They all dream of finding the next star player, the one nobody else knows about. That’s how football scouts kill the endless hours on the road. But the reality? It just doesn’t happen much anymore. In the age of YouTube, it’s as easy for fans to research players as scouts.
That doesn’t stop them, Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey included, from trying. His team is no different from any of the others but perhaps a little more inclined to look for players in obscure places.
The Chiefs’ roster is well stocked with players from tiny football schools as well as those in the so-called power conferences. They have one player from Alabama, but also one from West Alabama. They have one each from Penn State and Pittsburgh but two from California of Pennsylvania.
They have two former Ivy Leaguers, a guy who before joining the Chiefs never played beyond junior college and one who didn’t play football in college at all. He was a basketball player.
While a scout for the Green Bay Packers, Dorsey twice went to Australia to find a punter. One of them didn’t work out but the other, Chris Bryan, kicked for a time in the NFL, not with the Packers but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We all have our avenues to find players," Dorsey said. “There are different ways of doing it. It’s my responsibility to the Kansas City Chiefs to do everything within our power to make sure we’ve got everything covered. We’re going to do that because if you’re not out there working, somebody else is and they’ll find those guys. Everybody does such a thorough job now.
“In today’s football, it’s really hard because all 32 teams are doing their due diligence in terms of working to unearth talent. The objective is to get real players. Anybody can go and find obscure players but they have to be able to play at the end of the day."
The ability to mine players from out-of-the-way places isn’t a bad one to have this time of year, with the draft looming. The Chiefs are down to six picks this year, having sent their second-round choice to the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith.
So they could use a late-round or undrafted player to come through and replace at least some of the long-term production they probably would have received from that second-round pick.
Perhaps that player is already on their roster. He might be Weston Dressler, a tiny but quick slot receiver the Chiefs signed over the winter after he played several seasons in the Canadian Football League. It could be Mike Catapano, a seventh-round pick last season from Princeton who showed uncommon ability to rush the quarterback for a one-time Ivy Leaguer.
Yet another candidate is tight end Demetrius Harris, who played basketball but not football in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It’s no longer rare for football teams to try to make a tight end from a former power forward, but Harris, who was once a standout high school football player in Arkansas, attracted the attention of the Chiefs in a typical Dorsey way.
“I was down at the [high school] all-star game maybe two or three years ago, Texas vs. the Nation. I happened to be out to dinner and was talking to some gentleman and he started talking about great high school players from Arkansas who didn’t play football in college. He said to keep an eye on [Harris] because he was all-state and this and that. I always have a Franklin planner with me where I keep notes. I just wrote down his name with the note to research him when he was eligible for the draft.
“I have a lot of those notes in that planner from conversations I’ve had about players who might not be eligible for the draft for two or three years."
The Chiefs last spring looked into Harris, who had finished his collegiate eligibility. They were in on him early and aggressively.
Word eventually spread around the NFL about Harris and though neither the Chiefs nor any other team drafted Harris, he became the object of a post-draft signing battle with Kansas City and the Baltimore Ravens among the finalists.
Harris signed with the Chiefs as much out of loyalty for their early interest as anything else.
“Demetrius just felt comfortable there," said Matthew Pope, Harris’ agent. “We needed a long-term commitment and the Chiefs were willing to give us their word on that.
“John’s history is that he’s not going to look at where the player comes from. He’ll just look at what the player does."
Harris spent his rookie season on the Chiefs’ practice squad. Much of that time was spent getting reacquainted with football. But late in the year he showed signs of developing into a player.
“He did a nice job in his year on the practice squad," Dorsey said. “Remember that he hadn’t played football in four years. He started to get in the groove about Week 12 or 13. He started to feel comfortable and get back in football shape."
The odds against Harris ever becoming another Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates are great. But if he does, give Dorsey some credit for finding a great player who at least for a time nobody else knew about.