How to Spot a Budding Superstar in Today's NFL
It's always fun to try and spot the next "big thing" coming up in the NFL.
Will it be a rookie? A veteran journeyman? An undrafted free agent from the Canadian Football League?
Exactly how the heck do you figure out who it will be? What the heck makes a superstar anyway?
Folks, grab a beer and a seat. I'm here to help.
Lots of things go into the making of a superstar. You don't need them all, of course, but you need a combination of them.
Let's take a look at some of the potential contributing factors.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
It won't always help, but it sure as heck doesn't hurt to be in a big market.
Otherwise, how do you explain Mark Sanchez's "Q" rating prior to the last two years.
As soon as he was drafted, Sanchez was in your face with magazine spreads and ESPN interviews. As a high draft pick, sure he was going to see some of that.
I mean, you must have missed all the spreads and commercials Matt Stafford did, right?
Sanchez coming from another huge media market called Los Angeles didn't hurt.
Of course, you can become a big deal without a location in a big market or with a "big" team, but it doesn't hurt.
HAVE SOUNDBITE WILL TRAVEL
There are many things Robert Griffin III does well, but one of the most entertaining aspects of RG3 is actually something which happens off the field.
The man can give a great soundbite.
Griffin has a ton of personality, sure, but he's also very clearly a student of the game who knows what is going on around him and can lay it out for the media.
He's more than a soundbite (even if that's the heading on this section), he's someone you enjoy hearing talk and can express himself very well.
All the ability in the world won't get you in front of the cameras on a regular basis if you can't (or won't) give an engaging interview.
Jay Cutler has ability, but he often doesn't seem to have any interest in playing that game. When he does (such as his radio interviews with the Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000 in Chicago) he can be a great interview. He just doesn't care to most of the time.
Which is one of many reasons his profile is much lower than it could be.
While Griffin, Andrew Luck, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Darrelle Revis and many more see a much wider profile.
STRONG NARRATIVE, ENGAGING BACKSTORY
When I used to (unsuccessfully) write screenplays in Los Angeles, one of the most important things you had to do was write engaging characters.
Well, given some of Hollywood's offerings, boobs or giant robots and Hobbits were higher on the list, but they had to be engaging.
People want a good story and if you have one, the media will eat it up.
One of the reason most of the media got suckered by the whole "fake girlfriend" part of Manti Te'o was because the story was just so damned compelling.
People love that. They love a great story. Overcome a severe sickness? Lose a parent? Find a long-lost brother?
The media and the public eat that up. Even better if you win a Super Bowl or National Championship.
Brian Banks of the Atlanta Falcons is at once a horrible and terrific story. Falsely accused of rape, Banks spent five years in prison and five on parole, during which ESPN reports, he had to register as a sex offender.
And now he's fighting for a spot on the Falcons.
If he can make the team, people will go nuts. If he makes plays and has a huge impact on the team?
He'll be on ESPN 24/7.
THE RIGHT POSITION
This will sound snobby but where you play on the field will matter to the media as much as how you play.
Most of the time, no matter how good a guard or tackle is, he's just not going to get the press that a quarterback, running back, defensive back or receiver will.
It's not fair. It's just the way it is.
Of course, linemen don't tend to care. They just do their job and make sure that their quarterback is upright and running back has lanes to move through.
In fact, if the media is talking to them it's probably because they didn't do what they were supposed to, and they definitely don't want that.
RUMBLE YOUNG MAN, RUMBLE
It's fine to be charismatic, have a big stage and a great story.
If you can't bring it on the field, you won't last.
Just ask Tim Tebow. Yeah, ESPN still follows him around like a puppy dog at times, but the longer he remains a backup or worse, the less play he'll get in the press.
Nobody is going to come to you for soundbites if you didn't play. Nobody will ask you your story if you're carrying a clipboard.
If a player is to be a superstar, he has to play like one.
I challenge you to name any superstar in the NFL who can't play, or in terms of an aging vet, never could.
There are plenty of good players with interesting stories. They become Danny Woodhead, a nice guy who is a great interview and a nice story who will never get huge ink because he's good but not great.
He will have his moments here or there, but that's about it.
Of course, as I said earlier, it does you no good to have any of the above, including talent, if you don't get on the field.
There are probably some awesome players who deserve to be superstars, but are buried on the bench.
That doesn't mean they aren't good. They're just behind guys who are more established, better or healthier. Or maybe they're stuck on a bad team or not used in the right way.
It might take time to get their shot. That's why we get third, fourth and fifth year guys who sometimes come "out of nowhere" and make a big splash.
I'm not sure I'd call Wes Welker a superstar (debate that one in the comments) but he was utterly misused by the Miami Dolphins and it took Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady to help him fully realize his potential.
Of course, sometimes guys who appear about to pop get the chance and collapse. Santonio Holmes looked great in Pittsburgh but has struggled with the New York Jets. In his case, the Steelers had more to do with his success than the reverse.
We may see some of that with Welker in Denver, though stepping from Brady to Peyton Manning isn't exactly a step backwards.
In the end, any one or two of these things can make a superstar. The biggest ones have most, if not all, of the characteristics we've talked about here.
Who will be next? Banks? Danny Amendola? Sheldon Richardson? Henry Melton? Nick Foles?
We'll know in just a couple of months.
While we wait, drop your thoughts in the comments and as always, thanks for reading.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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