Can J. J. Watt Change the Common Perception?

Don Wassall

Staff member
Sep 30, 2004
Can J. J. Watt Change the Common Perception?

by Jake Bechta

A former GM told me that while in a pre-draft meeting a few years ago they were talking about a white cornerback prospect. All the numbers added up to him being a potential 2nd or 3rd round pick. However, once the film went on in the room, the director (who is white) said, "wait, is this kid white? The area scout replied; "yes he is". The director’s response was, "well then, he better be really special". The result, the player went undrafted and landed on a practice squad.

For years, black quarterbacks have had an uphill battle with being stereotyped more as athletic runners versus smart pocket passers. Conversely, the same can be said for white receivers, running backs, defensive backs and even some defensive linemen. For about 98% of all white defensive linemen, the reports always read the same, "high effort guy, plays with a high motor, better run stopper than pass rusher".

According to Dan Pompei’s scout talk article, even JJ Watt’s report had some of the same language. Dan makes a good point. He should have been considered to be the number one rated prospect in the draft, not a mid first rounder as everybody had him. You have to wonder, if he were black, would personnel men see him as more athletic and give him a higher draft grade? The irony that I love here is that Rick Smith, a black GM, may have had him rated higher than his peers.

You can also go back to Packers’ great DE Aaron Kampman’s reports: The reports I read all say the same thing "great kid, limited athletic ability as a pass rusher, straight line athlete, hard worker, high motor, effort guy, camp guy". The Browns even had him as a conversion guy to the offensive line as a guard. Aaron had 54 sacks in 8 years with the Packers and went to 2 pro bowls.

The Raiders had a white running back named Vance Mueller in the early 90’s. Vance was undrafted, but could run a 4.3 forty and was the complete package as a running back. Vance led the raiders in rushing every preseason, was durable, smart, fast and had good hands. However, when the regular season rolled around he was buried in the depth chart and rarely got a chance to play. This is how it went and still goes for many white players coming into the NFL.

One veteran scout I spoke to brought up a great point. He said; "It starts in college". When we go into a campus to evaluate players many of the white specialty players are described to us in the same way the scouting community writes them up. There seems to be a natural tendency to underplay white players athletic abilities and overplay their intelligence and efforts." Another scouting director told me that;" he'd seen way too many promising black college QB’s get moved to DB or receiver before they ever got a chance to compete as a QB". Whether it is conscientious or not, the stereotypes of color still play a huge part in the evaluation and placement of college players by both scouts and coaches.

Here are some more terms always associated with scouting reports of white players:

Wide receivers: Crafty, disciplined route runner, good hands, tough, quicker than fast, smart.

Defensive backs: The QB of the secondary, can line everyone up, in the box kind of guy, better against the run than pass, a little stiff in the hips.

One director did tell me that he thinks scouts are doing a better job at evaluating white wide receivers. The production and success of second round pick Jordy Nelson and undrafted Wes Welker has brought some attention to the position.

If I were a GM getting reports with the same old language like this I would fire any scouts who writes one. The evaluators who can leave skin color out (for black and white players) of their opinions and reports will help build a better team.

Maybe the NFL scouting community should take an idea from the show The Voice. Where the judges sit with their back towards the singer and just listen to their voice without seeing the contestant. It would be nice if we can take the color out of the process for both white and black players.

Former Broncos great Shannon Sharpe said best when he use to champion his teammate WR Ed Mccaffrey, "If Ed were black, he would have been a first round pick and one of the highest paid receivers in the league."