Draft Value Part 2: Talent, Effort, and Instincts

Since this is draft season we have been going around, and around, over different players.  The debate often centers on whether the player represents a good "value" at a certain position in the draft.  I think it might be interesting to hear what our posters think that "value" actually means.  So I will explain what I look for in draft value and we can talk about it for a bit

I have a problem with this little project.  There is a ton of things to talk about concerning evaluation of players for value.  I am going to make it a bit easier by breaking up the evaluation into pieces so that we can talk about each aspect individually.  That will make it easier to digest and help keep the discussions more on track.  It also has the effect of making them seem like separate issues, when in fact they are all part of the same problem.

This article talks about how talent, effort, and instincts are all part of the formula to determine the impact of a player in the draft.  This is one of five article that are planned for the series, though I might add one or two more if the first ones are well accepted.  So lend your thoughts to the discussion and have some fun!

Talent Trumps All? NOT!

The primary consideration of player value, based on impact, is usually talent.  But talent does not make a player successful on its own.  There has been a long history of talented NFL rookies that crash and burn.  Certainly talent is part of the package, but it has to be married with effort and instincts to really come out.

If you cannot justify the pick based on talent, then you need a rationale to explain why the player will have impact.  Guys with a "high motor"  or "great instincts" can often perform at a level that is higher than their raw talent might indicate.

Certainly. the ultimate player will have it all.  They will combine great talent with a consistently strong effort and excellent instincts.  You should look at all three of these factors as being additive.  But which of them is most important?  The answer to that is not simple. 

All three of these factors must be present at an acceptable level.  A highly talented player will not perform with impact if they do not work hard or they cannot recognize a play as it is develops.  They will just be a frustration for the fans and the coaches, because they will show flashes of their potential, yet never fully realize it.

It is probably better to draft an average talent that works hard on every play and has great instincts over a lazy player with talent.  A hard working player with good instincts will always be around the ball and making plays despite having less talent. They will have more consistent impact on the game than the lazy player with greater talent.

There is no clear formula for this evaluation.  The best approach is to look for below average levels of talent, effort, or instincts and then grade the player down accordingly for each deficiency.


The Little Engine That Could

We have all seen stories of people that were at a great disadvantage, but prevailed anyway because they simply outworked their opponent.  This characteristic has become highly respected in our society, and football is no different.

Sometimes you will hear that a player has a "high motor" of that they are an "effort" player.  Those are signs that they will work hard and do what is required to achieve success.  What you really don't want to see are statements that the player has a questionable work ethic.

I don't care how much talent a player has, it means little if they are not going to apply it.  In my evaluations, this is one of the most serious criticisms that can be leveled at a player and I will often eliminate a player from my draft board entirely based entirely on this issue.

Certainly there are some players that can overcome a lack of motivation, but it is rarely on their own initiative.  They are usually too lazy to solve their own laziness.  It usually takes an outside influence to motivate them and get them to refocus their efforts.  There are some coaches that excel at these types of reclamation projects and they might be less worried than I am about players with low motivation.


You Can't Hit What You Can't See

Lack of instincts is an even more difficult problem in some ways.  What we like to call instincts is the ability to read and react to the play.  But what that really means is that the player has to be able to process what they are seeing happen on the field and make very quick decisions on how to respond.  The faster they can recognize what is happening and take proper actions, the better their instincts are. 

Instincts are required on both sides of the ball.  The offense uses reads for many things like picking up blitzes and knowing which route to run when going out for a pass.  The defense uses reads for pretty much everything since the defense is almost always reacting to what the offense does.  All football players benefit from good instincts to some degree.  But defensive players live or die based on their ability to read and react.

Some parts of the ability to read a play can be learned.  A player that is a dedicated student of the game will work hard to learn their opponents plays from film.  This knowledge helps them lower the possibilities of which plays might be coming at them based on how the opposing team lines up.  This is called a "pre-snap read" and it is very useful.

Once the ball is snapped, the defender will need to quickly recognize which play is being run out of the possibilities they had recognized from their pre-snap read. This is called a "post-snap read" or "reading your keys."  Usually it is done by watching which way certain players move.   Being able to quickly recognize which exact play is being run allows the defender to get to the point of attack and stop the play for little or no gain.  This is also learned by hard work in the film room, but it also requires the ability to recognize keys as a play happens and make quick decisions on the field.  That part of a players instinct can take time to develop, and requires playing time.  A player may never develop good reactions at all if they have trouble recognizing keys and making quick decisions.  Ernie Sims was a good example of this problem.


Get Rid Of Those Wrinkles!

Offensive coordinator will sometimes put "wrinkles" into their playbook to confuse defenders. They put their team in an alignment that causes the opponent to make a specific pre-snap read based on what they have seen on tape.  But they will do something different after the snap from what they have ever done before.  This is an attempt to use the opponents own preparation against them.  It is at this point where true instincts come into play.  Being able to "feel" that something is not right and that the other team is suckering you is not something you can learn in a film room.  Only players with the highest instincts can recognize these wrinkles immediately and stop them cold.

The "wrinkle" plays are often what cause the players and coaches to huddle up around pictures of what happened on the play while they are on the sideline.  The coaches are trying to get their players to understand the new play and account for it in their reads.  It is a chess match of moves and counter-moves.  To me, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of football.   It qualifies football as the most complex and strategic sport on the planet, in my opinion.

It also places a clear demand on the players to be students of the game.  Without a consistent work ethic and good instincts the talent will be lost in the wash.  Talent, effort, and instincts are an unbreakable trinity.  You cannot evaluate one without considering the others or you just fool yourself with misconceptions.


No Ayers, Aight?

This evaluation is exactly what hurts Akeem Ayers and drops his standing on my draft board.  In Ayers I see a player with impressive physical talents that just does not work to apply them consistently.  Ayers has the talent to be the most dominant linebacker in college football by a slam dunk.  We should be talking about him as a top five pick, but we aren't.  The reason for that is that Ayers lacks motivation and has questionable instincts.

Players like this come out every draft.  They tantalize us with all the potential they have.  The sky is the limit, if only you can get them to put in a consistent effort.  I know Ayers has a problem with effort because I have seen him quit on a number of plays on video.  When he allows smaller and weaker players to block him out one-on-one then he is not fighting on every play. This is not just my evaluation.  It is a pretty consistent feature of most scouting reports on Ayers. 

I did not choose Ayers for this example in order to get into a tug-of-war with anybody (yes that means you det32).  I chose Ayers because he is the best example, in this draft, of a player who hurt their ranking because their effort and instincts do not match their talent.


So Here We Go Again

Just like before, and for all of these articles, the point is to have a good discussion.  If you disagree then great.  That is your right and you should say so.  All I ask is that you give some actual reasoning for your disagreement.  Also, this is not about any specific player.  The post is about how you evaluate talent, effort, and instincts.  If you hijack the thread to argue about Ayers then you have entirely missed the point and all you are doing is showing that you don't get it.  We have plenty of threads to argue about Ayers, so you can do that in one of those.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.

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