All the work that makes up the majority of college scouting has already been completed. All the miles logged by scouting staffs to put together reports and get questions answered on prospects was largely done in the fall. Scouts had to obviously play catch up with the junior eligible that declared in mid-January. But there is a good deal of cross referencing be scouts on the same staff as well as a statistical set of checks and balances on prospects that serves to confirm or refute the scouting reports.
Several NFL general managers acknowledged at the NFL Combine late last month that statistical analysis is another layer that is factored into the prospect grading process.
"Statistical analysis is very important when you're assessing talent on the field -- assessing those numbers when you're coming into the draft, and how they might compare in the NFL, and it's how we evaluate a lot of our players, as well," said Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff. "It's a supplement, and it goes back to making sure you have all the tools necessary, and hopefully, you have a little bit of an edge over somebody else because you have a different approach."
Bears GM Phil Emery believes if it can be measured it can serve a purpose in validating a player's ability, production, or in the case of the draft, projection for success at the NFL level. It can often help when a club has two prospects that have identical draft grades at the same position.
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"All testing and measurable data, you're using that as a determining factor to maybe separating players," said Emery. "So you may have two players that are very similar, that might have the same grade. Or you might have five at any one position that have the same grade. Then that is a way to help you determine how you stack it, one through five. Those type of metrics – the psychological testing – all those things factor in terms of creating separation between players so if you pick them in the order from the highest to the lowest."
But New York Giants GM Jerry Reese is quick to point out that the meat and potatoes of prospect grading remains the scouting process, on the ground, in person at the college campuses evaluating players.
"We always try to get an edge but for the New York Giants, just old fashioned scouting is what we hang our hat on," he said. "Our scouts are really the unsung heroes of what we try to do in the National Football League. They go out 185-200 days of the year and look for these players. We count on our scouts because they do the work. They go see them. They see them practice. They see them play in games. They talk to their coaches. So we hang our hat on our scouts and what their eyes see.
"We try to put the numbers in and see what the numbers say but we put our eyes on players and see what our eyes say. I think we depend on that more than anything else. But we don't put our head in the sand and ignore what the numbers say. We try to put it all together and come to a consensus on what we think players are and we depend on our scouts."
New Jacksonville Jaguars GM David Caldwell however, sounds as if he intends to put added weight on the statistical data as it pertains to prospects in the draft pool.
"It's something we're heavily involved in and dealing with right now," Caldwell said. "It's just another part of the process – it can help us confirm some of the things we already know and can raise some red flags on some of the things we don't know. It pretty much confirms what we're seeing."
Under new head coach Doug Marrone, the Bills will be following suit as they'll use statistical data as another layer in the scouting process in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft.
"We had been using some things at Syracuse and we're looking forward to implementing those programs here," said Marrone. "We used that at New Orleans. We want to be innovative, we want to use that to be on the cutting edge to push us forward."