Each week is another step forward in the journey for the East-West Shrine Bowl ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. This week, Director Eric Galko gave an update as to where his team is at. The time for invites isn’t here yet, but they’re getting closer. Right now, gathering as much information as possible remains the goal.
2023 NFL Draft: Bi-weekly update marks milestone for Shrine Bowl
As the call starts at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Galko has been on video calls since 9 a.m. Ahead of his call with PFN, he had a two-hour meeting with the Shrine Bowl staff — a bi-weekly update.
These updates are crucial for helping the Shrine Bowl staff reconvene and find common ground in a fast-paced season, where everyone is spread out. They occur often enough that the staff can stay on the same page, but also grant scouts enough time to watch tape, explore new prospects, and see prospects live to attune their perspectives.
For Galko, there’s a theme that comes with the early bi-weekly updates. And that theme is information gathering. Hearkening back to Shane Coughlin’s comments from last week, about asking questions to eventually reach a concrete truth, Galko says that’s where they are now. And that’s where they’ll be for a little bit longer.
“Before, it was watching the FCS guys and seeing those Week 1 or Week 0 starters — who did we think was going to start, and who’s not starting? That was a huge part of Week 0, Week 1, and Week 2,” Galko began.
“Now, we’re at the point of checking production — who are guys that are really producing? Emerging players, transfers, new players who are newly starters, redshirt sophomores, even freshmen. Guys who came back from injury. I think for us, it’s finding the guys that, either we knew about and were excited to see early on in the season, or guys who we weren’t really thinking of.”
Galko mentions Houston’s Derek Parish as a notable producer, and Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim as a prospect who’s impressed coming off of a major injury. But the list of names goes far beyond that. Galko doesn’t shy away from the massive scope of it all — “It’s a lot of guys to go through.” But for Galko, it comes with the territory, and it’s a necessary part of the job.
Taking in input from NFL teams starting to become more important
For the Shrine Bowl, preparation is paramount. That’s something that both Galko and Coughlin have made clear in previous weeks. The Shrine Bowl staff is built to be self-sufficient when it comes to analysis and scouting observations on prospects. But at the same time, for an organization that partners with the NFL, having a finger on the pulse of the NFL itself is a vital step, especially as the time for invites nears.
Galko says they’re entering the time of year where keeping tabs with NFL information and opinions is a necessary part of the process — still remaining self-sufficient, but also gathering the largest sum of knowledge that they can. It’s something Galko’s mentioned in the past — relying on NFL area scouts to build local knowledge and acquire an intimate understanding of a prospect. That sentiment rings true here.
“Who’s impressive? Who’s underweight, who’s overweight? Who is recovering from injury, who are the coaches raving about? Who are the coaches purposely not talking about, because they’ve got issues there? Are there players who have things going on in their lives that are impacting the way they’re playing?” Galko explained, sampling questions to ask NFL sources. “Things like that are valuable, and I keep our staff up-to-date as much as I can.”
Galko emphasizes the need to stay independent from the NFL when assigning grades and making decisions. But it’s clear that, in a wholly-encompassing information gathering process, no source of information should go un-used or underutilized.
“It’s important for me — because I trust our staff and we’ve got great scouts and great advisors — that I don’t let any NFL grades or input affect our decision-making,” Galko elaborated. “But it does affect our process. ‘Hey, let’s give this guy a second look. Hey, multiple great scouts in the league have had access to this — let’s do that.’
“Right now, as our staff and NFL teams try to figure out these players, for me, it’s a lot of information gathering and sharing it with our staff. When it’s invite time, we’ll take NFL grades a little bit further. But it’s a lot of information gathering right now, and trying to make sure we’re not missing guys early in the season.”
More specifically, the information gathering phase is comprised of asking questions. And that’s another component that Galko emphasizes. Like Coughlin last week, Galko says the questions that remain ultimately dictate what kind of information you’re targeting. And until the Shrine Bowl staff has answered all the questions they need to, they’re not quite ready to stack their board.
“You want to have everything laid out perfectly before making decisions,” Galko exclaimed. “I’m not going to go watch a player and decide whether or not a player will be invited to the Shrine Bowl, without all the work leading up to it, too.”
Wide receiver evaluation within the Shrine Bowl lens
The information gathering process is similar but also different across position groups. And perhaps no positional process has come under more microscopic discussion than that of the wide receiver position in recent years. There’s a sense that the way to evaluate a receiver is shifting in the modern NFL.
Galko, who’s been scouting for the better part of two decades, has noticed that shift. There was an era not too long ago where the desired mold at receiver was very different. And while there are still multiple ways to win at the position, certain creation-conducive traits are carrying more weight.
“Ten years ago, guys at the catch point — those big 6’3″ and 6’4” receivers — were all the rage. In a jump-ball situation, can you win 50-50 balls 60% of the time? I think now, in today’s NFL, it’s: Can you separate before it’s a contested catch? We’re all about yards after catch more than contested-catch ability.
“Contested catches are fun, and it’s important. It’s a good trait to have. But I think it’s much more important for these guys to separate on these mid and downfield routes, and seeing these guys do it from all sorts of areas.”
With prospects like Purdue’s Charlie Jones and SMU’s Rashee Rice breaking out in explosive fashion on the college football stage, the WR evaluation process falls under enhanced scrutiny. Just what is it that makes these prospects good? And more generally, what should one look for in a wide receiver, to know that he’s an NFL talent?
For Galko, while it’s a complex conversation, it does boil down to: Do you have the traits and the tools to win from multiple alignments? Some bigger receivers will be confined to the slot as matchup winners. But can they go outside? Some receivers are limited to go-routes, hitch routes, and skinny posts. But can you expand that tree and manipulate DBs in more ways beyond that? Galko reiterates that there are different types of separators and creators, but simply having that creation capacity is the biggest step.
“Some guys are going to be super twitchy and have the routes to do it,” Galko detailed. “Some guys are long-striders but can control their speed very well. Other guys, like Charlie Jones, are late-breaking separators. They control their speed very well, use subtle hand movements, and separate that last bit. It all works, but finding out how these guys separate, what routes they separate by, and if they can do it from multiple alignments is key.”
Galko leaves the thought off with this: Generally, receivers who can do this are receivers who can get open and make themselves available for QBs. And as long as their QB play is decent, they’ll rack up numbers. With players like Rice and Jones, we’re already seeing that.
The importance of background information when watching prospects
Preparation is a foundational stepping stone for the Shrine Bowl and its information-gathering process, but not just on the field. Scouts don’t simply fire up the tape and start jotting down notes. There’s a prerequisite level of study that has to be done on a prospect’s background. Galko cites one of his advisors, Scot Mccloughan — a former NFL general manager with an abundance of scouting experience — as a good example to follow.
“Our staff had a meeting with Scot Mccloughan, who’s on our board of advisors, just last week,” Galko shared. “Really just talking about players, but also making sure our younger guys know how to use this in perspective. We care a lot about background. It’s really important for us to know the background of a guy before you watch the film. I asked Scot, ‘how do you prepare to watch film?’ And he went over about 20 minutes of how he prepares background-wise to watch these guys on film.”
It’s an extensive process, and that’s no accident. The list of questions to answer is long for the Shrine Bowl, and every bit of information gathered is information that can help trim down that list. Nothing less is good enough, for a staff that has to be on track when invite season comes around.
“When you have expectations coming in, and they’re validated, that tells you something,” Galko continued. “When they’re not validated, you can also say ‘okay, I thought he’d be better at this, and he’s not quite there yet.'”
Citing an example, Galko takes us to Eugene, Oregon, and mentions Oregon edge rusher DJ Johnson. Turn on the tape, and you see Johnson’s tools. He’s long, he’s athletic, he has play strength and power. But a very important aspect of Johnson’s profile is his past as a tight end. That experience on the offensive side of the ball, Galko says, impacts Johnson’s perspective as a defensive player. More importantly, it changes how he plays on the edge.
“With DJ, you see it. You see the ability. The instincts in the passing game are definitely there. He has a good understanding of the quarterback and the pocket. If [the QB] goes outside, he has more time. Does he look for a throw? If he goes inside, like Jaren Hall did, you could see that Johnson went around the bend, saw Hall, and he knew ‘hey, if he goes inside and steps up into the pocket, I need to get to him now, or he’s going to be a runner.’ Stuff like that, as a former offensive player, you have more instincts for.”
That background knowledge may seem like a small, indifferent nugget of information. But for the Shrine Bowl, it’s one of very many crucial puzzle pieces, all of which work toward compiling a complete picture of a prospect.
The Shrine Bowl’s mindset heading into conference play
Week 3 was a relatively inconsequential week of the 2022 college football season. There weren’t a ton of heavyweight matchups. There weren’t many ranked spectacles or big-ticket FCS games, save for Southern Illinois vs. Northwestern and NDSU vs. Arizona. But things take a step up in Week 4. Conference play is on the doorstep. And soon, prospect-dense teams in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC will go head-to-head.
As Galko has said before, strength of competition isn’t the end-all, be-all in scouting. It’s more of a contextual factor. But nonetheless, the Shrine Bowl staff will have eyes on the uptick — more specifically, how teams as a whole respond to the development of an ongoing campaign.
“I think there’ll be a lot more unranked upsets over ranked opponents,” Galko theorized. “Maybe teams who had easy non-conference schedules will get complacent. Teams who might not be as battle-tested from their out-of-conference slate. It all builds into that perspective piece of evaluating these players.
“For example, Tennessee is playing Florida. It’s at Tennessee. I want to see how that Florida offense bounces back from two weeks ago against Kentucky. USC is traveling to Oregon State. A lot of good players in that USC offense. Oregon State’s a very good team. I want to see how those guys handle that.
“It’s basically Week 1 again. A new Week 1. Now it’s time to get your season started. All these teams feel that they’re 0-0 heading into conference play. We want to see which teams are really motivated to go out there and do that. It goes for QBs, it goes for O-line and D-line matchups. It goes for receivers and DBs not making any mistakes. All of those things, we’re watching very closely.”
And it all comes back to the goal of information gathering. Questions still remain to be answered. And for the time being, the Shrine Bowl staff is intent on seeing those through.