Graham Harrell's Unemployment: The Unfortunate By-Product Of Scouting "Science"

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Graham Harrell's Unemployment: The Unfortunate By-Product Of Scouting
(Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

When Texas-Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree fell into the 49ers’ laps at pick number 10, scouts and fans alike were astonished.  How could a receiver that accumulated 231 receptions and 41 touchdowns in just two years (against top competition no less), last until the number 10 overall pick? 

The question fans should have been asking was “how did the quarterback who threw Crabtree those passes, racking up 15,793 yards and 134 passing touchdowns, go undrafted?”

Following the draft, Texas-Tech quarterback phenom Graham Harrell brought new meaning to the term “Red Raider”.  After doing everything short of kidnapping a General Manager’s child, Harrell had made a compelling case to play football on Sundays. 

He tore apart the first round prospects littering the Texas Longhorn defense in the biggest game of his career, passing for 474 yards, 2 touchdowns, and leading a last second comeback victory.  Better yet, he shattered just about every school passing record and became the NCAA record holder for career touchdown passes. 

Following the draft, Harrell’s dream of NFL stardom was becoming a reality as the Cleveland Browns invited Harrell to a minicamp workout.  At that point the NFL community assumed Cleveland had acquired a steal of an undrafted free agent.

Unfortunately for Harrell, his “workout” was no more of an audition than William Hung’s “tryout” to be the next American Idol.  At least Hung, unlike Harrell, landed a gig. 

Being turned down the position of Cleveland Brown “Camp Arm” has got to feel like being rejected from a safety school.  In all fairness, the Brown’s quarterback position is remarkably crowded with Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, and the newly-acquired Brett Ratliff, leaving Harrell better off looking elsewhere for work. 

So how did Graham Harrell go from a possible Heisman Trophy winner and potential 1st or 2nd round draft pick, to an UDFA at the back of the unemployment line?  The answer is simple: he was over-analyzed by the self-proclaimed scientists known as NFL scouts. 

Yes Graham Harrell lacks elite arm strength, and yes his mind-boggling statistics were largely the product of a quarterback friendly spread offense.  With these assumptions in place, you would be hard-pressed to find a quarterback who could replicate Harrell’s career at Texas-Tech. 

How would Mark Sanchez be viewed if he was a Mike Leach protégé?  He certainly doesn’t have the pro-typical cannon arm that scouts adore. 

How many interceptions would Matt “throw into double coverage” Stafford have thrown if he had to pass the ball 55+ times per game?  Yes Graham Harrell did play in a pass-happy offense which produces quarterback statistics like a third-world sweatshop.  With that said, he absolutely demolished the records set by his former Red Raider QB brethren (all of which shared a similar pass-happy system).

These days draft-eligible quarterbacks are more valuable coming from West Texas A&M (See 6th round pick Keith Null), than being a former Red Raider.  Even Kirby Freeman, the backup quarterback for Baylor, was signed to a team minicamp (San Francisco 49ers). 

Scouts do for a living what every sports fan does for free.  If they didn’t get cute with their “under the radar” type prospects, then what’s to stop a guy like me from putting down “World of Warcraft” and operating a team’s war room. 

Much like Hawaii system quarterback Colt Brennan who lasted until the 6th round of the 2008 NFL draft, Harrell is not being judged for what he did, but where he did it.  Brennan quickly silenced his doubters by completing 9 of 10 passes for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns in his NFL preseason debut. 

Brennan went on to lead all 2008 rookies (yes that includes media love-child Matt Ryan) in preseason touchdown passes, passing yards, and quarterback rating. 

Like the Redskins who committed outright theft by stealing Brennan in the 6th round, the team that picks up this overlooked Red Raider will gain a potential contributor at minimal cost. Harrell, who over the course of his prolific collegiate career has demonstrated accuracy, poise, big-game performance, football intelligence, and consistency, will prove to be a significant and worthwhile addition to a football organization.

Whether it’s playing in the NFL, AFL, CFL, or soon-to-be UFL, don’t be surprised when Harrell makes his way onto a highlight reel near you. Hang in there Graham, this amateur sports writer believes in you. 

Stay tuned for my next article on potential landing spots for this productive yet disregarded quarterback.

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