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NFL Draft 2018: It’s time to stop listening to ‘Anonymous Scout’

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We can no longer accept the inherent news value of anonymous quotes from team sources.

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft
This time of year, fans are inundated with useless information presented as newsworthy.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For years, we’ve accepted the truism that a team’s coach, scout or front office person’s assessment of a player, on its own, has some value. For example, it’s newsworthy that an offensive coordinator believes Lamar Jackson will fail in the NFL for example, or at least that’s the way we treat these anonymous sources.

But let’s stop pretending that’s true. Let’s also stop pretending those types of quotes are farmed out for any reason other than they drive clicks, push readers and people on the internet to engage, and incite the talking heads on podcasts, radio, and television to pop off on them.

Enough.

And let’s just start somewhere simple: most teams don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. That’s just the people whose job it is to be right about players. Very few teams have some any level of efficiency building through the draft, evaluating players, and identifying talent they can cultivate.

If you had a friend who loved to eat at Olive Garden and put ketchup on their spaghetti, would you trust their restaurant recommendations? Of course you wouldn’t.

Coaches are traditionally even worse than front office evaluators at identifying talent. It’s why nearly all coach-turned-GM has failed. Position coaches aren’t any better. So who cares what an offensive coordinator or even a head coach has to say about a player? They’re not good at dissecting and evaluating talent. Their opinion is not inherently important simply because of who they are in the NFL.

That’s an intractable problem with anonymous sources in general: we have no idea how reliable they are on their own. How valuable is one person’s opinion? Is that person traditionally smart with evals? Is it John Schneider? Or Ted Thompson? Is it a regional scout who has no say in personnel decisions?

The reader has no idea how to make their own evaluations about the validity of the information being provided. We simply have to trust the reporter. In the case of someone like Bob McGinn, who has cultivated myriad scouting sources across decades of reporting, he has earned the benefit of the doubt, but he also talks to dozens of guys.

He presents the evaluations of scouts on their own, unvarnished, the good and the bad.

And that’s where we need to go. These quotes and sources aren’t useful on their own. We shouldn’t take one quote and pull it out to aggregate and blast out on the internets. That’s not helpful or informative and reporters have to stop treating it that way.

So do we as a media company and the media as a whole.

The New York Times wouldn’t report a political story or a business story based on the opinion—and that part is important, it’s an opinion, not a relaying of factual information—of one anonymous source. Ask any college freshman in a Journalism 101 course if one anonymous source is enough for a story.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Report trends. If five scouts from different teams believe Lamar Jackson will fail, report that and say so. But one offensive coordinator who may or may not be good at his own job, much less be even half-decent at player evaluation, is not a story.

And if there’s something important like the Browns don’t like Josh Rosen because he’s too smart, that’s worth reporting, but make sure to put it in context. Quoting one scout or coach isn’t enough even if he’s putting his name on it, but especially if he’s not. One opinion is not reflective of a team’s feeling on a player even if that source says so. And it’s certainly not reflective of the league’s opinion as a whole.

In fact, any time you see analysis that involves a team’s opinion or the league’s opinion written as unanimous, simply ignore it. It’s not true. No team is a monolith, which means the league as a group can’t possible be either.

There’s enough good reporting out there from well-sourced journalists who say, “I talked to two GMs and a personnel director and they agreed on,” for me to believe it can be done. And if it can’t be done, then there’s no story.

We can’t be so desperate for content, so hungry to break a story or talk about something or argue over who is dumbest on Twitter, to take the bait with this. It’s more than just the reporter’s responsibility.

As fans, as observers, and people in the world, let’s hold each other to a higher standard than this. We don’t have to get sucked into Anonymous Scout oblivion.