They can’t all be Tom Brady: NFL Draft Part 2

One of the greatest NFL draft picks of all time is Tom Brady.  The odds of a quarterback drafted in the sixth round who goes on to win the Super Bowl are minuscule but then to win three Super Bowl’s? To say it’s unlikely is an understatement. People love this story because it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom which is that the first round draft picks should be the best.  After all NFL scouts and the sports media pour over these draftees with a fine tooth comb. They have footage from their college games, the NFL combine where players essentially interview for their job, and of course far more extensive background checks then we can dream of.   But despite all that there are some spectacular fails from the NFL first round draft, check out my top three and what HR can learn:

 Tim Couch – How could I write a post about bad draft picks without mentioning the Browns? Sorry Cleveland! Couch was drafted as the overall number 1 pick and had the hopes of a rebuilding team on his back. Unfortunately, Cleveland, like many in sports media, overlooked the simple plays he was used to in his college career at Kentucky. The Browns also had a terrible offense which would have been difficult for any Quarterback to work with.

Lesson 1- When you are looking over that super star resume ask yourself if those accomplishments are applicable to your company and competitive environment. It’s easier to achieve in some environments then others. 

Lesson 2 – If you are expecting serious accomplishments from a new employee (like winning 6 playoff games or implementing a Shared Services Model) give them the team and the political capital to achieve it.  

JaMarcus Russell – Now this is an interesting story. On paper JaMarcus looked great. He had an excellent record throughout high school and most of college. His reviews at the NFL combine were stellar and he was drafted in the first round but…his play could be inconsistent and shaky at times. Despite this, the Oakland Raiders drafted him as the overall number 1 draft pick. Shortly after the drama started with contract negotiations that finally ended the first week of the NFL season (translation: he missed all of training camp, exhibition games and the first week of real play, which equals about four months) .  It really isn’t all that surprising to see that this champagne bubble burst quickly.

Lesson – Untested talent shouldn’t be obstinate about money.  In my view the long hold out for money was a huge red flag the Oakland Raiders ignored. As soon as things got heated (I’m sure they did, negotiations went on for months!) the Raiders should have said “final offer, take it or leave it”

 Ryan Leaf – And in the case of Ryan Leaf we just have a lot of hype.  He had a great arm, mobility and would be “a franchise leader.” Guess who else was in the first round draft with him? Peyton Manning! Well we all know who became a franchise player (even if he is now with Denver). Among the red flags before draft day? Ryan Leaf failed to show up for a meeting with the Indianapolis Colts at the combine,  supposedly it was a mis-communication.

Lesson – in the words of Jerry Angelo as quoted by Peter King: ”it really surprised me. Here’s what could be the biggest day of your life, the day you’re going to expose yourself to your future employers for the first time, and you show up out of shape and overweight. To me, that’s a signal. The quarterback has to be the CEO of your team. You have to trust him. I’d have some hard questions if that happened and we were going to pick him.” There is no excuse for not being at your best for an interview.  

One final lesson we can learn? Don’t believe the hype! In many of these situations bad choices were made because “everyone” was saying how great a player was and ignoring the red flags.  I don’t care if you have Jack Welch in front of you. Ask tough questions and expect real, concrete answers.  If a candidate can’t put in the effort for an interview what’s going to happen when they have the job and paycheck in hand?


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