Learning the NFL Draft
My best practices for enjoying and studying the NFL Draft
"Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues:
I am less proud to hear you tell my worth
Than you much willing to be counted wise
In spending your wit in the praise of mine.
But now to task the tasker: good Boyet,"
We've often heard the phrase, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Truer words could not be spoken in regards to the NFL Draft. Many eyes will peer through hours of tapes of talented NFL prospects but the opinions on what they see will differ.
If this is your first year watching the NFL Draft and the months of coverage leading up to it or if you've been following along for years, I believe this article will help you further understand the coverage and varying opinions.
I started following the NFL Draft in 2003. By 2004, I was fully ingrained in reading, studying and spending all of my time understanding how the best evaluators watched film and came away with differing opinions. What made the great evaluators, great?
By 2009, I was ready to take a bigger step in my evaluation process and my learning of how to evaluate more effectively. I took a "scouting" course that year that was delivered weekly by former NFL front offices personnel and scouts. After completion of the course I was more determined than ever to cut out my path as a top-tier evaluator.
Since 2009, I've worked every year to improve my evaluations from the year before. In this article, I'll let you know of some of the land mines that will trip you up if you're looking for coverage, entertainment or even possibly starting your pursuit as an evaluator.
I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, there are positions I excel at when studying prospects on film and there are some that my margin of error is greater.
For me, my biggest misses come at the quarterback, inside linebacker and safety positions.
Quarterbacks - I'm still not certain if my huge misses on quarterbacks in the past are mostly based on a blind spot I have for the position or if it's more to do with the extensive variables that surround the position.
Quarterback's success depends on the head coach of the team that selects them, the playmakers he has to get the ball to, the offensive line protection, his maturity and if he can lead men, etc.
Braddock QB Misses
- Brett Smith - QB out of Wyoming that I absolutely loved and had ranked as my #1 QB prospect in that year's class.
- Patrick Mahomes - While it's only been one year of breakout success, it appears that my third round grade on Mahomes was as out-of-line as my concerns of consistency with his style at the NFL level
Braddock QB Hits
- Colin Kaepernick - This is a hot-button name to mention, but before his name either drew hate or love at the brief whisper of it, he was a dynamic dual-threat QB out of Nevada. During Jan-Feb draft evaluations leading up to the draft, he was being labeled as a late day three pick or even needing to switch to the wide receiver position. I placed an early second round grade on him in January with the belief he'd be drafted in the first round.
- Geno Smith / Blaine Gabbert / Christian Ponder / Jimmy Clausen / Paxton Lynch / Johnny Manziel - These may all seem like no-brainers now, but during their drafts, these quarterbacks were all considered high draft picks by the popular opinion. I never bought into any of these quarterbacks as pro prospects.
- Nick Foles vs Ryan Tannehill - I had a first round grade on Nick Foles when he came out, with concerns of Tannehill ever being able to catch up to the NFL game after spending extended time as a receiver in college. Tannehill went top 10 that year and Nick Foles went in the third round.
Oddly enough, my offensive line evaluations are easily my biggest strength. I routinely hit on unheralded guys while warning on more highly coveted prospects. After offensive line, I would lean on my cornerback evaluations, followed by running back.
While safeties are listed on my weaknesses, I can usually find a diamond in the rough like John Johnson. Receivers are hit and miss. I warned against guys like Kelvin Benjamin and Corey Coleman but missed on guys like Michael Thomas and Stefon Diggs.
Whether you're looking to just follow along during the draft process or learn to evaluate, yourself, steer clear of group think. A common misconception is that "group think" during the draft process is only for those on twitter or in the media. It's been a huge flaw for many NFL teams.
When evaluators all start discussing what they see as opposed to other evaluators, some will get persuaded by a different evaluation because they wonder why the other individuals in the room all agree and they are just sitting on a lonely island with their opinion.
Several years ago, I was destroyed on twitter for not having Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson in my top three offensive line prospects. Robinson went number two overall to the Rams that year. I warned that if the Rams made that selection he would be Jason Smith 2.0.
I was ridiculed for having:
- Zack Martin
- Taylor Lewan
- Joel Bitonio
All higher than Matthews and Robinson. As an evaluator the general public will typically remember your misses and not your hits. If you don't fall victim to group think, they'll remember your misses even more as you were on the island instead of with the masses.
Draft Coverage Manipulations
To help you better understand the NFL Draft coverage of the next couple of months, you'll need to understand manipulations that happen with information during the next couple of months.
- Agents - A lot of the information coming out is agent generated. I had a few agents contact me a few years back when I had their guy(s) ranked number one in my mock draft. They all tried to smooze this nobody into keeping their guy #1 after I dropped him down in the next mock. Sounds crazy? I know. Agents are working every angle for their clients this time of year. There's so much misinformation as agents give media personalities inside info in trade for their guy to get better exposure.
- Front Offices - Teams will put out so much misinformation on prospects in hopes that their guy will fall to them.
- Media - In the media it's about information and content. Media will purposely not mention the players that they know the team is interested in, instead willingly blowing smoke on behalf of #1 and/or #2 on this list.
Do's and Don'ts
- Never watch highlights - Highlights get stuck in your memory. You remember the player based off of his best plays without evening it out with his worst plays. This gives you a false value on the prospect.
- Tape is King - No matter what you see during pro days, combine, workouts, etc, none of it should overrule what you saw on film.
- Watch a game from each of the prospect's seasons - How can you see growth if you don't watch him as a freshman, sophomore, junior, etc? Watch at least 1-2 games from each season he played in college.
- Watch a minimum of 3 games of a prospects career - You'd love to see every play from each prospect but there's only so much time. There's no way of knowing who a kid is based off of one or two games. If the prospect played more than two seasons, watch a game from each season and at least two games from his final season.
- Know their injury history - Tons of prospects never reach their potential and it has nothing to do with tape. If they have a history of severe injuries, the sand has already started to drain from the hourglass of their career. The average NFL career is 3.5 years. The deck is already stacked against injured players.
- Trust your eyes - You know you have watched the film, don't change your opinion based off of someone else's opinion that may be trained, untrained or any point in between.
- Block out all outside noise - Reading other opinions on prospects and rankings will only make you question why you don't have a prospect as high or low as everyone else. Everyone is going to be wrong on prospects. If you're going to be wrong, make sure it is because you missed and not because you followed the crowd on a popular opinion.
- Don't Grade until 100% confident - Your evaluations will stick with you for the rest of the time that you decide to publicly grade prospects. Make sure that you have seen everything that you need to before slapping a grade on a kid. If it's ten games you have to watch, then watch ten games.
- Study offseason activities - The East/West Shrine game, the Senior Bowl, the Combine, etc. Check out all events where new information is readily available. Know arm length, hand size, etc, but be careful to not overvalue. Remember that the tape is king and should be 90% of your final evaluation.
- Study NFL Film - If you are not studying the NFL film regularly, then what are you comparing these prospects too? Just because they beat a left tackle in the SEC does not mean that they are ready to beat David Bakhtiari. Know what these prospects will be facing at the next level. Routinely study the best in the world.
- Follow their careers - See where you went wrong and what you had right. Then adjust for the next season of draft evaluations.
- Debate after the Draft - I usually study between 300-500 prospects between January 15th and April 15th. There's no time for you to debate. Debate on twitter after the draft passes.
- Take your ego out of it - You are going to miss...a lot. The best professional gamblers in the world miss on 40+ percent of their bets. You are making educated guesses, like a stock broker with the market.
- Speed and Explosion - Do not overvalue speed and explosion. These are some of the easiest traits to see on film. Every evaluator will see them. Focus on the technique and add value with the speed and explosion. The mannerisms of every half-second in football is what you need to study, not the things that your grandmother can see while watching Thanksgiving football. "Oh, he's fast."
- Stay on one position group - You'll get the urge to jump from this stud quarterback that is getting all of the buzz to the top cornerback, but I would encourage you to not do so. Sticking on one position of evaluating may put you behind the group on having a hot opinion on one of the hottest names in the draft, but it's about being right, not first. When studying the same position group over and over, you continue to hone your skills at evaluating that position. You pick up on what each prospect does better than the other, apples to apples.
I hope this article helps you enjoy the next few months of the NFL offseason, leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft.
Starting next week I'll be posting my positional rankings. First group up for 2019?.....you guessed it, offensive tackles.
Look for "Jayson Braddock's 2019 Offensive Tackle Rankings" next week, only at SportsMap. One of these prospects could be protecting Deshaun Watson's blind side come week one.