Matt Waldman Guest Chat 2/27/2014 8:00 EST

SMU_Sox

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Jul 20, 2009
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Dopes: Please promote Mr. Waldman: mattwaldmanrsp is his handle. 
 
Who is Matt Waldman? What is his Rookie Scouting Portfolio?
 
Let me post this from his site which I frequent often:
 

Q: What is the purpose of the RSP?
The RSP isn’t a draft-prediction publication, it’s an analysis of talent based on a player performance on the field.  This can help draftniks learn more about the talent of players without worrying about the machinations of the draft that are often an entirely different animal from talent evaluation. The evaluation techniques for the RSP are designed to target a player’s athletic skills, positional techniques, and conceptual understanding of the game. It also makes a great resource for fantasy football players.
Q: What makes the RSP different from other draft analysis?
I use an extensively documented process and I make the work available for the reader to see – although I don’t send them through a forced death march through the material. As a reader, you don’t have to feel the pain I had writing it – the masochism is provided at your convenience.
The Rookie Scouting Portfolio is the best guide to the QB, RB, WR, and TE talents in the draft because it goes deeper than any other guide. Because Matt shows his math with hundreds of intensely detailed individual game breakdowns. Because it ranks prospects not just overall, but for each attribute. Because if you read between the lines, Matt is teaching you how to scout these positions, what to look for, how to articulate what you see. It’s a must for any serious football fan, fantasy football player, or anyone that wants to get smarter about watching football.
-Sigmund Bloom, Footballguys co-owner, B/R Draft Analyst, and “On the Couch” host.
Still, the process is important to talk about. It has helped me arrive at high pre-draft grades for many underrated players, including Russell Wilson, Matt Forte, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dennis Pitta, Arian Foster and Joseph Addai. Where it really makes a difference is when I’m studying a player in a game where the competition limits a player’s statistical success and I’m still able to see the talent shine through. Likewise, this process has helped me spot critical issues with players like Stephen Hill, Isaiah Pead, Matt Leinart, Robert Meachem, and C.J. Spiller when others anticipated an early, and often immediate, impact.  
Q: How is The Rookie Scouting Portfolio rooted in best practices?
I managed a large branch of a call center and eventually had responsibility for the performance evaluation of over 70 call centers around the U.S. I began my career from the bottom-up. I was heavily involved in recruiting, hiring, training, and developing large and small teams of employees.I often had to build large teams that competed with a client’s internal call enter and with a fraction of the budget to train and develop in terms of time and money.
We beat them consistently.
One of the biggest reasons was a focus on instituting quality processes. We figured out what was important to us, how to prioritize it’s importance, and how to evaluate our employs in a fair, consistent, and flexible manner to spot the good and bad. Eventually, my company sent me to an organization that provided training for best-practice performance techniques that successful Fortune 500 businesses tailored to their service and manufacturing sectors.
The most important thing I learned that applies to the RSP is best practices for monitoring performance. Although the original purpose for my training was to monitor representatives talking with customers over the phone, these techniques also made sense to apply to personnel evaluation in other ways. Football is one of them.
Think the NFL couldn’t use a best-practice approach? Read about its current evaluation system and what former scouts have to say about the management of that process and you’ll think differently. The RSP approach makes the evaluation process transparent to the reader and helps the author deliver quality analysis.
Another “best practice” I’m implementing in 2013 is “giving back.” Ten percent of each sale in 2013 is going to charity.

Having the RSP entering a fantasy draft is like entering a math test and having all of the ‘Show Your Work’ sections already filled in for you. Instead of spending all your time anxiously worrying about what you’re missing or trying to process all of the information that needs to be processed in such a short time, you simply take out the RSP, check what Matt says, make your pick and go back to trash talking everyone in the chatroom.
The only thing missing from the RSP is a guide on what trash talk you can use to fill your time between draft picks.
- Cian, Fahey, Footall Outsiders  and FootballGuys columnist and creater of PreSnapReads.com 
Q: The RSP is huge, but you say it is easy to read and navigate. How is it structure? Is it iPad-friendly?
The easiest way to describe the RSP is that it’s an online publication with two main parts:
  • The front part most people read, which is the same length of any draft magazine you see at the newsstand.
  • The back part that my craziest, most devoted, and masochistic readers check out – all the play-by-play analysis of every player I watch.
The RSP has a menu that allows you to jump to various parts of the publication so the crazy detail in the back doesn’t swallow you whole and you never return to reality. I continue to provide the back part because many of my readers love to know that I back up my analysis with painstaking work. In that sense they are also sadists, but being the ultimate masochist that I am – I appreciate their sadism.

“The GoodReader app takes anything I want to read in PDF form, presents it very nicely, and makes the document portable and enjoyable. The encyclopedia that you’ve created (which I absolutely love 25% into it) would require someone to peer into his or her computer/laptop screen for a very long time. On an iPad inside that app it bookmarks your place and makes reading long files a joy…AND PORTABLE.”

-Ray Calder
Q: I heard the RSP gives back to charity. How? 
Beginning in 2012, I started donating 10 percent of every Rookie Scouting Portfolio purchase to charity. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Once the Penn State scandal broke, I decided to send the funds to the program Darkness to Light.
Darkness to Light – Excerpt from their mission statement: “Darkness to Light is a national organization and initiative. Our mission is to empower people to prevent child sexual abuse. Darkness to Light’s public awareness campaign seeks to raise awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse.”
Q: What do readers think of the RSP?
I collect these emails like one of my favorite pizza joints in Colorado collects napkin drawings from customers and places them all over the walls of its restaurant. If you have one you want to send me, please feel free. I’ll add them my list. Here are some of them below:

“If you don’t buy the RSP, be prepared to get dominated in your rookie draft by someone that did.”

Jarrett Behar, Staff writer for Dynasty League Football and creator of Race to the Bottom.

“In complete awe of the 2007 Rookie Scouting Portfolio via @MattWaldman — Incredibly in-depth analysis that required time & football smarts”

- Ryan Lownes, Draftnik (with strong online analysis in his own right)

Any diehard #Dynasty #fantasyfootball fan should go get @MattWaldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio bit.ly/I4fOa2 You’ll thank me later

-@JamesFFBNFL Draft analyst, enthusiast, and writer for DraftBreakdown.com and Bleacher Report.

“For someone like me who doesn’t closely follow the college game, there is nothing I have found even vaguely measuring up to your thoroughness and point by point analysis of the draftable rookies. Among my favorite things is that at the core you rely on play rather than comparing stats produced or combine numbers. Measurables I can get anywhere, but numbers offer little perspective on what they mean or what factors together created them. I want to know what a guy looks like out there, who plays fast – rather than who runs fast in shorts with no one to dodge or avoid. Which WRs can and can’t run routes or consistently get separation or catch with their hands or fight off defenders to make contested catches. Your exhaustive package gives me a basis to work from including a careful look at every significant player. I can read and add the views and comments and stats I want to like ornaments on the Christmas tree – where that tree is the foundation of player abilities that you weave together into a ranked whole.
I have no way to know how right or wrong your conclusions are. You certainly don’t shy away from controversial evaluations. But overall, for just plain understanding of who the rookies are, how they play and what we might expect in the NFL – I don’t know of anything close. After reading this tome, I would feel blind and naked walking into a rookie draft next year without having that insight. My huge thanks!”

-Catbird, Footballguys.com message boards

“Love your work. I’ve subscribed to your RSP for the past 3 years and it is my bible for dynasty league rookie drafts.”
- David Liu
“In our business, we are able to access many different types of reference materials. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio stands above the rest for one simple fact: it is more comprehensive than anything else I have seen. Matt Waldman is head and shoulders the best fantasy football expert I have had on the air, and his expertise starts well before the players get to the NFL with analysis and game film study of the incoming rookie class. I can’t recommend the RSP highly enough.”
- Ian Furness
Host, Sports Radio 950 KJR
Seattle, WA
“All I can really say at first is “Wow!” There is just a TON of great and useful information packed into that report. I thought I’d give it a quick glance during my lunch hour and I found myself reading quite a bit of it over the next 2 hours. I like the way everything is laid out. It’s easy to understand and covers all the items necessary to make it a top notch scouting report for the fantasy footballer.
- Tim Huckaby
“IMHO this is a MUST read. Matt really does the work and tells it the way he sees it. Had a couple of GREAT picks this year with Austin Collie and and I think Stafford. In prior years, he has lead me to Ray Rice in a PPR no less and Mike Sims Walker… If you are like me in a Zealots league, go back and read the prior years as it helps with the RFA/UFA process.”
- Tony Madeira

Hey Matt,
Just thought you would want to know that I enjoyed the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio so much that I had to buy the other six years, to see what you had to say about previous players. I’ve been playing fantasy football for over 20 years (started at age 11) and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see someone put this much effort into analyzing prospects skills, and then filtering that info back to their potential fantasy value.
Not sure if you have a running testimonial page but if your ever inclined to do so, feel free to use this email as one, if you wish.
Not trying to kiss your butt or anything but your work is really an inspiration for someone like myself.
thank you for your efforts,
Sean Douglas, FantasyInfo.com’


 

 
 
Matt posts at Football Outsiders as well writing a variety of futures columns. He is, imho, a must read. The amount of film he watches and breaks down is astounding.
 
Let's ask Matt some questions here about draft prospects. Matt's RSP focuses on the offensive side of the ball so if we can skew questions that way it would be great.
 
We don't have to limit this to just the Patriots draft - our fantasy football needs on SoSH and off SoSH can be answered too. 
 
 
 
My first question is this:
 
Of the big 3 tight ends in this draft: ASJ, Ebron, and Amaro, who fits on the Pats the best? Who is the most complete package?
 
Thank you Matt for agreeing to do this!
 
We look forward to the chat!
 

soxhop411

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Dec 4, 2009
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Thanks for taking our questions Matt. Do you think the Patriots would have any interest in IU's Cody Latimer?
 

( . ) ( . ) and (_!_)

T&A
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Feb 9, 2010
5,293
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Matt where are you on Stephon Tuitt? 
 
I've seen him in mock draft from anywhere between the 20th pick to the middle of round 3.  The general consensus seems to be that the production has not match the measurables, but there are rumblings about injuires (sports hernia, back) that may have effected his senior season. Which leads to a more philosophical question, how do you account for injuries when you are scouting a player?  Especially when the injury is the nagging variety (e.g. back issues) and not the more obvious type (e.g. high ankle sprain).
 

Super Nomario

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Nov 5, 2000
12,859
Mansfield MA
- Favorite late-round sleepers at TE / QB / RB? I could see the Pats selecting at any of those positions given current contract statuses.
 
- SMU asked about "the big three" of Ebron, Amaro, and Sefarian-Jenkins, but I'm hoping you can also give us a quick read on Troy Niklas and C.J. Fiedorowicz.
 
- I saw you reviewed Rice's Charles Ross for the RSP (just pre-ordered my copy!). Any pro potential for him?
 
- How often do you review your evaluation / checklist? Do you sometimes find that the overall score doesn't matter because a guy has one fundamental red flag that kills him? Do you sometimes adjust a weighting because you find players can overcome a deficiency or a particular flaw is coachable?
 

EL Jeffe

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SoSH Member
Aug 30, 2006
857
Thanks for taking the time, Matt.
 
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Brynn Renner, UNC QB. He seems to be the most undervalued player in the draft, especially since he plays the game's most important position. I get that he suffered a fairly significant shoulder injury and his medicals will need to check out, but doesn't he fit the mold of a genuine QB prospect? He's a big, strong armed pocket passer who played in a pro style(ish) offense. He was productive and accurate, and he seems to check the boxes of what you want in a young signal caller. Sure, he's not going to beat you with his legs, but he can beat you with his arm. Where do you see him going, and do you see him as a potential fit in New England? Surely with Brady and Mallet, the Patriots are much more interested in pocket passers than dual threat types.
 

Kenny F'ing Powers

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SoSH Member
Nov 17, 2010
11,185
Hey Matt,
 
Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to say that we decided to do a "Real Fantasy Football Draft" where we had 32 SoSH members draft entire teams in an attempt to create a mock NFL league.
 
It was because of your fantastic insight and in depth analysis that we decided to risk it and draft Tyler Wilson as our starting QB and Ryan Swope as our 3rd WR.
 
Die in a fire.
 
With that out of the way, I really do enjoy your work, and you have some really neat (and I'm sure painfully time consuming) methods to tracking these athletes.
 
  • Do you have a favorite position to track?
  • Do you feel that your scouting methods translate at one position better than another? If so, do you think it's because you innately follow that position better, or is it because you've seen better results bear out out of that position? 
  • Would you say that your scouting methods are similar to those of NFL scouts? If so, which methods?
  • Have you spoken with NFL scouts about their process, and would you consider this an emulation of what NFL scouts do? Have any scouts tried copying any of your methods?
  • All things being equal (playing time, system, etc), who are your three favorite darkhorses this year that people should be watching? Who are your three most overrated players?
Thanks again, Matt.
 
PS: I don't really want you to die in a fire.
 
Maybe just burn yourself with a cigarette or something.
 

Super Nomario

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Nov 5, 2000
12,859
Mansfield MA
Kenny F'ing Powers said:
Hey Matt,
 
Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to say that we decided to do a "Real Fantasy Football Draft" where we had 32 SoSH members draft entire teams in an attempt to create a mock NFL league.
 
It was because of your fantastic insight and in depth analysis that we decided to risk it and draft Tyler Wilson as our starting QB and Ryan Swope as our 3rd WR.
 
Die in a fire.
Decent of you to give him a pass on Travis Kelce.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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SoSH Member
Jul 2, 2006
17,987
Philadelphia
Hey Matt,

Thanks for doing this. I've been a fan of your work since getting hipped to it last year.

If Colt Lyerla was a choirboy, where would he rank in this TE class and where would he be drafted? Given his demonstrated fondness for cocaine and dustups with the police, where should a smart team draft him this year (if at all)?

I can see the Patriots adding a RB in rounds 4-6, given that both Ridley and Vereen will be FAs after this year. Any sleepers who you really like in that range?

If Bill Belichick asked you to find a replacement for Ryan Mallett (ie, a backup QB but maybe with some upside to be a Brady successor in three years) somewhere in the round 4-7 range, who would you target and why?

How much (if at all) do you care about QB hand size in evaluating prospects from a physical standpoint? It seems like there is increasing buzz about hand size, with some fairly respectable NFL decision-makers (Chip Kelly, Thomas Dimitroff) recently on record talking about it as an underrated physical attribute. Both Bortles and Bridgewater seem to have smallish hands (although neither are tiny a la Mike Vick).
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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soxhop411 said:
Thanks for taking our questions Matt. Do you think the Patriots would have any interest in IU's Cody Latimer?
 
I'm going to get to some of these early while I'm taking some breaks from my workday and answer some of these at various times between tonight and tomorrow night. First, I'm going to pair this question with SuperNomario's: Any thoughts on the Pats' WR haul last year of Dobson, Thompkins, and Boyce? Were they what you expected? What can we expect going forward?
 
Last year's crop was a fascinating group, because I got the sense the Patriots' intention was to cast a wide net at the position - especially if you include Mark Harrison and T.J. Moe with this class. I was not a raving fan of Dobson's game. Pair this casting call with the injuries to Amendola, Welker, Gronkoswki, Vereen, and Hernandez's arrest and these rookies were all fed to the fire far earlier than any team would hope. In this respect I'm more apt to give some leniency to this group because there was much more pressure on them to make big plays and it had an impact on Tom Brady's timing and decision-making. 
 
And how could it not? If you've ever lost a team of guys you work with and it's replaced with a bunch of new trainees then you know how challenging and frustrating this had to be for Brady. 
 
Dobson was what I expected - flashes of athleticism and equal flashes of frustrating play. I wasn't a big proponent of Dobson or Boyce. Neither possessed the higher-end route running that led me to think they'd be ready to play from the get-go unless the bottom fell out of a depth chart. Boyce's work at TCU was more athlete-driven than technician-driven. It doesn't mean he can't develop, but I felt he needed time to become a reliable route runner before a team could lean on his athleticism. 
 
Thompkins was my guy as early as last February. I was a fan of his technique and work habits that were documented from his days in community college. I believe he was the best performer of the group. Although he had some drops, had some route issues with Brady (Dobson had more notable ones, IMO), and injuries limited him late in the year, I think Thompkins displayed a fair amount of skill in the middle of the field that his peers did not. There were also plays where Brady failed his receivers because all of this new blood required time to build rapport and a lack of rapport slows down the reaction time of a quarterback. 
 
Thompkins may never be more than a secondary option in the receiving corps, but I think he has a place and the least downside of the group. I think the team will feel optimistic about Dobson and Thompkins as contributors, but it doesn't mean they won't continue looking this year because none of these guys are players where you'd say the Patriots are "set" at the position. Even the oft-injured starters can be included in that assessment. 
 
It means Latimer is a good option to consider. I like the IU player's physicality and skill to win the football in the air. He's a more talented Dobson if you ask me. Probably just as fast if not faster, better hands, and stronger at his stage of their careers. I wouldn't be surprised if New England continues to draft receivers in the middle rounds this year and Latimer is a guy who could still be there in the 3rd-4th round. 
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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( . ) ( . ) and (_!_) said:
Matt where are you on Stephon Tuitt? 
 
I've seen him in mock draft from anywhere between the 20th pick to the middle of round 3.  The general consensus seems to be that the production has not match the measurables, but there are rumblings about injuires (sports hernia, back) that may have effected his senior season. Which leads to a more philosophical question, how do you account for injuries when you are scouting a player?  Especially when the injury is the nagging variety (e.g. back issues) and not the more obvious type (e.g. high ankle sprain).
 
I'd rather see Tuitt as a defensive tackle. I don't think he has the bend, body type or stamina to play defensive end - even in a 3-4. I'd rather see him as an under tackle who can use some of his quickness to penetrate gaps and make plays. You raise a good point about the injuries but and certainly those injuries can hurt a player's ability to bend and sap his stamina. However, wasn't blown away by his athleticism prior to this season when projecting to the end position.
 
As for accounting for injuries when scouting a player, I do two basic things: I look at tape when the player was healthy to see his athletic upside and two there are injuries that may drop the ceiling of that upside and I consider the nature and severity of the injury as best I can.
 
Frank Gore was one of the best backs I've ever seen in college football from the perspective of physical-conceptual talent. As I've mentioned in the past, former UM coach Larr Coker was an RB coach at Oklahoma State when the Cowboys had Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders. I believe he helped recruit Sanders. Coker said Frank Gore was the most talented back he ever saw at the high school level.
 
Gore's suddenness and long speed combined with his agility and power were amazing to watch his freshman year at Miami. However, two knee injuries sapped some of his burst and this top-end speed. You have to account for this happening in some cases or else your expectations with some rehabs of injuries may be too high. So i's about the nature of the injury and what you saw before it. 
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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Super Nomario said:
- Favorite late-round sleepers at TE / QB / RB? I could see the Pats selecting at any of those positions given current contract statuses.
 
- SMU asked about "the big three" of Ebron, Amaro, and Sefarian-Jenkins, but I'm hoping you can also give us a quick read on Troy Niklas and C.J. Fiedorowicz.
 
- I saw you reviewed Rice's Charles Ross for the RSP (just pre-ordered my copy!). Any pro potential for him?
 
- How often do you review your evaluation / checklist? Do you sometimes find that the overall score doesn't matter because a guy has one fundamental red flag that kills him? Do you sometimes adjust a weighting because you find players can overcome a deficiency or a particular flaw is coachable?
 
Late-Round Sleepers 
 
TE Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State: Think Heath Miller upside. He's a fluid athlete with a lot of power on the field. The 34 bench press reps isn't a surprise when you watch him drag players around the field. But to me, balance is the vital attribute when looking for a player as a ball carrier, blocker, tackler, etc. Duncan has excellent balance and pad level to get yards after contact. He also has excellent hands - he catches almost everything at the first available window of arrival. He attacks the football. I don't know yet how fast/quick he really is. I've seen him separate from defenders in pursuit from a stop position and get distance from them for the first 15-20 yards. I know he doesn't have breakaway speed, but I think he's quick enough to become a fine H-back - a stronger/more fluid Chris Cooley or Miller. 
 
QB David Fales, San Jose State: His velocity is lacking on deep passes, but he sees the field as well as any passer in this draft and his accuracy within 15-25 yards is pinpoint. What I love most is his conceptual understanding of the game. He goes through multiple progressions, he looks off safeties, and he relishes a team that blitzes him because he wants nothing more than to ram that ball up the defense's tailpipe and watch the scheme explode. What he's missing is the high end velocity to hit passes 30-45 yards down field with the necessary zip over some types of coverage. I think he can get better at it
 
RB Tim Flanders, Sam Houston State: If you read my work at Football Outsiders then you may have seen last week's article that covered Flanders in addition to two other sleepers. This back is Travis Henry in dimensions and kind of like Henry in physical skills - quick, not fast, agile with balance, and determined after contact. The one thing he does that I find to be a commonality among good backs is that he anticipates penetration into the backfield and displays maturity with how to react to that penetration. 
 
Backfield penetration is a situation that forces a runner to the work on his own and you learn a lot about his creativity, efficiency, and integration of physical skills. Flanders is a smart runner. He isn't a superstar, but he's the type of back that will someday make a roster and have a chance to contribute in a lineup as a fan favorite. 
 
Troy Niklas
The physical tools make Niklas an upside player. Big, strong, and enough fluid athleticism that he can win down field as a receiver and improve as a blocker. However, I think his blocking needs more work. He consistently overextends his frame, drops his head into blocks, and he's prone to defenders swimming by or anticipating his flaws. The NFL is filled with players who will eat Niklas' lunch if he doesn't address these fundamentals early. This is to be expected from most rookies, so it's not a long-term concern. 
 
I don't think Niklas has the speed to be that consistent threat split from the formation, but his ability to win the ball high/low and physicality should help him improve enough in the long run that he can contribute to a team. I think Anthony Fasano was probably a better prospect. It might burst the bubble of those hoping for Gronkowski 2.0, but it's how I see it. 
 
Charles Ross
The dude is a bulldozer. Big-strong fella who can drag folks, but I didn't see NFL-quality burst. He got outside a lot at Rice because they pitched him the ball on option plays. I think he's a plodder lacking NFL-caliber agility. Good NFL backs have the skill to make quick adjustments in tight spaces. LaGarrette Blount is a perfect example. The former Oregon back was always light on his feet. Ross is like a slow mudslide - destructive, but methodical - it might work against defenses expecting the pass in college football where his strength is enough to have some match-up advantages, but not the NFL.
 
How I Use My Checklist System
 
This is going to be a long answer. 
 
On one level, the checklist system is for me to record in detail what I see on a play-by-play level. On another level, it's a way to derive a score. On a third level, it's a method for me to see the difference between that the player is right now in that game, what he might be in another game, and what he could be in the future. 
 
When it comes to recording details, these checklists are reports in a database I built to store all of my notes and grades. I want to make sure I'm consciously looking for the the same things about every player at that position. When you're studying hundreds of games - especially early in one's career as an analyst, having a consistent process is important for one's development. I don't want to spend brain power trying to remember what I should be looking for and how important it is to me. I'd rather have it all written down and formatted so it automatically does that part for. This allows me to spend more time looking at how the little details fit into the big picture on that player. 
 
When it comes to the score on that checklist, I use it as one layer of evaluation. There are players who will have a score in a game that my checklist system will define them as NFL reserves or practice squad talents. However, one always has to remember that players grow physically, mentally, and emotionally.
 
Tom Brady got stronger during his NFL transition process. Jamaal Charles got smarter as a runner. And Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall became more emotionally mature. If you're far enough past your early 20s, you know what a fog that time of your life was compared to your 30s and 40s. One has to account for the fact that these guys are often getting a crash course in life with a steep as hell learning curve that's magnified for all to see. 
 
To project some of this, I have broken out the skill sets in my checklist into categories that I provide in my reports and I note where along this learning curve these players are with these skills. Does the player already display the vision and agility of a star or starter or is his skills more committee or reserve level? Are those skills even NFL-caliber at his point? 
 
In addition, are these skills this player displays capable of improving or are they more difficult to develop based on past history?  I break all of this down (and show it to my readers) and factor it into my rankings by projecting which areas on my checklist marked "no" I think have a decent possibility of developing into "yes'" to change that player's score. That adjusted score based on possibility is what I call a "Ceiling Score" 
 
I look at the spread between the Checklist and Ceiling score to factor into my rankings process. 
 
As for red flags? That's part of it, although I don't have a hard and fast rule about it yet. I've been doing this nine years and I try not to make huge changes to my scoring process more than once every few years. I collect ideas, look back, and keep notes on all potential changes, but I don't want to act too soon because I want at least a few years to see how player development works out  with the process I've used. 
 
There are knockout factors I have considered. Right now I'd say they have heavy weighting as negatives when I see them, but not automatic "nixes". Aversion to contact and physical play is one of them. It might be best described as a broad topic that encompasses several factors in my checklists as it is. 
 
Players who physically lack certain baseline measurements in terms of speed, height, weight, and strength. It depends on the position, but if the fall below certain baselines then I'm less likely to endorse their skills. A running back might have excellent vision but if he doesn't weigh at least 170 pounds, I'll profile him but I'm skeptical he can get work in the NFL. Of course, I'm the guy who equated Russell Wilson's potential to Drew Brees so my baselines are as traditional as some old-school scouts. 
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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EL Jeffe said:
Thanks for taking the time, Matt.
 
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Brynn Renner, UNC QB. He seems to be the most undervalued player in the draft, especially since he plays the game's most important position. I get that he suffered a fairly significant shoulder injury and his medicals will need to check out, but doesn't he fit the mold of a genuine QB prospect? He's a big, strong armed pocket passer who played in a pro style(ish) offense. He was productive and accurate, and he seems to check the boxes of what you want in a young signal caller. Sure, he's not going to beat you with his legs, but he can beat you with his arm. Where do you see him going, and do you see him as a potential fit in New England? Surely with Brady and Mallet, the Patriots are much more interested in pocket passers than dual threat types.
 
I still have to watch Renner. He's on my list. Sorry, I can't provide it to you now. 
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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Kenny F'ing Powers said:
Hey Matt,
 
Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to say that we decided to do a "Real Fantasy Football Draft" where we had 32 SoSH members draft entire teams in an attempt to create a mock NFL league.
 
It was because of your fantastic insight and in depth analysis that we decided to risk it and draft Tyler Wilson as our starting QB and Ryan Swope as our 3rd WR.
 
Die in a fire.
 
With that out of the way, I really do enjoy your work, and you have some really neat (and I'm sure painfully time consuming) methods to tracking these athletes.
 
  • Do you have a favorite position to track?
  • Do you feel that your scouting methods translate at one position better than another? If so, do you think it's because you innately follow that position better, or is it because you've seen better results bear out out of that position? 
  • Would you say that your scouting methods are similar to those of NFL scouts? If so, which methods?
  • Have you spoken with NFL scouts about their process, and would you consider this an emulation of what NFL scouts do? Have any scouts tried copying any of your methods?
  • All things being equal (playing time, system, etc), who are your three favorite darkhorses this year that people should be watching? Who are your three most overrated players?
Thanks again, Matt.
 
PS: I don't really want you to die in a fire.
 
Maybe just burn yourself with a cigarette or something.
First, my apologies about Wilson and Swope. 
 
I will say that Swope's concussions derailed him, which is a dicey area of analysis at this point. He's good player and I still stand behind his analysis. 
 
Wilson? I could joke that whenever I think of Wilson, I think of this Wilson
 
But here's the deal  . . . and I'm borrowing from an answer I gave at the Footballguys message board about my miss on Wilson - so if it looks familiar, know that I'm copping much of it. 
 
After year one, I have missed on Wilson. My advice pre-draft was that if he and Ryan Tannehill were in the same draft, they would be neck-and-neck in perceived fantasy value and the most NFL-ready- QB with enough upside to be a factor as a quality starter.
 
In my overview of the position I said that Manuel and Wilson were the two QBs I'd consider as potential starters, but overall I recommended that folks focus on RBs and WRs because this class as a whole is not some continuation of a trend of great QB play to come based on the results from the top of the 2013 class. This was my pre-draft assessment.
 
I also have a post-draft publication that is free with purchase of the RSP. It's fantasy-focused, but still gives my thoughts based on their draft spot and team. I view my pre-draft as a pure assessment of talent and post-draft as more of a realist's guide to navigating fit-opportunity for that talent.
 
For instance, I think Alabama State's Isaiah Crowell is the most talented RB in this 2014 draft class. I also think his character issues will make him a late-round pick, at best. I think Crowell will probably be among my top-three backs in the pre-draft publication. However, I'm betting that he might not even be in the top 5-7 of his peers in the post-draft because I'm betting he'll have much to prove.  
 
In last year's post-draft I stated that "Quarterback is a late-round proposition" The only four passers I would consider drafting this year are E.J. Manuel, Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, and Geno Smith. Manuel and Barkley are the two I think have actual value worth pursuing. I like Wilson and Smith's talent, but the situation is dicey and might be worth skipping."
 
Wilson was ranked 35th overall on my post-draft report and the third QB on the list, not the first. 
 
As for why I missed on Wilson? There's a few ways to go here. 
 
a) Is the expectation that the top ranked guy on a list is supposed to carry more weight than everyone else on the list?
b) Is one year all the time one needs to judge how a player's career unfolds?
c) Is the fact that a team cut him after selecting him in the mid-rounds enough to make a judgment?
 
I'd say
 
a) Yes, the weight of who you rank first is often going to carry more weight for readers than who you rank 4th.
b) Based on the careers of quarterbacks that include Warner, Favre, Brady, Bulger, Romo, and Brees, I'm thinking the idea that Wilson getting ranked No.1 may still be a big miss, but the judgment that it is after one year could also turn out to be a colossally rash snap to judgment.
c) The fact that Oakland took Wilson and cut him and Tennessee has him tells me there's still some time to regard Wilson's career with some patience - especially given the QB's above and the teams that passed over them.
 
I tend to wait a few years before I make a judgement on how I fared with a player. Does my evaluation of Wilson negate my positive views on Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler over Young/Leinart, Stafford over Sanchez, etc? Or do misses on Wilson and John Beck mean my information is just bad?
 
There are folks who say I had a colossal miss with Knowshown Moreno and Ryan Mathews. There were probably folks who said I missed on Steve Slaton after his strong rookie year or Marshawn Lynch after he struggled post-rookie year for a few years.
 
Scouting is a craft. There are folks who say it can be a science. One day it will have more science to it. I have a colleague who does analytics and scouting for the NFL and has been in scouting for multiple NFL teams who has said publicly that my approach is more detailed and more sound than most NFL scouting departments.
 
He's a trained statistician. He wants to bring analytics to the NFL. He still says that there will always be a need for observational based/non-numerical data and even intuition in scouting.
 
I say this because I recognize the desire for folks to see some sort of "how does one grade or evaluate how someone evaluates talent or grades the draft?" Do you look at one year, two, three, five? Do you grade rankings or how a player is assessed in the analysis?
 
As for things I'm monitoring over the next few years with Wilson in regard to QBs as well as QB criteria in general:
 
a) Is hand size really a big deal? Wilson did have smaller hands and did his go under a baseline that I need to consider?
b) Was his recklessness an issue that showed up too early in practice?
c) Did he really have issues with the playbook? I've talked with a scout who has shared with me that some stories like these are bogus and an excuse. They also have analytics groups come up with positive stories to feed to major media to prop up a player they don't feel confident in but want to give that player some confidence.
d) Will we learn there's an off-field issue associated with Wilson that I would not have known about.
e) I'm studying criteria to add to my checklists like anticipation/timing on certain routes as well as placement being a separate sub category of accuracy. Splitting out footwork on drops into subcategories.
f) I'm considering some knock-out data that raise red flags even if the overall scores are high.
 
So yes, pre-draft's view of Wilson was high and probably messed some folks up if they draft before the NFL draft. 
 
I'll also add that I think I missed on Wilson's arm talent and he needs more time to develop a bit more velocity (if he can). I expected he'd be more pro-ready early in his career. I also think I underestimated his recklessness. I'm a sucker for gunslingers because I like creative QBs. If I were a coach, I'd be the type that would look for smart, physical, creative players and give them firm parameters but wide enough boundaries that they aren't micromanaged. 
 
That was my management style in my previous career: some firm boundaries and processes with rigorous attention to fundamental skills, but breathing room for folks to do what they do best within that environment. It's not the best way; it was just the best way for me to do the job well with my talents-deficiencies. One of my flaws as an evaluator of talent is that I can overvalue creativity.
 
How about we settle for me touching a hot pan with my forearm? I still need to type, plus I just got married four years ago, and I'd like that enjoy that for a little while longer. Cool?
 
Fave position to scout
 
As for your other questions: Running back has always been my favorite position because I love its intuitive nature. However, I don't think I have a favorite anymore. It used to be RB, but I love studying receivers and quarterbacks, too. A position I'm becoming more enamored with studying are two that I don't even address in the RSP, which are safety and cornerback
 
Position I think I'm strong at
 
I've had a lot of success with RB, because I think I recognized earlier than some in the media-analysis game that RB is a lot like shooting guard in the NBA (those who follow me, yeah,I say this a lot) in the sense you can plug-and-play these guys even if they are street free agents.
 
That said,  I think I'm getting more adept at wide receiver play. I had a former college WR tell me that my work on receiver's is "like crack" in terms of his addiction to reading about the position. Villanova's WR coach has been complimentary of my work, too. I think I've done a good job of studying technique and showing how a guy like Marvin Jones was a better value than Stephen Hill or how Kenbrell Thompkins and Marlon Brown were NFL talents. 
 
Of course, I didn't like Demaryius Thomas as much as I should have I didn't look at a big enough sample size. We all miss. I know my misses like women I've known who can list every physical flaw they perceive about themselves. Part of the trade. 
 
NFL Scouts
 
Similarities: Yes, in the fact that I study film and track my thoughts. No, in the fact that on the analysis side of what a player did my work is generally more detailed. Far more detailed. 
 
I still find this strange to say and I believe that there have to be some teams who area as detailed or more detailed with their analysis of on-field performance. However, I have a colleague who has been a scout for numerous teams. He's the same guy with that analytics bent I mentioned above. 
 
He gets the RSP. He shared evaluations with me. My first response to him was, "That's it?" 
 
His response was laughter and "I knew that's what you'd think." 
 
I think part of the reason their work is less detailed is that they are feeding bullet-point, final points to the decision-makers who don't want to pour over reams of work. At the same time, I also have heard a enough things from a variety of scouts that there are a lot of flaws with NFL evaluation processes because it's still rooted in the ways of the 1950s, 60s, 70s.
 
Sure, there's new technology to communicate or format reports, but many teams haven't made radical changes. Analytics is still in its infancy. Sure FO, PFF, and individuals are consulting for teams, but if the NFL was truly adopting this work and putting it to grand use across the board - they wouldn't be hiring these civilian websites as part-time consultants for small projects.
 
So, as unbelievable as it is to me, my work apparently is more detailed and structured than many processes - according to what this one scout with numerous gigs tells me. 
 
However, I cannot emphasize this enough: I've been doing this 9 years. There are senior scouts who have 20-40 years of experience. These guys know football as well as anyone. I'd love to sit in a room with them for weeks on end and watch film. These are men and women who are master craftspeople. 
 
I have to think that where my work has some quality is that I have training in how to build a process for incorporating the objective/subjective when grading human performance. It sounds like this might be what the NFL is missing as organizations. They have individuals who do it great, but it's not a spelled out as a process that can be scaled, trained, etc.  
 
At the same time, I also have to believe some teams - Patriots/Seahawks/Steelers/Ravens/49ers probably have a strong process with scouting. They may have their blind spots, but they appear to do a good job of communicating the basics about what they want from players. 
 
Sleepers/Overrated
 
Still at the research stage of my work so this is bound to change. However, Flanders, Paul Richardson (see my blog or FO), and Bruce Ellington stand out as underrated guys. Ellington's versatility, speed, and skill in tight spots makes him a player who can work the slot and the perimeter. I'd rather have him than Brandin Cooks. 
 
Overrated? I think Bishop Sankey has the makings of a contributor for an RB depth chart, but despite his 1800 yards rushing this year I think he has real issues reading at the second level and often at the first level in a zone blocking scheme. When he runs gap plays his decision-making is less erratic and he makes better use of his skills. 
 
I hate to say this about a local guy, but I'm not enthralled with Andre Williams. I think he can contribute to an NFL team in a committee, but I do not think he is a long-term starter on a successful team. His pad level needs to be better. He gets stood up and knocked back by defenders on a lot of plays that he shouldn't. It doesn't matter how strong a player is, if he cannot play with leverage his power isn't put to good use. 
 
His burst is good enough to get past the line of scrimmage, but there are a lot of runs where he fails to get past the second level that most NFL-caliber starters could have reached with ease. 
 
When the creases get smaller - NFL small - I saw inconsistencies with Williams' decision-making. Like Sankey, if he's running gap scheme plays (traps, sweeps, counters, power) and has one hole to hit, he's better as a decision-maker with NFL-sized creases than he is on zone runs where he has multiple choices. 
 
While he has decent feet, I don't think he has top-end footwork to change direction on a dime. 
 
Williams seems like a great guy - smart, hard worker, strong, tough - but I think his upside is as a contributor who will need a top o-line to produce like a good starter and even then, a team will be seeking a better guy so they can use the BC back as a contributor again. 
 
I think Brandin Cooks is overrated. The Oregon State wide receiver isn't Steve Smith incarnate. Press him and he struggles. His routes need more work and I think he's a little stiff in terms of adjusting to the ball. This is a nuanced point in the sense that he's athletic and has balance - just watch him spin and duck under guys and you see that - but when adjusting to the football, I think that stiffness might be an issue on 50/50 balls he wins now but might lose in the pros. I'd love to pick Cooks in the late-third or fourth round because of his versatility, but I like Tavon Austin's skill after the catch better and the Rams - yes I know, it's the Rams - haven't been able to exploit Austin yet so a slightly slower version of Austin isn't a player I value as a potential WR1. 
 
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is another. I think he'll grow into a good blocker, but I think he's more like an aspiring Jermaine Gresham-Brandon Pettigrew type than a guy in the Graham/Gronkowski athleticism tier. His decision-making as a zone route runner needs work. He's hesitant about where to go when reading defender drops and it gives his opposition time to adjust and cut off his routes. His releases and breaks need more urgency and suddenness. His pads aren't low enough and punch not sudden enough as a run blocker at this time. 
 
 
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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Morgan's Magic Snowplow said:
Hey Matt,

Thanks for doing this. I've been a fan of your work since getting hipped to it last year. Thanks. This is a huge priority in my life. I still have a lot to learn, but a big reason I show all my work is it helps me learn as I go and I want people to see what I see (if they care to look). It's not so much for me whether I'm right or wrong about the outcome, but whether I saw the player clearly. There are players I still thing are good who have shown what I saw in college who didn't get the opportunity to play. So, let's hope I'm still dong this 10 years from now. It will be fun to see what's changed...

If Colt Lyerla was a choirboy, where would he rank in this TE class and where would he be drafted?  He'd be in my top-3 and like Richard Rodgers, he has the blend of versatility as a ball carrier, receiver, and (good enough) blocker to do some of what Aaron Hernandez did. I was a huge fan of Hernandez's talents. I think he'd be drafted within the first three rounds if he was a choirboy. Probably the first 50 picks because of his versatility and the fact there are a number of teams that would love to have two tight ends to dictate scheme to defenses. Given his demonstrated fondness for cocaine and dustups with the police, where should a smart team draft him this year (if at all)? This one is hard for me to answer and this is probably a continuation of Kenny F'ing Powers' Q about what I would like to emulate from scouts: I'd love to have a PI firm working for me. That said, I'm not sure if there's a wise approach with drafting a guy like Lyerla if you think he's trouble because he'll cost you money, leave a vacuum on your depth chart/game plan, create bad PR, and disrupt your locker room if he's not behaving. There are teams that will babysit players to an extent that we would find confounding if it was done in the non-football/non-celebrity world. 
 
It ultimately depends on the the investigation and the interview. I've interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people in my past career. It doesn't make me some master of human psychology by any means. I've bought things folks were selling that I shouldn't have. I underestimated others. And I've asked the wrong questions or weighted the wrong things. 
 
That said, if the teams are truly interviewing with any level of expertise and making it an important part of their overall evaluation they'll be able to see behavior that doesn't add up for them and they won't excuse it. Still, if Lyerla is around in the sixth-seventh round, seems truly remorseful; can articulate what, how, why he screwed up and the underlying behavior driving it an how he has changed it and you trust those who are saying he's changing; and he you believe he's a top-50/100 talent, the investment is a reasonable risk if you have firm boundaries and you don't let him cross them without saying good-bye. 

I can see the Patriots adding a RB in rounds 4-6, given that both Ridley and Vereen will be FAs after this year. Any sleepers who you really like in that range? Marion Grice of ASU is one of the best receivers in this class at the RB position and he's a tougher runner than his size (I think 205-210 range) may indicate. Not special at one thing, but versatile and smart.  James Wilder, Jr. has Adrian Peterson's build, aggressiveness, and strength. He lacks the vision, the great (but still decent) agility, and he is reckless. However, hes' that swing for the fences as a power runner with some high-end athleticism. 

If Bill Belichick asked you to find a replacement for Ryan Mallett (ie, a backup QB but maybe with some upside to be a Brady successor in three years) somewhere in the round 4-7 range, who would you target and why? So you know, I was a Brian Hoyer fan and had him as an underrated developmental guy when he was at Michigan St. As for now, I like Fales if my coaching staff was convinced he could add enough arm strength to be a starter. Zach Mettenberger is a more game-ready option. Think Kerry Collins with lesser arm talent but a little better pocket presence. 

How much (if at all) do you care about QB hand size in evaluating prospects from a physical standpoint? It seems like there is increasing buzz about hand size, with some fairly respectable NFL decision-makers (Chip Kelly, Thomas Dimitroff) recently on record talking about it as an underrated physical attribute. Both Bortles and Bridgewater seem to have smallish hands (although neither are tiny a la Mike Vick). I think these guys fit within a baseline that's good enough but not optimal. For me, hand size is a layer of information that might tip the scales towards a player if all things are equal or be a knockout factor if it's too small. Otherwise, it's not going to be a bigger factor than decision-making, pocket presence, and total skills integration. 
 

mascho

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Matt:

Again, we all thank you for taking the time. This is awesome.

1. Whither AJ McCarron? Seems like every scout is down on him. I see a guy that grew from a game manager into a top flight QB. I like to point to a play in the Alabama/Auburn game this year. 3rd and 9 late 3rd quarter and Bama is backed up on its goal line, and Saban trusted AJ to throw in that situation. Deep out route on a rope for the first.

I know people think he can't hit the deep ball, and that is a weakness now. But I see a guy who hits the out routes with strength and is accurate on the intermediate routes. Doesn't make a ton of mistakes. And wins.

Am I wrong?

2. Lorenzo Taliferro, of Coastal Carolina. Fell in love with this guy Senior Bowl week. Great in pass pro but carries the ball well. Think he gets drafted?

3. When evaluating prospects, how much does the level of competition do you take into account? If you see a guy tearing it up against FCS competition do you downgrade the player at all?

4. If you could advise us here who were interested in trying to learn more about evaluating players, what would you recommend we do? Watch film? Attend games? What would be best?
 

SeoulSoxFan

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Matt,
 
Thanks so much for doing this. 
 
You must provide more (feed my binky!) on Fiedorowicz. He just had the best 3-cone drill and 20 yard dash time (slow 40, but faster than Amaro, who I'm not crazy on), not to mention the most polished blocker out of the outstanding TE group. 
 
Can't ignore the Ferentz coaching line either.
 
I think he's a perfect insurance for Gronk & an underrated red zone target. 
 
I'd love to pick him up as a 2nd rounder, much earlier than the 3rd that people have been spotting him. 
 
What are your thoughts on CJF?
 

E5 Yaz

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Matt, Many thanks for doing this. terrific stuff.
 
We keep hearing how this is a "deep draft." That being said, what would be the sweet spot in terms of a value round? When there's talent to be had, does it make sense for teams to trade for more picks in the third round, for instance?
 

Phragle

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Thanks for taking the time Matt.
 
1. Why only offense?
 
2. What advice do you have for someone that wants to work in an NFL front office/scouting?
 
3. Do you have any examples of the un-detailed scouting reports from NFL scouts?
 
4. How is the RSP Writers Draft going? We are doing something similar and going into our second season. 
 
5. How much would you trust a PFF rating without any context whatsoever? For example: Brandon LaFell - 3.3.
 
6. Do you consider draft tendencies for longer tenured HC/GMs like Bill Belichick when picking potential landing spots or mock drafts?
 
7. Do you consider the offense (West Coast, Erhardt-Perkins) a prospect used in college when picking potential landing spots or mock drafts? I ask because the Pats have a history of WRs not "getting" the system, and I think Allen Robinson would be a great fit as he flourished under Bill O'Brien in the same Erhardt-Perkins offense the Pats use.
 
8. Settle and argument: Is the read option a play, or an offense?
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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mascho said:
Matt:

Again, we all thank you for taking the time. This is awesome. Glad you guys are enjoying this. Again, I'm only 9 years into this "heavy duty" and while I answered that I have some good feedback from some folks in the field, I by no means want to portray that I'm a better than the NFL. I may have a more though-out/balanced process than some teams when it comes to watching film, but I don't assess for a specific scheme or fit with team. I don't have character assessment tools or resources and I don't have to answer to a GM or owner with the pressure of feeding my family if I get canned by a team. 

1. Whither AJ McCarron? Seems like every scout is down on him. I see a guy that grew from a game manager into a top flight QB. I like to point to a play in the Alabama/Auburn game this year. 3rd and 9 late 3rd quarter and Bama is backed up on its goal line, and Saban trusted AJ to throw in that situation. Deep out route on a rope for the first. I'm down on him, too. I think he's a good college quarterback who is at his best when allowed to throw in rhythm of the play's design. If given the time to drop 3-5-7 steps, set, and throw, he looks good. Give him a good running game and ask him to operate a short and intermediate passing game with play action that's working and he succeeds. 

I know people think he can't hit the deep ball, and that is a weakness now. But I see a guy who hits the out routes with strength and is accurate on the intermediate routes. Doesn't make a ton of mistakes. And wins. I agree that the intermediate accuracy is there on a lot of routes. However, I'm not convinced based on what I've seen at this point that he has the intermediate accuracy on a consistent basis to hit some of these big-time NFL throws. There are 4-6 plays in most NFL games where a pro defense essentially takes away what the offense is trying to do and says, "Okay QB, we're painting you into a corner - make a play that's not in the rhythm or plan and do it your arm or legs that will beat us." I'm skeptical McCarron has either the arm or legs to do it. 
 
Where this concerns me most is that his pocket maneuverability isn't where I'd like to see it. He can manage outside pressure to a degree, but I still saw too many issues with how to climb the pocket. He's too frenetic with his footwork in these situations and won't deliver the ball with a balanced base. In contrast, a player like Blake Bortles may have footwork issues but his feet are more poised under pressure. Derek Carr? Frenetic/impulsive/impatient. Jimmy Garappolo? "Get me out of here!" Teddy Bridgewater? Smooth. 
 
When a player is rushing his feet, it's a mental thing. When it happens under pressure it's a difficult thing to say he'll correct. If it's because he's seeing an open man and impatient about getting the ball out then I think there's some hope (Carr possibly). If he's feeling the pressure and losing poise because he's more concerned about getting hit (Garoppolo) then I haven't seen a QB correct this tendency to a serviceable degree long-term. 
 
But you should know that I wait until the end of my research phase to watch QBs and I still have about five QBs to watch more tape of and McCarron is one of them so I won't say you're wrong. I'll just say that as of today, I haven't seen enough evidence to feel good about him as anything more than a No.3 NFL QB who might develop into No.2 QB. If he can demonstrate good skills to step into throws with pressure coming to hit him, consistent velocity on intermediate throws, and better timing on breaks ofs hort routes, then I could be more optimistic. 

Am I wrong?

2. Lorenzo Taliferro, of Coastal Carolina. Fell in love with this guy Senior Bowl week. Great in pass pro but carries the ball well. Think he gets drafted? Late-rounds, but not to do with his talent - RB is slipping in value compared to where it was 5-10 years ago. He reminds me a little of Rashad Jennings in style, although I liked Jennings' talent more. 

3. When evaluating prospects, how much does the level of competition do you take into account? If you see a guy tearing it up against FCS competition do you downgrade the player at all? It matters to a degree. Terrence West is a good example. The Towson RB has his admirers. If you watched only the James Madison game, you might have a higher opinion of him than if you watched him against UConn. James Madison might have two players over 295 pounds and some really undersized LBs. Kind of hard to say West's power and agility is top-notch when he's facing guys who don't fit the NFL baselines for physical skill at their positions. Conversely when I watching guys like Forte and Bradshaw whose offenses were over matched in the tale of the tape and they still looked good (technique/decisions, not stats) then that's a great sign. So whenever I can, I try to watch players against top athletes. Still, there are things you can kind of see about a player against FCS competition that helps you gauge just how much skepticism you should have (size of holes, how much time in the pocket he's getting, how tight of windows he's throwing, how clean his technique is, and how sound his decisions are)

4. If you could advise us here who were interested in trying to learn more about evaluating players, what would you recommend we do? Watch film? Attend games? What would be best? This is the first article I posted in my blog "Losing Your Football Innocence" . I suggest watching games. Spending some time watching games alone and focusing on one thing at a time be it one position, one concept, one play type, etc. Think of it this way. When you to to school, you might learn about 10 things but only really know one or two things in depth if you advance to a master's or PhD program. Otherwise, bachelor degrees often give you a general-fundamental overview of a subject. Once you get into your field or graduate level program is when you gain depth of knowledge. I think it's better to learn one or two things at a time in depth than try to learn everything at once. 
 
I suggest reading a lot of Chris Brown if you want to learn about schemes and plays. Coach Hoover's site has great resources, too.  The AFCA has some strong material in print form that are compilations of coaches articles.
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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SeoulSoxFan said:
Matt,
 
Thanks so much for doing this. 
 
You must provide more (feed my binky!) on Fiedorowicz. He just had the best 3-cone drill and 20 yard dash time (slow 40, but faster than Amaro, who I'm not crazy on), not to mention the most polished blocker out of the outstanding TE group. Fiedorowicz shows on film that he's quick on short routes and turns, which hearing about the times doesn't surprise me a lot. He sets up underneath routes well. He's not a down field guy but if he gets more disciplined with hard breaks and sudden turns, he could be a force in the range of 10-15 yards over the middle. Tony Gonzalez lost his speed as he aged, but I still think he's the quickest at breaks and turns in the NFL. I see potentail for Fiedorowicz in this area. There's a lot of room for growth to become a solid contributor, but I don't see him as a dynamic player as much as a one who might learn to do 1-2 things well for a team. 
 
Where he needs to get better: I think he let's smaller defenders off the hook as a blocker in space. He has a good initial punch, but he prefers to throw second or third punches instead of locking on and manhandling his opponent. I want to see him lock-on an turn a guy more often.  This is correctable. So is his tendency to hop into breaks and tip of his routes with sloppy stems at times. What I don't think is correctable is his skill as a runner. I don't believe he'll ever be a force as a ball carrier after the catch. I have a colleague who claims once CJF has a better feel for what to do in the passing game (because he believes CJF is not used enough) that he'll get better because he'll be more decisive. He may be right. I'm not sold though. 
 
Overall, good player to have on a team and worth an investment if expecting only a limited amount of things for him to do well. Which is really what you expect from a majority of the roster. 
 
 
 

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E5 Yaz said:
Matt, Many thanks for doing this. terrific stuff.
 
We keep hearing how this is a "deep draft." That being said, what would be the sweet spot in terms of a value round? When there's talent to be had, does it make sense for teams to trade for more picks in the third round, for instance?
 
Yaz, here's where I'd love to give you some great analysis but I know my limitations pretty well. Whereas most media draft guys project round, team fit, follow developments, cultivate contacts, and try to project the draft, I''m not that guy. I study tape and look at talent. I will guess at rounds for players, but it's not really my thing.
 
That said, I hear it's a deep draft and I see a lot of reasons for it. I think the offensive line is pretty strong. Safety has some nice talent. A lot of receivers capable of contributing. A game changer at DE. Solid QBs who may not be the 2012 class, but could be around for a while in a helpful capacity....
 
Sorry I can't answer your Q, but my answer would suck and I don't want to try to sound knowledgeable when I know I'm not.  
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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phragle said:
Thanks for taking the time Matt.
 
1. Why only offense? I wanted to begin with positions that I had some level of knowledge and start with a limited scope so I could refine it. There's only so much time in a day. I work as a magazine writer for a university by day. Before that I was in a different industry. This was an experiment for me in 2006. Now it looks like it will be a long-term business. I figured at that time it was better to get decent-good at a limited scope than be spread out too much. Maybe one day I'll add more positions, but I'm not in a hurry. 
 
2. What advice do you have for someone that wants to work in an NFL front office/scouting? This is coming from a guy who has never been an NFL scout or employee, but has talked with several over the years. It's advice based on their knowledge as well as my experience as  a manager of large teams/branches-offices with several roles I had to account for. In other words - life experience/common sense (to a degree). 
 
  1. Commit to this as an aspiration and be persistent. 
  2. I believe Russ Lande still does some scout school work and he has pupils who have earned gigs with college teams and the CFL. Look into that. 
  3. Network, be professional, and be willing to do grunt work that may not be scouting but an entry into the realm. 
  4. Know that scouting is a tough business with a lot of turnover, low entry level pay, and long hours. 
  5. Learn to communicate in a professional way and not allow frustrations to get the best of you. 
  6. Work harder than everyone else - if you can't do it, then you know it might not be for you. 
  7. Find coaches clinics conducted by college coaches and pay to attend. Study. Network with these guys. Ask questions. Ask how to get started. If they give you contact info, don' think they were just being nice - actually contact them with salient questions that you have about the game and show that you really want to learn and have a passion. These guys love football. If they see you love it like them, they're more apt to give you a shot if they have one. Not everyone means it when they say to call them, but if they give you a number or email and they seem irritated that you used it and had a salient question for them to answer within a limited amount of time then it's on them for giving you their info when they didn't mean it. 
 
3. Do you have any examples of the un-detailed scouting reports from NFL scouts? I do, but if I show them I undermine my relationship with the people who have shared them and risk their careers. There's a certain gray area where I think it makes sense to protect the anonymity of people I write about and when to reveal info fully. I will tell you that the reports I saw were no more than 5-8 sentences on the player's ability on the field. 
 
4. How is the RSP Writers Draft going? We are doing something similar and going into our second season. We haven't started yet and this year, we're not doing a draft. I'm going to assign rosters with certain dynamics and ask the writers to come up with plans to address these situations. 
 
5. How much would you trust a PFF rating without any context whatsoever? For example: Brandon LaFell - 3.3. I've never used PFF's data for anything. I just haven't had the time to even look into what they do. 
 
6. Do you consider draft tendencies for longer tenured HC/GMs like Bill Belichick when picking potential landing spots or mock drafts?  I don't do mock drafts. I'm not in the Mel Kiper/McShay/beat writer mode. I focus on talent and dissecting technique of players up close. 
 
7. Do you consider the offense (West Coast, Erhardt-Perkins) a prospect used in college when picking potential landing spots or mock drafts? I ask because the Pats have a history of WRs not "getting" the system, and I think Allen Robinson would be a great fit as he flourished under Bill O'Brien in the same Erhardt-Perkins offense the Pats use. Yes, I look at this when trying to consider potential fit in terms of what a player does well or might be able to do well.
 
8. Settle and argument: Is the read option a play, or an offense? Oh boy . . . to me, it's a play. 
 

koufax32

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Thanks so much for doing this.

You've mentioned route running as a large factor in evaluating receivers. How learn-able is this skill? Have you seen "rounders" develop into "tron cycle racer" route runners and cut makers? Is this skill quantifiable? If so how do you go about measuring/projecting that? Along those lines, who are some receivers that may not be top talents but go in and out of cuts with geometric precision?

In a simple list of skills for wrs how would you rank them in order of importance to long term success? For instance, 40 speed, route running/cut making, playing the ball in the air, hand size or softness of hands, etc.
 

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koufax32 said:
Thanks so much for doing this.

You've mentioned route running as a large factor in evaluating receivers. How learn-able is this skill? Have you seen "rounders" develop into "tron cycle racer" route runners and cut makers? Is this skill quantifiable? If so how do you go about measuring/projecting that? Along those lines, who are some receivers that may not be top talents but go in and out of cuts with geometric precision?

In a simple list of skills for wrs how would you rank them in order of importance to long term success? For instance, 40 speed, route running/cut making, playing the ball in the air, hand size or softness of hands, etc.
 
Route running is a skill receivers can learn. There are two basic types of route running that receivers have to learn: man routes and zone routes. Each take a little different mindset. 
 
Man routes require the receivers to dictate more of the action. They need to force the opponent to react to what they do with the intent of setting up a break to an open spot where the quarterback will throw the ball. It's like telling a good suspense story. The defender is the audience. A good defender in man coverage is like a jaded audience watching a suspense/mystery/thriller. He's seen most everything a number of times so you better make it compelling in some fashion that he still loses himself in the story long enough for you to deliver a good twist that has him temporarily reeling. 
 
Zone routes require the receivers to do more of the reacting to the drops of defenders. They have to understand what 2-4 different guys are doing at a variety of spots on the field. They have to think quick and be fluid with their reactions. This requires more conceptual feel than physical skill. 
 
If you look at them as athletes, Victor Cruz and Eddie Royal aren't that much different as receivers. However, Cruz learned beat zone coverage and Royal struggled in this area. 
 
I break down components of good route running with man and zone concepts: 
  • Using hands to defeat press coverage (can be learned, most have to)
  • Using feet to defeat press coverage (if you can't do this by now, you're probably new to the WR position and might be hard to learn at NFL level. Refine, sure. Learn from scratch? Tougher)
  • Intermediate and deep separation (speed/quickness) (May learn to get a little faster but 4.8 guys don't learn how to be 4.3 guys)
  • Route depth (This is easy to learn, but also a poise/awareness issue mentally and if you see a lot of mental errors, you see a guy with poor attention to detail and will frustrate a QB with his lapses and won't be trusted)
  • Working back to the QB after the break (Effort and detail) 
  • Breaking to the football (attacking the ball - about effort and detail - the best guys are great about the little things. More WRs than you think aren't this detailed)
  • Boundary awareness (Worked on, but the best have a knack for it that's hard to teach by the time that reach this level. It can be refined but I can't remember a guy go from bad to great
  • Executing hard breaks (you mentioned rounding breaks - some routes are designed with a "speed break" which is a rounder break than a hard step, hip drop, and turn back to the QB) Can be learned - A.J. Green learned. 
  • Finding soft spots in zone (Can be learned, but some guys have a tougher time than others - Michael Campanaro is a good zone runner as a college prospect - see NC State game on Draft Breakdown)
  • Tipping off routes (issues with breaks like slowing down/moves that don't lead a defender to turn his hips the opposite way/ multiple steps into breaks, etc.) - Can be learned
  • Set up breaks (the stem) - Usually learned. 
  • Shielding defenders from the ball - 
I assign points to each of these concepts in weight on a 100-point scale with other receiver skills. The ones above account of my categories "separation and routes". It's 39% of a receiver's grade. Why scouting is a craft more than science is that some players have more aptitude for certain skills that others. Some are physical marvels with huge mental lapses. Others have great technique but mediocre physical skills. Some have one or two great skills that if used properly by an offense is like a great sledgehammer. It will never be a screwdriver, but that's ok. 
 
On this list, 10 percent of that 39 percent goes to learn press techniques - which most college guys have to get better at - and often do, when they get to the NFL. Route depth, breaks (stems/tipping off routes) have equal or near equal value in my list. 
 
As for some of the ball skills you mentioned, I list that under receiving. My WR checklist has these categories
 
Separation, Routes, Receiving, Elusiveness, Ball Handling, Balance, Blocking, Vision, Power, and Durability
There are ~ 46 points I grading within these. 
 
Marvin Jones and Stephen Hill are two players I contrasted on the basis of routes before they got drafted. I much preferred Jones. I had a former Jets scout give a very complimentary review of my work with these two
 

Tony C

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Great thread, thanks Matt.
 
Where were you last year and where are you now on the Pats' late round guys, Michael Buchanan and Steve Beauharnais?
 

E5 Yaz

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mattwaldmanrsp said:
 
Sorry I can't answer your Q, but my answer would suck and I don't want to try to sound knowledgeable when I know I'm not.  
 
You're never going to make it on SoSH if you don't try to sound more knowledgeable than you really are. 
 

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E5 Yaz said:
 
You're never going to make it on SoSH if you don't try to sound more knowledgeable than you really are. 
 
Then just call me a bust in that department. I can live with it. 
 

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Tony C said:
Great thread, thanks Matt.
 
Where were you last year and where are you now on the Pats' late round guys, Michael Buchanan and Steve Beauharnais?
 
I didn't study either of these guys in depth. I can say my first impression of Beauharnais was a future contributor but not a guy who was going to do anything special for you. 
 

Eck'sSneakyCheese

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Hey Matt. Thanks for doing this. Big fan of the RSP.
 
1. Up-thread you mentioned Fiedorowiczs lack of YAC which I noticed as well. Out of this years draft class which one of the TE's do you think has the most explosiveness and/or the ability to not necessarily run people over but get those valuable yards after contact?
 
2. What are your thoughts on UCF RB Storm Johnson? I think he has a good all around game but the sample size is small.
 
3. In your Boiler Room piece on Manziel you said you were keeping an open mind while evaluating him. If you had to decide today do you think his game would really translate to the NFL level or would the speed of the defenses nullify his mobility and force him into bad decisions?
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Matt, these answers are awesome. Thanks so much for doing this. I figured I'd fire a couple extra questions at you while we have the chance:

What led you to get into draft scouting and evaluation?

What type of film do you use when evaluating players? Can you get All-22 film for a significant number of major programs? If not, how does this change the scouting and evaluation process?

Thinking really broadly now, do you believe there are types of players or player attributes that are systematically undervalued or overvalued by NFL teams in the draft process (ie, small school kids are generally undervalued, or hand technique for DL is generally undervalued, or big arms for QBs are generally overvalued, etc)?
 

SMU_Sox

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Matt, this has been incredible. 
 
Given what you know about the top 5 or 6 TE's in this draft and with the combine numbers (which may or may not be important to you) who do you think fits on the Pats the most? Is there a highly regarded TE who wouldn't be a good fit?
 

Kenny F'ing Powers

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Matt,
 
Can you tell that Gronk/Hernandez has completely skewed the way New England fans think of TE's? We're seeing it spread through the NFL, but has that thought process trickled down to the college ranks yet?
 
Thanks, I'll hang up and listen.
 

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Eck'sSneakyCheese said:
Hey Matt. Thanks for doing this. Big fan of the RSP. Thank you. Love hearing that folks enjoy this work. It's come a long way from the first year I did it and having folks who appreciate the work - even when I'm wrong about some players - is a blessing.
 
1. Up-thread you mentioned Fiedorowiczs lack of YAC which I noticed as well. Out of this years draft class which one of the TE's do you think has the most explosiveness and/or the ability to not necessarily run people over but get those valuable yards after contact? Richard Rodgers has good skill as a runner. He's more Hernandez in size, but he has good functional power and quickness. Ebron didn't run like Vernon Davis 2.0 at the Combine, but he's fast, fluid, and agile. Amaro is powerful and his runs have that Bavaro quality - fluid, not really blazing for a TE, but powerful. Joe Don Duncan of Dixie State is a guy with excellent strength and fluid skills. Great hands - can catch the ball with one hand as if it's routine. Breaks tackles with excellent pad level and drags guys. He's 6'3" 268 and his strength/endurance in this regard is top-notch. If he can block and his quickness is NFL-caliber...think Steelers Heath Miller - a player I've long loved and glad to know Bruce Arians thinks he's the best TE in the NFL (even if I won't go that far, I'd put him in the conversation as an unsung stud).
 
2. What are your thoughts on UCF RB Storm Johnson? I think he has a good all around game but the sample size is small. He does. Watched him again the other night. He's not a special player and there are several things he does good, but not great. Good agility but not dynamic - he'll set up a crease and press-and-cut, but he can't make those big moves that cut across the backfield with huge lateral coverage. Fast enough to get big gains, but more Alfred Morris fast as opposed to LeSean McCoy fast. I can tell he sees where he has to make a commitment to a short gain, but sometimes he'll still test a bounce anyway and burn his team for trying. He's the type of back that I think has a chance to grow into a contributing role the way Roy Helu is inching his way there in Washington. 
 
3. In your Boiler Room piece on Manziel you said you were keeping an open mind while evaluating him. If you had to decide today do you think his game would really translate to the NFL level or would the speed of the defenses nullify his mobility and force him into bad decisions? I'm pretty sold he's going to be a starting NFL quarterback. I'm also open to the idea that he'll be a very good starting NFL quarterback and in the conversation as the best quarterback in this class when it's said and done. I know it's touchy-feely, but I break down a lot of small points of players games so I can see the larger arc of what they do. The more you do this with Manziel, the more apparent it is that while he's intuitive, he has much better decision-making than it seems. The quickness showed up at the Combine, but if you watch him on tape, you'll notice that when he makes a move to avoid pressure he has the same things in common that you see from Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, RGIII, Tony Romo - they wait until the last possible moment before they maneuver way from pressure. They almost bait the defender into taking that one step where that man is fully committed in a direction before the quarterback executes a sudden turn away from the opponent. Speed/quickness is helpful, but so much of it is awareness of when to execute that move and how to bait these guys. Manziel does this a lot. I think he'll do it a lot in the NFL. He'll make some mistakes for sure. He'll have the folks who love only the Brady-style of QB railing against him. In fact, I won't be surprised if he has issues as a rookie making one move the wrong way in the pocket, realizing he has to move another and it be too late for him.  He does this a little too often at A&M and often gets away with it. This year he'll mess up in this regard early but I think by end of the year, he'll lessen this tendency. 
 

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Morgan's Magic Snowplow said:
Matt, these answers are awesome. Thanks so much for doing this. I figured I'd fire a couple extra questions at you while we have the chance:

What led you to get into draft scouting and evaluation? I was an operations manager and eventually in an assistant director role for a company where I evaluated branches of employees who evaluated work performance for about 4000-5000 people. I had a lot of experience recruiting, training, supervising, and managing operations processes and teams of people. I earned certification in a process that specialized in how to monitor/observe/grade employee performance. 
 
I was always a football fan. I was writing for a fantasy football site and in my own personal leagues I felt I had a good eye for finding rookie talent. One day, I read Gil Brandt's comment about a running back who would have been a top-10 pick in the draft if he was 10 pounds heavier and a couple of inches taller. It made me realize how much risk management and business is interspersed with the NFL Draft and evaluations weren't just purely on talent. I decided I had the training from a process angle to do this work and it would be a good exercise to learn more about the game.  
 
That's the short story. BTW-that player was Brian Westbrook.

What type of film do you use when evaluating players? Can you get All-22 film for a significant number of major programs? If not, how does this change the scouting and evaluation process? All-22 is valuable for studying coverage. This is helpful with seeing what quarterbacks are reading. It's almost essential for studying safety/corner play at any level of serious inquiry beyond writing articles for a website. However, I don't get that tape. I watch broadcasts and record it. Some broadcasts intentionally record it's base shots high enough that I'm getting that All-22 view. 
 
But much to Greg Cosell's horror ( :)), I don't think the All-22 is always the best way to go. All-22 doesn't give you close-ups of receivers working press coverage or the chance to see the smaller details of stems, breaks, hands technique, quarterback footwork, releases, position and technique with blocking, and a myriad of details that All-22 isn't as good as broadcast. 
 
If I were game planning, then yes, All-22 would be best but I'd still probably want to have the choice of both for finer details. It's also important to note that as much as the media clamors for All-22 on NFL.com, how much are they really getting out of it? I'd argue enough to justify asking, but not as much as you'd think. 
 
Considering that Cosell with his 30-31 years of work with All-22 has to call the coaches to get an explanation about a lot of things to this day. Plus NFL coaches reviewing All-22 photos during the game are still essentially guessing (it's a pseudo-science, one former player/scout likes to say), I'm not sold on the All-22 as the be-all-end-all. Cosell is a great analysis. I've had the pleasure to interview him for my blog a number of times and speak with him for longer stretches. He's a nice guy, humble, knowledgeable, and his experience is invaluable. At the same time, if for 30 years you were one of the only "civilians" to have access to the candy store, wouldn't you play up the All-22 film? Plus, he's strategic analyst than scout so the All-22 comes in handy.
 
Chris Brown of "Smart Football" is a tremendous resource. He'll give the more every-man answer. There's a ton of value to broadcast footage. 
 
At this stage, the broadcast footage shows just enough of the field that I can see safeties and corners make last-second adjustments before the snap that ell me Blake Bortles thought he had zone coverage and was throwing into a Cover 3 hybrid of zone/man and it's why South Carolina picked him off. I can tell that quarterbacks are holding safeties or looking at 1-2 routes before moving to another route combination and see from the All-22 replays that this assessment was correct. So, while I may miss some nuance with coverage at times, I get to see more functional technique of what the players are doing and as an evaluator of talent - that's more important. The concepts are really important, but they get more complicated in the NFL and every player has to make this intellectual jump. I see enough to know if they display these tools (it's a matter of whether I overlook or ignore how important something is that I see)

Thinking really broadly now, do you believe there are types of players or player attributes that are systematically undervalued or overvalued by NFL teams in the draft process (ie, small school kids are generally undervalued, or hand technique for DL is generally undervalued, or big arms for QBs are generally overvalued, etc)? I think speed and size is overvalued with QBs and WRs. It helps, but there are a lot big, strong-armed, fleet-footed players who go into a shell or their games fall apart if they get hit or the one thing they do well gets taken away from them. I'd rather have players who have "enough" height/speed but display the characteristics that matter more - good technique to make consistent plays; the physical toughness not to go into a shell after play after play of hard hitting; and intelligence to absorb a playbook and/or amendments to that playbook every week and execute it on the field with few reps in practice. 
 
Robert Meachem and Craig Davis were first round picks who had height and speed. They couldn't catch and they couldn't handle physical play. They also weren't versatile options. They made a lot of mistakes. Hines Ward and Derrick Mason were quicker than fast and not tall. They were physically tougher, more versatile, smart, and productive at a high level for a long time. 
 
Smarts
Thrive on physical play
Technique driven
Meets physical baselines (surpasses a plus, but not going to make me compromise on the other three)
 
I could give more, but I have to get back to watching Teddy Bridgewater again - (adjusting to plays on the fly with fluid technique that looks seamless while improvising - undervalued) More later...
 

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Can I put you on the spot and ask you to play BB/Caserio for the first 4 picks of the draft? If not names, then at least positions?
 
Matt,
 
First off, these are really amazing responses; thank you for doing this--you're really bringing a lot to this place right now.
 
I wanted to piggy-back on SSF's question and ask if your method has given you any insight into how "fit" works for a football player and a team. Like, it seems like the problem in so many mock drafts is that they have to split the difference between the level of talent or quality of a player and whether or not the team drafting at such and such position needs a player in that position, but also, whether or not the skill set works in the team's scheme. So I guess my question is, how do you address the issue of quality not being linear per se, but rather pluralistic in that certain sets or constellations of abilities may work well in one system but not so well in another?
 
In that vein, I have a question about your thoughts on Michael Sam. Not about his orientation or locker room stuff, but how does he "work" as a player. I mean, he's getting knocked now for his size and lack of ability, and yet he was voted SEC defensive player of the year and many people I know who watch a lot of college football say that he just blew people up last season and dominated. So, basically, I don't get it--how does that work? Also, what are your thoughts as to how successful he will be? Beyond the social issues, this seems to me a very interesting case study in football talent and how it does or does not translate to the pro game that we now get to watch unfold.
 
And thanks again for the really, really great and extremely thoughtful replies.
 

SMU_Sox

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Matt,
 
Just want to reiterate how fantastic this chat has been. You have exceeded my, admittedly high, expectations. You have my thanks and gratitude.
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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Kenny F'ing Powers said:
Matt,
 
Can you tell that Gronk/Hernandez has completely skewed the way New England fans think of TE's? We're seeing it spread through the NFL, but has that thought process trickled down to the college ranks yet?
 
Thanks, I'll hang up and listen.
 
To a degree. The idea of keeping an athletic guy at tight end that they can split away from a formation has been taking hold for a while. However, New England maximizes the potential of having multiple hybrid players that the quarterback can position in different formations after reading the defense and forcing a matchup advantage without calling a time out and changing personnel. This takes more nuance and flexibility than most players at the college level possess. Remember, these adjustments aren't just about the individuals moving around, but the offensive linemen and other surrounding talent who have to understand how the plays are changing.
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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SeoulSoxFan said:
Can I put you on the spot and ask you to play BB/Caserio for the first 4 picks of the draft? If not names, then at least positions?
You could, but I haven't studied the Pats' needs. Again, I study players and think about systems they'd work well in but not the teams and what their needs are. I know a lot of writers and analysts "play the draft" and try to be junior general managers. I'm not one of them. That said, I'll look into it for a few when I have time and see if I can give you some answers - no promises though.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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SMU_Sox said:
Matt,
 
Just want to reiterate how fantastic this chat has been. You have exceeded my, admittedly high, expectations. You have my thanks and gratitude.
 
Ditto.  This has been one of the best (if not THE best) guest chat I remember on SOSH.  Thanks Matt.
 

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Reverend said:
 
Matt,
 
First off, these are really amazing responses; thank you for doing this--you're really bringing a lot to this place right now.
 
I wanted to piggy-back on SSF's question and ask if your method has given you any insight into how "fit" works for a football player and a team. Like, it seems like the problem in so many mock drafts is that they have to split the difference between the level of talent or quality of a player and whether or not the team drafting at such and such position needs a player in that position, but also, whether or not the skill set works in the team's scheme. So I guess my question is, how do you address the issue of quality not being linear per se, but rather pluralistic in that certain sets or constellations of abilities may work well in one system but not so well in another?
 
My work allows me to be divorced from fit because I'm not creating a draftboard for a team. However, the work naturally forces you to realize how important "fit" is to a team. Lots of running backs in the NFL could have success if they're style of play fits with a team. There are a lot of fans who think Trent Richardson is a bust and that they "knew Alabama's offense inflated his value." Richardson had a solid rookie year and last year with the Colts was somewhat of a fit issue.
 
Mark Ingram doesn't fit well with the Saints offense because like many running backs, he's a volume runner who works best as a player that stays on the field and earns numerous reps with the offense. It doesn't have to be reps where he touches the ball, but reps where he's involved in the game. Ingram's game isn't based on explosiveness, but adjustments to what the defense is doing against him and what's working/not working at the line of scrimmage. Combine that with his strength, and a back like Ingram and his line will wear down a team mentally and physically. Doesn't make him a bad runner, but it does make him a questionable fit for a Saints offense that loves to throw the football and rotate backs.
 
Rankings are a linear process so finding ways to communicate the nuance that a player with a lower ranking is still a quality player is a challenge. The Post-Draft version of my RSP that comes out the week after the NFL Draft does some of that with tiered rankings. However, I have been toying with pre-draft rankings that might break down players into different sub-categories (primary receiver, possession receiver, slot receiver, return specialist or different styles of backs and tight ends). I've been doing a little of this now, but I am considering additional ways to at least show this.
 
One of the ways I already do this is with assigning players into categories with their skills. For instance, I listed all my categories for my receiver checklist above: Separation, routes, receiving, etc. I look at the scores for players in each of these categories, read my notes, and then create a chart for each category that has a spectrum of talent .
 
Receving Spectrum <----Star-----Starter-----Contributor-----Reserve----Free Agent-----Deficient---->
 
Then I put the names of each player under the corresponding lable. I also note if I think that player is maxxed out in this area; is underrated in some aspects of the game in this area; has skills that neeed development that have a history of getting developed; or skills that are hard to develop and unlikely.
 
A wide receiver who doesn't catch the ball with his hands in college (or without great difficulty doing so) is unlikely to get better at it at the NFL level.  There are few cases where this has happened. This is different than a player who uses proper technique but drops the ball at times. Terrell Owens had his share of drops. Chad Johnson, too. Both were good receivers before they let the celebrity bug bite them hard.
 
These spectrums should allow a reader to look at a player and see where what are the things he does well enough to contribute, what are the things he needs to work on and can improve, and where is he unlikely to get better. This helps me with my ranking process as well as explaning how a player fits - or as Rotoword's Josh Norris aptly states - "where he wins" for a team.
 
In that vein, I have a question about your thoughts on Michael Sam. Not about his orientation or locker room stuff, but how does he "work" as a player. I mean, he's getting knocked now for his size and lack of ability, and yet he was voted SEC defensive player of the year and many people I know who watch a lot of college football say that he just blew people up last season and dominated. So, basically, I don't get it--how does that work? Some players are great matches for a system. Eric Crouch was a great college quarterback, but his style of play didn't translate to the way the NFL uses quarterbacks. At the same time a great college quarterback might not be a great college quarterback for any team.
 
I haven't studied Sam, but I can articulate that Sam's numbers lended to his winning the award. Numbers of course come from success with a plan. Sam worked opposite another NFL-caliber prospect in Kony Ealy. Teams had to focus on Ealy and Sam often earned his stats from running down quarterbacks where Ealy's presence earned him matchup advantages.
 
This isn't a slight to Sam's skill. He has to have the physical skill to do the job he did. It's just that he lacks the top-shelf physical skill above the baselines that the NFL likes to use for the height, weight, speed, quickness, and strength of the position compared to his peers. 
 
The fact he doesn't fit these baselines easily depresses his draft stock. Is that right? Not always. Every player has flaws and limiations. Sometimes teams are too skeptical about the concept that a player "plays fast" even if he's not timed fast. Going back to receivers to give an example. Great route runners against man coverage are sudden with their technique. There are videos I've shown on my blog where you can see a 4.3-40 guy fail to get separation on a route compared to a 4.6-4.8 guy who has great technique. There are 4.3-guys with great height and strength who don't have a feel for how to work past the jam and 4.7-4.8 guys who almost always get separation.
 
The same with running backs. The faster you recognize, anticpiate, and react with clean technique (which promotes good angles), the faster you play. If you react/process too slow, it doesn't matter how fast you are - you will struggle to be successful on all but the simplest plays and at that point, you either just do one thing well and aren't worth the money paid or teams can foil that one thing you do well and know it's the only thing you do.
 
It's especially the case for defense. Angles and reaction time are paramount, but it's all driven by recognition and anticpation. If Sam can turn a lineman's tendencies inside out or read the situation fast enough, it doesn't matter if he's not the strongest or the fastest. He's fast enough and strong enough to do the job - and do it well if he's a great student of the game and in a scheme that allows him to maximize his strengths.
 
However, this is where the risk management factor of the draft comes into play. If you're a director of college scouting, a scout, or a GM and you tell the owner that your recommendation for a player at the top of your RB board is a 5'8", 205 lb. back from Villanova who has torn an ACL in each knee (one prevented him from going to FSU) and you miss, then it can appear that you're being reckless by ignoring all the potential red flags (size, injury history, small school, and questionable level of competition) and be seen as a scapegoat.
 
This is why Gil Brandt said Brian Westbrook was a Top 5-10 talent with another inch or two and another 10 pounds, but he was a second-round pick.
 
Teams are like other businesses - they often have a cover your ass mentality. Wall Street comes to campuses of the Ivy Leagues and recruit students who don't even have finance training. They do it because they believe this is the best pool of candidates based on a very conservative viewpoint of track record from many years past.
 
However, Wall Street is often very entrenched in that behavior and it takes a lot of effort for a state school kid to overcome biases and preconceived notions rooted in the old school network to get a job. I've written about this.
 
The NFL has the same biases to "play not to lose" with recruiting because every move they make gets scrutinized. Look at the criticism Seattle took for Russell Wilson in the third round? That draft in particular had a lot of folks saying that Seattle was nuts.
 
The NFL's way of thinking is that top picks should have as few questions as possible when it comes to school, production, physical skill, off-field, and physical dimensions. Not every team is this strict, but you can see the pattern. It's a way of covering one's behind if a player fails. It's easier to look at the Harvard MBA with good grades and good job performance and say "Everything on paper looked like he'd be good," and still keep your job if he busts. Can't say the same if you hired that Georgia grad who worked his way through school at a convenience store over the Harvard MBA and he didn't work out.
 
 
 
They also question how his use at Missouri can be replicated in an NFL system. The ability is there, it's the question of how good that ability is across any system when comparing on the level of these factors I mentioned above.
 
Justin Tuck was a one of my favorite defensive ends
 
Also, what are your thoughts as to how successful he will be? Beyond the social issues, this seems to me a very interesting case study in football talent and how it does or does not translate to the pro game that we now get to watch unfold.
 
And thanks again for the really, really great and extremely thoughtful replies.
 

Super Nomario

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Matt, let me echo everyone else and thank you for the informative answers. I'm even more excited now for the RSP (which people can purchase at http://www.mattwaldman.com/).
 
mattwaldmanrsp said:
Last year's crop was a fascinating group, because I got the sense the Patriots' intention was to cast a wide net at the position - especially if you include Mark Harrison and T.J. Moe with this class.
Moe fascinated me after the Combine because of his dominance in everything but the 40 (which he finished dead last). Do you feel like his dropoff in production after his sophomore year was due to the change in QBs, or was something else going on? How do you compare him to other slot receiver prospects of recent vintage?
 
In general it seems like slot receivers are undervalued - Cruz, Welker, and Amendola were all undrafted. Do you think it's just teams dinging guys because they don't meet height / speed criteria? Or do you think it's really hard to predict how receivers will do in this role?
 
mattwaldmanrsp said:
Thompkins was my guy as early as last February. I was a fan of his technique and work habits that were documented from his days in community college. I believe he was the best performer of the group. Although he had some drops, had some route issues with Brady (Dobson had more notable ones, IMO), and injuries limited him late in the year, I think Thompkins displayed a fair amount of skill in the middle of the field that his peers did not.
How much tape did you watch of Thompkins? The only cutup I saw on youtube of him was against Virginia Tech, which was by far his best game of the season statistically. Was he just as good in other games but the QB let him down? Also, how much did you weigh his age (he's three years older than Dobson) in your evaluation?
 
I think you're right that Thompkins did more in the middle of the field than Dobson, but it seemed like with Edelman, Amendola, Vereen, and Gronk operating in that area the Pats were looking for more of a traditional X receiver opposite them. After week 8, he barely played unless Dobson was banged up. It'll be interesting to see what happens with him in 2014; I could see him winning a starting job or getting cut in camp, depending on what they do at WR in the offseason and how the other guys develop.
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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Super Nomario said:
Matt, let me echo everyone else and thank you for the informative answers. I'm even more excited now for the RSP (which people can purchase at http://www.mattwaldman.com/).
 
Moe fascinated me after the Combine because of his dominance in everything but the 40 (which he finished dead last). Do you feel like his dropoff in production after his sophomore year was due to the change in QBs, or was something else going on? How do you compare him to other slot receiver prospects of recent vintage? Can't really tell you about production drop with Moe. I watched him in 2011 and 2012 and saw similar skills. He will need to demonstrate that he can play a more physical brand of football. Let's see if he heals without losing his quickness.  
 
In general it seems like slot receivers are undervalued - Cruz, Welker, and Amendola were all undrafted. Do you think it's just teams dinging guys because they don't meet height / speed criteria? Or do you think it's really hard to predict how receivers will do in this role? They're undervalued because few teams use them in the capacity New England does. You Pats' fans are fortunate to have the coach and ownership you do. Belichick's willingness to fashion his scheme around his talent is not as common as it should be. Therefore, players who played slot roles in college aren't in high demand. Think of the Steelers and the 34 defense. For a long time, no one played the 34 and Pittsburgh could wait a lot longer to draft its 34 OLBs when the demand for these `tweener OLB/DE wasn't as high. 
 
Cruz is more of a mix between a slot and perimeter guy. He can hold his own in both sub genre's of the position.
 
How much tape did you watch of Thompkins? I watched him at community college, tape I have from U Cincinnati, and there was a fine tape of him practicing in scrimmages that I showed on my blog last February. The only cutup I saw on youtube of him was against Virginia Tech, which was by far his best game of the season statistically. Was he just as good in other games but the QB let him down? For me, I don't spend much time on the stats; only how he plays. The practice tape was the most telling. Ran a huge variety of routes with excellent skills, Beat everyone and displayed excellent adjustment to the football.  Also, how much did you weigh his age (he's three years older than Dobson) in your evaluation? I didn't. Receivers tend to play well into their 30s, so the career span is long enough for me not to consider it heavily. 
 
I think you're right that Thompkins did more in the middle of the field than Dobson, but it seemed like with Edelman, Amendola, Vereen, and Gronk operating in that area the Pats were looking for more of a traditional X receiver opposite them. They are, but Thompkins had his share of perimeter plays. Dobson is the better fit from a size standpoint. Thompkins is a vastly better technician at routes - at least in college and last year. Thompkins also make more meaningful plays in traffic, third down, and red zone. Maybe not as splashy but key (New Orleans and Atlanta come to mind readily) After week 8, he barely played unless Dobson was banged up. It'll be interesting to see what happens with him in 2014; I could see him winning a starting job or getting cut in camp, depending on what they do at WR in the offseason and how the other guys develop.Yep.
 

mattwaldmanrsp

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Glad you guys are enjoying this. It's been fun. We'll wrap it up on Thursday night and maybe we'll get a chance to do it again sometime. As guy born on Westover Air Force Base (too young to remember anything about Chicopee area), cool to be having this chat on this board. Thanks again. 
 

EL Jeffe

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Hey Matt, do you have any thoughts on Allen Robinson? He didn't run well, but he did jump very well which indicates that some explosiveness is there. Having so much success in Bill O'Brien's offense, it seems like he could be a good Patriot fit. How do you see his game translating to the NFL level?