RSP Flashback: Matt Leinart

Why is QB Matt Leinart an example of the "Four-car Garage Theory?" National Football Post Director of College Scouting Wes Bunting explains in this conversation with Matt Waldman. Photo by TheBrit_2.
Matt Leinart was a great lesson in trusting one’s own process. Photo by TheBrit_2.

One of the most common questions I get from new readers is What did you think about [insert player name here] before [NFL team] drafted him? For the next month, I’m posting scouting reports of some of the RSP’s bigger hits, misses, and lingering questions during my past eight years of evaluating rookies. I’ll also include the lessons I learned – or am still learning – from the experience of evaluating these players.

Trust Your Eyes

“I believe he has a good chance to become a productive NFL starter, but the reason he is overrated in my book has to do with his arm strength, accuracy, and the ability to protect himself in the pocket.”

– 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio

I think trusting what you see is the most important lesson I can share with anyone when it comes to observation and analysis. Like many simple statements, it’s easy to do for the young and innocent, but takes a lot of work if you’ve accumulated even an average amount of adult life experience.

Football evaluation tests my skill at trusting my eyes every day. The fact that there’s no shortage of opinions in mass media at every turn compounds the challenge. What you read, watch, and hear about a player becomes voices in your head that you can hear as you watch the film. Sometimes it’s helpful, but it can also increase the difficulty of separating what you think from public opinion.

Matt Leinart was that rookie rite of passage for me in this respect.

The darling of football prospects who opted to stay in school for another year despite talk of earning a top-10 ticket to the NFL as a junior, Leinart was the next Tom Brady. That was the hype and the hype was everywhere.

But a funny thing happened as I began watching Leinart and using a set list of criteria to evaluate his game: there was a disconnect between what I was seeing from the USC quarterback and the hype. The realization it was time for me to keep the voices at bay was when I heard a color commentator praise Leinart’s arm after watching wide receiver Steve Smith make a great adjustment on a bad throw down the middle of the field to save his quarterback’s bacon.

At that point, I stopped reading other people’s work and began watching games with the audio muted. It was like taking the training wheels off and riding with my own sense of inner balance. When I began sharing my opinion that Leinart wasn’t the best quarterback in this 2006 class (Jay Cutler and Vince Young were my top two in that order) the response wasn’t great. The fact that I had him tied for third with Bruce Gradkowski would have made it worse if I had any sort of following.

It was good that I encountered this type of feedback early, because it doesn’t matter what people think. If you truly want to learn then you have to trust what you see. If you’re wrong for the right reasons you’ll learn faster than you will when you’re right for the wrong reasons.

Those “reasons” are your eyes vs. their eyes. There is nothing wrong with learning something from another person, but you better truly see what they’re showing. If you don’t, question it.

Here are my thoughts on Matt Leinart at the time I was studying him at USC. Again, the RSP and my knowledge has come a long away from 2006. Even so, it’s still a test to make sure I’m using my eyes to watch a player and not listening to other voices. Sometimes it’s that subtle a difference.

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.

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