If there is anything that I love about X (the app formerly known as Twitter), it's that it consistently gives me great ideas to write about. All I have to do is look at what may be trending and then scroll down through the posts, and I can find numerous topics on which to comment.
In the last two weeks, the topic that has jumped out the most to me is USC quarterback Caleb Williams, who has had two straight less-than-stellar games all of a sudden isn't the quarterback many thought he was and was over-rated. Frankly, they are almost too comical to respond to, mainly because these posts are written not by NFL evaluators but by fans who have watched a couple of games. NFL evaluators seldom comment on prospects at any time of the year. When they do, they usually are not telling the truth. Most NFL decision-maker comments are made anonymously, and they are more generic than totally honest. The NFL people also give their comments to very few writers, and they're usually people they know they can trust.
The Draft analysts are always throwing names around on who is "rising or falling," but those opinions are meaningless because in the real world of NFL evaluation, a process is followed, and it is a strict step-by-step process.
I want to explain a little about that scouting process. Decisions on who to select in the Draft aren't made on the outcome of one game but rather on a whole career of games for the prospect. When a club does decide to select a particular player, it's not one person's opinion but rather a common opinion within the building that consists of scouts, decision-makers and coaches. In the case of Williams, or any other player for that matter, we still have a long way to go in the process. In fact, two of the most important parts of the process (the medical and interviews) haven't yet taken place and won't for months. Clubs don't make decisions in October but rather in April, shortly before the Draft, after they have loads of information they have gone through on each and every prospect.
At this time of the year, scouts and decision makers are strictly evaluating players based on game tape, live views (practice and/or games), and talking to the player's coaches. It's all very preliminary and not close to being final.
In December, many clubs will have a week of scouting meetings where they will basically set a very preliminary board. In many cases, the board is set based purely on the highest grade they have in their system on each individual player. Reality is that the board set in December is more a formality than real. December is used more to eliminate players than to make a decision on who to Draft.
Clubs go into a season with thousands of names to evaluate; when they finish those December meetings, the list may be cut down to 600-700 players. Why? Going forward, clubs want to spend their time doing work on prospects they like, not on players they have no intention of selecting.
The real beginning of decision-making doesn't begin until February in meetings leading up to the Combine. It's in those meetings that the list is cut down even more, and the coaching staff begins to get involved in the process. Another one of two hundred names may be eliminated before clubs go to the annual Scouting Combine.
Many feel the Combine is about the workouts, but it really isn't. The Combine was created not for workouts but rather to get medicals on 300+ players in a timely and inexpensive manner. The workouts are a bonus. The original Combines were much shorter than they are today. Back in the mid-1980s, when the Combine began (1985 to be exact), there were very little interviews being done, nor was there much intelligence and psychological testing going on. Over the years, the Combine has added days in order for the testing and interviews to get done.
Still, when it comes to interviews, 15 minutes is hardly enough time to get a good feel on a player. More formal interviews are set up at Pro Days and/or visits to a clubs facility.
The workouts are important at the Combine but not as important as many in the media want you to believe. Players don't really jump a round or two because of a great workout. Players are expected to have good workouts because they have been training for weeks leading up to the event. When a player exceeds expectations with his workout, all it means is that the club needs to do more work on the player to see if he is actually a better prospect than originally thought.
Following the Combine, the Pro Day season begins and lasts from four to five weeks. There are also many private workouts done at that time, and often (especially with quarterbacks), the private workout carries much more weight than a Combine or Pro Day workout.
Just go back to early last April, and Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles, along with offensive line coach Chris Morgan, flew down to Tennessee to do an extensive workout with Darnell Wright. It wasn't until after that workout that the decision to select him was made. That's how important that particular workout was to the overall decision-making process.
Needless to say, anything that is said now about any prospect is nothing more than narrative and opinion and, in the grand scheme of things, means little when it comes to next April's NFL Draft. In my opinion, two of the better "national" analysts that fans should be listening to are Daniel Jerimiah and Dane Brugler. Jerimiah worked in the League for a long time and was trained by some of the best in the business. Brugler has been taught by many top League evaluators on the proper way to evaluate, and he does a great job. The most prominent analyst is ESPN's Mel Kiper. Mel is very good at what he does, but he is not an evaluator but rather an information gatherer. With over 40 years in the business, Mel has some great connections and gets superb information, but his early season and midseason Top 25 Boards are far from accurate. If you compare his September Top 25 to his late March or early April Top 25, they aren't close to being the same.
Regarding Caleb Williams, no matter how "off" his play has been the last two weeks, he is still the odds-on favorite to be the top pick in the Draft. He has a close to three-year career of outstanding play. That said, I emphasize that it's still early, and nothing is close to being final. We aren't close to knowing the Draft order as there still are 10 games to be played by most clubs. If you want to enjoy the chatter, that's fine, but that's all it really is. As we get closer to the Draft, I will go more in-depth on the process and how decisions are made.