When NFL Scouts Get It Wrong

by Bob Sparrow

NFL scout career path

Last week Sis gave a great history of the NFL Draft as well as some interesting sidebars.  As luck (not sure if it was good or bad luck) would have it, I was in Las Vegas last week during the festivities, although far enough from ‘The Strip’ to avoid most of the hoopla, but close enough to feel the vibe.

Suzanne mentioned the embarrassment of quarterback, Brady Quinn (or most likely the draft organizers) who was put in a very visible spot, thinking that he was going to be drafted in the first or second round, when in fact he wasn’t picked until round 22!  So, he surely entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder.  Unfortunately, that chip was probably on his throwing shoulder as his NFL career was less that sterling.  He ‘played’ in the NFL for 7 years, was on 5 different teams, only played in 24 games in his total career, and had more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (12).  So, the NFL scouts got that one right.  But before you feel too sorry for Mr. Quinn, he currently works for Fox Sports as a football analyst at a salary of $715,000 a year and has a net worth of over $10 million.

Giovanni who?

But many times, in fact more than you’d think, the scouts get it wrong.  I say more than you think, because the process of hiring an employee in the NFL is very different from most businesses.  Employers, rather than looking at resumes that most likely have a few hyperboles in it, and having an hour-long interview with a potential hire, NFL scouts have several years of game films to look at, doctor reports, work outs at the NFL Combine and extended conversation with a potential employee’s last boss (college coach).  So, getting the draft wrong would seem highly unlikely, but it’s not.

The quintessential “NFL Draft Oops” was in the 2000 draft when Tom Brady, now arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, was picked in the 6th round, making him the 199th player selected – six other quarterbacks were drafted before him – you’re not alone if you don’t recognize any of their names, Spergon Wynn, Tee Martin, Chad Pennington, Chris Redman, Marc Bulger and Giovanni Carmazzi.  I’m not making these names up!!

NFL’s biggest flop

Other notable ‘Oops’ are Shannon Sharp, drafted 192nd in the 1990 draft, who became an All Pro tight end and was ultimately inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Joining him in the Hall was Joe Montana, drafted 82nd in the 1979 draft and lead the 49ers to four Super Bowls.

The scouts get it wrong the other way as well.  Ryan Leaf, was the 2nd player picked in the 1998 draft behind Payton Manning.  In his NFL rookie year, Leaf threw 2 touchdowns and 15 interceptions; and that wasn’t the worst of it, he was a jerk who was despised by both his teammates and his coaches.  He played four uneventful seasons in the NFL and threw for 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.  But, apparently being a ’NFL Quarterback Bust’ is a career path to being a football analyst for a major network, as that’s what Leaf is doing now for ESPN.

I’m guessing that some of those scouts involved in the aforementioned draft picks are now working for Fox or ESPN . . . as janitors.  With the NFL draft now over, football season cannot be far off – can’t wait, especially for the colleges!  Go Utes!!!


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In 1962 I remember my parents and siblings being obsessed with “the draft”.  This was well before Vietnam, which turned the word “draft” into something to be feared.  No, my family was excited for the NFL draft, in hopes that my brother, Jack, would be selected.  He wasn’t.  Although he did sign as a free agent with the 49ers, who released him once they discovered he had broken his neck in college.  Even then, before the plethora of personal injury attorneys, the team knew better than to take that risk.

So, at a fairly young age I was made aware of the NFL draft and have had a waxing and waning interest in it ever since.  As a college football fan, I love to watch the draft when a player that I have followed is eligible to take part in the selection process.  It used to be that a player had to attend four years of college to be drafted, but now the superstars can be picked up after they are three years removed from their high school graduating class – so after their college junior year or their ‘redshirt’ sophomore year.  I used to have a problem with that, as I felt it discouraged the players from completing their education.  But I’ve come to realize that many of the superstar athletes are simply marking time in school and want to capitalize on their abilities as quickly as possible.  And no wonder.  The first-round picks in 2021 averaged $18.4 million, and even the players who fell to the seventh round eked out a paltry $2.7 million.

The draft, and the money, has come a long way from its humble beginnings.  According to the NFL, the first draft was held on Feb. 8, 1936, in a smoky conference room at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.  There were only 90 players in the selection pool.  The Eagles had the first pick and chose Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago. Rather than play pro football, Berwanger, a star halfback, opted for a career as a foam rubber salesman. Berwanger’s choice wasn’t unusual — only 24 of the 81 players chosen in the first draft went on to play in the NFL. Most opted for more secure and stable professions, many of which paid better.

The draft, and the money, evolved in the face of competition — specifically the emergence of the upstart American Football League (AFL) in 1959. The competition between the new league and the NFL for draft picks was fierce.  Soon, the clubs employed “babysitters”, team operatives who were charged with developing relationships with college prospects, even before they were drafted, to make them more likely to sign with their club.  Teams from both leagues battled with each other for the star players, resulting in skyrocketing salaries for the rookies.  This competition continued until the two leagues agreed to merge following the 1969 season, leading to a common draft.

In 1980, the NFL Draft took its largest step forward when it was televised live. Commissioner Pete Rozelle was skeptical that the event would be a draw for fans but agreed that it could be broadcast on a new all-sports cable network, ESPN. Turns out, there was indeed an audience for the NFL Draft. The event has grown each year, eventually moving from that smoky hotel conference room in Philidelphia to the stage at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.  Last year more than six million people watched the draft on television.

This week the NFL will hold the first in-person draft since 2019.  It’s an understatement to say it will be an extravaganza.  For the first time the festivities will be held in Las Vegas, a town known for understatement and class.  Or not.  There will be an NFL Red Carpet Stage built on the Fountains of Bellagio, where the media will interview NFL Draft prospects during the event.  The stage will also host special performances by various Las Vegas entertainers and the players are slated to take a boat on the lake at Bellagio to the stage.

I’ll tune in this year, if for no other reason than to watch just how self-aggrandizing the NFL can be.  I’ll be hoping that we don’t have another moment like the 2007 draft.  That year Notre Dame’s star quarterback, Brady Quinn, was one of the few elite players invited to attend the draft in person, as it was expected he would be selected in the first or second round.  As the rounds went by, Brady was not selected.  When the tenth round was completed, and he was the only player left sitting in the waiting area, even the TV commentators were calling for mercy.  It became almost unbearable to watch, but as with a train wreck, it was hard to look away.  Finally, some sympathetic soul moved Brady away from the cameras.  He was eventually selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 22nd round.

One can only marvel at the money made by today’s players and the spectacle the draft has become.  We’ve come a long way from Berwanger choosing to become a foam rubber salesman.