Q&A: Jim Sabo of Ourlads’ Scouting Services

Eric from BBI: Mr. Sabo, thank you very much for taking the time and effort to answer some of our readers’ questions; it is very much appreciated by many of us who have followed your excellent work for years. How would you evaluate the Giants’ off-season roster upheaval? Are there moves you like and those you don’t? Why?
Please call me Jim, my Father was Mr. Sabo. It’s always good to be with Giants fans, the most knowledgeable anywhere and you came through with some really great questions. In general I’m not crazy about most of the off-season moves they made. Losing Oben was not good. Coming off a down year, but he is very talented. Lomas Brown is a joke. If he is starting we are in trouble. Dusty Zeigler is OK, but nothing special in my opinion. Glenn Parker gives them good versatility but he’s what 34 years old now. Garrett will be a non-threatening backup to Collins and that should be fine. Signing Barrow was a good move, though the Panthers unloaded on him after he left. They said he didn’t make enough plays, but I like the signing. Getting Dave Thomas as the third CB is also good. He can play and he’s big. I hated them losing Ellsworth. He was better than most people thought he was. Some good things, and they certainly needed to clean out some dead wood, but not overly impressive. More than anything this team needed a heart transplant – they had none except for Armstead and a few others and they tried to cut him off at the feet. Too many couldn’t care less about winning. Which reminds me – I’m picking up vibes that Petitgout is a disliked played among his peers. No guts and he doesn’t care. Watch to see how long he lasts.

Jim, could you give us your evaluation of Ernie Accorsi with regard to his acumen in talent evaluation and his skill in the “art of the deal”. Most of his track record, of course, comes from his tenure in Cleveland…do you notice any change or evolution in his philosophy or judgment since then?

Larry in SD: Who is the best drafter in the NFL today, and why?
Good question Larry. I call Ernie “The Stainmaster” that rug of his could hold up under any heavy-duty traffic. So we went from “The Egghead” to the “The Stainmaster”. Ernie had a poor rep coming out of Cleveland when he did not draft well. The thing about Ernie is that he is not really a football man in the truest sense. But what I believe he can do is listen and manage the process. He listens to his scouts and he relies on his personnel men. He will only be as good as the people around him, but that’s true in most management cases. He learned a lot under George Young and I know they remain close today. I’ve seen him adapt some but not all of Young’s principles. He is still mired in cap problems and they don’t seem to know how to get out from under them. That is the biggest complaint of some players. They see other teams making big splashes in free agency, but they seem to lose more than they gain. In short, Ernie is no Ron Wolf or Tom Donohoe, but with the right people in place he could be successful. As an aside, I talk to George regularly and he is still his same old loveable self. Full of piss and vinegar. Every year in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, one night we go our to dinner, just the two of us. It’s one of my best nights of the year. I love the guy. He’s a real character. And he’s loosed up a little too. I can get him laughing.

Greg C: Jim, does Ourlads give more weight to a prospect’s workout times or his college performance? When there’s an obvious difference between the two, how do you try to reconcile it in making your evaluations?
Both are important Greg. I call it having all the “eggs”. If a player is going to be a high pick in our system he has to have all the eggs in his basket. He has to be strong, fast, athletic, healthy, smart, coachable, good character, good skills, agility, so many things, but most of all he had to have played well. This time of the year is very frustrating to me when I hear about players supposedly jumping up and down in the first round then the third round then the sixth round etc. That just doesn’t happen. The farther we get away from the college season the more of that crap we get. Some of it is started by agents, they don’t always tell the truth (laugh). For example, I read somewhere that peter Warrick was free falling because he ran a 4.57 forty. That is ridiculous. Have you ever seen Warrick caught from behind? I haven’t. If a team bases a high Draft pick based on a combine or a personal workout they are making a huge mistake (see Thomas Lewis – I’d rather forget that one, but that’s what happened). Then in the later rounds you take chances on the more one-dimensional guys or the pure athletes. So how he played is always the most important factor, but it’s not the only one.

Tony in Ninerland: (1) Fans are by nature impatient, but some fans seem to have a lack of respect or understanding the difficulty of evaluating players. They underestimate the failure rates of other team’s drafts and are to quick to assume stupidity on behalf of their team’s draft makers. What do you think fans need to understand about the difficulty of this process? What are success rates (and failure rates) across the league? What is the real criteria for a successful draft? (2) And a related question: what do you think shaped the Giants poor drafting record in the 90s-bad luck or some sort of systematic misunderstanding or flaw in evaluations? In other words, was it random chance that had so many first rounders flop, or is there some problem in their method?
Long question Tony. Lets start with your first question. Scouting is so subjective. It’s like this: I can look at a woman and I can say to you, “Wow that woman is drop dead gorgeous”. And you could look at the same woman and say, what are you talking about, she’s a Bowzer!” But that’s what makes the world go round. It’s a matter of taste. Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that. And the big thing is that we can poke and prod and measure and test these guys until we are blue in the face and the one thing you can’t do is look inside them. If we could do you think the Giants would have drafted Petitgout in the first round? But, they weren’t alone. Other teams liked him too. We can’t tell if a player really has the heart to play this game. If we could come up with a way to measure that we can be very rich people. I’m going to combine the rest of your first question with your second question. We did a study of all teams drafts in the 90s, and believe it or not, the Giants were at the top under our criteria. We determined that the Steelers were the best drafting team of the 90s followed by Buffalo and the Giants. That may sound strange with the poor luck they’ve had with first round players, but they have been solid in the lower rounds. Unfortunately the first round picks are most visible. And there is one other huge factor to consider. Coaching. You can draft a great player and he doesn’t get the proper coaching he may be a failure. I hate to bring up old wounds but look at Tyronne Wheatley. They ran that kid off then team because one coach didn’t like him. Yes he marched to a different drummer, but he was not a bad kid and his teammates really liked him. Coaching. Who was right there? Bad pick or bad coaching?

Dan in DC: Mr. Sabo, Thank you for taking the time to answer questions from Giant fans! If the rumors are true that the Giants are in love with the big backs in this draft, like Dayne and Alexander, do you think that they are otherwise building an offense where these players fit? It seems to me, that these backs would be more successful running behind large road-grading OLs, while the Giants seem more interested in having lighter, more athletic linemen. Is there a plan, here? Thanks.
My pleasure Dan. If you can believe the smoke they are gradually letting out of the Giants camp, the pick will be Ron Dayne. That may be a smoke screen to generate trade talks, but knowing them it’s not likely. Given the choice I would mush prefer Alexander over Dayne, assuming Thomas Jones and Jamal Lewis are gone. I’m not sure what they are trying to do on the offensive line. It was a mess last year and it looks like they tried to make it better, but I’m not sure they did. There is something to be said for smaller but athletic OLs. The Broncos had a great line last year and they are very small. The Niners for years were known for small OLs who were athletic. That may be a coming trend so I can see that approach. Let’s face it the NFL is a monkey see – monkey do league. What works somewhere is bound to be copied. Watch how everyone tried to copy the rams with lightning fast receivers. Anyway getting back to Dayne and Alexander. To me Alexander is more of a pure back. Great vision and balance. He knows how to run. Dayne is good to and he’s a move the chains kind of back. I am worried about Dayne’s durability. He has a lot of miles on him already. I wonder if he will hold up.

Old Timer: 40 times vary greatly depending on the surface and sometimes the location where they are run. How does a scout know which 40 time is most reflective of a player’s speed? Also, do you find that a 40 time is a true indicator of a player’s actual “football” speed?
Howdy Old Timer. We use the Combine 40 speed as a measuring stick and adjust from there. Let’s say a back runs a 4.50 at the combine, which is a notoriously slow surface. If another back runs a 4.47 on an outdoor track surface we will adjust then downward and make them about equal. Usually about 3 or 4 100ths of a second depending on the type of surface. We talked about 40 speed before in the case of Peter Warrick. I don’t care what the stopwatch says, I know he can run. He has field or game speed. A classic example is Jerry Rice who had poor forty times coming out of college. I never saw Rice be caught from behind. Did you? Then there were other players like Steve Largent, do you remember him? You could you’re an hourglass to time him, but he was one helluva a player. Its not often any player has to run 40 yards unimpeded on a footfall field. Knowing how to avoid and quickness is more important than pure speed. Unless you are drafting for the Olympics.

Aceman: Each year there are a few players who have terrific workout numbers but whose on field performance is under whelming. In this year’s draft, I would put Jerry Porter, Leif Larsen, and Curtis Keaton in that category. How have these under achieving workout warriors historically performed in the NFL? What rounds are these players projected to be drafted, and how does that differ from your own value board?
Hi Ace. These guys you mentioned are not totally workout warriors. Well Larsen is. Larsen is strictly all athletic ability. 44 reps at the combine, but he can’t play. He is a guy you take late and hope to develop. You may get lucky, but more times than not you don’t. Porter and Keaton are different, because not only are they athletic but they can play. I don’t like that Keaton ran away from West Virginia because Zereoue was ahead of him. But still he has ability and I see him in Round Three – perhaps even round two. Now Porter I like very much. He could he taken late in round one. He converted to WR from safety and he looks like a natural. Big, physical receiver with speed. A lot of upside there. He showed me at the Senior Bowl practices that he can play. The Eagles took Mike Mamula high based on a great Combine and that was a mistake. This year Brian Urlacher was a combine freak – but he looks like the real deal. It all comes back to can they play and that’s how we rate them on our value board.

jt: Young players usually take time to develop into productive players – but first and second rounders take up a lot of cap room while they learn. Does the cap encourage teams to players at positions that develop quickly (HB, DE) in the first two rounds rather than ones at positions that take more time to learn (OT, QB)? Thanks.
JT, I don’t think so because you still have to have an influx of new talent at all positions. There is a school of thought out there that says don’t Draft OLs high. I don’t agree with that. If you don’t then you never get the Tony Bosselli’s or Jon Ogden’s of the world. One rule of thumb I like is to Draft a quarterback every year, no matter how low. You never know when you might get lucky, The Redskins did this for years and it was smart. They always seemed to have some young rising prospect QB that another team would over pay for. I like that idea.

D in Lakeville: (1) Every year some big-name prospects (or prospects highly rated by the draftnik publications) fall precipitously in the draft for one reason or another. I’m thinking last year, for example, of TE Rufus French (who turned out to have some medical issue, as I recall, that pushed him way down) and OT Floyd Wedderburn. Who do you think might fall into that category this year and why? Conversely, who are your three favorite sleepers who might figure in the Giants plans given their variety of needs? (2) Do you have access to the psychological testing that many teams do on prospects? To what degree do you weigh this information in your evaluations? Do you think some teams weigh the psychological stuff too much? Are there incidents that you can talk about of players who were pushed down in the draft due to poor wonderlic scores (or other psychological profiling tests) who have performed in the NFL quite Successfully? Thanks.
OK D. I’m not sure how to answer you first question without being boastful because that is not my intent, but we are different from the other Draft Publications. Do we make mistakes, yes of course we do, but so do the teams themselves with a lot more resources then we have. Most if not all of the other publications “scout” and I used the term loosely with their ears and not their eyes. In short they work the phones and fill their guides with media hype right from the colleges and agents. Sometimes injuries are the cause of a player falling. We try to do our best to gather than information, but that is one of the most difficult aspects of this job. If we thought a guy was going to fall right now, then we would not have him high to begin with. Recently, after we published our Guide, we learned of a few big name players who have failed drug tests and that certainly could cause a slide. I have a lot of sleepers in this Draft. Some of my favorites are: Spergon Wynn, QB, Southwest Texas; Tim Watson, DT, Rowan; Josh Gentry, LB, Indianapolis; Earl Riley, S, Washignton State and Elijah Thurman, WR, Howard. Check our Guide. We have a whole page devoted to our “Awards” at all the positions and Sleeper or Free Agent Find is one of the awards. We have access to the wonderlic scores, but not the psychological test. And to tell the truth we probably wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway. The wonderlic scores however are important. We have acceptable grades by position and we use it to determine ratings. Of course we want our QB to score within a certain range. It goes back to our eggs theory and intelligence is one of the eggs. But, you can get too carried away with it too and that would be a mistake.

Jay in Toronto: I don’t mean to put you on the spot [well not a lot :)] but I wonder if draft experts keep tabs on the ratings, mock drafts etc of their colleagues/competitors? Sometimes I wonder if a “herd mentality” isn’t created, for example, a consensus emerging that Dayne probably will go as low as 21. Thanks. Jay in Toronto
Jay some fun eh! To be honest I very rarely if ever look at someone else’s mock draft. The reason is I don’t want to be influenced by stuff that is unfounded or that I don’t see myself. A lot of those guys work the phones for info. We certainly listen to what’s out there but we believe very little of it. Do you know that there are personnel guys who will actually give out wrong info on purpose? And then there our “our friends” the agents. Never believe anything an agent tells you. All I know is that we are well respected around the league because we are out there watching players and making our own independent decisions. They see us out there. You would be surprised at how many teams pay for what we publish. We try to treat our service as the 32nd team. We give our subscribers an honest evaluation of players based on what we have seen. And we have a staff that includes a former pro player with 3 Super Bowl rings who wants to break into scouting so he hooked on with us. We have two retired NFL scouts who got tired of sitting around the house and got the itch for the road again. We have three college coaches who also help us scout and one of our guys is a coach and the uncle of a GM in the league right now. In the last couple of years we have lost two of our scouts to NFL teams. They thought enough of our guys to hire them full time. One more thing. Some of the other draft publications are an arm of certain agents. They will pump up the players that the agent has and I don’t call that being objective. Sorry. Didn’t mean to get on a soapbox there.

Bill: Hi, Jim. Does Ourlads consider Plaxico Burress a potential great receiver like Randy Moss? Because of his attitude and failure to show up at the Eagles interview sessions he has slipped considerably. Are the Giants even considering taking this great athlete at no. 11 choice in the first round? Should they?
Hey Bill. Burress should not be there for the Giants at 11 but if he were I doubt they would take him because he is not squeaky-clean. He is very different than Moss. I had to laugh. The other day I read that Burress was free falling because he ran a 4.58 at his workout. Can you believe that? He’s 6-5 and ½ and 230 pounds!. A 4.58 is great time for him! If he slips it will be because people don’t like his work ethic or attitude. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why he is behaving the way he is. I think he’s a tremendous talent, but he may one of those Wheatley guys. For his sake, I hope he goes to the right team. Coaching!

Jim, How much weight is put on the conference and program to determine a players grade. Is a track record kept of position by team/conference success? For example, OL at Michigan seems like it has a good track record, or DL from the Florida schools.
Playing at a major school is important. If you play at a lower level, the first rule of thumb is did you dominate? If he did then that qualifies him to be looked at with the big boys. Level of competition is important, because it is such a huge step up from even a major program from Ohio State, Florida or wherever.

Bill K: Please rank Alexander, Bullock, Dayne and Peterson from one to four based on how successful you expect them to be in the NFL. Please indicate if you believe any of these players will be one of the ten best in the league at his position.
In my opinion and not that of Ourlads in general I would go 1. Alexander, 2. Peterson, 3. Dayne, 4. Bulluck. I really love Alexander. He’s not a speed merchant, but he knows how to run. Peterson is a marvelous athlete. He’s a guy who really helpful himself in the post season, but he’s dumb as a fence post. Scored in single digits in the wonderlic, and you get 5 points for knowing your name. Dayne we talked about. I can see him with the Giants but I would prefer Alexander. Bulluck is an enigma. Great body. Really put together. He looks the role, right out of central casting. But I don’t’ see the on field production with him. Might be all athlete and not a player. He was not much of a playmaker and the Giants have enough of those guys. Remember Marcus Buckley, he was the classic nonplaymaker.

Paul D: Ever since the Giants selected Derek Brown several years ago, I’ve been turned off the idea of tight ends as 1st round draft picks. It seems many 1st rounders have been disappointments while many later picks(B. Coates – 5th rd, Shannon Sharpe – 7th rd, Mark Bavaro – 4th rd to name a few) have become standouts. Other than QB, at what position(s) do you find it most difficult to predict success at the pro level?
What’s up Paul? I really don’t think QB is all that hard personally. Believe it or not I’ve always thought RB was a tough position to scout. There is so much involved in being a successful running back and speed is really not the only answer. Very tough in my opinion. The other thing that is difficult to scout at many positions is when you aren’t sure of the scheme. Particularly on defense. You could watch a defensive lineman and see he’s not getting off the line and it may be in that scheme he can the contain assignment. So that is always tough.

Ron in New Mexico: How high, in a percentage basis, do you rate the intangibles affecting a players capability to live up to his potential, such as desire, demeanor, attitude, history of off field escapades, etc. in your evaluations? 2nd question: How does he feel Dayne would fit in with the Giants West Coast-leaning offense, if he was picked.
Hello Ron. All that stuff is important. Desire is hard to measure, but off field and character can be and it is taken into consideration. This year we have Laveranues Coles the WR from Florida State. A great talent but he’s trouble and it will cost him. A first round guy who most likely won’t go there because of baggage. Dayne does not seem to be a fit in the west coast offense whatever that is. First of all he’s a poor receiver and that’s a prerequisite. So I don’t see them in a strict west coast offense. They seem to have the ability to go down the field with Toomer and Hilliard etc.

Jim B: Hi Jim. Virtually all of the draft guides, including Ourlads, have rated Brian Urlacher very highly. I realize his physical “numbers” are outstanding, but doesn’t the fact that he played in a relatively soft conference make people wary? Assuming that he does have what it takes, do you think that he has the ability to shed blockers required of a strong side linebacker, or is he better suited for the weakside where he can be more of a run-and-hit type of player? Also – don’t forget to tell Ken Palmer I said hello! Regards.
How are you Jim? How’s that new baby? Urlacher is the real deal. As I mentioned before, he dominated at a lower level so that qualifies him. I see him as being able to handle either side weak or strong. He is fantastic. Some teams are talking about playing him at safety at 255! I would start him at linebacker. He’s definitely a guy who has all the “eggs”. Don’t forget. In college he played safety. Returned kicks and punts. Played in the slot and as a TE. Quite an athlete.

From hg: Does the switch to grass have any effect on the team’s seemingly sudden decision to Go for speed, speed, speed?
Now HG. I would have thought they would have liked to have speed when they were on Astro turf don’t you? Where have then been! They are about 5 years to late going for speed. Some times these teams do the strangest things. But I agree. The game is getting faster and the Giants need to improve their speed game.

Wow! That’s it. Great questions guys. I enjoyed it very much. If you haven’t gotten our Guide there is still time but you have to hurry. Give it a try I’m sure you will like it. Good luck on Saturday too. I’ll be doing commentary on One-on-One Sports Radio, a nationally syndicated show. Unfortunately I’ll be working with a former Redskins Hog Mark May. Hate those Skins! Seriously he’s a good guy and we should have some fun. Thanks for the questions. Jim Sabo