NFL Success: The Formula, or At Least Our Theory

On Tuesday, I’ll be talking to a small group of business leaders from around Houston. The friend who asked me to speak, a wealth manager from a major firm here in the Bayou City, asked me to talk a little bit about what I do, and a little bit about the coming season, the Texans, etc.

Here’s a confession: I always get a little nervous when I’m speaking for a general crowd, i.e., mostly fans. If I’m talking to agents, scouts, financial advisors, parents of players, or anyone who’s already in the game, that’s my wheelhouse. We speak the same language, and I think I can provide them with something helpful. For people who just want to talk about the game, I’m a little less certain about things.

In thinking about what to present, I decided I’d try to discuss my theory on the keys to success in the NFL and apply it to the Texans. The beauty of this topic is that it can be applied to most any team. I’ve set this up to basically determine a team’s chances of making the playoffs, because I think winning the Super Bowl is a function of so many things (team health, how hot the team is over the last month of the season, relative strength of teams in your conference, etc.). If you can pinpoint a team’s chances of making the playoffs, to me, you’ve got a pretty good indicator of what kind of organization you have.

Anyway, in my estimation, here are the five elements that lead directly to NFL success, and their relative importance.

Quarterback (team leader, leader of offense): 25 percent – I was texting with a scout recently who was sharply critical of the Patriots’ college scouting record and methods, and in gest, I responded that their philosophy only works if you have Tom Brady as your quarterback. Actually, that’s true of almost every team. If you have an elite QB, it’s like you’re halfway home. It certainly covers for a lot of mistakes.

Rest of roster (football IQ, athleticism, fit to system): 25 percent – At the end of the day, players play. Others get fired when they don’t play well enough, but it’s the success of the players that determines everything else. If you have a ‘C’ coach and an ‘A’ roster, you can win. The reverse is not necessarily true, certainly not long-term.

Owner (commitment to winning, stadium, control/delegation): 10 percent – You may disagree with Jerry Jones’ style, or his ego, or whatever, but you can’t question his commitment to winning, the team’s stadium and practice facility, and his willingness to make tough decisions. Obviously, not all his decisions have worked out, but he’s not ben afraid to make them.

GM (head coach selection, management of draft, management of cap, head coach accountability): 25 percent – Here I’m assuming this is the traditional GM who has total control of the draft and hiring a head coach. I know this model is going away, but I think it’s the best way. In fact, I debated over making the GM 30 or 35 percent. This is why the Dave Gettleman and John Dorsey firings are, to me, incredibly big mistakes.

Head coach (selection of staff, game manager, fits system to talent, player accountability): 15 percent – There are plenty who’d say the head coach is the most important part of the team, and we’re seeing that realized in their salaries, but I think the ‘genius’ coach is mostly a function of his players.

This is my theory. Am I right? Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

 

Are NFL Scouts Becoming a Thing of the Past?

We’ve been exploring a scouting-related theme in this space for the last few months, and it has to do with the value and relevance of traditional, on-the-road area scouts (also known as college scouts). More precisely, we’ve indirectly asked the question, are  scouts becoming a thing of the past?

A few developments over the last month-plus put a finer point on our question. First of all, two classic evaluation-style GMs, John Dorsey in Kansas City and Dave Gettleman in Carolina, were let go. You could argue (and I believe) they were two of the top five general managers in the game.

Shortly after that, the Packers, one of the most stable and well-respected teams in the league, shifted several of their seasoned evaluators to the pro side and replaced them with first- and second-year scouts.

As we’ve done previously this summer, we went to Angry Scouting Veteran and Angry Scout 2 for candor and opinion without compromise. Both made good points.

Angry Scouting Veteran made several good points in a lengthy take. I won’t run it out completely here (it’s pretty extensive), but his main points, in his own words, were:

  • “Some guys view moving from college to pro scouting as a way to go home every night as opposed to being on the road.”
  • “Other guys view pro scouting as a quicker way to move up the ladder towards GM because you’re in the office, around people at the top level, and learning/working in other elements that college guys aren’t around or don’t have time for.”
  • “John Wojciechowski is a great guy, very highly respected in the scouting community, and has deserved some kind of opportunity for advancement for quite some time now. He has a young family and between he and the Packers brass, they both most likely agreed that this was the best move for his career and his family.”
  • “I’ve also heard that (Packers GM) Ted Thompson detests change, so moving up younger guys who were already in the program to road scout roles was another logical move for him.”

He also went on to decry the idea of eliminating road scouts, and his hopes that this isn’t a trend. Obviously, I heartily agree with both sentiments.

Angry Scout 2 was less certain about the Packers’ motivations, but was willing to believe the team wanted to reward some young people Thompson sees as rising stars. On the other hand, he sees some deference to trends, as well.

  • “Remember there are people in the NFL who want a “yes” man and to feel their scouts will just go with what they think. Maybe Green Bay did some favors or perhaps they know these people are good scouts. . . You never want a staff entirely of people over 50 (and) it’s good to have a mix.”
  • “If (the Packers) do what they use to, then the new scouts are good. I know their NFS scout has always seemed to be pretty good the last 10 years.”
  • “People are gravitating to analytics. They see how it’s a crapshoot no matter how good the scout is, and they want older scouts out because younger people are more likely to accept analytics.”
  • “One theory I have is that people see (New England). They are killing it on pro side but very average on the draft. They want experience in pro.”

 

The 2017 NFLPA Agent Exam: The Post-Mortem

I spent the better part of the last three days talking to people who took the agent exam last Friday in Washington, D.C. Here’s what I’ve gathered.

  • Anyone expecting the NFLPA to take a little off its fastball had to be disappointed. There were no true/false questions, and the questions were said to be even longer than last year (more than one person described most questions as ‘wordy). “There were a few pages with only 2-3 questions on the page,” texted one agent hopeful. “Every question was a paragraph,” wrote another.
  • What’s more, the hard questions started at the beginning, whereas we’d been telling people for weeks to focus on the last 20 questions, where the real meat of the test started last year.
  • In addition, though we tried to focus on time management with everyone we worked with (about a third to half of the people who took the exam for the first time), several people barely finished on time (or didn’t).
  • Finally, the questions weren’t arranged in ‘blocks’ this time. Unlike the last couple years, “it seemed that the questions were random, as in certain topics were not grouped together,” according to one test-taker. Oh, well. Back to the drawing board.
  • Two agent hopefuls told me there was a discrepancy with one of the questions, and several people made the NFLPA aware of it. If this is true, I’d expect that question gets tossed. Maybe that makes the test one question easier for everyone.
  • Apparently the NFLPA has found a new way to grade the exams, as they told everyone to expect results within about two weeks, instead of 6-8 weeks. That’s good news as long as the players association continues to curve the results. I don’t have any reason to think they won’t have one. I’ve had probably a dozen agents ask me how much the curve will benefit test-takers, and exactly what total one needs to pass. It’s impossible to tell.
  • Word continues to get out on our practice exam and study guide. One person said the two people he sat next to and hung out with in D.C. also used our resources. That’s a good feeling. And next year, we’ll be even more prepared to help would-be agents. We’re hoping to add a second complete practice exam next year, and we hope to sharpen up our current one, as well.
  • While we’re at it, we’re also working on a practice exam for the MLBPA exam, which will be offered next month and next year (twice annually).

If you don’t mind the indulgence, I’d like to close with a few final words, all unsolicited, from our clients.

  • “Hey Neil. Just wanted to say thanks for your help on this process. The review really helped me prepare for the seminar and for the most part the seminar was just a review. I feel really confident that I passed the exam.”
  • “(Test was) cake. Was far easier than I anticipated.”
  • You provided helpful tools for me for an important task. I appreciate your services.”
  • It was tough but I feel good. I cannot imagine taking it without the study guide/practice test.”
  • Your exam was spot on. . . Taking this test without doing your practice exam is similar to cancelling all practices prior to Alabama week.”
  • I feel much better walking out this year than I did last year! Thank you again for all of your help. Hopefully I’ll have good news in September!”


     
     

It’s (Still) Not Too Late

Sunday and today, I’ve been exchanging emails with an attorney who feels woefully unprepared for Friday’s NFLPA exam in Washington, D.C. Based on our exchange, I got the impression she felt she had passed the point of no return on her procrastination, and was headed for a very difficult time in D.C. My message to her was, and is, that it’s not too late.

If you’re an agent hopeful who’s in a similar plight, this is my message to you, as well.

If you read this blog regularly, you know we’ve got a practice agent exam on our site, as well as a study guide we can provide, each of them with a $150 (plus tax) price point. You also know we’ve been offering these for several years, and that our rate of passing (about 70 percent) is 25 points higher than the passing rate of the population at large. At the same time, maybe you’re not sold on these resources as especially valuable. If so, check out these testimonials, all received within the last month, none of them solicited.

  • “Thank you for everything during the test process, I really appreciate it and look forward to working with you after the test.”
  • “Really grateful that I found ITL.  Not sure if I will be able to master enough of this material by next week but ITL is certainly helping.”
  • “I have appreciated these testimonials and the practice exam has been very helpful.”
  • “Just wanted to let you know I really appreciate the information you provide that can’t be found anywhere else.  It is an invaluable resource for guys who are crunched for time.”
  • “A note to say that ITL has made my life a lot easier. I appreciate the work you put into it.”
  • “I don’t know you from Adam (pun), but brother you’re on top of your Shi— 🙂  I love that!”
  • “Thank you for being the only true resource on the web to find useful information pertaining to the world of agents, financial advisors, scouts, etc.  The tools and resources you’ve created with ITL have so far been extremely helpful.”
  • “I appreciate your help.  You’re amazing. Always stay the Legend that you are!”

I quibble with the ‘legend’ description (sorta), but you get the point.

On the other hand, maybe you have questions about the practice exam. If so, check out this video we recently commissioned. It’s kinda cool, and I think you’ll find it helpful. Our tweet containing this video garnered us a positive RT or two.

We’ve even got a newsletter series that has dozens of testimonials from agents who took the test over the past two years, and have passed along their recommendations on what they did to pass it since the NFLPA really ramped up the difficulty of the exam. We’ll be happy to send that as a third resource to anyone who uses either of our other two; dozens of agent hopefuls have already been receiving it for the past couple months.

Still have questions? Hit us up. Happy to field all of them. I promise, you don’t need to be afraid of us, and we won’t spam you.

Still not sold? No problem. Even so, I wish you the best of luck. At Inside the League, for as long as we are around, we will be hoping everyone succeeds in football.

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Veteran (Pt. 5)

Today, we get a little more specific about the scouting industry by digging into the services that set the table for each draft the summer beforehand. We asked Angry Scouting Veteran (@AngryScout) his take on National Football Scouting and BLESTO, two services that are an integral (if mostly unknown) part of the business.

BLESTO and National are accepted parts of the scouting landscape. What are the strengths and weaknesses of using a scouting service? Do teams rely on them too much? Does the services’ reliance on mostly young scouts affect the validity of their work?

“BLESTO and National are not only accepted, but to me a VITAL part of the scouting process. To me, if a team isn’t using one, then they’re 1) cheap, 2) don’t understand the process, and/or 3) should be paying their scouts double, because they are doing two jobs. Using a scouting service is worth it, if for nothing else than to get a baseline on character and medical information. If a team relies on their combine info too much, it’s their own fault. If there are people in leadership roles that know what they are doing, then they realize that using a combine provides the baseline/initial look in the process, and that the information is useful, but should only be valued as one ingredient in the recipe. National has a lot more teams, so they are able to provide more in-depth coverage, given that their scouts have much smaller areas than their BLESTO counterparts. BLESTO is more of a family business, National is more corporate, but at the end of the day it’s like Nike or Adidas. They’re doing the same thing. It’s all a matter of what environment you prefer or what you are using the service for the most.

“A combine scout is young and entry-level; that’s fine, again, as long as the people running the teams who are in the services understand the purpose of being in a combine. A combine scout’s jobs, in order, are to surface prospects, provide as much information about those prospects as possible, and to grow as talent evaluators. If you are a GM and you’re concerned about what the combine scout’s grades are — other than those being the starting point for how many exposures you need at each school — then you don’t have a clue what you are doing, and you shouldn’t be a GM.

“Our scouting process really begins in May at a combine spring meeting. That’s where each combine scout presents all of the work that he’s done in the spring while the rest of us are getting ready for the draft. It’s unreasonable to ask area scouts to do this advance work, and it’s also disrespectful to remove them from the draft process to do so. The draft is a scout’s game day, and not allowing us to finish that entire process and be involved in the “big game” is like asking an Olympic athlete to train all year long but then not letting them in the stadium for the opening ceremonies or permitting them to compete. If you want to be stubborn (and cheap) and not use a combine, fine, then pay your scouts for two jobs, because that’s what they are doing.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Veteran (Pt. 4)

Very often, scouts on the road are very different from the men they report to. For our fourth question, we asked Angry Scouting Veteran (@angryscout) if that’s something that rankles the people below the GM. It comes as no surprise that he continued to bring the heat on this and other topics related to the GM role.

Let’s say you could build the perfect GM candidate. What qualifications would he have? Can a legitimate GM candidate come from the cap side?

“I’ll work in reverse here. A successful GM can only come from the cap or business side if 1) he is very self-aware and willing to admit that he is a business guy, not a football guy; and 2) he hires very good football people, lets them do their jobs, and relies on what they say to make his decisions. Hell, 95% of the owners in the NFL don’t know jack squat about football (and that might be a generous estimate), and most of them fail because their giant egos won’t allow them to let their football people do their jobs. People can throw the dumb jock stereotypes out there all they want, but not everybody knows football, and just because you watch it, are around it, or even own a team, it doesn’t qualify you to make FOOTBLL decisions.

“As far as building a perfect GM candidate, my guy has to be a former road scout. If he isn’t, your scouting department and your team basically don’t have much of a chance. You build successful teams through the draft, and if you don’t have a guy who has been in the grass-roots role of this process, I’m sorry, but to me it’s both insulting and hopeless to think that guy can lead a team to victory. Beyond that, how about somebody who actually has LEADERSHIP skills and qualities? It is beyond bizarre to me how many people in the NFL (or in life outside the league for that matter) are in positions of leadership who have ZERO leadership skills and abilities. To be a leader, you have to realize that your primary role is to serve those under your leadership and always do what is right for all of them and the organization’s success as whole. It doesn’t mean that you have to be the smartest guy in the room at all times, and that everyone should kiss your (butt) or bow down to you; that’s not remotely what leadership is, but it’s how a lot of people in the NFL try and personify it. As far as other elements of this candidate: skilled with the media is a benefit for sure, because God knows that dealing with them can be a complete nightmare (and that many owners somehow believe that if it’s in the media, it must be true!). I’d like a guy who has been a coach, too, or at least around coaching enough to understand it. To me, you leave the business savvy up to business guys in the organization. Give me a guy who has worked his way up from a road scout position, has great leadership ability, inspires (and gives) loyalty, and is a legit FOOTBALL GUY who hires good people and lets them do the jobs he hired them to do, and everything else falls into place.

“That’s another thing the scouting community as a whole needs to have more of a voice and presence in, (and that’s with) the candidates that become GMs. Right now, you have owners who know nothing about scouting or the guys who work in it, who then turn to consultants, ex-personnel guys who usually pimp their former interns, young scouts, or anyone who has kissed their (butt). There are many highly qualified and deserving men who half the football world isn’t even made aware of because they aren’t media darlings, members of the league hype machine’s chosen ones, or kissing someone’s (butt) every day. Right now, there are area scouts who would make 10 times better GMs than quite a few guys with that fancy name plate on their desk. Believe it.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Veteran (Pt. 3)

Maybe you’re frustrated that Angry Scouting Veteran (@AngryScout) is hiding behind Twitter and should come out in the open to deliver such hot takes as the ones he offers up today. But I’ve spoken to more than one scout who feels the same way he does about the Patriots, but of course, were nowhere close to willing to being quoted. Is it sour grapes? Maybe, but the bottom line is that this is what a lot of scouts are thinking. That’s another reason why I’m glad we’ve given Angry Scouting Veteran this platform. I hope you are, too.

Here’s today’s question and answer.

The trend is to hire GMs from established ‘brands’ in the game (Patriots, Packers, Seahawks, etc.). Do you think these teams do a better job at evaluation?

“First and foremost, the Patriots system of scouting and their success at it is one of the most overrated things in the NFL. Any knowledgeable scout that isn’t a (sycophant) will tell you the same thing. The Patriots have some terrible draft picks/drafts as a whole just like everybody else. They got lucky drafting the best QB to ever play the game in the sixth round; there may have been one scout that thought that Tom Brady was as great as he’s turned out to be, and even that is doubtful, but that scout wouldn’t be given the proper credit even if it was true. When you draft a QB in the sixth round, you’re thinking he’s going to compete to be a backup, nothing more, which makes (Patriots owner) Robert Kraft a giant liar too, saying that “he knew” that Brady was destined for greatness when they drafted him and all of that crap. I’m not a fan of (Patriots head coach/GM) Bill Belichick for reasons I won’t go into here, but he’s obviously proven himself to be a very special and successful coach. Take those two guys away, and then show me how elite and superior the Patriot scouting system is. It has failed several places, and the only guys who have shown real signs of life were also educated in other places and aren’t trying to rely exclusively on a system that requires Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to succeed.

“There are teams whom I strongly respect the job that they do at evaluation, and yes, the Packers and Seahawks are two of them. Any time a team wins, it’s 100% natural for other teams to want to emulate what they do. There are certain teams year in and year out that draft consistently better than others, and that CAN lead to wins on the field. I say CAN because there are so many more things that have to fall into place for teams to be successful, but drafting well is a huge start. I’ve been with teams that drafted very good players and the coaching staffs were so bad that those players’ abilities were never maximized on the field. For organizational success, the scouting and coaching sides of things need to be on the same page, which is very difficult to do. It’s not just because of the egos involved, but coaches tend to think short-term and scouts think longer-term. I’ll fully admit that coaches aren’t given enough time to succeed, so that only makes their win-now mentality worse. I tweeted about it before, and I’ll say it again: Hall of Famers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf each won ONE Super Bowl as a GM with a one-of-a-kind, Hall of Fame, franchise QB. Either those GMs are overrated, or that should be a very clear-cut explanation of how hard it is to win championships in this league.  You can also have whatever system you want in place, but if you don’t have the right people to execute it, then it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you need good scouts who will stand up for what they believe in, and you need a GM who will LISTEN to those scouts. Otherwise you will not succeed.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Vet (Pt. 2)

For today’s section of our interview with Angry Scouting Vet (@angryscout), we discuss the state and value of young scouts across the industry. It’s something he’s been pretty vocal about, so I thought I’d get a sense of where he sees more youthful evaluators fitting into the business. What he gave us is, to me, must-read content for anyone aspiring to work for an NFL team.

You’ve spoken extensively about the value of experienced scouts vs. younger scouts. If you could build your own staff, how would you structure it regarding experience? Is there a place for younger scouts in the game?

“I started as a young scout when there weren’t a great number of them in the NFL. I have ZERO problem with having younger scouts on your staff. If I was building a staff, it would be a nice balance between veterans and youth, with the youth understanding that in the beginning of their careers that they DON’T KNOW SQUAT, and that they are expected to learn from the veterans, who in turn should be head over heels willing to teach and educate the youth to do things the right way. My only problem with younger scouts is that some of them don’t know that they don’t know, and use their mouths way more than their ears. That being said, if you subscribe to the philosophy that ‘there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher’ — I do…for the most part- — a lot of these younger guys haven’t been taught the right way, whether that’s referring to actual philosophies and methods as a part of the daily business of scouting, or just the reality that when you are first starting out in the business that you really don’t know anything. You can’t have all the answers; you haven’t seen enough or been able to make enough comparisons. It’s great (and necessary) to have an opinion, but when you’re still inexperienced, you should keep your mouth shut, your ears open, and only share that opinion when you’re asked for it. Then again, now teams are hiring GMs and personnel directors who aren’t qualified for their positions either, so it’s not just a scout problem.

“I love working with young scouts, as long as they show that they are willing to be realistic about their knowledge base and have a desire to learn from someone who has been there; are hard-working and willing to do things the right way; and have good character. I feel that this is a responsibility that veteran scouts have to the profession, to keep the scouting ‘circle of life” going in the right direction and teaching our up-and-coming scouts to do things the right way and then, hopefully, carry out the education process themselves someday when they are the veteran and there is a new batch of younger scouts. The problem with this whole process is that there aren’t as many veteran scouts that share my mindset on this issue, but it’s not entirely their fault. In order to properly educate young scouts, three things need to be present: the veteran scout must himself have a good and proper knowledge base (believe me, there are vets who barely know a stopwatch from a t-square if they weren’t taught or taught badly); the veteran scout must be capable of teaching (not everybody has that talent or is that patient); and most importantly, that veteran scout must be WILLING to teach. The problem with the last (and most important) element, being WILLING to teach, is for one, there are far too many insecure people in the NFL who don’t want to pass on knowledge to anyone else because they feel that they will somehow lessen themselves by helping others, or that the people they’re teaching will eventually replace them. Secondly, and this is the real issue I have with loading up on younger scouts on a staff, there are GMs who will get rid of veteran scouts simply because “they make too much money” and replace them with a 20-something that knows nothing so that they can pay them an obscenely low amount of money. This is insanely disrespectful to the profession; 1) there is no scouting salary cap, so that move, strictly for a financial basis, is totally unnecessary, and 2) it degrades those who have earned their stripes and mastered the art that is scouting.”

A Conversation with Angry Scouting Vet (Pt. 1)

Two recently created Twitter accounts, Angry Scouting Veteran and Angry Scout 2, have gotten a lot of attention in the scouting community and, to a lesser extent, in the media. I’ve become a fan of both accounts because of their straight talk and bracing opinions expressed. While some have questioned whether or not the accounts are actually manned by real NFL scouts, I believe they are. I think the authenticity and the views expressed are unmistakably legitimate.

Last week, I reached out to Angry Scouting Vet to ask if he’d answer a few questions. He agreed, so I sent him a few questions that I felt would really give him a chance to express his opinions in longer firm. He didn’t disappoint. All of his answers were insightful and some quite detailed. Rather than edit them down, I decided to run them in their entirety. I’ll be spooling them out in this space all week. What follows are the first two questions and answers.

Why did you decide to start a Twitter account? What do you hope to accomplish?

“Initially, to be honest, I just needed a forum to vent (laughs). Then, after that initial vice was satisfied, I thought to myself that this would be a very good way to both educate people both in and outside of the scouting business, as well as voice legitimate concerns to anyone who might be reading. I had a personal Twitter account a few years ago, and I didn’t generate near the amount of interest that Angry Scout has. My number of followers isn’t anything monumental at this point, but it grew instantly and keeps adding followers daily. I love the scouting profession, but there are a lot of things that should be fixed and/or improved about it. If this Twitter account informs and/or influences ANYONE in that regard, then to me it’s already a success. Obviously, I would like many of the wrongs I identify to actually be righted for real, not just by likes and support on a social media page, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and baby steps are better than none at all.”

You take some pretty strong stands and say things without a filter. Do you think the things you say are the things most scouting veterans would like to say?

“ABSOLUTELY! The NFL is a small league, and it’s filled with (sycophants), bad people attracted to it because of money and/or prestige, and people that can’t handle the truth. I’m a very blunt, direct, and exclusively honest person to begin with, so it’s really easy for me to say the things that I do. I firmly believe them and am passionate about our business. Some guys might rip me for being anonymous, but I am not independently wealthy enough to be blackballed from my chosen profession because a bunch of rich elitist (jerks) or delusionally uninformed people can’t handle the truth of what I’m saying, so that’s why I have to remain anonymous. However; if I were to round up every scout with 10-plus years of experience and beyond that’s not a sell-out or a (sycophant), I’d bet at minimum a few month’s pay that they would agree with and support no fewer than 98% of what I’m saying. There really should be a scout union, and because the owners would be terrified of such a thing and never let it happen, at the very least there should be some kind of scout council at league meetings. We have zero voice in this entire process, and that is beyond ridiculous and unacceptable.”

More tomorrow.

Examining NFL Teams’ Reliance on College Production

It’s been my theory that scouting has changed in the last 10 years, with more of a focus on what happens off the field and less on pure production. In other words, despite what scouts and executives love to say, the NFL Combine and pro days are more important than ever, and 40 times, media buzz and ‘it factor’ are a bigger part of draft day than ever.

This really came home to me a few weeks ago when I was having lunch with a scouting friend of mine. When I started discounting many of this year’s top picks as one-year wonders, he countered that the player I suggested as alternates were also  one-year wonders. That got me thinking: do teams really value the kind of production and staying power they used to value? It’s something I wanted to take a look at, but how do you measure such a thing?

I wanted to try, so I gave my intern, Griffin Rice, this project: take the top 50 picks from 2017 and put them alongside the top 50 from 10 years ago (2008), and give me a line about the season before their last season in college (for the ’17 draft, 2015; for the ’08 draft, 2006). In other words, I wanted to see what kind of resume they’d accumulated before catching fire, becoming a ‘star’ in the eyes of the media, and possibly riding the hype train to first-round status. I had him put it all in a spreadsheet, and this is what came out of it (sorry, it’s a pay link). My goal — determine how many ‘one-year wonders’ made it to the first round this year, and compare it to the totals from 10 years ago.

My conclusion: to get drafted in the first round 10 years ago, it was pretty simple. You had played at least two straight seasons in good health, at the same position where you were drafted. You had started every game for two years, no questions asked. Also, you might have come from a small conference or a lesser school, but you were highly decorated there. Finally, in most cases, you had four seasons of college football under your belt.

These days, all bets are off. Here are a few thoughts:

  • More and more top picks might have arrived at school with a nice pedigree, but they just don’t have a lot of experience (and certainly far fewer games started) before having a big season that vaults them into the draft discussion (and often, into the draft).
  • Program means way more, too; Ohio State players just seem to be tinged with gold as teams seem to value Urban Meyer’s eye for talent more. The same could be said for Michigan and Jim Harbaugh.
  • Of course, there are more juniors to choose from, which tilts selection in the direction of less experience and fewer honors (and more projection on the part of scouts). Ten years ago, 29 seniors went in the first 50 picks versus only 18 last year.
  • The biggest revelation, however, is the number of players with less than 10 games started the year before their last college season. That’s evident in the grid we assembled. Again, you can find that at ITL.

Based on these criteria, I would argue that, due to health or inexperience, 14 players who went Top-50 this spring would never have been picked so high 10 years ago: Bears QB Mitch Trubisky (1/2); Bengals WO John Ross (1/9); Saints DC Marshon Lattimore (1/11); Indianapolis SS Malik Hooker (1/15); Broncos OT Garrett Bolles (1/20); Falcons DE Takkarist McKinley (1/26); Cowboys DE Taco Charlton (1/28); Browns TE David Njoku (1/29); Steelers OB T.J. Watt (1/30); Saints OT Ryan Ramczyk (1/32); Panthers WO Curtis Samuel (1/40); Colts DC Quincy Wilson (1/46); Ravens OB Tyus Bowser (1/47); and Bucs SS Justin Evans (1/50).

Granted, the nature of football has changed, and colleges have followed the NFL in using a much more aggressive rotation system (especially at running back and on the defensive line), and that affects things. What’s more, the players that would have stuck around four years in the past leave early these days. Still, the change of philosophy in favor of risk has been, to me, unmistakeable.