Preparing for the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft has been a year-long operation for the Washington Redskins Player Personnel department, whose research has yielded copious amounts of information about the breadth of college prospects.
“Sometimes it can be information overload, and you kind of have to keep yourself together,” said Jeff Scott, the Redskins Director of Football Strategy. “But it’s the process. I think we all love it, and that’s the reason we’re here.”
The increased use of technology and analytics has simplified that process. Nowadays, scouts have the luxury of studying prospects’ film 24/7 and leaning on advanced statistics for further insight.
There are more resources than ever to evaluate players, and the Redskins have tried to integrate them into their traditional philosophies as much as possible.
“They’re not picking anything based on numbers,” Scott said of the team's coaches and scouts. “That’s their job. That’s exactly what they do. They’ve gotten to this point doing it, and it’s worked, so I would never want to make a decision based on numbers. But to have another tool in your toolbox is always beneficial, and the earlier we can get that going, the better off we are.”
The scouting process for this year’s NFL Draft kicked off last spring when Harrison Ritcher from BLESTO, one of the NFL’s two major scouting organizations, started delving into the top 2019 prospects.
His work “set the table” for the Redskins’ college scouting department, which includes Director Kyle Smith, Assistant Director Tim Gribble and six regional recruiters. That fall, the group began building on Richter's initial reports, and they’ve been updating them ever since, adding notes from All-Star games, Pro Days and the NFL Combine.
It’s a job that requires extensive travel, especially during the NFL season. Take Matt Evans, the Redskins’ Northeast scout. From the time training camp ends in August all the way until Thanksgiving, he spends about 10 days on the road visiting schools, returns to his home in Boston for three days and then repeats the cycle several more times.
While this unorthodox schedule used to complicate a scout's main responsibilities -- such as watching film and constructing prospect reports -- technological advances over the years have all but eliminated these hindrances.
“We have the iPads where we watch tape on, so we don’t actually have to be in the school all the time or in the office,” said Southeast scout Cole Spencer, who started working for the Redskins as a scouting assistant in 2010. “We can pull it up if we’re sitting in the airport, watch some tape pretty much anytime. It just makes it a lot easier than when I first started.”
Added Ritcher: “Technology with XOS and PFF have definitely made our jobs easier sorting and being able to fine-tune. I’m sure in previous years you’d have to go back and watch six, seven, eight games to try and find certain situations, where now you can sort it and all that, so that’s definitely been helpful for people in my role.”
Ritcher is in his sixth season as an NFL scout, and he's seen both sides when it comes to evaluating talent. He spent his first four years with the Cleveland Browns, whose scouting philosophy relies more on analytics than it does in Washington, which he said maintains a "consistent structure, old school way of scouting."
Much of the data backs up Ritcher's claim. In 2015, ESPN released the "Great Analytics Rankings" to measure the use of analytics among franchises across the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. The Redskins ranked 120th out of 122 teams overall and last in terms of NFL organizations.
In a recent interview with Redskins.com, current Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Doug Williams explained why he's skews towards the "old school" way of scouting.
"The numbers matter in some way, but I think when you’re watching players, numbers can’t pick players," Williams said. "It’s the scout and what their gut feeling is and what you think about that player and what that player can do at the end of the day. We can put all the numbers in, but the numbers don’t play. Players play, and you got to pick the players that do play.”
Scott, who continues to serve as scout, also prescribes more to the "gut factor" than the statistics, but he's beginning to see value in both approaches. With the help of scouting assistant Peter Picerelli, Scott formulated a weekly 70-page report for coaches throughout the 2018 season. It touches on a variety of tendencies that could prove useful down the line, such as play clock management or the depth of the quarterback when he releases his passes.
Simply put, it aims to give the Redskins an added advantage, no matter how big or small.
"The numbers just give you some basis," Scott said. "If I can get certain things or tendencies or pick up on certain things, we can even get that to the coaches and they can incorporate that into their game plans."