Mike Mayock, the NFL Draft, and the future of football evaluation

Could the next wave of NFL evaluators be created behind a screen instead of the football field?

When Mike Mayock was penned general manager of the Oakland Raiders, it sparked the interest of the football world unlike many front office hires. Why? Fans were familiar with Mayock in a unique way few front office members were known. Before claiming his chair alongside Jon Gruden with the Raiders, Mayock starred as NFL Network’s lead draft analyst where he pulled back the player evaluation curtain.

One faction of the football realm took a specific interest in Mayock’s hiring. It’s a group that has taken on its own persona, known simply as “draft Twitter.” Draft Twitter needs little explanation. It’s a collection of fans, former players and media members who focus on the draft throughout the year. The hiring of Mayock was significant. Even if he didn’t know it, he had become a poster boy for the world of “draft Twitter.”

Mayock’s hire generated buzz across draft twitter. Many pondered who could be the next media member to make the transition. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, and others on the media landscape have all been tapped as the potential next-man-up. Before we peg the next media member turned GM, a bigger question should be asked. Could the NFL’s next wave of evaluators and decision makers come from this neighborhood?

Football Intelligence

Perhaps it’s a silly concept to the old guard, but the access to football-centric information has never been greater. The ability to streamline knowledge about the inside levels of football with only the playing experience of high school is a legitimate possibility. That increases as technology and social media advance. With film becoming more accessible digitally, the same sequence of plays can be debated behind a screen at any time. This is the basis of draft Twitter.

With an influx of information constantly growing and readily available, a new breed of intelligent football mind is forming. Could the next group of football thinkers be created behind a screen instead of on the field?

Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, it’s important to know about Mayock, Jeremiah, and others. Mayock had a career as a player in the early 80’s. Jeremiah was a quarterback at the college level before becoming an NFL scout. Zac Robinson, the new assistant quarterback coach on Sean McVay’s staff, spent time working in media as an analyst for Pro Football Focus. Before joining PFF, Robinson played quarterback at Oklahoma State and in the NFL. 

A resume of first-hand experience in the trenches will always carry serious clout. But of late, the NFL has taken bold steps towards finding the most innovative mind. So is it outlandish to think desperate NFL teams will look outside for help?

A growing pool of information

The centralized focus around the draft has put every step of the evaluation process under a microscope. Outlets like The Ringer, Bleacher Report and ESPN have media scouts working throughout the year breaking down film for an audience craving draft content. Upstart sites like The Draft Network have launched a bevy of intelligent and experienced writers providing resources based around evaluation alone.

Away from the draft, media outlets have invested in individuals who live in the all-22 breaking down film like professionals. The Athletic employees a staff who do team-specific weekly breakdowns. Count on other outlets to mimic the behind scenes evaluation process of an NFL organization. It seems only a matter of time before a media scout impresses the right person, and bridges that gap.

On top of all the first-hand content you can take in 24/7, resources like The Scouting Academy are available to be formally trained in the art of football evaluation. The Scouting Academy is building a stable of alumni who are making the jump to the professional ranks. The curtain will never be fully open, but slowly the process is becoming more transparent.

For the sake of comparisons, let’s look back at the rise of sabermetrics in baseball. A process frowned upon by their old guard is now a staple for every big league club. Baseball is an analytical game at its heart and is wildly different than football. Let’s use it as an example of outside voices who took a less traditional route to employment by a professional sports organization.

The bridge between media and the NFL

There is no clear road-map from media to calling shots in the NFL. This is simply a theory on the future voices of football evaluation. That being said, sitting at the table with an NFL front office is a tougher task than opening your laptop and cranking out a few grades in a tweet. There is a strenuous schedule that is only cut for the committed. Also, there will always be a stigma that a person working in the media will never be able to shake. There is a rightful lack of trust with teams that will probably never dissipate. There are probably many more unmentioned hurdles to jump before there is a pipeline for outsiders to get into the NFL.

Lastly, let’s circle back to Mr. Mayock. His association with the media before being hired will magnify what he does as opposed to other new general managers. We cannot scoff at the journey Mayock is about to embark on with the Raiders. As former scout and director of The Scouting Academy, Dan Hatman told me “There is about as big of a line as you can draw between evaluation and building rosters.”

Mayock will have a vastly greater amount of responsibility than we can ever justly compare to a twitter scout. “Evaluation is the easiest thing in football,” said Hatman. “Everything else gets drastically harder.”

Although Mayock’s not a football outsider by any means, his success at the NFL level could potentially open doors for outside voices to be heard. Expect this gap between the media and the league to grow ever closer. 

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles