There's one way in which the art of projecting draft prospects is very much like witnessing a car accident (well, two ways if you're watching Vontaze Burfict's combine performance): Everyone will come away from the event seeing different things. Scouts, coaches and personnel execs each have their own preferences and biases to the process, and as a result, you're going to hear some very different evaluations when you're talking to the right people about the same players.
During the 2012 scouting combine, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel talked to the right people about this year's prospects -- five NFL scouts, to be exact. It's a fascinating piece that provides invaluable analysis on a host of players who will hear their names called in late April.
[Michael Silver: Make the NFL scouting combine more accessible]
We don't want to take too much of the juice from McGinn's piece -- you really need to head over and read the whole thing -- but here are just a few examples of just how two scouts can be completely opposed when looking at the same player -- even the players who are currently expected to go with the first three picks of this draft.
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III:
"He's phenomenal," one scout said. "He's going to need technique work and fundamentals. I have no problem about that. But you cannot lose the fact that he's got feet, touch downfield with accuracy, a strong arm. He's charismatic and smart as [expletive]."
"He cannot play quarterback," another scout said. "He's just running around winging it. He has no idea how to play quarterback. He's got no vision. He's got no accuracy. No touch. Anything you look for in an NFL quarterback, he doesn't have it. You want him to run around and throw the ball and just keep running, he can do that. He's [Michael] Vick, but not as good a thrower."
I'd compare the second scout to one of the doofuses sitting around the table at the start of "Moneyball," but that would be an insult to doofuses everywhere. Griffin is a rapidly developing pocket passer who completed 72 percent of his passes in 2011, and led the nation in yards per attempt. Aren't scouts supposed to watch [expletive] tape?
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck:
"He's the best I've [scouted]," said one scout with almost two decades of experience in personnel. "He's got it all and can do it all. He has no flaws. Smart. Winner. Productive. Decisions. Runs the offense. Got nobody playing with him. The receivers were 5-9 and run 4.8. The defense has no athletes on it. He carried that team."
"He is a Matt Ryan-type player," another scout said. "He can't carry the team on his shoulders, but he's a really good manager. His arm isn't even close to Aaron Rodgers' and he doesn't have Aaron's feet. He's smart, competitive, tough. His teammates love him. The media has put so much pressure on this kid. It's unbelievable. They've basically anointed him Jesus Christ."
I think that as the process goes along this year, you might hear more people espouse the notion that Luck is an "in-the-box" player, to his own detriment. It's part of the game to devalue the top guys along the way, but just because Luck is NFL-ready doesn't mean that he doesn't still have room (and the potential) to grow.
USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil:
"He could be the second or third pick in the draft," one scout said. "He is very technically sound. Very athletic. He will need a little bit of strength in his lower body. He's an effortless pass blocker. He's not going to blow you away with power, but he's so good at just gaining position with quickness and just sustaining."
"I think he's overrated," another scout said. "I felt the same way about Sam Baker when he came out of there, too. He's like (Bryan) Bulaga but not as good. Bulaga is tough and strong and all that. This guy is not even strong. I don't know what the deal is with all these people saying how great he is."
It's understandable that Kalil would get the same core strength concerns as Joe Thomas did coming out of Wisconsin. But in Kalil's case, just as it was (and is) with Thomas, a good look at the technique he plays with might give an indicator that a good set in position and turn around the edge can make up for many strength issues. And going from a college weight room to the NFL version should make a real difference.
One thing that's easy to take away from McGinn's article: There may have been an intractable language of "scout-speak" in baseball before Moneyball took over (though that's probably an oversimplification), but in football, people are all over the place in their views -- even on the most valued and "sure-thing" prospects every year.
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