SUNDAY SPECIAL: NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: WHO IMPRESSED THE SCOUTS? (2024)

There are no secrets in the NFL. Scouting is a multi-million dollar enterprise that covers the country from April to August. That, however, doesn’t mean teams can’t make mistakes on draft day.

Offensive lineman Mark Schlereth of the University of Idaho was not a deep, dark secret to National Football League talent scouts in 1988.

Though six knee surgeries had forced him into brief retirement after his junior season, NFL teams knew about Schlereth. His name had shown up the year before on the list of prospective draftees sent to NFL teams by the scouting services, and most of the scouts had seen him play.

With hundreds of talent scouts criss-crossing the country from August to April, and with millions of dollars spent annually to find new talent for the NFL’s football machine, there are no secrets anymore.

On draft day 1989, Schlereth went unclaimed until the 10th round when the Washington Redskins made him the 263rd player selected.

Two years later, Schlereth was an important member of the Redskins’ Super Bowl championship team and was voted to the Pro Bowl.

What happened? Were the Redskins’ smarter than the competition, or just luckier? How, with so much manpower, money and computer hours spent analyzing talent, could a player with Pro Bowl potential slip through the cracks until the 10th round?

It still happens, but not as often as it did 20 or 30 years ago. There are no more situations like in 1961 when Green Bay had other general managers asking ”who’s he?” after drafting a future all-star running back named Elijah Pitts of tiny Philander Smith College in the 13th round.

”We don’t miss many players anymore,” said Chuck Banker, a pro and college scout for the Redskins. ”The information we get is much more thorough, from the worst level of college football to Notre Dame.”

Chances are, all of the players who are selected today and Monday in the 1994 draft have been personally scouted at least three times by each of the 28 teams.

However, to understand how a future Pro Bowl player like Schlereth could be passed over until the 10th round in the modern era requires an understanding of how the process works.

It begins the year before when BLESTO, the scouting service that identifies top 1995 prospects for 10 NFL teams – including Washington – sends information to its clients.

”We’re in the process of getting ready for the 1994 draft and BLESTO is already in the process of getting ready for the 1995 draft,” said Banker.

In August, while the team is in training camp preparing for the 1994 season, General Manager Charley Casserly and his six scouts will begin preparing for the 1995 draft.

”We’ll go to camp and go over our schedule,” Banker said. ”Our area scouts will look at 1993 film and then go to campuses and try to see all of the top prospects in practice.”

The process intensifies in September when the college season begins. There are games to watch, reels of film to study, and reports to be filed.

Area scouts such as Gene Bates, who covers the West Coast for the Redskins, begin spending more time with college prospects than with their families.

”During a typical week, I may visit Washington State, Washington, Oregon State and Oregon,” Bates said. ”I’ll visit at least three and as many as five schools every week.

”Come Saturday, I may watch a Washington State game and then drive eight miles and watch Idaho play that night.

”During a typical year, I’ll fly about 100,000 air miles and spend about 150 nights in a hotel. I’ll pick up some Kentucky Fried Chicken and take it back to the room because there isn’t much time to get my reports done before leaving for the next school.”

In October, the cross-checks begin. Bates, for example, may see and file reports on players already scouted in the Midwest. And scout Mike Hagen may leave the southern area and file reports on players Bates has scouted. The cross-checking continues through November, December and the bowl games in January. At any one time, the Redskins could have their four area scouts – Bates, Hagen, Mel Kaufman and Miller McCalmon – and their two college-pro scouts – Banker and Joe Mendes – in the field.

George Saimes, the director of college scouting, will try to see each prospect at least once. And Casserly will work in visits during the season.

”We try to get as many eyes on a player as possible,” Banker said. ”A minimum of three and as many as five guys can see a single player. Then we see them in bowl games and again at the combine in Indianapolis.”

It’s a thorough and exhausting process, and by February the computer is bulging with information on more than 1,000 college players eligible for the draft.

By March, the top prospects have been identified and the coaches join the process.

”We take our coaches on the road the entire month of March and try to expose them to the top-rated guys,” Banker said.

By April, scouts are called in for a three-week think-tank session. Numbers are crunched, players are given grades, and the draft board begins taking shape for the selection process later that month.

It would seem that a player with Pro Bowl potential like Schlereth would occupy a prominent spot on the draft board. But there’s one more process to undertake.

Every team has a draft board. It hangs on a wall, usually in the general manager’s office or in the designated draft room, and it lists the ranking of the top 200 or so candidates in order of preference.

After all of the computer numbers have been compacted, human judgment then takes over.

”During the last three weeks we put in a lot of time making sure we have the players lined up the way we want them,” Bates said.

One week before the draft, the board is completed and teams conduct their own mock drafts and play ”what if” games.

”We play out different scenarios,” Banker said. ”If one team does one thing, then what do we do?

”We think we have an idea what each team is looking for, but what they need and what we think they need could be different. So we run different scenarios.”

On draft day 1989, the Redskins selected such future busts as Tracy Rocker, Jeff Graham, Tim Smiley, Lybrandt Robinson, Kevin Hendrix and Charley Darrington before announcing Schlereth’s name.

The computer may have liked him but it was the human factor that buried Schlereth. And, in a lot of ways, it was an accident that he was drafted at all.

Scouts take pride in their thoroughness, but they’re not too proud to admit that some future stars are drafted by accident.

The Schlereth Accident began about one month before the draft when former Redskins defensive line coach Torgy Torgeson went to Moscow, Idaho, to work out defensive end Marvin Washington, a top prospect who was selected by the New York Jets.

Schlereth was one of the Idaho offensive linemen who showed up to help Washington showcase his pass-rushing skills. Only thing was, Schlereth put on the show.

”Torgy went to look at Washington and he saw this other guy beating the devil out of the top-rated guy,” Banker said.

”Our research showed that Schlereth had physical problems with his knee. I’m sure that scared a lot of other teams, and some teams were worried about the level of competition at Idaho.

”We decided to check him out, and nobody knew about him on draft day except our people.”

Despite all the time and money expended, accidents do happen.

”Sometimes you go in to work out a pretty highly rated guy and another kid shows up and you see him do some things better than the top guy,” Bates said. ”It could be a guy who was hurt and missed the season, or it could be a good player who didn’t start because he was overshadowed by somebody else. It happens.”

SUNDAY SPECIAL: NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: WHO IMPRESSED THE SCOUTS? (2024)
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