During the scouting events leading up to the NFL Draft last year, Bucs general manager Jason Licht said on a radio program that the majority of draft misses are for reasons related to the neck up. In other words the pool of players is full of talent and athleticism, but in many ways it’s about separating the field from a mental standpoint and finding the guys who are ready to be professionals.
Last Wednesday, Licht reiterated the value placed on character evaluations at the NFL Combine.
“You know, I would say 90 percent of the guys that the public deems – or we do – as ‘busts’ in the league, after you draft them, it all has to do with what goes on above the neck,” Licht said. “Whether it’s a character issue or a mental issue or football intelligence or just being passionate about football, those are things that we put a lot of resources in to find out about a player.”
Head coach Dirk Koetter would seem to agree with the GM’s assessment. Taking the podium moments earlier at Lucas Oil Stadium, Koetter stressed the importance of player interviews, of which each team is allotted 60 with 15 minutes per player.
“Maybe the No. 1 thing from a coaching standpoint we get out of the combine is a chance to talk to the players one on one,” Koetter said. “I think that’s real important. Its great to get those guys, not only at the train station with the coaches one on one, but also with the formal interviews with all the people from your club in there.”
Last season, as the Bucs were deciding between two quarterbacks with the No. 1 pick, Jameis Winston certainly helped his case during the formal sit-downs. While Koetter wasn’t as involved then as he is now, the former offensive coordinator remembered the strong impression Winston left on the coaches and front office members last February.
“Jameis was a great example of that,” Koetter said. “We weren’t the only team that were doing our homework on Jameis, so I think (interviews are) real important and Jameis did a great job.”
This can be a nerve-racking time for players, as much of the process is new to them. But the NFL Combine was also somewhat of a learning experience for Koetter, too. As a head coach, his responsibilities now extend beyond just evaluating offensive players, a challenge he’s excited about over the next week.
“Both sides (of the ball), just more players,” Koetter said. “I used to just sit in on the offensive weigh-ins, the offensive workouts, the offensive interviews and now it’s the whole thing. We have 60 interviews lined up over the next few days and I’ve been fortunate enough to watch some tape on all of those guys and I’m looking forward to meeting them.”