Information gathering was the cornerstone of the operation when I worked in pro scouting with the New York Jets. "Gather it, but not never give it," was the saying around the building.
Everyday I was handed a stack of papers summarizing every major newspaper in the country. On nearly every page something would be highlighted in florescent yellow and that something needed to be entered into the team database. I'd bang away at the keyboard for hours on end entering information about every domestic problem, every arrest, every injury no matter how slight, every bit of it went into the player profiles.
When being taught how to advance scout, I'd sit up in the press box at Giants Stadium with my little radio with headphones and my binoculars. I was told to listen to the pre-game radio show for even the slightest bit of information, no matter how obscure. I was taught to carefully look at all the players during the pre-game warm-ups to see if anyone out there perhaps was favoring an ankle and to see who had what taped up. Maybe an injury had gone unreported.
Our team's Director of Security was Steve Yarnell. From my understanding, he used to work for the FBI and he was the lead investigator for the World Trade Center bombing back in 1993. He was the guy who was joined to the hip of the Jets head coach when he'd run out to midfield to shake hands at the conclusion of the games. Background checks in our building were as common as first downs and I'm not talking about the kinds you can buy online for twenty bucks either.
Profootballtalk.com actually has something called the Police Blotter | ProFootballTalk featured on their website. It's a section especially dedicated to all the run-ins with the law. In my research, this by far and away the best public source for this kind of information. They also have a "College Football Talk" tab you can click on and while they don't offer a "Police Blotter" on the college side, they do list stories about all the off field player related issues and arrests. If any of you runs a scouting service, you put together mock drafts or you're an aspiring scout, you need to know this information. This is what teams want to know and this is the kind of stuff that causes stocks to rise and fall on the proverbial NFL stock ticker. I've thought for a long time, if an aspiring scout would just simply write a bunch of scouting reports that focus only on background information, no film work, just background information, that would be enough to land a job with a team. Hope that helps someone out there. All I ask is you send me a post card from New England.
I attended and worked four straight Scouting Combines during my time in the league. Each player who participates in the Combine is shuttled off to the hospital for a physical. Drug testing is also performed and the results are emailed in the strictest of confidence to the owner's and to the GM's. Players return from the hospital for "Cybex Testing" to get their knees tested. Players also stand before a room full of scouts and decision makers in nothing more than their gym shorts, socks and shoes. Each player's body type is gawked at and documented.
Every night, all the team's decision makers, coaches and scouts would gather in their particular suites in this one hotel in town. There was this huge downstairs open area on the first floor with a bunch of suites, each with a different team flag in the window of the rooms. This area was cordoned off from the general public and there was always a police presence. As the sun was setting on another cold Indianapolis winter day, things were just starting to heat up inside. By dinner time, the place was absolutely swarming with NFL people and all the college prospects who were town. Each team had young guys like me who were given lists of players that the "powers to be" wanted to talk to. I had to track down all the players on my list and see to it they got to the Jets room to be interviewed. Sometimes, I had to wait for the particular player to be interviewed by one or two other teams first before it was my turn to get him. Every team would give these players a t-shirt and a hat, so usually they walked around carrying a couple big bags filled with this stuff.
Interviews inside the rooms were really like police interrogations in a way. Granted, it's much more relaxed and informal, but yet still the interviews have a similar look and feel to them. Scouts, coaches and front office executives ask the players all these random and sometimes totally off the wall questions and then wait and study their responses. Some NFL people know how to read body language like a book. My scouting mentor has taught me that while a man's lips can lie, his body language and his facial muscles can not. One of the most different questions I was ever told a prospect was asked during an interview was, "What's the last movie you saw?" By nature, NFL scouts are not much different than FBI or CIA Agents. While they don't carry guns or put their lives on the line like their counter-parts, their quest for intel is much the same.
College scouts go out onto the road during the season to gather information. Sure, they watch the film, but the good scouts also talk to everyone they can about the player. I mean from the janitor to the head coach. Great scouts have established relationships with people at most every major university across the country and it's because of those relationships, they're given the real scoop. The excellent scouts are the ones who even know how to scoop information from other scouts.
Family background is another major focus of study. Does the player come from a single or two parent household? Does he have any relatives who've played in the NFL before such as his dad, a brother, cousin or uncle? Did the player play any other sports in the past? Did he run track? These are all questions that need to answered.
College scouts also attend practice, go to the games and they go to all the bowl games as well. They watch how the players warm up and they watch how they practice. While at the games, seventy-thousand fans may be glued to the action, but the scout is also keeping an eye on how the players are interacting with their teammates and coaches on the sidelines.
I personally went to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Game when Michigan played Kansas State this past December. I was watching all the players, but then suddenly one in particular jumped off the page at me, Taylor Lewan. He was playing left tackle on Michigan's offensive line. He looked like a big man, but at the same time, he had feet like a dancing ballerina. It was pretty to watch. It was like poetry in motion as he quickly and effortlessly slid out in pass protection. However, it wasn't long before red flags started going off in my head like an alarm clock at 4 a.m. Lewan had his hands on his hips after a few plays, he looked sort of gassed, sort of winded and it was only the first quarter. I found myself questioning his conditioning and his endurance. Then he sort of ran out half speed on a play and missed a critical block that resulted in the ball carrier getting tackled. It looked like he took the play off and it brought up 4th down as a result. What I assume was his position coach was half way out on the field reading him the riot act as Lewan was walking towards him. From where I was sitting, it clearly looked like Lewan flicked him off, intensely started mouthing all sorts of stuff and then just simply walked away from him. The words, "flash fire temper," went through my mind. That's not a judgement, it's discernment of behavior that was on open display for all who were there in the stadium. Previously, Lewan has twice been voted the Big Ten's "Offensive Lineman of the Year." Prior to last season, he was named as one of the team's captains. Michigan ended up getting beat pretty good in this bowl game and I couldn't help but wonder what barring Lewan's behavior had on the outcome. Clearly, this was not big time leadership in a big time game. Not just any game either, it was the last time he'd ever suit up for his school.
Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Twitter stories and what to my eyes does appear, but a story about NFL draft prospect Taylor Lewan facing 3 charges - ESPN. What a shame. This guy easily has the God-given ability to become a franchise left tackle. However, in all my dealings with people, I've learned that when things don't start well, they usually don't end well either. It's typically not the greatest during the in-between time either. If Lewan manages to overcome his current legal issues, he'll probably slide down in the draft. How far, only time will tell. Still, I'm sure some team will put on a blindfold and talk themselves into it because of his ability and potential to help them win games. Other teams will shy away no matter what. Bottom line, he's a huge gamble at this point and not a good one. I personally pray for him that this type of thing will never again repeat itself in his life, but statistically speaking, someone's behavior tends to repeat without significant divine intervention. When I saw this story yesterday, I wasn't the bit surprised. All it was for me was confirmation of the clues I already had.
Another concerning thing is when you Google his name, "Taylor Lewan," a bunch of pictures pop right up. The one with him wearing the shiny purple tie is extremely concerning if I was a GM and my team was on the clock. In this particular picture being described, he has the look of being a real party animal. If you look closely, he's got a tattoo of a mustache on his finger under his nose and it looks like two women are right next to him. This picture stands out in sharp contrast to all the pictures on the field, but it is very telling all things considered. It's just another piece to his puzzle.
When it comes to evaluating, studying the film is only half the equation. Behind the scenes, there is much background work to be done. Some teams place more emphasis on this work than others and some teams are far better at it than the rest of the league. However, all the teams do consider it to one degree or another prior to placing a final grade on the player and lining up the boards.
Daniel spent four years working in pro scouting with the New York Jets and he's the author of the book, "Whatever it Takes," the true story of a fan making it into the NFL. Go to WHATEVERITTAKESBOOK.COM to see and hear more of his amazing story of growing up as a die-hard Redskins fan who got hired out of nowhere to work on one of the best staffs in NFL History. Daniel co-hosts Whatever it Takes, a radio show on El Shaddai Radio, he's a contributing writer for Touchdown Europe and he's a featured writer on Hogs Haven. Daniel is a fan of the Washington Redskins with the unique perspective of someone who has worked inside the game.