Mind games

Now his eyes close as his hands make a dual sweeping motion. "As soon as I got off the block, I had both my arms out. He was right there. Then in one step, he was running full speed to the sideline. I was one step behind it. One move behind it. As soon as I looked up, he was gone. He scored on a 35-yard touchdown. I got a concussion on that play. But I remember it."

Hey, you know no one drafted you in 2012 because you weren't supposed to be able to think like this, right? "Yeah, I know." There are pages of scouting reports saying you lacked the kind of discipline it took to break down film like you just did? "Yeah, I know." So if we had come to you three years ago and asked you to do this same thing then that you did just now, would you have been able to?

"Hell no."


AS SCOUTS AND executives dig into the evaluation process, it's helpful to reassess the Vontaze Burficts of the world. Because when this year's draft concludes, with 250-plus players being picked, several thousand football experts will still have either missed several future stars, or badly underrated how their skills would translate to the NFL.

Just take a look at the 2013 All-Pro team -- Burfict, Antonio Brown, Jason Peters, Greg Hardy, Robert Mathis, Richard Sherman ... none of whom was picked in the first four rounds of the NFL draft. Throw in undrafted players Wes Welker, Arian Foster and Tony Romo and the league is littered with players who slipped through the cracks but have figured out how to slip into the Pro Bowl. So how can that happen? How can months of film study, interviews and every measurement imaginable not net every future star?

The reality is, an NFL draft pick has about a coin flip's chance of sticking in the league. Often, when sifting through reams of compiled data about more than 1,000 prospects, teams drift toward the safer pick, the guy with a really fast 40 time or gaudy numbers. At least then, the scouting department can point to gaudy athletic gifts with some degree of plausible deniability.

The Seahawks are the best example of talent evaluators who are hunting longer and harder for players like Vontaze Burfict. After the 43-8 dismantling of Denver in the Super Bowl, Sherman hobbled into the media room with a high ankle sprain, plopped down his crutches and promptly delivered a blistering case against the way the NFL seeks talent. He cited every overlooked Seahawks defensive player and where they were selected -- Sherman, fifth round in 2011; Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, seventh round in 2011; Kam Chancellor, fifth round in 2010. He made sure to point out that none of them had the best shuttle run or Wonderlic score. But, as he likes to say, they had "All-Pro minds" that are barely tested during the run-up to the draft. "I don't believe in the draft process," Sherman said that night.

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