How to do your own football homework

For about the last 2 months, we have spent a lot of time breaking down tape of some of the more prominent free agents around the NFL from a Cowboys’ perspective and now we move to where we will begin looking at college players so that we are familiar with the good and bad of each and every player that might be a real possibility for the Cowboys in Yhe 1st and 2nd rounds. And whenever we do this, I am asked by a large number of readers about the methods and resources available to breaking down a player for this sort of thing.

2012 is a great time to be a football fan, as now, we are at the best point in football history for doing our own homework. Now, some scouts and football types may roll their eyes on that sort of statement, but as someone who truly loves this sport, I always hated relying on Street and Smith’s Draft Guide to tell me who my team should take in a draft. Because often times, the writers were not giving each player an independent evaluation, either. He was talking to people who had seen a player play and simply repeating everything he hears about a guy.

But, now days, there is no reason why anyone could not watch a player closely for even just an hour and get a strong feel for what a player does well and what he doesn’t do so well. You watch football. You have watched it your whole life. So, why would someone like you not be able to watch 5 different defensive ends play a few hundred snaps each and rank them for yourself?

This isn’t to say that any of us can do the job of an NFL scout or general manager. But this is to say that if you love the sport and the team, there is no reason that you have to believe everything that you are told by the brass of a team when we all know that they are predisposed to tell us the sun is shining even when it is pouring rain.

Anyway, if you are someone who fancies himself as a “student of the game”, then you likely know all of the methods that are used in the year 2012 for this sort of thing, but since many ask me how I do it, I wanted to share it with you on this blog post.

So, here are the Frequently Asked Questions for a football dork like me:

Q: Where/How do you find all of the tape that you watch?

A: I admittedly have a bit of a problem when it comes to football. I have an extensive library of hundreds of game broadcasts going back to the 1970’s at home. I make an effort to put as many games on DVD that I can these days and file them away because you never know what game you are going to want to see again down the road. But, honestly, that is antiquated and it will only make your wife mad at you, so I would like to recommend something far more practical in the year 2012.

In the year 2012, we have that offers you every game of the 2011 season in full high definition on your computer for about $29. This is the best purchase a football nerd could ever make and a place where I view almost all of my NFL film these days. also offers the “coaches tape” for every key play of the game, and there you can see exactly the same film that scouts and coaches are looking at in those rooms at the facility.

When the Cowboys are said to have interest in a player that I am unfamiliar with, or if it looks like they are going hard at a corner in free agency, it is easy to call up any game you want and watch every snap a guy takes for the entire year. Before long, you will know Brandon Carr from Cortland Finnegan and you will understand what each can and can’t do. It really amazed me when a beat writer suggested something that was flat out contradictory about Carr a few weeks ago. It was clear that he was getting his information from someone who didn’t know what they were talking about and if he was watching Carr himself (For just $29) he wouldn’t have misled his audience. Others in the Cowboys media suggested that Finnegan was strictly a slot corner these days. That also was categorically false and easily dispelled if they would have watched just 1 Tennessee game with their own eyes.

When it comes to college players, it gets more complex. has an archive of all of the ESPN college games that have been broadcasted, but that can be difficult for all to have access. There are also a number of channels like ESPN Classic and CBS College Sports Network that rerun games all year round. If you know what you are looking for, you can generally find the right games. But, this does require you planning ahead. I start recording college games in September so that I have a proper library for each spring when I need to see certain prospects play. But, of course, that is not practical for most and certainly won’t help you now.

For those that need games now, your best bet is youtube. There are many people out there these days that will put reels of players up that are significant for the draft. It is amazing the amount of work they put into these tapes that, when properly done, contain every snap from a given game so you see good plays and bad ones, alike. Highlight films are of no use. You quickly learn that any player can string 10 good plays together over the course of the season and make you think they are great. But, if there are also 25 horrible ones, we need to consider the full body of work.

Youtube is not ideal, but it is much, much better than believing what someone else thinks about a given player. As fans and media, there never used to be away to do your own work, but now there are plenty of resources to see most Top 100 draftees from countless perspectives by draft day.

Q: Do you have access to coach’s tape and why does everyone talk like it is so important?

A: The first answer is “sometimes”. I would elaborate, but the last thing I want to do is mess up my methods for obtaining this tape, so I will stay rather vague and generic. I am building a nice collection, but I often get it well after the week of the game.

Everyone talks about it because it is considered the single best way to analyze football. The cameras are high and wide and you can see “All 22” players, which is a real weakness of the TV copy. This allows you to get a much better idea about what each player is supposed to do because you can see what coverage the team falls into and you can see where the open receivers are for a QB. You can see the end zone view for watching line play, and there is no question that is helpful. Do you learn more from the coach tape? Sure. But, having used both, I might argue that the advantages are not always so substantial that you cannot settle for the TV copy. Here is a big story in the Wall Street Journal about the debate of making all of the information available to all of the fans.

So, do I do my work using the coach’s tape? Whenever I can. But, that is a small percentage of the time.

Q: What are some ways to watch film that make the job easier?

A: This may be elementary, but I think it is mandatory that you lock on to just 1 or 2 players at a time. You use rewind a ton. You have no sound up on the game because hearing opinions from the broadcasters will affect your opinion and it is often dead wrong. It seems many broadcasters rely on dated information that still champions washed up players as elite, and we don’t need any further distractions.

You have a pad of paper and you watch closely how he plays on each snap. How hard is he playing? How well is he playing? How many of his individual battles are being won? Remember, in this game of blocking and tackling, let’s not make this more complicated than it has to be. Is he getting his lunch handed to him or is he dominating? Is he merely holding his own? Does he demand a double team? Does he need help to block the guy in front of him? Evan Mathis, one of the more under-rated linemen in the NFL, actually wrote a piece on on this very topic.

Don’t be fooled by: Long hair, tattoos, or other things that don’t matter. Also, don’t be fooled by high-light film plays when there are 99 other plays in every 100. Consider carefully who he is playing against. Sometimes, a guy can look great against poor talent, but you want to watch a number of games to see if he is as good as you might think. You want to see him in every spot because sometimes a team will change their game plan because of game circumstances. But, you want to watch your player in every situation.

Finally, I recommend that you actually try to read less about the players you are studying. Sure, comparing notes with those you might trust makes sense, but I just cited a few examples where Cowboys’ beat writers just did not know what they were talking about when telling their audience misinformation. Sometimes, no information is better than wrong information.

Anyway, over the next few weeks, I am going to be posting reviews of about 15-20 players which I have looked at as Cowboys prospects. Whenever possible, I am going to include youtube cuts of each player to help you do your own work if that is something that you desire. When I do that, there will be plenty that roll their eyes and say you can’t learn anything off youtube. And this is my response: Ridiculous. You can’t learn everything, but it is way better than what we used to have. If you have full game tapes, great. If you have coach’s film, share!  But, if you are a big football fan and this sort of thing interests you, there is now more information out there than ever before.

Or, if you don’t care about this sort of thing, I will do the work and you can read that review and not worry about any of the rest of this. Either way, it is always football season.