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NFL Learning Curve Not Steep for FCS Players Says Colts President
FCS, small-school players getting a look
— Of the approximately 333 college players on hand for this week’s National Football Scouting Combine, 30 attended what most people would describe as smaller colleges (such as the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly I-AA, along with Divisions II and III and NAIA).
A pair of Northern Iowa offensive tackles — Brandon Keith and Chad Rinehart — are the only Gateway Conference participants at the combine, although several others very well could have also had been invited. Cornerback Craig Turner and offensive guard Darren Marquez (Southern Illinois) could end up being middle and lower round draft choices, as could Eastern Illinois wide receiver Micah Rucker.
Two of the best from the FCS, Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, are expected to be taken anywhere in the first three rounds of this year’s NFL draft (which is scheduled for April 26-27).
According to [Indianapolis team president Bill] Polian, the learning curve for a player from the FCS level is not quite as steep as it could be for someone from the other divisions. He should know. The Colts have had a pretty good run of success in recent drafts by taking players such as defensive end Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M) and free safety Antoine Bethea (Howard), both key starters on Indianapolis’ rapidly improving defensive unit.
“[Competition level for] a prospective draftee may have faced] is only important in the sense that, I think, they transition into the National Football League a little faster. So if you were sitting here and making a judgment and saying you would rather have a football player from Purdue University or you would rather have a player from DePauw, both of whom have the same physical characteristics, if you presume that both would go to free agency at the same time, you would get more production likely out of the player from Purdue sooner than you would from DePauw,” he said recently.
“Now put a disclaimer in there. DePauw fans don’t need to write me letters telling me that I’m knocking their team. But the bottom line is, that’s where it shows because that player is more capable of making the transition sooner. It may well be that the player from the lower level of competition has more of a ceiling than the player from the higher level. And that’s particularly true of running backs. A guy that’s carried the ball 400 times in college as opposed to one who may have carried it 150. So there are variables. But if you make that apple to apple comparison, the guy from the higher level of competition will probably play sooner.”
That philosophy changes a bit, though, when players from the Football Championship Series are added to the equation.
“Well, I-AA [FCS teams] is a little bit different. The difference between I-AA and I-A, or whatever they call it these days, is not as great as the jump from [Divisions] II or III, for example, to the NFL. It’s just not. And you see more I-AA guys come in and play relatively soon,” he said.
n Athleticism counts — When members of the Colts’ player personnel and coaching staffs look at the players assembled for this year’s combine, the one area that they will continue to concentrate on is a prospect’s overall athletic skills. A bit of a translation: If you can’t run, you can’t play for Indianapolis.
“[Being an athlete, in the Colts’ system] means that he’s a guy who moves easily, who does not expend every ounce of energy on every step and every movement. Someone who’s flexible. That would be an apt description of athleticism,” Polian said.
Character is important, but how a player carries themselves both on and off the football field will go a long way during the long pre-draft evaluation process.
“I don’t if you can use that word. I think football temperament is a better choice of words,” he added. “Football temperament is the guy’s internal discipline, his love for the game, his work ethic, his ability to process information within the scope of the game and his citizenship.”
In terms of measurables, the Colts look at height, weight, speed, arm length, hand size and football intelligence. And book smarts doesn’t necessarily translate to on the field success either.
“Well, it’s football intelligence and people shouldn’t confuse the two. Intelligence is a euphemism in football terms. What is really means is can the player process information quickly under pressure and in a physically violent atmosphere. That’s really what it’s all about it,” Polian said.
“[Book smarts are] really not a measure of it, to be truthful with you. You see in the guy’s play. Not necessarily productivity, more instinct. But productivity is extremely important. I mean if a guy’s a good player, he’s going to be productive. If he’s not productive, then you have to look closely.”
Excerted from the article by Tom James, Tribune-Star Correspondent