Senior Bowl preview: What scouts are looking for


January starts the tail-end of the true evaluation and information collecting portion of an NFL evaluator’s calendar year. Scouts begin to prepare for postseason bowl games and all-star contests, the most popular being this week’s Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. The game has grown to become very popular over the past decade and the talent has improved every year.

All-star games are huge opportunities for scouts to confirm their initial assessments or discover new prospects who may have not been seen on their radar much throughout the fall. A recent example from the 2017 Senior Bowl and draft was Arizona Cardinals former first-round pick, linebacker Haason Reddick. The former Temple standout wasn’t one of the headliner names coming into the contest, but among all of the prospects there, he helped himself the most. It resulted in him being selected on the first day of the draft.

At the all-star games, teams are able to informally interview any prospect they choose during the first day of the event and at the conclusion of practices. This is where scouts are able to add more information to the portfolio of a prospect while they watch them throughout the week of practices.

What exactly are they looking for during these practices and interviews when live-scouting draft prospects? Let’s take a look.

Matching Initial Tape Discoveries

There are three practices throughout the week. Each one is an opportunity for scouts and executives to collect more information as they continue to build profiles for each prospect. Let’s take newly added Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson as an example. He’s known for having an immensely strong arm, but there are some concerns about his ball placement and accuracy when watching his games throughout the season.

During practices, he will go through a series of 7-on-7 drills and where he’s simply throwing what are called “routes on air”, where he will throw pre-snap designed routes to certain receivers. Even though it’s a small sample size compared to his entire full body of work during his collegiate career, this gives evaluators a chance to see exactly what routes he throws well and which ones he tends to struggle with. This is very important when evaluating signal-callers, but in today’s NFL, it is all about catering a system to their strengths while trying to hide their deficiencies as well.

Another example to keep an eye on this week is former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. He’s another thrower who’s known for his arm strength and just how well he naturally throws the ball, but there are some questions about his throwing base and footwork. His situation is comparable to now Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. They’re similar types of prospects from an arm strength perspective, but there were huge question marks surrounding their throwing base and mechanics within the pocket coming into the Senior Bowl.

Like Allen, Lock will have a chance to show his growth throughout the week and if his improper footwork is a habit that he can eventually grow out of. Being that he will have exposure to NFL coaching, this will be the first opportunity for Lock to show that his current flaws are improvable over time.

Background Checks and Interviews

During the early stages of the evaluation period, usually from August-to-November, scouts are responsible for visiting schools in their assigned areas throughout the country. These visits are filled with hours of watching film and taking notes on each prospect. Scouts also use this time to find background information from class professors, offensive and defensive coordinators, position coaches, strength coaches, athletic trainers, and even custodians within the football facilities.

Following practices, each team will have a chance to interview the prospects of their liking. These interviews are basically like speed dating. While there’s not a certain time limit, each scout doesn’t want to spend too much time with a prospect because it may give away their interest levels to other teams. Each team is selective and particular about their time because they don’t want to show their hand.

During these interviews, evaluators attempt to find out as much information as possible to see if it matches the information that they received in the past from previous encounters. There are different discoveries found out about each prospect’s strengths/weaknesses. These interviews are opportunities for scouts to confirm traits and even find out new information that was previously unknown  whether it be injuries, interest levels in the game, background stories, or what drives them to be successful.

Seeing Body Types

One of the most important parts of the Senior Bowl process takes place during the early portions of the week with the weigh-in. This is where every scout and executive from around the league gathers into a large convention center where prospects will be on a stage in front of a screen that lists their name, height, weight, school, and a host of other characteristics, as well.

Each team has their own certain traits and thresholds that they look for from certain positions. A prospect whose weigh-in will be under the microscope is former Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard. There seems to be a consensus building around his upside and draft stock, but his weight is a common reason for pause. Believed to be hovering around 310 pounds, the weigh-in will give evaluators a true idea of where his weight currently stands.

There are lots of parts that go into the evaluation process. This week’s Reese’s Senior Bowl is a huge step in that sequence. There are a multitude of prospects with bright futures, but this week will be another piece added to the puzzle of their resumes that they are attempting to compile.

From the early week weigh-in to interviews, practices during the week, and concluding with Saturday’s game, all of them are striving to accomplish one goal, and that is to leave Mobile with a lot of momentum heading into the NFL Combine (February 26-March 4).


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*Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports