As I go through my daily routine of checking the Phinsider for snippets of Dolphins information, I have noticed something that is troubling to me. But not just to me, but others as well. As I peruse the fanposts, fanshots, and the subsequent comments, I see some symptoms of a greater cause that could be avoided this time of year.
In discussing various prospects at various positions, we have dissected as much information as we can about these potential new Dolphins. No position receives the amount of scrutiny that the quarterback receives however. Last season, it was a non-issue. Chad Henne showed promise in 2009 and looked like the franchise quarterback of our future. In 2010, he didn’t play to the level with which the fans, and more importantly, the team though he should play. Once again, the Dolphins have been thrust into a quarterback discussion come draft time. While we’ve discussed Henne ad nauseum here, we’ve now started to discuss potential quarterback prospects to the point of frustration. Some things I’ve read in the past week have brought me to the conclusion that there is a greater problem resulting in the frustration some of us feel about these endless discussions.
Disclaimer: I took this idea from Little Nicky, or I least I read his comments about it first.
Signs of the Times?
Information technology has impacted our daily existence in a way that will never go away, and it has a profound effect on us as football fans. We live in the instant information age; we get instant information in today’s world at all times. We can access any bit of information any time we want. We can pull out our cell phones and get the latest celebrity gossip, draft rumors, investment reports, and/or world news within seconds by just touching a screen or pushing a button or two. Social media like Twitter and Facebook have allowed us to get personal information about friends and acquaintances, even our favorite sports players instantly. But this fast food information age has its drawbacks. One of the things I love about the NFL draft is the anticipation of finding out who the Dolphins will select. It’s exciting when the commissioner walks out there and says, "With the X pick in the NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select…". These days, we know the pick before he walks out there, thanks to tweets from guys like Mortensen and Schefter. While that’s a minor inconvenience, the bigger drawback is that we, as a society, have become information hogs. We just can’t get enough. It’s the engine that drives this site. How many of us come here FIRST to get Dolphins information? (raises hand). How many of us check the site (and others) periodically to see if there is any new news on the Dolphins? (raises hand). The days of checking the newspapers on Monday to get information are over. Now we can discuss every minute detail every minute. Brandon Marshall can tweet about something and within a brief time span, we can read it, dissect it, give our opinion of it, digest it, regurgitate it, and dissect it some more. And that’s just the first hour! That’s not including the following week.
As I said earlier, this is not going away. It’s not a bad thing per se. But when it comes to football, specifically the prospect evaluation process, an unfortunate side effect of it reveals a greater problem within the system as a whole. Here are a couple of examples.
Today, a report came out that Ryan Mallett skipped a meeting with the Carolina Panthers. The reason is believed to be sickness caused by a "late night" on the town in Charlotte. When I first saw the report, the first thought that entered my mind was "This is going to BLOW UP on the Phinsider." Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a fanshot was created about it. Within a short time after that, there were several comments with everyone giving their take on the situation. I’m not going into the situation. That’s not what my post is about. But it does give an example of the problem I’ll discuss later.
The second example is a report that I posted as a fanshot last night. The report said that some NFL teams were worried about Andy Dalton as a pro prospect. Their concerns weren’t about things like arm strength, leadership, accuracy, or anything like that. They were concerned because… he has red hair! Seriously! Whether or not the report is legitimate is irrelevant. It’s a symptom of a greater cause that the NFL should change.
The 2010 NFL season "officially" ended in March of 2011. In reality, it ended seconds after Green Bay hoisted the Lombardi trophy. At that point, every team’s season had ended and they began looking toward the 2011 season. The NFL Draft begins at 8 PM on April 28th. Normally there is a period of free agency between the Super Bowl and the draft. But even then, teams know what they are getting. We signed Dansby last year because we knew exactly what he brought to table. Free agency doesn’t affect the prospect evaluation directly. It affects each team's needs in the draft, but not the evalution process itself. Whether we were looking at Mallett or Dalton doesn't mean NO team was evaluating them.
So what does this matter? The prospect evaluation process is simply TOO long. It's spread thinly over the months between the end of the college and NFL seasons and the draft itself. The NFL season ended on February 6th. The college season even earlier on Jan 10th. There is absolutely no reason that the process for evaluating new NFL prospects should last from January to almost May. Is it necessary to take THAT much time between the end of the season to the draft?
The reason I ask this is because this process gives everyone too much information. All this extra info does nothing but tear down the prospects. I read a quote the other day from a scout and he said that by the time the process is finished, NONE of the prospects can play anymore. His point was that during this process, the prospects are dissected SO much that every little detail becomes an issue, whether it should be or not. Too many people worry about the insignificant stuff and forget about the actual football talent. And I agree wholeheartedly. Take the Mallett situation. Over the course of the next few days, this situation will be blown way out of proportion. It could be a sign of bad things to come. Or it may be that Mallett was really sick and this is a total non-issue. Either way, this new information doesn't really shine any new light on the character of Mallett that diligent teams wouldn't have already deciphered. Mallett had several meetings with the Dolphins. He showed up on time for them. Does anyone REALLY think this new incident is going to change the minds of the Dolphins front office? Is Ireland going to say, "Man, I really liked this kid. But him missing that meeting with the Panthers showed me just how bad his character really is."? Of course not. I'm sure Ireland, and every other team has done ENOUGH research on Mallett to get a good enough bead on his character issues, BEFORE this happened. Of course, this process isn't perfect. But does adding more time to the evaluation process really make THAT big of a difference?
I have no exact method for creating a perfect solution. The obvious answer is to move the draft up a month. This will move other things up as well like pro days and the Combine. But that doesn't solve all the issues. But there are other ways to enhance this process and make it shorter.
One big solution would be to allocate more funds to the scouting departments of each team. National Football Post ran a good article about this recently. It basically compared R&D departments with companies to the scouting departments of NFL teams. Teams don't spend enough to scout and get information on these incoming prospects. Developing a better funded, more robust scouting department for each team could allow each team to get more information in a shorter time span.
Another suggestion would be to eliminate pro days as a separate unit and combine them with team meetings. I understand that not all prospects are invited to the combine and need a way to show their talent and athleticism. But why do they need individual pro days for each college. Better scouting departments could identify potential prospects earlier. If a team was interested in a player, they could bring them to their facility and let the prospect do all the things they would do at the Combine or pro day. Most good teams have watched enough film on players to get a good idea of how they play on the field. Is it really necessary for a player to run 2 or 3 different forty times? How many 3-cone drills does a team need to see before getting a good feel for the player?
An added benefit of moving the process up a month or so is getting the players into the team's system even earlier. In a regular year, the draft happens, then mini camps and then training camp in July. The draftees are crammed into a shorter time of learning the playbook and getting out onto the field. Getting new players into the playbooks and acclimated to the NFL setting earlier can only be beneficial, especially for positions on a steeper learning curve like quarterback.
In summation, I really think this evaluation process is just too long for its own good. All that extra time does is cause teams and fans to over-analyze every petty thing about a player. We start questioning everything including incredibly insignificant things like hair color or smiles. Everyone tears down these kids and all it does it create more doubt and distrust. It's bad for the prospects, not really that much more helpful to the teams, and wears the patience of fans very thin. In this instant information world, there is no need to stretch out the process as long. Everyone can get all the information they need in a shorter time and everyone is happier about it in the end. We on here would be discussing the players ON the team, not the players we THINK will be on the team. Less impertinent information would be weeded out and that makes teams less stressful and can make fans more informed on the real issues. Like who can actually play football or not. And that is a good thing that we can NEVER get too much of!