Scouting NFL Pro Days For Fantasy Wisdom

How to Win the Pro Day Period

Sadly, with the year of Covid continuing, we won’t be blessed with the NFL combine as we have in years past. For those football junkies out there, the NFL combine was the yearly travel to NFL Mecca. You have watched the film all year, you have your notes and thoughts on each player, and the combine was where you could confirm or question some of your thoughts. The combine was the last chance to see these players doing football things before the NFL draft. This year, we will have to find a way to turn pro days into fantasy gold.

So now what? We don’t have the combine, and in the past, there were still pro days, so why is everyone suddenly happy about pro days? We don’t have a choice, and the pro days will be our only opportunity until the season starts to watch these players do football things. It’s not so much we all are happy as much as it is; this is our only option. 

What’s the big deal with pro days and combines? It’s the only place where we get “official” measurements. That said, pro days vs. the combine does bring up the concerns regarding pro days. 

At the combine, the league oversees all measurements. The NFL doing this is essential, as mundane as it sounds. The reason I say this is common knowledge and practice that colleges fib on the numbers. It’s not uncommon for a player to be listed in the college program at 6’2″ when the player is only 6’1″. 

I realize one inch isn’t a lot, but we also see this with weights and even 40 yard dash times. The point being, the colleges will flub or error on the side of helping the athlete. I don’t fault the colleges for this, but for NFL scouts and analytic types, the actual numbers are essential to know. I know I want the real numbers; they do matter, after all. 

I bring this up because I fear that any numbers we see at the pro days we need to take with a grain of salt. The teams will continue to error on the side of the players. I am not sure we didn’t see some of that with the EXOS combine last week. I say that because the company EXOS has a vested interest in the athletes who took part in that combine. All of those athletes were clients of the training facility EXOS. 

I cannot find a list of all the athletes that participated in the EXOS, nor can I find all of the results. A report publicly released stated that Rashad Bateman ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. That time is a bit better than many thought, so the talk online was how Bateman is now skyrocketing up draft boards. 

What’s the Big Deal About Pro Day Numbers?

Let’s be clear about a couple of things. How one athlete performs in any one skill should not dramatically impact how we see players. I have been a big Bateman fan, watching him play football at the University of Minnesota. Bateman’s 40-yard time doesn’t have me moving him to number one on my draft board. 

Granted, Bateman was already in my top two or three for overall receivers, but what that 40 time tells me is that having Bateman ranked where I have him is now supported with both film analysis and tested measurable skills. If Bateman ran a 4.55 40 time, while I wouldn’t get overly alarmed at first, I would have to adjust my rankings slightly. A 6’2″ 210 lbs receiver running a 4.55 isn’t ideal, but that doesn’t make the player completely un-draftable, as an example. 

Above is another example of why I prefer to get pro-day numbers and combine numbers. Sometimes we have off days, so the more numbers or, the larger the sample size we get, the more likely we will be closer to being accurate. 

While getting accurate and reliable numbers is critical, the fact remains that we need to adjust this year. We will get a full month of pro-days and then some, and that’s all the raw numbers we will get. 

You Can Use Pro Days to Help Your Fantasy Rosters

That said, we still can use these pro days to help ourselves as fantasy players. Being ahead of the curve in fantasy is crucial to having success. You have to take risks to be successful in fantasy sports, but don’t confuse that with being foolish. Making calculated risks is the key. Understand your risks and the best way to do that, use analytics and watch the players. 

I recommend doing this, and frankly, it’s what I will do for the next month-plus. I am going to the dollar store, and I am buying four spiral ring notebooks. Each notebook is for a position. One is for running backs, and one is for receivers, and so on. 

Use a page per player, make a note of 40 times, bench reps, three-cone drill, and all the other drills. In addition to noting the specific measurables, write down what you see. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or even to make notes that later are unnecessary. These notebooks are for your eyes only. Think of it as a scouting journal. 

Here’s an example; let us use the info we got from the EXOS combine. Bateman is 6’2″, 210 lbs, 4.39 40 yard dash time. We will have to pretend that we watched, but here are some specific examples I might write down: only had one drop while catching passes, locates the ball well, and uses his hands to catch instead of his body, needs to work on cleaner breaks while running routes, tends to telegraph where he is going. 

I list above just examples of what someone might see, not what I have seen from Bateman. I noted earlier that with that 4.39 40 yard dash time, some might feel the need to move Bateman up their rankings. 

I already had Bateman as a top two or three receiver in this draft, and while I am taking Bateman’s 40-yard time with a grain of salt, I am noting it. I want to know how it compares to other player’s pro days. 

A Few Players to Watch and Why

To help illustrate this point further, I want to cover a few players, what I plan to watch, and why. The first is Kyle Pitts.

Kyle Pitts has been talked about a lot this past season, and for good reasons. If you watched any of Unversity of Florida football the last couple of years, you couldn’t miss Kyle Pitts. Pitts currently has the label of a tight end, but there are teams in the NFL that have thrown around the term “wide receiver.” 

When I watched Pitts, my honest take was he reminded me a lot of Calvin Johnson. Johnson and Pitts are similar in size, but Megatron was a freak with his size and speed. Pitts has shown some similar dynamic ability on the field, but the only measurables outside of height and weight we have to go back to Pitts’s high school days. 

If Kyle Pitts somehow runs a 40 time under 4.5 or even 4.55, I think you will see NFL draft circles start to go crazy. There is already a debate if Pitts is a tight end or a wide receiver, and we haven’t even had a pro day yet. I am looking forward to official height and weight numbers, along with a registered 40-yard time and three-cone drill. I also want to see Pitts perform these drills, and our eyes can be some of our best tools. 

We haven’t seen much of another player, but as a true Freshman at Michigan, Chris Evans looked good. Evans accepted his invite to the Senior Bowl, but unfortunately, he didn’t register one statistic. Jim Nagy, who runs the Senior Bowl, did mention how impressed he was with Chris Evans. 

Evans has the size and the blue-chip background that NFL teams look for in a player. We will only have the pro day and limited film on Evans, as he missed his sophomore year due to academic challenges. Chris Evans could jump up draft boards for NFL teams because you can’t coach size and natural ability. It’s a shame we didn’t see much of Evans in the Senior Bowl, but it’s up to us as fantasy players to use the tools we do have. 

The last player I will use as an example is Chuba Hubbard. Chuba went from being one of the top colleges to the NFL prospect for running backs in 2020, to he is nowhere near the top five for most folks. One has to ask, why has this changed? There is a great article out on the web covering some of the whys, and it’s worth reading here

That said, understanding why you or others might be lower on a player matters, but we watch pro days more to confirm or question our current hypothesis. We are not looking to create or redo our beliefs. It is an important distinction to keep in mind though while ranking or determining a player’s value.   

I enjoy watching the running back drills, particularly looking at footwork and quickness. In the article, I reference the author talks about how the offensive line was a concern. Hubbard can’t manage the line, but what he does control is his footwork. We should note Hubbards, speed, cone drill, and how quick he is to plant and cut.

If Hubbards numbers are much closer to the top five backs in this class, and we are willing, to be honest about things that were a challenge for Chuba this year, we may want to reconsider how we have Hubbard ranked. 

Remember, the whole point of watching pro days is to get a better idea of quantifiable measurables. We are looking to help confirm or question our current beliefs. We are NOT looking to base our final rankings on just the pro days or combines, and this would be a horrible approach if this is your plan of attack. 

To summarize, tune into all the pro days you can:

  1. Record them if possible.
  2. Get a notebook for every position you want to follow.
  3. If you feel like looking at defensive players, too, go for it. Just get notebooks for them.
  4. Treat the notebooks as a pro-day journal; write down your thoughts as you watch. Putting your thoughts down is crucial.

Purchasing spiral notebooks is still relatively cheap these days, and while it may be an old-school method, it does work. If you have a better way that works for you, do it. Everyone has their process. My biggest suggestion, watch, make notes, and trust your thoughts. 

Please be sure to check out my and our team’s pieces on profootballmania.com. We have you covered on all things football!

  • Rich Maletto @BodaciousBeer

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