“Every person in the building knows who you are and I would be laughed at if I hired you.”
“You don’t have the makeup of what we look for in scouts.”
“We all know the Draft Headquarters guy, but we can’t hire the Draft Headquarters guy”
“We flew you here and put you up to tell you we like you, but there are six other people in front of you for the internship”
In the last 10 years I’ve seen and heard everything that the NFL’s hiring and firing buzz saw can muster up. I’ve worked privately with GM’s, experienced the toxic atmosphere in the league office, and have received broken promises of jobs from the same executives that used my Draft Preview to run their draft war rooms.
On February 1st, 2007, at 17-years old I started Draft Headquarters, a website that was created to show my passion for scouting and to get my name into the industry. I grew up without a single person in my life who had ever worked in football and knew I had an uphill battle. What better way to get your name out there than create a website in today’s digital age?
Well, if you want to work in the NFL, there are much better ways. What no one told me when I started Draft Headquarters as a junior in high school was that NFL teams don’t like websites. And what they hate most is when you go on television, radio, and newspaper telling them who they should draft, it only hurts your chances of getting a job.
However, three months after starting the website, after beating Mel Kiper and Todd McShay in a mock draft contest, no one was telling me to shut the website down.
Roughly a few days after I’d nailed my hometown Vikings pick of Adrian Peterson at #7 overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, I received a call from Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune who wanted to write a story about the mock draft. This story, as I’ve told Pat, was the start of my career in sports, because it opened doors and created exposure that I had never seen before.
Over the next six years, as I grinded through high school and college, I worked hard to build a network up that introduced me to new opportunities, one of them being with the Minnesota Gophers. In the summer of 2009, I was given two days in a film room to scout the first four opponents of Minnesota’s season and write detailed scouting reports on them. I then presented the reports to the entire defensive coaching staff before the season, and after almost two hours of discussion I was asked to continue to do write them for the rest of the year. As the 2009 season ended, I was asked to come work internally and assist with recruiting and stayed in that role, while writing my Draft Previews back at St. Thomas.
A normal day in college was spent in class in the morning before driving to the U of MN and grinding tape in recruiting/scouting until 5-6 PM. The rest of the night would be spent chasing my dream of working in the NFL and writing scouting reports on players that may never be drafted. While my friends partied, I stayed up late and woke up early to turn on tape of guys like Erik Ainge of Tennessee.
Another learning opportunity came at the NFL Scouting Combine, in which I worked as a “production assistant” off camera tallying stats, making runs to the production truck, and timing 40’s. This was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life in understanding both what goes on inside Lucas Oil Stadium, and the surrounding city during Combine week.
Starting in 2007, I wrote an annual Draft Preview that grew each year as I soaked up more information from my time traveling to the Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine, and my dual roles at the University of Minnesota. I had to beg teachers to let me take off a week of school in order to make it all work. My plan was to show teams that I could scout and that I was evolving as an evaluator with my ability to take what I learned at Minnesota and put it on paper in the form of a scouting report.
For every Draft Preview that I wrote, I took pride in the fact that I had literally seen all 250 players I wrote a report on in person at the Senior Bowl or Combine. Using that experience with my time at the University of Minnesota, I was hoping I had done enough to put my name at the top of most team’s internship lists. Boy was I wrong.
In today’s industry, NFL teams are looking for college grads who are under 25-years old, with little experience or background in scouting in order to mold or develop them in their system. One team specifically told me that they wanted to have their scouts spend two years working for minimum wage in human resources and public relations to prove their work ethic before being hired as a scout.
So you want to be a scout?
There is no blueprint.
I get asked all the time what it takes to become a scout or break into the scouting industry. It’s a convoluted question because there is no one way to answer it.
In the past, scouting departments were made up of former coaches, often older men who understood the game but couldn’t keep up with the day-to-day grind of coaching.
In today’s game, scouting departments are turning into multi-functioning personnel wings that consist mainly of College, Pro, and Analytics, and regardless of your experience working in any of the three – to get a job you had better be under 25-years old, college-educated, and preferably have a mathematics background to assist the older generation of scouts who are still getting used to the concept of using numbers and statistics to assist with drafting football players.
NFL teams are looking for a raw slab of clay that they can mold and develop in their system – not a 22-year old owner of a website who worked with NFL Network in college.
Though "knowing someone" is still valuable in today's industry, it doesn't guarantee you a place in a modern scouting department. Because of this, in conjunction with Neil Stratton and Inside the League, I have founded The Scouting Network, a one-stop shop for exclusive scouting news and information. Our mission is to give young evaluators the necessary tools to pursue their dreams of working in scouting and to give former scouts a better chance of staying in the game. Having lived through some of the nightmares of the industry, my goal is to share my experiences to help prevent others from making the same mistakes. But it's more than that - we also want to create a sense of fraternity among people with this common passion, and we want to help them get better, perhaps helping them advance in their career. Finally, we also want to decrease the mystery of the job, especially when it comes to the hours, the pay and the finer points of the profession.
Next week, on Wednesday, February 28th at 7:00 PM, we are holding the first-ever “Scouting Network Seminar" at the NFL Scouting Combine and the Indianapolis Convention Center (Room 126). After opening remarks, we will turn it over to our panel of three ex-NFL scouts, Matt Boockmeier (Packers), James Kirkland (Browns), and Matt Manocherian (Browns, Saints). They'll talk about how they broke into the industry, what they valued in coaches and personnel directors at the college level, and also open it up to questions.
If you are hoping to break into the scouting industry, you can find more information about The Scouting Network and our first annual seminar on our website: FBScoutingNetwork.com