Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports reporter Pete Thamel spent nearly a year entrenched with NFL scouts in preparation for the 2018 draft. This is the fourth story of a 10-part series.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – At a program like Ohio State, every practice doubles as a job audition for the NFL.
On a steamy August morning, Dolphins scout Ron Brockington strolls the sideline of a Buckeyes practice wearing his scouting uniform of pressed khakis, a logoed polo shirt and gray running shoes. He’s among the scouts and executives from nine different NFL franchises on the sideline for practice that morning. The previous day, there’d been so many scouts — 16 — that Buckeyes strength coach Mickey Marotti couldn’t fit them all in his office.
Fall scouting, especially before the data from games clouds judgment, is the purest form of scouting. And for a savvy veteran like Brockington, who is in his 21st season, a day around a talented team like the Buckeyes is a lot like a scouting version of Christmas morning. There’s good access, a talented team, and coaches and staff who know exactly what scouts are looking for.
Brockington arrived in Columbus at 7:30 p.m. from scouting Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, the previous day. He finished the 12 reports from his Notre Dame trip around 11:30 p.m., skipping dinner to assure he’d get them all in. He wrote up everyone from eventual top-10 pick in guard Quenton Nelson, to undrafted free-agent linebacker Greer Martini. Just because Nelson is a star doesn’t mean Brockington spends more time on him, as each player gets essentially the same length report. Each one takes approximately a half-hour to write and even though it’s counter-intuitive, Brockington says the free-agent types take more time to write up because it involves more projecting and thought. The no-brainer stars like Nelson tend to flow when 90 percent of the information is positive.
After Brockington finishes off the Irish, he gets a quick jump-start on his Ohio State prep work. He stayed up past midnight arranging a chart to bring out to the field so he could efficiently take notes on 21 different Buckeye prospects. (Veteran OSU sports information director Jerry Emig said he gave up years ago asking scouts if they needed rosters, as they all arrive knowing exactly who they need to see).
Brockington, 43, has honed a refined process over more than two decades as an NFL scout. He considers this August morning the starting point. Brockington woke up at 6:30 a.m., grabbed the free hotel breakfast at the Fairfield Inn and bought a protein bar for lunch. He’d scouted Ohio State spring practice and watched a bit of film on the Buckeyes, but not too much.
“I don’t want the picture clear in August,” he says. “I want it fuzzy, and go from there.”
The first step in every scouting report is body typing, which is a lot like it sounds — extensive notes on a prospect’s body type. Are they as tall as listed? Do they look heavier? Are they stiff or loose, especially in the hips? Are they top-heavy when they run? Brockington says he learned from Dick Haley, a longtime NFL personnel executive: “A guy has to look like a football player.”
While this sounds jarringly simple, it can’t be overstated how important body typing is to the scouting process. Deciphering how a prospect moves beyond his height and weight is one of the primary values of seeing a prospect in person. Also, Brockington seeing a prospect move in person gives him a better idea if he fits the prototypes and paradigms the Dolphins set out for their roster.
“For me, it’s the lower base,” Brockington says about scouting linemen. “Hips, quads, those areas need to be thick with some kind of mass to them where it shows they can handle power or play with power. Again, it goes back to, ‘How you look in the uniform?’ If the back of your pants are saggy or don’t fill out, there’s no way you can generate power.”
He also closely studies linemen’s calves: “I’m a big calf guy too. I like certain positions to have some kind [of] calves. If you are a lineman and you have straight calves … ” He pauses to show his disgust: “Come on!”
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