Football Outsiders Chief Aaron Schatz asked me a great question yesterday. One that I imagine some people with my business interests in mind would tell me not to answer within the context of a book season where I’m trying to generate sales. They want me to say – and only say – I was the guy that said last March that Russell Wilson was indeed comparable to Drew Brees in style and had the potential skill to get there. Fortunately, my right shoulder tends to be hunched higher to my ear when I’m writing, so the voice in the white robe and halo is easier to hear.
But let’s be real: If you’re expecting me to be right all the time then you’re giving me and everyone else in this business way too much credit.
The one thing that draft analysts and scouts worth their salt know better than most readers is that they are often wrong. This is tenet No.10 from my first-ever RSP Blog post – Losing Your Football Innocence:
10. Have a slice of humble pie: It’s easy to tell the difference between the average football fan and the guy who grinds tape. The average fan behaves as if he’s a football genius. The average tape grinder knows he’s a football idiot. He also can explain why in great detail.
Part of adopting a student mindset is having the willingness to accept that you’ll be wrong a lot. Learning requires the ability to accept your errors.
I recently wrote an article about this topic. The subject was an accounting professor whose award-winning research was recently cited in Forbes. Her study dealt with the concept of cognitive dissonance in investing.
What she discovered is that people tend to make emotional choices once they commit to a decision. Moreover, it doesn’t matter if they are an expert in their field. If they’ve taken a stance, they defend that stance even if presented with evidence to the contrary.
In fact, they will seek analysis from sources that aren’t even as credible as the information presented to them in order to get validation that they made a good choice, even if the result eventually says otherwise.
In essence, we stand by our decisions to placate our egos because it’s often more important for us to be perceived as experts than behave like them. The sad, but comical thing about this is that we all do it if we make a decision before we fully weigh the evidence. I have no problem admitting I do it. The only real cure for this problem is having insight – and that’s a topic for another time…
Hopefully this will help you shed your football-genius innocence and become a student of the game.
I’m sharing this because I think what’s important for those of you considering the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for the first time is that my background is in process improvement. I score players in the context of what they do well, where can they improve, and to the best of my knowledge, how they can improve. I also look at my process of evaluation and attempt to do the same thing every year.
I have gradually added a number of components to my evaluation process every year while making slight changes every couple of years to my scoring criteria so I can accomplish what I believe good prospect analysis does: Provide readers a comprehensive view of what a prospect is and could be and some context as to why I have that view so you can see my logic, even if it turns out to be flawed.
This leads me to Schatz’s question about Blaine Gabbert yesterday. I sniped quarterback Carson Palmer from him in the RSPWP2. Seeking alternatives, he looked through the 2011 Rookie Scouting Portfolio and read my analysis of Blaine Gabbert. It prompted this email:
Why do you think you were so wrong about Gabbert when you rated him the best prospect in 2011? Or, do you think maybe you weren’t entirely wrong and there’s still room for growth because he’s just 23?
I was wrong about Gabbert for two major reasons:
- I didn’t factor his pocket issues with enough weight because I saw examples contrary to the popular opinion about is jitters – especially as a sophomore.
- I don’t get to interview coaches an teammates as non-media and I don’t have a private investigator on retainer.
The things I missed about Gabbert was one of the reasons I created additional steps within my evaluation process, which helps me frame and present a player’s potential with greater breadth.
In essence, I changed how I rank players. I now incorporate an analysis where I weigh the ease/difficulty of transition with certain skill sets at each position. I now use two scores – the player’s highest checklist score from games I studied and then a Ceiling Score, which is this player’s adjusted, highest possible score based on his flaws and the likelihood he can correct them.
As I rank players, I look at the spread between the scores (potential and reality) and then factor the ease of difficulty of transition with each of the player’s physical, technical, and conceptual flaws. For instance, I have Geno Smith rated lower than many folks but I think his faults have a good enough ease of transition to help him develop into a starting quarterback.
It has also helped me think about players in ways where I think I can better articulate why a player may have starter potential but the sum of his parts does not equal the final product. N.C. State’s Mike Glennon and what I just wrote about him in the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio as an Overrated Talent is a good example:
I’d be shocked if Glennon wasn’t picked within the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft – pleasantly so. While a prospect with a first-round arm, first-round height, and a resume of experience in the ACC that merits early-round consideration, Glennon is not the sum of his parts.
The “glue” that holds a quarterback’s game together is his attention to detail, his ability to focus amid physical and mental distractions, and his capacity to learn from mistakes. Thus far, I don’t see enough progress from Glennon in any of these areas to trust him with a pick in the first half of the draft.
Glennon is one of the most inconsistent players I’ve watched this year. A good way to determine a quarterback’s attention to detail is to examine his short game. Glennons throws on plays like screens, roll outs, short play action passes, swing routes, and flat routes reveal a player whose footwork is executed with purpose and definition from one throw to the next, but without context of the defense is doing. He often rushes throws without looking at the situation developing ahead of him.
In a sense, he’s a task-oriented quarterback who knows he’s supposed to do certain things but doesn’t address the details enough to do them well. Moreover, Glennon appears to lose sight of the overall picture of a play and he’ll throw the ball blindly. Leadership is about balancing the ability to see in a broad scope (vision) and managing details to the letter (execution) while maintaining a consistent approach to dealing with situations.
All the negative traits in Glennon’s game – rushing throws, lazy play fakes, inconsistent footwork, reckless and blind decision-making, perceiving pressure, and rushing his release – are all on-field signs of behavior that isn’t ready to lead. The N.C. State quarterback has so many large and small details to address in his game and they don’t just reflect a lack of technique, but an indication based behavior that Glennon isn’t ready to lead a group and all of these things are a physical manifestation of an intangible that we often sum up as leadership.
Look at Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson and you’ll see the attention to detail each has. They make mistakes, but the footwork, play fakes, and mechanics of their game are honed. They are consistent and with that consistency comes poise. Teammates respond to this behavior to continue doing the little things well despite adversity dealing a series of blows big and small.
While I’m not completely writing off the possibility that Glennon will address these issues and develop into a quality leader-player, the chances are smaller than average based on what I see from college quarterbacks with good attention to detail who make a successful transition to the NFL.
I think it’s important to find links between on-field behavior and how they relate to “intangibles.” It may not be a statistically-based link, but my job is to try to project the future – not scientifically document the past. I try to use the past data – and stats where appropriate – when possible, but my job is primarily observational. I’m probably one of the more analytic-observational football writers around, if you get what I’m saying.
This leads me to back to Gabbert. Yes, I do think Gabbert can still get better, but this is where I think we get into the touchy-feely side of football. Part of this NFL transition is about crossing the divide from good college player to reliable professional in the locker room, practice field, meeting rooms, off the field, and then of course on Sundays.
These guys suddenly have tons of money, a lot more free time, and no one watching their backs each hour to make sure they lifted, studied, went to class, ate, etc. They also suddenly have grown men counting on them to produce and that pressure is way higher in the NFL than the college game.
Then compress the spread of good and bad skill in the NFL (all players being the top tenth of a percent of college players – probably not a correct number but you get my point) and a lack of maturity can be a bitch to handle. Vince Young should have been a better player. He wasn’t mature enough to work for it. Kurt Warner never gave up and he became a very good one.
Skill-wise, Gabbert has the arm and accuracy. The pocket presence has been an issue, but I will note that Matt Ryan still perceives pressure, drops his eyes from coverage, and makes some Gabbert-like plays to this day. The difference is that it happens with Ryan on a smaller frequency of plays, he wasn’t put on a really bad team, and he was given a stronger coaching staff.
Most important? Ryan handled his transition better. Remember, Ryan and his high interception count as a senior wasn’t considered a great prospect by many come draft time. I liked him – thought he could be a good version of Drew Bledsoe – very good, but never great.
I think it’s less than 50/50 that Gabbert ever becomes the player he could be if the rumors are true that he’s “Blame” Gabbert in meeting rooms and nothing is his fault. However when you look at his arm, base accuracy, mobility, mechanics, and flashes of good decision-making, the sum of his parts still give him promise
It’s why separating potential from reality in a systematic way can be so helpful. At least that is what I’m constantly learning.
And Aaron, I hope that helps.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.