The answer should be "football players", but it doesn't always work that way...
The fact is that the NFL draft is a crap shoot at best. You can take a guy that is a "can't miss" only to watch him fail miserably. The guy in this picture can attest to that.
You can take a chance on a guy in the sixth or seventh round and find a diamond. Tom Brady,Terrell Davis, and Deacon Jones proved that.
Knowing this, what should scouts be looking for when evaluating a player in Indianapolis this week? Should they look for the guy that runs a sub 4.30 second 40 yard dash?
Well, that worked pretty well in the cases of Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, and most recently Chris Johnson. Although, there were plenty of other reasons why these men were good picks.
However, this method has proven to fail just as often as it succeeds, if not more.
Fabian Washington hasn't been nearly as good as his measurables would indicate, Renaldo Nehemiah was barely average and the book is not written on Darius Heyward-Bey, but it's not off to a great start.
James Jett and Raghib Ismail ran sub 4.4s in the 40, but never had any meaningful impact. Jerry Rice and Chris Carter ran in the high 4.5s, low 4.6s and turned out to be two of the best receivers in the annals of the game.
There are other drills that are highly touted as well, like the bench press. Is the strongest guy at a given position of need the best way to ensure success?
Tony Mandrich benched the standard 225 pounds more than 30 times and never made a major difference for any team.
He had poor footwork and poor work ethic.
He actually proved to be serviceable after a two year hiatus, but not for the team that drafted him and no where near the hype he generated.
On the flip side of that, LaRoi Glover and Jamal Williams put up more than thirty reps on the bench. Both went on to Pro Bowls and anchored their team's front seven for years.
Either way it's no better than a shot in the dark.
This establishes that using measurables alone gets us no closer to a sure thing than simply venturing a guess. So what will improve the chances of getting a real "play-maker" in the draft?
These drills and all the others will only tell you whether or not a player has the physical tools to play the position you need him to play. What it won't do is tell you how bad he wants to be in the league or how hard he'll work when he gets there.
So what is it then?
What if you took all the measurables into consideration as only one part of a players overall potential and combine them with, what I as a coach think is the most important part of player evaluation, the interview?
Chances are good you'll get a quality player regardless of what round it is.
The most overlooked, underrated part of finding a good player is getting to know him.
The fans and media overlook this aspect far too often.
You can't tell anything about a guy's competitive nature, intellect, or work ethic by watching him run drills. You can only get it by talking to him.
Al Davis has a theory that states you can make a great athlete into a football player, but you can't turn a good football player into an athlete.
I don't completely agree with that.
You can teach fundamentals and scheme, but you can't coach instinct, heart, work ethic or a love and respect for the game.
The "Wonderlic" test, the media interviews, none of it can reveal the true nature of a prospects heart. You can only get that from three sources. The "motor" he shows in game film, talking to his college coach and teammates, and interviewing him directly.
If a guy is articulate, humble, and seems to take the interview seriously it says a lot about his character. If he is slouching in his chair and doesn't seem all that interested, that says a lot too.
None of these traits will come out in the physical drills. They only surface in the interview.
You have to know what he thinks about your team's philosophy and playing style. If you're going to ask a 4-3 defensive end to play standing up as a 3-4 outside linebacker, you should judge his reaction to that.
If he doesn't show at least a foundational understanding of what you're asking him to do, you'll have to add the learning curve into his developmental time. Watch film with him, see how quickly he picks it up. That'll tell you everything you need to know abut his learning curve.
If he doesn't pick up the terminology, if he fails to fully grasp the ideas or if he just doesn't show interest in what you're saying then you need to be careful about drafting this kid.
If he doesn't like the idea of changing position, you have to show him how he can be successful in your system and ask what he thinks again. His reaction to this will shape you next question.
If he reacts positively then you make your decision about him, but you have to take everything into account. The measurables, 40 times, drill impressions, bench press, first impression, body language, college game film, understanding, learning ability, work ethic, old coaches input, teammates input, all of it.
...if he reacts negatively, you have to decide if the measurables, drills and times are so good that you're willing to take a chance on him. If they are, that brings up the following question...
Is the leadership on this team strong enough to keep his morale sufficiently high that he'll work and play hard without getting frustrated? If it's not, you're taking a huge risk taking him anywhere in the draft.
If the appropriate team leadership, the prospect's measurables, work ethic, learning ability, articulation, and understanding are all in place, you take the guy!
And it still doesn't guarantee a successful player.
Many coaches, scouts and especially fans get caught up in how well a player ran his drills, how fast he is, or how fluid his hips are. They seem to forget that all the athletic ability in the world means absolutely nothing if a kid isn't willing to work hard and do what it takes to succeed.
If he just doesn't have the heart to give a legitimate effort, then he won't earn the respect of his teammates and you're probably wasting your time, effort, and money.
You can coach him until you're both out of a job; it may build the "football smarts", but it won't create the "football heart" I spoke of in a previous article.
There's an old coaching proverb that states, "...a player's skill never stays the same. He's either getting better or getting worse." If he isn't willing to work, he won't improve.
The bottom line is that any successful player will have a good balance of all the key ingredients I've discussed in this article. Some you can coach into them, some you can't. If he isn't willing to try, he won't succeed no matter how much talent he has.
There's a great question to ask every player you're considering for your team. I believe it was George Allen that first uttered, "There are those that say they can and those that say they can't...they're both right. Which one are you?"
This question can't be answered with words; it must be answered in the interview, positional meetings, in the class room, and most importantly, on the field.
If this player can't answer that question to your satisfaction and you pick him anyway, you're setting yourself and that player up for failure.
Of course a player has to have all the physical tools, but if he is unable to communicate what he sees or can't articulate where he needs help, it's an exercise in futility.
Guys like Clay Matthews and Tom Brady didn't blow anyone away in the drills, but they got it done in the meeting room. Ryan Leaf and Lawrence Philips looked great on tape and in drills, but never lived up to their potential due to things that should have been uncovered in the interview.
Therefore, the next time your team takes a guy that you don't think is very physically gifted or if they pass on a guy that appears to be the best athlete at his position, don't get too excited or too angry.
Remember, you never got to witness the all important interview portion of the evaluation process.