Over the next few months Titans fans will be focusing in on the NFL draft and plenty of attention will be given to all the potential prospects. MCM is going to have a ton of draft stuff as usual ready to go, but before we get to discussing the players I thought it would be a good idea to go over what I look for in a player and then talk about how that is similar or different to what MCMers evaluate players on.
The first three categories I would consider "must-haves" in a prospect but not everyone will agree with that. I'll try my best to explain my rationale behind it and if anything's not clear just bring it up in the comments. We'll start with the first category. Most of you already know I think that this one is the most important:
You would think that production would be valued equally highly by NFL evaluators but that isn't always the case. The logic behind this one is pretty obvious. I've used a quote from Moneyball quite frequently: "If he's a good hitter, why doesn't he hit good?" Too often teams fall in love with potential and minimize the player's impact in the college game. It's my personal opinion that some coaches tend to overrate their abilities to coach some players. They see a big, tall, fast workout monster and assume that they'll be able to make an athlete into a great football player. We've seen time and time again that it just isn't that simple.
If you're drafting a player, especially with a high pick, he should have excelled in college. He's about to make the jump into a tougher league; if he couldn't produce against lesser competition then it would seem to be an even greater challenge for him to have better results against stronger competition.
As well, it's pretty hard to learn on the job. In theory it'd be great if you could take a player with great potential, sit him on the bench for three years and re-evaluate him after that to see if he's ready. That doesn't work in today's NFL. First round players are going to get 3-4 years to prove themselves worthy of a roster spot and a second contract. Players drafted in later rounds have even less leeway. Players are going to play early and if growth and potential for success isn't seen in a certain time frame, that player isn't going to be on the team for very long.
All this isn't to say that drafting high-potential players can't work out nicely. Players with various college histories bust all the time. To me it comes down to odds. If a player's had success in college, I think its more likely he'll duplicate it in the NFL.
Again this one seems fairly simple. You want someone who is going to throw himself into his work and doesn't need babying along the way. The winningest coach of all-time in the CFL was asked how he motivates his players, and he replied "My job isn't to motivate players, it's to get rid of the ones that can't motivate themselves." (I think this quote originated from a coach in the States) Let's say you're a high-profile player in college, with the carrot of money and a professional career dangling in front of you. If that doesn't motivate you, what will? The other challenge here would be that a team needs to research properly and make sure a player's motivation isn't solely tied to money. The bust list is filled with players who made their money and didn't give full effort.
My rule of thumb for this category is that if you have to ask if that player is motivated, then you already know the answer.
No Off-Field History
We've had a lot of discussions on MCM on this subject and it's certainly one that has support on both sides. I know there are people uncomfortable with passing up players that are considered high-risk and I can understand that viewpoint. Personally my fear is always that the player will do something stupid and hurt his team with a suspension. I want to be able to count on the players.
The biggest discussion here is on marijuana and I don't want to get into that debate again. It doesn't matter to me how strongly a person feels about a certain substance; if it's a banned substance then he his hurting the team by risking punishment. With that said I understand that not all off-field incidents are equal, and so that's why each player's history will be gone over thoroughly.
Once again my reasoning on this one is to play the odds. It's hard to predict if a player is going to cause trouble as a pro, but I feel like staying away from 'red-flagged' players is a way to at least reduce the risk a little.
Now we'll move on to things I place less importance on:
I'm not big on specific physical numbers players have to meet but I do think there's a baseline that has to be met. Extremely short QBs or a tiny defensive end are going to be in tough to succeed. If a player is only a few units away from the desired measurement, I don't think it's a big deal. Russell Wilson comes to mind as an example of why sometimes people get too hung up on an exact height number.
There are some people that are really big supporters of taking players from big schools or the best conferences. I think it can be used as a deciding factor between two similar prospects but I'm leery of having it play a huge factor in overall ranking on the big board.
There are other things that I have likely forgotten to add onto the list but these are what came to mind as I was preparing for this post. I'd love to hear what you guys place emphasis on, since I think it's a good starting point before we're bombarded with player information. We'll have more prospect-specific stuff as we go.