Joe Douglas showed up at the University of Richmond’s pro day in 1999 hoping to impress scouts enough to earn an NFL job.
Not with his time in the 40-yard dash or his reps in the 225-pound bench press, but with his résumé.
“We had a couple of guys who ended up getting drafted that year, so all the scouts were down there to work them out,” said Douglas, who started 45 games at offensive tackle for the Spiders but wasn’t considered NFL material.
“I was a senior, so I would hop in there with those guys [and work out]. But I knew. I knew I wasn’t on anybody’s radar as a player. So I had my manila envelope with me.
“I was handing out résumés, telling them I would work for free. I just wanted an opportunity. I was willing to do anything. Break down tape, pick up coffee, take people’s cars to get washed, whatever.”
Douglas’ pro-day chutzpah earned him interviews with three teams – the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens.
All of them ended up telling him, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But he kept pestering them, and a year later the Ravens offered him an entry-level job in their scouting department.
“He never gave up,” said Phil Savage, who was then the Ravens’ director of college scouting, and now works as the executive director of the Senior Bowl. “That was one reason we were attracted to Joe. He never gave up on going to work for us.”
Douglas became a member of the “20/20 club” – the Ravens’ group of eager and talented scouts in their early 20s who were willing to work day and night for $20,000 a year, plus the opportunity to get their foot in the door with one of the league’s best scouting operations.
“We were like a young think tank,” said Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, who started with the team four years before Douglas. “We were all single guys. We were around the office 20 hours a day, just talking football. We were all guys who were young and learning.
“I watched Joe kind of grow from being a very young guy in the office, kind of a slow-moving offensive-line personality, to a guy that became more urgent. He took to everything he did and really developed his craft and became our national scout [in 2012]. He kept growing and growing and growing to the point where he was just an invaluable piece of our process.”
Eighteen years after beginning his scouting career with the Ravens, the 41-year-old Douglas now is an even more invaluable piece of the process for the Eagles.
Hired as the team’s vice president of player personnel in May 2016, he will oversee his second draft for the organization this week.
The Eagles’ hopes for sustaining long-term success following February’s Super Bowl title rest on their ability to draft well over the next several years.
“They’re headed down an interesting road,” said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who worked with Douglas for four years in Baltimore. “When you’re successful, you’re going to lose guys every year [in free agency].
“The fallback is you get all of those compensatory picks. So you have to be able to hit on your third-, fourth-, fifth-round picks in order to stay viable. Because the curse of having stars on your roster is you have to pay them. So you have to find cheap starters in the draft, particularly in those middle rounds.”
Douglas’ ability to mine Day 3 gold will be tested. Five of the Eagles’ six draft picks are in the fourth round or later. Right now, they have just one of the first 129 selections: their first-round pick, which is the 32nd overall.
The Eagles hope to have extra picks next year as compensation for all of the free agents they didn’t re-sign this year, including tight end Trey Burton, cornerback Patrick Robinson and defensive linemen Beau Allen and Vinny Curry.
The million-dollar question, though, is whether Douglas will still be around to run the 2019 draft for the Eagles. He is a hot commodity around the NFL, and will likely be a leading candidate for any general-manager job that opens next year.
Eagles owner Jeff Lurie can offer Douglas more money, but unless Lurie is willing to kick top executive Howie Roseman upstairs, he can’t really give Douglas any more power.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s going to be at the top of the list for a lot of teams looking for a GM in the future,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.
Said Savage: “He’s certainly going to be on a short list going forward, because I think the Eagles are going to continue to win, and win at a high level. When you’re a part of an organization that wins a Super Bowl, there are going to be opportunities.”
Nobody knows that better than Savage, who parlayed the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl title into a GM job with the Cleveland Browns.
‘A scout’s scout’
You look at Joe Douglas, the hulking ex-offensive lineman, and you think nightclub bouncer or leg-breaker. Not scouting genius.
“People underestimate how smart Joe is,” Jeremiah said. “You see this big, physical former offensive lineman and you think, ‘OK, is he a meathead?’ But Joe is the opposite of a meathead. He’s passionate, but he’s very intelligent.”
“Joe knows what makes good players,” DeCosta said. “He learned from [Ravens general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and other people here in this organization. He’s got the instincts that a lot of guys have. But he also puts the time in. He’s got the work ethic and the discipline to do extra evaluation, extra work on guys.
“He’s understated, certainly. But he’s a deep thinker. He’s a critical thinker. I think he’s strategic in his thinking. All of those qualities kind of play together to make him who he is, which is an outstanding scout.”
Douglas is what football people like to call a “grinder.”
“Offensive linemen, they don’t want to be in the limelight. They’re willing to do all of the dirty work. That’s Joe,” DeCosta said.
“He’s a scout’s scout. He’s going to go out and look at players. He’s going to talk to people. He’s going to follow players around. He’s going to do his homework. You’re not going to outwork Joe. And he’s a great communicator.”
DeCosta said one of Douglas’ best qualities is his ability to “explain” a player. Scouts write detailed reports on players. But Newsome, Savage and DeCosta liked to ask their scouts for impromptu summaries.
“I always walk up and down the hallways asking, ‘Who are you looking at? What’s this guy look like? Tell me about him. Who is he? What’s important to this player?'” DeCosta said.
“A lot of guys struggle with that. They can write a report and read their summaries. But watching a guy play and then reporting back to me off-the-cuff who this guy is, that’s a tough thing to do. But Joe had that ability. He could explain the player to you in two or three sentences.”
It’s nearly impossible to find anyone with a negative thing to say about Douglas. He’s respected by the college coaches he deals with on the road, the scouts who work for him and the players at the NovaCare Complex.
“There is a connection, because of the quiet confidence that he has, between Joe and other scouts – and maybe, even more importantly, between him and the coaches and players,” said Mayock.
“Some guys don’t translate to the other side of the building. Joe does. The players know that Joe knows. The coaches respect him. And that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s fairly rare when you get universal [respect]. I think it goes back to that quiet confidence he has and people being drawn to that.”
Learning from the best
Douglas couldn’t have found a better place to cut his scouting teeth than with the Ravens. Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end who will retire at the end of the 2018 season after 22 years in the Ravens’ front office (five as vice president for player personnel, then 17 as GM), might be the best talent evaluator in the league.
“We used to say all the time that being a personnel assistant for Ozzie and Phil Savage was like earning a law degree from Harvard,” Douglas said. “Because you learned so much from them. You were learning from the best.”
The Ravens won two Super Bowls during Douglas’s 15 years with the organization, including one his first season there. He’s the first to admit that he had little to do with that one.
“I tell people my contribution to that  team was picking up [fullback] Sam Gash and [tight end] Ben Coates at the airport,” Douglas joked. “But just to be around it and observe it and see the different personalities and see the team chemistry [was valuable].”
Douglas received a lot of acclaim for being the scout who put the Ravens on to quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008. But his entire body of work was the reason he rose through the ranks of the Ravens.
It was the reason the Chicago Bears hired him in 2015 to be their college scouting director, and it was the reason Roseman brought Douglas to the Eagles two years ago to be his top scout.
“Joe’s one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Jeremiah said. “Probably the best thing I could say about him is he has conviction. He finds a guy that he likes, he doesn’t care whether he’s on an island or not. He stands up for the guys that he really, really likes.”
Savage said Newsome encouraged his scouts to think for themselves and not be concerned with other opinions.
“[Newsome] would say, ‘Just because the wind is blowing in a certain direction, that doesn’t mean that because five people see a player a certain way and you’re the sixth person and you don’t, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong and they’re all right,'” Savage said.
“One thing Ozzie really emphasized back in those days was, ‘Hey, I want to know what you think, not what the league thinks.’ Joe has carried that attitude with him from his beginning stages as a scout all the way up to his current job.”
Production over ‘measurables’
While Douglas gives proper respect and consideration to the scouting holy trinity – height, weight and speed – he favors production.
That was evident in his first draft with the Eagles last year. Their first-round pick, defensive end Derek Barnett, ran only a 4.88-second 40 and jumped just 31 inches at the combine. He didn’t have the twitchy athleticism of Myles Garrett, the first overall pick. But he broke Reggie White’s sack record at the University of Tennessee.
The Eagles took him with the 14th pick and he ended up being a valuable part of their defensive line rotation during their Super Bowl run.
Third-round cornerback Rasul Douglas barely broke 4.6 in his pre-draft 40-yard dash, but had eight interceptions as a senior at West Virginia. He ended up starting five games and playing 41 percent of defensive snaps after Ronald Darby got hurt.
Running back Donnel Pumphrey, whom the Eagles took in the fourth round, was listed at just 5-9 and 176 pounds. But he finished his career at San Diego State with 6,405 rushing yards, the most in FBS history.
“Joe doesn’t get enamored with swinging for the fences,” Jeremiah said. “That’s something he learned from Ozzie. He understands that there’s nothing wrong with doubles.”
“Barnett is a perfect example of that. He’s a tough, tough player with high character who was productive at the highest level of college football. When the Eagles selected him, some people said there were other guys with higher ceilings. But nobody argued about Barnett’s floor. Joe and the Eagles knew they were getting a good player.”
Said Mayock: “Height, weight, speed and all those other measurables are great. You’ve got to have those players [with those qualities]. But I think, at Joe’s core, he believes in the culture of the locker room and bringing the right people into your building.”
Douglas wholeheartedly agreed with that assessment.
“Fit is a big thing,” he said. “We discuss it in our draft meetings. Chemistry. It’s a hard thing to quantify. But you know when you have it. We had it last year and we want to add to it.”