A Standard for Communications
It’s one thing to have an opinion of a draft prospect, but it’s quite another to articulate that opinion to a group of your colleagues in a way that can be useful in the decision-making process, and can be understood even if you’re not standing there waving your arms and gushing about him or crinkling your nose in disgust.
Real NFL scouts use descriptive language and common verbiage to clearly and efficiently explain traits that prospects have or lack, and they have plenty of opportunity to explain in words anything unique about the person behind the facemask.
But after the personnel department hashes everything out, they need to reach a conclusion, even if dissenting opinions exist (and they do, all the time.) You either believe a guy is going to be X or he’s going to be Y, but the organization has got to make a call. The organization drafts as one, and the organization either tries to sign an undrafted prospect or they don’t.
Each personnel department has its own approach that comes from the top down, but most follow common practices, which makes orienting scouts hired from other organizations more efficient. It’s analogous to the common elements in NFL playbooks; of course there’s variation, but there are only so many ways to describe receivers’ route trees, and there’s a benefit to employing language that newcomers from other teams will find familiar and comfortable.
Before the prospects go up on the team’s master draft board, they get a grade, and most teams use a similar system. Some of the more serious NFL Draft analysts in the media do the same, which is no surprise given that some of them have experience as scouts, and many of the rest wish they did!
Most commonly, a team assigns a numerical grade that represents their best projection of what that prospect should become as a professional in the National Football League. The following table melds a system taken directly from the scouting manual of an NFL team from the mid-2000s with descriptive text from a similar system used by long-time veteran scout and personnel executive Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post. There are subtle variations, but the approach is very similar.
“Scouting is really the lifeblood of any NFL team. You are only as good as the players you have.”
– Phil Savage
|Numerical Grade||Summary Description||Verbose Description||PowerHouse Grade|
|9.0||Rare; Elite||Immediate starter; rare prospect w/ rare physical attributes; instantly one of best in NFL||R1+/R1|
|8.5-8.9||Immediate starter; physical attributes to create mismatches; will become one of best in NFL|
|8.0-8.4||Immediate starter; physical mismatch vs. most opponents; will be a featured player on his team|
|7.5-7.9||Exceptional; Impact||Becomes a starter as a rookie; physical mismatch vs. most opponents; will be a featured player on his team||R1-/R2+|
|7.0-7.4||Outstanding; Starter||Becomes a starter as a rookie; solid NFL player with no major weaknesses to exploit||R2/R2-|
|6.9||Excellent; Potential Start||Contributes as a rookie, starts second year||R3|
|6.8||Contributes as a rookie; starts eventually|
|6.7||Contributes as a rookie; impactful sub/situational player|
|6.6||Physical tools to start, but has a limitation to overcome; boom or bust|
|6.5||Tools to start, but deficient in a way that he should overcome|
|6.4||Very Good; Solid Backup||Tools to start, but deficient in a way that will be difficult to overcome||R4 , R5|
|6.3||Tools deficient in a way that cannot be overcome, but may become a starter anyway|
|6.2||Lacks physical tools to start, but should make an impact as a sub/situational contributor|
|6.1||Tools to start, but will require significant development at pro level|
|6.0||Tools to start, but has not played to potential; boom or bust|
|5.9||Good; Chance Make||Tools to contribute as a backup; should be able to overcome deficiencies||R6, R7, PFA|
|5.8||Tools to contribute as a backup; will struggle to overcome deficiencies|
|5.7||Tools to contribute as a backup; cannot overcome deficiencies|
|5.6||Free agent with speed, character, and competitiveness|
|5.5||Free agent with athletic ability, character, and competitiveness|
|5.4||Above Average / Developmental||Free agent with size, character, and competitiveness||PFA|
|5.3||Free agent at a high level of competition with size, speed, or athletic ability|
|5.2||Free agent with size or speed|
|5.1||Free agent with character and competitiveness|
|4.0-4.9||Average / Below Average||Lacks the qualities/attributes required for pro football||FA|
“When I was first breaking into scouting right out of high school, I emailed and talked on the phone a lot with Charley Casserly, who was the general manager of the Houston Texans at the time. One thing he told me then that I try to always remember now is that scouting is fluid. No grade should ever be filed and forgotten.”
– Matt Miller
Dan Shonka, another long-time NFL scout who runs Ourlads Guide to the NFL Draft, uses a different numerical system to convey the same information. This system has always appealed to me, because it makes mathematical calculations easier, it’s the system that I “grew up” on (I’ve been an Ourlads subscriber since the 1980s,) and it more elegantly describes the hypothetical perfect prospect as a “10.”
|Grade||Round||Ourlads Description||PowerHouse Grade|
|9.99-9.00||1||First-year starter (except QBs); talent to contribute early; impact player||R1+/R1, R1-/R2+|
|8.99-8.00||2||Eventual starter; probable first-year starter; minimal development time||R1-/R2+, R2/R2-|
|7.99-7.00||3||Good backup; upgrades marginal starter; eventual starter with development time||R3|
|6.99-6.00||4||Solid backup; ascending skills & production; good upside based on measurables; needs development time||R4|
|5.99-5.00||5||Upgrades marginal backup; moderate deficiency in skill; developmental size/speed prospect; consistent producer||R5|
|4.99-4.00||6||Upgrades roster depth; deficient measurables or size/speed prospect with inconsistent skills/production||R6|
|3.99-3.50||7||Upgrades size/speed at position of need; borderline pro skills; has a chance to develop||R7|
|3.49-3.00||PFA||Developmental prospect with draftable qualities||PFA|
|2.99-2.50||FA||Free agent with height, weight, speed, or another special asset||FA|
|2.49-2.00||Camp||Emergency player for camp||NR|
In our iGMTM virtual NFL General Manager simulation, we use the Ourlads system, but the numbers don’t show anywhere on the site. They’re used behind the scenes in a few ways, like to support the calculations made when the computer picks in our Mock Drafts. If you have a prospect ranked 37th, for example, he may carry a numerical grade of, say, 8.76. We’ll multiply that value by a factor a bit above 1.00 if a team has a need at the prospect’s position, or a bit less than that if they don’t.
When you’re setting up your rankings, you assign a “Grade” of R1+/R1, R1-/R2+, R2/R2-, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, PFA (“priority free agent,”) FA (other “free agent,”) or NR (“not ranked,” a simple catch-all for anyone you’re not interested in.) You can then re-rank prospects within each group. Behind the scenes, our system assigns Ourlads-system numerical grades automatically, but you don’t need to bother with them.
Fundamentally, most drafts have really only about twenty or so prospects who are clearly first-rounders. Then there’s a group that could go late in R1 or towards the top of R2. Our system encourages you to set your board up that way, but, of course, you’re free to use it any way you like.