug Flutie, Drew Brees, Danny Woodhead, or Cortland Finnegan are evaluated, because missing out on them is missing out on something special.
Here is my recommendation: Grade the traits. I know this was mentioned before, but it applies, and bears repeating: Traits are what determine how a player performs. Traits are football skills ‒ footwork, technique, awareness ‒ demonstrated on the field. Physical skills are what a player walks on to the field with ‒ height, weight, strength, quickness. Speed does not guarantee separation, and workout skills are not football skills.
Let’s talk about Wilson. If we are grading traits on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being high, Wilson would have been a 1 in height. Based on the evaluations of NFL head coaches, general managers, personnel directors, and scouts, he had grades from 7’s to 9’s in accuracy, decision making, arm strength, poise, leadership, and mental toughness. Which is more important: height or accuracy? height or decision making? height or poise? height or leadership?
No one should choose height in any of those pairwise comparisons. So if you ranked height that low in the order of traits that actually impact QB performance, then why would you let it change your final value when a player grades out well in many other areas?
The physical skills a player possesses are obvious, being dissected at the NFL Combine or in workouts. Everyone can see them, and disqualify players who do not reach the specifications. But while an automatic dismissal will make your list of prospective players shorter, it ignores what the player brings on-field. The goal here is not to burden your process with a large number of players who do not have the tools, but simply to ensure your process captures those who do. Look for what shows up as part of the overall evaluation. Focusing on whether the traits are good enough keeps a talented, but short, player from slipping by unnoticed. Remember, an outlier can be a good thing!
Follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Hatman