View Full Version : NFL coaches leave no stone unturned with prospects

04-20-2008, 05:04 AM
NFL coaches leave no stone unturned with prospects
By Scott Brown
Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jerod Mayo sought advice from numerous people before embarking on a process in which the line between evaluation and evisceration can be a fine one.
Still, nothing could have prepared the Tennessee linebacker, a projected first- or second-round pick in next weekend's NFL Draft, for the question that one team asked.

"They said 'When's the last time you cheated on your girlfriend?' " Mayo said. "They didn't even ask me, 'Did you cheat on your girlfriend?' I told them I didn't cheat on my girlfriend."

That a team would go to such lengths to glean information about a player is revealing in regard to how much evaluation takes place from the end of the college football season until the draft -- and how deeply teams probe, particularly when it comes to high picks who are guaranteed millions of dollars before they ever play a down in the NFL.

Yet, as sophisticated as the sizing up of college players has become and as much time and money as teams invest in the poking and prodding of prospects, mistakes -- sometimes colossal ones -- are made every year.

The 2005 draft offers proof of that.

Of the first 10 players picked that year, only one (Braylon Edwards/Cleveland) has made the Pro Bowl, while two (Troy Williamson/Minnesota and Mike Williams/Detroit) already have been dumped by the teams that drafted them.

Running back Cedric Benson, the No. 4 pick three years ago by Chicago, looks like he may be a bust, and top overall pick Alex Smith of San Francisco hasn't proven he can even be a serviceable quarterback in the NFL.

Oh, and the sixth overall pick in 2005? That would be "Pacman" Jones in Tennessee.

"There's a lot of intangibles that you just don't know," Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said on why mistakes are still so numerous in the draft. "You can see the obvious on how you evaluate a player and how he reacts in certain situations, but you really don't know character and money and how a guy's going to react to it."

It's not that NFL teams haven't tried to make the draft an exact science.

Or less of an inexact science.

The evaluation of college players includes the laborious poring over of game film by scouts, coaches and general managers.

The NFL Combine, held in late February, is a near week-long affair in which teams get the chance to subject more than 300 prospects to various physical, mental and psychological tests.

Teams also have an opportunity to watch draft-eligible players work out at the "Pro Days" that are held on college campuses all over the country in March and April, and they are permitted by the NFL to bring in 30-plus prospects for personal visits.

During those visits, they are allowed to give players a physical evaluation, interview them and even have them diagram plays if they are so inclined to do so.

While a prospect's evaluation is based largely on his body of work in college, there is no denying that how he performs after the season at events such as the Combine and during one-on-one visits also are factors in how teams grade him.

"If the draft was in late February, all of these other things wouldn't be as critical as they are," ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.

The four months that gives teams ample time to conduct extensive background checks as part of the exhausting evaluation process begs this question: Do teams sometimes have too much information on players when they put together their draft board?

"We're the best in the league at doing that," Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said on whether players are overanalyzed. "Every team, that's what we do. Scouts follow these kids for two years. Coaches see them on tape, see them at the Combine, they go interview them, and then what do you do? You beat 'em up, you say nothing but bad things about them.

"We do it, everybody does it. I always ask 'Well, at the end of the day, who are we going to draft then? There's nobody left. There's something wrong with all of them.'"

Most coaches and general managers dismiss the notion that there is such a thing as information overload when it comes to evaluating college players.

"I think you have to sort through what is useful and what is not useful," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "I think I know everything about a player, and then I'll read an article and find out something I didn't know. So that, to me, is useful."

A popular mantra of coaches and personnel types such as Colbert is the tapes don't lie.

That essentially means that watching game tapes of a prospect gives a clear indication as to what kind of player he is. But adding to the difficulty of grading and ranking prospects is the reality that the tapes, while they may not lie, can be misleading at times.

"Some guys may look terrible on tape, and then you find this defensive end you think is loafing all the time, and (it turns out) they have him sitting back looking for a screen or a reverse," Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. "So, it's important to talk to coaches. 'What are you doing with him, why are you doing this with him?'"

NFL coaches and general managers never have a shortage of questions they want to ask a prospect or ask about a prospect, as Mayo well knows.

Mayo said he has heard from former middle-school coaches who have told him they have been contacted by NFL teams with questions about his character. During visits with teams, Mayo said, he has been quizzed about the defense he played in at Tennessee, and he has had to show his grasp of base defenses in the NFL.

Yet, for all that goes into evaluating players like Mayo, teams ultimately make educated guesses when it comes to the draft.

Part of the reason for this: stopwatches can't measure desire.

That, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, has separated former second-round pick Anquan Boldin from a lot of other wide receivers.

The same, Whisenhunt said, is true of Hines Ward.

The Steelers wide receiver lasted until late in the third round of the 1998 draft because he wasn't the biggest or fastest guy.

What couldn't be quantified were the kind of qualities that have made him a Super Bowl MVP and a Pro Bowler.

"The hardest thing to determine for me is finding guys who have passion for the game," said Whisenhunt, the former Steelers offensive coordinator. "That, to me, is really the kind of X-factor. A lot of these guys are great athletes, a lot of them play well, but one thing that we look for is guys that have a love for it."

Steeler slip ups

Bountiful drafts that included the mother lode that constituted the Steelers' haul in 1974 laid the foundation for the team's run of four Super Bowl championships in six years. As well as the Steelers have done in the first-round of the NFL Draft, they have had some busts, too, since 1969. Here are five notable ones:

1979 Greg Hawthorne, RB, Baylor -- Never emerged as a successor to Franco Harris, rushing for just 522 yards on 136 carries in five seasons with the Steelers. Team eventually moved Hawthorne, the last first-round pick of the '79 draft, to wide receiver. He also played tight end during a nine-year NFL career that included stops in New England and Indianapolis.

1985 Darryl Sims, DE, Wisconsin - Lasted just two seasons in Pittsburgh and recorded four sacks in 32 games with the Steelers. Taken just four picks after Jerry Rice, Sims played two seasons with the Browns after the Steelers dumped him.

1989 Tim Worley, RB, Georgia - The Steelers gave up on the seventh overall pick of the '89 draft in his fourth NFL season, trading the injury-prone and troubled running back to the Bears. Worley rushed for 1,338 and five touchdowns as a Steeler.

1991 Huey Richardson, LB, Florida - The Steelers knew as early as Richardson's first minicamp that they had made a mistake in taking him with the 15th overall pick. He played just five games as a rookie for Chuck Noll. Bill Cowher shipped him to the Redskins for a seventh-round pick in 1992. Richardson didn't make a tackle during his brief NFL career.

1996 Jamain Stephens, OT, North Carolina A&T - Deemed as a project when the Steelers took him with the 29th overall pick, the team lost patience with Stephens sooner rather than later. Coach Bill Cowher cut him on the first day of training camp in 1999 after Stephens couldn't complete a series of sprints.


04-20-2008, 09:38 AM
Jamain Stephens. I had forgotten all about that human Albatross!

Galax Steeler
04-22-2008, 05:20 AM
Jamain Stephens. I had forgotten all about that human Albatross!

Yea he was deffinetly a bust.

04-25-2008, 07:41 PM
He still wasnt any worst than OT Tom Ricketts and LB Huey Richardson!! They pretty much stunk up Pittsburgh, PA

04-25-2008, 08:03 PM
Would you please not bring up those names the night before the draft?

Galax Steeler
04-26-2008, 08:05 AM
Would you please not bring up those names the night before the draft?