Area scouts already looking ahead

Heard from a scouting friend Friday morning via text message and he pointed out an NFL draft prospect worth keeping an eye on: Louis Nix III, a defensive lineman out of Notre Dame and a key starter during the school's resurgent 2012 season.

Nix, however, opted to return to school for his senior season and won't be drafted until next April. But the scout wasn't getting ahead of himself. Rather, despite the fact that the 2013 NFL draft is less than three weeks away, many scouts will begin to turn their attention toward next year's class around this time.

The process of evaluating prospects can be thought of like a funnel. The area scouts (who patrol a certain region of the country and are responsible for finding top players in their territory) start the process of establishing the pool of "draftable" prospects. They work exhaustively to study every school they are responsible for and eventually formulate a database of prospects that they will continue to study throughout the year. They evaluate their physical skills, work habits, behavior histories, ways that they interact with coaches and many other factors to produce a comprehensive evaluation.

Those evaluations are fed up to the director of college scouting or player personnel director and any other scouting authority before landing with the head coach and GM. The work the area scouts do is the foundation for the draft process and provides invaluable support to the ultimate decision makers.

But at some point in the process (and for some teams, that point has been reached), the work that the area scouts can do on prospects is complete -- the decision-makers gather all of the information they have (which includes their own evaluations and those from other members of their organization as well) and further formulate their draft plans.

So with less than three weeks until the start of the draft, some area scouts have wrapped up their work on their pool of prospects for this year (barring any unforeseen event that could alter their stock, i.e. an injury, etc.) and are laying the groundwork for next year. That means coordinating with colleges to figure out what dates practices will be open in the fall, getting a feel for top players at each position and scouring the landscape for lesser-known prospects.

That doesn't mean that these scouts are detaching from the 2013 draft, not by any stretch. Rather, more of their work on this year's draft in the next 20 days will be fine-tuning reports and following up on anything unexpected that could come up, while also getting a step ahead on 2014.

It's yet another testament to the notion that preparing for the draft truly is a year-round process.