The 2022 NFL season will be over for the Chicago Bears after the final whistle in their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Sunday afternoon. Right away, the Front Office jumps to the next phase, preparing for next season, which includes free agency and the Draft.
Before Draft and free agency prep begins, there is one more thing that needs to be done regarding the 2022 season: the final evaluation of each player. This is mostly done by the coaching staff, but with many clubs, the pro scouting department is also involved.
What happens is a report is written on each individual player on how they played and developed during the season. In many cases, the coaching staff also writes about how they see the future of each player. Is he a player on the rise? Has he hit his ceiling, or is he starting to decline? This evaluation can determine if, in the case of a player under contract, whether or not he is brought back next year. If the player is out of contract, it can determine if they offer him another deal.
Earlier this week, the Bears already made a determination on Equanimeous St. Brown by extending his current contract by one year. That may happen with some other players coming out of contract that they definitely want back for 2023 within the next few days.
Once the evaluation of the current roster is done, the coaches become part of the scouting staff, so to speak, at least for the next few months. There are potential free agents to evaluate as well as prospects for the Draft. Coaches don't normally evaluate anywhere near as many players as the scouting staff but rather players that the Front Office deems as realistic prospects for the team.
Once the National Championship game is played on Monday, the All-Star games begin. The major All-Star games are the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl. Other games include the NFLPA game and the Hula Bowl. In past years, the Senior Bowl has had major backing from the NFL, but that is no longer the case. The East-West Game is now the All-Star game that the NFL fully supports.
While the Senior Bowl used to have full NFL coaching staffs coach each of the teams, the East-West now gets two full NFL team staffs. Right now, the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans will be the two staff involved. That could change after this weekend, depending on wins and losses, as the teams that have the first and second picks in the Draft have priority unless the Head Coach gets fired. Even if both the Bears and Texans win this week, they will likely be given the opportunity to coach in this game.
Having your coaching staff work with players for a full week is a great advantage going into the Draft. Underclassmen cannot play in All-Star Games by NFL rule, and the majority of the high-rated players are underclassmen. What this means is the team's coaching will get an up-close look at many late Day-2 and all Day-3 type prospects. That is invaluable when it comes to draft preparation. It's not unusual to see a club draft a couple of players that they coached at an All-Star game because of how those prospects represented themselves during the week.
The majority of scouts' evaluation comes during the regular season, but All-Star games can help because you see how a player responds in a new situation. When coaching these players, you also find out how attentive they are in meetings, how much attention to detail they put in, and their work habits.
The interviews are an important but often overlooked part of any All-Star game. At the Combine, each club can only interview up to 60 players, and each interview lasts a total of 15 minutes. Because there are so many underclassmen in each Draft, the majority of each club's 60 interviews are with underclassmen, as that is the first time the clubs have access to those players. That means at the All-Star games, clubs need to interview as many players as possible during the week. What's nice is that if you need the player for more than 15-20 minutes for the interview, it can easily be done. It's easy to knock out over 60 interviews at any All-Star game.
The All-Star games are really the first chance coaches get involved in the evaluation process. While scouts attend all the games, the coaches attend one or two. When a coach is at an All-Star game, he usually just watches the players he has been assigned by the scouting staff. Scouts generally are assigned a position to watch.
Many Draft Analysts put a lot of stock into how a player looks at an All-Star game because, in many cases, that is their first and only live exposure to the player. That is not the case with clubs, as an All-Star game is just another piece to the large evaluation puzzle.
There is an old saying in the scouting world that says, "a players can't hurt his stock at an All-Star game, but he can sure help himself." Why is that so? In many cases, a player in an All-Star game hasn't played in a game since late November, while others came from schools that were in Bowls. If a player wasn't in a Bowl game, he has been away from the game for close to two months, and that can affect his overall play. Because of that, we don't want to downgrade a player. On the other hand, if he comes in and looks much better than what we saw in the fall, that can really help his cause.
The players that really can help themselves at All-Star games are prospects from the smaller schools. The FCS, D-II, or D-III schools. The level of comp scouts saw them perform against during the season isn't nearly as strong as the type of players they are competing against at an All-Star game. If a small school player has a strong week, it will help him more than the Power-5 level players. With players from the big schools, game playing during the season carries the most weight; it can be the opposite with small school players.
Once the All-Star games are complete, it's on to Combine and free agency prep. As this is a subject a lot can be written about, I'll continue this discussion in the near future.