2018 Senior Bowl: Discerning The Trivial From The Notable


Matt Waldman’s RSP takes a different look at the 2018 Senior Bowl media events.

Regardless of the industry, every competent professional is tasked with gathering information, determining its gravity, and delivering a balanced analysis of the subject matter. It’s a process that requires patience and perspective.

While easy to be pissed off at the doctor’s office when you know the nature of your symptoms and the doctor strands you in an examination room for more than an hour, it’s preferable to the physician listening to your amateur diagnosis and overlooking signs of a potentially life-threatening condition. One clue in a police investigation could be the singular piece that ties together disparate layers of information that leads investigators to the perpetrator of the crime, but it could easily be a meaningless coincidence.

This is also the nature of scouting football players. What may be a clue for one prospect is trivial for another.

The media derives tremendous entertainment value from the trivial. Spectacle rules.

It’s why the Senior Bowl Weigh-In is a smoke machine and a ring girl away from becoming one.

Set in a convention center staging area and gussied up with black curtains, stage lighting, and pre-event mood music, the 2018 Senior Bowl Weigh-In has the feel of an event that has grown up but thinks that glamour shots are the pinnacle of sophistication. This is how I see this as a reporter, but that’s not the truth. As a former public relations professional, it’s far more likely that these changes are meant to feed the media’s appetite for spectacle while steering it away from meaningful information.

The continual tweaking of media events is another example. An event that once hosted open forums where reporters could spend meaningful one-on-one time with prospects is evolving into press conference sessions that encourage inane questions and canned answers.

If I were a public relations advisor, this is exactly what I’d recommend. The Senior Bowl wants the best players to participate. The best players have agents generating well-crafted narratives about their clients that are as favorable as possible. Sending them to an event where the media has too many opportunities to get a player to drop his guard and say something damaging to that narrative is too risky.

It’s no surprise that the press conference was staged to have minimal seating, standing room only, and player exposure to the firing line for a few minutes as opposed to an hour. It’s much easier for Phil Savage’s crew to coach the participants on handling this controlled setting while at the same time lowering the risk for true spectacle while manufacturing a fake one. After all, if it looks like food, the media will probably eat it.

Even the media night has been changed to a daytime event squeezed between the weigh-in and the first day of practice and performed in a press conference style format. Everything involving media looks like a standing room only event that’s must-see but it’s also structured so the reporting at these events has less risk of creating perception problems for the players.

As a former PR professional, I say ‘bravo’ to Savage and the Senior Bowl staff for doing more to dictate the narratives of its players. It leads me to wonder what’s being served at that agent appreciation lunch.

So when it comes to the weigh-in, I’m not going to tell you my thoughts on player weights and dimensions — not until I see them play. There’s no need to generate any more fan melodrama that this event has already created. If you want overanalysis of these points you can go elsewhere.

What interests me most is Phil Savage’s mention of the ‘Psych Test’ during his opening remarks at the weigh-in. This is the first I’ve heard of this test in a decade of attendance. When I asked an NFL contact about this, he said it’s something that has been under consideration for several years but this will be first-year bench testing.

If I was an agent, I’d be terrified that someone in the league would leak something about one of my clients that hurts his public perception and draft stock. After all, something as meaningless as height and skinny knees cratered the values of prospects in the recent past. Imagine if that information is something that the media and the general public are even more ignorant about.

You know, like mental health. After all, manageable learning disabilities or ill-fitting standardized intelligence tests have all been contributors to misvaluing prospects for years.

Considering that there seem to be a lot of NFL operations personnel with loose lips, the mention of a psychological examination in this setting caught my attention. So did the fact that Phil Savage didn’t want to comment in depth about a spike in players deciding not to attend the Senior Bowl after initially accepting an invitation. So did the fact that Baker Mayfield had a family emergency that prevented him from arriving until a day after the exam was administered to the players.

What I shared above is speculation. It may all be trivial coincidences. It could also be clues to something larger.

Even if it’s the type of information that rouses my intuition from its slumber, I’m here as a player evaluator and not a features reporter.  Each player’s pro potential is a compelling enough mystery and I’m perfectly content to continue down that road rather than pull on a loose thread that could unravel the lanyard I enjoy wearing — especially when it may be nothing more than loose thread.

Post Script: Mayfield’s absence was due to his mother experience heart issues — a perfect example of how a thread is often just a thread, even if there’s a compelling idea that it could be more.

Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

Categories: 2018 NFL Draft, Matt WaldmanTags: , , ,

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