Wes Bunting is a little like one of his mentors, former NFL offensive coordinator and current Montreal head coach Marc Trestman. Both got their start in the business early. Bunting earned his job as the National Football Post’s Director of College Scouting straight out of college after impressing Michael Lombardi as an intern.
In this part of our conversation, Bunting discusses the role of stats and measurements in his evaluation process; a couple of teams that haven’t maximized its talent on the field; and a player who surprised him. I actually asked Wes about a player who was successful that surprised him – he took the modest track and immediately identified a player he thought would succeed who hasn’t thus far.
Waldman: When do workout stats from Pro Days and the Combine factor into your evaluation of players?
Bunting: The workouts like the combine stuff are factors I really try not to pay too much attention. The thing that really sticks out to me is if I see a guy on tape I thought was a 4.8-guy in the 40 and he ends up running 4.55 or 4.60. Then something’s up.
Either he times really well or he plays faster than I initially thought. Maybe he played hurt. That will cause me to go back [and look at more tape].
If I have an offensive tackle that I gave a first-round grade to and then I find out he has 31¾ – inch arms – he can’t even wipe his butt with that kind of arm length let alone play offensive tackle in the NFL. Those are the kinds of things where I’ll go back and downgrade a guy because of his physical attributes. If it’s a dramatic difference in performance from combine to tape I’ll go back and check and maybe even downgrade a guy. But I don’t like to be someone who elevates a player because of a good 40-time or something like that.
Waldman: Do you incorporate any type of statistical analysis into your evaluation?
Bunting: Obviously when we are evaluating players we want players who are productive and have a lot of starting attributes or spots to their name throughout their college career. But when I’m watching guys at the wide receiver, running back, or defensive back positions, if they are not being productive at the college level then they are not going to be productive in my mind at the NFL level.
If you can’t go for 1000 yards receiver or 800 yards receiving in college, 10-1 you’re going to have a tough time doing it in the NFL. Obviously there’s always going to be outliers due to scheme that are the exceptions to that. But I’m not a big stats guy overall. I just want to see whether these guys can play. Can they consistently win individual match ups?
There was a receiver I was watching lately – I can’t remember who it was – but the quarterback was really poor and couldn’t get the ball to him consistently. Now was that a reflection of the receiver as a whole? No, but at the same time you gotta play the pluses and minuses at the college level as a hole. I still want to see some marginal production overall.
I’m not a big stats guy. I would never describe myself as a stats guy.
Waldman: I would think not. I think most people who watch film wouldn’t describe themselves as “stats guys.”
Bunting: But that’s both a strength and fault at the same time…
Waldman: I talked to Chad Reuter recently and I’ve known him for a little bit. He has a strong background with stats and he’s used it for NFL teams. But even he says one has to be careful with how to apply stats and very few people do it well.
Bunting: I’ve met Chad and we’re buddies as well. We actually went to the Hall of Fame this year together. He would be an ideal blend of a guy who uses film and stats together. I think he does that better than anyone in the media business – better than I do, that’s for sure.
Waldman: I hear you. It’s one of those things where very few people have that skill set and from what I’m hearing only a minority percentage of teams are opening to the idea of incorporating stats and others are pretty fixed in what they’ve always done.
Name an NFL a team that you believe hasn’t maximized its talent and why do you think that is?
Bunting: Whoa, that’s a good question. I’ll start with the Raiders because I’m a Raiders fan.
Not them as a whole, but also the San Diego Chargers. They have a really good quarterback. I think Philip Rivers is as underrated as a quarterback can be. He’s up there with the top five guys in the NFL. They’ve got a pretty good left tackle in Marcus McNeill.
They can bring pressure. They’ve got a pretty good secondary as well. They’ve got the best tight end in the league when healthy in my opinion. Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are good receivers.
I just look at motivation as a factor with them. When you come out slowly year after year. The talent is there and they are coached up well. They are technically sound guys who can create. But NFL coaching requires you to be able to manage the game and motivate the players. And I just don’t see that same motivation week in and week out.
I think when you have a really talented team with guys that we always put that character card to you don’t have guys that are high character kids and are motivated, two things happen: They struggle to handle adversity and they struggle to handle pain, which is another form of adversity that they don’t like to deal with.
I think when you have a really talented team you have to see that they check out from a character standpoint as well or they simply perform up to that high level or standard that their talent should allow them week in and week out.
Waldman: It’s interesting that you mention Marcus McNeill as one of those players because Chad Reuter said McNeill was a player who surprised him with his success in the NFL because he was a stiff player with a neck issue. Who are some of the NFL players who surprised you recently and why?
Bunting: I wrote a piece this past year on some of my all-time flops, the biggest guys that I liked and learned from. Aaron Maybin was cut today. I liked Maybin coming out. He was a guy who I saw that explosive first step and he could drop his pad level around the corner and flatten out and I thought he would find a way to be productive.
The one thing I learned from Aaron Maybin more so than anyone as a defensive end or pass rusher is that you have to compare these guys along the same lines as pitchers in baseball. It doesn’t matter if you’re throwing 98 mph all the time. You have to have a change up or some type of off-speed pitch to keep batters or in this case tackles off balance.
And he was simply never able to do that. He’s not a bull rusher and there is no real change of direction or counter to him. And he doesn’t use his hands overly well. So no matter how good his fastball is, tackles could consistently time that up and reach him.
And overall if you’re not really willing to put in the work to develop some type of secondary you’re going to struggle. So Aaron Maybin is not only a guy that I whiffed on, but I learned a lot from.