Front Office Commentary

How Early Do NFL Teams Start Scouting for Next Year’s Draft?

No sooner had this year’s NFL draft been completed than someone asked me about 2024. How soon, he wanted to know, do teams start scouting for next year’s draft? It’s a good question with a simple answer.


It depends on what teams we’re talking about and how aggressive each is. But what they all share is this: Their scouts are not off work today. They’re just doing more long-term studies – usually watching tape – before they travel to college campuses in the late summer and fall.

>> READ: 2024 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

Scouting Is Year-Round, Full-Time Work

In short, the traditional scout is probably doing less right now, but they’re still working full-time. 

Maybe they are organizing the fall schedule. A raft of logistics and planning goes into an itinerary of non-stop visits. Scouts travel from place to place for three months, changing locations every few days. That presents logistical challenges that can be addressed now. 

The scout could be gathering background information on specific candidates or making sure psychological tests for draft candidates are set up properly. They’re supposed to look only at players they know will be eligible for the next draft. But the reality is all teams look at players they think will be eligible, regardless of what year they may be.

What is happening now is a long list of behind-the-scenes chores you wouldn’t consider when talking about scouting draft picks in May.

Nevertheless, it’s work. 

It’s just the nature of what scouts do shifts this time of year. There’s less focus on what a grade should be for players in next year’s draft and more time spent on long-term planning. You still can value everything that affects that grade, just not by what the tape tells you.

Washington Commanders rookie camp 2023

Learning Process Never Takes a Vacation

The education begins at rookie camps this month and mandatory mini-camps in June. All scouts will be there, meeting nightly with personnel people and most – if not all – coaches. Together, they review what they saw at that day’s practice, discuss who needs to get better and ascertain how they might help players who need to improve.

Those conversations happen every day.

I say it’s an education because it is … and not just about the 2023 class. No question, it’s an opportunity for scouts to see first-hand if their opinions of incoming draft picks or undrafted free agents were accurate. But it’s also a chance for them to learn about next year’s class by asking the following questions:

  • What have I learned from what I’m seeing?
  • What impact does what I’ve just discovered have on next year’s grades?
  • Was there information about my draft picks I failed to acquire when I was at their schools and how will that affect my next visit?

No Substitute for Being There

Once camp concludes, scouts scatter to college campuses nationwide until Thanksgiving. They’re part of an elaborate system that’s divided in two: There are the scouts for each part of the country and the regional directors who oversee them – with one for, say, the Southeast, one for the Northeast and one for the West.

They’re meant to manage their scouts with a “cross-check” – a process where they determine if their grades for particular draft prospects correspond to those of their scouts. If they don’t, they’ll probably bring in other evaluators and, perhaps, add in-person visits to watch the same tape. The idea is to get a consensus, and it must be done by the end of November.

Why? Because most preliminary draft boards are up by December.

The next step is to attend the February scouting combine, and that’s really the first step in discovering if what you saw on tape is what you’re getting from a particular athlete. Afterward, there are more cross-checks with people back in the office, and I’ll be honest: They can be intense.

What you’re doing is trying to finalize any area where you thought you might need more off-the-field information — intangibles like work ethic, weight room attendance and general health.

Basically, you’re just trying to fill in the blanks.

Stacking a Board Isn’t a Job, It’s an Obsession

By March and April, you‘re going full-time on the draft every day, and you begin to stack your board from top to bottom. Because you want to be certain of getting the order right, much of that time is spent in debates and disagreements. I’ve been in situations where we debated two players at one position on the field and one position on the board for hours, days, and occasionally weeks.

But there was a reason for all that debate. If you’re wrong, it could be the difference between a hit and a bust. 

Case in point: The 2002 draft. The Eagles had the 26th pick and the 49ers the 27th. I was with Philadelphia then, and we debated cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Mike Rumph forever. We needed a corner, so it was an important pick. But we had them rated next to each other and couldn’t decide who should be taken first. 

Sure enough, when it came our time to choose, both were available. We had Lito rated just a little higher than Rumph, so we took him … and he turned out to be a good player. The 49ers took Rumph with the next choice, and he turned out to be a bust.

>> READ: When Do Teams Know They Drafted a Bust? 

Now, you can say we got it right, but frankly, we were just as wrong as we were right. We had them both with the same grade. Fortunately, when we figured out the stack we had the right guy in the higher position. It’s shocking how often that happens.

We had them separated by a whisker, but that’s what differentiates teams that are good at this vs. those that aren’t. If you can consistently identify players in the right ballpark and get the order right in the stack, you’re going to be successful.

Situations like this are real and have an impact on how the next decade could play out. In March and April, you’re obsessed with that, and you try to be as right as you can. But the truth is: That process doesn’t start the preceding fall or winter.

It begins now.

Joe Banner is a former front office executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. He was a part of an Eagles franchise that made a Super Bowl and played in four NFC Championship Games. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeBanner13

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