Eddie Lacy was my top back in the 2013 class before the NFL Draft. After the draft, I dropped him to fourth in behind Giovani Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, and Marcus Lattimore. Why? The three factors that we learned that caused NFL teams to drop him on their draft boards:
- Lacy was so out of shape in pre-draft workouts that he had to cut the workouts short.
- Concern about Lacy’s toe injury caused the Broncos and Steelers pick another option despite their need for a lead back.
- Concern that Lacy’s personality – which isn’t all-football, all the time – meant he didn’t have the emotional makeup of a good football player.
When I downgraded Lacy in my post-draft publication, I only knew about the first two concerns. If I knew about the third one I would have ignored it because it’s ridiculous. More on that one later.
As a football talent evaluator, I dislike post-draft rankings. I understand their value, but I’m a talent purist at heart. I prefer to examine what a player can do; what he can’t; and project what he might be able to learn. Character, situation, and injury are factors that more often than not require an investigator, a coach, and a doctor to discuss with any level of expertise and even then there’s a lot of speculation.
Unless I was with a team and creating a real draft board, I have little use for the non-football stuff. It’s water-cooler talk.
Headlining the virtual break room was infamous camp photo of Lacy where he looked more like B.J. Raji wearing a running back jersey number and wig as a prank. I thought we were going to need to add a photography expert to the mix of the collective medical and psychological speculation about things that have little to do with his on-field performance.
As a fan and a fantasy owner, it was five minutes of compelling information to consider. I was sucked in. As an author of a publication that evaluates talent from a long-term standpoint, I was glad it went away as fast as it arrived.
These non-football factors are also why the idea of people ranking talent analysts is problematic at best. Does one judge a talent evaluator by his ranking of the player or by the commentary? I think the substance of the analysis is far more important than the number. If you think I’m a good or bad evaluator because of the accuracy of rankings that have more more dynamics than annual re-draft rankings in fantasy football, then you’re missing value of what those in the profession of football evaluation provide to readers.
Lacy is one of many examples why I think the pre-draft RSP remains as valuable as the post-draft publication. The pre-draft publication is about talent. The post-draft incorporates fit and to a lesser extent draft stock. Like it or not, a player’s draft grade often dictates his initial opportunity.
And because the NFL is a hyper-competitive environment with high turnover due to age and injury, it’s understandable why most media and fans have a “what have you done for me lately” philosophy embedded within their takes on player potential. Even if it’s often the wrong perspective to have.
The concern about Lacy’s toe injury was based on surgery prior to his 2012 season. From what I saw, it didn’t stop Lacy from tearing holes through college defenses. True, it’s a possibility that Lacy hurts the toe again and is never the same player and he may have a shorter career span than Montee Ball, but if the speculation is that Lacy only plays three years to Ball’s five I’d prefer the better player over a shorter period of time.
Even if that player burns out his body sooner, management is making that player’s position a stronger priority in the off-season.
The issue that troubles me most about these takes that emerged after the draft about Lacy. The idea that teams passed on Lacy because running back doesn’t love football and teams were concerned about his work ethic or mental toughness. I’d be shocked if even 10 percent of the true decision makers involved with passing on Lacy have ever experienced a remote amount of hardship that he has.
Try losing everything you own after a hurricane strikes your town. Do you think you’d struggle with the trauma of starting over? Moving to a new city with nothing? Living with people you didn’t know in conditions that are far from luxury? If you think eight years is a long time to still be dealing with it all then odds are likely you need to get back to me 10-15 years after you can walk into a bar and order a drink. Then we can having a meaningful conversation.
Football wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind. Nor would it make me happy in light of these events. An outlet for my frustration and anger? Oh yeah. Happiness? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Some people say you have to love football with a passion to perform at the highest level. I agree it’s the easiest way to tell that a person is going to do the hard work to succeed. It’s just not the only way. If you want to live by the probabilities of templates, formulas, and prototypes then you’ll be right more often than you’re wrong. But you’ll also miss a lot of exceptional cases that make a true difference in shaping how we look at the world.
As a talent purist, Lacy’s skill excites me, but I dreaded having to use non-football events to rank him. Fast forward to Lacy’s performance this weekend and many of these concerns were sliding off him like Rams defenders. He looked like Marion Motley with a spin move. Whether or not he has a successful career, I’m happy that in a few weeks most of the speculation about Lacy (and many other prospects) will reach the beginning of the end on the field of play.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio 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 and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. 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.