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Bob Quinn is happy with his scouting department

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Changes announced in Detroit’s player personnel department suggest high regard from above.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on up

The Detroit Lions put out a short news release on Friday morning detailing “new assignments within the scouting department.” The following six changes were listed:

  1. Kyle O’Brien was promoted from director of player personnel to Vice President of Player Personnel
  2. Lance Newmark was promoted from director of college scouting to director of player personnel
  3. Dave Sears was promoted from southeast regional scout (per Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press) to assistant director of college scouting
  4. Steven Neal was promoted from BLESTO scout to an unspecified regional scout position
  5. Ron Miles was reclassified from an unspecified scouting position to college scout
  6. Eloy Ledesma was promoted from scouting assistant to BLESTO scout

The chain looks like this: O’Brien gets a new title, Newmark moves into O’Brien’s old job, Sears essentially takes over Newmark’s old job—pending a decision by the team whether or not to have a non-assistant director of college scouting. Neal presumably becomes the new southeast regional scout to take Sears’ place, Ledesma moves up into Neal’s position and Miles is formally placed into the larger role that had been hinted at by ESPN’s Michael Rothstein a year ago. The only new name, per Dave Birkett, was Josh Vaughan; he’s a scouting assistant and almost certainly here to fill the vacancy left by Ledesma.

This is the third round of major player personnel department changes under the new regime. In January 2016, just days into his new job as general manager, Quinn dismissed Scott McEwen and brought Kyle O’Brien on board. Immediately after the draft in May 2016, he fired some more scouts. This time, nobody lost their job. And what’s more, every change was a promotion; both good signs that the leadership likes the personnel team they have in place.

Rod Wood was not kidding

The Lions team president told reporters in March 2017 that the organization was committing significantly more resources to scouting:

As noted by our Jeremy Reisman, Wood made a point of mentioning the staff in the player personnel department as part of that investment. Elevating Kyle O’Brien shows everyone that Rod Wood and Bob Quinn are not messing around with how seriously they take draft preparation.

The creation of the vice president of player personnel position implies greater trust and independence for the unit within the organization. Before today, that title did not exist and the top spot in the player personnel department was Kyle O’Brien’s old title: director of player personnel. He is still the first employee reporting directly to Quinn and Wood, but is now considered a full vice president of the team. While this may not seem like a big deal to many folks, it communicates the importance the organization is placing on the department and the strength of the relationship between O’Brien and Quinn.

Recognizing results: the 2016 and 2017 drafts

Into the spot O’Brien vacated, the Lions promoted Lance Newmark, one of the few names on the list without any New England connections to Bob Quinn. According to the team’s official bio for him, “he managed the player personnel department’s evaluation of college talent and college scouting operations in preparation for the 2016 and 2017 NFL Drafts.” Although the team did not name a director of college scouting, Dave Sears basically got that job with an “assistant” tagged to the front.

Consider the haul by the Lions from the southeast region in the last two NFL drafts. In the 2016 draft class, we have A’Shawn Robinson in the 2nd round and Antwione Williams in the 5th round. In the 2017 draft class, the Lions selected two Florida players with their top two choices in Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor, and then added Jalen Reeves-Maybin from Tennessee in the 4th round and Miami’s Brad Kaaya in the 6th round. Clearly, the decision makers clearing the draft day selections liked the work Sears was producing. The promotion of Sears and Newmark suggest upper management (read: Quinn) is extremely pleased with both draft classes.

Hold on, what’s a BLESTO scout?

As one of the two major scouting services, the present-day successor to the Bears, Lions, Eagles, and Steelers Talent Organization produces reports assigning grades to college prospects. Sean Yuille wrote a bit about BLESTO back in 2011 when the Lions hired current college scouting coordinator Joe Kelleher as a BLESTO scout.

Jaxon over at Cat Scratch Reader had a great article on BLESTO Scouting Services. To get an idea of the kinds of reports we are talking about, Jaxon linked to one from 2009 which is for some reason available online. For a more current take on what BLESTO scouts do, the Buffalo Bills posted a John Murphy show interview with their BLESTO scout Bo Taliaferro in 2016, which I absolutely recommend listening to.

From an article at Draftdaddy.com, we get some interesting perspective on the BLESTO scout position in each member NFL franchise (emphasis added):

Membership responsibilities includes over $100,000 in annual dues and the assignment of at least one scout to the group.

As scouts evaluate the current class of seniors visiting schools' pro days, they often work out underclassmen for future draft years. This data and other information is presented at meetings (usually in Florida) about two weeks after the current draft.

The BLESTO and National reports are published from these meetings. These reports serve as a both starting point for the lengthy evaluation process and also a rough guide as to where players are regarded by the group.

Some teams assign their most junior scout to the job of BLESTO/National regional rep, and the best ones are usually promoted or headhunted away from the role in short stint. This instability with the reps (and the lack of evaluating the senior season) can and will affect the accuracy of the reports.

So if you want to know what a BLESTO scout is, you can think of it as an introductory scouting position within the team’s player personnel department that does shared early scouting—not next year’s draft class, but the one for the year after that. Or, considering the current roles of Joe Kelleher and Dave Sears—a former Washington BLESTO scout—with the Lions and the promotions of Ledesma and Neal, you can call it a talent pipeline for finding the next outstanding personnel executives.