Ladies and gentlemen, the draft season is officially upon us. Last week was the Senior Bowl, the Combine is mere weeks away, and over the next few months, you'll be hearing more about prospects and drafting philosophies than we'll care to remember come May. To kick off the draft season, Daniel Jeremiah from Move The Sticks was kind enough to donate some of his time for an interview. For those unfamiliar with the site, it's worth a frequent read and his Twitter account @movethesticks is easily in my top 5.
Jeremiah worked in the NFL for six years as a scout, with the bulk of his time spent with the Ravens and the balance with the Browns. Without further ado, let's get this thing off the ground:
Seahawk Addicts: How did you first get involved in scouting?
Daniel Jeremiah: I worked for ESPN Sunday Night Football for 2 years following my graduation from Appalachian State. While in Baltimore for a Ravens game, I bumped into my brother's college roommate. He was an area scout for the Ravens and he introduced me to the Ravens Director of Player Personnel Phil Savage. I told Phil that I was interested in scouting and he recommended that I volunteer at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. I flew to Indy and helped the Ravens scouting department corral players for interviews, stocked their meeting room with food and saved seats at the morning weigh-ins.
I interviewed for a full-time scouting job the following spring and was fortunate enough to get the job. I always advise those that are seeking employment in the NFL to offer their services free of charge for a trial period. This is a great way to demonstrate your commitment and passion to the profession.
SA: Is there a single position that is particularly difficult to assess?
DJ: For a myriad of factors, QB's are very difficult to evaluate at the college level. Another position that is tough to assess is the WR position. With the proliferation of the spread offense, a lot of these college WR's aren't asked to run NFL routes and rarely see press coverage. You can watch 3-4 games on a prospect and not see one single rep of him dropping his weight and working back to the QB. That is where the importance of the individual spring workouts comes into play. You get a chance to see them run every route on the route tree.
SA: What is your favorite position to scout, and why?
DJ: As a former college QB (albeit an average one) I have always enjoyed grading Offensive Lineman. I really believe you determine your team's attitude and style by what you do at those five spots on the OL. In Baltimore, we felt that our team had lost a little bit of our physical nature on offense.
In one draft, we chose Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda. We began to build a bully. Since that draft they have added Michael Oher and signed Matt Birk as a FA. They are a physical, punch you in the mouth style of football team not just because of their vaunted defense but because of the makeup of their OL. If you look at most of the struggling teams in the NFL, almost all of them have issues that need to be addressed in their OL.
SA: How much of a collaboration was there from your studying and school visits up to the draft room?
DJ: We had the same philosophy and system in place in both Baltimore and Cleveland. Each scout is assigned an area of the country to cover. We had cross-checker scouts (national scouts or college director) that also made a fall visit to study every draftable prospect. In the last week of November, we would send a third scout to visit the players that we had major interest in. After the college season was over, each scout was assigned a position to evaluate. During meetings, we would spend time going over each player. All of the fall reports would be read, all-star game evaluations and combine results would then be discussed. Then the scout that interviewed the player would discuss what he had gleaned from the conversation.
After all of the information was discussed, our GM would then ask the scouts to compare the player we just went over to other players at his position. Once we found a landing spot for him at his position, we compared him to players across the board that were given a similar grade. Eventually, we entered the draft with our list of 150 players in order. From there, it is pretty much paint by the numbers. We would just check off the names one by one until it was our turn to pick.
SA: The Seahawks have recently moved to a zone blocking system. What do you look for in a zone blocking lineman, and does the importance of the left tackle change much?
DJ: In a zone blocking scheme, you are looking for more agile lineman. You sacrifice a little bit of size for athletic ability. The importance of the Left Tackle doesn't change because it is still your QB's blindside in pass protection. The challenge for scouting O-lineman in this system is finding Guards that are agile enough to work laterally in the run game and stout enough to anchor vs power in pass protection.
SA: How important is the Combine as far as assessing the players? For example, is a 4.4 40-yard dash really that much faster than a 4.5 for, say, a CB?
DJ: Play-speed is always more important than timed speed. If you see a CB get beat vertically several times on tape and he runs a 4.55, it is affirmation that his lack of deep speed is a major concern. If you see a WR consistently get separation out of his break and show a 2nd gear when the ball is in the air on vertical routes, you don't concern yourself if he runs a 4.55. Hope this makes sense. In other words, two players could run the same time and cement the fact that one is fast enough while the other isn't.
SA: What is the single most important characteristic of a college player to successfully transition to the NFL?
DJ: Phil Savage did a study of this question when he was in Baltimore. He came up with 3 things: Speed, Toughness and Instincts. Every report that scouts in Baltimore write, they have to mention and give a grade to each prospect in these 3 areas. If a prospect is fast, tough and football smart, his odds of succeeding at the next level are extremely high. If he has 2 of the 3, he still has a fighting chance. If he has 1 of the 3, the odds are stacked against him. If he is void of all 3 aspects, there is a Zero percent chance he makes it. Of those 3, speed proved to be the most important factor.
After studying the players that flamed out over a 10 year period of time, lack of game speed was the number one issue. Most of the best teams in football are fast. This is true at every level from Pee-wee, High School, College and the NFL.
SA: Last year, the Seahawks drafted Aaron Curry who was hyped as being the most explosive, pro-ready LB in a decade. Instead, Curry had a decent year while a number of LBs taken after him had great rookie efforts. Do you see Curry eventually fulfilling that hype, and what do you think his biggest strengths are?
DJ: I really believe Curry will be an outstanding NFL Sam Linebacker. He is physical as a point of attack run defender and excels in pass coverage. He will need time to develop as a pass rusher. He was much better as a blitzer than as a pure pass rusher coming out of Wake Forest. With coaching, you will see him improve in this area. After visiting the school and studying Aaron, I came away most impressed with his leadership ability. This will show itself as he gets more experience. It is way too early to have any regrets with this selection. He will work his butt off to get better and this draft will provide the Seahawks a chance to get him some help on that side of the ball.
SA: The Seahawks have half a dozen needs (DE, S, RB, QB, OT, CB at a minimum). The first round will be mocked to death by April, but who are some guys who have caught your eye in the last year that might fit those needs?
DJ: In watching several Seattle games this year, the thing that jumped out at me was a lack of explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. One of those first 3 picks needs to be made on a player that can generate big plays on offense. I love CJ Spiller from Clemson and Dez Bryant from Oklahoma State. The off field issues with Bryant are based on a little bit of immaturity. He isn't a bad kid.
I really like Russell Okung, the OT from Oklahoma State. He would fill a huge need for the Seahawks but I have a feeling he won't be around by the time their first pick comes up. If Sam Bradford's shoulder passes all the tests, I would pull the trigger on him with the Hawks first pick. He is one of the most accurate passers to come out in the last 5 years. He would fit beautifully in this division.
SA: Finally, what (or who) do you think your biggest success as a scout was, and/or biggest disappointment?
DJ: As the West Area Scout for the Ravens, I was able to help sell Haloti Ngata to the group. I won't count that one, it wasn't a difficult sell job! A couple of year's ago, I would've answered that question with Derek Anderson. I knew he was a wild card type player but I was able to sell him to Ozzie in Baltimore. We chose him in the 6th round and he made it to a pro bowl a few years later in Cleveland. Obviously, he has since regressed terribly but to have a QB go to the pro bowl after getting picked in the 6th round was a pretty cool thing for a 2nd year area scout. I feel really good about Ahtyba Rubin. I was only in Cleveland for one draft but we hit on this 6th round pick. He should be a solid starter for a long time.
My biggest disappointment would also come from that one year in Cleveland. We picked Beau Bell in the 4th round. He was good on tape. There were 30 NFL LB coaches at his pro day at UNLV. He had a horrible workout that day. He was bothered by a knee injury that had dogged him since the Sr Bowl. We took him with the hope that we would be getting the player we watched on tape. That player never reappeared and he was out of the league one year later. Lesson learned.
Hopefully you all enjoyed Daniel's input as much as I did. I want to thank him for giving his time to our humble little blog, and again stress you should check out his site and his Twitter account.
Image sources: 1) Baltimore Sun; 2) Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images North America; 3) Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images North America