Everyone knows that the National Football League draft is a big key to the long term success of any team, but like any key, all it does is get you inside the room.
Too much is made by fans and press about instant success or failure of draft choices, but these comments often are based on what people think they know about the players. And quite frankly, with the exception of a very small minority of observers, most fans have not heard of most players.
But they love watching the game so much that in their minds, they think and assume they have heard of everyone. So when their favorite team steps up and makes a choice, more often than not the reaction is that “I never heard of that guy,” followed by something to the effect that he possibly is not very good.
But if people could see the amount of video, the size of evaluation books compiled by scouts and studied like they are all prepping for graduation from a master’s program, fans would all realize the amount of work that goes into the selection process.
But making the choice is just the beginning.
Following the conclusion of this year’s draft the Denver Broncos announced that the team has reached agreement with 13 undrafted college free agents. Since this process happens with very little fanfare, compared to the draft, these 13 young men are largely anonymous to most season ticket holders, as well as to the vast members of Broncos Country.
But for the last eight seasons in a row, one of those undrafted free agent players has made the Broncos’ final roster. Last year it was cornerback Chris Harris of Kansas, who led all NFL rookie defensive backs in tackles in 2011.
The previous year cornerback Cassius Vaughn of Ole Miss made the Broncos as a UFA, and the list goes on.
Once upon a time wide receiver Rod Smith and Steve Watson were guys like that, so it shows that talent comes from a lot of different areas.
The first think all Bronco rookies will do before taking the field for rookie mini-camp next week is administrative, and after that they head to the locker room, take off their civilian clothes, and get ready to practice—get ready to compete, as it were.
And at that moment in time, it does not matter who had the nicest clothes, who got the biggest signing bonus, or who had the thickest file of press clippings from their hometown papers.
Figuratively speaking, they get naked and then re-dress for competition.
And the NFL is a meritocracy above all other things. Everybody wants to win, and you can be sure the coaches will promote, advance and play the players who are better than the others.
Production, not press clippings, will tell the tale.
If someone is the fastest at his spot, but does not run fast and gets beaten out by the “slower” player, it is just like track—the runner who breaks the ribbon is the winner.
And of course veteran free agency is another means of adding players to a team, and of course this year the Broncos made what is probably the greatest free agent signing in NFL history by adding Peyton Manning. The NFL’s all-time leader at quarterback in Pro Bowl selections (11) and seasons with 25 or more touchdown passes (13) is without question the most celebrated signing of the off-season.
But they all get added up.
Bronco veterans, veteran free agents, draftees and UFAs all get evaluated by the same coaches, on the same fields.
And how they perform in those practices and in preseason games determines the final roster.
Talent and hard work go hand in hand as part of the competition process, and the winners determine themselves, and sometimes cut themselves, on the field.
So don’t worry too much about whether or not you are familiar with a player’s name.
His future performance is going to determine how well that name is known in time to come.