On Evaluating Rookies

There has been some recent hullabaloo about AJ Jenkins' performance this spring. I would like to point to a very smart article that our own Dylan DeSimone wrote up on this very subject.

Dylan started by examining Grant Cohn's contention that Jenkins was the biggest letdown of the offseason. I'm not trying to defend or exonerate Jenkins' performance. Nor do I want to lambast Cohn for his recent article (though he frequently deserves it, in my very humble opinion). Cohn is much closer to the action than I am - thus, he should probably be trusted more than I should be trusted.

That said, I want to start this article where Dylan's leaves off. He, quite intelligently, writes that he thinks that Cohn (and Branch) is "jumping the gun on [his] assessments of the youngster." I also like the fact that Kriskross kicks off the comment section with the subject line: "Premature."

I would like to posit that both are correct. They do, however, beg an interesting question. Follow me after the jump to find out.

How premature is too premature? Or, to state it more directly: at what point can we safely evaluate a player? When can we label a player a bust? A success?

In some regards, this is going to depend quite heavily on the player. Two examples on the extremes of the spectrums are Patrick Willis and Alex Smith. The second that Willis stepped on the field, he decided to be the best ever ever ever times infinity to the infinity power. Very few players can do such a thing. Alex, on the other hand, played like a bust for a few years. Longer than most players even have opportunities. But, based on his recent play, the argument could be made that he is slowly crawling out of the "bust" category. I still wouldn't spend a first round draft pick on the man, but it ain't 2007 anymore.

But what about for most players? At what point is it okay to start making hard and fast evaluations for a player? Surely the first time they ever perform on an NFL field is not the time and place - especially in practices without pads.

Nor, should a player's rookie year really hold that much weight. Evaluating a rookie season is all about addressing potential. Where do we envision this player in two years? Three? What is his ceiling? Floor?

After the second year is a bit tough, though. I think that after a sophomore campaign, most first round picks should start to resemble clear starters on the field. Maybe they have some ways to go (like Anthony Davis, who still can be an excellent Tackle is this league, I think, even after a tough couple of years), but by and large, first round talent should be expected to start their transformation into starters a bit earlier than others.

Players from later rounds, however, should probably get a third year as a grace period. They have had time to learn the game and adjust to the speed, and they should be pretty fully formed as players.

Of course, this is dependent upon certain other factors, the most important of which is consistent playing time. Without play time, it is hard to expect a player to fully become what he should be. Moreover, as I stated above, certain players are clearly more "raw" than others when coming into the league. They may warrant a bit more time and patience in evaluation. Jenkins could (?) be this type of player.

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