It’s a simple question: what makes a can’t-miss player fail?

I asked five scouts the same question, and I got a variety of responses. I expected them all to be a variation of ‘you can’t measure heart, and you have to really want it, and some players don’t,’ but it turned out to be much more than that.

Here are few responses that I got back in texts:

  • “GM and Coach-driven draft pick:” I think this response was intended to illustrate that sometimes GMs want a player, but a coach doesn’t, and either the player proves to be a bad fit for the team, or the coach doesn’t give the player a sufficient chance to succeed. I’ll buy that. It’s one reason.
  • “Reaching for a player because of need. You pass on a great player because you think you are good at that position, (and take) a player not worthy of that slot. You are one injury away from not having a great player at that position:” I think this makes sense, too. Florida State’s E.J. Manuel comes to mind. Despite a great series of pre-draft workouts, most scouts I know saw him in the third or fourth round. The Bills, however, badly needed a passer, and three years later, he’s barely hanging onto a roster spot. “It’s not the player’s fault he was overdrafted,” my friend added.
  • “There’s not a single reason. Each player — hits and misses — is unique:” I expected to get this answer from several sources, but most scouts were more specific.
  • “The No. 1 thing is they can’t play at the mental speed of the pro game. The complexity of the pro game . . . they’re not able to handle the mental pressure that is applied by having to play so much faster. It’s so much more complicated. You have to watch tape. If guys are slow reactors on the field .. . if QBs hold the ball too long, and don’t see progressions, and don’t let the ball go, they’re never gonna do it in pro ball. If a lineman can’t see the blitz, and doesn’t pass off well on stunts, there’s no way he’ll do it in pro football. You get all these wonderful measurables added up, and a coach will say, “we can fix it.” Most of the time you can’t. It’s between the ears. It’s so much mental. If you can’t play strong and sharp and fast, you start to lose confidence, and then you can’t function:” I would agree with this, but it’s a little hard to measure. How do you predict who will be able to process the speed of the game, and who won’t? It’s not the kind of thing the Wonderlic can measure.

I think draft success is a function of talent and ability, mixed with system and ability for a team to adapt to a player’s talents (and vice versa), and finally, where a player is drafted. First-rounders get paid reasonably well, and for a lot of players, a switch flips and the hunger isn’t the same as it is for a fourth-rounder who thought he was going at the top of the second round.

There are probably many more theories on why players don’t make it. I hope to revisit this topic again in the near future.