When an athletic but raw player is drafted, it’s common to hear that he will succeed if he can be “coached up” in the NFL. That idea relies on the assumption that there’s going to be enough individualized coaching in the NFL for that player to reach his potential. But I’m not really sure if that is true, especially when it comes to less highly-touted prospects.
This was an interesting article about offensive linemen in the NFL who believe that the time limits on practices under the CBA “have forced NFL coaches to spend most of their time installing the offense, rather than focusing on the tricks of the trade. That’s led to sloppy play.” And Ryan Riddle, a former sixth round pick who now writers at Bleacher Report, recently tweeted something similar, saying that NFL coaches focus on the macro level rather than individual technique.
At the same time, as data takes a larger place on the national landscape, it’s often easier for NFL GMs to pick a guy with great measureables. I think GMs, like coaches, operate in a risk-averse mode where a primary goal job preservation. As a result, it may make sense to take a player with great measurables and mediocre film over someone with poor measurables and great film; if the workout warrior fails, the blame can fall on the coaches or the the player himself, while the GM is more likely to take the blame if the player with a low ceiling isn’t able to play at the next level.
This is all theory, of course. It’s possible that there is no less micro/technique coaching going on in the NFL now than there were 25 years ago, and that GMs aren’t more focused on athleticism now than they were 25 years ago. I’m not really sure how to study that. But if it is true, it would lead to a significant internal disconnect. At a time when coaches are spending less time on fundamentals, a smart GM would respond by taking more NFL-ready players and putting less emphasis on measurables and upside.
One good example of this, I think, is Germain Ifedi, the Seahawks first round offensive lineman. ProFootballFocus was highly critical of Ifedi, particularly with respect to his technique. But Ifedi shined at the combine — particularly in both jumps — and has the 36″ long arms that NFL GMs love. And Ifedi becomes an even more polarizing prospect when you consider where he landed: Seattle.
On the plus side, the Seahawks have Tom Cable, who is — correctly or incorrectly — regarded as one of the best OL coaches in the business. In theory, having a great OL coach should allow a team to take a chance on a high-upside player like Ifedi. On the other hand, Cable has been in Seattle for years, and the Seahawks have a bad track record when it comes to developing offensive linemen (James Carpenter, Justin Britt, and John Moffitt were taken in the first, second, and third rounds since 2011, the year Cable arrived in Seattle). And the team also has a track record of taking athletes and changing their position to play on the line (J.R. Sweezy, Garry Gilliam, playing Britt everywhere on the line even though he doesn’t seem to be doing well anywhere). Given that backdrop, is this a case of Seattle continuing to overthink the team’s ability to coach up offensive linemen?
But putting aside any specifics about the Seahawks, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this tension generally. And, specifically, do you see any way to test this? Are organizations more willing now than 25 years ago to use a high pick on an athlete that needs to be coached up? And are teams worse (or, at least, given fewer resources) at coaching up players than before?