I got my start in this field as a prospect writer, and it's what I've done for the majority of my nearly 10 years of writing about sports.
Most of that time has been writing about baseball, but for the last two years, I've also written for this fine publication; covering both college football and the NFL Draft.
What I've found in my time doing this is that scouting players has a universal language, but also that there are some real differences between the two sports. And no, I'm not going to be the person who points out that the biggest difference is that one of these sports is baseball and the other is football. I guess I just did, though.
Here's a look at some of the biggest similarities and differences I've found when scouting college football and baseball prospects.
The biggest difference between the two sports is the level of expectations in terms of immediate impact. Football players are leaving for the NFL between the ages of 21-to-24, in general, and are generally expected to be ready to contribute immediately. Baseball, however, is a sport where players often join the professional ranks as teenagers, and those players -- and even players who join after their sophomore or junior years of college -- are not expected to join the highest level for another two-to-three seasons, at minimum. Basically, it means we're judging how well a prospect can fit onto an NFL team immediately or close to it, and in baseball, it's very much about projecting the long-term.
While it's true that we are looking for immediate impact from NFL Draft prospects, that doesn't mean projection isn't an important part of the scouting process. On the contrary. In both sports, you have to look at body types. In baseball, we're looking at pitchers who are going to add muscle and hopefully add velocity as they fill out. In football, we look at how interior lineman can get stronger to stick at that position, or maybe more importantly, how likely they are to stick at a certain weight so that it doesn't become an issue. There are certain body types you look for in both sports; high-waisted, lean, long-armed, etc. The projectability in terms of body type comes up more in baseball, but they're certainly used in both.
Similarity: Non-reliance on stats
At some point, you may have heard the term "stat-scouting." If you're not familiar, it's essentially the practice of determining a player's value based on his statistical output. In both sports, this can be dangerous; especially at the amateur levels. The level of competition is a big reason for this, as NFL or MLB prospects are often going up against players that have no chance to play professionally. There also very likely playing with players that won't go past their current level, and that can hurt their numbers, as well. If you're just looking at the numbers for prospects, you're missing a very large part of the story.
Difference: Application of stats
You can't rely on stats, but that doesn't mean you can't use them. That'd be silly. As I've said several times and heard from several talent evaluators in some form: Use the stats, don't let the stats use you. How you use the stats in both sports, however, varies wildly. I've found that analytics -- sometimes a dirty word to scouts -- are easier to decipher in some areas than others. For instance, in football, using something like missed tackles for running backs can be great; it's determining how much value a player is creating on his own. However, a player who leads the league in missed tackles in the Conference USA is not the same thing as one who does it in the SEC. In baseball, an on-base percentage is a valuable thing, but at the high school and college levels see those stats inflated because pitchers are terrified of throwing to anyone worth a darn, and college players are also far more likely to "run in" to a pitch then they are at the professional level. I would say you can gain more looking at statistics from an amateur football player than a baseball one, but they both have various differences.
Being honest, this is the one I struggle the most with at the CFB level, and the one I like to think I excel at in baseball. Even still, there are certain things that you're looking for from a player in terms of the fundamentals and mechanics, albeit in different ways. For pitchers, we're looking for hurlers who are able to generate velocity without a ton of effort, and also looking for the necessary repeating of the delivery to throw consistent, quality strikes. We're looking for a similar thing in quarterbacks, the ability to set his feet, the ability to delivery the football with velocity and repeat his arm action to give you confidence in his accuracy playing up at the NFL level. There are also certain things we look for in swings, route-running, hand placement, angles to the baseball, and several more. Mechanics and fundamentals are always going to matter.
Difference: Chances of success
I'll never use the word crapshoot, because it's not accurate. The statistics show that highly-rated players by scouts and analysts have a better chance of success, and scouting -- due to wide variety of things like multiple looks, the popularity of analytics and many, many more additions -- has gotten so much better. That being said, the chances of a high-profile NFL Draft prospect succeeding at the NFL level is much higher than an MLB one, and that matters. The top prospect in the NFL is worth significantly more in that sport than MLB, because their chances of making an instant -- and long-term -- success substantially higher. There are exceptions to this, but when you're scouting someone like Nick Bosa compared to someone like Hunter Greene, there's obviously a notable difference. It sure is a lot easier to invest in the ready-to-go prospect than it is the teenager. Obvious point may be obvious, but it's worth pointing out.