Helpful Hints for Evaluating NFL Draft Prospects

by Eric Kennedy and David B.

The draft is the life blood of any football organization. It is generally where a team will obtain its best players. Some argue that the draft is less important with the advent of free agency, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The best free agents are usually re-signed before free agency formally begins or protected by their team with a “franchise” or “transitional” player tag. The remainder are usually overrated and become overpaid. Not only are draft picks generally better, but they are also far cheaper.

If you are interested in learning more about potential future Giants before they are drafted, there are some things we would recommend. First and foremost, make sure you are reading credible data. Over the years, we have purchased a number of draft publications from a variety of sources that attempt to analyze and rate collegiate prospects. Some have been excellent, others terrible, and there are a whole lot in between. Some important points:

  • Don’t trust a draft publication if it never has anything bad to say. All players, even the great ones, have bad aspects to their game. Nobody is perfect. If your draft guide only highlights the positive and never talks about the negative, find another draft publication. It is not telling you everything you need to know. There is nothing worse than trying to analyze prospects when you are wearing rose-colored glasses.
  • Look for those materials that provide you with more than statistics. Statistics, while important, cannot tell you the whole story. Look for guides that talk about all aspects of a player’s game, his intelligence, his character, his work ethic, and his heart. Is a prospect a play-maker or does he simply look good in a uniform?
  • Draft guides are not infallible. In fact, many are downright wrong quite often. First, any business that tries to scientifically analyze human beings is due to be wrong much of the time. Humans are not scientific. There are all sorts of intangibles that can influence a player’s potential besides his height, weight, and 40-yard dash time. Secondly, if the people who ran these draft guides were that good, they would be working for an NFL team. The main point we are trying to make is that do not take everything that these guides say as gospel. They provide a good framework to work from and help you to ask and find answers to certain questions. But they are not the definitive word on how good (or bad) a prospect is or, more importantly, will be.
  • The more information you have the better. Each year, we subscribe to 3-4 draft guides. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. We have found that it is wise not to put too much faith in one publication but to solicit a variety of views. Contradictions always occur and each guide has its own biases. The secret is to find those guides that you enjoy reading and that year-in-and-year-out seem to be on the ball most of the time.

Now that we have that out of the way, how should you read the materials that you have? Obviously you want to customize your analysis to your team, in this case the New York Giants. If you look at prospects without considering the needs and preferences of the Giants’ organization, then you are probably wasting a lot of time and effort. The truth of the matter is that the Giants will only look at certain type of players at each and every position. Some of these prerequisites they look for are physical, some are mental. But these prerequisites are there. Over the years, we have found it far easier to “cross off” those players who we believe the Giants will not be interested in, than to “circle” those who we think they will be interested in. Then when your list is cut down, it is far easier to evaluate who is left. The virtual limitless universe of prospects then becomes much more manageable.

What to Look for in General?

  • Size: Ever since George Young became General Manager in 1979, the Giants generally will only look at players who meet certain size requirements by position (more detail will be provided below). Since new General Manager Ernie Accorsi is a disciple of Young’s, this is not likely to change. The Giants like big players, especially on both lines. If a lineman is considered to be on the small side, there is little chance the Giants will draft him. You can probably cross him off your list.
  • Character: This has always been a big factor with the Giants. The Giants are more disposed to take players who are well-known for strong character traits such as honesty, discipline, teamwork, and leadership as well as those players who have a strong work ethic and who are self-motivators. At the same token, it is very rare that the Giants will select a player with a history of problems with the law, drugs, or relating to coaches and/or teammates. In other words, the Giants tend to look for “choir boys” rather than players known to have “attitude problems.” If there are character problems, cross the prospect off your list.
  • Intelligence: Pro football is a complicated game. The “West Coast Offense” that Head Coach Jim Fassel wishes to install requires smart football players. There are a lot of pre- and post-snap adjustments that need to be made in this offense, not just by the quarterback, but by offensive linemen, tight ends, receivers, and running backs. Moreover, Fassel seems better disposed towards smarter players. Intelligence is not only needed on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive side as well. Defensive Coordinator John Fox’s defense is a complicated one as well. The play book is huge and there are innumerable options from a variety of sets. Fox’s defense provides players with greater freedom, but also more responsibility and pressure. Mental mistakes can prove costly. If the player isn’t bright, you probably can cross him off your list.
  • Personality: This is a trait that has become very important since Fassel was hired. Fassel seems to be biased in favor of those players with out-going personalities, players with that “little sparkle” in their eye. At the same time, players who are quieter or less “rah-rah” seem to find their way into Fassel’s doghouse. Fassel wants guys who get excited and make exciting things happen on the playing field. If the player is a “loner,” moody, introverted, or football doesn’t appear to be the most important thing in his life, you can probably cross him off your list.

While lack of size, character, intelligence, and personality can be negative factors that cause the Giants to look at other players, if these attributes are positive, the likelihood increases that those players will become serious prospects for the Giants.

What to Look for Specifically by Position?

Quarterback: First of all, the Giants will only look at those quarterbacks who are taller than 6-2 and preferably at least 6-3 and weigh over 210lbs. Secondly, the quarterback needs to be bright and have a reasonably strong arm. In terms of the “West Coast Offense” (WCO) dimension, a quarterback should be a poised leader who manages a team well. He should be accurate and be able to throw all the different types of passes. He needs to quickly read defenses and get rid of the ball quickly. Because of the deception involved in the WCO, a good ball handler is a big plus. Lastly, only look for those quarterbacks who are known for being strong leaders.

Note: Former San Francisco 49er Coach and General Manager Bill Walsh is, among other things, generally acknowledged as one of the foremost talent evaluators the NFL has ever seen. He was known for finding gem draft picks like Joe Montana in the 3rd round and Dwight Clark in the 12th round. He also saw in Jerry Rice (who only ran a 4.59 in the combine) what many others didn’t see. Since the Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel is an ardent Walsh disciple, and is installing a version of Walsh’s WCO, it can serve our purposes to look at what Walsh looked for when trying to find players to fit his system, because Jim Fassel is generally looking for and at the same things. Quotes and paraphrasing in each section below are from: Finding the Winning Edge, by Bill Walsh.

From Walsh: Playing QB requires several skills and traits–some of which can be developed through practice and sound coaching, other which are genetic “gifts.” The obvious requirement for a QB is the ability to pass. It is important to realize that arm strength and being able to pass are not synonymous. Some guys can throw the ball 80 yards, but are not good passers. Good passing requires accuracy, timing, and throwing the ball with enough touch so that it is catchable. Good passing also requires an understanding of the offensive system, the receivers in the system, and a great sense of anticipation. One of the more important criteria for assessing the pro potential of a QB is to what extent does he have the ability to throw a “complete inventory” of passes — from screen passes to timed, short passes to medium range passes and downfield throws. Not having a “complete inventory” of passes does not eliminate a QB from a teams consideration — a number of extraordinarily talented QB’s have played in the NFL who were not able to throw a complete array of passes, however, having such a QB would limit the type of offense the team could run effectively. Several other factors to consider: quick delivery, touch and the ability to read defenses and avoid a pass rush. A quick delivery is essentially the ability to get the ball “up and gone” with no wasted motion. While the quick delivery can be acquired to some degree by learning and practicing the proper techniques, such a release is primarily related to an inherited motor skill — the QB’s reaction time (i.e. how long it takes between when the QB spots his receiver and when he actually throws the ball). The faster he releases the ball, the less time the defense as to react to the situation. Proper touch is also important, particularly in the medium-range passing game. The right touch on a throw makes the pass easier to catch by the receiver without having to break his stride. Reading Defenses: Game films indicate that if a QB is able to locate his secondary receiver or emergency outlet receiver on occasion) with ease, or with a sense of urgency, the player has a chance to be a consistent performer in the NFL. The QB, however, must be able to handle such situations in a composed, systematic manner (i.e. initially, look for his primary receivers; then immediately see his secondary receivers). Mobility: Mobility and the ability to avoid the pass rush are also essential criteria for QB’s. QB’s must be mobile enough to avoid a pass rush when they feel pressure in the pocket. Mentally, QB’s must be courageous and intensely competitive. Because he is the team leader on the field, his teammates must have confidence in both his skills and his ability to withstand pressure packed situations. His intestinal fortitude must be unquestioned. A great QB also has excellent instincts and intuition. He has a “feel” for the game that goes well beyond knowing the playbook, his teammates, and the defensive schemes he is facing. All factors considered, QB’s are born with such instincts and intuition. As a rule, there is not much coaches can do to develop this area. Finally, QB’s must be able to function at an appropriate level while injured. He must have the ability to withstand the hitting, to avoid being rattled, and to continue to exert a high level of leadership.

Wide Receiver: The type of receivers the Giants usually draft are difficult to stereotype because there appears to be no set “standard” like most of the other positions. Just look at the 1987 draft where the Giants drafted the averaged-size Mark Ingram, the diminutive Stephen Baker, and the big and tall Odessa Turner — all being premium picks. If Fassel follows the WCO mold, he will look for receivers who are good (precise) route runners. The receivers will also need to be smart as they will need to be able to read defenses and adjust their routes during the play based on the coverage as it develops. They should have good hands, be quick in and out of their cuts (to separate from defenders), and be good runners after the catch (the WCO depends on yards after the catch).

From Walsh: WR’s should have a high level of agility — the ability to change body position, (sometimes while off the ground) is essential if a WR is to be able to get his hips turned and his hands in position to catch the ball that was not perfectly thrown. Body control is particularly critical for WR who wants to get to the highest tier of play (e.g. Rice and Chris Carter). WR’s must also be relatively strong. Strength factors into maintaining balance after a collision with defenders and the ability to go up and get the ball. Soft hands are vital. The key is to be able to catch the ball in a crowded situation while on the move WR’s must also have the ability to focus. To “find” the ball, focus on it, and isolate it from everything else going on around them. Speed also plays a role. While pure speed may be desirable, the ability to increase foot speed as needed (explosiveness) and full-stride speed are more important factors for a WR. Acceleration has a number of obvious applications for a WR. Full-stride speed enables a WR who has the ball in the open field to maintain separation from defenders until crossing the goal line. He doesn’t have to out run them or gain ground — just get to the goal. Coachability is another important factor. Coaching can help enhance a WR’s ability to get off the line of scrimmage, to read the form of coverage, and change a pattern accordingly. Durability is also a factor because WR’s get hit a lot. WR’s are finely tuned athletes who need to be in top condition to perform well. Unlike a few other positions (like OL), WR’s must be almost totally injury-free to perform well.

Tight End: Historically, since the Young era began, the Giants would ONLY look at those tight ends who were strong run blockers first and foremost. Moreover, these prospects would be at least 6-4, 240lbs. In the past, if a tight end didn’t meet these requirements, the Giants wouldn’t even look at him. It will be interesting to see if that changes under Fassel. Fassel wants to keep the Giants’ power running game and that would argue for maintaining those requirements. At the same time, if he truly wants to run a WCO, a tight end in that system should be able to read defenses, get open quickly, and make the clutch catch over the middle of the defense. Getting off the line of scrimmage quickly is critical. The latter requirements may call for a radically different type of tight end than Giant fans have been come accustomed to. The upcoming draft should tell us a lot about the future plans for this offense.

From Walsh: The requirements for playing TE depend on the system a team deploys. The team must find the TE who best fits the team offense. TE’s fall into one of three categories: Blocking TE’s, receiving TE’s, and hybrid types that do both well. Blocking TE’s have the sizes and physical tools to hold the point of attack. If the blocking TE can take on the DE, the offense automatically increases its likelihood of having a running game with just that single feature. The blocking TE is bigger and stronger, though less quick and agile than the receiving TE. A 5.0 40 time will get the job done, however, the lack of speed means he is not going to be able to clear defenders on certain pass patterns to help the WR’s. As such, he needs the ability to absorb the ball as he is being hit, and soft hands, because on most passes thrown to him, he is going to be hit almost immediately after the catch — usually by linebackers. All in all, his limitations are not that significant compared to the blocking capabilities he provides. The receiving TE can be a major factor all over the field. He has the speed to get anywhere on the field quickly — across the field, to the outside, downfield etc. This type of TE needs body control, great hands and a lot of the skills of a WR, but with more girth, because he too usually catches in the vicinity of LB’s and DL’s. The third “great all-around” type of TE is hybrid of the other two. This type is gifted enough to do the jobs of both the blocking and receiving TE. Such ability gives a team multiple offensive options.

Running Backs: In the WCO, running backs (both halfbacks and fullbacks) must be good receivers and should be able to pick up the blitz. Elusiveness is also a big plus since the running back will be able to pick up big yardage after the catch if he can make one or two defenders miss. The Giants only usually like fullbacks who are excellent lead blockers and have good size (at least 6-1, 240lbs). The halfbacks also tend to be on the bigger side (over 210lbs) unless a 3rd down role is anticipated.

From Walsh: Halfback: A talented halfback typically possesses durability, stamina, pure running instincts, blocking skills, receiving skills, and discipline. Size requirements for the position vary. Durability is perhaps the most overlooked requirement for effective halfback play. Because they are hit a lot, a HB must be able to withstand the physical abuse, maintain focus and concentrate on doing his job well on every play. His team must be able to count on him if the HB is a key part of the offense. If the HB isn’t durable, all of his other talents diminish in value. Stamina is an important factor because the HB must be nearly as effective in the fourth quarter as he was in the first. Instinct: Every talented RB has his own intuitive style that enables him to do the “little” things on the field, like knowing when to cut back, how to avoid being hit at full force by a defender, knowing when to changes speed and how to break poor tackles. Ideally the RB will also possess an adequate level of blocking and receiving skills. As a receiver, he should be at least adept at screen passes. By degree, the further he can get downfield and catch the ball, the more dimensional the teams offense can become. Finally, the HB must have the discipline to get the first four yards within the offensive scheme, and then must be able to rely on his instincts to take the play beyond that point.

Fullback: In many ways the FB position parallels the TE position. There are blocking FB’s, ball carrying/receiver (halfback-type) FB’s, and hybrids of both. The requirements for playing FB depend on the system a team deploys. The great blocking FB can be directed at any defender near the line of scrimmage, and in a high percentage of cases, he can effectively block the defender. With a great blocking FB, the team will be able to implement a wide array of combinations in the running game. Such FB’s can also play a critical role in pass protecting, by taking on the charging pass rusher. He must also be able to focus on a specific defender (read the play), find him, and block him successfully. This requires functional intelligence. Though speed is not a primary need, ideally, the blocking FB can run the 40 in 5.0 or less. He must also have girth, a high level of strength and durability. The halfback-type FB is more skilled (i.e. with the ball) than the blocking FB. Although he is often only and average blocker, he is usually an extraordinary receiver and terrific ball carrier. This type of athlete is typically the focal point of a team’s offense because he can go anywhere and provide so many offensive weapons. In a limited number of cases, FB’s may be great blockers and great receivers/ball carriers. These hybrid type FB’s, (like the hybrid TE’s) bring the best of both worlds to their teams and provide multiple offensive options.

Offensive Line: Size, size, size. Tackles are usually at least 6-5, guards 6-4, and centers at least 6-3. All should at least be near 300lbs and preferably more. The Giants generally will only look at players who are strong run blockers. There is also a preference for linemen with long-arms, natural strength and power, and guys who play the game in a physical manner. Since there tends to be more movement required by offensive linemen in a traditional WCO, Fassel may also look at linemen who are more mobile, especially at guard. The front office has historically had a bias towards Big 10 offensive linemen as well.

From Walsh: Offensive Tackles: The NFL has a number of highly skilled OT’s who weigh 330lbs or so. In reality, these athletes play well in spite of weighing 330lbs, not because of it. While most of them might enhance their playing skills if they got down to around 300lbs, the fact is they play pretty well at their current weight. The one absolute essential trait for all offensive linemen is natural body girth. In addition to girth, OT’s must be very strong and have a high level of agility (body control). Because an OT tends to function most of the time in the game in a two-yard square area, the ability of the OT to move his feet quickly and purposefully within this area is absolutely critical. A substantial part of this ability can be developed and enhanced to a degree, but if an OT has “slow feet,” he may improve somewhat, he will always be limited. OT’s should also have strong long arms to facilitate blocking tasks that require leverage. Mentally, the OT must be able to (correctly) adapt to (complex) blitz situations. The position also requires a level of inner confidence and self control that enables them to deal with frustration (of getting beat).

Offensive Guards: The requirements of playing OG depend, to a great extent on the type of offensive system. Two obvious options exist. Either the OG must be selected based on his capacity to contribute to the team’s existing system of offense, or a team has to style its offense according to who its guards are. An example of how a team adapts its offense to its guards occurs when an OG can or cannot do something to his right or left. If the OLG can pull and trap, the team is more likely to run plays to the right with the OLG pulling. The OG positions are “personalized” according to what they can do. As a rule, great OG’s need quickness, agility, explosiveness, the ability to pull and trap, and the ability to go inside-out on a LB. OG’s must be able to pass block which requires girth, stability and balance. The OG can have some limitations as a pass blocker as long as he has enough girth to keep the DT from picking him up and moving him.

Centers: The OC has a critical role in the offensive system. Not only must he start every play with a flawlessly executed snap, he is typically the key man in making line calls. These calls a vital, and no team can do without them. The OC must have a thorough command of the offensive blocking system, the game plan, and individual defensive players his team is facing. As a general rule, the OC doesn’t have to be an exceptional blocker. The OC usually doesn’t have to block the nose tackle one-on-one, although, if he can, it provides a considerable advantage to his team and take tremendous pressure of the OL, particularly the OG’s. If the other team runs a 4-3, the OC helps a teammate with his blocking responsibilities. Although there have been successful tall centers in the NFL, many teams feel that a shorter OC is better. Shorter OC’s have of lower center of gravity (aiding balance) and tend to be more mobile — a trait that benefits a player who must work in a relatively small area.

Defensive Line: Giants historically have like big players here too. Linemen are seldom taken who are under 6-3. The Giants like their tackles to be in the 300lbs range, so they should already be in that neighborhood or have the potential to put on added muscle weight. The ends are rarely drafted smaller than 260lbs, but that may change somewhat if Defensive Coordinator John Fox wants to add a pass rushing specialist. The Giants generally like their full time starters at end to play in the 280lbs range. The Giants have historically had a preference for tackles and ends who can play the run well first and foremost. They like physical players who play with power in particular.

From Walsh: Defensive Tackles: Must have enough girth (ballast) to hold off an OG, or to step into an OT’s block without being knocked off the line of scrimmage. It is critical that the DT has quick strong hands and quick feet. Quick strong hands let the DT control (grab and pull) and ward off possible blockers. Quick feet let the DT take advantage of a moving man (i.e. getting him off balance). NFL teams value DT’s who display lateral quickness in a relatively small area. Such DT’s get moving quickly — over and through people. If necessary, they have the ability to move down the line of scrimmage while pursuing the ball carrier and make the tackle. Someone who gets knocked off the line of scrimmage, moved sideways, or knocked off balance cannot play DT effectively. Because they must work their way through blockers to get to the ball, they must have above average, total body strength. The best DT’s are able to move the OG back into the QB. DT’s who can move people by blocking them backward have an essential skill.

Defensive Ends: Talented DE’s typically possess several important characteristics, including explosiveness, extraordinary upper body strength, and quickness. Collectively, these traits let the DE achieve their primary purpose: pressuring the QB. To be a good pass rusher, DE’s must be able to cover ground quickly in three to five yards of space. He must have the quickness to get his shoulder past the shoulder of the OT. Upper body strength is important for a DE. Such strength lets him execute any one of several counter-moves when the OL reacts to the DE’s initial move. It is imperative that the DE does not let himself get turned outside away from the play on a consistent basis. He must have enough girth and skill to avoid being knocked off-balance and being turned out. The application of upper body strength in the play of the DE differs from that of the DT. While the DT comes into immediate contact with a blocker at the snap, the DE usually doesn’t make contact with the blocker until after the DE has determined the tactical situation, or after he has set up the blocker. A DT relies more on brute force, while a DE uses his hands and skills to get past a blocker.

Linebackers: Things have changed since the Giants switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense in 1994. In the 4-3, the weakside linebacker can be smaller than the usual Giants’ norm of the old Parcells’ days. The weakside guy MUST be strong in coverage. If he can’t cover, don’t look at him. That will eliminate a lot of linebackers right there. He also should be fast, be a sure tackler, and have reasonable size (not smaller than 6-1, 225lbs). Strong blitzing ability is an added plus. The middle linebacker in the Giants’ system needs to be a big, strong, physical, power player. He should be at least in the 6-2, 245lbs range. Power is key to take on the big interior linemen in the NFC East, but so is some mobility. He must be at least adequate in coverage. The strongside guy should be able to do it all. First and foremost, he must be a strong run defender and also be physical. Don’t look for guys smaller than 6-3, 240lbs. Secondly, he also needs to be adept in coverage as he will be called upon to cover the flats and the tight end. Third, if he can blitz, it opens up a number of different options for the defense. Three important items to keep in mind when looking at linebackers: (1) since run defense is so important, the ability to play off of blocks is a key asset, (2) many collegiate linebackers can’t or don’t know how to cover (these guys usually can’t play in the Giants’ 4-3 system), and (3) the Giants historically have been willing to draft smaller, speedier defensive linemen — who show enough athleticism to potentially be at least adequate in coverage — and convert them into strongside and middle linebackers.

From Walsh: Outside Linebackers in a 4-3 Defense: The Weakside OLB (WLB) requires a combination of skills to employ lateral pursuit against running plays and provide man-to-man or zone pass coverage. Because he is not primarily a pass rusher (as in a 3-4), he must be able to function in open space, yet possess enough strength to avoid being knocked around by blockers while he pursues a ball carrier (i.e. he goes across the face of an OL to get to the ball).

The Strongside OLB (SLB): Aligned opposite the TE, the SLB should be stronger and larger (approximately 6-4, 250lbs) than the WLB. His primary responsibility is to hold the edge of the defense. The SLB must have the strength, the hands, and the range to hold up the TE and to get through the FB to make contact with the ball carrier. He must be able to meet the off-tackle play of either the FB or the pulling OG. He should be able to blitz effectively against an attempt by a RB to pass block him.

The Middle Linebacker (MLB) in a 4-3 Defense: The MLB must be big and strong enough to meet blockers coming from any angle, and not be easily knocked from his position. He must be able to get off the block, shed the blocker, and move to the ball, almost without wasting a step. He cannot attempt to avoid a lot of blockers while going for the ball carrier or he won’t be able to do his job properly. If he goes around someone to avoid a block, he has, in effect, been blocked. MLB’s need quickness to get a “jump” one someone attempting to block him, thus enabling him to meet and shed the block before the blocker was ready to engage him. Instinct is another essential trait for the MLB. He must be able to watch the ball to read the blocking. Instinct cannot be taught. MLB’S must also have relatively indestructible bodies to withstand the level of intense, aggressive contact the position involves. A MLB does not have to have great coverage skills. Though such skills are desirable, he can be protected in this regard by a team’s defensive scheme. If the MLB is a great natural pursuer, a clean tackler, someone who can work through pass blockers, and move instantaneously when he makes his reads, then a team is usually willing to make concessions for any limitations is his pass covering skills. Such limitations are more than compensated for by such rare instincts.

Defensive Backs: The Giants usually like size here as well, though they have drafted smaller cornerbacks at times. Safeties are usually at least 6-0, 190lbs. The Giants generally like their cornerbacks to be at least 5-10, 185lbs, but have been willing to draft smaller guys if they are strong in coverage. There has been a long bias toward defensive backs who are strong tacklers and also play a physical game.

From Walsh: Cornerbacks: While most teams prefer good-sized CB’s to cover big receivers, good CB’s come in all sizes. Some of the best cover men in the NFL have been relatively small, and have compensated with quickness, explosiveness, and the ability to anticipate. Regardless of size, great CB’s have the ability to play a physical game with receivers. They can bump the WR on their release from the line of scrimmage, and have the ability to go up for the ball and not be overwhelmed or knocked off the pass by the WR. It is essential that the CB have both quickness and explosiveness — both of which are important in pass coverage situations. In addition to coverage, CB’s also serve a support role on running plays and need the ability to take the ball carrier one-on-one after all blockers have committed themselves. Ideally, the CB should run the 40 in less than 4.5, however, like WR’s, many Pro Bowl level CB’s have lacked straight ahead speed, but made up for it in other ways. For example, CB’s lacking quickness, explosiveness and/or anticipation can compensate by being as physical as possible to inhibit the WR’s quickness. Such a CB is more suited to bump-and-run coverage than man-to-man coverage. In addition to the physical aspects of the position, CB’s must be emotionally resilient. He must be able to maintain composure after giving up a big play, and have the confidence that enables him to continue to function at a high level regardless of what has happened in the game.

Safeties: Most teams prefer to have a Strong Safety (SS) who can provide run support and a Weak (Free) Safety (FS) who can cover ground, see the entire field, make a play on a high throw while moving left or right, and make all of the audible calls for the secondary. Because more audiblizing occurs in the secondary than on the line of scrimmage by the QB, the FS is often the most important field general in the game. The talented FS has the range of a centerfielder, natural instincts, the skills to make a great catch and the ability to make a big hit. Such Safeties are typically 6’2″-6’3″ and 190-200 lbs. Historically, the SS is the run support player. Typically, he has several traits found in talented LB’s. He can hit and stop people, respond spontaneously to the play as it unfolds, and go to the ball. Often he is fearless, and if he is unable to physically commit himself on every play, his team must undertake specific defensive adjustments. The better his coverage skills, the more he can be lined up against a WR. Teams should keep in mind the various defensive philosophies when considering what types of DB’s they want in their secondary. Their abilities should complementary and match the system they want to employ. If the players don’t suit the desired system exactly, teams should adjust their systems and assign personnel accordingly.

A few more “Bill Walshisms” about Evaluating Players:

  • About the Combine: Value exists in the (combine) process, if you keep the results in perspective and know how to properly utilize the collected data. It is important to remember that functionality is the most important indicator of a player’s ability to perform. No matter how fast an athlete runs, how high he jumps or how well he scores on a written test, his value can only be related to how functional he is on the field. Functionality is usually something that cannot be precisely measured any place except on the practice field or in a game situation. Many teams feel that the most important valuable evaluative measure is not the one that yields precise marks, but rather one that must be evaluated with a great deal of subjectivity: the Personal Interview.
  • 40-Yard Sprint: The 40 is one of the most universally adopted and commonly accepted measures for football players. However the relatively high value placed on this measure is open to question. The 40 has at least two deficiencies. First, the conditions a surface can make a substantial difference in the resulting times. Second and more important, football requires functional speed, not pure foot speed. Functional speed is related to playing the game and responding to external stimulus, e.g., another moving object. Again the Rice example. Rice was considered to have marginal speed for a starting WR in the NFL. Had other teams considered Rice’s functional speed (probably among the best in the history of the game), instead of his foot speed, Rice’s draft day status would have improved immeasurably. Another problem with using the 40 involves its lack of application to certain positions (such as OL).
  • Vertical Jump: Considered by many to be the best measure of explosiveness, the vertical jump is designed to measure leg power. Although it is a reliable measure of explosive leg power, the test has a few limitations. Vertical jump scores are effected by body weight. A undersized 260lb OL would normally be able to jump higher than a 300lb OL. Even if both were in comparable condition, the 300lb OL has to do more work than the 260lb OL because he must move more weight over the same distance.
  • Bench Press: This test involves having an athlete press 225lbs as many times as he can. Limitations: All factors considered, a larger person can lift more weight than a smaller one. The bench press is also effected by arm length of the lifter. The athlete with shorter arms can perform more repetitions than a longer armed athlete because he has to move the weight less distance.
  • The Wunderlich: This is a written test issued to all prospects at the combine. Technically not an IQ test, the Wunderlich is designed to show innate intelligence (i.e. the ability to reason). This test hold more significance for some positions than others. For example, a team might be more interested in the score of an OL than a DL, because of the amount of mental processing that playing OL requires (compared to playing DL). And like the other tests, the issue of innate intelligence versus functional intelligence (i.e. there is “take-written-test smarts” and there is “on-the-field smarts”). Steve Young is an example of a player who possesses both innate and functional intelligence. Young is extremely bright, has a law degree, and is an exceptional performer on the field. An example of an individual who did not have the highest score in this particular measure, yet exhibited extraordinary functional intelligence on the football field was Phil Simms. Anyone who has ever dealt with Simms, knows that his intelligence is extremely high. Perhaps the most important way to use the Wunderlich result is to look for extremes. If a player receives a single digit score (way below the norm), you’d have to question would that player have the capacity to handle the intricacies of a complex offensive or defensive scheme.
  • The Twenty Percent Failure Factor: If a personnel department is doing an outstanding job of evaluating and acquiring players through the draft and free agency, its failure rate (i.e. the number of players who don’t pan out for whatever reason) can be expected to be around twenty percent. In other words, regardless of how capable and efficient your scouts and coaches are in identifying, researching, and projecting the potential value of a particular player, a fall out of approximately 20% will occur. The point to emphasize is that no matter how much time and effort a team puts into the acquisitions process, some miscalculations will happen. The process involves too many variables to be able to accurately account for every factor. If the failure rate climbs above 20%, then shortcomings exist in the team’s evaluation/acquisition system. If disappointment after disappointment occurs, they can’t all be related to bad luck. All factor considered, a 20% failure rate is about all a franchise can absorb and remain competitive. Capable experienced management will have a firm grasp of this reality.