At the start of the season, OCC wrote a helpful college football viewing guide in which he referenced a blogger named Chris Steuber who tracks what college games NFL scouts are attending each week. Being somewhat of a draft nut myself, I kept track of his updates throughout the college football season to keep an eye on what the Dallas scouts might be focusing on this year in the draft. Being the first year I've ever kept track of such a thing, I'm not sure what, if any correlation this may have to who the team actually drafts, but I found the results interesting nonetheless.
Chris himself admits that he doesn't always get the full scoop on every game and every scout, but usually he provided at least two or three games a week that Dallas scouts were attending. To make the info a little easier to digest, I'll break down the teams that the scouts have seen, and the number of times they've seen them, rather than the weekly match ups they watched.
Scouts saw 4 times:
Scouts saw 3 times:
Scouts saw 2 times:
Scouts saw 1 time:
UN Las Vegas
North Carolina State
Later we'll break it down a little further into some of the individual players the scouts have seen, but first, a quick word about my observations. I stumbled across a couple factors that may warrant a scout attending a team as many as four times (in our case), or as few as one, or not at all. Consider a team like Florida State, who the scouts attended (at least) three times. That team has a ton of talent destined for the NFL, and it's very likely that the scouts simply needed more games in order to properly evaluate each player they may have an interest in.
In the case of TCU, the most watched team from my observations, a plethora of NFL talent is not exactly the situation. Really there's only one player on that roster with a legitimate chance of being drafted: DE/OLB prospect Stansly Maponga. Senior offensive guard Blaize Foltz would be the next candidate, who I've seen ranked as high as a 4th rounder and as low as an undrafted free agent. This is not to say the scouts only concern themselves with draftable players though. Certainly one of their strong points has been finding these undrafted players for us recently, so perhaps that comes into play a little bit with some of the lesser known names on the roster. In any case, it seemed the scouts wanted to get a good look at this team.
At first glance, one may conclude that the more a scout has attended a particular team, the more interest he has in that team, or a particular player on it. That may not necessarily be the case. It could be that one game was all it took to convince the scout of a player's dominating talent, or lack thereof. In fact, a scout attending a team more than once may actually imply that he's not quite convinced one way or the other about a particular player and needs to see more from him. This becomes more likely when a team doesn't have an abundance of NFL prospects, like TCU. Whether the scout's final impression is positive or negative is anybody's guess, but it may not necessarily correlate very strongly to the number of times a team has been attended. There's no sense in sending a scout to repeatedly watch a player that he already loves, when he could be searching for others instead.
Another scenario may be one of match ups. Take the case of Miss. State, for example. Dallas had scouts attend Miss St. vs. Troy in week 3. If a player they were watching happened to be cornerback Johnathan Banks of Miss. St. (projected first round) , he played well in that game and was hardly targeted. But Troy really doesn't have any receivers likely to make it to the NFL, and give Banks much of a challenge. So, they may have liked the player, but wanted to see him in a larger test, such as the match up with maybe the best receiving corps in the nation, Tennessee's, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, which the scouts also attended in week 7. For the record, Hunter was held to 2 catches for 41 yards in that game, and all the other receivers did even worse.
Of course coincidence must play a part in these observations as well. It could simply be that the scouts saw a team just because they happened to be playing another team that the scouts were really there to see. Of course this could occur more than once, and cause the year end totals to reflect multiple scout attendances for a particular team, based on nothing more than coincidence.
We can speculate all day on the reasons scouts were at particular games, and some would be more obvious than others (pretty sure they were watching the #1 rated DL Star Lotulelei in the Utah vs. Northern Colorado game, which harbored few, if any, other NFL caliber prospects for either team) but of course as outsiders looking in, speculation is all it will be. These were just some scenarios that ran across my mind throughout the season. Some (such as Utah/No. Colorado) may be more probable than others, but none are certain. Also, as I mentioned, this is not an official, or complete list of scout attendance, so it is likely that scouts attended other games, not recorded here.
So with all that said, let's take it to the next level and break it down into the players that are likely to be NFL targets on these rosters. This will give us a clearer picture of which position groups, and maybe even which individual players the scouts were at least interested in gathering information about. To keep these totals from getting too skewed by a plethora of late rounders and undrafted free agents, I've limited this to players currently projected 5th round or higher. It eliminates some possible targets, I know, but it provides a more accurate picture overall. Be aware also, that it is still early for the ever changing prospect projections, so there may be some wiggle room when you start determining a 4th rounder from a 6th rounder as the combine approaches, etc. I took the highest current projection from two different sources for my rankings. As we know, some players were seen more than once. For this purpose, they will be counted only once. Furthermore, I've included only juniors and seniors, and in the case of some positions (linebacker and defensive line) I've eliminated players that don't fit a 3-4 scheme, as stated by sources more knowledgeable than myself on such matters. Here's how it breaks down by position:
Wide Receiver: 20
Defensive Line: 16
Offensive Tackle: 8
Offensive Guard: 7
Outside Linebacker: 5
Inside Linebacker: 5
Tight End: 5
Running Back: 4
Keeping all the disclaimers in mind that I've listed above, we can't draw any certainties from these totals, but we can see some general trends. I think it's safe to say that the scouts were more interested in defensive line than running back, for example. 55 defensive players and 55 offensive players is a remarkably even split, all things considered. I wouldn't say the scouts were focused on one side of the ball or the other. It would certainly seem that wide receiver, corner and defensive line were a focus, but it starts to get a little fuzzy after that. And remember, fullbacks are rarely ranked higher than the 5th round in any draft, so I wouldn't draw any firm conclusions from that number.
I started calculating the average projected round for each position group, but the results were so similar between the top three position groups, that no discernible trend could be seen, and after those three groups, the sample size starts to get pretty small if you want to talk about averages. So I won't include any of that. The top three groups hovered around an average of a 3rd round projection, give or take a quarter of a round, in case you were curious.
If anybody's interested I could post the complete list of players, name by name, but I'm not sure it's really relevant. We know a scout watched these individual players, but we don't know their opinion of them. I was more interested in what positions the scouts were trying to form an opinion about, rather than the exact players, as we'll never know how the scouts feel about a player, but we can observe what positions they're trying to get a read on. And that may give us some insight into the team's draft plans. This is not the best way to determine a scout's opinion on a player, but it does narrow down what positions the team could be interested in filling through the draft. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the draft, and whether it turns out to hold any relevance or not.