Do you know the whereabouts of this talented wide receiver who has been missing since booted from his team in October 2013?
Kinks in the “Draft Is a Good Predictor of Talent” Model
I don’t buy the argument that the NFL Draft does a good job of predicting talent. If you look at the results of players based on draft position it’s a compelling statement in its favor. However, it’s a bit of a magic trick that removes the bothersome aspects of context with fancy sleight of hand.
I read an anecdote about a professor who gave his students a lesson about equal opportunity in our society this weekend. Students were in seated in a typical classroom set up of rows of desks facing the lecturer’s podium at the front of the room.
The professor told each of them wad a piece of paper into a ball as he placed a trash can in the middle of the front wall of the room. He said that if they could toss their ball of paper into the trash can they would gain wealth. He instructed them that they could only take their shot from where they were seated and they could not move their desk from the spot they found it.
As one can imagine, most of the balls that made it into the wastepaper basket came from students seated at the front of the room while those seated in the middle and back rows of the class had more difficult trajectories and distances to make their shots–often shooting blind.
Those with the best seats had the easiest opportunities and this is often true of prospects based on their order of selection in the NFL Draft. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that teams taking a player in the earliest rounds will value him more than the players in the later rounds. Salary is a fair reflection of that thinking and expectation.
However, the differences in talent between a first day prospect and a UDFA aren’t as great as many fans think. The most progressive teams value the process and results of competition over a preconceived expectation. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks award roles to players that perform the best regardless of how many dollar-weighted expectations that its front office has staked in the prospect.
As normal as it seems that many NFL teams use round and salary to dictate the opportunities in practice or exhibition games can unintentionally reinforce preconceived notions about prospects. The limitation of practice reps of low-round and UDFA talents obscures a coaching staff’s ability to see what they had.
This is another reason why Chip Kelly’s coaching process is radical. The vast amount of reps it gives its team’s depth during practices is an example of organization and structure that other teams lack and Kelly’s staff sees more from its depth than most teams.
If the Eagles’ practices were a remodeled version of the classroom experiment, the players would be students in the desks, but the layout of the class room would a large circle rather than rows of seats. There would also be multiple trash cans located equidistant from specific sections of the circle. In this classroom every student would have the same kind of opportunity to showcase its skill.
I can see how a long shot clawing his way to greater opportunity makes his skill seem that much more special. Players like Charles Johnson, Wes Welker, Cameron Wake, Lance Moore, Joique Bell, Fred Jackson, Arian Foster, and Rod Smith earned every inch of standing they obtained in the league. However, think about the number of players with similar or greater talent who grew weary of limited opportunities to showcase their skills or ran out of money to sustain the training and travel to budget to earn shot after shot with limited reps only to start over in a new town.
The draft in this context is a process of selecting players from the top one percent of all college players that often have statistically very little difference in talent from the other. If the differences are truly this small then it doesn’t make sense to create a hierarchy that limits the potential development or exposure of players from the lower rounds, because it hurts the team as much as it damages the player’s chances to progress.
Some might have proven more valuable long-term than those benefiting from this kangaroo court of draft order hierarchy. Even when those high picks perform reasonably well, would you rather have the player on your roster who won his spot with a weighted deck or through true competition?
I know my answer.
Two former receivers from Appalachian State remind me of the topic of salary-weighted preconceived notions that often take root in NFL. Rams’ receiver Brian Quick and former college star Sean Price. Quick, the classic raw material that teams hope it can mold fast, needed three years to flash some of the potential that St. Louis thought was there for its high second-round pick.
When I see what Quick displayed during his initial years in St. Louis, it’s possible he would have been cut at least a couple of times by teams if he was a late-round pick or UDFA. With the exceptional case of poor character or horrible play, the greater the fiscal investment, the greater a team’s patience.
Then there’s Price, who the Mountaineers suspended for rules violations once before booting its top receiver in the middle of his junior season over a felony assault charge. It was Price’s second arrest in three months.
There are plenty of upstanding citizens deserving of attention, but after watching Price’s work against Illinois State as a sophomore I can see how an older, wiser Price could possibly earn a camp tryout and if there’s a convergence of opportunity, perseverance, and maturity with the right team, the 6’4, 210-pound receiver displayed more polish as sophomore than Quick did at any time during his college career.
Price: Signs of Route Savvy
On this sideline curl on 2nd and 11 with 1:39 in the third quarter, Hill displays elements of veteran route running that more heralded prospects often fail to show.
Hill begins the play outside the numbers in the left flat of this 2×2 receiver, 10 personnel shotgun set. The cornerback plays nine yards off Price with slight outside shade. Things to note about Price’s route include a release off the line with good urgency that sells the possibility of a vertical route. There’s enough up-field urgency from Price that even though the top of the stem and the break take place away from the frame, the separation that Price achieves as he works back to the quarterback and the ball is a good indication that his stem forced the corner to turn and run before the break.
What I like most about his curl is the break back to the football. There’s as much urgency with his break as there is with his stem. Price also positions his body so he’s in a position to gauge the location of the trailing corner while he’s making the catch tight to the sideline.
Knowing that he’s a big-bodied, strong receiver, Price leans into the contact while looking over his inside shoulder for the corner’s approach. Then he spins inside the contact. Although there’s not much room up the sideline to stay in bounds and he takes a hard show from backside pursuit, Price demonstrates important details of possession receiving on timing routes.
One of the best aspects of Price’s game is his work across the middle, but not how most of you imagine. Price exhibits savvy with baiting a defender’s depth on crossing routes and it’s not something I usually see from a college receiver.
We’re generally happy to see a receiver react to a zone defender’s location. Price often dictates it as you’ll see on this 2nd and 15 crosser with 6:55 left from a 1×3 receiver, 10 personnel shotgun set.
Price is the single receiver at the numbers of the left flat facing a cornerback playing him with slight shade to the outside and at seven yards depth. The defender to watch is the linebacker at the left hash and five yards off the line of scrimmage. This is man Price sets up with a move.
Many receivers run crossers as if the work across the field is the break, but when Price turns inside he gauges the defender’s depth, veers towards the defender’s down-field shoulder, and then breaks under the defender once he forces the linebacker to set his feet and lean momentarily to that down-field side. This is enough for Price to work under the defender, present a good target to his quarterback, and make the catch at the opposite hash.
It isn’t the first time Price set up a linebacker on a crossing route during this game. Earlier in the game, Price used a stop-start move to bait the linebacker to the middle of the field.
The former Mountaineer also has something to offer after the catch. On this play, it’s not much in terms of yardage output, but you once again seem the spin move and a reliance on his strength and short area quickness to avoid the first defender and lean through contact to earn eight yards on the play.
YAC: Quickness, Aggression, and Maturity to Know What You Are
Price isn’t one of those big receivers who thinks he’s De’Anthony Thomas. As we’ve seen thus far, with or without the ball, Price’s moves are tailored for a tall, muscular athlete. His feet almost always stay in motion an his change of direction has a downhill mentality that works well in close quarters.
Although not a burner, Price’s understanding of who he is has helped the receiver develop a quick, aggressive mentality as a ballcarrier that earns him looks as an extension of the Appalachian State ground game. This smash screen with 38 seconds left in the half is a good example.
Once again, Price does a strong job of attacking the football from his break, catching the ball at chest level at the 34, using his hands rather than trapping the ball to his body. Note how Price shows no hesitation with turning inside to split two blocks at the numbers and then hit a crease behind his offensive lineman at the 42–just outside a linebacker’s pursuit that is dangerously close to being a LB/OL sandwich with Price as the meat.
Many receivers with more speed than Price would balk at hitting this kind of crease, but Price attacks it with gusto. Although it’s debatable if he should have cut inside the defensive back pursuing over top, it’s a firm decision rooted in logical thinking. He knows he lacks the breakaway speed to outrun a good angle over top and the replay shows Price peeking over his inside shoulder at the pursuit to gauge the possibility of the cutback before he executes it.
He once again uses the spin to run through much of that pursuit’s wrap to earn additional yardage. It’s difficult to criticize a running style of a player who puts his physical skills to optimum use to generate a 35-yard gain on pass that began at the line of scrimmage.
A Possession Type With Vertical Potential
Price isn’t facing a defense where I’m familiar with the speed of his coverage. Still, his initial quickness and economy of play shows up well on film and this sail route is a fine example. The receiver is single left at the numbers facing a cornerback playing a yard off the line of scrimmage with slight inside shade.
Price exhibits a quick inside release to drive up the field, reducing his shoulder to earn separation on the defensive back. There’s enough burst with this inside stem-outside break that he has a step on the corner while he catches the ball over his outside shoulder in stride for a 38-yard gain.
I’m impressed with Price on the field. If he had a clean off-field record I think his ability is more akin to a high second-round pick that Quick earned with equal athleticism and less refined craft. I can’t find anything on Price since his dismissal, which means there’s a possibility that he’s not playing football at all.
If Price surfaces in an NFL camp this spring and beat writers begin mentioning his name, you’ll know why . . .
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs 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.
The 2015 RSP will be available for pre-order in January.