Discerning intangibles is difficult
With the scouting combine approaching, Floyd Reese breaks down the most important intangibles that teams will try to evaluate.
Anyone is capable of determining the measurables of a draft-eligible player. NFL scouts are able to quantify a player's speed, agility, strength and body-fat percentage using a variety of drills and measurements.
Being able to value a player's intangibles is quite different, and the aptitude to put a value on these characteristics is what makes a talent evaluator great. With the NFL scouting combine set to begin this week, here are five important intangibles that scouts and front-office personnel will try to evaluate:
Character: Character is the main reason a sixth-round draft choice can become the league MVP. High-character players are aware of their value and they understand exactly what is expected from them. Of all of the intangibles, character allows teams to hit on a sixth-round pick, but it is also capable of making a first-round picks a bust.Part of the reason it is getting increasingly difficult to evaluate character is because colleges, agents and parents are doing a better job of camouflaging kids who may have questionable character. This is why screening and spending time evaluating the character of a player is so important. Further investigation might find that what appears to be a quality character kid is actually quite the opposite.
Work ethic: This is one of the more underrated intangibles because I think a lot of people still believe that it is difficult to outwork someone in the NFL. This is not true. My experiences with players like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Eddie George prove it.Work ethic can increase a player's innate abilities one level. If your ability is reflective of a backup, a great work ethic makes you a starter. If you're a starter, it makes you a Pro Bowler. If you're a Pro Bowler, it makes you a Hall of Famer. Every year, we see players make rosters because they will outwork others on the team. It happens on the practice field, in a meeting room or with a playbook.
Mental toughness: Really, mental toughness is the basis of NFL football. This can apply during a long drive late in a game, when a player looks across the line to see that his opponent is so tired he can't stand up, and the player is exhausted himself. Great mental toughness is the ability to go one more play harder than you did the last one. If necessary, you will do the same thing on the next play.It is too easy for most people to exaggerate a tight hamstring as a reason to get out of practice or to lose focus during a meeting. Wondering how to eliminate the pain is human nature. In the NFL, players must absorb the pain. They overcome the pain, then they dive into that pain again tomorrow, improving themselves even more than today.
Instincts: Instincts are the radar that guides all tangibles. They are the compass of a great football player. If a player lacks some measurables, instincts can make up for them. Evaluating instincts effectively can separate the fair evaluators from good, and good from great. You will watch great players, for no apparent reason, go left when everyone else is going right and end up in a position to intercept a pass or make a key play.Instincts are the ability to, in the turmoil of a play, make the correct decision when everyone else is making the wrong decision. Because players often fall into the right position by accident, only the most astute evaluators can determine if an action was because of instincts or just a blunder that ended fortunately for the player.
Football intelligence/judgment: Football intelligence has to do with instincts, intangibles, judgment and making the right decision in a specific situation. Is there a right time to get a pass interference penalty? Sometimes there is. It has to do with the understanding of the game and often a very specific situation. For example, when you run a fake punt, you need a player with good football intelligence handling the ball.
Even if a player scores low on an IQ test, he can still have great football knowledge. There is coaching involved, but you can't coach every guy on every play. Football intelligence varies from position to position. I believe judgment is the key element to it. When you run a play like the "Music City Miracle," you want Frank Wycheck throwing the ball because you know he will make the right decision on the pass. You need someone with good football intelligence and judgment.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese frequently contributes to ESPN.com.
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