Lance Zierlein


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Discussing Elite Traits

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

With the proliferation of fantasy football across the country, a greater number of football fans than ever before are involved with fantasy football drafts.  Now all of us can be general managers.

Unless we are involved with a dynasty league, we are looking for success this year with every pick.  We are looking for yards, catches and touchdowns right now.  There is immediacy in a fantasy draft.

The NFL draft doesn't really work like that in most cases.

Maybe you're just a diehard fan and you live and die with each football season.  Your season begins at the start of camp and runs all the way through the draft.  You want your team to be great.  Screw that.  You NEED them to be great!

Why?  Maybe you hate your job.  Maybe you have a lousy marriage.  Maybe your family situation is stressful or maybe times are tough for you financially.  Regardless, your team is your escape and their success helps bring you happiness.  Their failure brings you misery.  There is immediacy in being a football fan.

The NFL draft generally doesn't offer the immediacy that fans are looking for.

The Search For Great Over Good

The good teams would rather take a player who will be great in three years rather than a player who will be good in one or two.  Great players often generate great results and that is what all fans are looking for.

Addressing needs with players who can contribute quickly is certainly an important part of the draft process, but at what point does a team look to hit the home run rather than a single or a double?  

Good general managers can find good players to help fill needs in rounds two through five, but a chance to get a great player is usually highest in the first round.  Finding a great player is a combination of skill and luck, but it usually involves a certain set of elite physical traits.

Defining Elite Traits

Speed is probably the most universal trait that evaluators look for in a prospect with elite potential.  Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson wouldn't have posted 2,000 yard seasons without the speed to turn some average runs into big gains.  Then again, Peterson is that rare running back with elite speed AND size.

Von Miller terrifies tackles and offensive line coaches due to his speed off the edge.  Remember how shocked you were when the Seattle Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin last year?  Irvin's elite edge speed made him a target of not just Seattle but four other teams in the first round.  Draftniks worried about Irvin's cursory pass rush moves and inability to play the run while all NFL teams focused on was his elite trait known as speed.

"Speed" is a relative term, of course.  For lineman, speed is usually associated with quickness.  Warren Sapp had elite quickness off the snap which allowed him to be as disruptive as he was.

Size is another universally coveted trait amongst general managers and coaches.  I'm not saying that a player has to have 1111 freakish size to be great, but outstanding talent matched with elite size is always preferable.

Understand that "size" isn't just defined by simply height/weight.  J.J. Watt has elite size.  Size, in the case of Watt, isn't just the fact that he is 6'5 and 290 pounds.  Watt has long arms and outstanding lean muscle mass.  Watt is a "freak-daddy" as a physical specimen.

Mario Williams and Rob Gronkowski have elite size as does Haloti Ngata.  They are simply bigger than what we're used to seeing from their position and they all feature either above average quickness or functional football strength for their size or position as well.

While size and speed are the most obvious traits teams look for in the search for high end talent, each position has specific physical traits that evaluators earmark.  Here are a few examples.

Quarterbacks - Arm strength

Offensive Linemen - Arm length

Defensive Ends - Closing burst

Linebackers - Change of direction quickness

Wide Receivers - Vertical leap

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Lance Zierlein is sports talk show host on KMBE 790 AM in Houston, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @lancezierlein.
Email :Lance Zierlein

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