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Posted: Wednesday April 15, 2009 12:17PM; Updated: Wednesday April 15, 2009 4:10PM
Ross Tucker Ross Tucker >
INSIDE THE NFL

Quick hips aside, draft evaluation needs to be all about production

Story Highlights

Draft evaluators break down prospects on a number of factors

Too often, prospects get dinged for things that don't matter on the field

'Ankle tightness' and being 'over muscular' are meaningless in football

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Alex Mack managed to stay on his feet and bend at the knees on this particular play.
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Alex Mack is a center from Cal. The 6-foot-4, 307-pounder is equal parts fast and strong, running a sub-5.1 40 and physically dominating his counterparts at the Senior Bowl. Mack is a two-time All-Pac 10 performer and will likely be the first center picked in next weekend's NFL draft.

Or not, says one draft publication, because Mack "too often lands on the ground and has balance issues resulting from his lack of hip quickness."

William Beatty is an offensive tackle from UConn. The 6-6, 307-pounder also broke 5.1 in the 40 and reeled off 27 reps in the bench press. Beatty, too, made his all-conference first team and is expected to be a late first- or early second-round pick, despite, as one draft guide says, playing "like a cake-eating, chardonnay drinker who does not want to get his fingernails dirty."

Apparently, this is what the draft has become -- quick hips and wine sips. Forget how these prospects look on the field. We need to know whether they are a waist-bender or a knee-bender.

As NFL teams are finalizing their draft boards, experts and novices alike are breaking down prospects based upon a number of factors, including college production and off-field interests. The San Francisco 49ers even had their team psychologist ask Georgia quarterback prospect Matthew Stafford about his parents' divorce.

While there are ideals that you look for at every position, it really all comes down to one thing when you evaluate: does the player accomplish his task or not. All of these pre-draft guides, television experts and real NFL scouts base their opinions on a number of factors that most coaches and players don't care about. So take all the information you will be inundated with over the next 10 days with a grain of salt because in the end only one thing matters.

"The old saying in the league is, 'I don't want to hear about the labor pains, just show me the baby,' and it is so true," said long-time NFL quarterback Jim Miller, now an analyst for Sirius NFL Radio and Comcast. "Does he get the job done or not?"

Take Mack, for example. I played center in the NFL quite a bit and have no idea what "hip quickness" means, so I am going to guess I didn't have it. And the comment about being on the ground too much is one of my pet peeves when hearing so-called experts discuss offensive linemen. Who cares if the guy ends up on the ground? If he was trying to finish his defender and was able to carry out his assignment on the play, that should be all that matters. And wouldn't the offensive line prospect end up on the ground if he pancaked his opponent into the turf? I think I would be worried about the effort of a player who never ended a play on the grass. This is football, after all.

How aesthetically pleasing a player's performance is on the field is what a lot of scouts end up writing about in their reports, yet it means absolutely nothing when it comes time for a coach to decide who is going to play on Sunday. This is the cause for the sometimes contentious relationships in some organizations between scouts and coaches. All that matters to the coaching staff is whether or not the player carries out his assignment on a given play. How he looks or goes about getting the task completed carries much less significance.

Players at every position in the NFL, and college for that matter, typically receive grades from their coaches for their performances. If he gets a "plus" on a play it means the player got the job done in a satisfactory manner and a "minus" means he didn't. Though even this process can be somewhat subjective at times, it really is that simple. And in a result-oriented business, production trumps all.

That being the case, it makes these scouting reports that much more entertaining, as is the case with our wine-drinking buddy Beatty. I found the guide's comments particularly comical because I know Pro Bowl offensive linemen who eat cake, drink wine and, yes, get manicures. I know what is being insinuated about Beatty with this comment and I realize a good measure of it is for pure entertainment value, but give me a break.

How about the report on Penn State offensive tackle Gerald Cadogan, which cautions he "has diverse interests." You mean he doesn't just go home after working out and play video games like Madden or Call of Duty like a lot of NFL players? Perish the thought. I had an internship every offseason during my first four years in the league and let me tell you, putting on a coat and tie and going into an office was unbelievable motivation to continue trying to play football as long as I could.

One of the problems with stud Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher, according to one published report, is that he is a "waist-bender." Ideally, linemen bend at the knees, but again, this is largely irrelevant if the guy gets the job done. I would have happily played next to a 5-9, 170-pound, waist-bending tackle with short arms and a bad body as long as he somehow found a way to block his guy every play. It's like a hitter in baseball -- I don't care how he looks at the plate or how pretty his swing is, just give me his batting average, on-base percentage and power numbers and we can call it a day.

And it is far from just being an offensive line thing, trust me. USC linebacker Brian Cushing has been criticized for being "overly muscular." First-round defensive tackle prospect Peria Jerry had 32 tackles for losses in two seasons at Mississippi yet has a "sloppy body that looks like it has not seen the weight room much." So if you don't want to be as put together as Cushing or as flabby as Jerry, what exactly is the perfect amount of musculature for a football player? Anyone else confused?

I could go on all day trying to figure out how they determined that Ohio State's Beanie Wells has "ankle tightness" or how Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell could possibly "lack great timing and anticipation," but I won't waste my time. We will find out soon enough which of these players is really able to get the job done.

 
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