Matt Waldman tackles a common question among media scouts and draftniks and as you’d expect, the journey is more important than the answer.
How many games should I watch when I scout a player?
My quick answer: As many as needed to see what you need to see and as many as needed to reach the point where you know you’re not going to see what you need to see.
Most of you aren’t going to do this, including those who want to scout football. There’s no shame to this. Scouting is hard work and few do it as a full-time gig.
Many of you won’t have the time, patience, and methodical nature to do what is necessary to see what you need to see and figure out the point where you know you aren’t going to see what you need to see.
The few of you who do reach this point will discover that this profession or in-depth hobby that brings you a little money and/or notoriety on social media isn’t worth the effort. Congratulations, you did the honest work and learned something of value that you will apply later on your life’s path.
Now that we’ve dispensed with the dull answer, we can have fun exploring the depth of the question. In the end, you may appreciate the answer more.
I have heard a lot of answers to this question from a wide range of people.
The ideal answer is to watch every game the player has played during his college career. This sounds great to the fan, especially when a former pro quarterback is paid by the sponsorship dollars of your favorite pharmaceutical, vehicle, alcohol, and/or insurance giant to tell you he watched every throw.
Watching every throw and studying every throw in a systematic manner are two different levels of evaluation. Sure, the former quarterback should have some clear ideas of what he’s seeking from his film study.
JT O’Sullivan does. And because he has created a YouTube channel to teach what he knows, he has taken the time to produce content that shows what he’s looking for. That single step is superior to 90 percent of what you will see in media evaluation.
Still, stating what you’re seeking is only the first step of the journey. You have to define it. If you don’t, then you will discover that you aren’t keeping consistent track of observations.
One game you’re labeling a target as accurate and the next you’re labeling the same type of target inaccurate. There are multiple reasons for this potentially happening:
- There are countless combinations of scenarios that you’re not going to keep up with in your head.
- You’re watching hundreds of players and thousands of plays a year.
- You’re going to get physically and mentally fatigued and if you aren’t methodical about specifically defining what you’re looking for, your odds of inconsistent scoring of plays will rise.
Writing down what you’re seeking is also only one of the multiple steps that is fundamental to scouting players. Another is prioritizing the value of each skill, trait, or technique you’re seeking.
You’re going to have inconsistencies even when you define and prioritize what you’re seeking. You’re going to exacerbate your potential for errors if you don’t.
Again, it’s great that a former pro quarterback hired by Cialis has watched every throw, but are they placing an inordinate amount of weight on the prospect’s ability to throw the deep out with velocity while not giving enough value to his ability to manage a pocket?
Does he have a realistic understanding of what’s truly teachable or is he drawing from his past experience that may no longer apply?
Does he grade players along a defined continuum of passable skill based on NFL standards or better yet scheme fit?
The answer is either A) They don’t but their resume credential of playing the position is enough for the average fan to give their analysis credence regardless of actual training and expertise at the job of creating and implementing evaluation processes or B) They do but Viagara finds that shit boring and they need content that l, accompanied by youthful and fit content deliverers (most being intelligent and accomplished human beings but that doesn’t change the point…) who get you thinking about how to be like or be with people who look like them so their product has enhanced demand.
Either way, you don’t know enough about what they study and how they value it. Most fans don’t care and that’s cool, but if you’re still reading this, you’re interested in scouting— even as a serious hobby. And it’s why defining what you’re looking for and how much you value it is the first step in determining how much you should watch.
Whether these pharmaceutically-sponsored former pros know it, admit it, or deny it, I suspect the ones that truly watch every snap do so because they need that much exposure to a player as a form of analysis by blunt force trauma to get through to them.
But if you are watching more than 5-7 players each year, there’s a point where watching every game on the every player reaches a point of diminishing returns.
But what if there’s one play you miss that would have changed the outcome of your evaluation?
If I wasn’t a stickler for rarely using “never” and “always” in scenarios like this, I would tell it will never happen if you are taking a methodical approach. Instead, let’s settle for it hasn’t happened in 17 years and remains unlikely.
After all, players usually play in the same scheme in college and when they don’t, you make sure to watch samples of those games of them in the different schemes. There’s a point where you’ve seen most of the plays that the team runs and the scenarios that the player will encounter in them.
On the occasion that you see a player do something you haven’t seen before, it’s unlikely you will see them repeat this behavior again if you have already seen enough games to reveal what you’ve been seeking on paper. If you see something that appears exceptional early in your studies, you keep watching until the rest of your questions are answered. By then, you will have clarity on whether this was indeed exceptional, routine, or potentially routine for the player.
But how many games should I watch?
Ideally, watching the same number of games for every player at a position makes intuitive sense. We strive to be scientific about evaluating talent. However, we will never have a statistically valid sample size with what we’re studying.
There are data intensive sites that will argue this point, but I trust the actual Masters and PhDs in statistics I know, especially the ones who worked in the league, including one with a number of gigs working directly with front offices and not selling their grunt work for Quality Control coaches to the public as something it isn’t. Even then, don’t hate the entire entity, just the game they play to get noticed.
Given that there won’t be enough data for a valid sample size, don’t sweat trying to see every snap. Instead, focus on seeing enough reps where you can confidently describe these things:
- What you’re seeing is normal for the player.
- Situations where the player deviates from that norm.
- Things you haven’t seen because the scheme or the player’s role in the scheme limits them from being in these scenarios.
- Behaviors you’ve seen that may directly translate to these scenarios you haven’t seen that give you reason to project success, failure, or eventual success if given a shot to experience these situations.
For me, answering the questions I have for prospects typically requires 4-6 games. Sometimes it can take as many as 8-12 games or as few as 2-3.
To be honest, I only needed a series for my intuition to recognize that Nick Chubb, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce were special players. It’s why I understand how Dave Wannestedt says he watched 2-3 plays of Dion Lewis in high school and told his recruiters to give Lewis a scholarship.
Here’s the deal: I am not paid to operate solely on intuition. If I have an intuitive reaction to a player, I honor that I have one but I still approach them with the same process. If anything, I watch an extra game or two and still rigorously follow the defined criteria I have for evaluation of the position.
Intuitive flashes are other reasons why having defined and weighted criteria in writing to follow is vital. After one phone call, I knew I would marry my wife, Alicia, and upon walking into the foyer of our past two houses that we eventually bought, I immediately said “this is it,” without seeing any more of the house at that point. These thoughts were unique to these moments. I wasn’t thinking anything remotely like that after dating several women and looking at dozens of homes.
Still, I didn’t tell Alicia I had this intuitive flash until we had dated for months and marriage had been a topic of conversation. And we looked at the rest of the houses—and other potential homes before making a buying decision.
When I have an immediate intuitive flash about a player, it doesn’t change my process. Diontae Johnson is an example of a prospect where I had that gut feeling he was good but he had difficulty with his technique as a pass catcher and dealing with certain behaviors of press corners. His grade wound up lower than my gut feeling.
Still, I try to point out overarching scenarios that may explain some of that intuitive insight.
I also try to watch a mix of home games, away games, bowl games or rivalry/division games, and at least 1-2 games where they are statistically excelling and struggling. I have found that if you have defined what you’re seeking clearly and you have the priority of these things weighted appropriately, the outcomes don’t obscure the truth of the player’s actual performance to the criteria you use to study them.
After all, I am evaluating what they can do to put themselves and others into position to make positive plays. Football is a team sport.
If enough players achieve the same thing stated above on a consistent enough basis, they win.
That is, If teams get enough players who do this consistently in ways that match their system…that’s a whole other topic.