When 46 college underclassmen were officially confirmed as draft eligible by the NFL in mid-January, working double time began for Buffalo's scouting staff. With just three weeks to have preliminary reports done on all 46 prospects in time for their initial draft board meetings this week, suffice to say it was a full blown cram session.
"Pretty much," confirmed Bills Coordinator of College Scouting Doug Majeski. "We have to get ready for our February meetings when we put the board up and it's a rush. You're really rushed to get them all done."
The reason why is Buffalo's scouting staff like all the others in the NFL strictly scout the seniors in the fall. They don't have time to waste writing up reports on a junior that may or may not declare for the draft.
As a result all the tape study, fact finding and background checks begin immediately after the list is released and did not stop until this past Tuesday, with Buffalo's scouting staff meeting behind closed doors for the next two weeks to put together a preliminary draft board. Those reports will continue to expand right through the last pro day in early April.
For the scouts the book on juniors is a blank slate.
"Once the juniors declare, it's really your first exposure to them," said Majeski. "It's just a different time frame. Instead of being able to go back and check on them, they're new to the scene so it requires a little extra work."
"We don't have any verified height, weight, speed or test scores on any of the juniors," said Bills scout Tom Roth. "On the seniors just through our BLESTO scout Matt Hand and from most of the schools we get verified height, weight, speed and test scores. At least that's something to go off of whereas with juniors we're forced to look at the media guide where it might say the guy is 5'10", which means he's probably 5'9"."
Until the combine where accurate height, weight and 40-times can be recorded, the scouting staff has to do their best to ballpark those numbers for the benefit of setting a preliminary draft board.
"A lot of what we're doing with juniors right now is just an estimate," said Roth. "I just estimate what I think a player runs based off of film. Later I might talk to a school's strength coach to maybe get a better idea. But right now everything is a ballpark on a junior until we can get hard times and measurements."
Junior eligibles are usually assigned based on a scout's coverage area, but there are exceptions.
"The scouts will do juniors from any place that they went in the fall if they come out," said Majeski. "We pretty much try to tie it to an area. If it's heavy in one particular area we'll spread it around a little bit so one guy isn't overloaded. It'll probably range 15 to 20 juniors per scout."
And there's always overlap between the scouts.
"We'll have at least two guys scout every player that's a senior and so we'll do the same thing with juniors," said Bills BLESTO scout Matt Hand.
But getting a full profile on juniors at this stage of the game is anything but easy, due mainly to National Signing day for high school recruits, which is Wednesday of this week.
"You don't get a lot of the background information on a lot of the guys until after National Signing day," said Hand. "A lot of the bigger college programs are so busy trying to land the top high school recruits and they don't have time to be on the phone with 32 NFL teams to discuss a player for a half hour."
"You might have to wait until the school visit to get background information," said Majeski. "So you have to be patient to get everything you need. You're not going to have the full picture right after they declare. You might do the film work now and at the pro day get some information on his background and character and then obviously talk to the kid at the combine. Putting the pieces together on juniors just takes time. But by draft day they won't be any different than a senior."