CHAPTER 6: HOW TO FIND A FRANCHISE QUARTERBACK
“You can always look at how the guys play. You just look at the tape. But at the combine you find out what kind of people they are. What’s important to them? How important is football to them? How important is their family to them? If we get those two things right, we’ll be right most of the time.”
-- John Harbaugh (March 2008)
AN NFL SCOUT’S LIFE EXISTS with perpetual hope. Every time he shows up on a campus to watch a kid run, or gets on a plane to fly to a college town to see a game in the fall, or fires up his iPad to watch film, he wants to believe he’s about to find the next player who will help his team win the Super Bowl.
It’s the eternal quest for any NFL scout – find the next Pro Bowl player who can become a Hall of Famer. Or, at the very least, find a player who can help you win every year for the next decade.
By the time Baltimore Ravens area scouts Andy Weidl and Joe Douglas got in their cars and made the one hour drive north up Interstate 95 from Owings Mills to Newark, Delaware on November 10, 2007, Joe Flacco wasn’t a secret to the college scouting world. And he certainly was no stranger to Douglas, who joined the team in 2000 and is known to all in the Ravens organization as “Big Joe D,” whose job it was to scout the Northeast for the team from 2003 through 2008. Douglas was made famous during the Ravens’ summer of 2001 filming of “Hard Knocks” on HBO as “The Turk,” the lowly scout who has the duty of summoning players from the locker room to the office of the head coach where “Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook” means you’ll be leaving the campus and chasing your NFL dream elsewhere.
Incidentally, UrbanDictionary.com defines “turk” as “someone who is extremely brave.” Joe Douglas spent six months talking Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz into drafting a Division 1-AA quarterback from Delaware in the first round of the NFL draft.
Douglas, by any measurement, is as brave as Joe Flacco is fearless.
By 2007, Douglas had moved up the ranks of the scouting system and was making that fateful Saturday a “quarterback doubleheader” – a rare chance to see two teams in one day, both with targets who could be the next quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. The afternoon game in Newark featured the Delaware Blue Hens hosting the Richmond Spiders in a Division I-AA matchup. The nightcap on the docket was Boston College visiting the Maryland Terps in College Park and Douglas would be joined by longtime Ravens scouts Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz, whom he’d meet at the I-95 Park and Ride near Catonsville so they could travel together to Byrd Stadium. Their target that evening was visiting Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan, who many thought would be the first quarterback – if not the first player – taken in the April 2008 draft.
Incidentally, Douglas was rooting hard for Richmond that afternoon and not out of disdain for Flacco or Delaware. Douglas was the starting left tackle for the Spiders from 1995-1998 and had been through many battles with the Blue Hens on the field. He was also quite familiar with many of the coaches and players in this contest. Even when he didn’t attend Richmond games – and it was rare to see his alma mater in person because NFL scouts don’t scout a lot of I-AA football games unless there’s a specific prospect they want to evaluate – his father would give him weekly Spiders reports from stands.
It was Douglas’ dad, Joel Douglas, who first told Big Joe D about Joe Flacco a year earlier after seeing the 2006 matchup in Richmond.
“He went to the game with my uncle and he called me up and said, ‘I don’t know who that Delaware quarterback was, but Richmond couldn’t stop him,’” Douglas said of a day when Flacco, then a junior who was making his seventh start for the Blue Hens, went 31-of-45 for 305 yards and a pair of TD passes in a come-from-behind 28-24 win over the Spiders. “Honestly, I was more mad that Richmond blew the lead than I was concerned about who Delaware’s junior quarterback was that day.”
The NFL scouting calendar begins in May after the draft. DeCosta and Hortiz enlist the entire organization to target potential candidates to scout for the following year. By August, the scouts plan their entire schedule for the fall, trying to chunk as many practices, games, campus visits and interviews as possible into the schedule while also trying to see the Ravens play some games at home and away. As an NFL scout, this is the most important time of the year because it’s a grueling workload, traveling as much as six days per week in search of a handful of picks you’ll make next April. Choosing a wise schedule lends itself to more rest and better scouting when you’re not driving six hours every day between visits. The schedule has to flow and be manageable so every possible combination is considered around games, campuses, distance, dates and, most importantly, legitimate prospects.
In the summer of 2007, Ravens scout Mark Azevedo, who was assigned Delaware during spring ball, recommended that Douglas see a tall, lanky kid who played quarterback at Delaware.
“Mark said, ‘Delaware has a kid with an arm. Put them on your schedule,’” Douglas said. “I had to look up his name because it rang a bell from the previous year when Delaware beat my Spiders.”
Even with McNair coming off a big 2006 season, anyone with football intelligence knew that the Ravens would probably be in the market for a quarterback in 2008 just based on his age and the fact that no one on Newsome’s staff – or Billick’s coaches for that matter – believed that incumbents Kyle Boller or Troy Smith were the answer. So, Douglas believed that seeing quarterbacks was a major priority that summer and fall in the hopes of finding the right player the following spring.
It was a full time job, this searching-for-a-Super Bowl-MVP-quarterback work.
Continue to the next page to keep reading excerpt from Chapter 6…