Futures: Arizona State DT Will Sutton

Will Sutton may not be the next Geno Atkins, but his "senior year slump" is a gross mischaracterization. Photo by Ashley and Matthew Hemingway.
Will Sutton may not be the next Geno Atkins, but his “senior year slump” is a gross mischaracterization. Photo by Ashley and Matthew Hemingway.

The Arizona State defensive tackle’s story is turning into another example of where the system is focused on spotting flaws more than serious consideration of how to maximize available talent.

Futures: Arizona State DT Will Sutton

By Matt Waldman

Unusual. Not typical. Uncommon. Extraordinary.

These are all meanings of “exceptional”.

The best talent evaluators create opportunities within their process to find the exceptional. They understand what business writer George Anders means when he says that it’s important to keep channels openbecause talent does not always fit the typical requirements:

When hiring talent, many companies generally search for candidates with narrow, time-tested backgrounds. Hunting strictly in those familiar zones doesn’t find everybody, however. When selectors apply such rules too tightly, lots of fascinating candidates on the fringe get overlooked. There’s no mechanism for considering the 100-to-1 long shot, let alone the 1,000-to-1 candidate. On a one at-a-time basis, it’s easy to say that such candidates aren’t worth the time it would take to assess them. Yet ignoring all of these outsiders can mean squandering access to a vast amount of talent.

Good organizations, according to Anders, know how to balance a conventional process for hiring talent while taking more progressive attitudes about the initial search:

  • Not restricting where they seek talent. Being open to alternate sources limits how often they have to pay a “conformity tax” by doing what everyone else does. Think Victor Cruz at UMass. The fact the Giants were willing to give Cruz a tryout was more than one could say about many teams.
  • Suspending disbelief about a candidate in the early stages of evaluation. Seeing potential value instead of writing off a candidate before evaluating him. Think of the several NFL teams, scouts, and media-hired evaluators whose grades of Russell Wilson were low because they’re processes are about spotting flaws more than spotting skill or opportunities for skills to thrive. Of the many scouts who did see Wilson’s talent, a majority were driven by the preconceived expectation that their bosses would punish them for championing a player they knew their superiors would dismiss without an open evaluation of the quarterback’s ability.
  • Realizing that other industries cultivate desirable skills that can create a viable pool of talent. Think Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, and Tony Gonzalez – three basketball players in college and were encouraged to makefootball their professional goal.

Gates, Graham, and Gonzalez aren’t just examples of progressive scouts and front office types. They each heeded an inner belief that they could play at the highest level. This is a part of being an exceptional talent.

LaRoi Glover was an exceptional talent. The former Saint’s resume is that of a future Hall of Famer: Six consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl (2000-2005), a four-time All-Pro, and a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team. Headlining those accomplishments was a 2000 season where Glover led the NFL in sacks and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Year –as a defensive tackle.

Few NFL teams had anywhere close to this level of regard for Glover’s potential. A two-time All-WAC defender from San Diego State, Glover entered the league as a 6’2”, 290-pound rookie – a generous listing of his physical dimensions. A baseline weight for NFL defensive tackles – even the speedier, agile three-techniques in a 4-3 defense like Warren Sapp – is 300 pounds.

The Oakland Raiders selected Glover in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft. The team used the rookie in two games during the month of November and at season’s end, allocated Glover to the Barcelona Dragons of the World League. Glover earned all-league honors, but it wasn’t enough for the Raiders to give him a second look. Oakland cut Glover on August 24 of the 1997 preseason.

The Saints signed the defensive tackle the following day and they weren’t as dismissive with Glover’s potential. They gave Glover a chance to play based on what they saw and not what their coaches were guessing. The next three seasons, the young defender demonstrated great promise – earning a total of 23 sacks.

In 2000, new head coach Jim Haslett moved Glover to the three-technique, paired the explosive tackle with space eater Norman Hand, and the rest is history.

Read the rest at Football Outsiders

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