Here’s a question I get all the time: how do players slip through the cracks? How do players go undrafted, then wind up having Pro Bowl careers? Priest Holmes, Kurt Warner, James Harrison, Tony Romo, Arian Foster, Wes Welker and Antonio Gates are among players who, despite advanced modern evaluation, extensive media coverage and teams of evaluators scouring the country 11 months out of the year, were not drafted but went on to stardom in the league.
I asked former Jets scout Joe Bommarito this question. He had an interesting answer.
“Nobody slips through,” he said. “This is a misconception. No player is overlooked, not because of his school, or record, or position, or any other consideration. Scouts evaluate every eligible player for the draft on school visits. No rock is left unturned. Whether a player has a first-round grade or a free-agent grade on him, that is what he has earned throughout his collegiate career. There have been first-round players who have not lived up to it, and free-agent players who have excelled. It doesn’t mean they have been overlooked, it just means that is the grade they have earned in their collegiate career.”
I respect Joe’s opinion but I’m not sure I agree, for several reasons.
- I think there are biases that, at the very least, affect the grades players are given. For example, players from losing teams are often seen as less enticing by scouts.
- Some teams give more weight to the preseason grades National and BLESTO give players, and when schools in remote places don’t have players with draftable grades, at times they’re skipped altogether.
- There are players that come from out-of-the-way places that just don’t get the same exposure as players at schools in BCS conferences, for example.
- There are also players like Matt Cassel, who was a backup at USC for Carson Palmer. Though he was drafted in the seventh round in 2005, 25 picks before the end, obviously he was far more talented than the ‘grade’ he received in college. His ‘grade’ was affected by his low usage due to sitting behind a Heisman winner.
- There are also several schools that give limited access to their players — Penn State was like this under Joe Paterno — or whose coaches have no idea how the draft process and evaluation really work (and yes, there are many coaches who don’t know or don’t care, even today).