NFL Draft Betting – NFL Scouting is an inexact science – we know precisely that much.


Caleb Williams: The NFL Draft Betting Top Choice

Caleb Williams is the overwhelming favorite to be the first player taken in the NFL Draft betting. He is priced at -10000 at most places, which means you would have to lay 100-1 on him being #1.

Apparently, the Chicago Bears have no doubts about selecting Williams. It’s a “no-brainer,” as it were. 

In the NFL, that’s the exception rather than the rule. 

In connection with a book I’ve decided to write, I talked to several NFL scouts about what they do and why it is so difficult. To get a closer look at the scouting reports and how prospects like Caleb Williams stack up, the 2024 NFL Draft Guide is an invaluable resource.

Here’s what one of them said to me: 

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The Inexact Science of NFL Scouting

“Let me tell you the reason scouting is tough: so inexact. Look at it from this perspective – a pro team will have two camps, including a mini-camp. They’ll have a rookie player there, and they’ll have him in a training camp for six weeks in a controlled environment.

They’ll tape him in practice, and they have him in two days. They’ll have him in meetings at night. They’ll have him in meetings in the afternoon. They’ll constantly be talking to the kid. They study him on tape, and they put him in the pre-season games, executing THEIR plays. 

And then comes the end of August, when they have to decide, and the coach has to decide, very often, whether to keep this guy over another guy. Well, by this time, they’ve had the kid for upwards of 80 practices, and a lot of the time, they STILL can’t decide.

And this is at the end of a process when they have them doing the drills THEY want him to do, playing within the schemes THEY plan to take into the regular season. Again, this is a process where they have him under their control.

But at the same time, they want a scout to be accurate in evaluating a guy in college when he’s watching him doing the drills SOMEBODY ELSE wants him to do, playing within the offense or defense SOMEBODY ELSE has put together, having watched this kid in maybe one or two practices, maybe a personal workout, a combine or pro day if you’re lucky, and 4-6 hours on tape. It’s a very tough thing to do when you look at it that way.”

The NFL Scouting Combine: A Critical Evaluation Arena

Here’s a trivia question for you today, class……… 

Who is Bruce Pickens? 

We’ll get to that later.

Well, maybe it should have been held at a big Chicago slaughterhouse rather than Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Of course, I’m talking about the World’s Largest Meat Market, otherwise known as the NFL Scouting Combine. 

It’s a place where if you don’t have a stopwatch in hand, you ain’t in the game, baby. 

It’s a place where everything—seemingly—is discovered about players—how fast they can run, how high and how long they can jump, how much they can lift, how fast they can turn, how well they can catch, and what kind of guys they really are. It appears nothing is left to chance.

With all the things these guys do, it’s a wonder the scouts ever make a mistake. Yet they do (see the statement at the top). 

One of the big attractions of this event, year-in, year-out, is the 40-yard dash. The 40-yard dash time seems so critical. To draft gurus, it’s almost an extension of the prospect’s name, like “Xavier Worthy 4.21”. I always wondered if it’s so important.

Why don’t they run the 40 in full football gear? Isn’t that what they will have to do in the end, anyway? I mean, I never saw a guy going out for a pass in a T-shirt and shorts on a Sunday afternoon. Have you?

Why does an offensive lineman run the 40?

As for offensive guards and tackles – does the 40-yard dash mean anything except for special teams evaluation? If I were scouting these guys, I’d instead find out if they can BLOCK someone. You and I both know an offensive guard would probably collapse after 35 yards anyway with all his gear on. Then what would their 40-yard time be? Infinity? Okay, I’m just kidding a little.

But kickers? Why would you want to know their 40-yard dash time? Do the scouts want to see how fast they can get off the field after kicking off? Maybe he can chase down a guy who runs back one of his kickoffs? If that’s the kind of thing you’re chiefly concerned with, well, you’ve got other things to be concerned with, if you know what I mean.

Heart’s not quantifiable? We may beg to differ.

Don’t you love the oft-used cliche these TV announcers use—”You can’t measure the size of a player’s heart”? I laugh at that because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s probably the easiest thing to gauge.

The actual level of a player’s raw football talent can vary significantly relative to the kind of competition he faced in college, the kind of coaching he received, the system he played in, the talent he was around, etc. There are a lot of variables.

After all, we can do all the scouting we want. But when it comes down to it, Ryan Flournoy of Southeast Missouri State may be able to lose a defender with a head fake in Division I-AA that just won’t work against experienced NFL cornerbacks. Austin Reed of Western Kentucky may be able to read the relatively soft defenses in Conference USA, but can he do the same against the most sophisticated defensive coordinators in the sport? It’s speculative; there’s a lot of “unknown” in there.

But if you define heart in terms of qualities like grit, work ethic, character, maturity, and leadership – these are attributes that are not likely to change, regardless of what competition level the player is at.

Though it’s not necessarily quantifiable in numbers, it’s easier to get an accurate measurement of those “intangibles” simply by talking in-depth to coaches, teammates, writers, friends—anyone associated with the player and anyone who knows him as a person. If you’re perceptive, you shouldn’t have difficulty picking up what you need to know.

You better test well.

The number of tests they give you at the combine is dizzying. But that’s no secret, and neither are the tests administered. Players in recent years have taken great advantage of this. 

One of the most legendary cases, and indeed one that has been instructive to many prospects in the years since was that of Boston College linebacker Mike Mamula in 1995. Mamula worked with a trainer specifically for everything he would be tested for at the combine – bench press, broad jump, vertical jump, 40-yard dash, a back-and-forth shuttle, the “four-square” drill, which involves changing direction, and a few others. It was not unlike the way a decathlete would prepare for the Olympics. As his trainer had said, “The combine is a test the NFL lets you cheat on because you know all the questions before you take it. And yet few players take advantage of that.”

It may seem strange to hear that, but it was true at the time; the approach taken by many players wasn’t very sophisticated. That would change. 

To say Mamula took full advantage would be a vast understatement. He aced all the tests so convincingly that one scout called his performance “the best size-strength-speed display in the history of the combine.” Ray Rhodes, then coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, chimed in. “He’s a rare athlete who comes along once every five or ten years.” Mamula had been “discovered.” Scouts suddenly went back and began watching his game films, which they hadn’t been paying much attention to before. They were summarily impressed. More importantly, they WANTED to be impressed by Mamula’s performance at the combine.

Rhodes eventually put his money where his mouth was, trading up to draft Mamula with the seventh overall pick in the ’95 draft. And while Mamula had a six-year career in the NFL, he never fulfilled the potential scouts may have envisioned for him. 

Defensive players drafted after him in the first round included Hall of Famers Warren Sapp, Ty Law, and Derrick Brooks.

The Wonderlic isn’t excellent to some. 

In a matter of weeks, I will be taking something called the Wonderlic Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test, which was a standard examination given to NFL prospects at one time. I was disappointed to hear that the test was out on the shelf by the league itself after the 2022 draft. The story is that it was a matter of the test, which measures cognitive skills, being racially and/or culturally biased.

Well, it’s a standardized test. And it is given to a lot of employees in a lot of industries. It consists of 50 questions that have to be answered within twelve minutes. It’s difficult, but no one expects a perfect or even near-perfect score. Yeah, there are exceptions. Pat McInally, who later became an All-Pro punter for the Cincinnati Bengals, reportedly scored perfectly in 1975. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played quarterback in the NFL for nine different teams and is currently known as part of Amazon Prime Video’s broadcast team, scored 49 in 2005. 

Both of those players graduated from Harvard. But you don’t have to be an Ivy Leaguer to do well. Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, had a 41.  Benjamin Watson, who graduated from Georgia and played sixteen years as an NFL tight end, had a 48. 

We can presume that all the players up for the draft attended college and took some tests while they were there. Some had to take tests before entering college, although the SAT has been dropped as a requirement in recent years. We would have to assume that to play in the NFL. One would have to learn a playbook and be able to remember the plays contained in it.

Troy Vincent, the NFL director of football operations, called the test “an outdated process.” However, being able to read and analyze things is hardly something that should become outdated. 

Instead, they are giving something called the “Player Assessment Test,” which includes some cognitive stuff and psychological testing to measure characteristics like aggressiveness. 

It should be noted that NFL draft betting doesn’t prohibit teams from using the Wonderlic. They can give the test on their own if they so choose. There will be some general managers and coaches who place a value on it. Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys swore by it when his franchise was miles ahead of anyone else regarding player evaluation.

But I guess it’s “outdated.” Tell me, who’s gone backward? 

Let’s mention that Mamula scored a 49, which helped him, too. 

But he probably had an awful lot of preparation for it. 

Wow, we almost forgot about Bruce Pickens. He was a cornerback out of Nebraska and the third overall player taken in the 1991 draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He almost immediately sued his agent and later got into some legal trouble. 

His performance never came close to meeting expectations. Just two years into his deal, he was traded to Green Bay for a seventh-round draft pick. 

In four NFL seasons, he played for four different teams.  

How in the world did he get drafted so high? How else? Pickens was the star of the NFL Scouting Combine.