For all the measuring, the poking and prodding, the interviewing, and the testing, the draft is anything but a scientific certainty. For every Peyton Manning there is a Ryan Leaf, or to put it in terms that are closer to home, for every Ziggy Hood there is a Huey Richardson.© 2011 Steelers Universe
Scouts literally start preparing for one draft as soon as another ends. In fact, there will be some Steelers scouts at college Spring games during the draft weekend. Most of these scouts have a territory that they cover. They will create a list of prospects in their territory based on team needs through lists supplied to teams by scouting agencies. The team, in turn, will provide each scout with a database of current players, their contract situations and the team’s personal opinion of each player. The scouts will then travel throughout their area watching games, talking to coaches, watching film, and will send their evaluations up the chain of command to whoever makes the final draft decisions.
But the eye test is only a portion of the process. Look at one hundred mock drafts and you will find one hundred different opinions. Some of that is due to the uncertainty of how the teams will prioritize their needs but more often than not it is because of the endless number of variables that go into every draft prospect evaluation. Each evaluator must not only watch the player but has to dig deeper into the player’s stats and into the system he plays. Some players put up mind blowing numbers. On paper and on film they look like the real deal, but scouts and talent evaluators have been burnt enough times to have created their own formulas for evaluation, to help work around these players whose stats are largely padded due to the scheme in which they played.
For the sake of time let's look at just one of these formulas.
NFL analyst Pat Kirwan came up with an “explosion number” to evaluate prospects based on combine and pro day results. This explosion number is used on players who should have a certain amount of explosive power in their play. This would typically be the offensive/defensive linemen and linebackers. Kirwan adds the prospect's bench press, standing broad jump, and vertical leap to come up with the player’s personal “explosion number." Any player with a combined score of 70 or above is considered to have the proper power to play in the trenches. Here are some of the results from this year's group.
DE Justin Watts = 81
DT Marvin Austin = 78
DE/OLB Patrick Kerrigan = 74.5
DE Austin Bailey = 73.5
DT Phil Taylor = 69
DT Ian Williams = 68
DT Jarvis Jenkins = 51.5
So what does this mean? The explosion number is only part of the evaluation process but it does allow scouts and decision makers to apply an explosion index score to a prospect based on a ten point scale. A player that is 70 or above might get a full ten points, while a player who is at 69 might only be given 9 points. Teams add this grade to other grades based on size, weight, and other formulas like the “Production Ratio." After all these points are added up, a team can create their draft board.
Formulas like those that create Kirwan’s explosion number also help evaluate players in the later rounds. For instance, Marvin Austin and Phil Taylor are both ranked as 2nd round prospects. Based solely on the explosion number, and all other things being equal, Marvin Austin is the better value in that round.
Now lets look at the offensive side of the ball.
OC Kris O’Dowd = 73.5
OT/OG Marcus Cannon = 72.5
OT Christian Hairston = 70
OT Gabe Carimi = 69.5
OT Anthony Castonzo = 66.5
OG Rodney Hudson = 60.5
If the Steelers are ready to pick at #31 and they feel that they have an equal need at cornerback and offensive tackle, they may go ahead and pull the trigger on the cornerback prospect since they see good value in 2nd round prospect Marcus Cannon.
Of course, as I mentioned, other factors are being considered also. For instance, teams are usually leery of players with one year of production, not trusting players who might be playing for an NFL paycheck. The thinking is: If they were not motivated by anything other than money, then what will be their motivation after they get a contract? They also will look at their character, talking to their coaches and even their family. They will run background checks for brushes with the law. They will talk to school administrators and teachers. The entire scouting process is one in which no stones are left unturned.
Yet still we will see teams strike out with their draft picks and we are left wondering how that can happen. The truth is, evaluators are human. Let's take a look at a prospect from Oklahoma for this year: DE Jeremy Beal. Beal put up eye-popping numbers. He had 58.5 career tackles and 29 career sacks with the Sooners. He is ranked as a 3rd round prospect and you can bet those are numbers that will catch someone’s attention. However, Beal has an explosion number of 57.5 and ran the forty in 5.16 seconds. Even though he has been given a 3rd round grade by some draft sites, I have taken him completely off my board. Slow and weak are not conducive to success in the NFL.
All these evaluations, formulas, and measurables are great if the scouts and the person ultimately in charge of making draft decisions are on the same page. We are blessed in the fact that the NFL world acknowledges that the Steelers scouts and Kevin Colbert have a wonderful system worked out in which information is correctly and efficiently funneled from the college football field to the offices at Heinz Field. This is undoubtedly the reason why we find so many talented undrafted free agents.
When we watch this year’s draft, take a second and realize that each pick is the end result of months of work and discussion. Also keep in mind that our draft decision makers are just as human as you and I.
....then pray for a Ziggy Hood and not a Huey Richardson.