Over the past couple of weeks, the draft talk has switched into high gear, here and everywhere else among Cowboys fans. And as we all get acquainted with this year's draft class, everybody has a different method for forming an opinion about a given prospect.
Some of us put great weight in what draft analysts have to say, some form conclusive opinions from watching snippets of college highlights on youtube, some put a lot of emphasis on measurables like height, weight and speed, and others look at college production as a way to evaluate prospects. And the Combine in four week's time will provide even more data points for everybody, regardless of your preferred method of evaluating prospects.
None of the approaches described is necessarily wrong, but they are all missing one key ingredient that happens outside our purview, that we are not privy to and that carries a significant weight in every team's draft decisions: prospect interviews.
At the Combine, NFL teams get to interview up to 60 prospects for 15 minutes each. Prior to the Combine, teams submit the names of the players they want to talk to, and the interviews are scheduled throughout the duration of the Combine.
Typically, these interviews would focus on a player's character, mental aptitude and their overall football intelligence. Many of the prospects have already spoken with scouts during various College All-Star games, but for many underclassmen, this is the first time they get personal with an NFL team, and as a result, the underclassmen are the players that usually get the most interviews at the combine.
This is especially true for players that have raised flags during the scouting process for any number of reasons, including - but limited to - medical issues, questions of maturity, run-ins with the law, general 'character concerns' or drug issues.
Last year, CBSsports published a scout's poll of 15 high profile players who had a lot riding on their interviews for various reasons:
- Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
- Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
- Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
- Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
- Jake Locker, QB, Washington
- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
- Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
- Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
- Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
- Titus Young, WR, Boise State
After the Combine in early April, teams are allowed to invite up to 30 national prospects for further interviews to their facilities. In the past, these interviews have been a good indication for who the Cowboys will eventually pick in the draft. The Cowboys' last six top picks - Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Jason Williams, Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith - all visited Valley Ranch as part of the Cowboys' pre-draft visits.
Additionally, teams are allowed to bring in an unlimited amount of local prospects for pre-draft interviews. The Cowboys host these "Dallas Days" for draft-eligible players with roots in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
So there will be a lot of interviews done before the draft boards are finally set. If you look at the list of names above, you'll likely remember a 'concern' about almost every one of those players last year, an I'm using the word 'concern' to cover just about anything. For Tyron Smith for example, the 'concerns' were about whether he could bulk up to 300+ pounds while maintaining his athleticism and about whether a then 20-year old was mature enough to play in the NFL.
Today, we are very happy that the Cowboys did not let those 'concerns' deter them from selecting Tyron Smith.
This year, there are once again players that have 'concerns' attached to them, again for a variety of reasons ranging from medical to legal that I won't get into here. Here's a shortlist of some of these players:
- DE Quinton Coples (motivation)
- CB Janoris Jenkins (drugs)
- CB Dre Kirkpatrick (drugs)
- CB Cliff Harris (legal)
- OLB Courtney Upshaw (legal)
- S Mark Barron (legal)
- C Peter Konz (medical)
- LB Vontaze Burfict (motivation)
- FS Janzen Jackson (legal)
Based on their skills, any of these players would make a good addition to the Cowboys roster. But whether they even make it onto the Cowboys big board is something that will likely be determined via the player interviews.
The term "character issues" gets thrown around way too much and much too indiscriminately. Some guys deserve the label, but many guys get it due to a misguided moral certitude that's unilaterally applied. Who and what exactly determines if someone's character is flawed or if a person is of questionable moral integrity?
Personally, I'm glad the teams make these decisions in their interviews and not some holier-than-thou reporter gleefully reporting the latest click-generating scandal. The key question is, do any of these 'concerns' influence a prospect's future effectiveness as a professional football player and teammate? If not, put the guy on your big board, Jerry.