Coffee and Cigarettes: Educational Links For Sunday

It's labor day weekend and I'm spending it on a lake without the internet. Because of this, I wanted to hook y'all up with some really good reads from the always excellent Matt Waldman of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio. In today's edition of Coffee and Cigarettes, read up on Waldman's methods on watching tape and evaluating players.

His suggestions are something that any serious NFL fan should keep in mind when watching the game on any given Sunday. Enjoy.

Evaluating the Evaluator " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
-The Inexact Science of Evaluation

During the ESPN special, Parcells repeatedly described talent evaluation as an "inexact science." Once again, this is no different than the service and manufacturing industries where statistics are essential to measure productivity. But what makes talent evaluation an inexact science is the fact that statistics cannot provide a full or accurate measure of an individual’s performance. Nor can statistics alone gauge talent or project future performance.

Because measuring and projecting individual performance deals with both objective and subjective criteria, it is vitally important that there is a strong methodology in place to ensure that evaluators are consistent with their approach to the work. Many service and manufacturing businesses have figured this out by embracing an approach that I call "quality-driven processes."

These processes not only generate results that are more accurate and productive, but the structure of the process itself also helps these businesses get better at what they do with each passing year while saving money.

Losing Your Football Innocence " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
-- There is a reason football people call film study grinding tape. When done well, it’s a methodical, unrelenting process that ultimately turns into a job. Granted, it’s often a fun job, but it’s still work. I have frequently spent as many as eight hours studying a single player in one game – and that includes fast forwarding through plays where he’s not on the field.

I realize most of you aren’t that serious about studying film and you don’t need to make that kind of commitment to develop a more critical eye. However, you do have to be willing to give up some of your football innocence. At first, you might not enjoy taking a sober look at the game. However, the deeper appreciation gained is worth the effort.

I make my share of mistakes and I’m sure there are experienced scouts or draft analysts who would disagree with some of the points I’m about to share. But I’m sharing part of my path and what has been valuable to me.

N.F.L. Draft: The Fine Points of Game Film - NYTimes.com
-- As someone who studies player performance, I can’t help but think that game film is to the N.F.L. combine what the Zapruder film was to the Warren Commission. The analogy is not intended to make light of a grave event in our country’s history, but in the same way governments debate semantics and engage in rhetoric to obfuscate compelling evidence, a similar discourse occurs with N.F.L. prospects at this time of year.

Buzzwords like intangibles, leadership, winner, heart and character are in generous supply when describing these players. A little too generous if you ask me. They may accurately describe a prospect’s college career, but they lack substance until proven on an N.F.L. field. Just ask Joey Harrington, Tim Couch, Kevin Dyson and the multitudes of former top prospects who underwhelmed because impressive college stats and buzzwords could only get them so far.

Traits like these are merely platitudes if the player doesn’t exhibit technique, fundamentals and consistency of execution to back them up. These skills are the difference between a prospect with a nice college resume and a player with true potential to contribute as a pro. Below are two examples of position-specific techniques that are often the difference between a player with a future and a prospect whose best years have passed.

Execution " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
-- While researching YouTube highlights for my last blog post, I came across a series of short videos on fundamentals for wide receiver and tight end. One set of these videos features former Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings tight end Paul Coffman, who does a fantastic job of demonstrating fundamental techniques for blocking, releases, routes, and pass catching.

The other set has current NFL pros demonstrating the same fundamentals. The difference between the two is that Coffman’s videos feature middle school and high school students executing these techniques. This may seem boring in contrast to the NFL stars, but there’s something to be gained from watching both, which is the vast difference in execution.  This seems obvious, but it is vitally important when evaluating players. Coffman’s kids are still learning these techniques while the pros make everything look easy and effortless. 

But "simple" and "easy" aren’t synonymous without years of practice. This is something to remember every time you watch a college athlete or young NFL player. Those prospects who make fundamentals look easy closer to becoming refined pros than those who are simply athletes with raw positional skills. 


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