If you thought ESPN analyst Matt Williamson’s path to becoming a paid evaluator of talent was unusual, consider NFL Draft Scout.com senior analyst Chad Reuter. The Wisconsin native lacks a football background, but he managed to transform a hobby into a job because of his tremendous analytical skills, sincere passion for the game, and a veteran scout’s work ethic. In this multi-part conversation, Reuter and I spent a couple of hours discussing a variety of topics related to player evaluation.
In Part I of this conversation, Chad and I discuss why he enjoys studying offensive line play, evaluating technique versus results, and balancing these two behaviors with the craft of projecting a player’s future in the NFL. In Part II we covered Reuter’s path to studying football as a full-time job, a defensive position that is difficult to evaluate, and why “instincts” and “intangibles” may not be innate after all. In Part III, Chad and I discuss sabermetrics and football, the mathematical logic of drafting a quarterback in the first round, and the importance of tiers when building a draftboard.
The final part of our conversation covers Reuter’s typical work process as a talent analyst and the resources he recommends to the general audience to become students of the game.
Waldman: Share with everyone what your typical day at work is like to completely a long-term project of scouting all draft-eligible players for a given season?
Reuter: The process occurs in stages. You study film for 12 months. A lot of the film work on rising seniors and juniors comes immediately after the draft. You want to get ready for the approaching season and to get the know the players. During that time and throughout the summer, you’re watching tape, you’re researching, and learning about the senior prospects and underclassmen with the end goal of producing our preseason draft guide in August. It’s not just a matter of watching tape, but also looking through media guide information. You’re also talking to sources to find out about any off-field stuff. You want to know as much as you can going into the year. During the summer, I’m working between 8am-6pm at a minimum during the week. During the weekends I try to put in anywhere between 4-8 hours each day depending on what else is going on – including trying to maintain some sort of life outside of this.
Waldman: How do you try to maintain a life outside of this?
Reuter: You try to schedule things in a way where you find time to work around those events. If we’re going out in the afternoon then I try to do work in the morning.
Waldman: Based on my own level of self-awareness, I would think it takes somewhat of an obsessive personality to do this job.
Reuter: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think you need to love it. It does get to be work sometimes, but you have to view it as more of a hobby plus your job. It’s the only way you can do it. Honestly, when I had a 40-hour-a-week job plus what I was doing I actually gained time by quitting my job and doing this full-time! It was easier.
Waldman: I hope I can relate to that idea of “gaining time,” one day. Because I am now where you were in terms of balancing multiple jobs, I find during my heavy periods of watching tape that I actually have to make myself take time off.
Waldman: And when I do take time off, I feel like some sort of addict because I’m still jonzing to get to that next game or player. Or I simply don’t feel like I got enough done that day.
Reuter: Yeah, I think you have to have that feeling. You can take pleasure in finishing certain projects or a certain segment, but you never feel like you’re done. It happens every year going into the draft. You’ve spent all this time during the year watching film and going to every all-star game and there’s always those 20 guys at the end you haven’t seen enough of. You’re sitting there trying to watch any tape that you can get on them and trying to get because you can go crazy trying to study 1000 players on somebody’s radar. That’s why the last day of the draft is always fun for me. Its where I can say “yes, Markell Carter got drafted by the Patriots.” You see those sixth and seventh-round picks that you thought could get drafted.
Waldman: Tell me about the resources you access to learn about the game.
Reuter: I don’t think there are any resources I wouldn’t take. You try to learn from any NFL personnel that is willing to talk to you. I’ve been very lucky that enough NFL guys have been willing to take my calls. You just try to get a sense of what they are generally looking for in players – whether it’s physical or mental or anything else.
And you’re not always going to agree. I think that’s an important part of the process: being able to go to people that you respect and maintain your own opinion, whether they are in the NFL or in the media. You’ve got to be able to question your resources and the people you trust and say, “I didn’t see that.”
You’ve got to be able to be critical of any information that you get from anybody. That said, I am willing to listen to any opinion of anyone who I feel makes a good point. Fans of a team – and Twitter is great for this – will tell you if they think you are totally overrating or underrating a player. I will take that and go back to the tape and take a fresh look.
As you know, it’s easy to see a game or two of a guy and write him off. Unless somebody is totally obnoxious or undereducated, you have to take at least a peek if someone is really disagreeing with you. Obviously the more credible the source the more you have to take another look at what you’re saying. Sometimes I look at the tape and I still don’t see what they do. Sometimes I’ll take a second look, I’ll see that instead of communicating that a player never performs a certain way I’ll discover that his performance in this area is inconsistent. To me it is very important to listen to what people are saying and involve that in your evaluation.
Waldman: What do you think are the best resources for a general audience that will make them better students of the game?
Reuter: If people really want to get to know football then its almost mandatory to be on Twitter because I think you get the opinions of many very bright football people. I really believe people need to read guys like Greg Cosell and any of the ESPN guys. I think for the most part they do a pretty good job.
There are a lot of draft sites out there and I think if you look at them as a conglomerate, you’ll learn something valuable. I’m going to include myself on this: no single draft site or draft analyst is going to be right 100 percent of the time. You have to take from a bunch of the sites. Eventually everybody goes to their go-to people, but there is enough good content to piece together good information about a player and then go to the film yourself and watch them.
ESPN3.com is a great resource for that. And get DVR – you have to do it yourself. I think that people that are starting to learn how to do this need to take from a bunch of different sources.
Waldman: Honestly, I try not to look an anyone’s opinions until I’m finished with all of my film study, or I’ve at least studied enough of a specific player that an opinion about another player won’t shade my process.
Reuter: Now that I’m in my position I can’t be looking everywhere else at everyone else’s opinion. I just have to go off what I see. If somebody brings something to me I will factor it eventually into my evaluation process, but I don’t want to know that until I watch that player first. I don’t want to be colored by somebody else’s thoughts, either.
Again, I think it’s a mix of both. You have to do your own analysis but you also have to be smart about not saying that everybody else is stupid or nobody else could possibly know what they are talking about. Just be smart about how you regard it. I really think if you’re going for resources on the web there are a lot of good ones out there. If you take them within context and not choose one as gospel you can really learn a lot. I think you have to listen to a lot of people, but really filter what you take into your evaluation. You see a road sign that says bump up ahead it doesn’t mean you slow down to 10 miles an hour but proceed with caution.
Here’s something I didn’t say about resources that I think is important: I learned a lot about offensive line play by listening to Packers color radio guy Larry McCarren who was a longtime center for Green Bay.
Learning more about the game is not just about watching football games, but drinking them in and really listening and not getting caught up on referee calls and you have to pay attention to what a really good color analyst will say.
Waldman: For sure!
Reuter: Yeah, I think that is a really big resource that people don’t think about. Sometimes people get caught up in disagreeing with what an announcer says and they think the guy is stupid.
Waldman: Or you get caught up in a personality quirk about a guy and you write off everything he says when the information he provides is unbelievably good.
Reuter: Right. The one lesson I have learned over time is to listen. And that can be a hard lesson because people say things that you really don’t agree with but it should not prevent you to listening to that person the next time they talk. They may say something that you need to know. Listening is a big lesson.