Sometime this Friday afternoon or evening, Gene Smith will walk out of Alltel Stadium and leave behind six months of intense scouting and evaluation on the Jaguars' draft room wall. That work will be represented by about 250 names arranged in order of their football value.
It's called a "draft board," and Smith, the Jaguars' director of college scouting, will make sure the "initial stacking" of that board is complete by the end of this week. Why is it important that it be done by this Friday? Because next week the NFL scouting world will gather in Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine and Smith is adamant about the board being arranged mostly on evaluations of what players did in pads, not in shorts.
"They don't play the game in shorts. It's based on football playability and how productive they were in the fall," Smith said of his "draft board," the holy grail of any college scouting department's collective effort.
Smith and his seven scouts began the process at the start of the college football season. Five of those scouts are responsible for specific regions of the country: Andy Dengler, midwest; Chris Driggers, southwest; Marty Miller, northeast; Tim Mingey, southeast; Art Perkins, west coast.
Kadar Hamilton is the Jaguars' Blesto representative and he's responsible for scouting the southeast for Blesto.
Smith and Terry McDonough do the top players nationally. Smith works his way across the country from west to east, while McDonough does the same east to west.
That about covers, right? You would think it would, but then there's something called cross-checking. In November, after each scout has completed the work in his specific area, he cross-checks another scout's work in his area.
"He's responsible for every prospect, for every draft-eligible senior," Smith says of the area scout's task.
That means that Smith's scouting department will evaluate about 1,200 players over the course of the college football season. This Friday, that list will be condensed to about 250 names on the Jaguars' draft-room wall.
It all begins with the spring Blesto meetings. Blesto is one of two major scouting services NFL teams use; the other is National. The name Blesto speaks of its origins: Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization. Of course, the service has been greatly expanded and changed since those early days.
At Blesto's spring meetings it gives its nine member teams a dossier of senior prospects for the upcoming season. They are the names to be scouted, and within those 1,200 names Blesto's member teams will find the half dozen or so players that will eventually be married with the survivors of previous draft classes to represent the futures of those franchises.
With the start of the college football season, the scouts hit the road. They will be gone for 10 days, then return home for four days of rest. It is their fall regimen; 10 and four.
They are not, however, normal days. A scout's 10 work days may begin as early as six a.m. and, depending on his writing skills, they may not end until midnight or after.
He arrives on campus with the college coaching staff. The scout meets with the school's pro liaison, who provides an evaluation of the school's draft-eligible players. The scout learns who's starting, who's playing special teams, etc. Later that morning, he'll meet with the team's trainer and strength coach, and then the players' position coaches. The scout, of course, will watch practice.
What's left of the day is spent watching tape of the prospects; a minimum of three games of tape on every player, and a minimum of two games on special teams players. At the big-school programs, the scout will stay a minimum of two days. It's all part of the schedule Smith hands out as his scouts hit the road.
For players who are considered first-day prospects, the Jaguars will have a minimum of three scouts come onto campus; the area scout responsible for that school, and Smith and McDonough.
"Everybody thinks there's a lot of glamour with it because everybody thinks all you're doing is going to schools and talking to people. I have the best job in America from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.," Smith said. "Then the tough time comes. I have to sit down at the computer and write."
All of a sudden, scouts become sportswriters. They have to use words to describe what they've seen, and Smith says that at talent-rich schools that could mean having to write reports on 15 guys, and each report could take up to 40 minutes to write.
"Their personality comes out in the report. We let them paint the picture in the report. It's not a cookie-cutter report. In the meetings, it's very interesting how personalities come through. I tell them to write less and say more. Be concise," Smith said.
In other words, if a guy's a stiff, say it. But if you think he has star potential, don't hold back. Put your name on it. After all, it's your work.
The schedule Smith assembles will send each of his scouts to about 7-8 schools in their 10-day "on" periods. When they have each completed their missions, and they have cross-checked one of their colleague's regions, Phase I of Smith's scouting strategy is complete.
That brings the Jaguars college scouting department to the holidays season, which begins Phase II of the plan: the all-star game practices, which are especially important for seeing players perform in roles in which they were not used in their specific college programs; a defensive back playing man-to-man coverage or a defensive end playing as a linebacker, for example.
There are seven all-star games: Historical Black College and University All-Star Game; Cactus Bowl (Division II players); Las Vegas All-Star Classic (Division I and II players); and Gridiron Classic (Orlando), East-West Shrine Game, Hula Bowl and Senior Bowl, all of which are primarily for Division I players.
The Senior Bowl is the most esteemed of the all-star games. "They've averaged 11 first-round picks in the last six years," Smith said. It is also the first postseason game in which the scouting department integrates Jack Del Rio and his coaching staff.
Something else happens in late January: college juniors declare eligibility for the draft, and that introduces a whole new scouting effort. "That's when the work really begins," Smith said, as scouts do as much tape work as necessary to fit the juniors into the "draft board" order with the seniors.
With the scouting of the junior-eligible pool, the Jaguars conclude Phase II of their college scouting plan and move directly into Phase III, or the "initial stacking" of the "draft board." Phase IV – evaluation of talent at the Indy scouting combine and in spring workouts – will begin next week and carry the Jaguars to draft day, April 23. Combine and spring workout evaluations will be used to adjust the "initial stacking" of the Jaguars' "draft board."
"The draft is for value. Pro free agency is for direct need," Smith said.
Free agency? That's a whole other ballgame involving a whole other scouting department. We'll cover that in Part II of "Scouting 101."