Why “Spring Grades” are Important to NFL Prospects

With the Super Bowl just ending, and with the 2022 NFL Combine coming up, the 2023 draft process is actually starting soon as well.  Starting in late February, NFL scouts from the two scouting services BLETSO and National will go into a school to do their junior evaluation they are looking to grade the NFL draft prospects for the next year’s draft but also to eliminate players as guys who can’t play in the NFL.  The scouts give those players “not an NFL prospect” grades so scout in the fall don’t have to spend time on players who are deemed not a NFL players.

The scouting services grade over 13,000 senior college football players each year at all levels of football and normally there are around 600 with draft able or free-agent grades.  True do players with “not an NFL prospect” grades get draft? Yes, but it is few and far between.

BLETSO and National have their spring meeting to go over grades around Labor Day time in May to be able to help set the scouts schedule for training camps visits in the summer.  Prospects are not told what their spring grade is by the two scouting services, but normally in the summer the grades get out and agents, financial advisors, media members and all-star games get their hands on them.

What goes into a spring grade:

  1. Junior Film
  2. Height/Weight/Speed – The scouts either get that information when on campus when the measure and weigh the prospect as well as get hand size and arm length. Some school will allow the prospects to run the 40 for the scouts but that is very few and mainly smaller schools. Some schools don’t allow scouts to do height/weight so the scout will just have to estimate the prospect height/weight/40 time.
  3. Background – Scouts will try to get information on prospect past both off the field and medical.

Spring grades are important for several reasons:

1. It is a road map for NFL scouts in the fall to where they should spend their most time.

2. National Scouting runs the NFL Combine so if a player has a good spring grade he is more likely to get invited then if he doesn’t.

3. All-Star games try to get their hands on these grades and use them when they start to invite players to their games.

True as a Senior what you do on the field is most import to your final NFL draft grade, but it doesn’t hurt to start with a good spring grade going into your Senior season.

2021 NFL Draft: Looking back at where the 1st round was projected in the spring of 2020

1 Jacksonville Jaguars:  QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson – Everyone had him as a # 1 pick in the spring of 2020 and even before that. Most people thought he was going to be the #1 pick when they saw him as a true freshman at Clemson spring game before his freshman year even started.

2 New York Jets:  QB Zach Wilson, BYU – No one had Wilson as a 1st round pick in the spring of 2020 and even BYU did not know if he was even going to start.

3 San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State – Lance was a hot QB coming off his 2019 season, and many thought he was a 1st round QB but not a Top 5 player.

4 Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida – In the spring of 2020 many had Pitts as a 1st round pick, just not a top 5 player.

5 Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU – Because of Chase great 2019 season many had him as a Top 5 player in the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020 and end up going there.

6 Miami Dolphins: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama – Waddle was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

7 Detroit Lions: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon – Sewell was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

8 Carolina Panthers: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina – In the spring of 2020 no one was talking about Horn as a 1st round pick, he was coming off a decent season in 2019, but no one thought he was a 1st rounder, let alone a top 10 pick.

9 Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama – Surtain was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

10 Philadelphia Eagles:  WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama – Smith was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

11 Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State – Fields was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020, and some even had him as high as projected as the #2 overall player and 2nd QB drafted. 

12 Dallas Cowboys: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State – Parson was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

13 Los Angeles Chargers:  OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern – Slater had one of the higher grades in the spring by the NFL scouting services and was projected as a 1st round grade and end up opting out of the 2020 season.

14 New York Jets: OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC – In the spring of 2020 Vera-Tucker was coming off a particularly good sophomore season in 2019 playing at left guard, but was not projected as a 1st round pick, but showed versatility playing left tackle in 2020 and that help him move up team boards.

15 New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones, Alabama – Jones started at the end the 2019 season but there was no guarantee he would be the starter in 2020 and no one had him as a 1st round graded player.  His outstanding 2020 season but him in places to be in the 1st round.  

16 Arizona Cardinals: LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa – In the spring of 2020 no one had Collins as 1st round grade, he was coming off a nice 2019 season but blew up in 2020 winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik award, and was the Lombardi Award winner.  

17 Las Vegas Raiders:  OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama – No one projected Leatherwood to be a 1st round pick in the spring of 2020 or even in the spring of 2020, in fact many teams had him as a 3rd round prospect in the spring of 2020.

18 Miami Dolphins: DE Jaelan Phillips, Miami (FL) – In the spring of 2020 many people did not think Phillips would be even playing college football, yet alone be a 1st round draft pick.

19 Washington Football Team: LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky – In the spring of 2020 no one thought Davis would be a 1st round, even after declaring after the 2020 season many people had him projected as a 3rd round pick.

20 New York Giants: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida – Many scouts in the spring of 2020 had Toney with a 5th round grade but had an outstanding 2020 season pushing him up teams’ boards. 

21 Indianapolis Colts: DE Kwity Paye, Michigan – Paye in the spring of 2020 was thought of as a high 2nd round prospect.

22 Tennessee Titans:  CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech – Farley was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

23 Minnesota Vikings: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech – In the spring of 2020 Darrisaw was not projected as a 1st round pick but was coming off an exceptionally good sophomore season and many had him projected as most likely a top 100 prospect. 

24 Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Najee Harris, Alabama – Harris in the the spring of 2020 was thought of as a high 2nd round prospect.

25 Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson – Etienne was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020. 

26 Cleveland Browns: CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern – In the spring of 2020 Newsome was not projected as a 1st round pick.  His sophomore season was good where he ranked 2nd in the Big 10 in pass break-ups but had an outstanding 2020 season to help make him a 1st round pick.

27 Baltimore Ravens:  WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota – Bateman was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020, and some had him as high as a top 10 pick. 

28 New Orleans Saints: DE Payton Turner, Houston – Turner in the spring of 2020 was graded by many scouts as an undrafted free-agent. His outstanding 2020 season along with him play at the Senior Bowl helped him be a 1st round pick.

29 Green Bay Packers: CB Eric Stokes, Georgia – In the spring of 2020 was not projected as a 1st round pick and even many mock drafts right before the 2021 NFL Draft no one had him projected to get drafted in the 1st round.  He did a have an exceptionally good 2020 season and during the pre-draft process tested very well.

30 Buffalo Bills: DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami (FL) – Rousseau was projected as a 1st round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft in the spring of 2020, and many had him as a top 10 pick. 

31 Baltimore Ravens: DE Odafe Oweh, Penn State – In the spring of 2020 Oweh was not projected as a 1st round pick, and even had more production on the field in 2019 vs 2020 but him Pro Day he tested very well and showed he had elite traits and that help make him a 1st round pick.

32Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Joe Tryon, Washington – In the spring of 2020 Tryon was not projected a 1st round pick. He showed enough in 2019 season that was on the radar and many people had him projected as being a Top 100 prospect and was able to move in the first round as scouts went and review the 2019 season and his pre-draft process. 

2021 NFL Draft: Non-Power 5 Conference Report

A lot of people believe that the NFL Draft is made up of the Power 5 college football conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC & Pac-12) in college football but that is not totally the case.  If we take a look at the past 5 NFL Draft we see that there are a good amount of draft picks that come from other levels of college football.

2021 NFL Draft (259 picks):

49 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (18.9%)

4 of those 49 Non-FBS

New York Jets QB Zach Wilson, BYU – 1st round 2nd overall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Denver Broncos C Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater (D3)- 3rd round 98th overall was earliest Non-FBS pick.

2020 NFL Draft (255 picks):

58 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (22.7%)

9 of those 53 Non-FBS

Green Bay Packers QB Jordan Love, Utah State – 1st round 26th overall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

New England Patriots Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne- 2nd round 37th overall was earliest Non-FBS pick.

2019 NFL Draft (254 picks):

53 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (20.8%)

16 of those 53 Non-FBS

Buffalo Bills DT Ed Oliver, Houston – 1st round 9th overall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Houston Texans OT Tytus Howard, Alabama State- 1st round 23rd overall was earlies Non-FBS pick.

2018 NFL Draft (256 picks):

63 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (24.6%)

22 of those 63 Non-FBS

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen, Wyoming – 1st round 7th overall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Philadelphia Eagles TE Dallas Goedert – 2nd round 49th overall was earliest Non-FBS pick.

2017 NFL Draft (253 picks):

43 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (16.9%)

15 of those 43 Non-FBS

Tennessee Titans WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan – 1st round 5thoverall was earliest Non-Power 5 pick.

Chicago Bears TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland – 2nd round 45th overall was earliest Non-FBS pick.

2016 NFL Draft (253 picks):

57 Draft picks Non-Power 5 (22.5%)

20 of those 57 Non-FBS

Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State -1st round 2nd overall was earliest Non-Power 5 and Non-FBS pick.

So just remember if you are in a Power 5 conference there are other guys looking to get drafted just as high as you are and if you are not in a Power 5 conference it doesn’t matter if you can play football the NFL will find you

NFL Draft: 5 Year Draft Averages by Position (2021-2017)

With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books here is the average amount of players drafted at each position over the past 5 years (2016-2020) and the highs and lows.

QB – Average amount drafted – 11.4 – High amount drafted 13 (2020, 2018) Low amount drafted 10 (2021, 2017)

RB– Average amount drafted – 21.2 – High amount drafted 26 (2017) Low amount drafted 18 (2021, 2020)

FB – Average amount drafted – 1.2 – High amount drafted 2 (2017, 2018) Low amount drafted 0 (2020)

WR – Average amount drafted – 32.8 – High amount drafted 36 (2021) Low amount drafted 28 (2019)

TE – Average amount drafted – 13.4 – High amount drafted 16 (2019) Low amount drafted 11 (2021)

OT – Average amount drafted – 20.8 – High amount drafted 25 (2021) Low amount drafted 16 (2017)

OG – Average amount drafted – 13 – High amount drafted 18 (2020) Low amount drafted 10 (2018)

C – Average amount drafted – 7 – High amount drafted 9 (2020) Low amount drafted 5 (2019)

DE – Average amount drafted – 25.4 – High amount drafted 34 (2021) Low amount drafted 18 (2020)

DT – Average amount drafted – 20.2 – High amount drafted 21 (2019, 2017) Low amount drafted 19 (2021)

LB – Average amount drafted – 31.4 – High amount drafted 39 (2018) Low amount drafted 21 (2021)

CB – Average amount drafted – 32 – High amount drafted 38 (2021) Low amount drafted 27 (2020)

S – Average amount drafted – 20.4 – High amount drafted 23 (2017) Low amount drafted 18 (2018)

K – Average amount drafted – 2.2– High amount drafted 3 (2017, 2020) Low amount drafted 1 (2021)

P – Average amount drafted – 1.8 – High amount drafted 4 (2018) Low amount drafted 0 (2017)

NFL Document for Senior’s Using Extra Year of Eligibility

Because of Covid-19 the NCAA gave each college football player an extra year of eligibility if they wanted to use it.  So if they where scheduled to be in their senior year and if they played or didn’t play they still got an extra year of eligibility.  But like NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the NFL wanted the prospects to fill out a document if they where going to use that extra year so they didn’t have them in the 2021 NFL Draft classes. 

Here is his tweet.

Below is the document prospects need to fill out so they can let the NFL know that they will not be in the 2021 NFL Draft but will be in the 2022 NFL Draft. The NFL office said that this was sent out to college’s as well.    

When you are thinking about declaring early – Remember Joe Burrow!

Because of Covid-19 the NCAA is giving all college football players an extra year of eligibility.  All circumstances are different but if you are not a Top 150 graded guy by the NFL you really need to think about going back and taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility.  If you haven’t played this season like D2 and FCS you need to even think extra hard about going back.  We have seen the East-West Shrine Game canceled the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl canceled.  There is no guarantee that the NFL Combine or Pro Day’s will happen this year or if they do take place, how they will be run.   Last year we saw in the middle of the Pro Day schedule all Pro Day’s were canceled.    

Think about Joe Burrow, after the 2018 season he could have declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and came out early.  He was the full-time starter at LSU, played a full season did not have to worry about Covid-19 and any issues dealing with that.     

Joe Burrow had a 6th round grade at that time and let’s say he would have been drafted in the 6th round.  He would have been guaranteed around $130,000, but he went back to school raised his draft stock and was the 1st pick in the drafted and was guaranteed $36,190,136.  So, going back to school he made $36 Million dollars, because of his play on the field. 

If you are a player and not a Top 150 pick you have to think long and hard about going back to school to improve your stock and give you self the best possible chance to make it in the NFL.  The expectation is that next year things should be back to normal, we will for sure have the full schedule of all-star games, as well as going back to the normal pre-draft schedule.   So when you are looking to make a decision look at the long term play not just the short term when it comes to your future as a football player!

Non-Playing Things That Can Help/Hurt a NFL Prospect

It’s true. In the NFL, it comes down to whether you can play the game at a very high level or not and the phrase, “the eye in the sky, don’t lie,” still holds true. While there are many things that a player has no control over, there are numerous other variables that a player can choose to do, in order to make him a more attractive prospect to NFL teams, which has nothing to do with his overall skill-set. Let’s take a look:

Effort/Hustle – Going 100% on every play doesn’t have anything to do with skill.  Having a high motor, giving hustle and effort on every play is viewed as a positive and is something that a player can control. Remember, scouts and coaches are not just watching highlight tapes, they are watching full games to see what you do on every single snap.

Football IQ – Film study, knowledge of your opponent, understanding tendencies, knowing your scheme and the purpose of each play, knowledge of the rules, all of these elements have entirely nothing to do with how you play.

Accepting Coaching – Remember, scouts are going to talk to coaches about prospects, from the head coach down to the grad assistant. Most coaches are going to shoot scouts straight and be honest, their reputation weighs in the balance. So, if the prospect is willing to accept coaching and embraces what is asked of him by the staff, he will leave a positive impression behind, which will get relayed to the NFL teams.

Failed Drug Test – As a player, you might not think that this is a big deal but it is something that can hurt you with NFL teams and is something that as player, you have total control over.

Domestic Violence/ Violence against Women – There are many documented cases that have significantly damages a player’s draft stock. One of the more recent incidents involved running back Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals). Despite that the altercation transpired several years prior to him entering the NFL Draft, several teams removed him from their draft board entirely. He was selected lower than what his draft grade would’ve been, had it been based solely on film.

Association – When NFL teams are doing their due diligence investigating a player’s background, they’re interested in who the player hangs out with off the field and whether any of these people present red flags. The phrase ‘guilty by association’ is often used by scouts if he feels that his surrounding clique could rub off in a negative way and result in bad decisions.

Social Media – Monitoring and reviewing social media pages has become a big part of the player evaluation process in recent years. Scouts are looking to see what the prospect is posting on these platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram).  They are looking for whether the player is posting about football or could there be some red flags involved, such as mentions of guns, violence, drugs or alcohol, etc.?

Work Ethic – As a prospect, teams want to know, are you a hard worker in the weight room, on the practice field, in the class room? These are all things that a player can dictate. One of the most important resources to a NFL scout is the strength and conditioning coach. Scouts are going to ask does this prospect show up for work outs, does he do extra, do you have to push him to give effort?

Medical – This is one that a prospect doesn’t have much control over. In football, injuries happen and they can have an impact on a player’s draft grade. What a prospect does when he endures an injury, how does he attack the rehab and what cautionary steps are taken to prevent re-injury are all questions that NFL scouts will seek answers to when they evaluate a player.

East-West Shrine Bowl Canceled – What that means for 2021 NFL Draft Prospects

Yesterday the East-West Shrine Bowl canceled their 2021 all-star game, because of Covid-19 concerns. 

The annual college football all-star game, the oldest event of its kind which goes back to 1925 was scheduled to be played on January 23 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  From last season’s game there is 98 players on NFL rosters who played on it. 

Because of this there will be one less post-season all-star game for prospects to go to and there is rumors that the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will not be played either.  The Senior Bowl has said they are still planning on going forward with their event, but it will be something to watch.

All-Star games are especially important for prospects in many ways – Here are some:

  1. Small School or Non-Power 5 prospects get to show NFL scouts that they can play against the best level of competition.
  2. NFL Scouts get to see the prospects go one-on-one and can use this as particularly good evaluation tool.  
  3. NFL Scouts get true measurements (Height/Weight) on a prospect if were allowed to get the spring before Senior season.
  4. NFL Scouts get more time to interview and interact with prospect to help with the overall evaluation.

Countless amount of prospect has raised their draft stock at all-star games or even got on NFL scouts’ radar at an All-Star event, so it is an especially important part of the process that this year could not be happing. 

This could be another factor why some prospects use the NCAA extra year of eligibility and plan to be in the 2022 NFL Draft not the 2021 NFL Draft cycle.