Indianapolis Colts second-year general manager Ryan Grigson makes no bones about it. He enjoys watching prospective football players strut their stuff.
Over his 14 years working in the National Football League, Grigson has been a national combine scout and area scout for the St. Louis Rams (1999-2003). He has also been a regional scout (2004-05), and more recently, the director of college scouting (2006-09) for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Prior to working in the NFL, Grigson was also a pro scout in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the director of player personnel for the Arena Football League’s Buffalo Destroyers.
Considering the time spent as a talent evaluator, it makes complete sense that Grigson admitted late last week that he is itching to get back on the road a little more in the coming months. It’s something that he wasn’t able to do as much as he would have liked last season.
Coach Chuck Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis last fall forced Grigson to stay closer to the team’s headquarters and not venture out to watch many college games. He did, however, scan the league’s free agency and wavier wires in a constant effort to keep enough healthy bodies available for the Colts’ 53-player active roster.
He landed veteran players like Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski, Donnie Avery, Samson Satele, Winston Justice, Brandon McKinney prior to the start of training camp. Others — such as Moses Fokou, Darius Butler, Martin Tevaseu — came later in training camp and during the season.
That effort, along with the success of the team’s 2012 draft class (four starters and one key backup), earned Grigson the NFL’s Executive of the Year award.
“Last year, in a way, was still fun for me as my [scouting roots]. To go out there and dig and find guys that other people may have overlooked,” he recalled. “Maybe they have to dig as hard because they had the [salary cap] money to go get the guys that were right there for the taking.”
Now, in addition to reviewing the available college talent on hand for this year’s National Football Scouting Combine, Grigson also has a list of veteran free agents from other NFL teams that he wants to take a long look at. The Colts have deep pockets — approximately $44 million — heading into the league’s veteran agency period, which begins on March 12.
“It’s nice to be able to go shopping a little bit. It’s nice to be able to know that if there is someone I’m really pining for, I’ve at least got a crack at him,” Grigson is quick to point out. “My [scouting] department did such a great job throughout the year and in the  draft.
“Even in free agency last year when [we] didn’t have that much money. The guys we got all contributed and bought in. [They] were guys that helped bridge the gap between players [experience]. A veteran that had been here [for] a while that brought some draft picks up in terms of maturity and show them how to be a pro.”
Preparing for the draft — So what areas, specifically, are the Colts looking at heading into this year’s draft, which is set for April 25-27?
“Right now we’re still looking. This week [at the combine] is huge. We had draft meetings a couple of weeks [ago], getting our [draft] board set. That gave me a better picture because I didn’t get to look at 350 guys like I did last year before I came in [as general manager],” he explained.
“I don’t have that catalog or reference point [this year]. The picture is a little murky. But every day it gets a little bit clearer with more information. The more film I get, the more passionate pleas I get from my scouts about players.”
Grigson is all about the passion. He wants his scouts to have strong feelings about the players they are pushing.
“We’re sitting in meetings and you’re in the doldrums for an hour. Everybody is just waiting for that next coffee break. [Then] it’s like somebody all of a sudden perks up. The whole room perks up when a name gets brought up. I make a note of that,” he said.
“I actually have had one of our interns make a list. It’s called ‘buzz’ guys when we’re in the room. You go through 10 guys and no one says a word. Then, all of a sudden, everybody is ready to have a real strong opinion of someone. I follow that. If someone moves the needle in terms of talent or first impression, I think that goes a long way. It goes a long way with me anyway.”
What direction will the Colts go? — Grigson remains non-committal, at least publicly, as to what direction Indianapolis will go with its first round pick. The Colts have the 24th overall pick in the round. “Like last year, sitting at 24, we feel there’s going to be a really good player there. Like last year, we want that ‘blue player’ at 24,” he said. “We don’t want to just settle for a need guy. [Team owner] Jim Irsay has unbelievable patience with this process. He knows we can’t get everything in one year, even though I’d like to.”
High school teammates — Grigson was a high school teammate of former Indiana State offensive lineman Tim Herrin.
They both grew up in Highland, Ind., and both earned all-state honors. Grigson went to Purdue while Herrin went on to play for the Sycamores.
“Timmy was a good player,” the Colts GM recalled. “A really good player. He could have played at this [NFL] level if he hadn’t hurt his back [while in college].”
Herrin is now an assistant football coach at Terre Haute South High School.