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A Scout’s Take: The Importance of All-Star Games in the Evaluation Process

Greg Gabriel shares his experience on what the college All-Star games meant to him as a scout.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In another week, more than 200 college football players will begin to assemble at the two main College Football All-Star Games for a week of practice and a game. The two games are, of course, the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.

The Shine game for the last two years was held in Las Vegas, but because that is the site of the Super Bowl this year, the game has been switched to the Star, which is the facilities of the NFC East Dallas Cowboys.

The Senior Bowl, as usual, will be held in Mobile, Alabama. The Senior Bowl is the bigger game of the two as it has a strong tradition and, for the most part, gets the better roster. In recent years, though, the East-West Game, under the direction of Eric Galko, has made tremendous strides in getting top payers to attend.

Regardless of what game players attend, there will be a high number of NFL coaches and evaluators attending the practices. Few end up staying for the games as the practices are more important.

That said, how important are these games in the overall evaluation process of each player? Reality is about 5% if that. There are, of course, certain players at each game where the evaluation can be more important and/or critical to their overall grade, but for the most part, the percentage is small.

For the amateur (i.e., not employed by an NFL team) draft analyst, though, these practices and games end up being more important in their evaluation. Why? Because this is one of if not the only time these analysts/evaluators will get a chance to actually see these players in person. Because of that, they put more emphasis on the week of work they watch.

For club scouts, decision-makers, and coaches, the interviews are far more important than what they see in the practices. Why is that? Because they already have over a year of reports from their scouts in their employ who have seen these players multiple times either on school visits or games. What a player does during the season carries much more weight than anything they see at an All-Star game.

There are several reasons for this, the first being that, in many cases, the week of All-Star practices is the first time most of these players have actually played football in over a month. In some cases, it's close to two months, depending on if their school played in a Bowl game and if the player opted out of the Bowl game.

Since their season ended, a high majority of these players have been attending performance camps to prepare for the upcoming Combine and Pro Day circuits. At these camps, they are working more on conditioning and perfecting Combine-type drills than they are on actual football skills. This has been the case for well over the last 20 years, and evaluators know this.

During the College Football Season, scouts are seldom able to talk to players or interview them. That activity has always been off-limits to scouts when they make school calls. The All-Star games give them their first opportunity to sit down and actually talk to the player. At the All-Star games, the rules on interviews are much more relaxed as far as time limit, so scouts/coaches can, in most cases, spend a good amount of time talking to players they have an interest in. These interviews are a very important part of the overall evaluation process as it gives the scouts a chance to get to know the player and find out about his personality and family life. If there are questions about the character of a player, a scout can also get some answers as to why these issues exist.

At the Combine, each club can only interview a maximum of 60 players during Combine week. That's 60 players out of a total of about 335 players who are invited to Indy. Players that clubs get an opportunity to interview at an All-Star game, in many cases, don't have to be interviewed a second time at Indy, so it's a case of getting as many interviews done as possible.

As I mentioned above, how a player looks during the week of practice isn't always that important because they have been away from the game for weeks. There is an old saying/rule in scouting regarding All-Star games: "Don't downgrade a player for what you see at an All-Star game, but he can be upgraded." Why is that? If the player has been away from football for a month or so, he is going to be rusty; that's a given, but if he shows us something in practice that we didn't see during the season, that can benefit him. Work with what he can do, not what he can't!

Where an All-Star game performance can really help a player is when the player comes from a smaller program, such as an FCS level of competition or lower like Division II or III. With these players, we get to see them compete against much better players than they did in college, and it gives us a better opportunity to evaluate their overall talent more closely. In the case of a small school player, a strong week of practice can elevate his grade dramatically. The inverse is also possible, as his practice week can show us that he really doesn't have the talent to play in the NFL, though he may have been a top player at that lower level of comp.

Overall, these weeks are fun weeks. They act not only as a place where important evaluations can take place, but they are also small conventions, so to speak, where hundreds of League employees are in the same place at the same time doing the same work. Being able to catch up with old friends is always a fun part of the All-Star week experience, as is the Combine.