2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook: What to focus on when evaluating prospects

Another week has passed, and the 2023 NFL Draft is another week closer. Each week of study leading up to the event provides new takeaways to discuss in our weekly PFN Scouting Notebook. NFL Draft analyst Oli Hodgkinson is off again this week, but Ian Cummings is here to update the notebook with a couple of new entries.

NFL Draft Evaluations: Focus on the diagnostics

Ian Cummings: Last summer, I graduated from college with a degree in marketing. I don’t work in marketing or sales, but I often find myself applying lessons and skills learned in those disciplines to the NFL draft evaluation process. The marketing background always proves useful when promoting work and interacting with others. But there’s a small lesson from sales that always sticks with me when I start summer evaluations.

When I started learning about sales, on the surface, it was an abstract concept. You certainly have to be personable and convey your arguments well, but I underestimated the process component of the sales distinction. There’s a progression that every call must undergo to some degree. It’s a detail-oriented framework that requires painstaking effort, and it doesn’t guarantee success.

That kind of process can be draining. And so, our professor provided us with a bedrock foundation to stick to. Always focus on the diagnostics. If you lose a sale, don’t get caught up in emotion. Understand what you did well, what you could have done better, how you won, and how you lost. It’s applied through a different lens in NFL draft evaluation, but this phrase sticks with me: Always focus on the diagnostics.

Within discourse over subjective analysis, arguments are inevitably made over stats and conceptual observations that lack context or detail. Raw production statistics make this too easy a hole to fall into. For example: for quarterbacks, using completion percentage as an indicator for accuracy and precision, when in fact, there are other factors that go into completions beyond simple accuracy.

Go beyond the numbers

Staying on the surface won’t get you anywhere. That’s why you have to focus on the pure diagnostics in film evaluation — the ultimate “how” and “why” a prospect wins and loses — all the way down to the finest detail.

It’s easy to say a QB missed a throw. But it’s entirely more beneficial to determine where a prospect can improve and whether improvement is projectable. Say a QB misses a throw high. Don’t stop at labeling him inaccurate. Look at his shoulders. Are they level? Look at his release. Is it a right-angle release, or is his elbow tucked too far in? Look at his feet. Is his front foot placed correctly? Is his base at shoulder width or too wide, forcing the hips to lock up? Does his back foot sink back upon release, tugging his shoulders up?

You can always trace a given result to a given diagnostic cause. So don’t be a results-based analyst. Focus on the “how” and the “why,” and that can improve your understanding of a prospect tenfold. Even if you’re still learning the game of football — I know I am — simply focusing on the pure diagnostics is a great way to generate quality observations.

A message from PFN’s NFL Draft Director

Cam Mellor: It’s the doldrums of summer, but there’s a lot to update everyone on as we come to the end of June. While July brings more boredom and no more football (thanks for giving us some hope, USFL), we’re staying heavily in the trenches of watching film and analyzing this year’s expected action.

Some of you may be interested in just draft prospects as it pertains to who your team could select next April. Others may be interested in the draft as a whole and evaluating prospects on their own. Furthermore, some of you may just be interested in the college football aspect. Whatever your interests are, we’ve got you covered this summer.

We’ll continue our ongoing series through July (sleepers, breakout candidates, top 10 players for the draft, etc.), but we’re going to start debuting some more repeat content as we hit next month. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s to come:

  • Top 10 returning players for every team
  • Three strengths for every team
  • Three areas of concern for every team
  • All-Americans and All-Conference honors
  • Exclusive access interviews with prospects and staff members
  • Initial 2023 NFL Draft Big Boards
  • 1-131 FBS Starting QB Rankings
  • College Fantasy Football Rankings
  • College Fantasy Football Mock Drafts

And much, much more. Stay tuned, and be sure to pin the NFL Draft/College Football tab on the homepage for all the content over the next few months to cure your itch for football!

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