Looking Back at NFL Draft Profiles from Back in the Day
Over the past few months, hundreds of NFL prospects have been put through the draft wringer by a myriad of independent draft evaluators. The draft analyst industry is booming, with hundreds of outlets producing thousands of scouting reports on players from all over the nation.
It hasn't always been that way. While some websites and periodicals have been around for years, the breadth of options and the depth of detail on the reports used to be a lot scarcer.
Likewise, it was harder to find clean game tapes for many players. Broadcasts haven't always been in HD, and the explosion of regional sports cable networks is a very recent development. It used to be possible to see only about a handful of games for most prospects unless you were somehow able to get the coach's tape from the colleges.
Looking back at some of those earlier draft profiles on current stars, it's interesting to see where those evaluations hit the mark. How were studs like Calvin Johnson, Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning viewed back when they were going through the draft process?
Coming out of Tennessee, Peyton Manning was the subject of one of the biggest draft debates in modern NFL history: Manning or Ryan Leaf?
As this scouting report from Sports Illustrated described, Peyton was seen as an overachiever who "is not quite as natural a player as Leaf," the statuesque Washington State gunslinger who wound up going No. 2 overall to the San Diego Chargers.
It was a very real, legitimate debate. Believe it or not, being the son of NFL quarterback Archie Manning was seen as a negative. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel nicely chronicled some of the critiques on the brainy Volunteer. Among them:
"Manning does everything well but he may be too serious," the personnel man said. "(Brett) Favre, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Namath ... guys like that don't give a (expletive)."
and this one:
A few years ago, a longtime scout for the Indianapolis Colts told another personnel man that Manning's vertical jump for them was 24 inches. That year at the combine, the average for an offensive lineman was 28.
or this tidbit:
"Hell, yes, Manning's good, but his ball waffles all the time," the scout said. "I didn't like his ball velocity, either."
While athleticism has never been Manning's calling card, he's proven that waffling throws and lack of mobility were no obstacles at all. The ball velocity question seems laughable now, but back in the day it really did pale in comparison to Leaf's cannon shots down the field.
Manning's legendary work ethic and competitiveness, which were oft-mentioned in his scouting reports as well, ultimately helped him become one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Peyton Manning isn't the only star from the 1998 draft still active. Cornerback Charles Woodson is a division rival for Manning's Broncos, as the former Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan soldiers on with his second stint as an Oakland Raider.
Woodson's scouting report from Sports Illustrated wound up being very prophetic. As noted in the picture of the summary section above, he did indeed become a special player in the NFL.
His competitive nature and great all-around athleticism translated immediately to stardom at the next level. As Football Outsiders noted in a 2004 piece, Woodson "was seen as a sure-thing."
While age and injuries have taken their toll, Woodson was an integral part of some very successful teams in Oakland and Green Bay. He was a special player for a very long time.
Detroit Lions star wideout Calvin Johnson was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.
Even though he was obviously talented, Johnson wasn't quite Megatron just yet. There were a couple of clouds about his NFL prospects, including a failed drug test just before the draft (h/t ESPN).
In this report from Scout.com, his 239-pound weight is listed as a negative. He was so much bigger than other top receivers of that time frame, even Randy Moss or Andre Johnson, that there was some skepticism that Johnson had the quickness to play outside.
Still, the Ourlads.com scouting report (pictured, but click on Johnson's name in the link) is a pretty strong microcosm of all the takes on Johnson. Without fail, his "rare combination of measurables, athletic ability, and intelligence" are cited in one way or another. He was referenced by several guides, including this one, as the best overall player in the draft.
Johnson wound up being the one, and only one, positive development of the Matt Millen era in Detroit. File him under the blind squirrel finding a truly great nut.
Even though Darrelle Revis is now widely considered one of the elite players in the NFL, not everyone saw it coming.
The immediate post-draft breakdown by Pete Fiutak of College Football News (part of Scout.com) pictured above was not a unique critique. Many scouts openly wondered whether Revis had the speed to handle playing in the NFL.
His ESPN profile (subscription required) also takes note of his perceived future struggles with more explosive athletes in the NFL.
Part of the issue might have been that Revis did not work out at the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine. His presumed 40-yard dash time was 4.53, though he dispelled that by blazing a 4.39 or 4.40 in a well-attended private workout.
Now with his third team in as many seasons, the Patriots corner has earned Pro Bowl nods in every full season but his rookie year in New York.
While the good folks at Scout.com missed the boat on Revis Island, they absolutely nailed fellow 2007 draft classmate Joe Thomas. As seen in the above breakdown, it was hard to find negatives about the dominant left tackle from Wisconsin.
Even the criticisms in his scouting report from CBS are qualified by noting he demonstrated real improvement in them as his college career progressed. Take a gander at how long the "positives" section is compared to the "negatives."
In looking at some of the draft magazines from that year, including those from Pro Football Weekly and The Sporting News, the words exceptional, dominant and outstanding frequently appear. About the only question raised was how many Pro Bowls he winds up meriting.
Joe Thomas remains the recipient of the highest draft grade I've ever given a prospect, and this is the 11th draft I've covered as a professional media member. It was pretty easy to see what was coming.
While it's pretty commonplace to give hindsight on why so many people whiffed on Tom Brady coming out of Michigan, at least one draft evaluator clearly saw some potential.
As pictured above from his annual draft guide, Russ Lande (now director of collegiate scouting for the Montreal Alouettes) saw some "shocking" attributes that convinced him Brady,
...is a smart, tough QB who throws accurately, makes more big plays than you expect and rarely makes a big error despite not having a strong arm...he will eventually be a good starting QB, but will always have trouble making the throws that you need to get power behind."
That's the rosiest evaluation anyone gave Brady. Legendary underground draft analyst Joel Buchsbaum thought he was a system quarterback who had a shot to make it, as referenced in this piece from Boston.com.
Brady's surprising ascent from 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft to two-time NFL MVP is so remarkable that ESPN produced an excellent documentary about it: "The Brady 6."
It's a testament to Brady's determination, will and intelligence—not to mention Bill Belichick's masterful coaching—that the skinny kid who couldn't definitively beat out Drew Henson at Michigan has developed into one of the NFL's all-time greats.
Clay Matthews is one of the NFL's most fearsome pass-rushers as an outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.
Back in 2009, however, there were enough questions about Matthews that he fell to the second round.
Matthews fit the profile of a late-rising hidden gem. He had just 10 career starts at USC, a function of being part of a prolific linebacking corps that included Brian Cushing, Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, Keith Ellison, Kaluka Maiava and Thomas Williams. All of those Trojan linebackers were drafted in either 2008 or '09, with Rivers and Maualuga as first-rounders.
His report from Dan Kadar of SB Nation (pictured) pegged him as a pass-rushing specialist, at least early in his career. Issues with angles and coverage, which are still valid critiques, are cited here as well.
From Bleacher Report's post-draft analysis by Jersey Al Brocco:
Clay Matthews III didn't start as a 166-pound linebacker his Junior year in High School, even with his father as his coach. Nor did he start a college football game until the fourth game of his senior season. He played as a stand-up DE, not a linebacker, when he finally became a starter.
Clay Matthews III was not even rated by NFL scouting services coming into his senior season.
Late bloomers always present an inherent challenge for scouts. Matthews got the benefit of the doubt thanks in part to his prestigious pedigree. Although he has had some durability issues, he's definitely validated Packers general manager Ted Thompson's risk in trading up to draft him.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman is a star now, but three years ago, he was a questionable prospect coming out of Stanford.
Between a mid-collegiate career position change from wide receiver and some serious questions about his ability to do anything other than press coverage, Sherman fell all the way to the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft.
NFL.com's scouting report (pictured) reflected those questions. Labeling Sherman "a contributing backup corner for a press-heavy team" seems asinine now, but in the context of his draft status it was not unusual.
He was the 24th-rated cornerback by NFL Draft Scout, projected as a sixth- or seventh-rounder. Just about every draft magazine tagged him as a late-round prospect with questions about his quickness.
Yet some did see promise. The Sporting News' Russ Lande opined that Sherman,
...is a raw player with very good speed, athletic ability and smarts to compete for a starting position this season. After playing receiver for three seasons, the Cardinal moved him to cornerback. He was a late addition to the Senior Bowl and played well during practices.
Those Senior Bowl practices were Sherman's coming-out party. From my own notes at RealGM:
Stanford CB Richard Sherman had a great day. He's very big but also real fast. Showed great instincts in the red zone drill, understood where the receiver was going and had enough skill to redirect and/or impede without committing a penalty. Made a couple of good adjustments on the fly, has the balance to change direction quickly and charge under control. He is visibly better than Chris Cook, a CB with similar size who went at the top of the 2nd round last year. The coaches still in attendance gushed over him.
Still, even his biggest proponents didn't see him developing so quickly into one of the best defensive players in the NFL for a Super Bowl champion.