Journalist, broadcaster, passionate about growing interest in the NFL across the UK. San Francisco 49ers fan.

Neil Channing
Neil Channing, from Betting Emporium, has your 2017 NFL betting tips

The 2017 NFL season is finally underway and who would have predicted that result last night?!?

The NFL is one of the most-unpredictable leagues in the world, so how do you bet on it?

In our latest podcast (Episode 39), we spoke to the NFL betting expert from bettingemporium.com, Neil Channing.

Neil told us who the favourites are to lift the Lombardi this year, and should you fancy a flutter this year, he also has advice for betting on games.

Click below to listen to Neil’s tips:

Alex Gray
Former England Rugby star Alex Gray, now on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad

It’s been quite a summer for Alex Gray.

The former England Rugby star, who once captained England teams including the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Owen Farrell, swapped oval balls in May and is embarking on a new career in the NFL.

The 26 year old was signed up by the Atlanta Falcons as part of the NFL Undiscovered series. He will be a member of the team’s practice squad this season, learning the skill of Tight End.

“it literally has been head in that playbook all day, everyday”

Twelve months ago he was dreaming of Olympic gold with GB Rugby Sevens, but injury cruelly stopped him from travelling to Rio.

For the last eight weeks though he’s been getting used to another new discipline – his new home is the great state of Georgia, and the goal is no longer Olympic Gold; it’s mastering the Atlanta Falcons’ playbook.

On the eve of his move to the US, Alex spoke to the 5thDownUK, and admitted that his only experience of football up to that point was from playing Madden, but we caught up with him again at the recent NFL event in London, and asked what it’s been like so far, and how it’s been learning the playbook?

“It’s something that I’ve not been used to before”  Gray admitted, “and it literally has been head in that playbook all day, everyday”

“The schedule is start at seven, home at seven and from then until bedtime I’m just doing that playbook”

“if you threw one of those guys into the middle of a ruck with six guys stamping all over you, I’m not sure they’d enjoy that”

There’s been a lot of learning for the former London Irish back-rower, but he’s relishing the challenge; “I was in the team hotel for three weeks and my TV didn’t come on once. I was just trying to learn the plays for the following day”

“That’s the game. People probably don’t realise the amount of detail that goes into it”

“When people look at the NFL they think it’s a game for these crazy athletes doing crazy physical feats but really that’s less than 10% of the game. In essence it’s a super chess game and I’m starting to learn that now”

So what’s in the playbook? Alex explained, “the way we’ve done it is that the playbook is split into six”

“When we’re in camp each day we’ll do what we call ‘install’ so on Day 1 you’ll do the first install, second day the second install, and so on”

“All the plays, and the way they’re called are normally split up into personnel group, formation, protection, what the half backs do and then on the back of that are the concepts that the receivers are doing, so you need to listen out for your bit, where you’re supposed to be and what you’re actually doing in the play”

It’s been a tough learning curve for Gray though; “to do that only once when it’s 30 degrees, you’ve got your helmet on, you’ve just taken a hit off someone and then to do that on the fly and do exactly what they want, it’s a tough ask but that’s the game and I’m enjoying trying to learn that”

Alex is the first professional English Rugby player to transition into the NFL. We asked him which sport is tougher, Rugby or Football? “I keep telling everyone that rugby players are tougher, but there’s definitely a mutual respect between the two sports”

“A lot of the tackling rules in football are not to the same level as rugby, so you do see those big hits that the crowd wants to see”

“Speaking to some guys they can’t believe you play without pads and helmets,” added Gray. “if you threw one of those guys into the middle of a ruck with six guys stamping all over you I’m not sure they’d enjoy that!”

Whether it’s fifteen facing fifteen on the Rugby pitch, or eleven facing eleven on the Gridiron, Alex admitted that skill and strength are still key; “they’re both tough games, I know that, the players know that, so it’s pretty cool respect”


Catch Alex Gray’s full interview on the upcoming 5thDownUK Podcast. Episode 37 will also feature another NFL Undiscovered star, Alex Jenkins – the Bath-born New Orleans Saints Defensive End.

Follow Alex Gray on Twitter @AlexShaggyGray

NFL Undiscovered premieres this autumn.

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Canadian Football’s biggest prize comes to London this weekend!

As Canadians celebrate their proud nation’s 150th birthday, the Grey Cup is to embark on a tour of our capital city.

The reigning Grey Cup MVP,  and now co-host of CTV Morning Live Ottawa, Henry Burris will be greeted by a 60,000-strong crowd at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, Canada Day.

CFL fans will have an opportunity to pose for photos with the trophy and take on the CFL obstacle course.

For fans who are willing to party into the night there will be a live screening of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs Saskatchewan Roughriders at the Carlsberg Sports Bar in the Empire Casino.

This is the first game at the brand new Mosaic Stadium. The Canadian broadcasters TSN will be crossing live to the fan event in London throughout the game.


Details of the Grey Cup Tour of London

June 30th

  • Arriving at the Maple Leaf Bar in Covent Garden, which is having a Canada Day Celebration.
  • From 7pm-9pm the Cup, and Henry, will be at the pub, where there is a party for ex-pats and Canadians.

July 1

  • The event at Trafalgar Square opens at noon local time to the public
  • Henry will take part in a celebrity ball hockey game with legends like Phil Esposito, Mike Keenan, Ron Duguay and Dennis John Maruk, as well as the High Commissioner and other dignitaries from 2-3pm.
  • CFL obstacle course will open at 3pm
  • Henry will be interviewed by Dan Snow on the main stage (time to be confirmed), askingHank questions about playing on Canada Day, American by Birth / Canada by Choice, and what Canada has meant to him and his family.
  • From 8-9pm, going to the Tennis Canada party for a quick visit.
  • At 8pm the Watch Party begins at the Carlsberg Sports Bar at Empire Casino. The cup and Burris will be there.

July 2

  • Part of the Changing of the Guard, for one month starting on 18 June 2017 the 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light infantry (PPCLI) has been selected to fulfill this honour at Buckingham Palace.
  • The cup goes to several landmarks across London (all of which are TBC).

This Week’s CFL TV Schedule

  • Fri (2am): Ottawa Redblacks vs Calgary Stampeders; BT Sport 1
  • Sat (12am): BC Lions vs Toronto Argonauts; BT Sport ESPN
  • Sat (3am): Montreal Alouettes vs Edmonton Eskimos; BT Sport ESPN
  • Sun (2am): Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs Saskatchewan Roughriders; BT Sport 1

 

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The new CFL season kicks off this week, and the 5thDownUK will be bringing you all the news and updates throughout the season, both here on our website and the 5thDownUK Podcast.

We’ve got a team of experts from across the pond to tell you everything you need to know about the Canadian version of gridiron.

To get ready for the upcoming CFL season we’ve asked a few pundits to give us their previews for the year:


Marshall Ferguson, commentator for the Hamilton Tigercats

Who will win the Grey Cup?

Edmonton – Mike Reilly will be in his second season under Jason Maas offensive system. New GM Brock Sunderland has infused energy into the organization and the defence is as talented as ever especially up front with Mike Benevides as their leader on the sidelines.

Who is your dark horse for 2017?

Toronto – If Ricky Ray were paired with Jim Popp and Marc Trestman five years ago they would be a surefire favourite. In 2017 they’re a mystery but a team with loads of young talent and a veteran QB leading the ship. Very similar to the Ottawa Redblacks last season.

Which player is your one-to-watch?

BC QB Johnathan Jennings – That guy has more talent than most QBs in this league. He has been surrounded by speed and playmakers this offseason and if he can learn how to manage a game the BC Lions are as dangerous as any team in the CFL

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @TSN_Marsh


Rod Pedersen, commentator for the Saskatchewan Roughriders

Who will win the Grey Cup?

I’ve got B.C. picked to finish in first place in the CFL West Division, and then likely to advance to the Grey Cup in Ottawa. After seeing them firsthand last week (a 42-10 preseason win over the Riders in Vancouver), I’m even more certain they’ll be the team to beat. Calgary will always be near the top as long as John Hufnagel is in charge but the Lions already seem like a team on a mission. Anything less than a Grey Cup appearance will be a bitter disappointment for them.

Who is your dark horse for 2017?

I’ve got to go with my Roughriders. They’re in the toughest division in the CFL but if they’re able to beat Winnipeg and Edmonton in their head-on matches, that would go a long ways to securing third place in the West and a playoff berth. Not much is expected from the Riders by those outside this province and their showing in B.C. last week left them with a good share of detractors even inside the Rider Nation. However this club seems fine with the “underdog” tag, and flying under the radar.  I wouldn’t sleep on them.

Which player is your one-to-watch?

My player to watch through training camp and the preseason was Roughriders wide receiver Duron Carter and he didn’t disappoint. He scored the first-ever touchdown in the new stadium in Saskatchewan in the first preseason game, and made a highlight reel catch the next week at BC. He’s a player that you’ll always know is on the field! Many believe he’s the best receiver in the CFL and could the best overall player in the league if he keeps his head on straight. Unfortunately that’s been a big problem for him throughout his career so his first season in Green & White promises to be very intriguing.

Follow Rod on Twitter: @rodpedersen


Check us out for your CFL news throughout the season, and subscribe to our podcast, 5thDownUK, for your weekly CFL round-up.

You can also watch CFL games live on BT Sport throughout the season.

vince-young-2017-4-1600x902Vince Young signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders on March 11

There’s been a lot of attention around CFL team, Saskatchewan Roughriders the last few weeks.

Back in early March the Western Conference team announced the signing of the former 2 x NFL Pro-Bowler Vince Young.

Young joined his new team mates in Florida last month for their mini training camp.

The QB looked like a new man, having shed 20lbs in just six weeks.

He appears to have the desire to succeed in the CFL, but there are many hurdles for him between now and the Roughriders’ season opener on June 23.

Speaking on the 5thDownUK podcast, the Roughriders’ presenter, Rod Pedersen, said that Young doesn’t look like the best quarterback on Saskatchewan’s roster:

 

Obi Melifonwu completed his journey from London to the National Football League when he was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia.

Melifonwu, a stand-out safety at the University of Connecticut, was the 24th player selected in the second round, the 56th overall.

He becomes the fourth UK-born player currently in the NFL, joining defensive end Jack Crawford (Atlanta Falcons), offensive tackle Menelik Watson (Denver Broncos) and running back Jay Ajayi (Miami Dolphins).

Melifonwu, born in Archway’s Whittington Hospital to Nigerian parents, spent the first three years of his life in London before his family moved to Massachusetts. “My heart is with Nigeria but London is my home,” he said prior to the draft.

He earned first team All-AAC honours in his senior year at the University of Connecticut Huskies, with a team-leading 118 tackles and four interceptions, and was one of the star performers at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February.

British-born players currently in the NFL:

Born Rookie Year NFL Team College
Jay Ajayi (RB) London 2015 Miami Dolphins Boise State
Jack Crawford (DT) London 2012 Dallas Cowboys Penn State
Graham Gano (K) Arbroath 2009 Carolina Panthers Florida State
Lawrence Okoye (OL) Croydon 2013 Miami Dolphins Whitgift HS
Efe Obada (LB) Nigeria 2015 Free Agent N/A
Menelik Watson (OT) Manchester 2013 Denver Broncos Florida State
Obi Melifonwu (S) London 2017 Oakland Raiders Connecticut
Jermaine Eluemunor (OT) London 2017 Baltimore Ravens Texas A&M

GREAT GARRETT

The Cleveland Browns selected DE MYLES GARRETT with the No. 1 overall

This is the the first time in Texas A&M history that a player was chosen first overall.

Garrett became the sixth Texas A&M player to be selected in the top 10 since 2011, joining T JAKE MATTHEWS (6th overall, 2014), WR MIKE EVANS (7th overall, 2014), T LUKE JOECKEL (2nd overall, 2013), QB RYAN TANNEHILL (8th overall, 2012) and LB VON MILLER (2nd overall, 2011).


FIRST ROUND QBs

North Carolina QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 2nd overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, and Texas Tech QB PATRICK MAHOMES was chosen with the 10th overall pick by Kansas City, both becoming the first quarterback from their respective schools to be selected in the 1st round.

Trubisky joins T.J. YATES (2011, 5th round) and RONALD CURRY (2002, 7th round) as the only North Carolina quarterbacks to be selected in the NFL Draft.

Mahomes is the 4th Texas Tech player, and the 1st Red Raider quarterback to be selected in the first round since 1967:

YEAR PLAYER POSITION PICK # TEAM
2017 Patrick Mahomes QB 10 Kansas City
2009 Michael Crabtree WR 10 San Francisco
1983 Gabe Rivera NT 21 Pittsburgh
1981 Ted Watts DB 21 Oakland

Clemson QB DESHAUN WATSON, who was selected by the Houston Texans with the 12th overall pick, became the second first-round quarterback in school history. He joins STEVE FULLER (23rd overall by Kansas City in 1979) as the only Tigers quarterbacks to be selected in the 1st round since 1967.


MAKING HISTORY

The Tennessee Titans selected Western Michigan WR COREY DAVIS with the 5th overall pick, the highest draft pick in school history.

Davis became the second player and first wide receiver out of Western Michigan to be selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft, joining LB JASON BABIN, who was selected by the Houston Texans with the 27th overall pick of the 2004 Draft. ​


RISING RBs

Louisiana State RB LEONARD FOURNETTE (4th overall, Jacksonville) and Stanford RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY (8th overall, Carolina) were both selected within the first ten picks of the 2017 NFL Draft; the first time two or more running backs were selected in the top 10 since 2005 (RONNIE BROWN, CEDRIC BENSON, and CADILLAC WILLIAMS).

Fournette became the 4th LSU running back selected in the opening round since 1967, while McCaffrey became the 3rd Stanford running back chosen in the 1st round.

LSU Running Backs selected in the 1st Round since 1967:

YEAR PLAYER PICK # TEAM
2017 Leonard Fournette 4 Jacksonville
2006 Joseph Addai 30 Indianapolis
1991 Harvey Williams 21 Kansas City
1979 Charles Alexander 12 Cincinnati

Stanford Running Backs selected in the 1st Round since 1967:

YEAR PLAYER PICK # TEAM
2017 Christian McCaffrey 8 Carolina
1988 Brad Muster 23 Chicago
1982 Darrin Nelson 7 Minnesota

TERRIFIC TIGHT ENDS

Alabama TE O.J. HOWARD (19th overall, Tampa Bay), Mississippi TE EVAN ENGRAM (23rd overall, New York Giants), and Miami TE DAVID NJOKU (29th overall, Cleveland) were all selected in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The three 1st round selections are tied for the most Tight Ends chosen in the 1st round (2002, 1978 and 1973). 


ROLL TIDE

Alabama CB MARLON HUMPHREY (16th overall, Baltimore), DT JONATHAN ALLEN (17th overall, Washington), TE O.J. HOWARD (19th overall, Tampa Bay), and LB REUBEN FOSTER (31st overall, San Francisco) were all selected in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Alabama now has a current streak of nine consecutive drafts with at least one first-round pick. The Crimson Tide tied Florida (1983-1991) for the second-longest consecutive streak with at least one player drafted in the 1st round since the advent of the common draft in 1967.

Longest streak of consecutive seasons with a 1st Round pick, since 1967:

YEARS SCHOOL # of Seasons
1995-2008 Miami 14
2009-2017 Alabama 9*
1983-1991 Florida 9
1983-1989 Pittsburgh 7
1991-1997 Ohio State 7
1997-2003 Florida 7

* Including this active Season


BOUNTIFUL BUCKEYES

Three Ohio State players heard their names called in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft – CB MARSHON LATTIMORE (11th overall, New Orleans), S MALIK HOOKER (15th overall, Indianapolis) and CB GAREON CONLEY (24th overall, Oakland). In 2016, the Buckeyes had a draft-high 5 players selected in the first round.

With a total of eight 1st rounders in the last two Drafts, Ohio State tied Alabama (2011-12) for the fourth-most 1st round picks over any two-year span since 1967. Miami is the only school with more 1st round choices over any two-year span, with nine players selected from both 2001-02 and 2002-03, and 10 players drafted from 2003-04.

Schools with the most 1st Round picks, over any 2 year span:

YEARS SCHOOL 1st ROUND PICKS (OVER TWO-YEAR SPAN)
2003-04 Miami 10
2002-03 Miami 9
2001-02 Miami 9
2016-17 Ohio State 8
2011-12 Alabama 8

QUICK HITS

Other items of note from the 1st round…

  • TE EVAN ENGRAM (No. 23; New York Giants) was the first Mississippi tight end selected in the first round since 1967. He was the fifth tight end in school history to be drafted since 1967.
  • Wisconsin LB T.J. WATT was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 30th overall pick. Watt and his brother J.J., who was the 11th overall selection in 2011, became the eighth pair of brothers since 1990 to be selected in the first round of their respective NFL Drafts.
  • Louisiana State S JAMAL ADAMS was selected sixth overall by the New York Jets, joining his father GEORGE ADAMS (1985, New York Giants) as the eighth father-son combination to be drafted in the first round in the common draft era.

NFL teams are to announce their Day 3 Draft picks from unique locations, and will be recognising key individuals.

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The 2017 NFL Draft is from Philadelphia, Apr 27 – 29

From military bases, to state landmarks and attractions, and even to outer space, NFL teams will announce their Day 3 selections for Rounds 4 to 6 of the NFL Draft from special locations, of their choosing, and will recognise individuals who have made a significant impact.

Beginning on Saturday, April 29 at 5:00 PM BST, Day 3 pick announcements will feature current NFL players and legends, military personnel, actors, singers, and other special guests. New this year, Round 6 will be youth football-themed, and youth football players from Pop Warner, NFL FLAG, and local teams will represent various NFL clubs in their individual markets during pick selections.

Here is a sampling of special team announcements during Day 3 of the NFL Draft:

  • Arizona Cardinals – Ten season ticket members will join cheerleaders and Big Red, the team’s mascot, to announce picks from the GRAND CANYON.
  • Chicago Bears – Bears running back JORDAN HOWARD and military personnel will make selections from the team’s headquarters at HALAS HALL.
  • Cleveland Browns – Former Browns player JOSH CRIBBS and season ticket members, along with alumni, will announce picks from CEDAR POINT AMUSEMENT PARK.
  • Denver Broncos – Military members and NFL legends will make selections from PIÑON CANYON MANEUVER SITE.
  • Houston Texans – Astronauts at the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION AND SPACE CENTER will announce picks for the first time from outer space.
  • Indianapolis Colts – Colts defensive end KENDALL LANGFORD will make picks from the INDIANAPOLIS ZOO, along with staff personnel.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars – Picks will be announced from LONDON and JACKSONVILLE.
  • Kansas City Chiefs – Service members will make picks from the WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE.
  • New York Jets – Children of fallen EMT Yadira Arroyo will announce Day 3 selections from EMT HOUSE 26.
  • Philadelphia Eagles –  Actor MORRIS CHESTNUT and CNBC’s JIM CRAMER will make picks from the NFL DRAFT THEATER.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – Actor MILO VENTIMIGLIA, actress MANDY MOORE, current players, and members of a local youth football team will announce selections from HEINZ FIELD.
  • San Francisco 49ers – Country music singer JON PARDI will make picks from LEVI’S STADIUM.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – General JOSEPH VOTEL, Commander of the United States Central Command, will announce selections from the team’s headquarters at ONE BUCANNEERS PLACE.
  • Washington Redskins – Actor MICHAEL EALY will make picks with fans from FEDEX FIELD.

Special team announcements for Day 3 will be broadcast in Philadelphia throughout the NFL Draft Experience presented by Dannon® Oikos® Triple Zero, the league’s largest free football festival taking place along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Fans may also view Day 3 pick announcements on NFL Draft live platforms – such as NFL.com, the NFL Mobile from Verizon app (NFL.com/mobile), NFL Now, the NFL app on Xbox One and Windows 10, and Yahoo! Sports – as well as on ESPN. NFL Network will also feature select picks live on NFL Network Draft programming.

Fans can watch NFL Network digitally through Watch NFL Network on tablets, PCs and various connected TV devices (NFL.com/watch), with participating television providers. Select teams will also live stream local pick announcements on their websites and social media. Get full audio coverage of the 2017 NFL Draft live with Westwood One, TuneIn, and SiriusXM NFL Radio.

As we get into the thick of the NFL offseason, here is a reminder of some of the prominent dates on the upcoming calendar.

Last Wednesday (Feb 15) was the first day that teams were allowed to use the franchise tag on a specific player. Each club is only allotted one tag per year, which can be used as either an exclusive or non-exclusive tag. In layman’s terms, a franchise tag means that a team gets one-year control of the tagged player and will have to pay him among the elite at his position.

Below is a list of the remainder of important dates still to come this offseason.

combine


February 28-March 6: Combine Timing and Testing, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana.

March 1: Prior to 9pm (GMT), deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

March 7-9: During the period beginning at 12 noon, New York time, on March 7th and ending at 08:59:59 a.m. (GMT) on March 10th, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2016 player contracts at 9pm (GMT) on March 9. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 9pm (GMT) on March 9.

During the above two-day negotiating period, no direct contact is permitted between a prospective unrestricted free agent and any employee or representative of a club, other than the player’s current club.

March 9: The 2017 League Year and Free Agency period begin at 9pm (GMT).

The first day of the 2017 League Year will end at 4:59:59 a.m. (GMT) on March 10. Clubs will receive a personnel notice that will include all transactions submitted to the League office during the period between 9pm (GMT) and 4:59:59 a.m. (GMT) on March 10.

March 9: Trading period for 2017 begins at 9pm (GMT) after expiration of all 2016 contracts.

March 26-29: Annual League Meeting, Phoenix, Arizona.

April 3: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2016 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.

April 17: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.

April 21: Deadline for Restricted Free Agents to sign Offer Sheets.

April 26: Deadline for prior club to exercise Right of First Refusal to Restricted Free Agents.

nfl-draft

April 27-29: NFL Draft (Philadelphia). The NFL draft was last held in Philadelphia in 1961, and the first ever NFL draft was held in Philadelphia in 1936.

40-yards-banner

We welcome Matthew Phillips from 40 Yards Scouting to our writing team.

40 Yards Scouting is Europe’s only scouting guide to the NFL Draft.

Matthew will be telling you everything you need to know about this year’s draft class in the weeks building up to the NFL Draft.

Here’s his introduction to what it’s all about:

While the inevitable curtain is drawn upon the 2016/17 NFL season, there are hundreds of young, amateur football talents across the US whose futures hang in the balance. Ahead of the 1st day of the NFL Draft on Thursday April 27th, these young men are now entering the final and most important chapter of their fledgling careers.

Football fans across the world would be forgiven for experiencing the familiar post-SuperBowl withdrawal symptoms, but there is more than enough intrigue and drama in store for the coming weeks and months. The firework smoke may be clearing in Houston, but identifying the next generation of talent to bring the the entertainment we all know and love on Sundays, is about to take on a greater intensity.

Events such as the East West Shrine, the Senior Bowl, and the NFLPA weeks, where NFL scouts are able to view, dissect, and evaluate draft-eligible talent on the practice field in one-on-one and team oriented drills, are now in the in the rear-view mirror. Most of the college leavers will now headed back to their team facilities, but a fortunate few will be investing their time (and accumulating significant debt) by attending specialist training centres such as IMG in Florida, Wellness of Georgia, and Tom Shaw in Orlando. Training centres like these are skilled in preparing athletes for the next hurdle in the road; the NFL Scouting Combine.

This week-long event, held within the confines of the Lucas Oil Stadium in the midwestern city of Indianapolis, is a 4-day interview for the 335 invitees. They will be prodded, poked, and tested in the minutest detail; all representing a significantly vital element in the NFL teams’ fact-finding before they can decide upon which talent get the ultimate investment.

The “Underwear Olympics”, as it has been affectionately regarded in recent years, opens its doors on the 28th February, and runs throughout the week to its conclusion on the 6th March. While “on-stage measurements” and “scale tipping”, all performed in less-than-modest attire before a predominantly male clipboard-clutching audience, may seem ridiculous, it remains a vitally important ingredient in the overall decision. As each franchise evaluates and specifies their next steps, this data could just represent a confirmation exercise, whereas data on some athletes could force scouts and General Managers back to their film rooms to question the hundreds of hours they’ve invested in their evaluations, looking to find what they have missed or watch game tape on someone for the very first time.

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Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson, is expected to be drafted high after his outstanding performance in the National Championship

Those blessed with an invitation to the capital of Indiana will be taken through diagnostic x-rays, medical exams, and psychological tests before they even get the opportunity to be put through a gamut of timed on-field examinations, stations and skill drills. Back at the 2013 combine, a previously underrated nose tackle out of Memphis called Dontari Poe put his name on the lips of the scouts with athleticism never before seen of a 350lb powerhouse; Poe ended up being taken high in the first round shortly after. Just two years ago, Byron Jones was a newly graduated free safety, and a mid-round prospect; he emerged from the combine having broken the standing broad jump world record (12’ 3”), and recording an impressively quick 4.43 second forty-yard dash. That impressive day vaulted Jones into the 1st round of the ensuing draft, where he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 27th pick.

A fundamental and highly valued opportunity to meet and interview prospects at the combine is a hugely important, and in some cases is the first opportunity for a franchise to look behind the curtain, and discover the human being behind the athlete. Inevitably, there will be prospects who will revolutionise their final grade by demonstrating leadership, maturity, drive, and commitment. As you would imagine, each of the thirty-two teams are looking to identify wholly different character traits to fit their distinct locker room identities. While some will shine as athletes, and others as people, there will also be some who disappoint or rule themselves out due to their character. As we currently stand, you cannot fail to be excited as to what the week long event will bring and the young men who will be thrust towards the pinnacle of their trade.

However, it is only a fraction of the college talent that gets accommodated in Indianapolis, so it is a variety of ‘regional’ combines that also provide data for the evaluation of players. These are held at designated NFL facilities across the country, from Houston in the South, to Minnesota in the North, and these come hot on the heels of the national televised event. These smaller events are not to be ignored – currently there are 76 former attendees of regional combines residing on NFL rosters.

Once the teams across the NFL begin to cement their draft boards, they will then fine-tune their process by inviting key players for private visits at their own team facilities. By rules set by the league, these can only last a single day, and commonly consist of both written tests, interviews and on-field workout & drills, with each franchise allotted a maximum of thirty. In addition to this though, teams can invite local college leavers from within their ‘contiguous suburbs’ to workout at their facilities; an avenue in which player evaluation does not count towards the thirty-visit limit. Many franchises will hold a local ‘Pro Day’, which represents another, well travelled, and successful route for talent to enter the league. Interestingly, this route also includes prospects who were born and raised locally, but who might not have attended an in-state seat of learning. In most cases, such visits come from college programs most local to the NFL team’s location.

On the other side of things, Colleges throughout the country will also be holding their very own, annual ‘Pro Days’. These events usually include on-field drills and player meetings, directed and run by the institutions themselves on school facilities. For quarterbacks, these events are not particularly important as they are so heavily scripted that they often fail to move the player out of his comfort zone, but for the remainder of positional groups, on-field workouts can be a key resource for scouts, and yet another valuable opportunity to meet and get to know the prospects. As much as anything, they are vitally important to the colleges themselves, representing an ‘open-day’ opportunity to celebrate their success, and to illustrate the end-product of their program; every draft prospect, irrespective of their draft grade, is vital in recruiting future stars from high schools into the process, and impressing parents alike.

At the beginning of April, NFL organisations will recall and bring together their vast network of area scouts from all corners of the country, and spend up to two weeks in the ‘war room’, headed by the General Manager and Director of Player Personnel. The goal is to arrive at a consensus draft board, and enact the myriad of draft day scenarios that may unfold during the draft itself and scheme accordingly, while marrying up their various grades. A well run and successful scouting operation will see the GM allow the area scouts to ‘present’ their favourite prospects, and in those best-run scouting networks and organisations, call upon on their first-hand experience to go ahead and select them from the middle rounds onwards. Where this takes place, there is no accident in witnessing the results play out, ensuring the continued, successful evolution of the franchise (identities of said teams will remain secret)!

For recently departed college football players, the mountain to climb has only just begun. However, this is the NFL and it is no longer seen as a six month league. Fascinated television audiences will be tuning in to the combine later this month, and the attention will intensify towards the three-day NFL Draft, where just 253 young athletes will hear their name announced in Philadelphia.

Don’t look away now, the 2017/18 NFL season is only just beginning. Take a breath and embrace the excitement that’s within touching distance….. which of these prospects will emerge in 2017?

For news and updates ahead of the NFL Draft head over to ukdraftguide.com 

April 1st sees our 4th edition of Europe’s only scouting guide to the 2017 NFL Draft; every eligible draft prospect individually scouted. All proceeds go to our chosen charity, Muscular Dystrophy UK. For a look inside our books head to www.ukdraftguide.com/nfl-draft-guide/

 

Matthew Phillips

Founder & Lead Scout

40 Yards Scouting