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 Part I, 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.
In this part of our conversation Bunting talks about his youth, how he fell in love with the game, and translated that passion into what he does now. He also reveals what he learned from Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta and the differences between evaluating for a football team and as a member of the media.
Waldman: Tell me about your personal background. Where did you grow up? How did you develop an interest in football? How did that interest lead to scouting? What was your education in this field? What about your education in other endeavors?
Bunting: I grew up in central Pennsylvania. My dad was a big Oakland Raiders fan growing up. I jumped on and was a Raiders fan as well. I didn’t play in high school. I went to an inner city school and in ninth grade I was 5’6” and 110 lbs. I didn’t want to get hurt.
The nice thing was that my history teacher was the defensive coordinator of the team. So I pretty much was his best friend whether I was in class or not. I learned a ton from him about high school defensive schemes, what you’re looking for, and how to exploit opposing offenses. He was a big historian of the game.
He is a head coach of a local high school team at Penn Manor. He’s still one of my good buddies and he’s a big history buff. He knows more inside and out about the game than most people. He has great general philosophies on how to attack and I always see that kind of brilliance showing up on his defensive philosophies. I was always able to pick his brain a bunch and that really started my passion to want really understand the game and evaluate it.
Waldman: What was your course of direction once you graduated high school?
Bunting: It was probably in ninth grade that I fell in love with the NFL Draft. It was 2002 and the Raiders had two first-round draft picks and they used it Phillip Buchanan and Napoleon Harris and it was the year that they went to the Super Bowl. From them on I was absolutely blown away with how teams could figure out how evaluate players. I thought I could do that just as well as anyone.
From pretty much that point on I was a draftnik all through high school. Then my freshman year in college I started writing down stuff on my own. Actually taking notes and trying to evaluate and rank guys on my own rather than just putting in a mock draft.
Then I just thought I could do this for a living. Around 2006, I started asking every website under the sun. The draft wasn’t quite as big back then, but it was starting to pick up – especially with the amount of mock draft websites. So I wrote for a ton of them trying to move up. NFL Smackdown was the first one. Then Tony Pauline with TFY, I think I wrote at Rotoworld, and then at Football Outsiders,
I took a class at Sports Management Worldwide as well. I met Marc Trestman there, who has been a great help to me. He is the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes. He put me in contact with some people. In my sophomore or junior year in college I was invited by Eric DeCosta the director of college scouting for the Baltimore Ravens to come down and work with some of the interns there.
It was a great learning experience to talk with him and Ozzie Newsome and it gave me a lot of confidence. When I got to engage with the people there I got the feeling that I knew just as much as these guys do – not Ozzie, but some of the interns I worked with – at the same time that experience taught me that I didn’t want to become an NFL scout. I didn’t like the living that they have so I just kept working and interned at the National Football Post three years ago when they came out. I sent my stuff to Michael Lombardi, he liked it, and I started interning with him. I interned the entire year writing NFL stuff, but once the NFL draft drew near I was asked to do the draft, which was my specialty. Once I graduated from college they hired me full-time.
Waldman: What did you study in college?
Bunting: I was a professional writing and communications double major at Elizabethtown College. It’s a small liberal arts school right near Hershey, Pa. If the wind is blowing the right way it smells like chocolate in the mornings. If it’s blowing the wrong way it smells like manure from all the farmland. You know whether it’s going to be a good day or not by how it smells in the morning.
Waldman: At the National Football Post I’d have to imagine that the organizational structure of the company and its processes are online in nature. How often do you guys meet in person?
Bunting: We all go to the all-star games together and the combine. Right after the season, usually in December, we all meet in one place as a team. But most of it is done online and over the phone. It’s pretty much an Internet business from my standpoint. I’m not really involved in it from a business standpoint. I’m just asked to handle the draft content and do the best I can and if I need help or have questions come to them. They give me pretty much free reign with what I want to write in terms of the draft content.
Waldman: What did you learn from Eric DeCosta?
Bunting: The one thing with him is that some guys like blonds and some guys like brunettes. You really need to know what you’re looking for from an NFL schematic standpoint. The Ravens were playing 3-4 at the time and you have to be content to understand that if you see a guy who you like is playing 4-3 at the time doesn’t mean he’s going to be a good 3-4 player. You have to have convictions with the type of player that you want and for the type of scheme that you want. I think also being so detail-oriented, too.
When I evaluate guys I just don’t have the luxury of looking only at guys for 3-4 defenses or Cover2. Because as a media guy we have to do it for everyone. I try to look at the guy’s positives and more so the negatives to determine what he can bring to a team.
Brian Rolle from Ohio State is a good example. In the NFL 35-45 percent of the NFL would potentially see him as a starter for their scheme. The rest would probably see him as a nickel guy. But I am still evaluating him as a potential starter because if he gets in that right scheme like a Cover 2 or like a run and hit scheme – even where he went to the Eagles who like to play those undersized weak side guys – I think it’s a fit.
I think really being as specific as possible with skill set to the exact scheme where you want to see that player really opened up my mind to evaluating players.
Waldman: When you’re ranking players from a media standpoint – which is very different from a team standpoint – do you find that a Brian Rolle might be ranked higher because you’re approaching your evaluation of players as potential starters and inferring with your ranking that if he’s the right fit his skills will be better than other guys who might be a fit with a majority of other teams in a different scheme?
Bunting: Without a doubt. When I look at guys. I’m taking their strengths and trying to figure out if they get in the right scheme and it does stand out what can this guy be? Overall most people saw Brian Rolle as a later round pick and he went in the sixth round so they will say I’m wrong. But I believe if he went to the Colts, the Bears, or even where he went to the Eagles that he can be a potential starter and he would have even warranted a third-round pick. I think he’s going to be a good player and before long I think he’ll start for the Eagles. Just give him a year or two to get comfortable. Plus he’s going to be a heck of a special teams player.
Waldman: I would think if you look at skill players and look at a position like wide receiver and a prospect like Denarius Moore who is having such a nice camp with the Raiders, but if you look at the way the Raiders value wide receivers you see the natural fit there between Moore and the team. But did Moore necessarily show all of the things at Tennessee that you would look for from a complete receiver? That might have been a question mark for some teams.
Bunting: Without a doubt. You’re just trying to make sure that the square pegs fit in the square holes. I think that ‘s the biggest thing when you’re drafting guys, actually. Not even evaluating, but everyone is talking up how great a player is but if there’s just a little bit of a question that a team is not going to get the most of his skill set then why would they take him?
Tyson Jackson is another good example. When he came out of LSU I thought he would be a good player. Now do I think he was worth the No.3 overall pick? Absolutely not. He was kind of a safe guy. You knew he could play the run well in the 4-3 and therefore the Chiefs philosophy of seeing if he can do it as a 3-4 guy hasn’t helped Jackson show that he was anything near the worth of the No.3 guy overall.