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'Plan D' Origins


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Thought this excerpt in particular really shows how on point Quinns ethos is:

 

"To succeed with this approach, teams must commit to player development, and this requires a complete buy-in from the coaching staff. Coaches must teach and correct every player on the roster with the same passion, and they have to be willing to let the young guys get real reps regardless of their draft position or player profile. Although this should be standard protocol throughout the league, there are a number of teams and coaches who refuse to commit the extra time it takes to develop their young players.

When I quizzed a former Seahawks scout about this approach, he told me, "Coaches need to be patient and know how to teach ... They need to be committed to developing the players." When I asked him about other teams, he replied, "Most coaches want polished players with all of the traits. They don't have the patience for development."

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I can understand most coaches not favoring this approach considering what a pressure cooker the life of a pro coach is, but this is how you build an organization for sustained success.

I remember years ago hearing Marvin Lewis respond to a question about why the Bengals didn't go bigger in free agency -- this is when they were really struggling -- and his response was basically, we'd rather take a young guy and teach him to play our brand of football than to take a vet and go through the process of "un-learning" him all his habits, then teaching him to do it the way they do.

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  • bucky_brooks-110726_65.jpg
  • By Bucky Brooks NFL.com
  • NFL Media analyst
  • Published: Sept. 9, 2016 at 03:42 p.m.

The best personnel men in the NFL are always trying to gain a competitive edge over their peers in the team-building process. Wily general managers will instruct their assistants to conduct various studies on the roster construction of the top teams in the NFL to see if the championship contenders have uncovered a tactic that allows them to stay a step ahead of the competition. Whether it's a different way to conduct player evaluations or tweaking the player-acquisition model, the astute evaluators will challenge their scouting staffs to spot budding trends throughout the league to see if there is anything to learn from the way other teams are going about their business.

When I worked as a scout for the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks, I frequently was asked to study prominent NFL players from my region to see if they were playing above or below expectations based on my college scouting reports. These exercises not only helped me determine which physical and mental traits were essential to succeeding in the NFL, but it helped me realize that a number of imperfect prospects thrive as pros in the right situation.

With that in mind, I typically spend the week between the final preseason game and the opening of the regular season studying the rosters of every NFL team to see if there is a potential trend emerging that could take the league by storm.

During my research, I was surprised to see the Seahawks with 16 rookies (eight draftees/eight undrafted free agents) on their 53-man roster. This is a team with serious championship aspirations, yet the 'Hawks are willing to rely on 16 newcomers to fuel a run at another Lombardi Trophy?

Sure, I've seen teams turn over a roster when a new coach takes over (see: Cleveland with 17 rookies on the 53-man), but I can't remember a perennial contender flipping its roster in the middle of the sustained championship run. That's why I had to dig a little deeper to see why the Seahawks are willing to go out on a limb and lean on a bunch of newbies when the team is primed and ready to make another run at a Super Bowl ring.

While researching the Seahawks' roster, I found that there were almost as many undrafted free agents (476) on NFL rosters this season as first- and second-round picks combined (482). Now, those numbers are certainly skewed based on the unlimited number of UDFAs in the talent pool, but it's still shocking to see more "long shots" on rosters than blue-chip prospects at a time when scouts have more research and information at their disposal.

When I asked around to see why there are so many UDFAs on rosters at this point, I had several NFL executives suggest that there are a lot of misevaluations on prospects throughout the process and the teams committed to doing their own research can make out like bandits on the free-agent market.

Let me explain ... Most NFL teams subscribe to a scouting service (National Football Scouting, Inc. and/or BLESTO) and those companies assign a scout to work each area of the country. Those scouts gather pertinent information on each prospect (background, physical dimensions and 40-yard dash times) and conduct a film evaluation. Based on their findings, they place an initial grade on the prospects and compile a list of the top prospects in the country heading into the fall. Teams will provide their college scouts with a list of prospects in their assigned areas and have them conduct school calls (school visit with background research, film evaluation and practice observation) to help determine which players should be on their respective draft boards.

Some teams will provide their area scouts with the preliminary grades on the prospects, but others won't allow their scouts to see the preseason grades because they believe it could taint their evaluations (scouts can be influenced by what they read from other scouts). Interestingly, teams that subscribe to the scouting services must provide one scout to the company, but that scout is typically new or inexperienced. Thus, the preliminary grades are sometimes out of whack due to a lack of perspective or knowledge.

That's why teams committed to digging a little deeper in the scouting process can gain an advantage on their peers when it comes to finding hidden gems in the later rounds or in the UDFA market.

A former vice president of player personnel for multiple NFL teams told me, "The number of undrafted free agents making teams points out the failures of some NFL personnel departments ... Teams are missing on too many top players with all of the information and research at their disposal."

He went on to suggest that some of the young scouts in the business are not "independent thinkers" and their opinions can be influenced by their "buddies' evaluations."

That's why I find it interesting that the Seahawks have had so much success with young players, particularly undrafted free agents in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era. The Seahawks have struck gold on players like Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, DeShawn Shead, Thomas Rawls and others in recent years. Most impressively, they have blended a number of castoffs and misfits with a handful of top picks to build a juggernaut in the NFC.

Looking at the Seahawks' depth chart, I noticed there are seven former UDFAs in the starting lineup (Baldwin, Kearse, Garry Gilliam, Taniela Tupou, Mike Morgan, Nolan Frese and Shead) and 10 UDFAs on the two-deep chart. Let that sink in. The team that's been the perennial contender in the NFC has a number of underdogs occupying prime roles in a league that's super competitive at the top.

Before I go on, I should explain the UDFA process. College scouts affix grades to prospects based on their long-term potential. Guys graded at the top of the board are expected to make immediate contributions upon their arrival. For instance, a top-10 pick is expected to develop into a franchise player capable of earning Pro Bowl recognition within two or three seasons. Players with first- and second-round grades are expected to play key roles as rookies before earning starting jobs by the end of their first or second seasons. Prospects earning third- or fourth-round grades are viewed as quality backups with the potential to start in a year or two. Late-round picks (fifth round and lower) are seen as developmental prospects with three or four redeemable qualities (size, speed, production, football character, etc.).

In my experience, the guys pegged as late-round picks are considered priority free agents (PFAs) and teams expend a draft pick on those players to make sure they are able to secure their services for training camp. When the draft is over, teams take a look at the players remaining on the draft board and target the remaining late-round prospects as UDFAs. Thus, a lot of the undrafted free agent success stories are actually late-round prospects taking advantage of their opportunities in training camp.

Bringing it back to the Seahawks, the team has carved out a nice niche by selling hope and opportunity to free agents after the draft. The team sends recruiting brochures to agents and prospective UDFAs touting the opportunities they've provided to unheralded players during preseason games to maximize their chances of making a roster.

When I talked to a Seahawks' officials and some of their former executives about their success in the UDFA market, they told me that "it is a big deal" in their building. It is emphasized from the top down and scouts take pride in finding hidden gems. Carroll takes it a step further by promoting competition at every turn, and giving every player, regardless of draft position, a shot to earn a role with the team on the field.

From a scouting perspective, Carroll clearly defines what traits he covets in his players and outlines each position clearly. For example, the Seahawks value talented players with versatility and positional flexibility. In addition, he favors instincts and awareness over pure intelligence, and he isn't afraid to take chances on "character risks" if he can get a good feel for their background. Although taking fliers on high-risk guys can backfire on the organization, Carroll and Schneider have created a checks-and-balances system that has weeded out problem children and provided the team with a bigger talent pool to choose from.

When I spoke to an NFC executive about the approach, he told me that you cast a "bigger net" and "hit on more guys" when you open up your mind to giving undrafted free agents a legitimate chance to make the roster. He later added those guys (players Nos. 40 through 53 on the roster) are the foundation of the team in the salary cap era because "you need to find guys that can play on the cheap."

To succeed with this approach, teams must commit to player development, and this requires a complete buy-in from the coaching staff. Coaches must teach and correct every player on the roster with the same passion, and they have to be willing to let the young guys get real reps regardless of their draft position or player profile. Although this should be standard protocol throughout the league, there are a number of teams and coaches who refuse to commit the extra time it takes to develop their young players.

When I quizzed a former Seahawks scout about this approach, he told me, "Coaches need to be patient and know how to teach ... They need to be committed to developing the players." When I asked him about other teams, he replied, "Most coaches want polished players with all of the traits. They don't have the patience for development."

That's where Carroll's experience as a college coach has paid huge dividends for the Seahawks. He is willing to wait a little longer for the light to come on for his young players. After dealing with players ages 18 to 22 at USC, he has a better feel for the progression of today's players and the Seahawks' process-oriented approach yields positive results.

"[Carroll] knows the issues transitioning to the NFL are the same for a top pick or a free agent," the scout told me. "He's willing to put those guys in the same environment and go with the guy who catches on the quickest."

When I look at the next generation of castoffs and misfits poised to make an impact for the Seahawks (see: Trevone Boykin, Tanner McEvoy, Tupou and DeAndre Elliott), I see a number of guys who check off all of the boxes (athleticism, instincts, versatility, positional flexibility and production) that others don't require from their UDFAs. Maybe that's the edge that keeps the Seahawks flying high while others struggle to get off the ground.

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A few of the highlights for me:

 

He went on to suggest that some of the young scouts in the business are not "independent thinkers" and their opinions can be influenced by their "buddies' evaluations."

 

For example, the Seahawks value talented players with versatility and positional flexibility. In addition, he favors instincts and awareness over pure intelligence, and he isn't afraid to take chances on "character risks" if he can get a good feel for their background.

 

To succeed with this approach, teams must commit to player development, and this requires a complete buy-in from the coaching staff. Coaches must teach and correct every player on the roster with the same passion, and they have to be willing to let the young guys get real reps regardless of their draft position or player profile.

 

That's where Carroll's experience as a college coach has paid huge dividends for the Seahawks. He is willing to wait a little longer for the light to come on for his young players. After dealing with players ages 18 to 22 at USC, he has a better feel for the progression of today's players and the Seahawks' process-oriented approach yields positive results.

 

When I look at the next generation of castoffs and misfits poised to make an impact for the Seahawks, I see a number of guys who check off all of the boxes (athleticism, instincts, versatility, positional flexibility and production) that others don't require from their UDFAs.

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31 minutes ago, RandomFan said:

 

...

Before I go on, I should explain the UDFA process. College scouts affix grades to prospects based on their long-term potential. Guys graded at the top of the board are expected to make immediate contributions upon their arrival. For instance, a top-10 pick is expected to develop into a franchise player capable of earning Pro Bowl recognition within two or three seasons. Players with first- and second-round grades are expected to play key roles as rookies before earning starting jobs by the end of their first or second seasons. Prospects earning third- or fourth-round grades are viewed as quality backups with the potential to start in a year or two. Late-round picks (fifth round and lower) are seen as developmental prospects with three or four redeemable qualities (size, speed, production, football character, etc.).

 

this part of this article was especially a good read for me, don't think I've seen anyone explain the way the scouts grade players out so well, as to what the expectations should be for draft position and UDGA's

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3 hours ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

I can understand most coaches not favoring this approach considering what a pressure cooker the life of a pro coach is, but this is how you build an organization for sustained success.

I remember years ago hearing Marvin Lewis respond to a question about why the Bengals didn't go bigger in free agency -- this is when they were really struggling -- and his response was basically, we'd rather take a young guy and teach him to play our brand of football than to take a vet and go through the process of "un-learning" him all his habits, then teaching him to do it the way they do.

Quick shout out to say I really appreciate your film/play breakdowns. I dont usually post (normally just read), but thought this article was a really unique insight, much akin to your awesome posts.

Much respect.

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46 minutes ago, papachaz said:

this part of this article was especially a good read for me, don't think I've seen anyone explain the way the scouts grade players out so well, as to what the expectations should be for draft position and UDGA's

Yeah, agreed - I certainly didn't realise the extent that the independent scouting companies were used. Figured it was mainly resourced in-house.

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