This was an interesting graph that was put out not too long ago regarding the 2010-11 NFL “final four”. While the article is about hiring practices, the thing that stuck out to me was the high percentage of undrafted players on each roster.

You would think that with as many resources as NFL teams have, and with as much at stake financially for their owners and staff, that they would be VERY efficient at identifying and selecting “talent” in the draft. Turns out that they aren’t. As few as 1/5 and as many as 1/3 players were not correctly identified, but ended up playing on an NFL team. I assume they weren’t drafted initially because:

  • They didn’t play at a school with a high profile
  • They didn’t fit the stereotypical physical profile initially (too small, too slow, arms to short, etc).
  • They weren’t good enough at the time of the draft.

The last two are the most interesting to me. Simply because a player doesn’t fit the ideal physical profile, doesn’t mean he/she can’t be great at their chosen sport. So during the tryout process, we can’t discard kids simply because they don’t “look” like volleyball players. And the last item – they weren’t good enough at that point in time – is also interesting. We simply don’t know how good players will be in the future if they have consistent training. There is little correlation between initial ability and final ability.

The message in all of this? Well for me it shows that the NFL combine is a massive waste of time (except to be used as filler on ESPN). So what if you can jump high, run fast, take a written exam, etc? None of these skills are performed in isolation in an NFL game. Football, like volleyball, is a VISUAL-motor game. What players read and interpret is almost more important than how they move.

The second thing I take from this is that we have to keep training as big a group of players as we can in our programs. Find more courts, more court time, and more coaches. This isn’t always easy, but it is necessary for the kind of player development that brings out the diamonds in the rough.