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A Scout’s Take: How do NFL scouts evaluate players?

Greg Gabriel is sharing some of the nuts and bolts on what he did as an NFL scout.

NCAA Football: Baylor-Pro Day Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When I was a writer, investor and part owner of the National Football Post, we started a scouting school to teach the basics of evaluating football players. The course was titled "Introduction to Scouting," and for a few years, it was a big hit as hundreds took the course, which lasted about six weeks.

We went through the basics of scouting not only by teaching how to evaluate each position but also by discussing the most important part that seldom gets talked about, which is the player's background and character.

Looking at tape is only part of the entire evaluation process. The other part consists of knowing everything possible about the player's background, which means his personal character and football character.

Many feel that "scouting" is an easy job. I can say from experience that it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. That said, I love it, and I have spent the last 42 years of my life doing nothing but evaluating.

When I initially came to the Chicago Bears, the first thing I had to do was hire two scouts. Within two weeks I hired two people who became homerun hires. The first was Chris Ballard, now the GM of the Colts, and the second was Ted Monago, who is now the Assistant Director of College Scouting for the Rams.

During my conversations with them, I didn't try to talk them into the job but rather talk them out of it. In my first six years as a scout, I spent over 200 nights a year on the road. One year it was 227 nights gone. That included time at my teams' facilities for meetings, preparing for the Draft and training camp.

That time away was costly. I missed the birth of both of my daughters because I couldn't get a flight to get back home in time. I missed both deliveries by a few hours. That is something that still haunts me today. The amount of time gone cost me my first marriage. When talking to Chris and Ted, I wanted to let them know that if they took on this career, it may be costly. There would be things they'd miss, and it would make a marriage difficult. Yes, being a scout is a "glamorous" job, but it can also cause family problems that a person isn't prepared for. Family life can become very difficult if your spouse isn't the right person.

The scouts in the National Football League are vastly underpaid and, in many cases, under-appreciated by people in the organization who do not understand what they do. What I intend to do here over the next few weeks is not only go over position by position of how I evaluate but also discuss how to find out about a player's background and discuss how we really don't know a player until we know his background.

Today, I will discuss just that — character (both personal and football) as well as their background.

In order to find out about a player, a scout has to make school calls. That's where you get the opportunity to see the player practice in person, talk to not only coaches but people within the football program who actually might know the player better than his position coach.

Scouting has changed since I first started in 1981. Back then, the only way to watch tape (it was 16mm Kodak film then) was to do it at a school. That meant a scout made three to five school calls a week depending on how many prospects were at the school.

Today because all tape is digitized, scouts have access to game tape within a day or two of a game on their laptops or IPads. What happens is a school, shortly after their game ends, sends the game tape to the NFL dub-center, who in turn passes it on to each team. Once the tape is in a team's computer system, it's available to be seen by all who have access.

What that means is a scout no longer has to go to a school to do his tape work. He can do it in his hotel room or at home and then go to the school at a convenient time to find out the pertinent information.

When a scout gets to a school, he usually meets first with the pro liaison, whose job is to give the scouts the information they feel is needed. Often though, the info that person gives out isn't nearly enough, as they leave out pertinent information that is valuable in forming an opinion.

Because of that, talking to several other people in and around the program is necessary. Some of these people will include the trainer, the strength coach, the position coach, the equipment manager and others. All these people see the player on an almost daily basis and many know him well.

I always felt the academic advisor was important to talk to. They can give you information that people on the football side may not even know. Some things the academic advisor tells us can make the difference in taking a chance on drafting a player. The other person who knows a player very well is the equipment manager. He interacts with a player not only on a daily basis but usually several times a day. If the equipment manager gives you the thumbs down on a certain player, you better take it seriously.

When scouts talk to people in and around the player's college program, they try to discover several things. Regarding personal character, they want to know what kind of person the player is. Does he come from a good family? Was he brought up in a one or two parent home? How many brothers and sisters does he have? Where did he go to high school, and what other sports did he play? Has he had any off-field problems or arrests? Is he involved with the community? Who is his girlfriend?

Regarding football character, the position coach, trainer and strength coach are the best equipped to answer. When I talk about football character, I am referring to a player's love/passion for the game. How important is the game to him? What kind of work ethic does he have? Does he get along with his teammates? Is he a leader? Can he take coaching? How intelligent is he in relation to the position he plays? Can he learn an NFL playbook?

Most players bust in the NFL not because they lack talent but because they lack a high degree of football character. Talented players with no or low football character will get by for a year or two, but it will catch up to them, and they will fail. If a player lacks a strong passion for the game, he can't survive, and his teammates will know it.

When I was the Scouting Director of the Bears, we told our scouts they can miss on the talent evaluation because we have several different people evaluating the player's talent. But he can't miss on the player's personal and football character. It was his most important job to get that right, and he would be held accountable for it.

Can a player with poor personal character but strong football character have a successful career? The answer to that is yes, but not always. It gets down to what problems does the player have with his personal character, and can his strong football character overcome it? If the player is a criminal, regardless of how important football is to him, he won't be able to overcome his criminality. But there can be other issues that can be overcome.

When I was with the Giants, we had an edge rusher who became a Hall of Fame player. That player was Lawrence Taylor. He was not a criminal, but he had issues with drug abuse for part of his career. He even was suspended once for failing a drug test. His football character was off the charts though. He not only loved the game, but he also loved to play the game and practice. He needed the game to survive. It wasn't what he was; it was who he was! There was never a player better than him when he was on the field. He dominated almost every game he played in.

There are several others that I don't care to mention, who were able to overcome personal issues because of their strong football character. On the other hand, I have never seen a player who was a good person ever become a great player because he lacked the required passion for the game. It is that important!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as Greg dives more into his background and explains what it means to evaluate players as an NFL scout.