By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
NFL scouting departments are the hearts and souls of their teams. These are the people who do all the legwork when it comes to vetting talent and assessing what players make the best fit for their organizations. Over the years, former NFL players have ventured into the scouting world bringing with them their intricate football knowledge. However, being a scout isn’t necessarily as straightforward as just knowing the game.
A player needs to know his job, how it fits into his own team’s game plan and how to identify opponents’ schemes, but a scout needs to know what everyone’s individual job is. So scouts need to have a refined expertise in looking at film and watching players on the field in order to determine who is doing their job well and who isn’t. Players entering into the world of scouting need to develop that skill, as well as the ability to convert what they see into reports for those who will ultimately make the decisions as to which individual players they want to acquire for their team.
Joey Clinkscales, the director of player personnel for the Oakland Raiders since 2012, had a brief career as an NFL wide receiver in the late 1980s before moving into the scouting ranks with the New York Jets. He described the attributes he looks for when bringing someone on board in his department.
“Anybody can grade the good guys,” Clinkscales said. “It's the other guys. Maybe this guy isn't ready, but he has the skill set. You have to understand why something happened. We look for guys that understand concepts and can explain why something's happening. Those guys that can articulate that on paper would be the ones I would hire first.”
Former Jacksonville Jaguars fullback Greg Jones is now making that transition. The Jaguars hired Jones as an associate scout for the 2016 season and he is focused on taking his years of football knowledge and learning how to translate that appropriately for the scouting department. As a player, film study was always a priority, but now he’s adjusting how and what he’s looking at.
“As an offensive player you’re watching the schemes of other defenses,” Jones said. On [the scouting side] you’re watching individuals, what they do, how they take on their moves, and what they’re good and bad at. That’s hard for me right now, getting out of the football player mode and taking a step back and looking at the individual.”
Jones has found that the team concept also exists on the scouting side. He is getting guidance and support from all of those around him. There is also the adjustment to being in an office setting where he often sitting in front of a computer, which requires organization and self-motivation.
“It’s different work,” Jones said. “Playing football you don’t really sit in front of the computer or put clips together. No you have to sit down and be in a specific place inside a building for long time.”
Jaguars’ general manager Dave Caldwell, who does not have a playing background, was responsible for hiring Jones and described the specifics of the job and what he is looking for from someone interested in becoming a scout.
“We look for professionalism, attention to detail and how they present themselves, Caldwell said.
“Also, the ability to listen, take it all in and not have to come in and be like, ‘Hey I’m a former player,’ and think you have all the answers. A lot of people think they know what scouting is, but they don’t know the challenges of writing reports and being on the road for 140 days a year. There’s a lot of information that has to come back to us. The biggest hurdle is the admin aspect. As a scout you can travel from Mississippi State to Mississippi to Alabama and you have 60 reports to write, they’re due by that Sunday and you have to go to a game on Saturday.”
Ran Carthon, the L.A. Rams’ director of pro personnel has spent his life around football. Carthon’s father, Maurice, was an NFL running back for the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, who became an NFL coach before retiring in 2013. The younger Carthon played briefly as a running back for the Indianapolis Colts (2004-2006), but when it became clear he would not have a long playing career, he pursued scouting.
While in college, Carthon had spent time around scouts from his father’s teams and intently watched everything they did. Then, with the Colts, he pored over the team’s weekly scouting reports and even created his own mock NFL Draft every year, comparing it to the final, official results. One year, Colts GM Bill Polian let him watch film with the pro scouts and he was hooked.
He outlined the challenges that former players have to deal with and the potential pitfalls he looks for when considering them for jobs.
“[Teams] feel like former players don’t want to do the menial tasks,” Carthon said. “That they won’t do airport runs. That’s always the first thing you look for. I get calls from former teammates and I tell them you get into scouting because you love it, not for the money. Eventually the money will come but you’re not coming in making hundreds of thousands of dollars and work five hours a day. That weeds out a lot of guys.”
Scouting is a new career and one where players will start at the bottom, but who, like anyone else, can work their way up the ladder and open up a whole new career.
“That’s where having to humble yourself comes in,” Carthon said. “The minimum salary a league rookie will make is $400,000. If you’re making that money in a regular company you’re in the upper echelon.”
Clinkscales echoed Carthon. “You have to understand that you’re part of football, but you’re part of the real world and just because you were a player you don't get the same privileges as you did then. Sometimes it's hard for guys to jump right from playing to scouting because it's a real commitment. And sometimes they're not ready to commit yet.”
Jones, the new kid on the block, understands the parameters and responsibilities of his new role and is embracing the potential it offers for the future.
“Playing football, that was the last chapter,” Jones said. “This is a new chapter of life. I want to work my way up that totem pole.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.