NFL Draft Spotlight feature: Louis Riddick
Player Evaluation Personnel Interview
As fans and players gear up for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLPE is highlighting former players that have excelled as talent evaluators both in professional and collegiate football in order to get some insight as to how their time the locker room has shaped their approach.
Our first spotlight is Louis Riddick, current Director of Pro Personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles. Louis maintains his in-house work in pro personnel, while balancing his increasing scouting duties. In 2012, his role was a near 50-50 split between college and pro personnel. He travels to college campuses in the southwest and southeast during the week in the fall, getting a chance to see many of the top players in the country, while still performing pro personnel duties in the office late in the week and on weekends. Louis has been on the road a great deal during the month of March, attending college pro-days and helping to gather the final pieces of information on draft eligible prospects in anticipation of the Draft in April, but he’s taken some time out of his busy schedule to give NFLPE some great insight.
PE: What made you decide to enter the field of talent evaluation? Talk about your transition into your current role.
Riddick: When my playing career in the NFL ended in the fall of 1999, I was fortunate enough to be able to take my time and stay at home with my wife and oldest daughter at the time in Atlanta and simply relax and ponder what my next move would be from a 2nd-career perspective. I had become increasingly interested and involved in managing my personal stock portfolio at the time, and was considering a move into the investment banking and/or brokering profession and putting my Economics degree to use. Then in the summer of 2000, I received a call from Ken Herock, who had been familiar with my career having been the VP of Player Personnel in 1992 with the Atlanta Falcons and a member of the Oakland Raiders front office in 1998 at the same time I was with both teams. He thought that my “mental make-up” and approach to the game as a player would translate well to the scouting/personnel profession, but I initially was not interested being that my wife and I had just had our 2nd child and we were quite content with our life in Atlanta.
Then in the early summer of 2001, I received another call from John Schneider, who had just been hired as the VP of Player Personnel by the Washington Redskins. I had been recommended to him by an executive by the name of Will Lewis, who was the Director of Pro Personnel with the Seattle Seahawks at the time, and would later become the VP of Football Operations with Seattle in 2010. Will had been an Assistant Defensive Backs Coach in Atlanta during my second stint with the Falcons in 1996, and also saw potential in me as it pertains to being a front office executive at some point in the future, again due to how I approached the game from a preparation standpoint as a player.
John originally wanted to hire me as a college area scout covering the southwest portion of the country, but after meeting with him in Washington, we both came to the conclusion that I would be better served being in the office on a daily basis. We thought it would good for me to observe and learn the daily functions/operational procedures of an NFL personnel department and football operation as a whole, develop and continually evolve/advance my scouting philosophy, and take advantage of the familiarity and comfort I felt being around coaches, players, and administration. Unfortunately, I was only able to spend 6 ½ months working under John, Coach Marty Schottenheimer, and with others who I highly respect like Russ Ball (VP of Football Administration/Green Bay Packers), as they were all let go at the end of the 2001 season.
Joe Mendes was then hired to take over the football operation, and Joe to this day remains one of the most credible, competent, and impactful people that I have come across in my career in personnel, as he elevated me to the title of Pro Scout from Pro Personnel Assistant, and then quickly wanted to make me Director of Pro Personnel prior to his being let go as well. Joe taught me how to articulate myself in writing just as I was seeing the game unfold on film, encouraged me to take a firm stance on players and trust/use what I had learned as a player from some of the greatest coaches that this game has ever seen (Bill Belichick, Nick Saban), and began to introduce me to the college scouting aspect of player personnel. Once you know the league, know what the different classifications of players are, and know how 90-man, 53-man, and 46-man game day rosters are built, it makes the transition from scouting and evaluating professional players to scouting college players much smoother, as you now have the proper context from which to scout and project. I spent 3 seasons as the Director of Pro personnel with Washington, and then left to join the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 where I have been the Director of Pro Personnel since January of 2010.
PE: How do you distinguish yourself as a talent evaluator?
Riddick: In order to truly benefit from and differentiate yourself as a talent evaluator from having had the experience and privilege of learning the game and playing for some of the greatest NFL/NCAA team and program builders/coaches in history as I have, it is important that you take the time to thoroughly study and be capable of understanding and objectively processing the tremendous volume of information that you have had access to as a former player. You then have to be able to utilize that information successfully in the greater context of evaluating players and building a football team in the role of a team executive, which is not automatically a given, as history has proven.
In order to be successful, you have to be willing to take the time to first learn and respect the delicate, unique process of team building at the professional level, which quite frankly was not something that you concerned yourself with as a player. This includes understanding the code of conduct of the football operation as whole as it pertains to what Bill Walsh called the Standard of Performance and Behavior, which is another way of saying “what do you what to be known as, and what do you want to be known for”. From there, you have to know the exact physical and mental profiles desired by the Head Coach as it pertains to the potential prospects you are evaluating, and then you have to be able to correctly identify and project the future performance of the potential prospects once they are a part of your particular football operation and being exposed to the strategies and tactics preferred by the Head Coach.
It is at this point that you have a chance differentiate yourself as a talent evaluator as I previously mentioned, as it is a matter of fact that you realistically should have a higher football IQ because of your experiences/what you have been exposed to as a player as opposed to a non-player as long as you are able to process and use the information. This where I begin to try to take talent evaluation to another level, as I attempt to routinely use what was taught to me on position specific basis (Defensive Back/Secondary) to help give a detailed interpretation of what I see on film, factoring in what I know about game situations, the effect that fatigue and injury has on player performance, the effect that scheme fit/responsibility has on player performance, the effect that football intelligence, instinct, competitive toughness and resiliency/staying power has on player performance, etc.
PE: How does your philosophy on talent evaluation differ from that of a non-former player?
Riddick: I attempt to use what I have learned from having spent extensive 1 on 1 time with some of the greatest position coaches/coordinators of all time that did not coach the position I played (Joe Bugel – Offensive Line, Greg Blache – Defensive Line, Marvin Lewis - Linebacker, Al Saunders – Wide Receiver, Andy Reid - Quarterback, Howard Mudd – Offensive Line) when evaluating those particular positions, and then drawing from my own personal competitive experiences to help get a better understanding/give a better evaluation on those positions that I did not play.
Perhaps most importantly, it is the time I have spent in different locker-rooms/on different teams at the NFL level that enables me to eventually determine through in an interview/1 on 1 setting whether or not a prospect has the kind of love and intrinsic motivation for the game that fits within a competitive, performance-focused organizational structure that the consistently successful NFL franchises have established. It is in this area as an evaluator that there is no substitute for having “been there/done that” in terms of understanding and truly respecting the fragile nature of the chemistry that needs to exist within and NFL locker-room, as it is different than that which exists at the college or high school level, thus making it a necessity that every player that you evaluate and recommend be a positive contributor to the health and maintenance of that chemistry.
PE: What are some important intangible assets and/or leadership qualities you look for in the athletes you evaluate?
Riddick: In player evaluation, these characteristics are what are commonly called Major Factors. When looking at potential prospects, be it for the college draft , unrestricted free agency, trades, waiver wire claims, etc., the components that make up this category determine the success or failure of a player relative to what your internal expectations were preceding the drafting/signing of that particular prospect far more often than an error made in the evaluating of their Critical Factors (athletic ability, functional size, functional speed, functional strength, instincts, production). Some examples of major factors:
- Functional intelligence/problem solving under duress/high pressure situations.
- Adaptation ability both on and off the field.
- Resolve/competitive staying power both on and off the field
- Citizenship – off the field behavior
- Personality traits – team first attitude - An attitude that doing your most for the team will always bring something good for you. A belief that everything you deserve will eventually come your way.
PE: List a few athletic qualities you look for in players at the following positions:
- Needs to be smart, able to absorb/process/retain large volumes of information, be able to recite plays/concepts clearly to his teammates in the huddle, and be able to lead/direct the football team through various situations on the football field.
- Good set up quicks, quick feet in the pocket/find throwing lanes, coverage recognition/anticipation, quick release, arm strength, accuracy at all 3 levels.
- Physically must be durable, and have very good lower body explosiveness/strength given the pounding and collisions that they are going to take, particularly below the knees.
- Ideally want them to have home-run speed; at the very least they need intermediate speed, good change of direction qualities, excellent run vision and natural instincts, and the ability to make the first defender miss and get onto the 2nd level.
- Very good lower body explosiveness/change of direction qualities; good top end speed.
- Ball skills/hands.
- Good athletic skills in terms of hips/change of direction/body control, and play strength.
- Good spatial orientation as a deep zone player; have good anticipation and range.