Q: How do you determine whether it is worth taking a gamble on a player?
NC: In the end, you sort of have to, I don't want to say go with a gut instinct, [but] maybe there's an example of a player in previous years who was in a similar situation. So you might say, 'OK, this is what's similar between these two players. And this is what's different.' In the end, you just have to make a decision that you feel is best for your team - you think is going to work out in your favor. To answer your question - does it happen - I'd say quite a bit. In the end, we go with what we think is best, based on all the information that we have assembled to that point, and then we go ahead and make the decision. I'd say there are examples of it. It's not clean cut. You have to sort of go through a process. One of the things we do this time of the year is let's say you have a defensive lineman - Jared Odrick, just to pick a name from last year. You're trying to create a picture of that player. Who is he similar to? Let's just say for the sake of the discussion you think he reminds you of Ty Warren, just as an example. Really what you need to do is go back to Ty Warren at Texas A&M and look at him at that stage relative to Jared Odrick, just as an example, at the same stage at Penn State. Because really if you try to compare apples to oranges, 'Ty Warren's done this versus Odrick at Penn State,' that really doesn't give you a true picture. You want to compare apples to apples as much as you can. And I would say that's something that we spend a fair amount of time doing across positions. This player is similar to such and such from, maybe it's a draft four or five years ago. So, you go back and say, 'OK, here's what he looked like in college. Here's what's similar about that player relevant to this player we're talking about this year. How has that player progressed or how has he performed?' Maybe there's something that made it work for him. I'd say that's one exercise that we go through, and it usually takes place right about this time. Once you throw in all the pro days, all the combines, everything else, you can start to really hone in and focus in on some of those specific player comparisons.
Q: Do you do comparisons with just players on your team or might you compare the player to a player on another team?
NC: If it's a player, let's say you're having a similar discussion, yeah, I think you would. It really goes back to, you want to do apples to apples. Chris Canty at Virginia, Jared Odrick at Penn State, Ty Warren at Texas A&M. If in fact you thought those players were similar, what does that picture look like? It's a part of the process, and it's just another component that's used in addition to, 'OK here's what the guy did at his respective school, here's what he did at the all-star game, here's what he did at the combine, here's what he showed at his pro day, here's what he did at his individual workout. OK, let's go back.' And then you start to do the comparison. For the lack of a better analogy, you're like a chef, you're taking all the ingredients, you're trying to put it all together and you're trying to provide something or come out with something that's good and that's right, and that's the way you see it. And that's literally what we're trying to do.
Q: How many private workouts do you conduct leading up to the draft?
NC: I think you put a number on it in one of your pieces between 100 and 200. I'd say we do a lot. This year has been no different than any other year. With the whole idea, we're just trying to make sure that we have the most accurate picture on a player possible. I'll give you a few examples. So, let's say you have an offensive lineman who plays in a pass-oriented system. The guy's always in a two-point stance, which there have been many example of that. Never in a three-point stance. He's always in a two-point stance, and he's just pass protecting. Unless you do a workout, or let's say this is a player you're interested in, because the reality is we're not going to pass protect for 70 snaps a game. You guys have seen enough NFL teams, it just doesn't happen. So, OK, put him in the stance. Can he bend his knees? Does he have some initial quickness? Does he have some power in his hips with the idea of how is that going to translate to the running game? It's going to be hard to see that on tape, so until you put him on a one-on-one type-setting in an individual workout and make that determination, then you're not going to know. So, you're better off going down there and finding out the answer for sure, and then you say, 'Yes, he can do it' or 'I'm not so sure.' The other example is with running backs, which I would say most backs in college, they're carrying the football. They're runners. Very few backs are involved in the passing game. So, their production, by-and-large, 15 to 25 receptions on average. If you drew a bell curve, there are going to be extremes on either side where a guy catches 60 balls or whatever the case may be. OK, he's not really involved in the passing game and what they do is, he runs from me to you, just turns and looks at the quarterback. Unless he goes to an all-star game where the route running is a little more extensive or even at the combine, he does a few drills and catches a few balls, how good are his hands? Is he going to be able to catch the ball? What kind of a route runner is he? Does he have some quickness and some maneuverability where he can set up a route? How about pass protection because our running backs, they're going to have to block. When we play the Jets, we better be prepared to pass protect. Can that running back process information, number one? Can he handle all the multiples that are involved in protection? Can he actually stand in there and play with some strength and hold up in pass protection. Kevin Faulk is probably one of the best pass protectors that we have on our team. Now when you look at him, he's 5' 7'' 200 pounds, but he understands leverage, he bends knees, he can play with his hands, and that's something that can be taught and that can be trained. So, with a running back, you say, 'OK, here's what I saw. He catches the ball, I don't have any questions about his hands. He's strong through his hips. He can learn. You'd like to think that he can improve that from year one to year two.' Those are just examples that I can apply to a number of different positions. And I would say that is the benefit of doing an individual work out. Is there a value in going to the pro day? Sure, but some of these, you guys have probably even attended some of these pro days. There are 500 people, NFL Network is there, ESPN3 is there. So, how much can you actually get done? It's difficult. However we can do it, if it's at a pro day and we have to do it, great. One part of the pro day I think that does come in handy is the night before there is plenty of time then. We can sit down, we can put on the tape, we can watch tape for an hour and a half of the player running unimpeded and see what he knows. I'd say that's part of the process as well. In the pro day, [if] you just go to watch the guy work out, it probably would be tough to do. Every team does it. I would say the number of workouts that we've done has been no different than we've done in the past, so whatever that number is, then that's what it is.
Q: How many players each year do you compile information on?
NC: The best way I can answer that is in the spring, you just saw a clip of the 2010 draft, we started compiling information on those players in the spring of 2009. We put together a spring prospectus. And what we do is we get information from the school and they say, 'Here are our A, B, C prospects.' And then the area scout that is assigned to that particular school, he goes through and he'll watch the A's and B's for sure for the spring purpose. They'll also watch the C prospects. But then when he goes back to the school in the fall, any senior starter is going to get an evaluation and a report. So, we're probably talking over thousands of players. Now, you sort of have to minimize that, and in our first round of meetings in December, you try to put together some facsimile of a board. But that list of names is certainly much less than everybody that you scouted because you have start putting them into a particular grade classification and start to group players. And obviously, that's when the first vertical stacking of the board starts to take place. Even in the spring, after we do our spring book we'll say, 'The players ranked high to low.' And we'll put them up there, for example the quarterbacks on this board, they'll be put on the board high to low with their respective grade levels. They're all not just lumped together, there is spacing. One guy might be a 7.0, next guy is a 6.8, and then on down the line. You start to stack them in the spring, and then as you go through December, which is our first round of draft meetings, to February, you continually move the players, but it's a vast number of players that you start with.
Q: How many people in the organization are involved?
NC: Quite a few. Our scouting staff, anywhere from 15 to 20 of us. Our college director Jon Robinson, he handles sort of the college side of it and does an outstanding job of organizing that. We have our area scouts and we have over the top-type scouts, regional scouts if you will. And then our pro scouting department, which Jason Licht heads up, they're involved in the process as well. So, there are a number of people who are involved in the process. Selfishly, we're pretty fortunate. We have a great group in this organization, and I personally enjoy working with them on a day-to-day basis.
Q: When do injuries or character concerns come into play in the evaluations of your player?
NC: One of the things that we talk about is grading the player for what he is. Evaluate the player, assign the grade, and that's where the alerts and the typings come into play. You evaluate the player, you assign the grade based on what he can do on the field. For example, let's say a guy, you don't want to double grade a player. He's a good player, but my source at the school dislikes the player, is not a big fan, says he's a questionable character. You sort of have to remove yourself. I'm not saying it's not a part of the report, an important part of the process, but you indicate that in your report, put the alert on the player, assign the grade, and then we'll go through the process of what that player's value is. The most important thing is grade the player for what he is as a player, use the typings and the alerts, which is why we have the system in place. And then go from there.
Q: Is this system similar around the league or does every team have its own system?
NC: I think every team has their own system. This system was in place before I arrived here. When Scott [Pioli] and Bill [Belichick] came in 2000, this is the system that they put in place, so there may be some facsimiles of this throughout the league. I can't speak to other teams. I know this is the way that we do it. And I'm not sure how other teams do it, but there are probably some degrees of similarities across the league.
Q: With the situation this year with the lockout, is there a different kind of evaluation system?
NC: I would say that our approach this year is no different than it's been in years past. We're looking for the players that can improve our football team the most and that's what we're focused on doing. We're evaluating the player for his skill set based on the information that we've gathered, and then we'll move forward from there. So, our approach hasn't really changed much at all.
Q: How have you guys evaluated your standards for outside linebacker as compared with the standards in the rest of the league?
NC: I think we're always looking at different things. In terms of the players and the types of the players and the standards, the most important thing is finding good football players who can help our football team, whatever shape and form they come in. Danny Woodhead is a perfect example. He falls short by [typical] standards. That's something that we're always evaluating across positions, the different standards and where we are relative to the rest of the league. I would say, [with the outside linebacker position], there are more and more teams looking for similar type players. In college, the pool of players maybe isn't as big to begin with, so everybody is looking at the same players and ultimately, you have to make the decision for who you feel is best for your teams.
Q: Would you evaluate or rate a Clay Matthews or LaMarr Woodley different now from what you did when they went through the draft process?
NC: No, I think we would grade the player - we like both of those players - we would evaluate them the same way, and grade the player the same way.