Common Mistakes in The NFL Draft

The NFL’s annual draft of collegiate players begins later today. A few years from now people will look back and find that many highly drafted players were not nearly as good as they were expected to be. It’s likely that some will even attain the dreaded label of ‘busts.’ Conversely, many others will come into the league with low (or even no) expectations and end up becoming stars.

So how can people who are paid so much to know better, err so badly year after year? Clearly, there is no single answer as there are a multitude of reasons why this happens with such regularity. Some things are unavoidable, like injuries that happen after they are selected. But most of the other reasons are much more avoidable than you may think, and some are made because of common mistakes in the evaluation processes teams use.

One of the most common mistakes I see is general complacency. Far too many teams have the attitude of: this is how we do things; this is how we have always done things. This is a problem that befalls most organizations and creates habits within that limit their abilities to be as effective as they could be.

Have you ever asked yourself why teams put so much stock in 40-yard dash times? Why 40 and not 10-15-20-30 or all of the above? There were 396 plays that resulted in gains of 40-yards or more in the NFL last season in all of the 512-games played (regular season). That comes out to less than one play (0.7734375 to be exact) of over 40-yards per game. That means on average if you attend four games three plays of over 40-yards will happen between those eight teams; in those same games on average about 130 plays go for less than 40-yards.

Yet this is the distance all players are timed at to be evaluated. Why? Because that’s the way they do things in the NFL, that’s how they have always done it. I bet if you ask most scouts, coaches and GM’s why they use 40-yards, they won’t be able to tell you why. They just mindlessly keep following the old script handed down to them. With 32-teams in the league, wouldn’t you think after all these years at least one or two teams would be testing players on a shorter length dash that was closer related to the other 130-plays during a game?

I have noticed that usually whenever everyone is thinking the same, NO ONE is thinking. I am aware of no study in existence that shows that the 40-yard dash is the best length sprint to evaluate any player at any position in football. I am also quite sure that if it were tested against shorter sprints another distance would prove to be more useful. If one team were to do this and have success, soon all others would follow but thanks to complacency it has not happened to date.

Another common mistake is putting too much emphasis on the wrong things. Most people tend to put so much weight on individual workouts and interviews that they end up getting it backwards. Your body of work is a much more accurate indicator of future performance than any individual interview or workout. The problem is people get swept up in the emotion of individual contact, which causes them to overvalue it in their evaluations.

Along the same lines, some teams get enamored with athletic ability like size, strength or speed and see the player for what he could be rather than what he is. I always look at a ‘could be’ and wonder if he could be great in the NFL, why wasn’t he dominant in college? Often there are mental evaluations that will give you definitive answers that are often overlooked or undervalued. As ball-coaches often state, “Lots of players look like Tarzan and play like Jane.”

The final common mistake I see teams repeatedly fall into is the “more is better” fallacy. Teams often think the reason they screwed up in the past was a result of not having enough information to make an informed decision. In reality, just the opposite tends to be true. The more information you have, the easier it is to put weight on the wrong information. In short, rather than making things clearer, in practice, more info often serves to muddy the waters.

The conscious human mind easily gets over loaded. If you have ten different sources of information with varying weights of importance you are much more likely to make a decision you will regret, than if you only had three sources of information. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but you would likely be surprised if you knew how many of your brain’s optimal operations are indeed counter-intuitive.

There are many other mistakes, but if a team were to just eliminate these three they would likely make a dramatic improvement in their selection of players.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc




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