With just one week left in the regular NFL season, fans will begin to get excited about the upcoming Draft and Draft Season as a whole. It's always a fun time as fans will post their mock Drafts on X based on their own rankings or the rankings of an Analyst.
There are only three full-time National Analysts that I give much credit to, and those three are Daniel Jerimiah from the NFL Network, Dane Brugler from the Athletic, and, of course, Mel Kiper, who has been ESPN's lead Draft Analyst for going on 40 years.
Of the three, Jerimiah is the only one who has actual NFL experience, having been a road scout for both the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles. During his time with those two clubs, he developed a reputation as a very good evaluator with thorough knowledge of the players from the schools he covered.
While many Analysts are self-taught, Brugler isn't. There are several NFL scouts and decision-makers who have helped teach Dane the art of evaluation. Dane, of course, doesn't make school calls, but he has a keen eye when watching tape and knows exactly what traits to look for at the different positions.
Kiper has built a huge network of contacts throughout the NFL during his 40 years as an Analyst. There are several people in the League who trust Mel and will give him quality information. He usually gets his best information as we get closer to the Draft.
I have known Mel since his early days with ESPN. Mel is from Baltimore, and as a teenager, he began a lifelong friendship with then-Baltimore Colts GM Ernie Accorsi. Ernie Accorsi took Mel under his wing and taught him much about the art of evaluation.
I met Mel through Ernie in the early '80s at a scrimmage between the Buffalo Bills rookies and the Cleveland Browns. I was working part-time for Buffalo at the time. For about a 10 to 12-year period from the late '70s and through the '80s, the Browns and Bills would scrimmage on the Saturday following the opening of camp. The scrimmage was always held at Edinboro University just south of Erie, Pennsylvania, and was the halfway point between Buffalo and Cleveland. It was an easy 90-minute drive from either city to Edinboro, and as such, the scrimmage always drew close to 10,000 fans.
I have known Jerimiah since he started with the Ravens. Every fall, we always seemed to have several school calls together, and so we got to know each other well. Jerimiah was working for Philly during his final year as a scout, which was the 2011 football season and 2012 NFL Draft. Right after the Draft, Daniel left the Eagles to work for the NFL Network. I replaced Daniel at Philly as a consultant for the following year.
Though Dane doesn't make school calls, his reports in the "Beast" for the Athletic are as close as you'll find to a real NFL scouting report. What Dane and really most of the analysts don't have is quality character information. Jerimiah, with his League connections, easily gets the best background/character information of the three.
The one thing to remember when looking at the rankings of those three and other Analysts is that it's just one person's opinion. Brugler, Kiper, and Jerimiah rank players the way they see them, but again, it's just one man's opinion.
NFL teams, on the other hand, have at least six reports and usually more on every single player. Their evaluations come from reports from several different scouts, one or two decision-makers (GM, Scouting Director), the position coach, and the coordinator. Rarely do those reports ever say the same thing, as different scouts/coaches see players differently. In the end, a final grade that gets put on a player is a composite of all the reports. The final grade usually isn't as high as the highest grade nor as low as the lowest, but somewhere in the middle. You can be assured that when a final grade is put on an individual player, the whole scouting department and coaching staff agree on that grade and sign off on it. Ultimately, it's never about who has it right but rather being right.
As I have repeatedly stated, no two teams' Draft Boards are alike. Each club grades a player based on their grading system and how that player fits into their offensive and defensive schemes. One club's mid-first-round player may be another club's high third-round player. This happens all the time.
Clubs are privy to much more information than any of the Analysts get, with the most important information being medical and character information. HIPPA laws prevent disclosure of much medical information. Each individual player has to sign off on the information given to scouts. Because of that, analysts have less than 10% of what each individual club has on a player. The same holds true with much of the character information. If an Analyst doesn't have a strong Network of NFL evaluators, he's not going to have anything close to actual correct information. Often, medical and character information directly affects where an individual player gets drafted.
One of the points I am trying to make is that come draft day, fans see the rankings of Jerimiah, Kiper, or Brugler, and they don't match up with the player their team selects. That is going to happen all the time. Not only do clubs have several grades for each player, but the schemes on both offense and defense are part of the equation. An Analyst, on the other hand, grades more on a general basis and doesn't take into consideration scheme fit.
We see the difference of opinion right here at Windy City Gridiron. Jacob Infante, who does an excellent job, sees the receivers in this class differently than I do. He has a strong affinity for Marvin Harrison Jr., calling him a can't-miss prospect, and he's his lead receiver in this draft by a long shot.
I like Harrison a lot, but I'm not about to say he is generational. He's very good. I don't have him as WR1 at this time. I have him #2 and LSU's Malik Nabors #1. Jacob has Washington's Rome Odunze at number two based on his strong game Monday in the CFP vs Texas, and I have Rome as #3. I have a hard time saying any of them are as talented as the Bengals Ja'Marr Chase when he was in the 2021 Draft.
Why the difference? At this time, we don't have all the information on the players. At the Combine and Pro Days, we will find out what the real physical testing information is. Based on tape only, I see Nabors as a better route runner, has more play speed, and he has the best run after catch skills I have seen in years. Harrison runs good routes, but when watching them back to back, he doesn't get close to the separation that Nabors gets. Odunze is sort of a combination of the two but easily the most physical of the three. All three have Top 10 potential, but it is rare that three wide receivers go in the Top 10 of a Draft. It's happened only a couple of times in the last 20 years. Once we get the test results, we'll find out who really is the fastest and most explosive, and that could affect my final rankings. Clubs don't put final grades on players until April when ALL the information is in. Right now, everything is very preliminary and fluid.
When looking at the difference between my grades and Jacob’s, It doesn't mean that I'm right and he's wrong. It simply means that we have different opinions. That's no different than what happens with every club in the NFL. Opinions vary, and differences in opinion are good. When I started out with the New York Giants, then GM George Young told me, "I want your opinion and a strong opinion on every player you scout. I don't care if it's different than mine. If I wanted my scouts to have the same opinion as me, I don't need any scouts". That taught me a lot.