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Scout’s eye: What Joe Judge’s personnel philosophy means for the New York Giants

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New coach brings a “big picture perspective” to talent evaluation

New York Giants Introduce New Head Coach Joe Judge Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In Joe Judge’s introductory press conference, he said something very poignant concerning the New York Giants’ roster building and construction going forward. Of course, Judge will be working side by side with general manager Dave Gettleman in this capacity, but it also certainly seems as though New York’s new head coach is going to have an awful lot of say in the personnel side of things … and that should make Giants fan very happy. Here is what Judge said:

“So, what I’ve prepared myself for was leading into every draft I studied every player in the draft as a player and an athlete. I didn’t look at them as a receiver, I didn’t look at them as a tight end, I didn’t look at them as a linebacker. I want to know how they moved — are they stiff in the hips, are they a straight-line speed guy, do they use their hands, what kind of short area quickness do they have, what kind of top end speed do they have, do they turn down contact. So, I’m used to looking at things from a big picture perspective on players in terms of what they bring to the team as a whole. You can turn around and say, ‘How good is this guy as a running back?’ Well, there’s different kinds of running backs. I want to know what kind of athlete this man is and how we can use his toolset to our advantage.”

Over the years, New York has viewed scouting in its own way and differently from most of the league. The Giants have been all about size and speed. They wanted big people at every position first and foremost. Under Gettleman, that philosophy has mostly held up and clearly building around big powerful defensive linemen have been stressed a great deal.

But that looks to be changing. The mantra in New England under Bill Belichick is not “Player X can’t do this or that,” but rather “Player X can do this.” There is a huge difference there. Belichick wants to know a player’s positive attributes and he will then figure out how to best use him. And, that very well could even be with a position switch.

There is hubris to this approach as in some ways. Belichick, by viewing an athlete from a very broad scope, suggests that he knows what role (or even what position) a player is best for better than the coaches this player played for in the pas. And who is to say that Judge will be as good in this area as his mentor?

That being said, a massive key to long-term success we’ve witnessed in New England under Belichick is his team’s ability to morph from week to week (or even quarter to quarter or play to play) depending on the opponent. No team adjusts as quickly or succinctly as the Patriots and with this scouting approach it absolutely looks as though the Giants are patterning their approach to the game in the same manner. The hiring of Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator also strongly implies that New York will be highly multiple on that side of the ball.

A key here is Judge’s special teams background. Few realize what a challenging job that position really is in the NFL. Just think about it for a minute. Week to week, a special teams coach has his kicker, punter and long snapper. He also is probably allowed to have a handful (at most) core special teams players on the roster. Yes, these players are listed as linebackers, safeties, wide receivers or whatever, but they are employed because of their acumen on special teams. The number and emphasis on core special teams players varies from team to team. In New England, a great importance was put on this phase and this portion of the roster. Presumably, the same will be true under Judge in New York. So, great, that gives the special teams coordinator about half of the 11 men he needs to put out on the field for punt coverage, kickoff return or whatever phase of the kicking game. But he has to fill in the gaps from there.

Also, bottom of the roster players that generally play on teams are often cut during the season to make room for another position player on offense or defense once injuries set in. No one cuts the offensive coordinator’s starting tight end or the defensive coordinator’s starting middle linebacker. But the special teams coach? He could lose one of his main guys on any given week and then often has to coach up a new player on the fly to prepare for a game in a few days. As you can quickly figure out, special teams coaches need to excel at finding roles for players that are unaccustomed to playing in this phase and may lack experience in this capacity. All of this leads perfectly with Judge’s quote that we are dissecting and again is very promising going forward.

What Judge didn’t mention in this quote but is a factor that is instrumental in this approach and has carried a great deal of weight in the Patriots’ scouting is intelligence. Without smarts and football intelligence, position changes, adaptability and versatility might not be an option. This also goes for the ability to change their style of play throughout the course of a game or for different opponents.

Lastly, Judge mentioned that there are different type of running backs, which also leads us back to New England. The only thing similar about LeGarrette Blount and James White is that they report to the running back room for meetings. Yet, some opposing defenses classify Blount and White as the same thing and count them for personnel reasons both as “running backs.” But isn’t Blount with a fullback, tight end and two wide receivers vastly different than White with the same group? Of course, the Giants have their star running back in place, but this example will play out with other positions with the approach to scouting Judge is bringing with him.

This is just one example of how the Patriots, and now New York, view their personnel and team building. And the beauty of it is that it asks their athletes to do what they do best while making the team as a whole unpredictable.

— Matt Williamson is a former NFL and college scout, and hosts the Locked on NFL podcast.