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Buffalo Rumblings Exclusive: Matt Miller, New Era Scouting Interview

New Era Scouting

Yes, this is a blog dedicated to the Buffalo Bills. What's nice about this place, however, is that our interests extend beyond the Buffalo Bills. Not very far, mind you; we're only talking the NFL Draft here, so let's not get carried away. So for the draftniks in the Rumblings crowd - and I'm 99% sure that that's every single one of us - we've got a treat for you this morning.

Matt Miller, a pro football scout who runs his own scouting service over at New Era Scouting and who represents the NFL Draft wing of SB Nation over at Mocking the Draft, very graciously set aside some time this week to answer questions from you, the readers of Buffalo Rumblings. (You may also know Matt from his work on hammering out each team's positional needs with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.) Below are the ten reader-submitted questions that I chose for the interview, and Matt has, as is his calling card, provided us with excellent insight. So, without further pomp and circumstance, here's Matt to answer your questions:

Is there a center that you could see stepping in and starting from day one for Buffalo? (submitted by: krytime)

There are many centers who could come in and start as rookies, and they will be available in many rounds. Mike Pollak from Arizona State is the top center on the board at this time. He is the best at combining pass blocking skill with the ability to fire off and block tackles and linebackers in the run game. Others to consider are Steve Justice (Wake Forest) and Adam Spieker (Missouri).

We all know the potential that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has, but how much risk do you see with him? Does his lean frame or lack of experience concern you? Is he physical enough to play in the Tampa 2? (submitted by: kaisertown)

Rodgers-Cromartie doesn't scare me, but I was a big fan of Antonio Cromartie coming out. His lack of bulk is not as much an issue as it would be at another position. He's not a very physical corner, so drafting him for a Tampa 2 scheme would require a scouting staff who has seen him jam well and recover in workouts, plus a coaching staff willing to mold him into a physical cornerback. Being physical is as much mental as it is physical.

Between the bowl games and draft day, is the rise or fall of prospects legitimate or are they false and mostly media hype? Do scouts generally know who is who and how good they are before the off-season workouts begin? (submitted by: Fort Worth, MARVelous)

It is mostly media hype. NFL teams are, as we speak, finalizing their draft boards; in fact, many will not be finished until days before the draft. Scouts are on the road for 14 weeks watching college football, so they have a good idea of who they like. Workouts are a time for general managers and coaches to see the players that the scouts have been recommending. I sat next to Eric Mangini this year at the Senior Bowl and fielded questions from him about players. Coaches are much too busy leading up to the January Senior Bowl to know much; that is their orientation period to the draft.

How far is the talent gap between Chris Long/Vernon Gholston and Derrick Harvey? What does Harvey have that Long/Gholston do not if that gap is small? (submittted by: killascript)

There is a gap, but it is mostly what Long and Gholston do that Harvey has not done yet. Harvey is more athletic than Long, but doesn't have his instincts or toughness. Harvey is a more well-rounded defensive end, whereas Gholston has struggled in a three-point stance at times. Harvey is a very good defensive end, and he should not make it out of the top 15 picks.

Which late round QB do you see being the most intriguing potential-wise, insofar as intelligence, football smarts and adequate arm strength go? (submitted by: Rocco58)

It's early to say who is late round or not, and with quarterbacks it truly only takes one team to fall in love with a player. I really like Josh Johnson of San Diego. He may not be a late-round guy, but he's raw and will need time to learn the NFL system. If you want a real sleeper, Kevin O'Connell is another player who may not be drafted high but could become a starter in the NFL.

How detailed does the grading system on prospects get? When they put the board together do they put a numerical grade on a player, are they categorized by round, or does it vary from team to team? When exactly does a player become a "stretch" or a "bargain"? (submitted by: south123, Bills fan in PA)

Numerical grades are the most popular system I've seen used or used myself. We used a numerical system with New Era Scouting in the beginning, but decided we did not like the idea of attaching a number to a skill set. NFL teams will use grades to rank players. This is very effective for grading 500+ players and for grouping purposes. It's hard, though, to place a grade on character and intangibles (the "Tom Brady factor", if you will). Most teams use the same values. Each position has specific traits and these are graded on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale. At some point, say 5, the player would be deemed a project player, or someone who would not be looked at as a starter.

I'd like to know how many college games scouts go to live or watch tape of. How do they scout the prospects: highlight clips, full game tapes, etc? (submitted by: Kurupt)

I can't speak for persons employed by NFL teams, but I can tell you my schedule. It begins in the spring by going to various spring practices, scrimmages and meeting with coaches. From there, myself and other scouts will attend summer practices. I am credentialed by the Big 12, and last season attended at least one game every weekend at a Big 12 stadium. Other people on my staff scout via film, which is what I recommend doing even after watching a game live. Highlight tapes are not effective, as you can manipulate the situations too much. Live games are exciting, but film is the best way to scout.

I've noticed that you have Limas Sweed rated as your top receiver, but the Bills do not like him at all. How do you compare Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, and which prospect do you prefer? (submitted by: Brian Galliford)

We have Sweed rated as our number one receiver for a few reasons. They start with our belief that he is the most NFL-ready prospect at this time. He comes from a pro style passing system and has all of the skills we look for when grading a receiver. He is a big player with enough speed to separate from defenders, he also makes plays in traffic and over the middle. His production in the red zone is also among the best in the class.

Malcolm Kelly would be our number one receiver were there not so many questions about his injury history and his 40 time. I believe that tests like the 40-yard dash are best used to judge players, not grade them. Kelly and Sweed are ranked very closely in terms of wide receiver skills, but Sweed has only one injury on his card and ran very well at the Texas Pro Day. Devin Thomas is the most exciting of the three, but he has not been as productive nor does he have the experience that Kelly and Sweed carry. Thomas is able to help as a return man, something that the other top players do not have, but his lack of experience and only having one full season hurts his stock with us.

Dick Jauron recently outlined a Bills draft strategy that emphasizes following the value of the board, considering factors such as positional need secondary. What is your opinion on this draft strategy? (submitted by: sireric)

This is a very popular strategy, and a fine one. I don't think there is any one way to draft, which is why we all call it an inexact science. You have to stay true to your board, but in doing so you must also fill needs. You don't take a running back if you're the Bills in round one just because your highest ranked player is a running back. What the teams I have worked with will do is de-value positions of strength. For Buffalo, drafting a left tackle isn't going to be a need, so Jake Long wouldn't be ranked as a top three player. We may see a Bills draft board feature more receivers, tight ends and cornerbacks at the top as opposed to Matt Ryan and Jake Long. What this strategy means to me is that should Glenn Dorsey fall to the 11th pick, Buffalo would take him because he's a high value at 11 and a position where depth is always needed. Taking a defensive tackle at 12 can fit into your defense and possibly start, but taking a running back there wouldn't make sense.

What would you view as the "perfect draft" for the Bills? (submitted by: thatguy)

A perfect draft for Buffalo would see them address needs at wide receiver and tight end early in the draft. The Bills need to add a bigger receiver to line up opposite Lee Evans and help in the intermediate passing game. Adding a receiving threat at tight end will also help in this, and will give second-year quarterback Trent Edwards a much-needed safety valve and red zone target. After locking up a receiver and tight end, Buffalo should focus on depth at running back and a possible starter at center. The team could use an upgrade to the depth and overall talent at inside and outside linebacker. Most people may have cornerback higher on the list of needs, but the potential of Ashton Youboty is promising and I really like Terrence McGee. My perfect daft would be:

1-11. Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
2-41. Martellus Bennett, TE, Texas A&M
3-72. Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State
4-114. Jordan Grimes, OG, Purdue
4-132. Adam Spieker, C, Missouri
5-147. Tavares Gooden, LB, Miami (FL)
6-179. Tony Temple, RB, Missouri
7-219. Alex Brink, QB, Washington State
7-224. Nick Hayden, DT, Wisconsin
7-251. Kenny Iwebema, DE, Iowa

That's it! Many, many thanks to Matt Miller at New Era Scouting for the outstanding insight into the life of an NFL scout and this year's draft prospects. For anyone interested, NES is running a mock draft contest with cash prizes, so if you're interested in signing up, click through to that link! And, as always, comments on this interview are not only welcome, but encouraged.