Phil Savage has been a football scout since 1994 and was involved in drafting both the Offensive Rookie of the Year, Garret Wilson and the Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sauce Gardner in 2022.  This achievement marked just the third time in NFL history that a franchise has claimed both honours in the same year. Prior to joining the New York Jets in 2019, Savage spent nine seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. During his tenure there, the team won a Super Bowl and drafted Hall of Fame inductees, Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It’s fair to say then, that Phil Savage has an eye for talent, so with the 2024 NFL Draft upon us,

M&F sat down with the man himself to figure out how a player can increase his chances of being drafted, and what mistakes to avoid.

Know the NFL Draft benchmarks

First things first, to impress in a combine before even reaching the NFL draft, you’ll need to know some of the athletic benchmarks:

  • 40-Yard Dash: Approx 4.5 seconds (depending on position)
  • Vertical Jump: Aim for around 30 inches or more
  • Broad Jump: Approx 10 feet
  • Bench Press: Aim for 225 pounds for multiple reps
  • 3-Cone Drill: Approx 7 seconds

Data is important, but understanding the numbers is crucial

“I had 40 schools this year,” estimates Savage regarding being on the road and scouting talent. The NFL draft expert held a number of lofty positions on his journey to the New York Jets, including Vice President and General Manager at the Cleveland Browns (2005-08), Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director (2012-18), and General Manager of the Arizona Hotshots in the Alliance of American Football (2019-19). The longtime football executive says that while many scouts rely on data while sitting remotely in an office, this scout still believes in visiting the schools in person. “Because, some players are able to perform above the numbers, and then there are other players who can never reach the potential of the numbers,” he explains. “So, there’s still that intangible person to person interaction that you have to figure out, and I think that’s probably the magic or the art of scouting, is trying to sort through all this information and say this particular prospect is going to become bona fide, real NFL player, in our case a true performer for the Jets.”

Successful players do not always have perfect stats before a draft

“Not every player, not even close to every player is going to be what I would term [all] ‘green’ on his card,” Savage says. “He’s not going to meet every measure on every standard, there’s gonna be some ‘Red’ mixed in. And that’s really our job, in scouting to figure out; ‘okay, the red part of his card, what can he overcome? Or is it just fatal, so to speak, in terms of his professional football career?” Savage says that a player’s adaptability and mental agility is genuinely be a determining factor in making an individual more likely to be picked up by a team. A player who has perfect stats but a negative personality could conceivably end up giving way to a less than perfect performer who shows the potential to progress. If this knowledge doesn’t inspire aspiring football players to keep plugging away, then you may be in the wrong game.

Scouts build a narrative on each player that is under consideration

Athletic performance may be a central aspect of finding the next big thing in football, but high-end scouts like Savage want to find out the whole story on an individual before they can commit a team’s investment into that person at the NFL draft. Even before meeting a player, scouts are making investigations. “We write up a narrative based on the staff that we talk to,” explains Savage. “Coaches, trainers, strength coach, coordinator, and so you start to build out a narrative of; ‘okay, who is this person?’ And then, by the time we get to what we call the All-Star season, or the combine, that’s when we get the chance to have that first in-person exposure. And, when the personality matches everything you’ve been told … those are the easy ones. The hard ones are when five people at the school tell you five different things, or maybe they tell you all the same thing, but then when you meet the player and ‘wow, this kid is totally opposite of what I thought.” When the information lines up, or is clarified through future interviews or visits, Savage calls it a ‘DNA match’ that could see a player signing with the New York Jets. Want to be chosen? Start working on those interpersonal relationships sooner rather than later.

No player will be selected in the NFL Draft as a matter of ‘entitlement’

“I think that one of the things that we are seeing now, quite honestly, is that there is a degree of entitlement,” says Savage. “Especially when a young man is identified in seventh, eighth, ninth grade as the best player in his town, at his high school, he’s a five-star recruit, he goes to college, he plays three years and now he’s come to the NFL, and he’s always been considered the best at every stop. And, I think one of the real challenges is when that player’s not seen any failure, and now he gets to the NFL now everybody’s good. He gets beat, or he gives up a sack, he gets blocked, or whatever the case may be, how does that particular player respond to on-field adversity?” Savage says that when a player has experienced little failure, their response can be unpredictable, whereas a player that has come through adversity on the field can be measured a little more via their past history and ability to weather the storm. “We try do dig in, and ask those kind of questions,” says the scout, who feels that some players truly fail because they cannot accept that hard work is constantly required in order to compete. Never feel that you are entitled to a spot or someone else out there, who is working harder, will likely humble you in an insanely competitive sport like football.

Now in his fifth season for the NY Jets, Savage plays a pivotal part in the off-season, evaluating college prospects and pro players while providing valuable insight into the player personnel department’s overall philosophy, grading systems and annual approach to building the club’s roster and practice squad. The insight the NFL scout has provided to M&F is essential reading for football players of the future. He’s also been keeping tabs on the NFL Academy in the UK and predicts that international talent will continue to break into the sport, meaning that athletes would do well to follow his guidance in terms of working on themselves from every mental and physical angle.

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