This is a continuation of a one on one interview The Football Educator recently had with Alex Lanigan concerning the 2014 NFL Draft and all things that permeate around it. Click here if you missed Part 1.
Is there a discrepancy between the amount of time that is spent looking at possibilities for the first-round selection compared with the possibilities for the sixth-round selection?
At first, no there’s not. You scout the list as thoroughly and hard top to bottom. Area scouts are sent in, crosschecks are conducted. As the grades come in and the talent is evaluated, Directors get a sense of the need for a more in depth look and might send in a regional or national scout to give his opinion. Then the coaches get involved after the season is over and tend to look at the top prospects at their position. Many will work the list to the bottom as well. As you conduct your scouting meetings, you get a sense of who might be available with the first and second round picks. After that, it’s finding players that fit most or parts of you criteria and you hope to be ready if they’re on the board in the later rounds. I think in preparation of those first two selections you might end up spending a bit more time making sure you’re willing to make the investment and having a Plan B should a player fall of the board unexpectedly. But as for evaluating, you do it in the same manner for almost all players, at least I did.
Quarterback is the most important position in the game and during your time with the Denver Broncos you drafted Jay Cutler in the first round. Therefore what do you value most when evaluating a quarterback prospect?
Well, the outward physical characteristics might be obvious; strong arm, tall in the pocket, good foot movement, accuracy, etc… But it’s the intangibles of POISE and CONFIDENCE that I think are most important in a QB. There are a lot of talented players that let one mistake roll into another and another. The ability to shake off adversity and come back to make the big play is vital. Knowing that you’re facing a must situation and being able to make the big throw is vital. Showing your teammates that you’ll find a way to win in a clutch situation under heavy pressure is vital. To me that comes from POISE and CONFIDENCE. One begets the other.
How much are quarterbacks overvalued in the draft compared to other positions? And what positions are also overvalued and what positions do scouts and GM’s undervalue?
I don’t think they’re necessarily overvalued. You’re historically not going to WIN in professional football without a talented Quarterback. It’s my belief that college football can only produce so many a year (and that’s not many). What happens is that teams tend to panic when they don’t have one, or if there’s a regime change they want their own to develop and or lead the “new direction”. Then players whose makeup and ability aren’t reflective of that limited number I was speaking about are forced into a situation they’re not qualified or prepared for. They’re overdrafted, and with that comes the responsibility of producing immediately (generally under less than ideal circumstances with losing teams). They themselves are put into situations many have never been in before and can lose that POISE and CONFIDENCE I was speaking of. Once that’s gone, it’s almost impossible for them to get it back.
How long does it take for a draft class to be evaluated after making the transition to the NFL level and how long does it take before a GM or Head Coach is willing to give up on a draft selection, particularly an early round pick?
I once saw a study that said you measured a Top 10 starter by 56 starts over his first 5 years. That by year 2 that player should at least be starting games and or contributing in some way. By year three they should be entrenched as the starter. That study showed that for ALL positions over the period analyzed your chances were 70% in the top 10. Only 50% between 11-20, 35.3% 21-50, 21.3% picks 51-80, and 8% 81-120. Now think about that, those odds don’t seem very good to me whatsoever. The media immediately grades a TEAM on its draft just hours after it’s finished. But the statistical chances of finding impact starters just historically aren’t as good as you might think.
That pressure is felt by some GM’s and Coaches and (IMO) they give up way too soon on the development of players. It’s too easy to turn to other sources as the pipeline of talent is refreshed once a year with about 1000 players, and then spending money on veteran players in free agency. Case in point, Cleveland drafted Trent Richardson with their first pick at #3 and traded him the following year. That’s not patience.
Has the use of analytics changed the draft process in a significant way?
You can see the use of analytics in the above question. I think the popularity of Money Ball and the ever expansion of interest into the Draft process from the outside has led fans, media, and even teams to looking for better and more efficient ways to identify talent. Computers have long been embraced by coaches to put together game plans and to spit out tendencies of opponents. Scouting has used computers for some 20 years to input data and filter through prospects according to various factors. The Salary Cap brought the use of statistics and analytics into finding the best contractual value for the club and be able to forecast the effects of decisions and policies pertaining to finances. But I think we’re just starting to bring all of these features/factors together to understand how one area truly effects the other. In the end has it changed the draft process? Perhaps not so much. It’s made the use and understanding of the data collected a little bit easier, but I think clubs still tend to pick based upon what they saw on tape and in person. My feeling is the visual aspect still rules the selection.
Are there any ways to improve a draft class that involve non-coaching methods, for example aiding the player settle into a new area of the country?
I’m a firm believer that a club wins based upon the culture that is built within the organization for everyone to succeed. Those clubs that are not committed to building an environment that maximizes the players’ on and off the field potential in all areas is going to have persistent problems. Much of professional football is still coached and managed in the same manner it was 20, 30, and 40 years ago (at least philosophically). The TEAM comes first at all costs and an authoritarian management style is instituted from the top down. Today’s player pool is predominantly made up of young men from Generation Y. This segment of society in general looks at the world in a much different capacity than the leaders from the Baby Boomers and Generation X. It’s my personal belief that the way to improve players through non-coaching methods is to build this culture of excellence in everything that you do. I’ve written about this Player Development Plan extensively on my website TheFootballEducator.com.
Finally if you were the GM of the Houston Texans in the 2014 NFL Draft who would you take with the first overall pick?
To be honest, having not sat in on the meetings and heard the new coaching staff speak about what they need to implement their offensive and defensive schemes, I couldn’t answer that question, nor would it be right for me to do so. I do know that there are some very athletically talented players, but I’m not sure there’s a COMPLETE package with any of them and there is RISK involved with whatever direction you go. That’s not always the case when picking #1. I’d trade out of the pick if given the opportunity.
Follow Alex Lanigan on Twitter @AlexLanigan