Beware of off season moves up the NFL draft board.

By Bill Smith

Note to NFL Draft fans: Tomorrow I will outline my scouting procedure for evaluating talent on game tapes.

Draft fans that try to figure out which guys in the draft are gems and which are fools gold are at a major disadvantage. The NFL teams get a lot more game tape than we do. They also get to interview the kids, and they are kids after all. But there are some things we have that too many NFL teams don’t seem to understand.

The biggest factor that bad NFL teams miss is the rise of players after the season. At 22, a lot of guys have the look of a player in shorts and a tee shirt. Add a good body with a little athleticism and a guy can pass the “eyeball test” easily.

A former division 3 college DE showed up at our tryouts one year when I was the D coordinator for a semi pro team. He was 6-5 275 pounds and looked like Tarzan. In the workout, he dazzled the other coaches. In the 5 workouts prior to putting on pads, he was unstoppable. He had instincts, speed, agility, and quicks. It was a different story when we put on pads. In shorts, he was all league. In pads he was all done. He may have looked like Tarzan but he played like Jane. After the first day in pads, we never saw him again.

Don’t be fooled by fast risers after real football is over. Those changes to the draft board are based on tee shirt workouts. QBs that can’t look like Payton Manning against air will turn to dust and blow away when the pass rush comes and there is an NFL corner covering their target. Any D lineman can look great getting around a 50 year old coach holding a blocking bag. The question is can that same tee shirt stud get around a 325 pound 25 year old NFL quality LT? Here is a hint. If the kid couldn’t succeed on the field against college players, forget him. He will be a non factor against NFL players.

I don’t care how good he looks at the combine or in pro day workouts. If I didn’t grade him high in games on the field, he is off my draft board. So given the number of Internet draft sites and mock drafts, which ones should we trust?

For the top players and juniors, the grades after the bowl games are going to be a lot more accurate than later grades. Those grades are based on play on the field not tee shirt stats.

For players in all star games, consider the moves on draft boards after those games. I do put a lot of faith in performances in all star game workouts in pads and in the game. The fact that teams don’t have a much time to practice together and the rules of the games put the player‘s abilities on display better than in regular college games. In addition, the rosters of those games are much more balanced than USC vs. Whats-a-Matter U. Every player has a minimum amount of skills that levels the playing field of all star games.

I have been watching the draft closely for more than 50 years. While these guidelines do sometimes miss a stud, they are 98% accurate in eliminating busts. The way that the top teams stay on top is to have great choices in the middle and later rounds of every draft. That is the only way you can be at the bottom of the draft every year and still stay competitive year after year.

The hardest thing to do in sports is to keep an NFL team competitive while you reload. Anyone that has followed my suggestion and gotten a team on SPORTSIMS.NET will realize that after a month or 2. To do that, you have to be thinking a season or two ahead. Taking a player that needs a couple of seasons development before he can contribute only works if you do it a couple of seasons before your starter is done. Good teams do that as a matter of policy. Bad teams do not. Good teams get a guy in the 4th round or later that develops into a solid starter. Bad teams cut their lower choices.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits He has also published several novels on and edits .

My email is [email protected]

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2 thoughts on “Beware of off season moves up the NFL draft board.”

  1. The kid from Georgia Tech is exactly what you are talking about – Michael Johnson. In game tapes he sucks but in the combines and workouts, he looks great. I would stay away from him.

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  2. Track stars can’t always play football. Good points.

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