Teams are in the process of preparing for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Preparation for the 2021 Draft won’t wait until this year’s event is finished, though. The process for next year’s class begins before this year’s players are selected.
With most scouts and resources tied up looking at the current crop of prospects, how do teams find the manpower to start on next year’s class? Most teams in the NFL pool their resources by joining one of two national scouting networks (BLESTO and National) as described in this DraftDaddy.com article from five years ago.
Membership responsibilities includes over $100,000 in annual dues and the assignment of at least one scout to the group.
As scouts evaluate the current class of seniors visiting schools’ pro days, they often work out underclassmen for future draft years. This data and other information is presented at meetings (usually in Florida) about two weeks after the current draft.
The BLESTO and National reports are published from these meetings. These reports serve as a both starting point for the lengthy evaluation process and also a rough guide as to where players are regarded by the group.
An April 2007 interview on 790 The Score (Providence) with then-Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli revealed the unique approach the Patriots take with their scouting process. At the time, the Patriots were one of a handful of teams not to subscribe to either the BLESTO or National scouting service.
“For us, we don’t feel [the value is there]. The name “Combine” comes from a group of teams that have gotten together, combined their financial resources and manpower, and they are sharing information among the clubs that belong to the particular Combine – National or BLESTO.”
“You have a scout that is employed by, say, the Miami Dolphins, who is scouting and gathering information in his area or his region, and all of that information is shared. We’re not necessarily in the business of information sharing. If there’s someone who is being trained by the Miami Dolphins, or is being trained by a Combine, a scout that is working for six, seven, eight, or nine different teams, that person has no idea about what our culture is, what our needs are, what our desires are.”
“We prefer to train our own people to scout and look for a specific type of player – physically, mentally, emotionally – that fits our needs. In our mind, just looking at it from a business standpoint, why would we have someone who doesn’t know our system, and know it intimately, scout and gather information when they don’t know what they’re looking for? How can you find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for?”
The Ravens also don’t subscribe to either of the independent scouting services (BLESTO and National Football Scouting) that the vast majority of the league’s teams use, so there’s no influence from outside sources who don’t take Baltimore’s specific schematic concerns and player-evaluation credos into account.
Both teams’ philosophies can arguably be chased back to a visit legendary Cowboys personnel man Gil Brandt paid the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s. Brandt explained the Cowboys’ method of player evaluation and team building to Browns leadership. Bill Belichick was Cleveland’s head coach at the time. He would bring Brandt’s methods to Cleveland. Recently retired tight end Ozzie Newsome was working in the Cleveland front office at that time. After the franchise relocated to Baltimore, Newsome became Baltimore’s general manager.
Belichick and Newsome built the Patriots and the Browns into two of the league’s premier organizations. The teams they constructed have won eight Super Bowls since 2000.
Brandt outlined the philosophies in a 2016 interview with Sports Illustrated.
There were five characteristics that were common to every position: 1) character, 2) mental alertness, 3) quickness, agility and balance, 4) strength and explosion and 5) competitiveness and aggressiveness. Then we had to find out position specifics, which are obviously a lot different for a wide receiver than they are for an offensive lineman, and we weighted those characteristics. So say you are a defensive lineman and you get a 5 in strength and explosion and a 5 in quickness, that’s 10; and I’m a quarterback, and I get an 8 in mental alertness and a 1 in strength and explosion, that’s only 9 points. But because of the weighting of the most dominant characteristics for success at the position, which would be mental alertness for a quarterback, I would be a better player than you.
This was part of a broader statement about how the Cowboys computerized their scouting reports, but it is the key component. Dallas under Brandt figured out the traits they valued at every position. They knew the prototype of the player they wanted.
The Patriots and Ravens built their own prototypes, which have been adapted through the years as the league has changed, and their systems have evolved. But they seek out players who check the boxes for the role they will play. (Side note: The Browns’ defensive coordinator at the time was an up and coming coach named Nick Saban. Saban has brought the same methods to guide his recruiting at Alabama.)
I think this is ultimately why these franchises have viewed the scouting services as useless. These teams know what they want in a player. A scout of another team has no idea how to tell whether a player is a good fit for the Patriots or the Ravens. They aren’t scouting for these traits so their word doesn’t mean much.
Throughout his tenure, Belichick’s ability to change a player’s role has amazed me. He has gotten offensive players to contribute on defense and defensive players to contribute on offense. I finally figured out how he did it. Because he has defined traits for each role, he can identify the linebacker who has the tools to perform as a tight end or the wide receiver who has the ability to play cornerback. The definitions expand his horizons.
There are some drawbacks. Not pooling resources with other teams leaves a lot of extra work. One way the Ravens have worked around this is by adding extra eyes through the creation of their “20/20 Club.”
The Baltimore front office is full of people who graduated through what Newsome calls the 20-20 Club, the entry level in the Baltimore personnel department that pays twentysomethings little more than $20,000 per year. The guys who made it through the 20-20 Club, as Battista notes, have grown from being lowly interns designated to drive players to and from the airport into valuable personnel executives and scouts. One generation of scouts teaches the next, and by the time they grow up, they know exactly what the Ravens look for from a player in any given position. The Ravens also don’t subscribe to either of the independent scouting services (BLESTO and National Football Scouting) that the vast majority of the league’s teams use, so there’s no influence from outside sources who don’t take Baltimore’s specific schematic concerns and player-evaluation credos into account.
The 20/20 Club has created an additional benefit in Baltimore. Like many successful teams, the Ravens have seen their front office talent poached by other franchises. The 20/20 Club gives them a pipeline of up and coming talent already well-versed in Ravens scouting values ready to step up when somebody needs to be replaced.
Whether the Jets will subscribe to scouting services under Joe Douglas is something I do not know. The Jets do not publicize such a thing. According to the DraftDaddy.com article, they were part of the National as of 2015. I don’t know whether they are now.
As a graduate of the Ravens 20/20 Club, I do hope Douglas takes some of the lessons of his former employer to heart. If he is going to build this team into a winner, he needs to build a unique Jets culture. What traits do the Jets value at each position? Having an answer to this question will make hitting on Draft picks much more likely. Only Jets scouts will be able to find prospects who fit the criteria.