It is amazing what the NFL Draft has become and what it has evolved into over time.
For those who remember many years ago, the National Football League draft was more of a gathering of decision-makers with very few evaluating the very many and in many ways, hoping the decisions they make are correct. Now it is an investment that demands a performance dividend and if the dividend does not max out consistently on the football field, people lose jobs and revenue is lost. And these are well paying jobs and high revenue amounts.
It is true that finding football players is 50 per cent science and 50 per cent art bordering on pure luck. Maybe that is why it is so entertaining because there really is no common denominator for draft success. Even the best in the business have missed big time on players and groups of players among the various years of evaluating. Some people in football are better than others but if you follow it close enough, not by much. No one really dominates in finding talent year after year.
For Seattle in recent years, Richard Sherman as a fifth round pick and Russell Wilson as a third round pick made the team special. But last year was completely different with fifth round pick and Canadian Luke Willson as well as Michael Bowie in the seventh round really being major contributors. It was a great move to trade #1 for Percy Harvin but you can't say last year's draft was as good as previous drafts.
So what is everyone looking for? With all the scouts in all blocks of the country, the coaches who should always have an influence and the managers who have extreme job security if they draft well and no security if they don't, that is a great question.
I think there are tangibles and intangibles. The tangible is how the player plays based on film analysis and competition. Truth is, to make good football decisions, all you need is enough good video and a good one-on-one interview. Everything else from the combine and individual workouts is icing on the cake. But sometimes that icing is so good it clouds decisions that could have been made without the "extra look", without pads and looking at movement more than actual on-field football ability.
Many people in football become seduced by the visual in-person vs. the true reality of what happens on the field. The tangible "stuff" is easy to assess. It is the intangibles when the art takes over the science and sometimes is merely common sense. I think there are two words that make the difference in all drafting in football: maturity and passion.
Maturity is really hard to recognize. Some players in the interview process pass with extreme confidence but when they make money and have to be completely self-motivated are anything but. In other situations, a player may have a criminal record or been involved in "stupid college stuff", then when they achieve wealth and independence, they change for the good. They grow up when you had to wonder if they would ever grow up. Some people are born with maturity on and off the field. Others create it at a certain moment for certain reasons and others yet never find it and it takes a possible great career and changes it to an experience. Having maturity is critical in every way and is difficult to assess correctly.
The second intangible is passion. How much does the particular player actually like, even love, football? Now you would think all players love, or at least like, football. Not so. There is so much money in the sport now that playing for money is an easy motivation. By the time you reach your second contract, you could be set for life. Let's say you are 26 years-old, house and car paid off, money in the bank, happily married, success on the field with maybe even a Super Bowl or two. Why play any more football when you know what it does to your body and in some cases your mind?
Only after the money is made does the football desire increase or diminish. Until that happens, you just don't know. Every football player will tell every team they LOVE football. But do they love football or do they love what football will get you and what you can purchase? Again just like maturity, you really don't know until time moves on.
Come May 8-10, many of the very best will have their life changed in one phone call. For some, it will be a life changing moment that they will capitalize on in a remarkable way. For others, the sport at the pro level will be too much, whether it is due to competition or intensity. Which player will experience which life is an unknown. It may be due to height, weight, speed and everything you can see feel and touch. Or it may be because of how much you want it and how well you can adjust and handle it; a certain mental ability and a certain emotional ability that you can tap into.
Between the best athlete with really good video and the lesser athlete, who's maybe not as dominant on the field but has his act together and loves the game, I'll take the latter.
Welcome to the NFL draft starting May 8th, a gamble of research and a gamble of hope.