Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 May 2013

Mandatory Monday: Draft Farewell

If there is one thing I will strive for, moving forward with draft coverage, it will be as much specificity as possible, especially when we get into the whole "character" thing. May this be the last year that we read an inflammatory scouting report about anyone, quarterback or other, black or white, and wonder whether the scout/draftnik completely lost his objectivity and just went after the kid.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 06 May 2013

26 comments, Last at 08 May 2013, 8:22pm by LionInAZ


by Led :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 9:17am

Interesting piece on Geno Smith and scouting. One other angle worth considering (although not one to endear Tanier to some colleagues) is that certain beat reporters are more than happy to do an agent's bidding in the guise of "reporting," as Deadspin reported. Developing relationships help build a reporter's career; being a mouthpiece for someone else's agenda has never destroyed one. (This is NOT limited to sports reporting -- Judith Miller is still employed.) Controversy also sells. I have no idea what kind of human being Geno Smith is or what kind of NFL quarterback he will be, but I do know that no anonymously sourced story should ever be taken at face value.

by Shalimar (not verified) :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 11:12am

Judith Miller writes for a fringe website for a small fraction of her former salary and has zero credibility left with anyone outside the readers of that site. Just because a nut like Joe Farrah gave her a job so she wouldn't have to kill herself from shame doesn't mean her career wasn't destroyed.

by Led :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 12:16pm

She's also a Fox commentator (or was from 2008-2012 at least) and has a sinecure fellowship with the Manhattan Institute. She's being taken care of. But this is all OT. I probably should have left that parenthetical aside out of my comment.

by AB (not verified) :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 9:58am

Tried to post this but their crappy website wouldn't let me:

Isn't the problem that a judgment on someone's character tends to based on an agglomeration of small facts and experiences? If I asked you to describe a student you'd taught for 4 years, your natural answer would be much more likely to be in generic terms - that they are hardworking, prone to lose concentration, etc. You might give one or two concrete examples but in general these things are by their nature a matter of impression.

That is a fortiori where a scout is piecing together many scraps of factual information from dozens of sources. First, he is unlikely to give specific examples like your twitter one, if they may identify his source. Second, he knows that not all of the information is accurate: so he has to make a judgment based on the overall weight of what he hears - if 10 of your colleagues tell you that X is a jerk, whereas one says that he's good student, you're likely to form that view that he is a jerk.

Of course it is a generalised and imperfect process. But it would be quite wrong for a scout not to give these assessments if he has formed that view in good faith based on the information available to him.

by Biebs :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 2:18pm

"...Smith went last, thanking everyone and declaring that entire group – his agents included – were a "family" that would stay together his entire career, if not the rest of his life, the sources said." From a Yahoo article about Geno Smith.

The thing is, a lot of the reports that are coming out about Geno Smith seem to be from two sources. One about "One NFC Scout" who said that Geno Smith is coming off as a prima donna.

"Two sources indicated that when Smith went on some visits to teams, rather than interact with coaches and front-office people, he would spend much of his time on his cell phone. Instead of being engaged with team officials, he would be texting friends or reading Twitter or a number of other distracting activities."

The first quote almost seems like it had to have come from the agency that was fired. Who else would be a source for a quote like that? The 2nd quote is also concerning, but odd. Was this at every single meeting? Did the agents know about this? It also seems like a disproportionate amount of criticism for a guy drafted in the 2nd round. I saw one article that said he could be "the black Ryan Leaf"... which doesn't make season, because 1. Pretty sure that's Jamarcus Russell, and 2. again, he was drafted 39th.

by rja1 (not verified) :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 10:13pm

The unsourced quotes is always a bunch of bull. It's actually one of the rules of journalism that you're not supposed to use them, and then journalists go out and use them all the time. People are very willing to talk but only if their name is not attached to it. There's a difference between being a journalist and a gossip columnist, and a lot of people that write are unable to differentiate between the two.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 05/08/2013 - 8:22pm

Well of course it's BS, but who are you going to punish? Good luck finding anyone who has a financial or political stake to be honest and give a straightforward answer on record. That's the price you pay for a mercantile aristocratist culture.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 12:34pm

As Tanier points out, one of the biggest problems with Nawrocki's criticism is not the criticism itself but the comparisons used. I personally don't get the Akili or Brooks comparisons as the publicized examples of Geno Smith's maturity remind me more of Scott Mitchell. Mitchell also had a problem with authority (his public mocking of Coach Fontes being the most well-known) and was eventually replaced by rookie Charlie Batch. (There was much rejoicing in Detroit.) And don't forget it was QB Scott Mitchell that Lomas Brown allegedly allowed to get hurt.

by Noah Arkadia :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 12:38pm

That's kind of unfair. Tanier is a writer. Those other guys are sportswriters. You can't expect them to know how to write well beyond having good grammar and spelling.

I mention that because specificity vs. generality is a literary thing, and I'm having a hard time not seeing this article as an attempt to educate sportswriters on proper writing.

As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "i" in meat pie. Meat is the anagram of team... I don't know what he's talking about

by nat :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 2:20pm

I think I disagree with you. Specificity vs generality is not a mere issue of literary style. It's one of intellectual honesty. To resort to mere generalities is to avoid accountability and even honest work. Any hack can say a player has a "marginal work ethic". After all, it's just an opinion, right?

It's somewhat excusable in cases where the audience should already know why you hold your opinion. (Tebow: inaccurate passer) But in a draft "scouting report" it's a character smear, with no way for the reader to judge if you are right or wrong.

Tanier is on target to point out how pernicious this is on character topics. If you say a player has poor footwork, I can at least guess why you would think so and probably be close enough. But if you say he is incapable of leading a team, who can guess your reasoning? Does he have a speech impediment? Pray to the wrong God? Have the wrong color skin? Insult his fellow players? Insult sports writers? Speak too soft or too loud? Too often or not enough?

So, I'm with Tanier in hoping for a future with fewer broad character assaults and more specifics. Not because that's better writing (although it is) but because it's better scouting.

by ericxihn (not verified) :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 3:52pm

I agree with you, but think you might have missed some of Noah's snark.

by nat :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 4:20pm

Probably. It was a little hard to see exactly who he was replying to.

Ah, well.

by RickD :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 4:55pm

Well I, for one, have a hard time figuring out Noah's snark. Tanier is a "writer" as opposed to a "sportswriter." And it's somehow inappropriate to educate sportswriters about how they should be writing better?

I think if the first paragraph had been by itself, I would have taken it as snark. But the second paragraph sounded as if a serious point were being made.

by Guest789 :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 5:27pm

Not to mention that Tanier was a math teacher, and as far as I know, he doesn't have any more writing experience than "sportswriters".


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by Noah Arkadia :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 8:10pm

I am serious, it felt like it was too much. I understand writing a paragraph or two, but not a whole article about it. It might have sounded like snark because IMO sportswriters and announcers deserve pity more than anything else. I mean, they barely understand the sport, and now we're expecting them to write?

And I'm sure Tanier has plenty of literary preparation, btw.

As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "i" in meat pie. Meat is the anagram of team... I don't know what he's talking about

by LionInAZ :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 12:06am

At the rate "sportswriters" get paid, they deserve very little pity. Many of them could be replaced with 6th grade grammar students and the difference would be barely noticeable.

by Noah Arkadia :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 10:51am

Money aside, the difference is 6th graders are going to get better.

As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "i" in meat pie. Meat is the anagram of team... I don't know what he's talking about

by fb29 :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 9:33pm

Geno Smith clearly has an attitude problem and I am basing this entirely on his Rotoworld picture

by BaronFoobarstein :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 9:51pm

Meaningful Meetings

I think Tanier has it wrong when he claims that the pre-draft meeting are meaningless with respect to predicting who a team will draft.

He points out that there were 495 player visits, and 33 players were drafted by a team they visited, yielding a "hit rate" of 6.7%. Fine so far.

If the meetings are meaningless you would expect a similar rate for the entire pool of players. Let's assume 300 realistic draft hopefuls (I think this is low, but let's be conservative here). There are 32 teams for a total of 9600 (team, player) pairs. 254 players were drafted for a "hit rate" of 2.6%.

A visiting player is over two and a half times as likely to be drafted as a non visiting player. Seems fairly meaningful to me. And that's ignoring all the UDFAs that wind up on teams they visited.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 12:17am

Yes two and a half times as likely... yet still the odds are only about 1 in 20 so you really haven't gotten very far. In statistics, there's a difference between statistically significant and actually meaningful. I suppose if you were trying to predict a team's picks, the fact that a player visited makes it slightly more likely that they will draft him (2 and a half times is still just a difference of 4 percentage points), but it's not very helpful to know.

by LionInAZ :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 12:24am

The problem is that it's difficult to isolate the impact of visits from other influences, such as the Combine.

For example, the Lions drafted 4 players who played in the Senior Bowl. They probably all went through pre-draft visits, but what was the bigger influence on their selection: the visits, or the fact that the coaches saw them play in the Senior Bowl?

I'm just saying that players who got invited for visits may have already been more likely to be drafted even if they hadn't made pre-draft visits.

I would say that team visits are probably more important for UDFAs, though.

by SandyRiver :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 12:06pm

Probably I'm missing something, but that 6.7% seems to assume that 495 players made those 495 visits, which we know isn't the case. If we pretend that 165 players made visits, that would mean an avg of 3 visits per player (assuming nobody visits a particular team more than once.) The "random" hit rate would be 9.4%, 3 of 32. However, 33 hits from 165 player-visitors is 20%. Am I doing it wrong?

by Jerry :: Mon, 05/06/2013 - 11:18pm

There are, I suppose, two kinds of scouting reports. One kind is for teams to use in their drafting, whether it's by the team itself or a larger combine. Some are better than others: good analysis of good information leads to good teams, while bad information and/or bad analysis results in bad teams. Those reports can include anything, since they rarely, if ever, become public. If a college coach tells a friend of his in the NFL that a particular player is a bad guy, that's another piece of information for the team to evaluate.

The second kind of report is the one done for public consumption. The outlet where the report appears may subject it to certain standards, but anybody can set up a blog and post whatever they want. If the writer at PFW wants to include aspersions on Geno Smith's character, or his footwork, he can, as long as PFW is willing to let it run. The important thing is that it doesn't matter. What you or I think of any given prospect is completely meaningless, and any team that's using PFW, or Sports on Earth, or even Football Outsiders to build its draft board deserves what it gets. If you enjoy preparing for the draft by learning as much as you can about all the prospects, that's great. Enjoy yourself. Just don't confuse yourself with the people whose livelihoods depend on correctly evaluating prospects.

by rja1 (not verified) :: Tue, 05/07/2013 - 10:24pm

"Nawrocki and his staff may have been broadly accurate in some respects, but they were horribly imprecise, and broad accuracy without precision is essentially useless (try using the knowledge that "summer is hot" to plan a picnic) and can be damning when speaking to the character of a specific human being."

Well, that's most of what passes for sports journalism on the internet.

by Theo :: Wed, 05/08/2013 - 8:20am

Don't look up Ryan Swope (white wide receiver, Cardinals). His draft reports are all over the place.
He is best compared to:
- Brandon Stokley (CBS Sports.com and GM of the Cardinals)
- Jordan Shipley (NFL.com)
- Jordy Nelson AND Wes Welker (Walterfootball.com)

It's ok to compare them to them if he's similar. But all four of them?

It's embarrasing really if you read that he's, according to these sites: not a burner, fast, extremely swift and quick out of breaks, not elusive enough, relies on fakes for seperation, has speed to burn secondaries, is tough, has had concussions...

You'd wonder if they were watching different players.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 05/08/2013 - 5:25pm

Those are mostly reconcilable if you posit that quick/fast/etc are overloaded to mean either high speed and high acceleration or ability to make sudden movements and change directions.

A player could may not have sufficient acceleration to separate from a defender or enough top speed to run by him, which could label him "not a burner." That same deficiency could hamper elusiveness, which I presume means post-reception. On the other hand, the player could excel at sudden motions and change of direction which could be called "swift." It would certainly make him quick out of breaks. Combining that skillset with fakes to disguise the timing and direction of a break would be natural and effective.

But, yeah, I think we're back to the need for specificity in these reports.