INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Brady's sixth-round status in the 2000 NFL draft is an often-told story, as is the fact that he had to compete for reps with Drew Henson with the Michigan Wolverines. Bill Belichick will be the first to admit that even the New England Patriots had no clue what they were getting from the skinny kid who looked and ran like an accountant at the scouting combine — had Belichick known or even suspected, he certainly wouldn't have waited until the 199th overall pick to pull the trigger on the man who might just be the greatest quarterback of all time.
One former head coach is still haunted by his proximity to Brady, and the fact that he missed the boat. Steve Mariucci, in Indianapolis for the NFL Network, was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers when Brady came out of college. Born in Michigan, "Mooch" probably had the connections to know if the kid was something special at the time. Brady was born and raised near the 49ers' facility, and he was a huge fan of the team growing up, and ... well, Mariucci remembers it as a torturous example of two ships passing in the night.
"I kill myself every day about that — not having him," Mariucci told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday. "And I've mentioned that — if he was with the 49ers [back then], I'd probably still be coaching. We'd be talking about other things right now. I'm trying to replay that whole thing in my mind, and start with the measurables, which are … let's face it, too big in the evaluation process. Bigger than they should be, I suppose — especially for that position. You know, if you're an offensive tackle, we're not going to draft a 5-foot-10, 230-pound guy. You've gotta be 6-foot-5, and you've gotta have a certain height and weight. Arm length, that kind of thing.
"But with a quarterback, is it really important that he ran a 5.24 40, or that he wasn't really strong in the weight room, or that he really didn't look the part in his boxer shorts? You've seen those pictures of him [from the scouting combine]. We had a local combine with the 49ers, where we would invite all the kids who went to high school around there, and he went to Serra High School, just up the street. He was there with us, just throwing the ball, and he didn't do anything any better than anybody else. He didn't stick out. You wouldn't look at him and go, 'There's a Hall of Famer.' That just didn't happen.
"So then, you watch the [college tape, and he was competing for a starting job [at Michigan]. So, what I remember most about [Brady from that time] is that our scouts came back — and he was a local kid — and we asked: Are his coaches standing on the table saying, 'You have to draft this guy … If you don't, you'll all be idiots'? That didn't happen. Do we need an endorsement from the coach? I guess; you don't want a coach to over-exaggerate a player's talent and sell everyone in the program, but you want someone to say, 'Hey — this guy can play in the National Football League.' The reports we got? I don't remember that taking place.
"So, that impression may have been given to every team, and nobody drafted him. Even the six guys drafted in front of him [for the Patriots in 2000] — how long did they last in the league?
"It was an interesting process. Did we learn from it? I guess …"
Brady talked about those perceptions during his Tuesday media session.
"I don't think it's just that 2000 NFL draft," he said, when asked if that snub still drives him. "What you're always trying to do as an athlete is prove it to yourself. You go through a college career and think you do a decent job — not that you get overlooked, it's just that there are other guys who they feel can do a better job — so you just keep working hard, you just keep believing in yourself and looking for your opportunity. Unfortunately, I got my opportunity through Drew [Bledsoe] getting injured [in 2001]. At the same time, I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.
So then, the obvious question: What happened to Brady to make him the player he is now? Beyond the big brain he clearly developed, what happened to him physically, mechanically and schematically?
"What changed for Tom Brady physically … is he any faster than he was at the combine? I don't know," Mariucci said. "Is he a little stronger? He's been in the weightroom a little bit. Is he any taller? No. Some guys just bloom and blossom at different ages. Sometimes, you see kids that peak in high school, and that's it. Confidence levels change, too. Kurt Warner, who didn't get drafted at all, tried out with us in Green Bay, and he was a camp arm. I asked him to go in the huddle one time, and he turned it down — he wasn't confident. Sometimes, it doesn't kick in until a little bit later."
Which is exactly how Brady explained it in a different part of the stadium on the same day. "Life is about taking advantage of opportunities, and you never know when you're going to get them," he said. "You have to be prepared to take advantage when you get them. You try to go out there and be confident in yourself so you can inspire confidence in others. I always tell young players, 'How do you expect me to be confident in you when I look at you and see that you're not confident in yourself?' You're always bringing that level of confidence so guys look at you and say, 'I know he's going to get it done, so this is how I'm going to prepare myself.'"
And that, among many other reasons, is why art of quarterback evaluation is so very frustrating. It's just as much about the things you can't see, and might not even exist, when you get your window into the future.
Just ask "Mooch." He knows.
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