2023 NFL Draft

Interview: Kicking Off the East West Shrine Bowl Week With Director Eric Galko

There is no better way to kick off the East West Shrine Bowl week than sitting down with Eric Galko, the Director of Football Operations.

After playing quarterback in high school, Eric got his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware in both finance and economics. He moved on to Villanova for his law degree and also served as president of the Sports Law Society while there. Even before that though, he knew he wanted a career in football and an opportunity to make a difference in young athletes’ lives.  Several years prior to beginning law school, he worked as a scouting director for HBCU All-Star game in 2012.

“I realized, thankfully, early on [that] I wanted to do something meaningful in the business,” he explains. “I thought All-Star events were a cool opportunity to both work with NFL teams, work with players. “

The payoff was small in those days, with representatives from only 15 NFL teams attending, but Galko believed that for the players that got noticed and drafted, it was all worth it.  And the college All-Star games have all grown considerably since then, with the practice sidelines welcoming scouts and agents from around the country.

Galko seems to have a knack for recognizing talent.  Over the years, he has honed his scouting skills by writing draft profiles for Bleacher Report, Sporting News, and ESPN.  Steelers fans will appreciate (and also groan) over his mocking RB Nick Chubb in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft and C Creed Humphrey in 2021.

Another source of pride is the number of staff that have graduated from his staff to careers in the NFL; he estimates it to be three or four every year for the last eight years.  He believes that success comes from approaching scouting the right way and understanding what the goal should be:

“What does it mean to be successful in the NFL?  Is it being a starter?  Is it playing for five years? So we focus on a lot of athleticism traits, mental makeup traits, focus on background a lot. We harp a lot on background because that tells you the features for a lot of these guys and a lot of these guys are playing multiple sports in high school. They’re track stars, they’re team captains.”

Analytics remain an important part of the evaluation process but he knows that it’s crucial to consider both the objective data and subjective factors.  He has developed his process as the founder and President of Optimum Scouting over the years, primarily during his time as Director of Player Personnel for the XFL.  While NFL players cannot be ranked as simply as MLB does, the data can predict the likelihood that a candidate can play for three to five years minimum, whether it’s a first or sixth round pick, with a 90-95% accuracy.  In this way, it helps him and his staff decide which players to look at more thoroughly.

Not all position groups are equal when it comes to analytics.  According to Galko, offensive lines and corners are probably his two most accurate assessments.  He calls those “preventer positions” and clarifies.

“If you are an offensive lineman and you play 60 snaps in a game or 50 snaps in a game and you have 45 good snaps and five bad snaps and those five bad snaps are five sacks, you’re out of the league. Right? So preventor positions, we can kind of quantify risk assessment much easier. Same thing as corner. Whereas receiver and edge rusher, those are more creator positions where if you have 50 snaps in the game and five are good and you have five catches for 150 yards or five sacks in the game, you’re at All-Pro. Right? So those are more based on athletic abilities. We kind of change our metrics based on the position, but they’re used intimately in our process.”

I asked if certain errors like penalties count against a player in his model or if that is considered a coachable and correctable issue.  For Galko, that is part of the subjective player evaluation.

I’ve always wondered how the bowl game invitations are made when not all players declare for the draft at the same time and asked if they hold some in reserve.  Galko jokes that he probably knows more about who’s coming out for the draft before anybody else including NFL league office because he’s living in that world day to day, talking to schools and players directly, as well as the agents.

With the NIL rule changes in NCAAF, Galko has expanded his company to Optimum Sports Consulting to provide guidance to players and agents as they navigate the new landscape of players finally being able to profit from their own brand.  In response to my question as to whether the transfer portal traffic would maintain the same hectic pace in upcoming years, he said no, adding that it should settle down in the next 2-4 years as players understand better how to estimate their marketing earning potential and won’t risk a roster spot for a move that won’t make financial sense.

We talked about the players to watch this week at the East West Shrine Bowl practices and game.  The obvious standouts may already be familiar names:

  • Boston College WR Zay Flowers tops the list and may be the first Shrine Bowl player in ten years to be a first round draft pick. 
  • Michigan TE Luke Schoonmaker is still recovering from an AC joint injury but came to participate in meetings and coaching sessions.  He should be ready for the Combine.
  • UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is expected to turn heads this week.
  • Pitt OL Carter Warren, a recent addition to the roster, will likely impress.
  • Eastern Michigan EDGE Jose Ramirez has a lot of buzz and will be fun to watch in practice.
  • USC RB Travis Dye is coming off two consecutive solid seasons after moving from Oregon for his 5th year.

One of the best parts of the Shrine Bowl week, though, is the opportunity for players from smaller schools to shine and I had to ask Galko about any potential sleepers.  He recommended keeping an eye on NC State LB Isaiah Moore, Harvard EDGE Truman Jones, and Pace University OL Jacky Chen.  Talking about these players and last year’s Shrine Bowl success stories like 49ers QB Brock Purdy, Chiefs RB Isiah Pacheco and Patriots WR Tyquan Thronton, Eric Galko lights up.  His passion for identifying and promoting players that would otherwise not get this opportunity is evident.

At the Shrine Bowl, it’s not just the players that get opportunities for growth.  The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are providing their coaching staff, who benefit by getting into upgraded roles and more responsibility.  Patriots wide receiver and kickoff returners coach Troy Brown will serve as the Head Coach of the West Team and Falcons special teams coordinator Marquice Williams will lead the East Team as Head Coach.  Additional staff will fill out the coordinator and assistant coaching staff.  And yes, Patriots HC Bill Belichick and Falcons HC Arthur Brown will be here in a supervisory role with direct interaction with the players throughout the week.

Players have to pass a physical prior to the beginning of practices and in the case of injury may be held out or participation.  In that case, they can still participate in interviews, learn about Shriners, and meet the coaches.

Galko estimates that there will be two to three times the number of credentialed media members this year as the East West Shrine Bowl continues to grow.  For the Steelers Depot crew covering the practices and the game, that is true as well.  We have expanded our team to five.  Josh Carney, Owen Daniels and I are returning for our second year, joined this time by Joe Clark and Joe Cammarota.  Practice begins on Saturday, January 28th, so stay tuned for comprehensive coverage, including player interviews and profiles and practice reports.

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