What makes a good evaluator?

NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – Why do we love signing day? Why do we love the NFL Draft?

We love to anticipate what the future might be, while also admiring prospects’ present-day talent. But we also like to play scout. And with the Web and access to sites like YouTube, it’s never been easier to play armchair talent evaluator. Sometimes we might even think we can do a better job than a team’s GM or head coach.

But what makes a good evaluator? Is it a learned skill or is it innate ability?

Jim Grobe might be the best evaluator/developer of talent in the ACC. What could he do with better raw talent?

Evaluation might be the most important ability for any college football staff. Consider the majority of teams, even top 25 teams, have rosters comprised mostly of three-star and lesser prospects. So the teams that can separate the best three-star and lesser prospects from the nation’s haystack of three-star or lesser prospects have a huge edge.

What I was curious to learn is whether this ability is learned or innate, so I posed the question of ‘what makes a good evaluator’ when I spoke to a couple national recruiting analysts in Tom Luginbill and JC Shurburtt, along with Dabo Swinney in today’s print story.

Is evaluation learned? Or is it innate?

It seems to be a combination of both learned skill and natural ability, but mostly learned skill.

For instance, evaluation is in part learning to ask the right questions. While a quarterbacks coach with the XFL, Tom Luginbill brought in Arena League Tommy Maddox and asked him what he didn’t do well. Maddox told him he struggled with deep come-backs, and deep play-action throws.

Evaluation is learned, because Luginbill and the offensive staff with the Los Angeles Xtreme swallowed some of their pride and tweaked their offense and learned part of hitting on a prospect, particularly a QB prospect, is masking weakness through scheme.

Evaluation is learned, because 247Sports.com’s analyst JC Shurburtt noted his Web site’s top evaluator, Gerry Hamilton, is the son of a long-time high school coach and learned the little things to look for – footwork, knock-knees, etc. – that can make a big difference.

But evaluation is also innate.

Not everyone has the vision to to think in the abstract, and project what a 17-year old might look like at 20, like Stanford did when it signed a skinny prospect named Chase Thomas out of Atlanta, who grew into a 6-foot-4, 240-pound three-time all-conference linebacker.

Clemson could have used Chase Thomas.

It’s innate because not everyone sees the same thing when watching the same video. When Luginbill was watching Maddox play in the Arena League some might have seen a player performing so-so on a poor team. Luginbill saw a resilient player who was taking a beating and got the ball out quickly.

Not everything sees the same thing when they look at a picture, and this is the innate part of scouting.

“If an offensive lineman is knock-kneed (Hamilton) will see that quickly,” Shurburtt said. “He’ll see that at the snap of finger. Not everyone that does it professionally can find those little things.”

I think it is the intangibles that are so important to evaluate. Most busts are tied to intangible flaws, but not everyone sees the intangibles, not everyone project how they will play out.

What’s undoubtedly true is some are better evaluating than others.

Clemson and Miami have led the ACC with 19 NFL Draft picks produced since 2009, but only four of those Miami players were three-star or lesser prospects for Miami, and the Hurricanes did not produced a 1st round pick in that span despite a wealth of four- and five-star recruits.

Seven of those draft picks were three-star or lesser prospects for Clemson, which is not a bad mix.

But it’s not up to the evaluation track record of North Carolina (18 draft picks/10 who were three-stars or less), N.C. State (11 draft picks/9 who were three-stars or less) or Wake Forest (9 draft picks/9 who were three-stars or less).

When you look at those numbers who wonder if N.C. State can find a better evaluator/developer than Tom O’Brien. You wonder what Jim Grobe could do at a different school with better raw talent, and whatever you think about Butch Davis he proved he  could evaluate and develop at both Miami and North Carolina.

Evaluation is in part learned, in part innate, but it is wholly important.

2 thoughts on “What makes a good evaluator?

  1. In the print story you talk about Alabama’s success with recruiting. Don’t you think that a lot of their success is because they have been allowed by the SEC to over-recruit? VPI coach Frank Mosley used to say that, given enough players, he could win. Having a bunch of players makes up for bad evaluations.

    • Richard, Exactly right. Oversigning seemed to get more attention from a moral standpoint — offering too many schollys, etc. — but huge, huge competitive advantage for SEC schools that was glossed over.

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