NFL Draft Prospect Grading Systems

A Standard for Communications

It’s one thing to have an opinion of a draft prospect, but it’s quite another to articulate that opinion to a group of your colleagues in a way that can be useful in the decision-making process, and can be understood even if you’re not standing there waving your arms and gushing about him or crinkling your nose in disgust.

Real NFL scouts use descriptive language and common verbiage to clearly and efficiently explain traits that prospects have or lack, and they have plenty of opportunity to explain in words anything unique about the person behind the facemask.

But after the personnel department hashes everything out, they need to reach a conclusion, even if dissenting opinions exist (and they do, all the time.) You either believe a guy is going to be X or he’s going to be Y, but the organization has got to make a call. The organization drafts as one, and the organization either tries to sign an undrafted prospect or they don’t.

Each personnel department has its own approach that comes from the top down, but most follow common practices, which makes orienting scouts hired from other organizations more efficient. It’s analogous to the common elements in NFL playbooks; of course there’s variation, but there are only so many ways to describe receivers’ route trees, and there’s a benefit to employing language that newcomers from other teams will find familiar and comfortable.

Before the prospects go up on the team’s master draft board, they get a grade, and most teams use a similar system. Some of the more serious NFL Draft analysts in the media do the same, which is no surprise given that some of them have experience as scouts, and many of the rest wish they did!

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When I was first breaking into scouting, Charley Casserly told me that scouting is fluid. No grade should ever be filed and forgotten.
Matt Miller
Bleacher Report
Most commonly, a team assigns a numerical grade that represents their best projection of what that prospect should become as a professional in the National Football League. The following table melds a system taken directly from the scouting manual of an NFL team from the mid-2000s with descriptive text from a similar system used by long-time scout and personnel executive Greg Gabriel. There are variations in all systems, but the approach is similar.
Numerical Grade Summary Description Verbose Description PowerHouse Grade
9.0 Immediate starter; rare prospect w/ rare physical attributes; instantly one of best in NFL
8.5-8.9 Rare; Elite Immediate starter; physical attributes to create mismatches; will become one of best in NFL R1+/R1
8.0-8.4 Immediate starter; physical mismatch vs. most opponents; will be a featured player on his team
7.5-7.9 Exceptional; Impact Becomes a starter as a rookie; physical mismatch vs. most opponents; will be a featured player on his team R1-/R2+
7.0-7.4 Outstanding; Starter Becomes a starter as a rookie; solid NFL player with no major weaknesses to exploit R2/R2-
6.9 Contributes as a rookie, starts second year
6.8 Contributes as a rookie; starts eventually
6.7 Excellent; Potential Starter Contributes as a rookie; impactful sub/situational player R3
6.6 Physical tools to start, but has a limitation to overcome; boom or bust
6.5 Tools to start, but deficient in a way that he should overcome
6.4 Tools to start, but deficient in a way that will be difficult to overcome
6.3 Tools deficient in a way that cannot be overcome, but may become a starter anyway
6.2 Very Good; Solid Backup Lacks physical tools to start, but should make an impact as a sub/situational contributor R4 , R5
6.1 Tools to start, but will require significant development at pro level
6.0 Tools to start, but has not played to potential; boom or bust
5.9 Tools to contribute as a backup; should be able to overcome deficiencies
5.8 Tools to contribute as a backup; will struggle to overcome deficiencies
5.7 Good; Chance Make Tools to contribute as a backup; cannot overcome deficiencies R6, R7, PFA
5.6 Free agent with speed, character, and competitiveness
5.5 Free agent with athletic ability, character, and competitiveness
5.4 Free agent with size, character, and competitiveness
5.3 Above Average / Developmental Free agent at a high level of competition with size, speed, or athletic ability PFA
5.2 Free agent with size or speed
5.1 Free agent with character and competitiveness
5.0 Camp body
4.0-4.9 Average / Below Average Lacks the qualities/attributes required for pro football FA

One of the more respected voices among the NFL Draft pundits, a much-maligned (and often fairly so) group, is Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s lead draft writer. I have known Matt for years, and I respect both his process and his opinions.

He posted in a February, 2016 draft article that he was revising his own grading system (you have to scroll down a bit if you click to read the article.) One interesting thing that Matt does is that he provides an approximate number of prospects that are expected to be in each tier in an average draft class.

We do the same on our Draft Board (stacking) page (navigate to Draft Room > Board,) though not to the same level of granularity at the top of the board, and in a bit more detail at the bottom.

For both Matt, doing his NFL Draft analysis, and you in your role as a virtual NFL General Manager building your board on our site, these numbers are merely guidelines. You are free to assign grades however you see fit.

Dan Shonka, another long-time NFL scout who runs Ourlads Guide to the NFL Draft, uses a different numerical system to convey the same information. This system has always appealed to me, because it makes mathematical calculations easier, it’s the system that I “grew up” on (I’ve been an Ourlads subscriber since the 1980s,) and it more elegantly describes the hypothetical perfect prospect as a “10.”

Grade Round Ourlads Description PowerHouse Grade
9.99-9.00 1 R1+/R1, R1-/R2+
8.99-8.00 2 Eventual starter; probable first-year starter; minimal development time R1-/R2+, R2/R2-
7.99-7.00 3 Good backup; upgrades marginal starter; eventual starter with development time R3
6.99-6.00 4 Solid backup; ascending skills & production; good upside based on measurables; needs development time R4
5.99-5.00 5 Upgrades marginal backup; moderate deficiency in skill; developmental size/speed prospect; consistent producer R5
4.99-4.00 6 Upgrades roster depth; deficient measurables or size/speed prospect with inconsistent skills/production R6
3.99-3.50 7 Upgrades size/speed at position of need; borderline pro skills; has a chance to develop R7
3.49-3.00 PFA Developmental prospect with draftable qualities PFA
2.99-2.50 FA Free agent with height, weight, speed, or another special asset FA
2.49-2.00 Camp Emergency player for camp NR

In our iGMTM virtual NFL General Manager simulation, we use the Ourlads system, but the numbers don’t show anywhere on the site. They’re used behind the scenes in a few ways, like to support the calculations made when the computer picks in our Mock Drafts. If you have a prospect ranked 37th, for example, he may carry a numerical grade of, say, 8.76. We’ll multiply that value by a factor a bit above 1.00 if a team has a need at the prospect’s position, or a bit less than that if they don’t.

When you’re setting up your rankings, you assign a “Grade” of R1+/R1, R1-/R2+, R2/R2-, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, PFA (“priority free agent,”) FA (other “free agent,”) or NR (“not ranked,” a simple catch-all for anyone you’re not interested in.) You can then re-rank prospects within each group. Behind the scenes, our system assigns Ourlads-system numerical grades automatically, but you don’t need to bother with them.

Fundamentally, most drafts have really only about twenty or so prospects who are clearly first-rounders. Then there’s a group that could go late in R1 or towards the top of R2. Our system encourages you to set your board up that way, but, of course, you’re free to use it any way you like.

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