2020 NFL Draft: How network of ex-scouts is helping off-the-radar prospects fill pro day void during pandemic
Thanks to the mobilization of the scouting community, prospects are able to have a pro day alternative
Last Saturday morning around 9, Bruce Plummer arrived at what he took for an indoor baseball facility. An hour and a half earlier, he had left his home in Slidell, La., to find a a 23-year-old defensive back whose identity was unknown to Plummer.
He grabbed his bag, the contents of which included two stopwatches, measuring tape, masonry chalk and cones from his years as an NFL scout. Some of the drills they'd do that morning -- like the 40, 3-cone and short shuttle -- had already been taped off. Plummer thanked whoever did it, but he'd have to measure it himself to make sure it was to the correct specifications.
After logging the height and weight for former William Penn defensive back Trevon Gauno, Plummer took him out to the field for drills.
"I told him, 'Take your time. These numbers are for you,'" Plummer recalled to CBS Sports. "I told him, 'Once you go to camp, there's nothing your trainer or agent can do. These numbers you run, they're the ones the NFL's going to get.'"
Plummer is part of a small network of former NFL scouts who, for the last two or so weeks, have been assisting in pro days for draft hopefuls who may fall through the cracks as the league restricts travel on team personnel. A former scout for the Falcons from 2000 to 2010, Plummer has already conducted three pro days for prospects, with another scheduled Wednesday in Baton Rouge.
He's here because of Neil Stratton, owner and founder of the Inside The League website, who saw this gap in the market coming about three weeks ago. Stratton's site is for the football insider, not the guy looking for fantasy football tips.
"When we launched in '02, the idea was to reach that group that was watching 'Jerry Maguire' every time it came on TBS," Stratton said. "But as we've evolved we've really tried to direct it more toward NFL scouts and try to be a hub for all the people who are in the industry and want to be in the industry."
If you want to consider it "news" when an NFL team hires or fires a scout, Stratton regularly breaks that news. He's not an agent or a scout -- never has been and has not desire to be -- but he's well-connected in both areas. And as the in-person scouting across the league ground to a halt in mid-March, he recognized he could facilitate a bridge of sorts for teams.
Per Stratton, here's how it works: There are about 1,800 players who sign with agents at the conclusion of each college football season. By the end of the five all-star games and combine, about 1,000 players have gone through the traditional NFL vetting system with team scouts. That leaves about 800 players who are depending on their school's pro day to get what may be their one and only audition in front of scouts, along with logging accurate measurements and times.
The league has what it calls the APT Coalition, which is the information network among scouts that shares those accurate measurements, times and cell numbers for prospects across the country. Essentially, if a team isn't represented at a specific pro day in March and April, they can still access the information through the APT portal.
In recent years there's been a shift in pro days to later in the spring. Stratton estimates that when the league shut down scout travel in mid-March, only a third of pro days had been conducted. Jerry Jeudy won't be affected at all by Alabama's April 9 pro day being canceled, but a teammate of Kyle Dugger's at D-II Lenoir-Rhyne hoping to impress the scouts who came out to see that top-100 safety at his scheduled March 27 pro day may have just lost his chance at an NFL team's rookie minicamp.
Enter Stratton and his network of former scouts. Almost zero of these 800 players have a shot to be drafted, but a few of them could land in a tryout camp for a couple of days and see how long they can live the dream.
"When I was coming out, if you told me I had to drive six hours for a workout to possibly get a shot in the NFL, that was a no-brainer for me," said Marc Lillibridge, a former NFL player and scout based in St. Louis who recently conducted one of these ITL-assisted pro days. "If I can do that to help some of these guys, I'll do it. If there's a small school kid who's within four hours of St. Louis, I'll do it."
ITL has now helped stage more than a dozen workouts by using at least 13 different former scouts. They log the information and send it to all 32 teams. Scouts have told CBS Sports that while they can't officially use the numbers, they are another helpful resource in the draft process for late-rounders and future undrafted free agents.
Typically, an agent contacts Stratton saying he or she has a player in need of a pro day in a certain area of the country. If he knows of an ex-scout in that area, he'll arrange it. Stratton takes a $100 finder's fee, and though there's no uniform fee across scouts, the scout will make anywhere between $500-$1,000 for the pro day, which usually includes height, weight, hand size, wingspan, 40, broad jump, short shuttle and 3-cone but rarely any positional drills.
"The teams I've spoken to have said, 'We're not going to take any of this stuff from agents,' and they're definitely not going to take it from trainers who are trying to varnish their numbers and try to tell everyone how they turned a guy from a 5.0 to a 4.2," Stratton said. "But if they get it from an actual scout, my experience is they're a lot more receptive to it."
Not only are the ex-scouts getting some extra coin in their pocket during an uncertain economic time, but "in almost every circumstances or instance, they hope they can get back" into NFL scouting, Stratton said.
His ex-scouts are spread mostly across the Sun Belt, which helps for players in hotbeds like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana, where Plummer has already conducted four pro days.
But the reason these assisted pro days are even needed is the same reason precautions have to be taken. Plummer lives just 20 minutes north of New Orleans, a hotspot in the country for coronavirus cases. He's driven as far as four hours away within the state for this work but won't cross the state border due to quarantine requirements.
He carries hand sanitizer, a mask and gloves with him to these pro days and always keeps a six-foot distance from the prospect, apologizing in advance for not shaking hands. In his one pro day, Lillibridge took similar precautions even when the players wanted a picture at the end of the workout.
"When we took the picture I said, 'Alright, I'm literally walking in, we're going to take one picture and then I'm backing out,'" Lillibridge said. "I'm holding my breath the entire time. Those guys get it."
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