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Summer School 2020: A glossary of scouting terms

A reference sheet for scouting terms

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Summer School session is officially under way. But before we get to using the New York Giants potential schemes as a framework for digging into the X’s and O’s of football, we thought it would be best to provide a series of reference sources.

It’s easy to slip into jargon when talking about the nuts and bolts of football, and that can get confusing if you don’t use the terms regularly. We’re going to start with a list of scouting terms that you can refer to as our Summer School series progresses.

Athletic Ability - A player’s raw athleticism, generally quantified and measured using Scouting Combine drills. The 40-yard dash, 3-cone, short shuttle, broad jump, vertical leap, and bench press combine to measure a player’s speed, agility, lower-body explosiveness, and upper body strength.

Mental Processing - The ability of a player to perceive, diagnose, and adapt to new information quickly and accurately. Most commonly cited for quarterbacks and middle linebackers, but mental processing is important for every position.

Competitive Toughness - A catch-all term which encompasses a player’s willingness, physicality, motor or hustle, effort in pursuit, and consistency of play.

Play Speed - Can also be called “functional athleticism.” Play speed refers to a player’s ability to process information, adapt to changing circumstances, and solve three-dimensional problems in real time. Play speed is influenced, and limited by, raw athletic ability as well as mental processing. Players who are relatively limited athletically but can process and adapt to information quickly can be said to “play faster than they time”.

Play Strength - A player’s ability to compete in, and win, one-on-one physical matchups. Their ability to generate and transfer force or resist the strength of an opposing player.

Footwork - A player’s ability to quickly, accurately, and smoothly move his feet. Exact footwork differs by position, such as an offensive or defensive lineman’s ability to time his feet with his hands, a receiver timing his steps to break efficiently, or a quarterback’s feet when dropping back to pass.

Leverage - The word “leverage” is used in several different ways depending on the context of the discussion. Strictly speaking, gaining “leverage” is the act of changing play height or distance to gain a mechanical advantage and maximize play strength.

  • Inside Leverage - When an offensive or defensive lineman is able to strike, and gain control of, the center of an opponent’s chest plate it is called “gaining inside leverage.” Gaining inside leverage allows the blocker or defender to control his opponent without being called for holding.
  • Half-man Leverage - When a lineman uses his whole body to engage either the left or right half of his opponent. Half-man leverage can allow a smaller player to effectively engage and over-power or maneuver a larger or more powerful opponent

Hand Usage - How well a player uses his hands against an opponent. Can be used in reference to offensive linemen with punch aim, defensive linemen with rush moves, how a cornerback uses his hands to jam and redirect a receiver at the line of scrimmage, disrupt at the catch point, or how a wide receiver is able to use his hands to fight off jams at the line of scrimmage.

Base - A lineman’s feet, and particularly the width of his feet, in their stance. A “wide” base refers to a stance with the feet set apart, lending more stability and a lower center of gravity.

Pad Level - How high a player routinely plays. A player with high pad level will have worse leverage and struggle to deal with players who have low pad level. Players who play “high” will also struggle to move laterally. Pad level can be impacted by height and lower-body flexibility — a tall player will struggle to play lower, and a player with a flexible lower body will be able to sink his hips and play lower than a stiffer player.

Anchor - How well a player is able to absorb and counter power without giving ground. Generally used in relation to an offensive lineman countering a defensive lineman’s power rush, but can be used in reference to any player who has to block.

Vision - Refers to a player’s ability to take in visual information about the defense, recognize holes along the line of scrimmage or in coverage, and anticipate a defense’s motion. Generally used in reference to running backs, but can also apply to wide receivers, tight ends, running quarterbacks, or returners.

Contact Balance - A player’s ability to maintain his footing through contact. Players with good contact balance are able to take oblique, glancing, or even direct hits and keep advancing the football. Can also be used in reference with a defender’s ability to stay in his rush despite contact from a blocker.

Ball Skills - This refers to how well a player is able to track, adjust to, and make a play on the football in the air. With respect to a receiver, running back, or tight end, this refers to their ability to secure the catch. With respect to defensive backs or linebackers, “ball skills” not only refers to their ability to come up with interceptions, but also affect the receiver at the catch point and deflect the pass.

Body Control - A player’s ability to contort his body in space. Most typically referred to a receiver’s ability to contort his body and keep his feet inbound while making a catch along the sideline.

Contested Catch - A situation in which both an offensive and defensive player are vying for the ball. In these situations a combination of size, athletic ability, ball skills, competitive toughness, and body control can help a player prevail and either come up with the catch or defend the pass.

Get-off - A player’s ability to get moving a the start of the play. It is influenced by athletic ability (explosiveness in particular, though flexibility is also important) and mental processing to react to the snap of the ball. While “get-off” is most commonly referenced as a defensive line or EDGE trait, the ability to get moving quickly and efficiently is important for all positions.

Pursuit - The act of running down a ball carrier from behind. Ideally this will happen in the offensive backfield, but often happens in space. High effort in pursuit can be the difference between a defense coming up with a tackle for a loss or giving up chunk yardage, or a touchdown. Typically used as an example of competitive toughness, particularly for bigger defenders.

Backpedal - A defensive player’s ability to drop back into coverage while still facing the offense. Requires quick feet and a flexible lower body to perform with both speed, balance, and a low center of gravity. Transitioning from a backpedal to a sprint requires fluid hips and flexible ankles to maintain balance and minimize wasted motion.

Power rush - When a pass rusher — usually a defensive lineman, EDGE, or linebacker — attempts to rush the passer and beat a blocker using strength.

Speed rush - When a pass rusher uses his speed, explosiveness, or agility to beat blockers. Usually paired with a hand technique to keep a blocker from making the rush into a contest of strength.

Speed To Power - When a rusher begins the play by rushing with speed, but converts to a power rush after a blocker commits to defending a speed or finesse-based pass rush.

Bend (pass rush) - A pass rusher’s ability to contort his body, lower his center of gravity, and maintain speed while cornering sharply around an offensive tackle and into the pocket. “Good bend” requires very flexible hips, knees, and ankles to lower the player’s center of gravity, maintain full contact between the bottom of the foot and the turf to avoid slipping, and corner tightly.

Finish (pass rush) - A pass rusher’s ability to end his rush by impacting the play with a quarterback hit, pass defensed — or ideally a tackle for a loss, sack, or fumble.

Note: This is not a final list and will be expanded upon as we use new terms that need definitions throughout the course of this year’s Summer School series.