(Bengals.com is looking in periodically on some of the scouts heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft. Here's a look at what Andrew Johnson, one of the Bengals' area scouts, is doing these days.)
Andrew Johnson, who has a degree from Cornell's legendary School of Hotel Administration, just came off one of those inhospitable road trips that define the final push of an NFL scout into this month's draft.
From March 8 until last Friday night, a span of 24 days in a maze of Delta, Marriott and National Car Rental mosaics, Johnson visited 19 college campuses for those workouts known as 'pro days,' stretching from the Northeast to the Mid-Atlantic to a portion of the Midwest. It's not a campaign swing, but Johnson's final foray into the region he scouts for the Bengals, a vast, surprisingly fertile area that has yielded such stars as Tyler Boyd and Jessie Bates III.
That meant landing at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport at, say, about 10 p.m. on a Friday. Just enough time to do laundry, come into the office Saturday and Sunday for a workout, as well as updating files and making sure the next week's travel is set before getting back on the road Sunday afternoon.
"Now's kind of a strange time," says Johnson, back in front of an immaculate desk, his pile of pro day credentials on a bookshelf the unofficial symbol of the end of the travel section of the 2022 draft.
"It's a little restless now. A little anxious. It's cross-checking the positions of need. It's dotting the I's and crossing the T's."
With scouts off the road and draft meetings starting next week, Monday also meant a welcoming sign that the NFL's pandemic is over. For the first time in three years the Bengals hosted college prospects at Paul Brown Stadium, a total of three from the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State. Each NFL team has three designated "local," schools, meaning they can visit at any time without counting against the limit of 30 prospect visits from now until the draft.
UC, OSU and Miami University, the other local school, are also part of a "Local Day," an April 19 workout that also includes prospects that went to high school within 50 miles of PBS.
Johnson and his fellow area scout, Christian Sarkisian, are the unsung stars of April as they tame a logistical labyrinth. Johnson sets up the local day while Sarkisian helps provide the nuts and bolts of each individual visit once the player personnel department decides which 30 guys they want in the building. The give-and-take with college coaches and agents and the wooing of potential undrafted free agents, along with the juggling of airlines and accommodations, is putting that Cornell degree to good use.
"It's all about hospitality," Johnson says.
Monday also meant re-checking the stack of pro day sheets in order to peruse film of the workouts, the lone blemish on his desk. Boston College. Wake Forest. He was at Toledo when Pitt had their pro day, so now he's watching what the top Panthers did.
Johnson filled out the sheets as each 40-yard dash ran and vertical jump leaped. Then he went back to the hotel that night and logged them into the Bengals private scouting web site that amounts to a virtual draft notebook. Now he's making sure they are complete with the adjustments from the campus visits.
"Best pro day I saw this year," says Johnson, staring at a prospect's screen. "After a pro day, you're more likely to move a guy up than move a guy down. At the end of the day, his tape is the most important thing."
So Johnson takes a player who hasn't played much because of injuries, a guy he labeled as a free agent in the fall, and moves him "over the line," into the drafted area after that impressive pro day.
"I do that maybe two or three times a year," Johnson says.
Most schools let the scouts run the pro days and Johnson always volunteers to do whatever needs to be done. He'd rather work it than watch it. At Penn State, for instance, he had the tape measure in his left hand as he measured hand size and arm length for the group and then led the player to the height marker.
"As much time as you can spend with these guys behind the scenes, that's good stuff," Johnson says. "You see these kids when they're not buttoned down."
Johnson knows all about intangibles. When he was a senior tight end at Cornell, he won the Enzo Montemurro Award for spirit and leadership. A self-scouting report as if he's putting himself in the 2022 system:
"Big weight room guy. Good special teams player. Run down the field all-out on kicks. Good locker room leader. Whatever they needed me to do."
That's how Johnson broke into the scouting business at PBS, joining the Bengals a week before the 2016 scouting combine doing everything from chauffeuring to cataloging. Now he's a grizzled vet heading into yet another draft, still their youngest scout at 29.
His seventh draft meetings begin next Monday and last for a couple of weeks until the week of the event.
"Basically it's going over the medical reports and hearing what the position coaches think," Johnson says. "He does this well. He doesn't do this well. This is what he would be for us. It's the final pieces of the puzzle, but for (the scouts), we've been on these guys for 18 months."
They've been on them for so long and there is still three weeks to go. So there is a slice of time to get the next year's lists organized. Next to the pro day reports are the top 2023 prospects for Wake and Michigan.
"The work's all done," Johnson says. "It's a waiting game."