Guerry Clegg commentary: Why do NFL talent scouts get it wrong so often?

February 25, 2014 

I just don’t get it. For years, NFL scouts have poked and probed and quizzed and rated college prospects. They measure height and weight, wingspan and hand size like they are fitting them for tuxedos.

They put them through agility drills, have them run sprints and check their broad jump and vertical leap. They interview and ask such critical questions as, "Is it true your mother was a prostitute?" True story.

They compile more information than a father grilling his daughter's first date. Remember that book report in the seventh grade that was two days late? They will find out about it.

All so they can do things like …

Draft Aundrae Bruce, Steve Emtman, Ki-jana Carter, Tim Couch, David Carr and JaMarcus Russell ahead of everybody else in their respective drafts.

Or so they can take six quarterbacks ahead of Tom Brady. Chad Pennington is one thing. But Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn? Or was that Giovanni Wynn and Spergon Carmazzi?

Or so they can completely ignore Arian Foster altogether.

Or take Jammi German over Hines Ward.

Granted, talent evaluation is far from an exact science. There's no way to ever be sure how someone will adapt to the faster, more violent and highly complex NFL game.

There's no way to know how people are going to mature. There's no way to peer inside a man's heart and see how much determination he has.

That part I get.

This is what I don't get:

Why?

These are the people who know football better than anybody in the world. They watch tape of players until their eyes cross and watch them practice in all-star games.

So why ignore what they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears and rely on 40 times and shuttle runs and cone drills and bench presses.

Just watch the tape. Talk to the players. Do background checks.

Take Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney's performance this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis produced two contradicting numbers.

When Clowney had fewer bench press reps than a punter, the news tore through Twitter like Justin Bieber clubbing with Miley Cyrus.

That news affirmed in some people's minds that Clowney is immensely overrated. Conclusion: He's weak. Weak equals lazy. Lazy equals bust.

Then the next day, Clowney wowed everyone by turning in a blistering 40-yard dash. That affirmed in some people's minds that he's the next Reggie White.

Maybe Clowney will turn out to be a bust. But it won't be because he can't bench press a small car.

Maybe Clowney will turn out to be the next Reggie White. But it won't be because he can beat Johnny Manziel in the 40-yard dash. For pass rushers, explosiveness matters much more than sustained speed.

Whether he makes it or not will depend on whether he has the work ethic and drive to match his incredible quickness.

I'm convinced that if Georgia's Aaron Murray were three inches taller, he would be the clear-cut top pick in this draft. See, NFL personnel people and coaches want their quarterbacks to be at least 6-foot-4. Murray is just under 6-1. So three inches taller would magically make him, if not Tom Brady, then at least Matt Ryan?

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was talking about the organization's thoughts on Russell Wilson before they drafted him. The only negative about Wilson that they could pinpoint was his height -- officially 5-foot-11. The teams who could not ignore his height took Ryan Tannehill (Miami), Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) and Brock Osweiler (Denver).

They're all a good bit taller than Wilson. Maybe one day they will have a Super Bowl ring. Wilson already has his. So does Drew Brees.

You'd think one day the NFL experts might learn.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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