Imagine scouting all the players in this year’s draft.
Now imagine doing it without computers.
The NFL draft is a cottage industry these days, but back when the NFL draft wasn’t even televised, former New York Jets scout Connie Carberg was watching reel-to-reel film of college prospects
Go to DraftBreakdown and search for video of any draft prospect you desire; there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find entire games to watch what that player can do on the field.
Carberg wasn’t so lucky.
“They hadn’t even gotten the computers into the college scouting department by the time I left in 1981,” she told Boston.com. “We didn’t even have video tape. We had reel-to-reel films, and schools would send them to you. If you wanted to watch tape back at the office, the school would send you the tape and you would send it back to them.”
Carberg became the NFL’s first female scout in 1976, way before the dot-com boom.
These days, a quick Google search will turn up enough scouting reports from draft “experts” that you’ll surely find more than a couple of opinions that completely contradict one another — one analyst thinks Kentucky linebacker Alvin Dupree “lacks functional football strength,” while another says Dupree has “outstanding power with ability to rag-doll tight ends at will.” Go figure.
There were no such draft experts in the late 70s and early 80s, except the handful of people in each team’s scouting department.
“They have a lot more scouts now than we did back then,” Carberg said. “We had the director of player personnel, who made most of the decisions in the draft back then; We had a couple of scouts, who would cover certain areas of the country; We only had three college scouts plus the director of player personnel. The director of player personnel and the scouts were out on the road most of the year. The pro scouting department didn’t start until a few years after I got there.”
That’s a small staff for a huge job — also keep in mind that the draft was 12 rounds until 1993.
For comparison, the Patriots’ current scouting department features a director of college scouting, a college scouting coordinator, a national scout, five area scouts, two scouting assistants and a scouting consultant — and that’s not including the pro scouting department.
It makes sense that with a smaller staff and a bigger workload, there were a lot more misses than hits.
Oh, wait, there still are.
“It’s kind of like in baseball: If you’re 1-for-3, and you’re batting .333, you’re feeling pretty good,” Carberg explained. “The draft will never be an exact science, but you always had the pressure on. All of the scouts did.”
“You feel really good when you hit something big, and of course, when you mess up, you’ll hear about it,” she added. “But it’s not an exact science. It’s really funny, when you go back and look at the drafts, usually I’d say you can’t tell until at least two or three years down the line whether or not the draft was any good. The first year it takes a lot to learn, or they may be hurt, or they come from a different style nowadays with the spread offenses in college, it’s a whole different world.”
It’s a whole different world for the scouts, too, who are on the other side of the Information Age than the one Connie worked on.
Scouts can watch digital copies of tape instead of waiting to receive reel-to-reel in the mail; prospects can meet with team officials on Skype or other video chat services; It turns out that even with all this new technology, we still somehow manage to completely miss the point.
It’s not about what these prospects do in shorts and tank tops at the NFL Scouting Combine; it’s about what they put onto the field.
“We’re constantly analyzing — overanalyzing nowadays — to the point where instead of just going by what you see on the field, you’re basing it on their start time for their 40-yard dash,” Carberg said. “But you can’t measure a heart. You can’t measure when you see a guy with a non-stop motor. He may not have all the ability, he may be built better than the guy who has tons of natural ability but doesn’t give you everything he’s got. You have to make that decision. That’s the hardest thing.”
And that’s perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed.