It's about that time of year, again. There are only 3 games left in the NFL (post)season, and soon enough Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay (and Rudedog, whose analysis I prefer to the other two...) will be telling us where each and every eligible NCAA player fits into the 2012 NFL Draft.
So I got to thinking, as I always do around draft time, about why exactly NFL scouts and evaluators place so much emphasis on physical skills.
Obviously I understand that a certain level of physical skill is needed to compete in the world of professional sports, but so often a more important trait is valued less or even completely disregarded.
I'm talking about work ethic and mental smarts.
All over sports we see the same mistakes being made time and time again; scouts place too much emphasis on physical tools and too little on mental makeup.
Moneyball showed us that just because a certain baseball player looks like the real deal there are no guarantees to his actual success as a pro.
The Oakland Raiders have proven (over and over and over and...) that speed and arm strength are by no means a harbinger of success on the gridiron.
The NBA draft has shown us that 7 footers can be scrubs, too.
Yet so many scouts and GMs prefer the guy with the rocket arm to the guy who understand the game.
So many teams and fans want to see the next great physical specimen don their teams colors.
And on the flip side, so many truly great players get overlooked because they're too short, or their vertical jump wasn't impressive, or their 40 time was below average, etc.
Let's go back to MLB for an example.
AJ Burnett has the nastiest "stuff" I have ever seen from any pitcher on any level. Mid-90's heater, a cutter and a sinker that he throws around 90 MPH with plenty of movement, and a wicked, wicked knucklecurve. AJ is able to get as much movement on a pitch as any pitcher I have ever seen, and with his good velocity and tall frame, he fits the mold perfectly of the prototypical pitcher. Heck, he even has a no-hitter on his resume.
But he's a mediocre pitcher, as his career 121-111 W-L record and 4.10 lifetime ERA will show you.
Why? Well for one thing, he's not a smart pitcher. AJ never learned when to throw specific pitches, nor did he learn to work on his control. That no-hitter he tossed back in 2001? 9 base-on-balls. Nine.
He has all the tools that one would want in a MLB pitcher. But he's not good. But I guarantee if he was in the 2012 MLB draft, he would be a sure-fire first rounder.
Conversely, Greg Maddux wasn't blessed with even a 90 MPH fastball. He wasn't known for having tons of movement on his pitches. But he was one of the smartest pitchers you'll ever see and he worked hard, and history will remember him as one of the all-time greats. But if the next Greg Maddux was entering this year's MLB draft, I'm guessing he would last until the 20th round or later, simply because he wouldn't overwhelm anyone with his measurables.
Let's look to the NFL for another example. JaMarcus Russell could throw the ball around the globe and back. He is a beast at 6 foot 6, 260 pounds. But he never worked hard, never cared to improve from the simple-minded QB he was when he enrolled at LSU. So he never got better, and despite being the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, he is currently a 26 year old free agent. Nobody wants him now, after seeing how horrible he was and how little he cared about becoming a smart player. But if he was 19 and entering this year's draft, teams would be falling out of their shoes to use their first round pick on him.
On the other hand you have Tom Brady, who lasted until the 199th pick of the 2000 draft before the New Englad Patriots selected him.
Why? Because he was slow, he didn't have a strong arm, etc. The pre-draft scouting report on Brady indicated that he wasn't worth more than a 6th or 7th round pick; history tells otherwise.
Same with Drew Brees. Too small, weak arm, blah blah blah.
Scouts love size, speed, arm strength, anything they can measure. They don't emphasize mental prowess or work ethic. I once heard an NFL GM say Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard alum, scared some GMs and coaches because they believed he was too smart. What a joke.
There are many more examples that would prove what I'm talking about, but this blog is getting a little long as it is so I will stop in hopes of keeping this thing a manageable read.
Anyway, I'm sure we will see more of the same when the draft occurs in April of this year. Smart, hard working players will wait and wait to be selected while all the track stars and bench-press kings hear their names called on day one.
I'm just hoping that my team, the Dallas Cowboys, can one day learn to draft smart instead of drafting potential.