Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
I'm not a talking head on TV, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night but together we can review the basics of studying a draft-eligble player in the "Internet Age". Consider this a car kit for.... a camry.
If you're like me then you don't have time to watch every college game, regardless of your dedication to what we know as a "lifestyle choice". Now, maybe you did watch Wisconsin games even though they are located in a land far, far away. Perhaps you even saw a few Sun Devil games but missed the opportunity to really "dial down" your views on particular positions. If so, I encourage you to check out numerous draft sites that deliver incredibly detailed lists of player rankings, such as: Draft Breakdown, Draft Tek, NFL Draft Geek, NFL Draft Scout or even the major network-type sites such as FoxSports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and NFL.com amongst others.The least of which is not this site, which I'm sure is already set as your homepage--as it should be.
In order to ease you with the learning process, Dan Kadar and co. provide a great deal of knowledge over at Mocking The Draft -- courtesy of SB Nation. Here's a quick link to Dan's latest article entitled "Finding A Fit For Geno Smith". It's a great read that also happens to pertain to the Jaguars.
Take in all the information you can: their lists, their mock drafts, their team tendencies... all of it. Then, apply yourself to re-creating these lists. Make them your own, though refrain from leaning too positively or negatively on a particular prospect simply because Mel Kiper or anyone else "adjusted their rankings".
If you do want to watch a talking head on TV, I suggest NFL Network's Mike Mayock. While not always correct, he delivers opinions backed by solid research on almost all ocassions, while giving you opportunity to really learn a great deal of information.
Once you've put together various lists from various people, then you've got enough information to start. Next, you will want to do your personal research on players. To get a vague idea, you can YouTube a player's highlights. While you whiff on the understanding brought upon by watching LA Tech WR Quinton Patton make a game-changing catch in a clutch moment, the highlights help you gather an idea of what the particular prospect is capable of doing.
In the last few years many people have begun to piece together cut-ups of players' performances during certain games, now available on YouTube. Watching every snap a player made during a game will give you a much greater perspective than reading that a certain QB has tendencies to "climb the pocket," as watching it yourself remains the greatest way to evaluate players, unless maybe you read Gil Brandt.
The performances on tape will be that player's true performance. The performance at the NFL Combine does not necessarily describe the player's ability to play football so much as it places athletic ability on display, so keep in mind that a player who never impressed during the game did not suddenly become a better football player simply because they posess more athletic ability than you first noticed.
The original purpose of the Combine existed as a means for teams to gather medical checks on players. The drills give teams the opportunity to notice a player's athletic ability, which may, in turn, cause a scout re-check their tape. Bear in mind, the Combine is not a place to fall in love with a player, as the athletic wonders don't always become football wonders. Again, check the tape.
When checking the tape, make sure to be aware of two important things: level of coaching and strength of competition. For example, the average player leaving a Nick Saban-coached team will enter the draft with much more football knowledge, ability to learn more football knowledge and all-around familiarity with how opponents defend/attack their own ability to play football than, say, a player leaving a team that I coached.
Strength of competition does not always prove true, though, for the average player, competition will be a major factor. A dominant player in a dominant conference may not transfer those skills completely to the NFL. Whereas little known players can come out of small-school competition and be productive (Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State).These are generally exceptions and not the rules.
There is an old adage that "You find football players where you find football players." Jerry Rice didn't play in a major conference, but Peyton Manning did. Never rule a player out, but when in doubt go with the big schools in big conferences with informed, detailed coaching as well as strong competition.