Over the past several weeks, Yahoo Sports reached out to a number of NFL scouts to take part in a series we conducted called “Why they got into scouting.”
A number of them were prevented to speak on the record because of their respective teams’ media policies with scouts. But several did participate — and a few more spoke with us off the record about one topic that fascinated us.
Their biggest scouting regrets when it came to the draft.
Some were too low on players who turned out to be stars or standouts. Others way overshot on players who never panned out.
One thing we knew but heard time and time again during these interviews — scouts miss all the time. They know they’re going to be wrong. It’s just part of the job.
We thought it would be interesting to collect the results of these questions to demonstrate just how tough it is to identify talent in the NFL. Enjoy these evaluators’ candor — even for those who were prevented from giving their responses on the record:
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy — Central Michigan WR Antonio Brown
I didn’t see a special player when he was coming out of Central Michigan. I thought he had a chance to develop into a starting slot, but not an All-Pro.
I watched him live in his bowl game against Troy. Troy had an undersized receiver named Jerrell Jernigan, and based off what I saw that night I would’ve taken Jernigan over Brown because Jernigan looked more explosive. Jernigan was actually picked two rounds higher than Brown [to the New York Giants in the third round), but I definitely missed on that one.
Scouting director — Cincinnati DE Trent Cole, Baylor OT Jason Smith and Maryland DE Yannick Ngakoue
[With] Cole, I think I was too hung up on the size. My memory is bad, but I want to say he was playing in the 220s his last year. They moved him around a lot. I just didn’t see it, and he ended up, what, a fifth-rounder? I might have thought that was too early then.
It was either my first or second year in that position, and I had people talking him up to me. I just wasn’t as enamored as they were. That was at a time when there was a slew of teams shifting to a 3-4, and I thought he had to be a linebacker in that system. I wasn’t convinced he could play down for us.
What did he end up with, 100 sacks in the NFL? Shows what I know. Sacks translate. They do. We’ve had studies to back it up. There are a lot of exceptions, but that’s a number that tends to carry through to the NFL. Not always. But it reminds you that you cannot ignore the production of finishers like him.
The Baylor kid [Smith] just looked the part of the modern left tackle. Great feet, outstanding athletic traits, just a specimen. He was a tight end who moved over, and I really needed to think about that more. Yeah, he was athletic as heck, but technique? It was super raw.
I put a big grade on him. Just missed on that one. But he went way before we had a shot at him. Going into the [draft process], I thought he had a chance to go maybe late in the first, but he shot all the way up to No. 2. I am glad he did, looking back.
With [Ngakoue], kind of like with Cole, I got caught up in the measurables a bit. I thought his workouts were just OK. I saw him have a few bad games, a few bad plays here and there, and I let those cloud my report too much.
It’s one you’d like to have back. All these guys are. What I do now is make a list of my big [misses] and try to remind myself why I was wrong. It helps keep me honest, I think.
Area scout — Alabama RB Trent Richardson
I’m sure I’l be thinking of more as soon as we hang up. You want to try to forget some of these, but they are a good learning experience. They do teach you to reevaluate along the way. The best scouts are always doing that.
But with Trent, I really thought he was special. I was all in on him. I didn’t see the red flags. I don’t know that many people did, honestly. The outlook was so strong on him.
Power. Balance. Burst. Broke tackles. Returned kicks. Good pass blocker, I thought. I saw a three-down difference maker. I wanted him badly. I had a higher grade on him than Mark Ingram.
Carolina Panthers college scout Mike Martin — Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry
Let me think a little bit. I think I would have to say Aaron Curry, the linebacker from Wake Forest. I thought he was about as much of a can’t-miss prospect as I’ve ever seen. Big, fast, uber-talented — and apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought that because he was the fourth pick overall.
But for whatever reason it just didn’t work out for him. That’s why it’s important to know everything about a player. If you take football away, will they be devastated, satisfied or relieved?
Martin — Kentucky QB Andre Woodson
I remember thinking, what’s wrong with this kid? He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s got a strong arm. I thought he was super. ... I thought he was a can’t-miss [prospect]. And then all of a sudden, his career was not a great one. It was short-lived. I was big on him.
Los Angeles Rams scouting director Brad Holmes — Woodson and Louisville QB Brian Brohm
I want to say for me that early on when I was a combine scout, I was doing the Midwest and I was doing Andre’ Woodson … he and Brian Brohm were coming out. That spring heading into their senior year, I put some huge grades on both of those guys. And I just thought, like, ‘Oh, these are what pro quarterbacks look like.’ They were big, strong arms, pedigrees and all that.
They just didn’t end up panning out to what I thought at the time. It didn’t really affect my confidence. I knew I was still in a developmental stage as an evaluator. It really just made me roll up my sleeves as an evaluator and say, ‘Hey, man, I really need to get better at evaluating QBs.’
Look, I get it. When you get to the NFL, especially at that position, a lot goes into it from an intangible perspective, plus the situation they’re thrown into. There are more factors that play into a quarterback’s success than maybe other positions. Can he wait? Will he sit and learn and develop? All that stuff. But I probably would say those were two players who … I just threw these big grades out on them, and they just didn’t turn out to be equivalent to what my grade was.
Area scout — Stanford CB Richard Sherman
I am laughing now, but I took that one a little harder than other [misses]. When we faced him later, he just killed us. And I just didn’t think that much of him coming out. What was he, a fifth-round pick? I think I had a draftable grade on him, but that was it.
I remember having the word “stiff” about five times in my writeup. I just thought he was not the kind of player who could handle fast or shifty receivers. Didn’t like how he flipped his hips. Didn’t think he had the ball skills. They had moved him from receiver, and I just saw a project.
I thought he was a fourth or fifth corner, at best. Yeah, that one stung a bit.
Scouting director — North Carolina EDGE Quinton Coples and Texas Tech WR Wes Welker
Oh, geez. So many to choose from! [laughs] I’ll tell you, two stick out. One I was too low on, another I was way too high on.
The first was when I was an area scout, and I had Texas Tech [in my scouting territory]. Welker was there, and they had like four or five guys who had 70 catches on that team. They threw the ball something like 800 times [actually 777] that year. I just was suspicious of the whole operation. I feel dumb saying it now, because Mike Leach clearly knows what he’s doing.
The guy they had who I thought had a chance was this Carlos Francis kid. He was fast and more productive and explosive. I think the Raiders took him in Round 3. But I was not shocked Welker wasn’t picked; I would have been more shocked if he was. I thought maybe he had a shot as a punt returner, but that’s about it. When we faced Miami a few years later, I knew I had underestimated [Welker]. By the time he got to New England, I clearly had egg on my face.
The other guy was [Coples]. I had just gotten into a new position, new team, and I really liked him. More than others did. We didn’t end up taking him, but I had a [first-round grade] on him. I liked his power and his quickness. I thought it would translate. I overlooked some things, looking back. They tried to warn me. [laughs] I am glad it was a miss for someone else.
Buffalo Bills senior national scout Dennis Hickey — Eastern Illinois QB Tony Romo
That’s a question I could give you a couple-of-hours answer to. [laughs] The one that just kind of stands out for me was Tony Romo. I actually kind of liked him. I had him as a seventh-round/free agent grade, and of course he went undrafted. But when it came time I didn’t play for him.
Yeah, that’s right. I just kind of … it was mainly because [Romo] didn’t have the measurables. I remember seeing him against Kansas State [in 2002], and he had some stuff to him, some moxie. [Eastern Illinois] ended up losing to them pretty big [63-13], but he did some things in that game.
Still, he was like 6-foot-1, he wasn’t that athletic, coming from that level and not having a huge arm. And when I put all that together, it was like … OK. I just didn’t give him enough credit for the things that he had. You saw that when he finally came into the league, and you’re like, wow, OK, well.
You beat yourself up. You look and he’s got a quick release, great instincts, he was a competitor, just a natural feel for the game, he had that ‘it’ factor as a guy and people were just drawn to him. It’s like, all right, I see all that now.
You needed to give him the benefit of doubt at that point. When it’s late-round/free-agent time, you get to the point where you can keep the guy alive late or you let him fly to free agency. It came down — and I remember distinctly — and we just didn’t push for him.
When he ended up becoming a player, I was thinking, ‘Well, all right, I’ll learn from that one.’ But you see some things and you can’t be afraid to stick your neck out and be wrong. I was a young scout then, so I learned from that. That was one that sticks out, but there are tons of them. It’s just the nature of the business.
Former general manager — Virginia Tech S Kam Chancellor and Georgia S Reshad Jones
We were looking for a safety that year. I was the second set of eyes on that position. We did a lot of work on that group. It was a pretty good group, maybe as good as there has been, at the position. I won’t talk about who we took instead of these guys because then your readers would know where it came from, but let’s just say it didn’t pan out.
We ideally wanted one in the middle rounds. That was what we thought the sweet spot was. We were not in a position to get Eric Berry or Earl Thomas, and we knew that.
To think, looking back, that both [Jones and Chancellor] were available in Round 5, you think ... how did we miss so badly on them? I thought Jones needed another year in school. I had Kam as a late pick, if I remember; I just thought he was overly aggressive and just a box guy.
Those are two ones you look back on and think, maybe if we had just gotten one of them right ... but, oh well. What are you going to do? I tell you, I took that one a little personally, and a few years later, we got a really good player at the position, which made me feel a little better.
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