Monday, December 22, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell on drafting NFL QBs

Interesting piece in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and the recent book Outliers. Outliers is currently #1 on the NYT bestsellers list. I have mixed feelings about it and intend to put up a book review sometime soon.

Anyhow, the peice in the New Yorker is about identifying good QBs and fixing the educational system. Two topics that go together like peanutbutter and jelly.

The idea here is that it is difficult to identify which QBs will pan out in the NFL because the pro game is too different from the college game and because there is no proven battery of tests or measurables that enable a scout to predict which QBs will succeed at the next level. Gladwell also posits that the same holds true for teachers: the "smartest" teachers are not the best teachers and there is no way of knowing which candidates will become good teachers until they are in front of a class of students.

His conclusion is that we are doing it all wrong. Rather than focusing on more and more exacting criteria in selecting candidates (which is the instinct), we should loosen the criteria and let more and more candidates duke it out.

Gladwell also examines the world of financial advisors which has developed an interesting approach to selecting job candidates :


Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.

As illustration financial firms might start out 49 candidates and whittle that number down to 23 candidates in four months. Then over the course of the next 3 to four years the firms might whittle that number down even further to around 9.

Gladwell concludes that:


The equivalent of that approach, in the N.F.L., would be for a team to give up trying to figure out who the “best” college quarterback is, and, instead, try out three or four "good” candidates.

Interestingly enough, this is exactly what the Packers did this year. They stuck with three unproven QBs with the belief that at least one of them will pan out. Thompson has had plenty of detractors who thought it would have been wiser to cut one of the prospects and sign a journeyman like Chris Simms. I thought the "try out" approach was a good idea then, and I still think it is a good idea for precisely the reason that Gladwell theorizes.

It was certainly bold and probably a little risky. However, going into next season the Packers will have a proven starter and two developmental QBs with a year of experience under their belts.

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