As you know, the NFL agent exam is over for 2021. Traditionally, that means we set aside our weeks-long focus on the contract advisor industry and set our sights on the scouting business as the NFL’s evaluators begin to spread across the country to find next spring’s prospects. We’ve already announced our balloting to determine the NFL’s best scoutsbeginning next month, and we’ve been dutifully tracking all the late-breaking moves on our Scouting Changes Grid (now at 224 moves, the most we’ve ever tracked) as well as our Twitter account.
In an effort to be more comprehensive of the industry, we made a conscious decision to put off our annual team-by-team staff breakdown until August both as a way to devote more time to the agent exam as well as to make sure we got the clearest picture possible. It’s our third such undertaking after first introducing the feature in 2018 and then again last year in June.
First off, the ground rules:
- No GMs or GM-equivalent officials. Everyone has someone who sits atop the pyramid; we wanted to vet the size and organization of the pyramid.
- No operations personnel. We didn’t include anyone with “operations” in their job title.
- If “strategy” appears in a job title, we counted them as part of the analytics staff.
- If not otherwise designated, Player Personnel Coordinator/Scouting Coordinator counted on the college side.
- Area scouts who are also coordinators were counted as coordinators.
Also, this year, we added categories to more precisely differentiate the people getting hired and to get a better handle on pro scouting staffs, which have gotten less consideration in our previous sweeps. Here’s what we found.
- More teams are bringing on scouting assistants (up to 2.3 per team after an average of 1.8 last year). That’s not surprising given that teams are becoming more and more youthful in their staffs, jettisoning more experienced evaluators and replacing them with their own entry-level employees.
- Less-experienced on-the-ground scouts mean a greater demand for oversight and review of their work. The average number of evaluators at the “senior” level – which we categorized as regional scouts, national scouts, senior personnel executives, cross-checkers or just executive scouts – rose by almost a full scout, from 2.0 last year to 2.8 this year.
- When you have less experience at the lower levels, you’d better have a braintrust you can count on, and we’ve seen that grow, as well. Last year, we found an average of 1.6 employees per team that held a vice president, director of player personnel/ADPP or assistant GM position. This year, that’s grown by half-an employee to 2.1 per team.
Also not a surprise: analytics teams are growing substantially. There is an average of four staffers per team this year on the strategy and research side, up more than a full employee over last year).
- Given the growth at every level, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the size of scouting staffs, on average, doubled to around 40 members per team. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – the team with the second-biggest staff, Detroit, had a GM change – but the direction of the league is unmistakable. General Managers seem to want to hire a greater number of higher-paid, experienced confidantes to surround them, while employing younger area scouts and coordinators at more manageable numbers in an effort to maintain some semblance of budget sanity.
There was also relevant info to be gained by looking at specific teams.
- If you aspire to be an NFL scout, focus on the Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Falcons, Giants and Seahawks. They are the six teams whose websites didn’t list any scouting assistants.
- Four teams had 11 or fewer total members of their college scouting departments: the Chargers and Broncos (11 each); Seahawks (10) and Bengals (7). On the other end of the scale, Cleveland had 22 on the scouting side, followed by the Lions (21), Ravens (19) and Raiders (18). Four team tied with 17 each.
Only three teams – the Bills, Titans and Patriots – had five-man pro staffs. Only the Bills had three pro directors – Senior Director of Pro Scouting Malik Boyd, Assistant Director of Pro Scouting/Team Advances Chris Marrow and Assistant Director of Pro Scouting/Free Agency Curtis Rukavina.
We’re just scratching the surface, and we encourage our NFL clients to go inside the numbers to see how they compare favorably and not-so-favorably to other teams. We’re especially excited by the overnight expansion of teams’ scouting departments, though we lament the prevailing notion that the experienced road scout is an extravagance.
Make sure to check out this week’s breakdown, and while you’re at it, compare our numbers this year to last year and 2018. Meanwhile, here’s a look at what else we saw, heard, read and said in the business of college and pro football this week.
Catching Up: Don Gregory, 65, most recently spent 12 years with the Panthers, but that decade-plus capped nearly three decades in evaluation. His career took him to National Football Scouting as well as the Chargers, the Chiefs, the CFL and even the original XFL in its first go-round. Along the way, he’s worked alongside names like Peterson, Vermeil, Moon and dozens of others. We caught up with him earlier this month.
Where are you living and what are you doing now?: “I live in Charlotte, NC, now, and I’m retired. I do a little bit of consulting with individual personnel people that call me up, and I ran an EXOS combine workout over in Phoenix last February to get a handful of players ready for (their pro days); a couple got drafted late in the first round. Anyway, I ran that pro day workout with a couple other scouts in that area, and I’ve taught some classes at the combine for Scouting, Inc., since I‘ve been retired, and was working for (Elite Athlete Management’s) Zeke Sandhu for a while as his college coach agent. I was recruiting college coaches, and ran the coaching side of it. Just little gigs I get here and there.”
Do you miss the job? What do you miss most?: “I miss the people I worked with. I miss the coaches I worked with. I worked with (former Cardinals head coach) Steve Wilks, (former Panthers offensive line coach) John Matsko, and those are guys I miss that are really good coaches, and we had a lot of discussion on building an offensive line or building a defense. I loved learning from them and giving them my opinion. For instance, I fought for (Panthers OT) Taylor Moton(in the 2017 draft). He was the last guy on the board, and nobody really liked him, but Mr. (Jerry) Richardson, the owner, told us at the 11th hour that we needed to draft an o-lineman, and I had him in the second round, but nobody was fighting for him. Well, I fought for him. Coach Matsko knows I’m not gonna bring anybody in that he doesn’t want to coach. He still calls me up, and he says, ‘you’re the only one that fought for him.’”
Do you keep in touch with any of your former colleagues?: “Oh yeah, I keep in contact. Coach Matsko and I have a special relationship because we used to sit in the O-Line room and watch tape together and talk about why he liked somebody or didn’t, and we did it the old-school way. ‘Was he a fit for the Panthers?’ He calls me a lot. (Former NFL executive) Dick Daniels has been my mentor. I talk to (Panthers scout) Joel Patten. (Cowboys executive) Lionel Vitale, I’m very close to him. . . I do keep in contact with a few guys. (Retired scout) Phil Neri, he helped me work the EXOS combine training in Phoenix. Steve Malin, who was in Cleveland and New Orleans, once in a while, too.”
Do you go to any live games (HS/college/pro)?: “When I was living in Arizona, my friend, (Arizona State head coach) Herm Edwards -- I was there when he first got hired at Kansas City -- Herm would leave me tickets to come in and watch them and look at players and so forth, but I haven’t done it as much since.”
Are there any players you love to watch and/or feel close to due to your work in the game?: “We drafted (Patriots QB) Cam (Newton), so to see him come back from injuries has been fun. I like watching Cam to see how they’re using him. We drafted (Panthers OH) Christian McCaffrey when everyone thought he was too small, and I fought for him. At 215, he still plays big. I still like to watch him. I follow a lot of the guys that aren’t there (with the Panthers) anymore. I’m on the Butkus Committee for the Dick Butkus Award, so I watch a lot of linebacker play. I hated that Luke Kuechlyretired, because he was one of the best linebackers I’ve ever been around. . . I really compared him to (former Chargers LB) Junior Seau. Junior was the most physical linebacker I’ve ever been around. Some other guys that are out of the league like John Parrella, who played defensive tackle for us at San Diego. He’s coaching high school in Cleveland now. Guys like that.”
Review the latest from other former NFL scouts and executives by accessing our Catching Up archive here. Want to hear from a former scout, or know someone who may be interested in being interviewed? Let us know.
My Favorite Draft: After the success of our first podcast series, the Best Player Available, which focused on the 2017 NFL Draft, we’ve been waiting to figure out what our next project would be. Now we know. Our new format will be a conversation with a former NFL executive on a draft he remembers fondly (or, perhaps, not so fondly). Our goal is a conversation of 30-45 minutes in which we go, pick by pick, through a team’s draft during one special spring. We plan to talk not just about the players selected, but the scouts who championed them, the other players considered, the team’s situation at the players’ position entering the draft, and any other facet of that year’s draft class. We’re giving our guests the pick of what year to discuss, but in this week’s blog at Succeed in Football, we discussed a class we’d love to learn more about from three of our future guests, including three-time GM Randy Mueller, former Titans executive Blake Beddingfield and former Raiders scouting director Jon Kingdon. We hope you can join us. Our series will kick off in September; stay tuned to the Friday Wrap for more details.
Need to know more about NIL?: Have we got news for you. Next week, Trevor Swenson of Sacramento, Calif.-based Dynamic Talent will talk about how you can make NIL work for you even if you aren’t certified as an NFL agent or even particularly well-connected in the industry. Trevor, whose field of expertise is in the business of entertainment, will discuss the finer points of promoting a player, soliciting endorsements, presenting a new personality to potential partners, and all the other vagaries of name, image and likeness. If you were one of the hundreds who used ITL’s materials to get ready for this month’s agent exam, you’re invited. You’ll get details about the week and the link to join us on Wednesday. We hope you spend a little time with ITL’s Neil Stratton as he welcomes Trevor for a highly informative, no-cost hour. Need more details? Let us know. Also, reserve the following Thursday if you’re interested in the scouting process as we’ll have another FREE Zoom session for ITL members. More to come.
Next week: As we move closer to the kickoff of both the college and pro seasons, one would think the business off the field would cool down, no? The answer is, ‘not really,’ or at least not for us as we’ve got plenty on our plate. Next week, we’ll not only have our always-popular Agents by Total Clients feature, but we’ll get you caught up (finally) on our Agent Changes from June and, hopefully, July. In non-agent business, we’ll also continue our team-by-team review of late-breaking scouting developments that slid under our radar, and we’ll put them all in our Rep Rumblings reports as well as the Scouting Changes Grid. Remember to look for our ballot to vote on the best scouts in the business (if you’re currently an active NFL scout) in two weeks. More evaluation: our Profile Reports will roll on, with five more teams (San Jose State, South Alabama, South Carolina, South Florida and Southern Cal), and we’ll talk about the scouting and agent professions in our weekly blog, Succeed in Football. Also, just for good measure, we’ll be scanning the globe for the latest name, image and likeness deals to put into our NIL Grid. Also, 24-7, there’s our YouTube channel, our books and our podcasts. Sure, you’re gonna watch the preseason games, but you wanna multi-task, right? Maybe point your phone’s browser to our website.