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O'HARA: How scouting prospects is a year-long process for Lions

Laugh if you want, and raise a skeptical eyebrow, to the first trickle of "way-too-early" mock drafts that came out not long after the 254th and last player's name went off the board to end the 2019 NFL Draft.

It's the rite —and predictably, mostly wrong – of draft season in every sport that projections on the next year's draft hit the internet and newspapers before the rankings have been fully digested on the current year's draft.

But far behind the scenes and away from any fanfare, the serious business of preparing for the next draft is well under way before the current year's begins.

In the case of the Detroit Lions, scouting prospects is not a 12-month process. It's 13 months at least, and probably a little longer.

"It's a full year's process for us," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said in a recent interview. "I'd say there are a few members of our staff who actually started in April – like April 1 – for next year's draft."

As final preparations for the 2019 draft were being made, some members of the personnel staff were dispatched to college campuses to scout prospects at spring practices and games.

It was the first step in compiling what Quinn estimated would ultimately be a book on 1,800 prospects – then whittled down to "around a couple hundred."

"We categorize them – early draftable, late draftable, free agent," Quinn said of the early prospect reports. "You build from there, with more film that you watch during the spring. We actually put a grade on them.

"Come June 15, I'd say all our spring reports are due. I get a spring booklet of probably 200 pages of scouting reports on next year's draft. That's kind of my summer reading list.

"That's how we start. It's definitely a 12-month process. For some of the guys, it's a 13-month process – or 14 months."

From that starting group of 1,800 prospects, the nine-player 2019 class the Lions wound up with is the end result of a long, detailed process that can be computed more accurately in man years, not man hours.

Although Quinn makes the final call on draft picks, he is guided by a collaborative scouting effort that encompasses everything from the few seconds it takes a prospect to run the 40-yard dash to the hours of film study, visits to his school and one-on-one interviews with the player and those who know him.

Here is how some of the information is gathered – and one characteristic that cannot be predicted with certainty.

Scouting reports: The bigger the school, the more reports, to get as many opinions as possible. Vice president of player personnel Kyle O'Brien and director of player personnel Lance Newmark are key aides for Quinn.

"Pick a big school – Alabama," Quinn said. "We will have at least four people from our personnel department visit their campus and football facility between August and November. At least four, and probably five. Each one of those guys will do a report.

"If you go down a level (to a smaller school), you might have three. Some Division III schools, you might have one – if you have a player.

"If you add me, I go to 'X' amount of schools a year. That'll be a sixth person. Then go to the Combine. You ask the coaches to do a bunch of different guys. Then there are the offensive and defensive coordinators, and the head coach (Matt Patricia).

"You're looking at 10 different opinions on guys. Filtering that information to Kyle and Lance, and where Matt gets involved after the season's over, it's important to boil it down. It's like a funnel."

Go behind the scenes to view photos from the Detroit Lions draft room on Thursday, April 25, 2019.

Interviews: Teams see how players present themselves in interviews at the Senior Bowl, Combine, Pro Days and the 30 prospects they're allowed to host at their facility.

It's a one-on-one chance to get a feel for a player's personality and character.

"You ask for honesty," Quinn said. "These guys aren't perfect. So you ask for honesty."

School staff members who observe players in normal settings can relay how they act and treat others.

"It's different at every school," Quinn said. "The top three for me are the strength coaches, because they're actually with them more than the assistant coach is, the trainer, and the equipment manager."

Bottom line: Along with the measurables – height, weight, speed, strength, production and others – there is one trait Quinn looks for regardless of position.

"I'd say competitiveness," he said. "You can watch film and just feel the competitiveness."

And the one that cannot be measured is how a player will perform at the next level, with the adjustment to competition and lifestyle.

"That the hardest part," Quinn said. "The easier part of our job is to watch the film and grade the player. The harder part is evaluating the person."

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