I can still remember literally biting my tongue as I sat quietly next to fellow Rams scout and longtime friend David Razzano at our scouting meetings in mid-April of 2005. The scouts had just completed our linebacker evaluations and now sat intently as our new coaching staff voiced their opinions on the players we had deemed to be the top prospects in the upcoming player draft.
For the most part in these types of exercises, coaches generally concurred with the scout's opinion. In this instance, from the coach's opening statement, I could see that my evaluation of University of Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans differed greatly from that of our defensive staff.
"I don't see what this guy can do for us, he's undersized, not a take-on guy, gets muscled and covered up inside, lacks playing instincts, misses tackles and is suspect in pass coverage," was the coach's take on DeMeco to everyone present in the team meeting room.
In less time then it took to put a video tape into a deck and wait for the overhead projection lights to come into focus, my second-ranked linebacker behind Florida State's Ernie Sims was unceremoniously removed from the top of our draft board and put into a category where he could never be given any real draft consideration.
During our next break, I remained in the room and whispered to David that due to a system that puts more credence to a coach's tape presentation than it did from an area scout and cross-check perspective, we had essentially just talked ourselves out of an outstanding football player. David just sat there quietly and shook his head. After a dozen years on the job he had seen the same scenario played out many times.
With this particular player, I had gotten a head start by writing a summer report in training camp based on his junior season. During the fall, I attended an early season game and in mid-November I scheduled a two-day school visit to view tape, practice and visit with coaches. In late January, I had the opportunity to again view DeMeco along with most of the top linebacker prospects in the country at Senior Bowl practices. Finally, I had a chance to view him in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, and along with other members of our staff, watched him work out in Tuscaloosa at his school workout.
DeMeco Ryans with the Houston Texans
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Given the exposure to this athlete, I had essentially earned a master's degree in DeMeco Ryans and was tempted -- after briefly interviewing him following his workout -- to ask him for his social security number in order to claim him as a dependent on my 2005 taxes.
When discussing and evaluating football players, I often think about a couple of brief statements made to me from two truly outstanding football people -- the late George Young and Jim Finks. The frequent mantra of the longtime Giants GM George Young was, "There are no virgins in the scouting profession," and from the venerable Finks came the statement, "Show me a scout that hasn't made a mistake and I'll show you a man who has never scouted."
I've certainly been wrong before. Tim Worley over Barry Sanders, Blair Thomas over a guy named Emmitt Smith, and finally, rating Hugh Green (the greatest college football player I have ever seen) over Lawrence Taylor are just three potential draft-day errors I'd like to forget. That being said, I was as certain then as I am today that I had made no such error in my evaluation of Ryans.
Today, Scout.com readers are going to have the opportunity to make a decision on a prospect based on the humble opinions I put forth in my original report on DeMeco Ryans for the Rams as shown below:
Born in Bessemer, AL, DeMeco attended Will Lanier High School, and although he was an outstanding prep player, was signed by Alabama only after his prep coach Willie Ford literally begged the staff to give him an opportunity.
Good decision Tide! In 2002, DeMeco became one of only two true freshmen to see action. Playing primarily on special teams, he started in the team's finale vs the University of Hawaii and never looked back.
After an impressive sophomore season where he was credited with 126 total tackles, DeMeco in his final two seasons was named an All American, first-team all SEC, the league's Defensive Player of The Year, an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, Cotton Bowl MVP, the winner of the prestigious Lott Award, and finally was given the NCAA Top Eight Award.
On the home front, he also earned the Mel Moore Leadership Award, the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award, and was the recipient of the Paul Bear Bryant Award, the athletic department's top student athlete. Not too bad for a player who was barely recruited by the Crimson Pride!
Ryans, the most complete student athlete to attend the University of Alabama in the past quarter century did not just excel on the football field. He is also an honor student who graduated Cum Laude in just seven semesters. Although his parents (Martha and Morgan) were no longer together, both were very supportive and through their examples, instilled in him the values that he lives by today. Off the field, DeMeco quickly became the type of player that coaching staffs throughout the country could only dream about. He never missed a game, practice or meeting. He was always on time and was respectful and accountable to all. His game preparation was first rate and he was totally focused, organized and dedicated to his craft. DeMeco led by example, was a strong FCA spokesperson, and was described by an assistant coach as the person you would want your daughter to marry.
On the field, I saw DeMeco as being highly competitive player who strived to be the very best in everything he did. He loved the game of football and showed an innate ability to play through adversity.
Strong Points: Ability to read and react / First step reaction and instincts / Ability to step up and both take on or slip blocks on the inside. Leverage on blocks (doesn't linger on blocks) / Lateral Movement and range / Angles to the ball / Good use of the sidelines / Explosive tackler (good to secure – flexible hips, knees and ankles) / Backside close and effort / Blitz timing and overall skills / Outside run ability and playing range / Pass drops (depth and movement) / Zone awareness / Ball reaction and hands to secure the football / Has the speed and hips to effectively man up with a back down the field / Durability and consistent in his game to game play / Play speed and special teams potential
Weak Points: Is well proportioned, but I wouldn't consider him an imposing figure physically (medium frame athlete with thin, smooth, high knotted calves, big wrist, biceps, and a solid bubble) / Good but not exceptional weight room and playing strength / Was muscled some by big people on the inside (who isn't) / Saw what I considered some change of speed in his secondary pursuit.
In summation, I basically reiterated the things I said above along with the fact that I felt he could and would factor for the Rams very quickly and that he had top-round draft potential as a "will backer."
Okay, based on the information you have at hand, where would you have selected this player? The answer should be quite easy, particularly when given the fact that as a rookie with the Houston Texans in 2006, he started every game and led the team and league with 155 total tackles. At year's end, he also was named by the Associated Press as the NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year.
Barring injury, I believe today that DeMeco has a chance of becoming an outstanding football player within the league. And it wouldn't surprise me if future professional linebacker prospects are one day given the distinct privilege of having a scout compare them in some ways to former NFL star and Hall of Fame linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
Tom Marino has over 35 years of experience as a professional scout working for the NFL's Bears, Saints, Rams, Giants and Cowboys along with both the WFL and USFL. As Scout.com's Lead NFL Analyst, he has primary responsibility for network reporting, the NFL Draft, Free Agency databases and rankings.