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The importance of background information in NFL scouting

Aaron Hernandez
Did Aaron Hernandez have warning signs before he was drafted? He sure did, but they were overlooked.

If game film is king in scouting, then background information is queen.

The two go hand-in-hand. 

Information gathering was the cornerstone of the operation when I worked in the pro scouting department at the New York Jets. I was hired by Bill Parcells and on staff with Bill Belichick, who was then the Jets’ defensive coordinator. The saying around the building was, “We are in the information gathering business.” 

My boss was Scott Pioli, who was then the Jets’ pro scouting director.

Every morning, Pioli would bring me a huge (2-4 inch) stack of paper called “Sports Scan,” which was a service the Jets subscribed to. Sports Scan was a summary of every major newspaper sports section in the country. Every morning Pioli would first highlight all of the information he deemed to be “pertinent,” with a yellow highlighter, before bringing it to me to input into Jetscout (the Jets computer system). 

Anything from DWI’s to players who tweaked a hamstring was highlighted in yellow. 

When I started working at the Jets, I typed with two fingers pecking at the keyboard. I left the Jets being able to type 90 words-per-minute. 

The information was used as leverage in the contract negotiation process, and for a game-planning advantage. 

The outside scouting world and those who are trying to break into the game think it is all just about the game film, and writing scouting reports based on the game film – – and it is not.

Teams do inordinate amount of work on player backgrounds. If a young person who is trying to break into the NFL was smart, they would do a book on each player’s background off-the-field and send that as a resume to all 32 teams. Part of the battle is finding a way to separate from the competition and that is one sure-fire way to do it. 

Google is an NFL team’s best friend. You can Google anything. Just type in “Matt Corral background fight,” to begin. Being a scout is like being a private investigator, all the clues are on the Internet – – and social media. 

I have been told some NFL teams now employ a full-time person just dedicated to digging on player’s social media accounts (and the player’s friends’ accounts) for dirt. They are specifically looking for anything drug or gang-related. 

The part of the NFL Combine you do not see on the NFL Network, are the teams interviewing all of the prospects. I was a part of this process with the Jets for four years. The brain-trusts of each NFL team grills these prospects with questions off the intel they have gathered. Granted, teams also have FBI-level security directors who help in the digging process, but teams also rely heavily on the intel their scouts have been able to gather, through research and relationships. 

Here is a prime example of what I mean by doing background work on a player. Take a read of this story that my friend Josh Olson brought to my attention recently about Johnny Manziel (click here to read the story). The story is from 2013, and Manziel was drafted in the 1st round by Cleveland in 2014, and this article encompasses what teams are trying to gather for pre-draft information. Did Cleveland know this information and still take Manziel #22 overall?

The reason why teams are so wild about information, is because there is no greater predictor of future behavior than the past. It is the same reason we have credit reports and criminal background checks.

There are always surprises, like in the case of Aaron Hernandez. However, there was enough information there that it caused him to slide to the 4th round in the 2010 draft (click here to read the story). Without that intel, Hernandez easily had top-10 talent on game film.  

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.

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