The art of scouting talent is now more of a projection than ever when trying to predict a player in college to the NFL. It is far from an exact science.
The Struggle to Evaluate
In the world of spread offenses and the “recess type” thinking of many, many – did I say many? – college programs, when it comes to hurry-up, run and gun mentality of “we can call more plays than you” these days, Pro scouts struggle to evaluate players and project them to the next level in the NFL. The things that are being asked of college quarterbacks, offensive linemen and even receivers are so different than what will be asked of them in the NFL, makes evaluating these guys, from these spread programs especially, very hard. In some cases, it’s a complete leap of faith.
College Game Play: Quantity Over Quality
I always fall back to the Art Briles, coached Baylor teams as an example. These QB’s, like a Brice Petty, for example, are seldom being asked to process information from the pocket. It’s a 100 % shotgun with no drop-back mechanics physically and mentally. They don’t step up or feel their way in the pocket, no manipulating coverage with your eyes or body mechanics, etc. It’s just grip it and rip it, catch the snap and throw it and if it’s not there we will call a better play on the next down.
These systems run sometimes 90-100 plays on offense in a game so the premium is in the number of plays we run, not the quality of each. The clock stops for what seems like EVERYTHING and games take 4 hours in some cases. Nobody runs the ball anymore in a traditional way therefore the clock never runs. They call plays, throw to predetermined receivers, in some cases based on pre-snap alignments, and that’s as much training as they get.
Offensive linemen never get in a 3-pt stance, they never come off the ball, they really are not asked to engage their lower body in their blocks on most plays, even in the run game. Instead they just lean and push defenders trying to screen them long enough so we can get a pass off or a back can run to daylight. Sometimes they just are told to stand up and make defenders go around you.
A lot of the time a WR will be asked to just run to open spaces, not really setting up defenders or running a precise route. Seldom are these receivers asked to run a full route tree through a whole season, much less in a game or two. They don’t receive the ball until they are already open so “timing” is a term that is foreign to all in a lot of these college programs. And a “hot read” or a sight adjust, ha, that get a SMH, even by us veteran scouts. I’m not saying any of this is right or wrong, it’s just a different philosophy all together and one that we, as scouts, have to factor in when evaluating players in this spread offense universe.
The World of NFL
In the world of the NFL we get on average 65 offense plays. We have to maximize each snap to make multiple adjustments not only pre-snap but post snap. We can’t just burn a play if the coverage takes away the primary receiver. One could make a whole TV show on things the QB must compute between snaps in the NFL. We can’t wait to make adjustments between series or at halftime (and if we did, halftime is only 12 minutes anyway). Heck sometimes an NFL team might get 4-5 possessions in a half. The clock is always running, it seems.
Our adjustments have to be made on the fly, while the offense is in the middle of a drive or even during a particular play. That’s why the mental capacity and intellect in these QB’s like Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady are a giant advantage. So much is put on them mentally its crazy. That’s why you see these rookie QB’s struggle so much early on. It’s just not the speed of the game that they must adjust to, it’s the amount of information that they first, must collect and download but then the ability to dispense this in a timely manner play after play in a drive, as they matriculate down the field. It’s crazy. These guys have to be borderline genius.
Both quarterbacks and receivers are asked to make multiple pre-and post-snap reads and run routes whose success is determined on timing and a lot of times, throwing to receivers who are not open at the time of release. They adjust routes based on recognizing blitzes and they vacate open holes that these blitzes create in the defense. We have to ask an offensive guard to get push, to bend and use leverage, to engage his lower body on impact to create a new line of scrimmage. So, the fundamentals are completely different than what they were asked to do in college. So once and offensive lineman learns these new set of fundaments, they must perfect them so their own development is slower. Again, another reason these rookies struggle early on, it’s not just the QB’s.
Two Different Games
So, like I said earlier, there is no right or wrong and I’m not criticizing college coaches…it’s just different which puts that much more pressure on scouts to identify these basic fundamentals and characteristics that can project to the next level even though the players are playing a totally different game and not using them in a lot of cases.
These things are not noticed and probably not a priority for normal fans but I’m here to say, it’s harder than ever for those who watch and evaluate football for a living, to sort through what we see. The reason fans see a lot more whiffs by NFL teams in the draft these days is easy to describe in one way…its subjective business with many moving parts and projections are getting harder and harder to make.