The National Football League and sports in general is dominated by the perceived talents and legacies of players. These players are enshrined in the sport's lore, cherished by the fans as the best the league has to offer. In the NFL, these players are enfolded with the jewels of glory the likes of which are not only the unconditional support of the fervent fans but awards from various pundits such as the Pro Bowl, All-Pro and MVP.
The distinction of a player’s talent and his prowess is inexorably embedded with the player’s statistics, awards and draft status.
If a player produces substantial raw statistics he is seen as being talented or being a great player. On the other hand, the opposite is purported for players who simply don’t produce the gaudy statistics their contemporaries produce.
Moreover, a player’s draft status is seen as being an absolute unequivocal value of his talent. If a player is drafted in the first round then that player must be extremely talented, whilst a player drafted in the later rounds must have little to no value. While the draft does serve as a barometer of a player's talent, the extreme absolutism given to the player’s draft status in correlation to his talent is very incredulous.
The prevailing sentiment in today’s NFL is that a player drafted in the fourth round is simply incapable of producing at a high level without the help of another player due lack of talent (despite many examples proving otherwise). As will be rationalized in this exercise, this is simply not the case.
The various awards a player receives is also seen as a measure to his talents on the field. Even while putting aside the fact that these awards are extremely flawed, one could still find it very troubling that a player's skills as a football player could be put in tandem with these awards.
The evaluation of players in the NFL today has become a segregation of two factions: the “haves” and the “have nots.” Those who have accumulated statistical production and awards vs. those who simply haven’t. These ideologies are backwards.
Believe it or not, but every player in the National Football League is extremely talented. While there may be degrees of talent respective of one another, the deviation in the production and therefore legacies of these players has more to with circumstantial factors than the difference in talent.
These circumstantial factors range from the player’s work ethic, desire to become great and most importantly the surrounding cast provided to that player.
It’s no coincidence that a player like Wes Welker goes from being anywhere near productive to all of sudden becoming a possible Hall of Fame candidate in his tenure as a New England Patriot. The work ethic of this player combined with the desire to be great nurtured in an environment that breeds these same qualities enhances the player's abilities, prowess and talent to their peak production.
Likewise, it’s no coincidence that a player like Davone Bess, who has the same talent if not greater than that of Welker, might never get a sniff at any of the accolades received by Welker.
Few know who Don Majkowski is. Majkowski was a 10th round draft pick of the Green Packers (255th overall) out of the Univeristy of Virginia in the 1987 draft. Majkowski inherited a Packers organization that wasn’t very successful after their 1960s golden age.
Majkowski showed a lot of promise when he was finally given full starter role in 1989 and produced a very impressive season. Majkowski, however, was very injury prone and in 1992 sustained an ankle injury that saw his career spiral into oblivion.
In an NFL Films feature, Sterling Sharpe states that Majkowski had the skill set and ability to become the Packers’ long-term quarterback and that “we may have never heard of Brett Favre.” Sharpe should know something about injuries ending a very promising career seeing as had it not been for a serious injury he might have become the most productive receiver in NFL history.
Such is the circumstance for many NFL players: Injuries and lack of supporting cast to supplement their abilities see their careers become obsolete in the spectrum of memory in the average fan.
When asked about Fred Jackson prior to the December 26th contest between the Patriots and Bills, Bill Belichick said that despite the fact the he didn’t watch tape of every team throughout the season, he felt Fred Jackson was among the best running backs in the NFL.
Belichick has long been enamored by Jackson’s ability, pointing to the fact that Jackson does everything well, running the ball, catching the ball and pass protecting. Belichick said he put Jackson on his Pro Bowl ballot. This is the same Fred Jackson that ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing yards and has never sniffed one chance at a Pro Bowl berth.
In sound bites from the prestigious NFL Films, Bill Belichick is quoted as saying former Patriots and 49ers tight end Russ Francis as being one of the best to ever play the game of football. Keep in mind that Francis only compiled 393 receptions, 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns throughout his career.
Francis was selected to the Pro Bowl only three times (1975, 1976 and 1977). Francis’ best year statistically was 1980, when he recorded 41 receptions, 664 yards and 8 touchdowns, far outweighing any season he had prior or after. Yet, in 1980 Francis wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl. Francis never once was named All-Pro.
So why is it that the greatest coaching mind to ever set foot on an NFL field could call a player like Francis among the greatest to play the game? Surely a complement of the like is far too courteous of a player with Francis’ production. The answer to that question and hence denouement of this article is simple.
Circumstantial factors far outweigh the talents of players in correlation to a player's perceived legacy among the general public.