I have spent most of my adult life working as an evaluator for NFL clubs, a career that was more than 30 years in length. Though the majority of my time I spent was an area scout, I was also a Scouting Director for over nine years. In that period I was put in a number of situations where we had to make a decision on players who had character concerns. Do we draft them, or do we remove their name from out Draft Board?
Those type of decisions are never easy to make, and every time we were faced with that type of situation, we took out time to make the decision. As a department, we had a specific process we followed and when all the information was in we would discuss and make a decision.
While the General Manager had to have the final say, in our case it was always the consensus opinion that we went with. The best way to explain this is to walk you through the entre process.
Each year we have a scouting cycle that begins just after the previous Draft. Each scout has a list of prospects for the schools in his area. It was his responsibility to know the history of every player we had an interest in. We would tell the scouts, “You can miss on a player’s talent because we have other people to evaluate that player, but you can’t miss on the player’s character." That put a lot of pressure on the scout, as it should.
When we say “know the history of the player,” that’s exactly what we mean. The scout has to know the players' background — not only from his college days but also when he was in high school.
The prospect might have been a class act while in college but had some problems while he was in high school. We need to know exactly what the problem was and then figure out if it was a one-time thing or can it be something we need to be concerned with going forward?
With privacy laws the way they are, it can be difficult to find out about a players past. The good scouts find a way to get the proper information. They will talk to friends, neighbors, former coaches, workout partners, etc. Obviously if there was an arrest it is a matter of public record, but sometimes if the player was underage when the arrest happened, the documents can be sealed. Again, the good scouts find a way to get the truth.
If a prospect was in college when an arrest occurred, it can be easier to find out what the charges were, but no matter what the charges were, we need to know the truth and why.
When the scouts talk to college coaches, the coaches might not always be truthful with their answers because they want to protect the player. Because of that, the scout has to have a cross check or a cross reference to make sure he is getting the proper information. That can be someone inside the program, such as a trainer, weight coach or perhaps the equipment manager. There will be people who know.
During scouting meetings in December and February, one of the things we do is eliminate players because of either lack of talent or character concerns. There are times, though, where the player with a character problem is so talented that he can’t be eliminated that early in the process. More research needs to be done and that can include interviews with the player himself.
When interviewing a player, it is always good to know the truth about a situation before we talk to the player. That way we know if the player is trying to con us. If that occurs, we would always eliminate the player right then and there, as we knew we couldn’t trust him. If the player is sincere and honest, it always makes it easier on both the player and in making a decison on that player.
There are situations where the player had a poor home life or upbringing. If he had an incident in the past that could have been related to his home life, and made positive changes while away from home, then we have to hope that his love for football and his maturity will keep him straight going forward. Obviously we can guess wrong in some of these situations and have to get rid of the player early in his career. When that happens, you always look back and ask, “what did we do wrong in the process?" Once you get burned, you never want it to happen again.
There are cases that can’t be tolerated and the player’s name is removed from the draft board. Any sex-related crimes or abuse of women was something we took seriously, and there was no way we would draft that player.
Other things, like positive drug tests, were dealt with differently. If it was a case of a single positive test, the interview process would often help us with making our decision. If it was multiple positive tests, then we knew the player has a problem and much more would go into the process before making a decision. That could include interviews with professional people who are experts in those type of situations.
When it came time to making a final decision on the player, it wasn’t always the case of dropping his name form the board. Sometimes it meant that we would just lower his grade, meaning if he was a third-round talent, we wouldn’t take him before, say, the fifth round. That would lower the risk-reward ratio. Other times we would say, “OK, we know what the problem is, we can live with it and have the people in place to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future."
If that happens to be the case, we have to hope we are right, because if we are wrong, it could mean our jobs. When character situations arise, they not only can be an embarrassment to the club but also to the decision-maker.
The bottom line is, we better be right because not only is the club's future at stake, but so is the future of the people making the decision.
The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting and he'll be breaking down the top NFL prospects to watch this college season and other NFL news each week here at Pro Football Weekly. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe