Given the time and money NFL teams spend on scouting, what we’ll see this Sunday seems incomprehensible.
Two undrafted free agents — Kurt Warner and Tony Romo — will square off at University of Phoenix Stadium.
How does that happen?
There isn’t a single position in professional sports more scrutinized than an NFL quarterback. Teams do everything to evaluate a prospect short of giving him the Spock mind meld.
And yet, every year can’t-miss prospects miss while guys bagging groceries (Warner) and playing at Eastern Illinois (Romo) make it big.
Don’t worry if you can’t figure it out. Neither can most NFL clubs.
“If you can find somebody to correctly evaluate those guys, you should pay them a lot of money,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Of the 32 quarterbacks who will start on Sunday, only 16 were first-or-second-round draft picks. Twelve were taken in the third through seventh rounds, and four were undrafted free agents (Carolina’s Jake Delhomme and Detroit’s Jon Kitna are the other two).
Amazingly, there are twice as many undrafted free agents starting than there are second-round picks.
“I really think it’s indicative of the unscientific approach to scouting,” Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. “There is a little bit of a crapshoot in all these draft picks.”
Guessing wrong is just one part of the equation. NFL teams constantly flub on quarterbacks for two specific reasons:
1. They’re desperate.
It’s extremely difficult to win a Super Bowl without an elite quarterback — Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson notwithstanding — so teams gamble on players they know have faults.
The result: Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Heath Shuler, David Klingler, Andre Ware, etc., etc., etc.
“There’s a general feeling that if there’s a top quarterback in college, regardless of how they fit, you have to take him high,” Graves said.
2. Teams are focused on the wrong body part.
Scouts, coaches and GMs obsess over a quarterback’s physical attributes. How strong is his arm? How fast does he run the 40? Can he avoid a pass rush?
No question, that’s important. But too often teams define a player by those abilities. What they should be asking is whether he has a million-dollar arm and a 10 cent brain.
“It’s easy to evaluate physical skills because you get to watch it with your own eyes,” Romo said. “What you don’t get to see sometimes, and I tell people all the time, watch the quarterback when the pressure gets in there. See what happens when something doesn’t go right. ...
“I think guys who can play quickly and have the ability to think fast can make the adjustment. Guys who work slow, or their brains don’t work at a faster tempo, they’re going to have a tough time.”
New Orleans’ Drew Brees is a perfect example of the NFL’s flawed thinking. Coming out of Purdue in 2001, the 6-foot, 209-pound Brees lasted until the 32nd overall pick because scouts thought he was undersized and didn’t have a great arm.
If teams could do it all over again, Brees likely would be the second pick overall, behind San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson.
“You look around this league and everybody has physical skills, at least to some degree,” Warner said. “But the quarterback position is more about intangibles than it is the tangible. ...
“That’s why it’s so hard. There’s no way to test the mental capacity. It’s not just about Xs and Os and knowing your stuff on paper. It’s the ability to react quickly and correctly. Not everyone can do it.”
Teams know that. And yet they continue to be seduced by the big arm and quick feet, even if there’s no one home upstairs.
“There isn’t an answer that I know of because if we knew it, we’d be pickin’ all the right ones every year,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said.
That’s folksy for “your guess is as good as ours.”
Which is why we get Warner against Romo on Sunday.
While Matt Leinart, Vince Young and David Carr stand and watch.