No matter how confident you are in the abilities of Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas and their scouts to judge football flesh, it’s a pretty good bet that the Eagles won’t bat 1.000 this week.
There will be some mistakes. There will be a player or two or three or four that they will miscalculate on, just as there is every year with every team.
They can live with that. What they hope they don’t misjudge is a player’s character. It’s difficult enough for a scout to try and figure out whether a college player is good enough to make it in the NFL without also trying to predict the likelihood of him keeping his nose clean and being a good locker room fit.
“When I first started on the road,’’ said Douglas, the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel, “it was probably half investigation [of character] and half evaluation [of talent]. Now a lot more of it is investigation.
“Ultimately, you want scouts who can pinpoint great players. Players that can help the Eagles win. That’s job one. But you also want scouts who can go into the schools and get information. You want a well-rounded scout.’’
No one’s perfect at predicting bad behavior, as the Eagles’ recent experience with cornerback Daryl Worley showed. Even a beagle misses a scent every now and then.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should only consider drafting squeaky clean players who are regulars at Bible study and have never sipped anything stronger than sweet tea.
Two years ago, before hiring Douglas, Roseman, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, selected cornerback Jalen Mills in the seventh round of 2016 draft. Mills’ talent grade was much higher than the seventh round, but he plummeted on NFL draft boards after getting into some trouble at LSU, where he was arrested for second-degree battery when a woman accused him of hitting her in the face and knocking her unconscious.
The charge was later reduced to misdemeanor simple battery. Mills, who insists to this day that he never touched the woman, pleaded no contest and agreed to enter a pretrial prevention program. The charge was eventually expunged from his record.
Roseman’s gamble paid off. Mills has been an exemplary player and teammate since arriving in Philadelphia. He started 15 games for the Eagles last year, has been a positive presence in the locker room and hasn’t gotten within a $20 cab ride of any off-the-field trouble.
“We’ve had some guys who’ve come in here who’ve maybe had a [bad] reputation and have fit in really well,’’ Roseman said. “But there’s also the flip side of that. So you have to do your homework and make smart decisions.’’
Scouting is more than just turning on a tape, watching a player run, block or tackle, and then giving him a grade. It’s talking to people, a lot of people, and getting a feel for who that player is, what he’s like, what makes him tick and how both success and failure might affect him on the next level.
Douglas is very good at that aspect of the job. Doesn’t mean all of the people the Eagles draft this week will be Walter Payton Man of the Year candidates. Just means the chances of any of them slipping and falling aren’t as great as with many other teams in the league.
“We teach our [scouts] how to build relationships at schools and figure out who the guys are that are going to give you the best information, and how to get information outside of the school,’’ Douglas said.
“Teams don’t want to get burned. They don’t want to bring someone in they thought was a great kid and he ends up being a major distraction.’’
The Eagles are just as thorough with free agents and players they trade for. They have developed a tool for checking players’ backgrounds that they call a “cohabitation matrix.’’
“It’s basically, let’s say Joe was with a player [somewhere else] before we signed that player. Well, we’re going to make sure we ask Joe about that player. How he was in the building. How he was outside the building. How he worked. How he learned. It’s an edge.
“In the past, sometimes you sign a guy and all of a sudden a coach will say, ‘Hey, two stops ago, I was with that guy in Buffalo.’ And you didn’t know that. This ensures we’re getting all of the information.’’
The Eagles also get input from the team’s player leadership council when they’re considering signing someone or making a trade or drafting someone that one of their current players might’ve played with or against.
“We talk to them about guys we potentially may bring in,’’ Roseman said. “We pick their brain. A lot of the moves we’ve made the last couple of years, we’ve talked to our players before we’ve made a trade. That’s probably not the norm in the NFL. But that’s [the effect of] Doug Pederson’s leadership and what he wants us to do.’’
Douglas and his staff use every available opportunity to get to know and understand a draft pick. They even give “van grades’’ to the 30 players they bring into town for pre-draft visits.
It’s something the Baltimore Ravens did when Douglas worked there. They have a scout drive the player to and from the airport, talk to him during the trip and then give him a grade based on those conversations.
“Every little bit [of information] helps,’’ Douglas said. “The van grade has carried over [from Baltimore].’’Douglas, a former all-conference offensive tackle at the University of Richmond, understands the importance of finding players who not only can play, but will be good “fits’’ in the locker room.
“Joe has a good feel for people,’’ NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “The height-weight-speed stuff and all that is great, and you’ve got to have those players. But I think, at Joe’s core, he believes in the culture of the locker room and bringing the right people into your building.’’
Said Douglas: “Good organizations, good scouts, know the kind of people that will fit in. And they go out and acquire those guys.
“You want to find guys who love this game. There is no Plan B. It’s football or nothing. Those are the type of guys I tend to gravitate towards.’’
And those are the type of guys the Eagles will draft this week.