Good Collegiate Players Don’t Become NFL Starters (necessarily)

This could also be titled Scouting 101 or How to Sound Really Smart to Your Football Friends. But the point remains, and at face value, seems fairly straightforward. Just because a player was good (or even great) at the collegiate level doesn’t mean that success will transfer to the pros. To make matters even more murky, a player who was “bad” in college can go on to have a successful NFL career. Now the latter is much more rare, and no one starting for a professional ballclub was ever truly bad or without talent, but it had to be refined. And that right there is an NFL scout’s job. To look at where a player was, where they’re at, and where they will be in 2-3 years. In the biz (of which I am not most definitely not a part), we call this “player development”. There’s a myriad of factors that go into that process, which include coaching (VERY important one), position, scheme, physical training, talent, injury recovery, experience, and work ethic/character. All those dots must connected to form a guesstimated path of what a player will be halfway through their rookie contract. And the more dots that need connecting, the riskier it is to draft that player early.

Take former Washington State DT Hercules Mata’afa.

During his final two years in school, he put up a gaudy 36 TFL’s and 15.5 sacks. The problem was, he was playing interior DT at 250 pounds, which might work against Pac-12 offensive lineman, but was far too light for NFL standards. He would most certainly have to change positions to LB, which isn’t exactly a gentle learning curve when you’re doing it at the highest level of football. In addition, some teams had concerns over his maturity levels. These factors led to a great college player not even being selected in the 2018 draft before signing with the Minnesota Vikings. Jaylon Ferguson had a similar story with LA tech, where he set the NCAA sack record with 45 in four seasons. However, his overall athleticism was not good, and he feasted on lower level competition for much of his production. Going in the third round to Baltimore, he has thus far produced 4.5 sacks in two seasons.

Conversely, Penn Sate DE Jayson Oweh is projected to go in the first or second round of this year’s draft, despite not recording a single sack in 2020! Why? Because during the pre-draft process he tested out as one of the best athletes of all time. Like stupid good.

Plus, he only has been playing ball for a few years, which intuitively might seem like a negative, but scouts see that as untapped experience potential. Will Oweh live up to his potential? No one truly knows, but some NFL GM will take that gamble in a few weeks.

All this to say that projecting players for the next level is hard, and while scouts are pretty good at their jobs usually, they’re still wrong. Often times more than this guy.

Sometimes, the guy sitting on his couch DOES know more than the professional!

But probably not.

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