Once upon a time, armed with almost no information at all, NFL team owners would gather in the spring and conduct a draft of college players.
Their resources were limited. Scouting was not exactly an art. Wellington Mara, the long-time owner of the New York Giants, used to speak with some fondness of the days when folks showed up for the draft armed only with the preseason college football magazines. Those well-thumbed booklets enabled little more than guesswork.
Scouting now is a year-long process and science, continuing at the moment in Mobile, Ala., at the Under Armour Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl isn't new. It dates to 1950 and was inititally staged in Jacksonville, Fla. It gave the college seniors their first chance to be coached by NFL staffs. It moved to Mobile in 1951 and there it remains, annually filling Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
It also now fills air time on the NFL Network. It will be televised by NFL Network (4 p.m., Saturday). Drills, practices, everything the scouts see can also be viewed by the rest of humanity during the week.
The Senior Bowl was preceded by the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando. That's not quite the marquee event that the Senior Bowl is. Yet to come is the Indianapolis scouting combine, which NFL Network also shows.
Imagine. Sixty years ago, the top minds in the NFL began to get their ideas from preseason picks in magazines and got to look at the seniors working against each other for the first time in the Senior Bowl. Now there's a continuing flow of opportunities and information, video breakdowns, replays and analysis. And we're talking about the draft in detail a full three months before it occurs.
After the combine, the colleges will stage their Pro Day workouts. Many of the prospects who elect not to work out at the combine – either because of injury or conditioning or the advice of their agents – will do so on campuses across the country. Little of this information will be a secret, either.
Teams continually write and rewrite reports on the players, upgrading, downgrading, red-flagging. They do not simply scout for need, either. They try to put a grade on every player, never knowing when an unexpected value may come their way.
"You have to set your board and grade your player," says Scott Campbell, the Redskins director of player personnel. "You can't evaluate a left tackle and say, 'Well, we just drafted a left tackle last year. We don't need him.' Because of injury, because of trade, because you never know what's going to happen. You have to evaluate like you have a blank team, evaluate the player and determine their value. Later on in the process, people will make the decision which way they want to go in terms of the needs and all of that."
The draft has also become a three-day extravaganza (April 28-30), where once it was a one-day endurance test and then a two-day ordeal. Last year's was the first time the NFL spread the draft over three days, enhancing it as a television property and revenue generator.
"I think it worked out perfectly," says ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "I think it was the best scenario, rather than that marathon. This made it a lot crisper."
The teams have always built through the draft. Now the NFL builds ON the draft.
PRO BOWLERS TOUR: The Pro Bowl moves back to Honolulu for two years after being staged last February in south Florida in conjunction with the Super Bowl.
Three Redskins will be taking part, with cornerback DeAngelo Hall and linebacker Brian Orakpo now starters. Orakpo and fellow linebacker London Fletcher were added as replacements. Orakpo and Fletcher both were on the NFC's team last year.
The Pro Bowl will be televised at 7 p.m. on Fox on Sunday evening.
Members of the winning team receive $45,000 apiece. Losers are paid $22,500. Not bad for a day's work in sunny Hawaii.
AROUND THE NFL: The Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl experience got off to a cheesy start. The Packers announced they would not bring the players who are on injured reserve to Dallas until Thursday of Super Bowl pick, instead of having them travel with the team on Monday. That meant the IR players would not be part of the team picture that traditionally is taken Tuesday after the Media Day festivities at the stadium. Green Bay's IR list includes some important long-time contributors, including linebacker Nick Barnett, and stars of tomorrow like tight end Jermichael Finley. The club said it simply couldn't handle the 15 extra players at the time and that its focus was on winning the game. Still, hurt feelings so early in the run-up to the NFL championship can set teeth on edge. The happy resolution was to shoot the photo on Friday after practice at Southern Methodist University so the IR players can be included. Packers coach Mike McCarthy simply said he was paying more attention to game preparation than photo opportunities. "Something is going to be screwed up but you have to be able to let it roll off your back," he said. "Somebody's feelings are going to be hurt." McCarthy was not happy Barnett and Finley complained about the seeming snub on their Twitter accounts. "I think they made a poor decision," he said, calling it "a total overreaction." ... ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., in a conference call on Wednesday, stuck to his prediction that the Redskins would take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the 10th pick of the first round. Intangibles "are going to define whether Newton is a top 10 pick," Kiper said. Many early draft projections have the Redskins locked in on Washington's Jake Locker but Kiper described Locker's senior season as "subpar." Locker had his ups and downs at Senior Bowl practices this week as well. ... A recent Harris Interactive Poll found that professional football remains the most popular sport in America by a wide margin. Of 2,331 adults responding, 31 percent chose pro football as their favorite sport, with 17 percent naming baseball. ... Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey is wearing a hard cast over his right ankle and that's not a good sign. He suffered a high ankle sprain in the AFC title game win over the New York Jets but promised to play in the Super Bowl. A cast and crutches speaks louder than words. Several of his teammates are saying he will not be able to play. The backup is Doug Legursky and he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice endured poor exchanges against the Jets after Pouncey went out, with one resulting in a safety.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.