In the world of draftniks, the word ‘intangibles’ is often a catchall term that explains a smart player without NFL skill sets. Sometimes those using the term make the mistake to include players who possess what I call an integrated skill set. Find out what that means and why it’s the difference between a good prospect and a good NFL player
You have no idea how much I look forward to this time of year. Crazy as it seems, I always forget how much I look forward to this time of year until it arrives. The weather has cooled, my insane fall schedule winds down, and the best football in the NFL is on the horizon.
It also means changing my schedule so I can watch 4-6 hours of football at the crack of dawn in preparation for the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio (available April 1). It’s not to say that the night time can’t be the right time for flashes of insight. Tonight has been such a night. Unless I read or heard this term somewhere else and forgot (apologies if this is the case), I arrived at a way to describe something about prospects in a more accurate way than I have seen in the past.
This is important to me because I dislike the term ‘intangibles.’ NFL Films analyst and producer Greg Cosell often says that when he hears someone describe a player as either ‘a winner’ or possessing great intangibles his first reaction is that it’s probably a sign that he can’t play. It’s practically a sound byte of his between February and August.
I understand his inclination to make this conclusion, because if no physical skill or positional craft come to mind as the first things you’d say about a player then it’s a potential red flag. It’s like a man or woman describing a potential date for a friend as having a great personality but omitting any description of looks. Just like dating, we want to be physically impressed by football players.
There are players with good, if not great, physical skills but what really separates them from the pack is their ability to make unusual or consistently timely plays. Sometimes these plays are a matter of awareness of what’s happening on the field that few can assimilate into action this fast. Other examples involve more physical skill that happens at such a high rate of speed and fluidity of movement that the act appears instinctive.
I don’t believe it’s instinctive. I believe it’s learned behavior. Perhaps intuitive, but even so, I believe intuition comes from experience enough situations to react quickly and in control – especially as an athlete.
Brandon Lloyd is one of the most intuitive pass catchers in the history of the game. His physical dimensions are average at best for an NFL receiver and his speed is below average. But when it comes to his spatial awareness of the ball, his body, his opponent’s body, and the field of play, he’s straight out of the Matrix Trilogy.
The first catch on this highlight video is still one of the most amazing feats I have ever seen on a football field. If you haven’t had your quota of sick catches for the day here are more. You’re welcome.
Despite this caliber of talent being easy to spot in receivers, it’s not limited to the position. It’s not limited to football. Knicks point guard Jason Kidd has always had it. It’s why at 39 he’s still playing at a high level.
What these players have in common is a keen awareness and control of one’s body in relationship to his environment. Some might define this as an aspect of on-field awareness or football intelligence. It also qualifies to some degree as uncanny athleticism.
To define this awareness further, I see players like Northern Illinois wide receiver Martel Moore (who you can read about in this Saturday’s Futures at Football Outsiders) exhibit skills that are difficult to teach a player at a stage of development as advanced as someone playing college football: catching the football with a wide radius from one’s body and accurately tracking its arrival from a difficult angle all while gauging the position and distance of an opponent or boundary. This caliber of skill is really an integration of several individual traits like balance, timing, athleticism, and hand-eye coordination. Several prospects are lauded every year for possessing one or more of these individual traits, but they often cannot put them together on the football field when it counts.
Perhaps the best way to describe what I’m talking about is to say that Moore, and players like him, often exhibit what I’m now going to say is an integrated skill set.
Brandon Lloyd has an integrated skill set. Robert Meachem has a bunch of physical skills that don’t integrate well on the football field and it’s why he routinely struggles. David Wilson and Bryce Brown have some amazing amounts of integrated skill sets, but ball security was so disconnected with the rest of their games that they have required an adjustment period despite flashing a ton of talent. Colin Kaepernick’s arm, physical strength, and speed, intelligence at the line of scrimmage, and accuracy on timing throws are becoming integrated skill sets. However, ball placement according to the location of the receiver in relation to coverage is not yet integrated into his game. If it were, Randy Moss and Vernon Davis would have each scored twice against the Patriots.
As this 2013 draft evaluation season unfolds and you read my description of a player possessing integrated skill sets, think back to this explanation. It may not mean that the player is ready to start in the NFL, but the description will indicate that his physical skills, his mental processing of his techniques, and his awareness the environment around him are integrated at a level that he’s more often ‘playing’ rather than ‘thinking.’ His processor speed is high and that’s the difference between talented NFL prospects and productive NFL players.
The 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio will be available for pre-order in March. The 2012 RSP is available for download and past issues (2006-2011) are available for $9.95. Ten percent of all sales are donated to Darkness to Light to help train communities to understand and prevent the dynamics of sexual abuse.