The Myth of Draft Experts and Pundits

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After sitting through the three days of  the sports media masterbation known as the NFL Draft last week, I’ve listened to all the experts and soothsayers from ESPN, the NFL Network as well as local sports talk radio geeks jabber on about the latest class of college players they’ve slated to be the NFL’s next big thing on Sundays.

Some of these players are making their first step to the Hall of Fame while others will be going professional in something other than sports. Of course, figuring out which ones will be the most successful is a lot easier for some talking head on TV to predict and pontificate than what will actually happen in these players careers.

And up until this season year, I, myself, have camped out at Radio City Music Hall in New York City with my own set of assorted mock drafts pontificating over who was going to be the next league superstar.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we Mr. Know-It-All experts on TV and radio are as clueless as the average Joe Six-Pack Fan watching the draft from his suburban home in South Jersey, the D.C. Suburbs or whatever metropolitan area or village you call home.

What really bothers me is the pronouncement of a player’s success or failure by people like Mel Kiper Jr. who has never played, coached and worked in a front office of an NFL franchise. Those “experts” base their opinions upon the player’s college careers and from meaningless activities such as the NFL Scouting Combines which gives you little indication of what a player is going to do in a live game.

I’ve never seen Adrian Peterson get tackled by shuttle hurdles or have to jump in the air to touch an apparatus on the ceiling during the course of an NFL game.

The bottom-line is that while a player’s talent will ultimately rise to the top how that talent is nurtured and developed by the player and his coach is the trump card to all the pundits draft-day projections.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is full of guys who didn’t fit all the prescribed formulas of what an NFL player at whatever position should look like. The list is too numerous of players who were too small, didn’t play at a big-time school, too slow or too something who had solid careers even if they didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame.

As much as these college kids are dissected through endless film study, background checks and shuttle hurdles, a player’s success or failure in the league is determined by his own work ethic, his heart, how well he is prepared by his coaches. You can’t quantitatively measure heart or motivation.

The subject of this year’s punditry was Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who was drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos ahead of Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Texas’ Colt McCoy. The word on Tebow by the experts and a number of people is that his game doesn’t translate to the pro game. The biggest problem is that his delivery is too slow. Some also pointed to his poor performance in the Senior Bowl.

According to all that Tebow, who has not played a snap in the NFL or worked with an NFL coach, is not going to be a good NFL quarterback. But do we really know that? Can we let the guy go through the rigors of learning the playbook, film study, and work with his mechanics before we say he’s not going to make it?

When Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young was coming out of Texas, the pundit class said he was a running quarterback and that his sidearm delivery wouldn’t make it in the NFL. Folks also pointed to his poor showing on the Wonderlic Test—something that has absolutely nothing to do with the game on the field.

In four years  in the league, Young is still in the NFL and has a 26-13 record as a starter and has completed 57 percent of passes. He has 11-game winning drives and seven fourth quarter comebacks-including a 99-yard game winning drive to beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. Last season, he bounced back from being benched in 2008 and nearly took the Titans to the playoffs in 2009. While his passing numbers aren’t by any means the prettiest in world (more interceptions than TD passes), Young has proven that he can win at this level. If he gets some better receivers and continues to work on his game, his passing numbers will improve.

According to the NFL’s prescribed formula of the ideal quarterback at 6-4 with a big arm, a Drew Brees at just 6-feet tall wasn’t supposed to make it in the NFL, but all he’s done is put up big numbers and win a Super Bowl.

But that mentality has also been used by the draftniks and NFL scouts to not  give guys a shot at all. Former University of Florida quarterback Chris Leak was a drop-back passer who excelled under three different offensive schemes and won a national championship. The fact that he was 6-feet tall scared off the scouts and the talking heads.

Leak got a brief look with the Chicago Bears, a team that allowed a lesser quarterback like Rex Grossman have a job and toss interceptions all over the place. Leak is probably one of the best quarterbacks who never really got a chance to show what he can do in the NFL.

Another little formula that media folks like to look at is level of competition at the collegiate level. According to that notion, players out of Div. I-AA, Div. II or III are theoretically not good enough to beat out the players from the major Div. I programs.

To hear all these guys talk over years, guys like Brian Westbrook who came out of Villanova, Andre Reid from Kutztown, Jahrie Evans (New Orleans Saints) out of Bloomsburg, or Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis Colts) who played at Howard University are not supposed to hang with the kids from Ohio State or Michigan, right? Reid is arguably a Hall of Famer while those other four have had solid careers in the league. There are examples too numerous for this column.

I often wonder if the ESPN or the sports talk radio of today existed during the  1970s what would those guys have said about Phil Simms out of Morehead State or Walter Payton out of Jackson State. They have would have said they didn’t play against the best competition and therefore they aren’t good enough to play in the NFL.

Here’s the deal—if you can play football at the pro level, then you can play. Scouting combines, size formulas, where a guy went school really doesn’t matter if he’s a good football player. Projecting a guy’s future success based on the stuff you see on all TV radio shows is like to trying to figure out the weather forecast March. You never what you’re going to get until get it.

Remember this weak-armed quarterback drafted in the third round back in 1979 by the San Francisco 49ers, some guy named Joe Montana, who went on to win….Well you know the rest of the story.

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