With conference championships this weekend and all-star games ahead in January, former NFL scout Ken Moll tackles another question related to the draft process: How much weight does a scout put into “one big game” from a collegiate player? Can one performance really move the needle? And if so, what are the conditions for such a performance?
Every player, coach, parent and agent needs to know that the bigger the stage, the bigger the impact in regards to how a player is viewed during the evaluation process. Ninety percent of all NFL personnel (and I, as well) consider three factors to be extra-special during evaluation. These are: level of competition; how recent the contest was; and the importance of the game. This is true whether you’re evaluating high school players for college or college players for the NFL.
When a scout makes his school visit and is making his film decisions, usually he wants to watch the most recent competition against the best-available competition. Many will go back to the previous season if there is a bowl game or a big rivalry match-up (Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan) to scrutinize how well an athlete performs under the most intense circumstances. It matters a lot how well players perform “under the big lights.”
The other huge factor is how well a player performs versus the best competition. Let’s say a defensive end has a ton of sacks and tackles for loss throughout the season, but doesn’t show up in a matchup with a highly regarded offensive tackle who’s an NFL prospect himself. That could really affect his grade. Like him or not, former Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel (who went 1/22 to the Browns last spring) came up big most of the time versus the top competition. For example, he generated a record 516 total yards versus Oklahoma in the 2013 Cotton Bowl. People like to pick apart the couple of games when he was banged up or playing in poor weather and didn’t put up numbers, but he did more than enough versus Alabama and other great teams to warrant a high draft choice. If he doesn’t succeed in the NFL it won’t be because of a lack of talent or moxie.
Obviously, a player’s entire body of work is considered during the evaluation process. Still, when the “brass” (head coach, coordinator, GM, director of college scouting and, in some cases, the owner) wants to take a look at a prospect, games under the brightest lights possible are usually in highest demand.