Back in the early 1990’s, I was fortunate enough to be a part of Bill Belichick’s initial coaching staff before moving over the player personnel department. I can vividly remember him saying to the scouts in our draft room, “don’t tell me what round a guy is going to be drafted, tell me how he’s going to play when he gets here”. In other words, he did not want the area scouts forecasting how high or low a prospect might go in the draft, all he wanted was for the report to state how the scout projected the player into the National Football League.
Walter Juliff is a longtime personnel man for the Dallas Cowboys, I have heard him give his breakdown for assessing college talent many times over the years. He says a guy is either a “starter, a backup or can’t play”. In essence, he places the prospects into three different categories and then supports his arguments with what he sees in practice, on the tapes and in “live” game exposures.
The point is that during the college season and throughout the pre-draft run up from the Reese’s Senior Bowl to the Combine to the draft itself, everyone has a tendency to use phrases like, “he’s a legitimate 1st rounder”, or “he’s a day two (2nd/3rd round) selection”, or “I see him as a late round candidate”. In reality, instead of talking “rounds”, we should be assessing what the player will be as a rookie and beyond as a professional athlete.
During my time in the NFL, we utilized a grading system that essentially divided the players into five different levels on our draft board. In truth, this is the way that all of us should be talking about prospects in the days leading up to the draft.
-starts day one or during rookie season, a prospect whose physical abilities create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game, a future All-Pro.
Eventual Starter/Quality NFL Player
-expected to start during rookie season, a prospect who should be productive within his first two years, a quality NFL player.
Potential Starter/Functional NFL Player
-anticipated to start within three seasons, has a deficient area of play that should be overcome, a functional NFL player.
Backup/NFL Roster Player
-would only start due to team/injury circumstances, his playing deficiencies cannot be overcome, backup or spot player only.
Free Agent/NFL Camp Player
-capable of a respectable showing in preseason, has too many playing deficiencies to make a 53-man roster, a camp player.
With Belichick’s words echoing in my head, I have made a conscious effort to use these kinds of terms on all of my interviews and SiriusXM NFL radio shows leading up to the 2018 draft.