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Chargers begin draft meetings

Posted Apr 1, 2010

Chargers Director of College Scouting John Spanos along with the scouting department accumulates more frequent-flyer miles in March than the average person’s lifetime.

John Spanos at USC Trojans Pro Day at Cromwell Field. (Photo: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport)

John Spanos has been preparing for this month’s NFL Draft since June of 2009.

The Chargers’ annual draft meetings begin Thursday, wrapping up nine months of watching game tapes, visiting college practices and interviewing everyone from players and coaches to trainers and educators.

From big-name universities to small colleges across the country, team scouts have compiled comprehensive reports on every college football player who will enter the 2010 NFL Draft, which begins on April 22.

For every highly-acclaimed school that sprouts NFL stars, like the University of Southern California or the University of Miami, there are smaller colleges in remote areas, such as Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.

Spanos has been there.

Or, Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

Spanos has been there too.

“I’ve been to so many small schools in so many small towns, it’s nearly impossible to keep track, but we do.” Spanos said.

So many in fact, he can’t remember the names of them all. But don’t let his brief memory lapse fool you. He’s meticulous when it comes to evaluating players.

“Whether a player was at the NFL Combine or not, you want to make sure you have every single test on every single prospect at every single school,” Spanos said, noting that his visits to smaller schools are usually made in the fall, and bigger school visits take place in the spring.

Behind every bench press and 40-yard time tabulated and scrutinized at the NFL Combine or a “Pro Day” lies a college player who hopes to continue his football career at the pro level. But not every college player gets invited to the Combine to showcase his skills.

As a result, universities host Pro Days during the month of March so NFL talent evaluators can get another up-close and personal look at future NFL prospects.

“The Pro Day really benefits the guys who weren’t invited to the Combine,” Spanos said. “It gives scouts a chance to see players go through everything the guys at the Combine did, but at their own school.”

The list of potential NFL prospects seems endless, but the Chargers’ wish list is succinct. And over the next few weeks, scouts will compare and contrast notes during pre-draft meetings with Dean Spanos, A.J. Smith and Norv Turner, in hopes of bringing the best of this year’s collegiate crop to San Diego.

The Chargers also are allowed 30 visits leading up to the draft, meaning more than two dozen draft-eligible players can come to Chargers Park and visit with scouts and coaches for interviews and workouts.

“You want to be efficient, and don’t want to spend time on a lot of guys who can’t play,” Spanos said.

Long hours. Excessive travel. Attention to detail. Spanos’ daily checklist reads like a resume. But he’s not the one looking for a job.

“March is usually a pretty busy month in terms of travel,” said Spanos, who has visited at least a dozen or more college campuses to observe Pro Days over the last five weeks. That does not include trips across the country he and other scouts make year-round.

After a player’s height and weight are determined, they’re put through a series of drills, including the vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, 20-yard short shuttle, 60-yard shuttle for skill positions, and the Wonderlic Test. Then, players are asked to perform specific drills relevant to their position. For example, a wide receiver will run different passing routes and make several tough catches from quarterbacks. All done under the watchful eyes of pro scouts.

Some would argue a player’s draft status is adversely affected if he does not work out at the Combine, but Spanos has another theory.

“We always consider a player’s best performance,” he said of a player who may have had a poor outing during the Combine, but a strong showing at their Pro Day, or vice versa.

“Whatever their best vertical jump, whatever their best 40-yard dash time, that’s what will show up for us in their report,” he continued. “A player can have a bad day; you don’t necessarily hold it against them.”

The Combine has come and gone. A majority of the college football world’s Pro Days wrapped up yesterday. Now the last phase of the draft process kicks into high gear. With the exception of the select players who travel to NFL teams for one-on-one meetings, all remaining draft-eligible players have nothing left to do but wait.

During the final weeks leading up to the draft, the players’ character, personality, intelligence and overall appearance are under a microscope during scouts’ evaluation of their draft status. Their physical skill and ability is just the tip of the iceberg.

The draft boards at Chargers Park are going up, and team scouts and coaches are more than prepared for the daunting task that lies ahead.

Spanos couldn’t be more thrilled.

“It’s an exciting time around here,” he said. “The flip side of all the travel … nine months of preparation and hard work boils down in April when we’re bunkered in for draft meetings.”

The countdown to April 22 has begun.

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