He'll be either a great or bad player, or possibly somewhere in between.
Boooooooooo! I hate you Goodell! Booooooooo! You suck! Boooooooo! You're ruining the NFL! Boooooooooooooooo! Boooooooooooooo! Sorry, I got caught up in all the booing of Roger Goodell.
How great is the NFL draft? It's like an oasis of football found in the desert known as the offseason. Now football sites everywhere are filled with stories most of which involve winners and losers or some sort of grade, which is fine by me because I love those stories. They're like a really nice set of rims, completely worthless but still fun to look at.
I've spent the last couple of days scouring the web looking for feedback on the draft, and after seeing what search engine lycose.com and ecig.com had to say, I finally broke down and even went to bleacherreport.com. Twenty-eight "next" clicks later I remembered why I had put it off for so long. I think I'm going to do a story about the 50 worst slideshow stories ever made and I'll present it as a slideshow. That will be like ironic, or something.
But it's not just the news outlets and blogs analyzing the draft. This time of year everyone is an armchair analyst. Message boards are filled with people sharing their "expert" opinion. And they love to brag when they've made the right call.
As the old saying goes, "Opinions are like a-holes. Everybody has one and quite a few of them stink." At least I think that's how the saying goes.
So if it's obvious who's good and who isn't, why is the draft such a crap shoot? Why do some "can't miss" players actually miss, and future Hall of Famers like Tom Brady last until the 6th round? I'm not an expert but I do play one on the internet so here are my reasons for why some "great" picks fail to make it in the NFL.
More after the jump...
JaMarcus Russell is the poster child for talented but lazy. Here's a guy who was so out of shape he actually sweat gravy. Seriously, his teammates would scrape it off him and use it on their mashed potatoes for dinner.
The problem is a lot of these players are so naturally gifted they've never really had to work hard in order to succeed. Combine that with millions of dollars and a feeling of, "I've finally made it" and you have players who just don't realize how competitive and hard the NFL is and the commitment they need to make in order to be successful.
Conversely, I think that's why more people with rough upbringings succeed while people brought up in a middle class or wealthy homes don't. If you know you can always go to college and get a good job if football doesn't work out, you may not be as motivated or work as hard as someone who feels being successful in football is their only way out.
Don't believe the hype
While putting up huge numbers where it counts (on the field) is nice, it's not always enough. Just ask Kellen Moore. Sometimes it's what you do off the field that matters more. Remember Jim Druckenmiller? Unfortunately, I remember him as well. Jake Plummer looked like a better player when he was on the field but Druckenmiller could bench press a car. Since being able to bench press a car is so important to being a successful QB in the NFL, that's who the 49ers chose.
Then there are players such as Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich who would have been better suited for the WWE than the NFL. When players have muscles so comically large it looks like they were artificially inflated, that might be your first hint they're using steroids.
Both guys also seemed to be playing characters. Apparently Bosworth's long term goal was always to be a D-list action hero instead of a star in the NFL. While Mandarich once punched an Ohio St player during the coin toss and told him he "was going to die today." Later, while holding out on his rookie contract, he went on Letterman and said he wanted to fight Mike Tyson.
In college teams might have one or possible two players who can really lay the wood. In the NFL teams usually have 11, unless one of them is named Deion Sanders. The NFL is littered with great college running backs who suddenly got happy feet in the NFL. Lawrence Phillips, Ron Dayne, and every RB from Penn St are just a few examples. Other than never drafting a RB from Penn St I'm not sure there's a lot GMs can do to avoid this problem. Even drafting a RB from the SEC where they have more of those big hitters wasn't enough to keep Glenn Coffee from failing with the 49ers.
Buried under a pile of crap
So much is made of a QB going into the right situation. Is it better to be thrown to the wolves your rookie year or is it better to spend a year or two learning behind a veteran? And why do some guys who start for a bad team as a rookie such as Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman go on to have great success while others such as Joey Harrington and Tim Couch can't even stick as a career backup?
Just as some running backs and wide receivers can't shake off a hit and start to play scared, some quarterbacks do the same thing but it's their mental toughness that gets rocked. For guys that aren't used to failing, how do they handle it? Not every QB will be asked to pick themselves up over and over again, but some are.
That's one area where I have to give credit to Alex Smith. I'm still not totally sold on him being the QB of our future but I give him credit for toughing it out. He could have gone the way of Harrington and Couch but he picked himself back up and kept fighting. For that I'll always respect him even if he does ultimately get replaced by Colin Kaepernick.
In a way Smith reminds me a little bit of the old Lions QB Erik Kramer. On the surface that may not sound like much of a compliment until you remember what his Lions teammates called him. They gave him the nickname, "Brass Balls".
Teams spend a lot of time watching film and scouting players. NFL hopefuls are poked, prodded, and tested in just about every way imaginable. They workout at the combine, at their schools, at NFL team's facilities, and spend hours being interviewed. Yet every year there are players who are labeled "busts" and every fan base could create a top-10 list for biggest draft busts by their team. In fact, I bet there's a bunch over at bleacherreport.com done in a convenient slideshow format.
So in the end there may only be one real solution to the problem. Do your due diligence, try to avoid any that seem questionable, and draft a lot of them. Trade down and collect picks. Even if some don't pan out, the more players you draft the less it will hurt your team, and the better chance you'll have of getting one of those diamonds in the rough. If the 49ers could trade a pick multiple times and get a net return of 5 picks, they'd put themselves in a better position to succeed. Oh wait, that is what they did.