The Evaluation Pie … Tuesday Cup O’Chiefs

Every day now, the information arrives from all around the country. Major college football programs are holding their annual Pro Day workout sessions. That’s where the pro prospects from that school and others go through a series of physical tests and drills with NFL coaches, scouts and GMs on hand.

It’s very much like the agenda at the NFL Combine. Most of the top players are encouraged by their agents to save their full participation for their Pro Day work, rather than in Indianapolis. It’s all about familiarity with the surroundings making for a more relaxed and successful performance.

On Monday, the scouts were around the country for Pro Days at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA; Wake Forest University in North Carolina; and both Eastern and Central Michigan Universities.

But are these workouts really necessary? We are just six weeks and a few days away from Day No. 1 of the 2011 Draft and short of checking on players dealing with injuries, these Pro Days are just another layer of information that most teams already have. Down at LSU, the scouts did not need to see another workout from CB Patrick Peterson; he’s going to be among the top five players picked, short of a late injury.

And that brings me to the entire evaluation process that NFL teams go through with players that will be available for the Draft each year. With 32 teams, I’m going to tell you there are 32 different formulas for divining the potential of college football players. But as I went about researching the subject, I found almost universal agreement among personnel types on what the evaluation pie should look like. Some personnel directors and scouts professed one area was of a bit more importance than another, but the difference were in the splitting of hairs category.

After piecing it together, here’s a pie chart on the average evaluation process used by most NFL teams:

It’s plain to see that the NFL personnel types gain far more value from what they see a player do on the field during games.

Now, here’s how those pieces of the pie break down even more, using as an example a player that’s eligible to be drafted this April. These categories are ranked in order of their importance in the process:

  • On-Field Performance in 2010 – By far this is the No. 1 evaluation tool for every NFL scout and personnel decision maker. “It’s about what’s on the game tapes,” said one scout. “That’s where you are going to get the guts of any grade on any prospect.” No one evaluation element lives in a vacuum. Those ’10 game tapes are going to be compared to the ’09 tapes in seeking how much improvement the young man made. “The tape don’t lie,” another scout said.
  • Medical evaluation (at Combine and individual team evaluation) – Several years ago, TV draft-master Mel Kiper just ripped the New York Jets for bypassing several players and going with others that he felt were lesser talents. What Kiper did not understand was that no team removed more players yearly from the draft board for medical reasons than the Jets. Any type of physical problem was red-flagged by the New York doctors. Every team in the league takes players off their board during the run-up to the Draft because of concerns about health or injuries. As one scout said, “the medical is the only thing that gets done at the Combine that’s worth the effort.”
  • Background check for off-field behavior – Twenty-five years ago, a background check would not even make the list of factors. Not so in this day and age. NFL teams rely on information compiled by league security out of the NFL offices. Some teams will follow up with their own digging into the past of players they might be interested in, especially if there are incidents that are public knowledge. A college transgression is unlikely to remove a player from draft consideration. But a series of problems in behavior have seen players red flagged and/or removed from draft consideration. “A guy that has already shown he has a problem is a guy that is that much closer to doing it again,” said one AFC scout.
  • Player visit to team’s facility (one of 30 each team is allowed) – NFL personnel types like to use these personal visits for a lot of different reasons. Some teams use them for a follow up physical exam. Others use the visits to spend quality one-on-one time between a player and a coordinator. There are even some teams that use the visits as a fake out; showing interest in a player that they have no interest in selecting. Personnel types love to blow some fake fog into the draft winds every year.
  • Wonderlic test – Used by the NFL teams as an indicator of comprehension and ability to think under pressure, it’s 50 questions that must be answered in a 12-minute period. There’s one point given for signing the test, another point given for putting the right date on the paper. Sometimes the guys with the lowest of Wonderlic scores have been the greatest of players. Other players, who scored quite well on the test, have struggled to earn and keep a spot on the roster. Agents spend many hours preparing clients for the taking these types of tests.
  • On-Field Performance in 2009 – This tape is not as important as how he plays the next year, but part of the evaluation process is discovering how much progress a player has made from year-to-year. That will show on the tape. Teams are always looking for players and athletes that are trending upward.
  • Personality tests – Very different in nature than the Wonderlic, a lot of teams give personality tests designed to see just what might be floating around in the players’ personality that will provide a clue to future behavior.
  • Combine on and off the field – We’ve already mentioned the importance of the medical information and exposure that’s gained at the Combine. If that’s all they got done with players, the Combine would be worth the trouble. But there is more, including the physical testing and position drills. The underwear Olympics are of marginal importance to teams in evaluating. And finally, there is the opportunity to meet individually with the players. Those meetings last all of 15 minutes per team, per player. Nothing earth shaking is going to come out of these moments, especially in this day and age where the players have spent the last two months being trained by their agents on how to handle these situations. That’s one reason some teams will play good cop-bad cop in their meetings, trying to throw the player off script with embarrassing questions of a personal or even football basis.
  • Pro-Day workout – It’s just another chance to see the players work out in their underwear. Essentially the Pro Day is a slimmed down version of the NFL Combine. Agents push players to hold off on some of the drills at the Combine so they can do them at Pro Day where the event is run by the school and usually the coaching office, rather than the league. That’s especially true with quarterbacks, who by working and throwing on Pro Day can perform in familiar surroundings and usually with receivers they know quite well. For most of teams, Pro Day is nothing but an opportunity to make sure some players they might like aren’t limping or walking around with their arm in a sling.
  • On-Field Performance in 2007-2008 – The play from those early seasons on campus does not count as much to a final grade. It’s great tape for comparing a player’s growth in fundamentals and work habits from early in his career to the present. It’s useful with quarterbacks and judging their development, and with running backs and seeing how much punishment they may have taken throughout their college career.

3 Responses to “The Evaluation Pie … Tuesday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • March 15, 2011  - el cid says:

    Pretty dry stuff.

    Conyers, D-MI, wants Congress to drop the NFL anti trust exemption because they locked out the players. Just what we need some two-bit politician dipping their hands into the “biggest successful sport” we have. Maybe he should “fix” MLB first, then KC could have two major league sports insted of just the Chiefs. Every time ANYONE wants to make good guys out of one side or the other, makes my skin crawl.

  • March 15, 2011  - RW says:

    And, in spite of all these evaluation measures, we still see guys who bust. High profile guys like Vernon Gholston or JaMarcus Russell. How did they trip up the evaluation processes?

    One other criteria not listed could be GUT INSTINCTS of the drafting team? Some team’s instincts are far better than others.

  • March 15, 2011  - Rick says:

    El Cid, yeah, clearly a known entity like Conyers, wouldn’t approach this with any sort of an discombobulated agenda, I mean look at what a great job he’s done for his home state of Michigan. :)

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