In 2011, Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly issued a blistering summary of Cam Newton’s demeanor, work ethic, and the authenticity of his smile. It didn’t keep Newton from being the first overall pick in the draft.
Last year, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel trotted out assessments from unnamed scouts that Robert Griffin III is selfish and “doesn’t treat anybody good.” None of that kept Griffin from being the second overall pick.
This year, Nawrocki’s biting (and by multiple accounts incorrect) assessment of Smith comes at a time when the player’s draft stock remains in flux. If the Chiefs take Smith at No. 1, then they’re dumber than those who actually think they might. But the Chiefs could finagle a trade, with one of the teams in the top 10 springing up to get Smith. Alternatively, Smith could go to the Jaguars at No. 2, or the Raiders (or someone else after a trade) at No. 3, or the Eagles at No. 4, or at No. 5 via a trade down by the Lions, or the Browns at No. 6, or the Cardinals at No. 7, or the Bills at No. 8, or the Jets at No. 9.
If Smith gets past No. 9, he could slide all the way into the 20s.
As a result, the criticism could become a factor in a potential free fall, especially if teams are on the fence and owners get nervous about taking too big of a risk with a top-10 pick.
The problem with scouting reports from so-called draftniks is that, while many of them rely on their own assessment of a player’s game film, most if not all of them rely for off-field information on scouts who have rolled up the sleeves and tracked down the people in and around the various major college programs about the various prospects. Scouts talk, for example, to head coaches, coordinators, position coaches, strength coaches, current and former teammates that like the guy, and current and former teammates that don’t like him.
The best scouts go even farther, talking to landlords and neighbors and the guy who washes the towels in the weight room and the lady who empties the trash cans in the film room and the clerk at the Kwik-E-Mart down the street from the player’s apartment to find out how the player behaves when the player thinks no one who can impact their career is watching.
Scouts get that stuff first hand. Draftniks, who don’t have the time or the resources to do this stuff on their own, usually rely on those who have harvested the information. Todd McShay of ESPN essentially admitted that on the air Tuesday, explaining that he has 10 or 12 scouts on whom he relies for the non-film information.
The problem, however, is that scouts can say whatever they want to say — and many will talk poorly about a player they’d love to see slide, and talk glowingly about a player they’d love to see someone else take at a higher spot.
When a draft expert produces a scouting report that looks like a scouting report but that relies on the second-hand assessment of a scout who has an incentive to be less than forthcoming, the information necessarily becomes less reliable. It’s a flaw in the process that only will be fixed when media companies hire full-blown scouting staffs who do the same work in the same way that the NFL teams do it.
Until then, it’s impossible to rely completely on the assessments that are shared with draft experts by unnamed scouts, since it’s impossible to know their true motivations. Here’s hoping that the teams thinking about drafting Geno Smith opt to trust their own information, and not to worry about media and fan reaction to the pick based on a published assessment that easily could be skewed.