Q&A WITH BOBBY VEGA ’01
Silver Linings Playbook
The Baltimore Ravens scout opens up about his path to the NFL and the critical importance of being ready when opportunity knocks.
On the same day Bobby Vega ’01 graduated from the College of Wooster with a degree in Communications, he was interviewed by the Cleveland Browns. He would go on to spend thirteen seasons with the franchise, evaluating many of the NFL's top college prospects — first as a scouting assistant, then a college scout, then a national scout, then the director of college scouting — before moving to the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. At Pomfret, Bobby was student body president, a member of VOICE, and a standout athlete. He played football (captain), basketball (captain), lacrosse (captain), and baseball. He also collected a treasure trove of awards, including the Burke Football Award, the Daentl Basketball Award, and the Mansfield Cup. In 2016, he was inducted into the Pomfret Athletic Hall of Fame. We recently sat down with Bobby to talk about Pomfret, the NFL, the pandemic, and everything in between. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does an NFL college scout do?
In normal times, we go into colleges, spend a full day there, speak to a bunch of different coaches, staff members, anyone who interacts with the players in a meaningful way. We watch film, watch practice, watch games on Saturday. Then we move on to a different school and do the whole thing over again. It's like Groundhog Day. And basically, it's about collecting as much information as possible, so that we can determine which players can help make our team better.
Over the winter, there are a bunch of different all star games to watch. Then right after the Super Bowl, we generally have ten to fourteen days of draft meetings. You're just hunkered down in the draft room all day, you know, just talking about players. The head coach and general manager are there, and you basically make the case for your players.
Then there's the Combine, which is a huge event, where the top 300 players are invited to come to Indianapolis. For us, it's a chance to interview anybody who we didn't get a chance to interview at the all star games, we'll make sure we get there. It's also a huge medical deal — all thirty-two teams have their doctors poking and prodding each and every player who comes in, a lot of times revealing information, like injuries, that players don't even know they have. It's really intensive. And then, after that, we have a lot of cross check work, all the way up until the draft, which takes place in April.
What makes a great college scout in your mind?
Well, there's a lot of independence, a lot of freedom. You're on your own, and that's what I enjoy. I like being a road scout because you're not in the office, you're not tied to your desk every day. You have the freedom to work from home, travel to different places. But because there is that freedom, you have to be organized, you have to be disciplined, and you have to be totally committed to the process. It's easy to have an initial impression of a player. But it's important to understand, your initial impression is not necessarily your final impression. You have to let the process work before you can know what makes a player tick.
M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens
Who is the best player you have scouted?
My favorite player was AJ Green, who is a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals right now. At the time, I was with the Cleveland Browns, and I had scouted him and was super excited about the potential of drafting him. Unfortunately, he was taken right before us. But he had it all ... the athleticism, the ball skills, the toughness, the overall production, and he's proven to be that guy in the NFL. There are a lot of good players, but he stands out as the one who got away for me.
Who are you excited about right now?
We just drafted JK Dobbins out of Ohio State in the second round. I am very excited about his future with our team. We have some really good running backs, and when he's gotten his opportunities, he's really shown this year what we all saw on college film. So, JK Dobbins out of Ohio State. We're excited about him.
How has the pandemic impacted your work?
Well, we were grounded in March. More recently, we've been allowed to scout practices and games from the stands. But even though we're allowed in the stadium, we're still not allowed to interact with the coaches or get close. There are some positions where — not to get in the weeds — but there are some positions where you need to see a player live to understand how explosive, how fast, how long he is. Sometimes you don't realize how big these guys are. And so you walk up to him, and you're like, “Man, he's a lot bigger than I thought he was.”
Of course, the majority of colleges I scout didn't start until late September. Some didn’t start until November. Then there are the D2 and D3 schools who aren’t playing at all. In those cases, you have to base your evaluation off of 2019 film, which creates much more of a projection, because I won't get to see how the player does his senior year, whether or not he's improving. Not having the live exposure is a big, big disadvantage.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to the NFL?
Believe it or not, my path to the NFL is directly connected to Pomfret. My football coach at Pomfret was Danny Smith. He's currently at Hotchkiss. He was my dorm parent, my advisor, my football coach. He was really a father figure to me on campus. We're still very tight to this day. Anyway, one year in college — I think it was a Saturday morning — I was sleeping, and he called me, and said something like, “What are you gonna do with your life?” I always knew my career was going to be about football, but I thought it would be playing or coaching, or something like that. It was Danny who introduced to me the idea of scouting.
Bobby with his Pomfret coaches in 2000
Long story short, he had coached with Eric DeCosta — who is currently the general manager here in Baltimore — at Trinity College in Hartford. This was around 2002, and Eric was the Raven's college director at that time. So Danny connected us. I emailed Eric for about a year and a half, and it was one of those exchanges where you don't get a response every time. I wanted to be persistent, but not annoying. So I was walking a very fine line.
So when did your big break finally come?
One day Eric called me out of the blue and says, “Hey, Bobby, this is Eric DeCosta. Are you still interested in an opportunity with the Ravens?” And so I was, you know, trying to be cool, calm, and collected. I was like, “Yeah, that would be great. I'm looking forward to it.” And so he’s like, “Awesome, we'll fly you in and you'll be with us for three weeks as an intern.” Eventually I hang up the phone, and then it hits me, the idea that the Ravens were going to fly me to Baltimore. It was like, “What? You’re gonna do what?” I would have walked to Baltimore, I would have rode my bike, whatever he needed me to do, to get there.
That was a great experience. During my time as an intern, I met one of their directors, Phil Savage. After that 2004 season, Phil became the general manager in Cleveland. He remembered me from Baltimore. So he called me up, and was like, “Hey, I'm in Cleveland now. We have a job for you.” I ended up interviewing the same day as my college graduation, in May 2005, and I stayed there until May 2018 when I finally came back here to Baltimore.
What have you learned during your time in the NFL?
I always think about something Romeo Crennel said when he was the head coach of the Browns. He always talked about "giving yourself an opportunity." You never know when your break is going to come, he'd say, so you've got to put yourself in a position to take advantage of it when it does come. You may not know what your next step is or what your future holds. You may not know what your college major is going to be or what you want to do for a job. We all have those questions, but the great thing about being young is that the opportunities are limitless. And so, you know, if you just keep working hard and keep grinding and keep doing the right things, when that opportunity does come knocking, you will have put yourself in a position to take advantage of it.
Any parting thoughts?
I mean, everyone has a good reason to complain these days, but it's like any game when there's a sudden change — if there's a turnover, for example — there's adversity. And it's hard because this pandemic is wearing on everyone and there's a lot of drain. How do you respond?
I have a wife and two little girls. Emry will be six in a couple of weeks and Siena just turned two in October. And the benefit — if you can call it such a thing — of this pandemic, the silver lining, is that I have been working from home a lot. There’s so much growth at this age and so many milestones. Spending time with them has been great. Because football takes up so much time. I'm in the office at 6:30 in the morning and I don't get out until about 11:00 at night. And that's kind of just what it is.
The Vega family — wife Dee, and two daughters, Emry (6) and Siena (2)
So it's really about finding the silver linings and, you know, finding ways to be productive during this really stressful time. It's about finding small victories, whatever those are in your life. It's about finding one small victory and then finding another one, and just keeping on that path.