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Mark Wahlberg inspired all of us who love a good underdog story when he starred as Vince Papale in the movie Invincible in 2006. Invincible is a true story based on the life of Papale.
Papale bounced around on different semi-pro football teams before settling down as a substitute teacher and part-time bartender in Philadelphia. Unsatisfied with his life, he decides to attend an open tryout held by the Philadelphia Eagles where he actually makes the team.
Papale played three seasons with the Eagles, and while the movie is based on his story, like most movies, the filmmakers took some creative liberties in the events of the story. In the real story, Papale was invited to a closed tryout with the Eagles; he did not attend an open one.
While many NFL teams did utilize open tryouts early on in the league’s history, the movie Invincible gives many fans who hope to one day play in the NFL false hope as tryouts do not take place as they did in the movie.
NFL teams do not have open tryouts the same way they used to in the earlier days of the NFL. All NFL teams have tryouts, but instead of opening them up to anyone, prospects are invited to try out for the team.
Hope is not completely lost for hopeful prospects. There are other ways that teams identify talent, and there have never been more opportunities to be seen by scouts.
Why Don’t NFL Teams Have Open Tryouts?
The idea of an open tryout sounds great in theory, but it just does not make sense for teams to put their time and resources into open tryouts when there are other more efficient and effective ways that they can find diamonds in the rough.
The main reasons that NFL teams do not have open tryouts is because of the ability for players to share highlight videos as well as regional scouting combines that have taken the place of open team tryouts.
NFL scouts spend most of their time watching film of prospects. Whether it be college prospects, players in other professional leagues, or other players around the league, video has become the most utilized tool for teams when it comes to scouting.
Because we live in an age where almost anything can be shared on the internet, it has never been easier for players to get their highlight tapes in the hands of NFL scouts. All it takes is an email or sometimes even a share on social media.
It does help to get the highlight tape in the hands of someone who has a relationship with a scout before actually sending directly to NFL teams.
For example, a former coach may get in touch with a scout and vouch for you before sending it off. This decreases the possibility that the tape gets overlooked.
The structure of an open tryout is not completely lost in football. Instead of individual teams hosting tryouts, there are regional scouting combines of which anyone can attend to get their name on a team’s radar.
NFL teams send scouts to these combines to look for talent and report their evaluations back to the team. This allows the team and the coaching staff to focus on the team they have in the building and allows the scouts to do all of the grunt work when finding prospects.
Do NFL Teams Have Private Tryouts?
The NFL may not play as many games as other professional sports leagues, but the physical nature of the game makes for a long season for players; therefore, a full NFL season does not come without injuries for every team.
Because of this, teams have a system in place to fill roster spots throughout the season in the form of private, invitation only tryouts.
NFL teams do host private tryouts each week during the season. The purpose of these tryouts are to fill roster spots that may be vacant or to boost a spot on the roster where current players may be struggling.
This is where each team’s scouting department comes into play. Scouts constantly evaluate current NFL players on other teams as well as free agents.
When a player goes down for several weeks, or even the rest of the season, it is up to scouts to invite free agents at that position to come to the team’s weekly tryouts.
In many cases, teams already know which player or players they want to add to their roster based on their scouts’ evaluations, but teams like to do their due diligence by bringing players in and evaluating them in-person.
The film tells scouts most of what they need to know, but things like speed, size, awareness, and physical health can really only be evaluated in-person.
What is an Undrafted Free Agent?
We all love a good underdog story, and the NFL is full of them. There are seven rounds and 259 picks in the NFL Draft. This may seem like a lot, but most of the league is actually made up of undrafted free agents.
An undrafted free agent is exactly what the name says. It is a player who was not drafted in the NFL Draft and was later signed by a team as a free agent. Each year there are around 500 undrafted free agents on NFL rosters.
Most of the time, these undrafted free agents start on a team’s practice squad and work their way up – some faster than others – to the 53-man roster and become quality role players. Others develop into stars.
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner is a notable undrafted free agent who had humble beginnings in professional football. Warner began his pro football career playing arena football before gaining a tryout with the St. Louis Rams and eventually winning the starting job.
Warner was the quarterback for the Rams teams considered “The Greatest Show on Turf”. Their offense from 1999-2001 broke many NFL records and won a Super Bowl in 2000. This led to a long, Hall of Fame career for Warner who played on several different teams during that time.
Quarterback turned television commentator Tony Romo began his career with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University. He worked his way up the depth chart, and an eventual injury to Drew Bledsoe made him the starting quarterback.
Other notable undrafted free agents include kicker Adam Vinatieri, offensive tackle Jason Peters, linebacker James Harrison, tight end Antonio Gates, and quarterback Warren Moon.
These players have proven the possibility of being a great NFL player despite not making any top prospect lists coming out of college.
What do NFL Scouts do on a Daily Basis?
Some people believe scouting is a luxurious job because of all of the traveling that scouts get to do. However, being a scout is one of the most demanding jobs in the NFL.
On a daily basis NFL scouts watch film, visit colleges, and submit evaluations of current players and future prospects. While this may not seem like a lot of responsibilities, the number of players scouts are responsible for evaluating makes it a daunting task.
Scouts watch film pretty much every day because it is the most efficient way to evaluate players. As they watch film, they write up evaluations for players and submit them to the team’s general manager.
Those write ups are used when preparing for the NFL draft, signing players in free agency, and evaluating trades.
Scouts also travel a lot to college programs to scout players. Most people think that scouts just show up on the day of a college game and just watch the game, but their visits to colleges consist of much more.
In fact, most scouts spend more time at college practices than at games. Most colleges have a pro liaison (typically an intern). These liaisons meet with scouts and allow them access to players and coaches during practice.
This allows scouts to get a more clear picture of a player’s personal make-up and work habits.
What do Players do at an NFL Tryout?
At an NFL tryout, players typically run the 40 yard dash, perform agility drills, and other position-specific football drills. Teams are mostly trying to assess a player’s size, speed, and agility in these drills.
Is Size Important When Trying to Make an NFL Team?
Size is important when trying to make an NFL team. Players who are undersized don’t often get as many opportunities as players who aren’t. That is not to say that undersized players can’t make it to the NFL, they just have to work a lot harder for their opportunities.
When do NFL teams typically make their final roster cuts before the regular season starts?
NFL teams make their final cuts after the last preseason game, reducing their roster from 80 players down to the final 53 who will be active for regular season games.