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How differences between college game & NFL affect prospect evaluation

PHOENIX – The Detroit Lions are in full prep mode these final four weeks leading up to the NFL Draft in Nashville April 25-27.

The scouting department and coaching staff will continue to crisscross the country evaluating players at pro days, hosting them in Allen Park, and spending countless hours evaluating the film. All the while, their draft board continues to evolve as general manager Bob Quinn and his staff try to find the right players not only for their pick at No. 8, but the rest of the draft too.

When asked about next month's draft, the evaluation process, and the college game in general at the coaches breakfast at the Annual League Meetings on Tuesday, Lions head coach Matt Patricia made an interesting point. He said the evaluation of players coming out of college has become more difficult over the years, especially on offense, and particularly at the tight end, offensive tackle and the quarterback positions.

"Because the college game is very different in a lot of offenses," Patricia said. "You don't see some of the traditional stuff that we're looking for. Even guys getting into a three-point stance."

How many quarterbacks do we see in the college game nowadays taking snaps under center? How many even huddle up? A lot of offenses get their instruction from the sideline pre-snap.

"Some (quarterbacks) haven't even taken a snap for their entire playing career," Patricia said. "So, you can't forget about the small things, you can't forget about the little things."

Patricia told a story of a college quarterback coming into the NFL who had always played in the shotgun, and when he was asked to take a snap under center in his first NFL practice, he didn't know how.

The tight end position is another one that's becoming tough for NFL talent evaluators. How many players have experience lining up in-line? How many are asked to block consistently in college? Those are things all tight ends have to do in the NFL, so there's often some projection work that has to be done on these players. Can they do some of the things they'll be asked to do in the NFL without first seeing it on tape?

"The position has changed, you know," Patricia said of college tight ends. "Now, when you go to the draft, what kind of tight end are you looking for? What can he do? What's his skill set? You try to evaluate his skill set the best you can on film and then say, 'okay, what does he do well on film?' Then try to project him there, but because the college game is very different in a lot of offenses, you don't see some of the traditional stuff we're looking for in guys."

The same goes with offensive linemen.

"It's harder to evaluate offensive linemen right now because of the different systems and some of the different schemes," Patricia said. "It's hard to see an offensive lineman in a three-point stance. Sometimes you don't even see that, a lot of two-point stance or shuffle."

The tackle position, in particular, is one Patricia explained has become harder to evaluate.

"The real space type of movement and the technique and the fundamentals and punch and pass set, that's a little bit different at the college level," he said.

It's the reason teams put so much time and effort into evaluating college players and trying to project them to the pro game, and specifically to scheme fits. The draft has always been an inexact science.

"It's nothing against the college game," Patricia said. "The college game is a great game. That's not what I'm saying. It's just some things positionally are different, so when you're trying to evaluate those positions, it becomes really different."

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