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Scouting Top College Prospects Through the Eyes of a Pro Evaluator

As president of Pro Scouts Inc., a company that evaluates NFL players and provides in-depth reports to many NFL teams, Mike Giddings spends a lot more time studying pro players than college players throughout the year. But he does turn his attention to college prospects as the NFL Draft approaches, and his insights on the successful traits of his highest-graded pro players is a valuable tool for evaluating the players who will hear their names called this weekend.

Giddings has a color-coded grading system – highest-graded players are blues, followed by reds, followed by purples. At the end of each season, Giddings will study all the blue-red-purple players at each position.

“Those are the players I feel you can win with,” said Giddings. “Those make up about 58% of the league -- the top producers.”

For each position, Giddings will throw out the shortest, lightest and slowest players – with some variance depending on position and the breakdown of blue-red-purple players – to determine the minimum height and weight and minimum 40 times.

“So if a draft prospect is outside those numbers at a given position, that’s what I would say is a Circle-PQ – physical qualification.”

Historically, looking at the Div. I quarterbacks, here are the top prospects that have fallen out of Giddings’ PQ requirements: Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, Matt Leinart, Jamarcus Russell, Johnny Manziel, Patrick Lynch, Dwayne Haskins. Safe to say none of those quarterbacks has met pre-draft expectations.

Giddings said he scouted about 50 of the top college prospects in this year’s draft. The good news, he said, is that very few fell into the “Circle-PQ” category.

“Probably the biggest guy in this year’s draft class that falls into that category would be DeVonta Smith, weight-wise,” said Giddings. “If you took all the receivers, DI and DII, that were, say, outside the 90th percentile of what receivers weigh … DI’s, that’s Tavon Austin, R. Jay Soward, Ted Ginn. DII’s would be Titus Young, Paul Richardson, Dexter Jackson, Dexter McCluster and Roscoe Parrish. And what’s interesting, none of them had great careers.”

Giddings believes that teams reaching outside the 90th percentile in height, weight or 40-time is the number one reason why they miss on their first- or second-round picks.

Deep draft

Giddings called this a deep draft, and he’s confident saying that without scouting hundreds of players. That’s because his experience tells him anything outside the first three rounds is gravy.

“If you throw out punter and kicker, 65% of all blue-red players are drafted in rounds 1-3,” he said. “It’s interesting to me in that teams will say, ‘I think it’s a deep draft,’ but I would be interested to see which teams will acquire more picks in the first three rounds. If a team can move down one or two spots and gain a third-round pick, I think that’s great value… Teams that have picks in the top three rounds, I think you can walk away with three real good players in this draft.”

It’s not easy to find players in the late rounds that become blue players in the NFL. Those players, Giddings says, usually have one or two of the following trait: speed and/or football smarts that jump off the charts.

“That’s where you see the rarities.”

Giddings on Pitts

Assuming, as everyone does, that the first three picks Thursday night are quarterbacks, Giddings said he’s seen enough to say Atlanta should grab Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick.

“I don’t think it’s hype, I think he’s a rare, once-in-a-decade talent,” Giddings said. “It was amazing (watching his games). He was just making play after play. He’s faster than Travis Kelce, bigger than Zach Ertz. If you look at Kelce, Ertz and Darren Waller as the prototypes, he’s better at those skill sets.”

Giddings noted that Pitts can line up anywhere, and elaborated on why people call him a mismatch nightmare.

“He can line up at four positions and create matchup havoc. I saw him play wide against Patrick Surtain and Surtain couldn’t cover him. Then he played in the slot and nobody could cover him. At the Y position, nobody could cover him. And then at the H position and nobody could cover him. And he’s a willing blocker. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I’m a receiver and I won’t block.’ He’s a willing blocker.”

Giddings likes the idea of playing Pitts in a two-tight end set, and it reminds him of the problems created by the Indianapolis Colts’ powerful offenses with Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard.

“If they went base and a linebacker was covering Clark, they would throw it,” said Giddings. “And if they went nickel and a DB was covering Clark, they ran at Clark and made the DB play linebacker in force.

“That’s the fun part of (Pitts). He can match up and play at all these spots and the defense has to ask, ‘What are we gonna do? What personnel are we going to have out on the feld? And if he lines up at these four positions, what’s the call?’”

What to expect

Giddings’ thoughts on some things that might happen Thursday night:

Alive at 5: If the first four picks go as he thinks, Giddings will be interested to see whether the Bengals use the fifth pick on Oregon tackle Penei Sewell or LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

“That’s where I think people can start making trades and move into the top 10,” he said. “If Cincinnati does take Sewell, then I think Miami takes the receiver and then that’s where you’ll start seeing moves. Does New England try to come up and get Trey Lance?

Other possible movers: “Either Chicago, Washington or the Raiders could move up to get Justin Fields.”

Surprise move? Giddings’ sleeper: “Green Bay moving up to get Smith or Jaylen Waddle, if they’re still available at like 9.”

Back issues: Caleb Farley’s back injuries are enough to scare him off. “Just personal experience of having three back surgeries, you don’t come back from them. To play at an elite level and already have two microdiscectomies? You don’t fix a back. You put a Band-Aid on it. It’s like patching a tire. The patch is still on the tire. It’s not a new tire. So that would be a big concern with me.”