The NFL Draft is a national holiday for football fans. While they know a ton of hard work and endless nights go into preparing for the three-day event, fans may be shocked to hear just how much preparation is done.
General Manager Tom Telesco began his annual pre-draft press conference detailing the year long process, which believe it or not begins 13 months prior to draft day. That means that while the finishing touches are being put on the 2014 draft, the Chargers scouting department simultaneously begins their work on the 2015 draft.
Once the draft ends the scouts have a brief window of down time before spending the next few months preparing in earnest for the college season.
“It’s supposed to be a little rest and relaxation for the guys, but they do spend a lot of time in the summer putting their lists together, looking at a little bit of tape on players, trying to get a feel on who the upcoming prospects are going to be and where they line up,” Telesco explained. “Just so they get a good feel when they go into the fall. So they do a little bit of work over the summer, and then August they come in here (and) spend about a week meeting, going over their schedules and where the players are.”
It is also during this meeting when the Chargers’ scouting philosophy for the upcoming year is defined.
“We talk about points of emphasis for that particular year and what we’re looking for,” the GM said. “Any changes to the scheme we have to talk about.”
The Bolts have six area scouts that scour the nation focusing on different regions, and their game plan for the coming months is defined during those weeks in August as well.
“They have roughly 35 to 45 schools apiece that they cover just in their areas,” Telesco said. “Then we have two national scouts that will oversee that. Randy Mueller for instance is a national scout and he’ll get a second look on a lot of these players (after) the area scouts. Then Kevin Kelly is our Director of College Scouting. He’ll get a second look on a lot of these players and look at the top guys. So Randy and Kevin see a little bit more than 45 schools, but the area scouts see about 35 to 45 apiece.”
There will be 256 names called in the 2014 draft, but there are drastically far more players than that evaluated by the Bolts in the year leading up to it.
“We start off with probably 13,000 seniors in our database,” Telesco said. “They are not all prospects. Usually about 1,800 of those are prospects…By the end of the day we probably have over 3,000 reports on these guys because you’re getting multiple looks on a lot of players. So there is a lot that goes into it with these guys. (Our scouts) put a ton of work in.”
Then the actual college season occurs, which may be the most important part of the entire scouting process.
“Our guys are on the road for a lot of time,” Telesco said. “Maybe 80, 90 days in the fall they’re on the road going school to school, watching practice, talking to sources (and) watching tape. They do that every day and go home every other weekend. So it’s a grind for these guys but they do a tremendous job.”
All the while, the brass at Chargers Park remains heavily involved. As the college season comes to a close and more reports come in, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Spanos and Director of Player Personnel JoJo Wooden begin to pay visits to some of the top prospects. Telesco hammered home the importance of having as many evaluators as possible assess the prospects in order to form a proper, well-rounded opinion on the player.
“We make sure we have enough looks on everybody so we can have good discussions when we get into meetings,” he said. “So it really is a group process. Very rarely does one scout see one player, loves him and that’s why you take him. It doesn’t work like that. At least for us it doesn’t.”
With the college season fresh in their minds, the scouts return to Chargers Park to meet in December and discuss what they witnessed over the fall. January’s main focus is on all-star games before the department regroups for a very busy February.
“The guys come in for our really heavy meetings,” he explained. “We do a lot of meetings in February on these college players before the Combine. You’re looking at 15, 16, 17 days worth of just straight meetings and talking about players. That’s really where all the heavy lifting is. The board grows during the fall, and December gets put up there a little bit, but February is really when it starts to get fine-tuned.”
Following the Combine at the end of February, the scouts hit the road again to attend pro days. This is also when the Chargers coaching staff gets more involved in the draft process. They watch players on tape and at the Combine, giving their two cents on how the prospects would fit into their system.
When April rolls around they “put a bow” on the process, wrapping up a years’ worth of evaluations. Clearly, while the buck stops with the general manager, it truly is a lengthy, collaborative process that goes in to selecting each individual player.
“In reality it’s a huge group of people and a lot of opinions,” Telesco said. “There is a lot that goes into it. We pick six, seven or eight guys, whatever it ends up being, sign some college free agents and away we go. So it’s a credit to the scouts with a lot of the work they do. They go unnoticed a lot, but they do a great job. And the way our coaches work with the scouts has been great to see. Everyone is on the same page. We all know what we’re looking for, which is half the battle sometimes. And we try to narrow that down and get the best guy that will fit us and go from there.”
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