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A Look Behind The Team: The Scouting Prodigy


You're 23 years-old. Maybe you're experiencing the harshness of the real world for the first time, paying the bills instead of relying on your parents. Maybe you're finishing college, not yet cruising through that senior slide. Maybe you're starting your first full-time job. Maybe you're starting graduate school if you're really ambitious. Whatever you're doing, you're hardly experienced at your craft.

Unless you are Eliot Wolf.

At the age of 23, the Packers' pro personnel assistant has already worked 13 consecutive Packers drafts and eight NFL scouting internships - four with the Packers, three with the Atlanta Falcons and one with the Seattle Seahawks. He filed his first scouting report for the Falcons during the summer before his freshman year of high school.

Wolf learned the intricacies of scouting at an early age by listening intently to his father Ron, the legendary Packers general manager from 1991 to 2001 who constructed the bulk of the Packers roster that went to back-to-back Super Bowls, and other scouts. He went to Lambeau Field on weekends and after school with his Dad. He attended draft meetings for years.

"He was always hanging around there, observing," Ron Wolf said. "I can't talk to you about his evaluation because I don't know ... But the volume of information he has available from all of the years he's kind of messed around with football, he's got a huge log."

The elder Wolf never pushed him to follow his footsteps in scouting. They did not discuss football non-stop. When the Wolfs sat down to dinner each night, Ron did not move the salt and pepper shakers to represent players in the backfield.

"He didn't go out of his way to teach me. We didn't sit down and study stuff," Eliot said. "It was all through being around him."

That preparation allowed him to write his first scouting report -- analyzing the University of Maryland cornerback Chad Scott -- at the age of 14. Wolf gave him a first-round grade, writing that Scott was physical, solid in coverage and not a difference maker but someone that would have a long NFL career. His evaluation was on the money. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Scott, now a nine year veteran for the New England Patriots, 24th overall in the first round of the 1997 draft.

Wolf's previous stints with the Falcons involved scouting but also some grunt work, including player check-ins and field security. Eliot learned the most in his first full scouting internship with the Packers in 1999. Specifically, he learned to trust his instincts.

"Write what you see and go with what you feel," he said. "Don't go off hype."

Eliot has the natural skills for player evaluation. He can tell you the position, height, weight, speed and college of any player in the NFL since 1996. He can look at a roster once and know the jersey number and college of each player.

"He has a marvelous ability to retain information," Ron said. "That is a huge factor in him getting hired."

Eliot has enjoyed pouring over that data since he was a kid collecting football cards and memorizing the players' jersey number and college.

"I've been doing that as long as I can remember," he said. "I always knew this is what I was going to do."

He begins that day by arriving in the office at 7:30 a.m. to watch eight to 10 hours of tape a day. During August, he'll scan the preseason games, looking for possible practice squad players to add to the Packers. Once the regular season starts, he studies the Packers future opponents. By late November, he is already checking out prospective unrestricted and restricted free agents.

Wolf analyzes one-third of the teams in the NFL. (His teams include the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks). He also scouts one-third of NFL Europe and one-third of the Canadian Football League. Although many teams have their pro scouts cover one conference exclusively, director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie divides the teams up randomly so each scout studies one team in every division.

Last year, Wolf made three travel stops to analyze other teams but will go on the road more frequently this season. Through scouting the Packers' upcoming opponent in person, he can pick up certain things that he could not on tape, including the pace of the team.

"We look at tempo for the offense. Does tempo speed up in the red zone? Stuff like that," he said. "A lot of it is what they're doing on the sidelines."

Aside from his memory and bloodlines, Wolf has another advantage when scouting teams. He has personal insight to one of the best football factories, the University of Miami (Fla.). Wolf graduated from the school in 2003 after completing his creative writing major in three-and-a-half years.

He did not select Miami for its football. Several of the other schools he looked at - University of California, San Diego, University of California, Santa Barbara and Occidental College -- did not have thriving programs, but he made the right choice.

"I'm kind of glad I went to Miami, and it just so happened that I got there just when they were getting good." Wolf said. "If I had gone to a school that didn't have a football program I'd be a little bit further behind."

His college decision allowed him to work in Miami's recruiting department and receive a first-hand look at some of the best prospects entering the draft. Head coach Mike Sherman even asked Wolf about Miami running back Najeh Davenport before selecting him in the fourth round of the 2002 draft.

Just as Sherman picked his brain about Miami players, Wolf can call upon a great resource of his own, his father. Experienced enough, he rarely asks him for help now, but he did a few years ago.

Offensive lines can be more difficult to analyze than the skill positions. Statistics cannot quantify their play, and your eye turns to the player controlling the ball rather than those in the trenches. So he asked his father how to scout that often anonymous unit.

"It was just tough for me because when you're growing up you don't watch offensive lines," he said.

Ron, then consulting with the Browns, showed him some tape of that team and how to study the linemen's technique and footwork. The father helped the son. The mentor helped the protégé. And they travel down the same career path.

"He didn't push me toward it, but I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to be around it my whole life," Wolf said. "I think he's always been proud that I did what he did - follow in his footsteps."

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