When it comes to evaluating talent, there is no such thing as a perfect prospect, particularly when it comes to predicting which prospect will translate from the relatively comfortable setting of a college campus to the cutthroat business of the NFL. There are simply too many influences on any given prospect to peg him as a “can’t miss” player or definitively rank him over another. What resources did the player utilize during development? What type of facilities were at each school, and what kind of nutrition plan were the players on, if any? The list goes on and on: years in the sport, additional sports played, family dynamics, economic influences, etc.
One of the most important lessons I have learned as an evaluator is not to scout the helmet. The logo on the helmet does not automatically guarantee a career in the NFL. There are numerous smaller school prospects who have gone on to Hall of Fame careers. While most NFL players come from the large school pipeline, for reasons unbeknownst to us, these prospects chose a different path. There are countless reasons for these decisions: grades, homesickness, lack of high school film, and a multitude of other possibilities. One thing remains, however: talent will always be discovered by professional scouts. Now more than ever, prospects have an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of decision makers for a shot at an NFL contract.
As I began to study cornerbacks in preparation for the ITP Draft Guide, I was pleasantly surprised by the skill and traits of some smaller school prospects, in particular those of Dubuque’s Michael Joseph. I began his film evaluation with literally the only game I could find on YouTube, a dreary, foggy game at Nebraska-Wesleyan. No sooner than two plays into that game Joseph made a leaping one-handed interception that immediately reminded me of the attention-grabbing interception that Iowa’s Josh Jackson hauled in against Ohio State.
— Kyle Morgan (@NoHuddleScouts) April 19, 2018
Incredible ball skills and instincts despite a sub-par Combine should still make Josh Jackson a top tier CB. pic.twitter.com/CklPzRrefI
— Kyle Morgan (@NoHuddleScouts) April 19, 2018
It was an “ah-ha” moment where the principles of scouting that had been drilled into my head by previous instructors and mentors and were now becoming visible examples.
Josh Jackson’s three-interception performance against Ohio State is what put him on the map. Coincidentally, Michael Joseph recorded three interceptions in his team’s win over Nebraska-Wesleyan. Jackson’s performance just happened to be on national television during primetime, while Joseph’s occurred wherever it is Nebraska-Wesleyan calls home (Lincoln is a fine town).
Joseph was a late bloomer and did not have a lot of tape coming out of High School in Oswego, Illinois. He played intramural flag football as he continued to ask the staff at Dubuque if he could try out for the team. He earned a spot on a “developmental team” until he proved his mettle to earn a spot on the Scout Team during the 2014 season. The following season, Joseph earned First Team All-Iowa Conference honors and began to make a name for himself in Division III circles.
After totaling 56 tackles, 16 passes defensed and eight interceptions in 2017, Joseph added a number of accolades to his resume including winning the Cliff Harris Award for Small College Player of the Year (he was the first D3 player to win the award), 1st Team AP D-III All-American, All-West Region Defensive Player of the Year, and a trip to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. The week in Mobile served as yet another “try out” to determine if Joseph had the ability to play at the next level. Joseph proved he had the desirable traits of an NFL-caliber Cornerback, and was able to use that experience to help prepare him for the Combine.
Jackson spent much of his collegiate career behind NFL-caliber talent, and even switched from wide receiver to defensive back for more opportunities. Only once in 2016 did Jackson share the secondary with current Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Desmond King, as he started the bowl game against Florida to wrap up the 2016 season. Still, he quickly became an intriguing prospect. Josh turned his only year as a starting cornerback into one of the most impressive seasons in recent history. He hauled in an NCAA-leading eight interceptions and 18 passes defended enroute to numerous accolades before declaring for the NFL Draft as a junior.
|Measurement||Michael Joseph||Joshua Jackson|
|ARM||30 1/4||31 1/8|
|HAND||8 5/8||9 3/8|
A common concern when evaluating prospects is to avoid any biases that could impact a decision, positively or negatively. The image provided below outlines the 20 cognitive biases that may impact an evaluation. Having the opportunity to see Michael Joseph compete against the best prospects at the Reese’s Senior Bowl provided confirmation that his traits were on par with his draft-eligible peers, and further re-enforced the principle of not scouting the helmet.
As we zero in on the 2018 Draft, we must identify the traits we covet the most, and the murky waters of a “Big Board” will begin to clear up. Production may be the result of a dependent variable, such as scheme, game plan, depth, or injury. Quite truthfully, the list goes on and on.
While we love the Combine and Pro Day, there are numerous traits that cannot be measured in a Combine setting. Josh Jackson’s draft stock was believed to take a hit after a sub-par 40 time compared to other top corners, but his best traits – instincts, anticipation, range and ball skills – cannot be measured with a stopwatch. These traits will minimize the gap in timed speed, but can’t be quantified in a combine setting.
Both prospects possess excellent ball skills, athletic ability, and instincts that will best be suited in a predominately Zone coverage scheme at the next level. No matter the school, the conference, or number of fans in the stands, always trust the tape, and trust the traits that lead to future production rather than leaning too heavily on past production. Most importantly, don’t scout the helmet!