For any NFL franchise to be successful there needs to be a singular vision between management and the coaches for how to build the roster through the draft.
For example, a big part of the unexpected success that the Atlanta Falcons enjoyed in 2008 stemmed from the symbiotic partnership between rookie general manager Thomas Dimitroff and rookie head coach Mike Smith. In an interview conducted with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dimitroff described the relationship.
“We see through similar lenses. It’s settling for Mike and me to know that we perceive the building process the same way.”
Building the right way means reaching a consensus on the general philosophy of the type of player that is selected and cultivated.
A year ago, Baltimore Ravens’ director of player personnel Eric DeCosta discussed the potential impact that John Harbaugh would have as a player evaluator. He noted that the new head coach of the Baltimore Ravens would prove to be an asset to the scouting staff, given his background as a special teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. In that role, Harbaugh scouted all of the players – both on offense and defense – to unearth potential difference-makers for his unit.
A year later, after working with Harbaugh during the past two drafts, DeCosta’s vision of the coach’s role as an evaluator has been confirmed.
“John is very involved – a great player evaluator. He likes it. He enjoys it. Some coaches don’t enjoy scouting and evaluating players, but John does”, DeCosta praised.
Harbaugh and his coaching staff have helped DeCosta and his team of scouts immensely by showing enthusiasm for and a commitment to scouting.
The two sides have worked efficiently despite facing time constraints from two shortened offseasons. In 2008, the front office dealt with the task of putting together a brand-new coaching staff before the start of free agency. This year, the coaching staff was tied up with a season that stretched into late January. Still, DeCosta noted that the coaches have given the same amount of time to scouting players during both offseason periods.
“The coaches knew the process that needed to be undertaken — same amount of players and same amount of commitment. The front office works with the coaches on their schedule. We know how much the coaches can handle. It was definitely easier [this year] because they know the routine.”
The detailed predraft schedule is one that the coaches are a part of in a full-time capacity from the end of the season, all the way until draft day, despite having to give attention to free agency and dealing with the residual effect of a grueling football season. Still, they follow the scouting routine to a T.
“We have an initial group of meetings in February. Then we give the coaches their [NFL] combine responsibilities. Coming out of February meetings, all of the coaches will receive a book outlining their schedule. Each coach will have the opportunity to interview a player on their own, in addition to [participating] in the group interviews,” DeCosta explained.
“When they go to Indy [for the combine], they get another assignment. Each coach will have the chance to watch tape of over 25 players. Those reports are due in April. Before the reports are due, we have another important meeting. We then bring them into discussions about how the players compare.”
Watching tape is a critical routine before the interviews takes place. And like any other recruiting period, the interview process is invaluable to the scouts. However, preparation for conducting these interviews before combine workouts is different for the scouts than for the coaches. While the scouts already have an understanding of a player from extensive film study, the coaches have to play catch-up.
“It helps the interviewer to watch the tape. Whereas the scout has watched the tape, and can ask about a specific game, the coach didn’t have the chance to do that [during the season]. It is hard for the coach to get the tape done before the combine. [It is] not a requirement but a lot of the coaches like to do it. This helps us out a lot.”
Ultimately the coaches’ reports carry a lot of weight with the front office. “The [very] last meeting [we have] is before the draft. The coaches will rank the players from 1-50,” said DeCosta.
According to DeCosta, what also makes the scouting process easier for the front office is that they know the type of player that Harbaugh and his staff want.
In turn, the scouts also understand that the players are a reflection of the personalities of the coaches. This is why any assessment of a player’s personality invariably becomes an assessment of the coach as well.
“The personalities of our coaches are tough. They are physical. They use a physical style. [For example], Cam [Cameron] wants the offensive players to have the same type of mentality as the defensive players. Our scouts [and coaches] have been really tough-minded, and as a reflection, we have had like players like Michael McCrary and Kelly Gregg.”
Aside from being tough and physical, intelligence and versatility have also become staple characteristics of the new Baltimore Raven. However DeCosta disputes the notion that the team has looked specifically for versatile athletes who have the ability to play multiple positions under Harbaugh’s tenure.
“We just want a good football player. If a guy can do multiple things, that’s great. But it’s not a conscious decision on our part.”
In DeCosta’s view, a player may be able to play multiple positions in the NFL, even if he did not do so at the collegiate level.
“We are looking for smart players. That is more critical. If he has a high football IQ, then he can do more things for you.”
“Jarret Johnson is a good example. Because of his intelligence he could go from defensive line to linebacker. Ed Reed could play receiver for us; because he has the IQ.”
No matter the standard of evaluation, it appears clear that Harbaugh and his coaches have a harmonious working relationship with DeCosta and his scouts. The two sides have seen and continue to see eye to eye on the types of athletes that need to be brought into the fold through the draft.
And from the looks of it they will continue to do exactly that for years to come.