The Chicken or the Gravy: A Player Evaluation Parable


If you had to choose, which would you rather have as your sustenance? The chicken or the gravy? How does this apply to player evaluation?

Imagine that you’re about to be placed in a bomb shelter for 16 weeks. You’re told that if you leave the room before those 16 weeks are up you will die a quick death due to the conditions above ground. If you remain in the shelter for the full term, conditions will be safe enough to exit the shelter and be free.

The shelter will have a mattress, a radio,  a sink, a toilet,  a freezer, and an oven.  Basic resources, but it will do the job.

Now here’s the catch: The people placing you in the shelter can stock the freezer with chicken or gravy. That’s right, you can have one or the other, but not both.

These are whole, uncooked chickens. The freezer is large enough to hold 60 chickens–enough for you to eat a whole chicken a little more than every other day. There will be no spices or oils. It will be plain, roasted chicken day in, day out.  It will be dull, but will keep you alive, functional, and strong.

Or, you can subsist on gravy–smooth, unctuous gravy that’s the perfect thickness and neither doughy nor greasy. As some of my Jamaican friends would say, it’s the kind of good  that would make you want to slap your grandma for not making it like this recipe.

More gravy will fit in the freezer than whole chickens so you can have it 3-5 times a day. Mmmmm it tastes soooo good. But its fat content, sodium content, and low protein content per serving will more likely render you useless and ill.

If you’re the fan, draft writer, analyst, or scout who weighs the workout data heavy enough to minimize the technical and conceptual skills of the player’s position, congratulations, you picked the gravy. Bishiop Sankey’s performance thus far in the NFL has been a plate of gravy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Bishop Sankey is part of a class of mature runners who may not have flash, but run with substance. Photo by James Santelli.

Bishop Sankey’s game entering the league was a lot gravy, but not much chicken. Photo by James Santelli.

Sankey had some of the best workout metrics of his class. It made him an enticing prospect in the public eye. Having an excess of speed, strength, quickness, height, weight, hand size, and/or wing span for the expectation of the position is a tantalizing thing. None of it matters if you lack the baseline level of skills to perform your role to the expectations of the job.

Sankey’s skills at reading defenders, his decision-making, footwork and comfort with a wide range of blocking schemes weren’t strong enough to consider him a surefire, top-five prospect at his position in a weak running back class relative to what we’ve seen in recent years.

Since his arrival in the league, Sankey has struggled with some of these baseline conceptual and technical concepts of his position. If you’re the Tennessee Titans, subsisting on 16 weeks of gravy without the meat will have an elevated risk of impairing the health of your offense.

If you’re the draft analyst, writer, or scout who values a balance between these metrics and a display of fundamental technical and conceptual skills for the position, congratulations, you’ve picked the chicken. And that chicken dinner in Tennessee is beginning to look like David Cobb.


David Cobb lacks the explosive athleticism of Sankey, but more athleticism is only better if the two players in the comparison each exceed the NFL’s baseline requirements for physical, technical, and conceptual skills required for the position. If one lacks the baseline skills in one of these three areas and the other has the minimum requirement for all three, I’m more likely to choose the guy passing all three minimum requirements.

Cobb’s athleticism isn’t exciting if your baseline athleticism for a runner is set to Pro-Bowl standards, but he’s more than capable of getting the job done in the NFL because his baseline athleticism combined with (at least) passable understanding of his position’s role should make him a more consistent, well-rounded player.  Even if  the worst-case scenario is that Cobb represents the running back equivalent of plain, unseasoned, baked chicken, he’s healthier for the offense.

You can create some fine gravy from a chicken. In Cobb’s case, you’ll need some added ingredients from outside sources to make it. But no amount of outside help can help you create chicken from gravy, no matter how tasty.

The Titans have 16 weeks to live or die. They might make it on the gravy, but I think the Titans are taking a hard look at the runner struttin’ and cluckin’ on their pasture. If Cobb is indeed yardbird, Tennessee will choose the meat over the sauce.

It’s an instructive point to consider when shopping at those NFL grocery stores.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 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. 

Categories: 2016 NFL Draft, Evaluations, Matt Waldman, Running BackTags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Excellent piece. I love this: “You can create some fine gravy from a chicken. In Cobb’s case, you’ll need some added ingredients from outside sources to make it. But no amount of outside help can help you create chicken from gravy, no matter how tasty.”

  2. deep thoughts by Jack Handey mixed in with a little fantasy football. Always enjoying and educational read. Thanks!

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