Scout the player, not the helmet
Since I began doing draft analysis over five years ago, one of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve gotten from some well-known people in the industry is to evaluate the player, not the school he is being drafted from.
Just because a player is drafted from a much smaller school compared to places like Alabama, Clemson, Oregon, or Texas, doesn’t mean they won’t have success. That’s why events such as the Shrine and Senior Bowls matter. These occasions allow for scouts and team executives in the front office to get an eye on these prospects for the first time.
When evaluating draft prospects in most cases, it’s more important to understand what the player does well and doesn’t do well than whatever the recent history of prospects coming out of a certain school is. Why some prospects don’t succeed can lead to a number of factors, but the school is rarely one of them.
One of the biggest examples of why scouting the player and not the helmet is important is Ohio State quarterbacks. Pre-2018, the Buckeyes never produced productive or highly-regarded prospects under center, leading to the narrative that if you draft one from this program, that player won’t succeed in the NFL.
The late Dwayne Haskins was selected No. 15 overall in 2019. He landed in a terrible situation in Washington that did not do his development any favors and was later cut by an impatient organization.
Justin Fields, the No. 11 overall pick in 2021, was drafted by the Chicago Bears and entered a situation and environment that wasn’t ideal either. However, he ends his second year in the NFL with a coaching staff that believes in him.
Fields finished the year with the second-most quarterback rushing yards in league history on top of tremendous growth as a passer. Something that’s left many Carolina Panthers fans wondering whether picking him over Jaycee Horn was the right call to make.
This year, C.J. Stroud will receive similar criticism. It’s important to know who the player is and what he brings to the table. There will be questions about his transition from talented offense to the NFL, but he has shown in recent weeks that he has the ability to be a franchise quarterback at the next level.