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Without pro days, scouts work 'fall process' again

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Chris Pettit was attending the talent-rich pro day at Clemson University last month when the coronavirus outbreak prompted the Giants to order their scouts off the road.

The team's director of college scouting surmised very quickly this was going to be an unusual lead-up to the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday. But Pettit might not have grasped just how strange it would be. When both pro days and prospect visits to team headquarters were abolished, the Giants and the league's other 31 teams were forced to study players through other means.

"I started thinking in my head, 'If we don't get back out, there are things we'll miss out on,'" Pettit said today on a conference call with general manager Dave Gettleman. "We did such a good job throughout the fall and the all-star games and the combine interviewing and testing a lot of players at those venues. We were able to get a lot of that information which you get in the fall. We gathered the scouts together and we said, 'Hey, use this time now, we're not out on the road, use this time to go back and watch more film, watch the games you didn't watch, watch them again. Call the schools, call the players. Be really thorough. Now you're not going to have the opportunity to be on campus, so maybe call the academic people one more time. Maybe they'll give you a different opinion.'

"So, we really worked the whole fall process over again, and our scouts were great doing that. We were able to dig up some more information. The only thing really that you miss is just those small interactions that you might have being with a player personally, whether it's in our building or just on campus. There are a lot of times you're going to meet with a player privately, you're walking on campus with him and you can get little interactions that way that mean something. That's really the only thing we lost. I do think this time, because we were so prepared through the all-star (games) and combine, like I said, interviewing and testing these guys, I think we're pretty much on par where we would be any other year."

The Giants and other teams conducted player interviews through modern means, such as video conferencing. But to Gettleman, the last month has been a trip back in time instead of a step into the future of scouting.

"This is like back in the late 70s when they drafted with absolutely no contact with players," Gettleman said. "I think it is a little bit old school because you're not getting the personal touchpoints that we used to have. It is a little bit old school. It's really all about what the kid does between the white lines. It's not about running around in your underwear or running a 40-yard dash or doing the vertical jump or whatever. It's really about putting a lid on and playing ball. It is a little bit more old school like that. That's not all bad."

Check out the best photos from behind the scenes at the NFL Combine.

The gathering of information about the top prospects hasn't changed. Their every snap has been studied. Those players attended the scouting combine, where even if they didn't participate in field drills, they were weighed, measured and interviewed.

In the current scenario, the players who could be overlooked are the potential late-round selections or post-draft free agents. They usually display their skills at pro days or try to impress prospective employers when they visit teams for in-person interviews. Those opportunities were unavailable this year, affecting not only those players, but the teams who are interested in drafting or signing them.

But the Giants have adjusted well.

"The biggest part of our evaluation, obviously, is from the tape," Pettit said. "We always use the pro days and the combine as just a supplement, another spoke in the wheel, just to validate what we thought that they showed on tape. The players that didn't show up at those places and the pro days we couldn't get to, the players have done a good job and the scouts have done a good job of reaching out. We'll get videos of them doing some pro days, but it's not the same. Again, we have to go back to what we really base the majority of our evaluation on, and that's the tape. That's why we've spent the last month really going back and digging into the film, looking at it from a different lens maybe, and that's kind of helped get some of that information for us."

The process has been assisted by Judge's staff, which includes seven assistants who recently coached in college football, including six who joined the team directly from the college ranks.

"I'll tell you what, it's a big help," Gettleman said. "If you think about it, we hired (former University of Alabama running backs coach) Burton Burns … to coach the running backs, so just think about all of the insight we get into the 'Bama kids. Obviously, a number of our coaches are coming directly from the Southeast Conference. So, you've got great contacts. It's very helpful, it gives you insight, all of the information. Our college scouts do a great job of digging out information, so between the information the college scouts have, and Burton, and fellas like that that we've hired that are coming from college, it really gives us a good in."

During the draft's seven rounds, the Giants must take advantage of it.

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