Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Feb 2013

The Disconnect Between Evaluation and Drafting QB Talent

Matt Waldman's views on the potential issues that arise from NFL teams balancing talent vs. need when it comes to drafting a quarterback and why this hurts an underrated talent like Tulane QB Ryan Griffin versus a "draft-not-to-lose" commodity like N.C. State's Mike Glennon.

Posted by: Matt Waldman on 05 Feb 2013

14 comments, Last at 09 Feb 2013, 11:24pm by Noah Arkadia


by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 12:22pm

I understand the Cutler comparison, and I hate hate hate the "he's a winner" line of reasoning. But I reflexively have to think that there's a difference between 5-6 in the SEC and 2-10 in C-USA. I know the QB doesn't win the game by himself, but my brain resists the notion that a C-USA team with an NFL-caliber QB can't win more than 2 games, regardless of the supporting cast. For this to make sense, his teammates must be a horrible bunch of jabronies with no business anywhere in D1.

by Will :: Fri, 02/08/2013 - 6:17pm

I agree with you - a team should be better with an NFL quarterback when playing in a lesser conference. Ben Rothlisberger didn't have elite talent at Miami, but his 2003 team went 13-1 and was undefeated in the MAC. Likewise the 2010 Nevada team finished 13-1 and 7-1 in the WAC, led by Colin Kaepernick. I would have no qualms taking a talented quarterback with a losing record from Vanderbilt, Indiana, Colorado, or some other bottom dwelling school in a major conference where the talent gap is often enormous between the haves and the have-nots, but that isn't the case at the mid majors. Put an elite NFL talent at QB at those schools, and they should at least compete for the conference title.


by Matt Waldman :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 12:42pm

I think that's an understandable reflexive reaction. However to give you a sense of perspective, this story about Matt Forte might help. When I studied Forte at Tulane, the Green Wave had 1 offensive lineman who had the strength to bench press the same weight that, if I remember correctly, 70 other players at LSU could lift.

It's not about the bench press as much as the caliber of athlete at each school. Imagine playing QB or RB at a school where the line ahead of you isn't even as strong as the defensive backs or opposing team's wide receivers. When I watched that Tulane-LSU game, Forte averaged less than a two yards per carry, but he still exhibited the skills that made him an NFL-caliber RB.

I have no qualms that I could be mistake about Griffin, but I think his fit into the situation made something worth expressing in this forum. Thanks for responding.

by NG5 (not verified) :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 1:16pm

It would be interesting to see a team by team breakdown of "scouted round" vs draft round, or anything to get a handle on the argument you make about drafting vs. scouting. College W-L relationship to success at NFL?

Good read. Thanks

by Matt Waldman :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 1:47pm

I would be interested in see that as well. I think the problem is that the process for scouting has so much variation that I don't know how useful that would be right now. Sure all teams use a round grade for its score, but the definition of what a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, UDFA grade player is very loose by process measurement standards. The better teams have a tighter process, but until there's a process where a GM or owner doesn't decide to overrule the grades and work of his employees there's not going to be useful data, IMO.

A good example of this problem came with the Rams when Alex Smith was in the draft. According to a former scout, Dave Razzano, whose dad was the lead scout for the 49ers of its dynasty era, Razzano had a mid-to-low round grade on Smith but the GM at the time was so enamored with Smith that he was trying to manipulate his scouts into changing their grades to first-round players. His method was to have a highlight tape of of 20 throws sent to each scout to watch and ask them to give a grade on it. Razzano refused to participate because he studied seven games worth of tape and wasn't going to watch a tape that he claimed had 20 throws and 20 completions. The GM asked Razzano why he was so stubborn, which caused a heated disagreement according to Razzano.

This range of behavior is probably not the norm in the NFL, but even the milder versions of dysfunction in terms of evaluating players and making decisions has an impact that would make this kind of study difficult to do.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 2:58pm

What year did you scout Forte? His junior year he averaged 2.3 ypc against LSU (11 rushes for 25 yards), but his senior year (which would seemingly be when it was most likely to scout him) he averaged 4.6 ypc (16 rushes for 73 yards). (Stats from sports-reference.com)

by Matt Waldman :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 3:31pm

Junior year. I watch a variety of games and try to watch a couple of years when I can. See the link in the piece, it takes you to the play-by-play report.

by Jericho (not verified) :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 1:37pm

It's an interesting piece. And I do think there is tendency to draft QBs "not to lose". As a Redskins fan, I was interested in what they've done the last two years at QB. A lot of people thought they'd take a QB two years ago when guys like Gabbert, Ponder, and Dalton were available. All those guys strike me as "not to lose" guys. I was happy they they passed and just rode it out with Rex Grossman for a season. Rumor had it that Shanahan was interested in Newton, but he was well off the table when he selected. So punt a season with Grossman rather than waste 3-4 with Ponder or Gabbert.

This past offseason, I was happy the team moved up to pick Griffin as opposed to taking guys like Weedon or Tannehill.

The truth is that few QBs ever become above average NFLers. Usually only 1-2 per year, although some drafts have more. So you better choose wisely.

by Dean :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 1:56pm

I think Matt needs to take a closer look at the idea of "three yards" vs, say, "three feet." Any QB with a 9' footspan is going to stand out!

by Matt Waldman :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 2:02pm

Thanks-I missed that.

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 02/09/2013 - 11:20pm

I had chuckle picturing that as well when I read the article. And a good piece it was, by the way.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by JonFrum :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 7:25pm

Whatever draft grades or draft position players get, as long as they get drafted or signed, the cream should rise to the top. Unfortunately, it seems as if coaches will favor players they've invested more in, for fear of looking bad to their owner/employer. So a guy ends up being in camp, maybe gets kept as third string, but is never given the chance to develop.

This is why Pete Carroll going with Russell Wilson was huge this year. The line at the beginning of the year was 'of course they have to start Flynn - look what they paid him.' In other words, it was just assumed that Carroll would put money invested over success. What does that say about the NFL? Seems to me that in spite of the fact that they are billion dollar businesses, they still don't compete rationally.

by Matt Waldman :: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 10:03pm

I think that last line says a lot about "businesses that can't fail," that we've seen fail in the past. The NFL is no different in terms of management dynamics. Sometimes the human element of decision-making is excellent when it goes against certain models of decision-making. Other times, it just plain sucks.

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 02/09/2013 - 11:24pm

Just think back to the "Sanchez just wins" comments by Tannenbaum a couple of weeks ago. Along with this article, all of a sudden I understand why there's such a difference between "winning" organizations and the rest. I used to lay that down on draft luck for the most part, but now, not so much.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!