Analyzing Prospects--An Extension of MHR University

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 We all recognize football when we see it.  And through MHR University, many of us have learned how to see it better.  It has become easier to see the trees within the forest, so to speak, and as the game gets larger for us, the ability to focus on the smaller parts of it becomes a reward in itself.  So far this reward has come in the form of a deeper understanding and appreciation of the tactics and strategies that make up the game.  These ideas get layered over one another to create a rich viewing experience for the fan, but to truly dig in and enjoy, there is yet another layer of enjoyment that can be folded in.

MHR Scouting Services is joining temporarily with MHR University to provide a series of  tools for the fan, to help in looking at and analyzing the basic skills of the players themselves, on a level just short of the requirements of strategy.  When it isn't enough to know that a player is "fast" or "big" turn to Analyzing Prospects, an Extension of MHR University.

In our introductory lesson, we'll take a look at some traits that cover every prospect and every position.  These basic criteria should define the baseline analysis of a player, and can often be the most significant measure of a younger player, whose positional skills may still be raw.  Any prospect who grades out highly in the following areas is bound to be a great find.

Height, Weight and Speed

The thing to look at here are what kinds of averages you are trying to fall within.  Schemes and philosophies often have requirements for these measurements, each of which have stood up to the test of time at various positions.

But in general, these measurements can also tell you a lot about your team, on average.  While average height hasn't varied much over the years, weight has significantly increased in the NFL.  For the Broncos, 1990 marked a year when the average weight was 230 lbs.  Fast-forward to 2008 and the average weight has escalated to 250 lbs.  On the offensive line alone, the average weight was 289 lbs in 1990.  In 2008 that jumps to 305 lbs which, while a substantial increase, still comes in at 10 lbs lighter than the average O-line in the NFL.  On the whole, offensive and defensive lines throughout the NFL have seen a shift to lighter lines, as the weights peaked around 2000 and have been steadily dropping, though nowhere near the levels of the early '90s.  Of interest is that the overall team weight averages have been steadily rising.

Speed as measured by the 40-yd dash, is a good measurement to include here.  Many people talk about 'football speed,' which is meant to imply that players run differently when they are in football gear and in the heat of a game, which is true.  However 'football speed' is best calculated as a function of a player's position, since the use of that speed is relative to the functions they will be required to perform.  For now, it is just good to know how 'track fast' a player is, and not to discriminate between two players for negligible differences in this timed speed.

Quickness, Agility and Balance

 These attributes are most easily measured at the combine as well, as specific differences from player to player can be established by ranking them against others of their position.  The overall impression of these three qualities is to get a feel of how a player USES their body.  For quickness, how do they respond to stimulus, such as the snap count?  For agility, how well can they redirect their body's momentum?  For balance, how far can the player's posture vary from 'upright' where they still exhibit the ability to execute a football motion?

The basic premise uniting these functions is "control."  Each of these measurements should give you an idea of how much physical control a player can exhibit over his body.  A player who runs a 4.3-second 40, yet shows an inability to maintain his balance, or who has only average reaction time is a player who cannot harness his speed, even though the speed exists. On the field when he is asked to perform a duty, and he is then stretched to his limit, he is a risk to fail at that critical juncture when the skills of the opponent force him out of position.  High scores in any of the above areas indicate a player who has the ability to exert his will on the field.

Instincts and Intelligence

In veteran players this is a hard category to quantify, as the distinction between instinct and intelligence blurs with experience, but in younger players it can be easy to spot.

Intelligence of course, is not too difficult to identify.  When a prospect speaks, does he impart firsthand observations and knowledge, or does he repeat?  Is he able to adjust his answers extemporaneously?  On the field, does he get into the right position during the course of the play? Is his playing time affected by grades?  How often does he not learn even after repeated repetitions?

Instinct can be easy to spot in some positions, especially LBs and RBs, two positions where athletes can skate by for YEARS on instinct alone.  But at the pro level, you are looking for a little bit more.  The key factor here is the location of the ball relative to the position of the defensive player, and the position of defensive players relative to offensive players.  This dynamic is the essential heart of football, and a player with good instincts finds ways, even if those ways are unconventional, of being at the ideal spot for him in that trinity.  Defensive linemen that are routinely on the proper shoulder of the O-lineman closest to the run (when in a system that gives them a choice) or LBs that avoid blocks when they are close to the ball carrier are instances of instinct.  QBs who move consistently in the right direction when the pocket flexes are another great example.

Instinct and intelligence go hand in hand with a young player, in that you want to see instinct in a subservient role to intelligence.  Many a defensive prospect has busted in the NFL when they were considered "talented freelancers" in college.  In college, freelancing as used to describe a prospect who leaves the conventional assignments of his position to make plays is usually the result of a tremendous athlete with great instincts, but limited or unapplied intelligence.  In the NFL the speed of the game will paralyze his instincts if his intelligence isn't up to the task of organizing the structure.  But a player with good intelligence who lets their instincts help them can be a great player, by 'feeling' the edges of  the conventions of his position and tracking down the ball.  On the Broncos, a tremendous example of this is Wesley Woodyard, who ALWAYS finishes a play near the ball, with his instincts serving him well within the limits of his role.

Strength and Explosion

These two ideas measured in conjunction give an all-around measure of the player's POWER.  Prospects who score highly here will have the ability to FORCE opponents out of their comfort zone, and coupled with other abilities can then go on to dominate the opponent.  Strength is most commonly measured in bench-press reps, which is a bit archaic, but works well enough.  The idea here is to find out how much upper-body strength a player has available when they are off balance or moving, such as a receiver cutting in and out of routes, or an O-lineman in a backpedal.  High strength means that a player can effectively perform the basic motions expected of him at his position.

Explosion is most often measured by the first ten yards of the 40-yd dash, as explosion is primarily a measure of core strength. The fast-twitch power that a prospect exhibits in bursting off the line and accelerating are huge guides to that player's ability to deliver the blow when tackling, to drive into the opponent's offensive line and draw double-teams, to drive the defensive lineman off his stance in the running game and more.  Even kickers and punters should have scores here, as this is pure power that coaching can reign in.

Body Flexibility

This can be difficult to spot on the field, but not having it does exhibit symptoms, such as increased injuries, or injuries that 'nag,' or take forever to clear up, especially routine bruises and pulls.  While there is no 'official' measure of flexibility, your own knowledge of what constitutes an adequate stretching routine can be an aid if you have the opportunity to watch a pre-game warmup.

On the field look for HOW the player harnesses their abilities, through the CONTROL  group above (quickness, balance, agility).  Flexibility is a key tool in the above group, and when a player exhibits great aptitude in two areas (say, balance and quickness, for example) but seems lacking in the other (agility), a prime suspect should be flexibility.  This shows up in how well they turn their hips when they release from a backpedal into a run, or how well they change direction when they are running a route or through a running lane.  Tracing a problem down to flexibility can be a a boon, however, as it is certainly an issue that can be addressed for most any prospect, though there are some instances where nothing can be done (such as body type, though, this info too can be used to your advantage, perhaps in forecasting a new position for the player.)

Durability

Quite simply this is how much damage a player can take before they cannot perform well enough.  This can be a measure of body type (large, heavy players can take 'aerobic' damage, and may need time off to recoup) or work ethic (out-of-shape players tend to damage easily and take longer to recover), or even mental attitude (a high pain tolerance can allow a player to perform longer--at risk, of course--and will aid them in rehabilitating quicker).

The quick measure of durability is "how much time has this player missed due to injury?"  Frequent injuries, periods of decreased productivity due to injury, and long rehabilitations from injury are all red flags, but by themselves they are not enough.  They must be combined with the player's attitude towards injury, his body type, his propensity for injury and his willingness to deal with his injury.

Character

After Denver's last draft, a lot has been made of this trait, and there can be no doubt about its importance, but it isn't a trait that can stand alone.  At its root this quality measures DEPENDABILITY.  Can this player's teammates rely on him to study and do his job?  Will he still be there when the going gets tough?  Will he still stand with them when they only have their pride to play for?  Will he cause problems for the team off the field, or cause distractions in the locker room?  Is he ready to be a millionaire, and to show up to work like a professional?

If players cannot satisfactorily answer all these questions and more, the risk increases exponentially for getting the production that a team pays for.  With every "No" answer to the questions above a player should get demerit.  The mind is at the root of 90% of what a player will accomplish in their NFL career, and character is an extension of the mind.

Production

Do not make the mistake of seeking out lists of stats in evaluating this quality.  The stats speak for themselves, and are usually meant to be held in specific contexts to be worthy of recognition in evaluating a player.  But in assigning a wholesale grade to a player's production, focus instead on WHERE the production comes from.  Is the player racking up yards because he throws in a pass-happy offense, or because he has a quick release and makes great decisions?  Is the LB getting so many big hits because of his ability to read and react to a play, or is he surrounded by explosive players who leave him an easy 'clean up?'

For me, this quality is usually the last to receive a hard grade, even though it is one of the first that I get a 'feel' for.  The reason being that I evaluate the player from a  positional standpoint first, since a player is first limited by what they are asked and allowed to do by virtue of their position.  Often times, you will be required to look at MANY different players on a team to accurately judge the one you are actually interested in (don't fret, as in the most severe cases you tend to want the other analyses anyways).  But usually, when you know what a player can do well on a play-by-play basis, you can usually accurately rate his production, and how valid it is.

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