NFL college personnel departments strive to land as many blue chip, can't miss prospects as they can to help contribute to an NFL franchise's long term success. At the same time NFL talent evaluators try just as hard to avoid the busts or prospects that may have red flags. Buffalo's new College Scouting Director, Kelvin Fisher, has a career background that runs counter to that of many other NFL scouts, but it might prove to help him avoid the bad apples more than anyone else in the league today.
Fisher didn't begin his career at the lower levels of scouting after a college career as a fullback for Arizona State. After taking a stab at a pro career as an undrafted rookie with the Jets, his first job after school was working as a juvenile probation officer in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Armed with a degree in social work, Fisher for four years sat face-to-face with troubled youth and witnessed less than ideal family dynamics that rarely helped the situation. He would ask questions and try to get kids with problems to open up. Fisher came to learn the triggers and circumstances that put young adults on the wrong path.
"It helps me (now)," Fisher said. "It really helps me. When I started (scouting) doing BLESTO you would meet with the players before they became stars, their junior year going into their senior year. It would give me a good read on the kids then and even now at the NFL Combine it's a good read. Being around them and looking at their bio and family structure you can see some of the things that make me go, 'Uh oh, we may want to watch out.'"
In the four years that followed his work as a probation officer Fisher worked for Child and Family Protective Services in Portland, Oregon. There he came in contact with a countless number of single mothers and children that were victims of abuse or neglect.
Listening to women and kids affected by their environment provided valuable tell-tale signs of a problem situation. As Buffalo's Director of College Scouting, Fisher can pass on those tells that he recognizes instantly in a personal interview to the scouts now serving under him.
"It's a great tool to have it really is," Fisher said. "Do I see red flags? Yes. You can look at bios, family structures and kind of see the dynamics of that family from being involved in it hands on."
It wasn't until his year working at his alma mater as a liaison between Arizona State student-athletes, coaches, professors and academic counselors, that he got the bug for scouting.
"I wanted to get back into football," said Fisher. "On that ASU staff I did everything. Eventually I started evaluating high school players and discovered that I wanted to do scouting full time."
His last job before landing a job as an Area scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000 in the Western Region only completed the full spectrum of knowledge of what a student athlete deals with on a daily basis, not just on the playing field on Saturdays.
"Being on that ASU staff and being in child protective services and being a juvenile probation officer and being on a college football team it gives you everything you need to scout," Fisher said. "You're part of recruiting. You're part of meeting families, meeting moms and dads and siblings or girlfriends, babies. When I got into this field I felt like I was definitely ahead of the game in those areas."
It's in Pittsburgh where Fisher first came into contact with Bills GM Doug Whaley. In Whaley he found a personnel man whose philosophy on scouting ran parallel to his own.
"The one thing I like about Doug is he's a leader and he's a very positive person," said Fisher. "He's going to lead you and let you learn and he may not tell you, but you'll figure it out and then he'll say, 'You've got it.' When you're around leaders like that you're going to have success."
Fisher's career background however, is what may have armed him with the most critical skills needed to weed out the bad from the good.
Some NFL prospects with a troubled past are easy to identify. It's those that have the obscure off the field existence that Fisher can recognize through his years of getting kids with problems to share.
In his 14 years as an NFL scout, Fisher has examples of when his background in social work has helped him to red flag certain prospects that other clubs may have been more apt to covet. Fisher wasn't going to name names. He just knows his unusual path to evaluation of personnel for the NFL game turned out to be a skill set that most scouts would love to possess.
"Everybody can measure the talent," Fisher said. "What I've done helps you read people. It helps you know people, good and bad and I think that's the key. Sometimes you want to know if a guy has passion for this game, and I think all those characteristics that you learned over the years it helps you define those guys that have the passion. Then you get a feel for it and you know. This is going into my 14th year so I feel have a good grasp of it now."