Yet another week has gone and the 2023 NFL Draft is that much closer. Our PFN Scouting Notebook this week details just how different each position is when it comes to scouting. Once again, NFL Draft Analyst Oli Hodgkinson is off this week, so I am flying solo and adding a few new entries to the notebook.
2023 NFL Draft: Every position is tasked with creating something
If you watch tape and evaluate long enough, the nuances naturally come to you. But at times, it can be hard to clearly define what success is for a prospect, or what you’re looking for on film. I like to look at it like this, as a way to help guide my thoughts and keep me anchored in the diagnostic point of view. On any given play, every player, in ways both macro and micro, is creating something.
For some positions, it’s easier to define what that player is creating. Wide receiver — particularly, someone as proficient as Jaxon Smith-Njigba — is a great example. And it’s from this viewpoint that I derive the term “three-level threat” at WR. You can break down a single WR rep into three phases — before the catch, at the catch, and after the catch.
Before the catch, a wide receiver must create displacement and separation with his route running. At the catch, he must create opportunities with his body control, ball tracking, hand-eye coordination, and conversion ability. And after the catch, he must create extra yards with his athleticism, play strength, and vision.
In every phase, the WR is creating something new, whether it’s separation, opportunities at the catch point, or yards after the catch. In this way, the wide receiver creates a quantifiable impact on the game. It’s valuable to look at WRs through this lens, so you can get a grasp for how expansive their impact and potential are across the three phases.
Creation depending on the relationship between two positions
The aspect of creation goes far beyond wide receivers, however. And the impact of creation at each position spans from obvious to very subtle. Additionally, it may also depend on the relationship between two positions.
For example, a cornerback, in a standard coverage rep, impacts both the quarterback and the receiver. The CB’s job is to create discomfort — for the WR with tight coverage, and for the QB as well. If the CB matches the WR with fluid hips and jams him off the line, suffocating his stem, he not only stymies the route, but he may cause the QB to hesitate, allowing the pass rush a chance to get home.
In this specific situation, the CB isn’t even thrown at. It’s not a flashy play, but he still creates discomfort for the offense and potentially makes a vital impact on his defense.
Safeties have a similar responsibility on the back end. On film, safeties may go over a dozen reps without seeing a pass come their way. But managing spacing and hip alignment in intermediate and deep coverage is such a vital skill to have, for creating discomfort in quarterbacks and possibly putting a lid on big plays.
At QB, the responsibility of creation comes ten-fold. From the very start of the snap, he’s creating. Keeping his eyes forward on the drop-back might hold the safety and create space for a certain route. A subtle step right or up into the pocket after feeling pressure might create more time and flexibility for an offensive lineman. And a well-placed, precise ball can be the difference between creating an opportunity for a WR or creating one for a DB.
Whether they’re actively making eye-catching plays or passively impacting their surroundings, players at each position are constantly tasked with creating something. From a broad-scale perspective, if you’re new to football scouting, or having trouble identifying just what to look for from certain positions, thinking about what each player needs to create on a given rep is a great place to start. An understanding of those responsibilities can naturally lead you to the requirements of a player within each trait category.
Make sure you take time for yourself during the summer months
The summer scouting process is well underway. Dozens of evaluators are already posting grades and preliminary thoughts on 2023 NFL Draft prospects — myself included. It’s a testament to the work ethic of all the scouts out there, and I applaud you. We all know how much of a grind it is. That’s why I think it’s important, however, to also set aside time for yourself, especially in the summer months.
Scouting is enjoyable, and being able to do it either as an occupation or as a hobby is very rewarding. At the same time, it can be very draining. There’s so much information you have to take in from rep to rep, for games on end. Then you have to extrapolate and consolidate all of your observations into written reports. It can be a lot, and the process can get repetitive.
Especially during the summer, when there is no live football and all reports are incomplete without the inclusion of the coming campaign, make sure you take time for yourself. Take time to relax and recharge, or expend your energy in other ways through a relief system. You need to have a steady work ethic as an evaluator. But no one can work constantly, and you’ll need to be on your A-game during the season.
So yes — use the summer to get ahead when you can. But also don’t feel like you need to be constantly working. The infinite game doesn’t end, so if you need time to recharge and reset, take it. You’ll be better off in the long run when you do.