Over the next three-and-a-half months, NFL minds will tell you why your favorite college football player from the past three or four years is defective. They will remind you that this athlete—a football god to many—is anything but in this strange purgatory of player assessment.
Perhaps he was a god in his former life and maybe to you, but not here. Not in this new world. They will convince you—or at least attempt to—that this individual is broken, perhaps physically, emotionally or a bit of both.
Using terms like “40-time,” “reps,” “leadership,” “instincts” and “ game tape,” these evaluators will dissect the latest batch of college football players, highlighting each and every potential flaw. They will preach a science built on measurables, a science that has proven to be inadequate time and time again.
You know this frustrating routine and everything that comes with it, including the inaccuracies. You also know that these tend to be the opinion of one publicized person: little bit of film, a solid dollop of football knowledge and perhaps a dash of natural contrarian.
And we take the bait every time.
We can’t help take this criticism personally, as if someone insulted our son or daughter directly to us and slapped us in the face to ensure we heard them.
When the takedowns begin to take shape with players we’ve celebrated—as they predictably have with former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel—you can’t help but feel the angst begin to build. He won’t be ours for much longer, of course, but he is until he embraces the commissioner on stage in the celebratory bro hug.
Until that time, he’s all yours.
Yet, as he braces for the transition, many are ready to articulate why it won’t work—many including Nolan Nawrocki who currently writes for NFL.com.
Nawrocki has a knack for stewing up this kind of draft response. After all, he’s done it before. His evaluation of former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in 2011 prompted plenty of response when he was still writing for Pro Football Weekly:
Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and always will struggle to win a locker room. Only a one-year producer. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.
Fast-forward to this offseason, and Manziel has suddenly entered the crosshairs of Nawrocki. Despite the fact that his ego theory has been debunked before (see: Cam Newton’s 2013 season), that hasn’t stopped him from sizing up college football’s most exciting player in recent years in similar fashion.
Here's what he wrote on NFL.com:
Suspect intangibles—not a leader by example or known to inspire by his words. Carries a sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance seeking out the bright lights of Hollywood. Is known to party too much and is drawn to all the trappings of the game. ... Has defied the odds and proven to be a great college-system quarterback, but still must prove he is willing to work to be great, adjust his hard-partying, Hollywood lifestyle and be able to inspire his teammates by more than his playmaking ability.
Never mind the endless amount of moments that could serve as TNT for such claims. For a CliffsNotes version, just throw in the tape of his Chick-fil-A Bowl performance against Duke this past New Year’s Eve. And don’t just focus on the on-field ridiculousness. Zero in on his sideline demeanor with wideout Mike Evans, who lost control of his emotions early on.
Stay with it, though. Watch how Manziel rallies his team in the second half, doing more than simply juking Duke defenders out of the stadium. One game does not tell the whole story with any player, but it tells a story.
There are lots of stories to tell with Johnny Football—some legitimate criticisms and concerns—but "not a leader" doesn't belong.
But here I go again, taking random criticism personally. And I'm just stacking an opinion on top of an opinion, which gives us the most tasteless sandwich imaginable.
It won’t be just Manziel, either. Others will take on this criticism as well, although their draft stock will take far bigger hits.
You will hear how Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd will be unable to turn his incredible college career into NFL success. After all, an anonymous scout—a popular fixture this time of year—already labeled him “undraftable.”
Packers scout "based on what I'm seeing Tahj Boyd is not draftable"— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 20, 2014
Boyd was one of the most productive college quarterbacks to play in some time. He has height limitations, however, which has prompted the draft avalanche to arrive earlier than anticipated.
Others will follow suit. The NFL combine will chew and spit out the non-physical standouts, bumping them to rounds that were once unseen. Campus workouts in front of scouts will not go as planned. Balls will be dropped, passes will be overthrown, 40s will come with disapproving head shakes and the 225-pound bar will come away victorious over a select few.
The cruel scouting process will take its course, and the individuals tasked with declaring a few high-profile players insufficient will continue to do what they’ve done all along. Some of these proclamations will prove to be correct, others—looking in the direction of Russell Wilson and countless others—will make height, speed and leadership declarations light up in flames.
There will be outrage along the way, outrage to an opinion. We know the routine. We simply can’t help ourselves.
The reality of the situation, however, is that these gods should remain the gods. NFL worth shouldn’t impact what you remember most about certain college players, the ones who will live on well past their departure. If there happens to be an NFL career on top of it, so be it.
But the touchdowns won’t suddenly disappear; the wins won’t suddenly vanish. The college experience will forever remain etched in stone, no matter how turbulent the attempted transition to the next level might be.
Voices—sometimes anonymous—will continue to say that they can’t, regardless of how legitimate the criticism might be.
You know this process all too well, but that won’t stop you from tensing up and piling opinion on top of opinion. After all, someone has to protect the gods.