You see the star ratings, the rankings and words like "upside," or "soft verbal", but do you really know what they mean? Scott Kennedy, Director of Scouting at Scout.com, took some time out of his busy day to explain the nuances of scouting and the terminology used by Scout.com's experts.
Understanding Scout.com's Top 300 is really not that difficult. A five-star rating is awarded to the top 50 prospects. A four-star rating is awarded to a prospect that is considered one of the next 250 best players, ranked No. 51 to 300.
Simple. To the point. No interpretation necessary.
Is there a difference between a four-star and a five-star player? It depends on where he is ranked. There's not a lot of difference between a prospect ranked No. 48 and a prospect ranked No. 51—except that No. 48 is a five-star and No. 51 is a four-star. So realistically, a four-star and a five-star player can be almost identical in terms of ability and talent, yet be separated by one little star.
"We set up our star system almost like the NFL Draft board might do," Scott Kennedy explained. "Football is a physical game. If you've got a guy who is bigger, faster and stronger—and plays harder than everybody else—you're going to have a great football player."
"A star rating is not an evaluation," Kennedy continued. "Until we have a secondary grading system, the only way we can tell you what a five-star player is, 'he's a top 50 player.' That's what a five-star player is. There's no ambiguity behind it."
Kennedy said there are some expectations that come with a five-star rating." He should be an All-American or first or second round NFL Draft pick," he said. "Four stars, I expect to get drafted or be an All-Conference guy. Three stars I expect to be a plus starter on his team. Two stars I expect to be a contributor."
According to Kennedy, the toughest position to evaluate is an offensive lineman, "and it's not close," he added. "Big guys develop more slowly. Skill players are born, linemen are built. While we are ranking them, they are the farthest from being finished products, which makes them the hardest to project."
Prospects are constantly being evaluated, but the evaluations don't always take place just on the field. Kennedy relayed how he was on an airplane and spotted another prospect on the flight as well. "I watched him…how he treated the flight attendants—that can tell you a little something about what kind of character he has."
Kennedy debunked a myth about ranking fluctuations as well.
Sometimes, a prospect appears to have been downgraded when in reality, he hasn't. As more and more prospects are evaluated and ranked, the entire pool of talent gets bigger. If a prospect is initially ranked No. 50 out of 200 total prospects early on, but gets ranked 100th out of 500 total prospects later, technically he jumped from the top 25 percent of players in the country to the top 20 percent of players in the country, despite dropping from his initial ranking of No. 50 to No. 100. This ill-perceived downgrade can upset fans and the prospect.
"A lot of the parents blame us for their kids not getting scholarship offers, saying if we'd rank them higher, they would get more offers," Kennedy said. "Colleges are doing their own work. If they've seen you and haven't offered, that's up to them, not us."
"The hardest part is the parents who are good-intentioned and believe what they're being told during the recruiting process, by the coaches. When that doesn’t match up with what they then see from someone who doesn't care— or isn't trying to recruit a player—it causes friction."
Friction aside, the player can minimize all the hoopla and distractions that have become synonymous with recruiting.
"A player controls his own level of recruitment," Kennedy said. "If he doesn't want to be recruited, he commits to a school."
Even then, a commitment to a school isn't always a lock, but interestingly, a "soft verbal" doesn't necessarily mean a prospect is wavering in his decision.
"I hate the term 'soft verbal' and if I had enough guts I would wipe it off the map completely," Kennedy laughed. "A 'soft verbal' to us means that a prospect is committed to one school, but schedules an official visit to another [school."
Kennedy also said that what you read on a prospect is based on information given to Scout. "Once you become a purveyor of information, the information comes to you," he explained. "The high school coaches are the absolute life-blood of our business. A high school coach in a relationship with us will last 15 or 20 years, but a player is a one-year [relationship] for us, for the most part."
So how accurate is some of the information given to Scout by coaches? Well, height, weight and speed are usually exaggerated.
"I would shave an inch off and ten pounds off every one of them, minimum," Kennedy said adamantly. "That's a minimum baseline, depending on a position."
"Let's not even get into the 40's [40-yard dash]—everybody runs a 4.4," he laughed.
Kennedy gladly admitted that Scout uses positive terminology in evaluating areas of improvement. When a prospect is described as having great "upside", what that really means is that "he's got great physical abiIity," Kennedy explained.
"If the light ever comes on for a guy with this much physical talent, he's going to be really good. He's farther ahead physically, but behind in production."
"We're the good news business," Kennedy explained. "People don't always agree with our opinions, but we like to be in the good news business."