How the Jaguars avoided groupthink in their NFL Draft evaluations
- by Zach Barnett 3 months ago
Here is what to do when you identify the top prospect on your draft board: don't talk about him. Don't tell your coaches. Don't tell your owner. Don't tell your scouts. Don't tell your personnel department. Don't even tell your wife. In fact, don't even speak his name.
As his Jacksonville Jaguars started the 2013 season with eight consecutive losses, general manager Dave Caldwell began evaluating quarterbacks. He quickly settled on Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, but he didn't tell anyone. Not only that, he instructed everyone else in the organization not to discuss the top draft-eligible quarterbacks, either. Caldwell wanted his coaches, his scouts and his personnel people doing their own evaluations independent of anyone else.
"I didn't want to influence anyone, or for anyone to be influenced by anyone else," Caldwell told Sports on Earth. "I wanted guys to come back with their own evaluations and see if we could find a consensus. They came back with a consensus [that Bortles] was the best quarterback for our system."
When any organization is faced at a crossroads, groupthink and yes man-ism are completely crippling sicknesses. Caldwell eliminated that by eliminating the group aspect of talent evaluation.
Each man in the Jacksonville organization favored Bortles as his top quarterback prospect, and Caldwell received further confirmation when talent evaluators employed by other organizations each sang Bortles' praises independent of each other. Senior vice president of football technology Tony Khan produced analytics arguing extolling Bortles' accuracy and ability to extend drives. Head coach Gus Bradley chased Bortles down to shake his hand. Still, his mind made up long ago, Caldwell did not tell anyone of his plans until the Tuesday before the draft, to his wife. He didn't make his official plans known until instructing the Jags' representative at Radio City Music Hall to write Bortles' name on the draft card.
"'What I need you to do is fill out a card with this name,' he says, while standing between Khan and Bradley. 'It's Blake Bortles.'," writes Dan Pompei. "Then he turns to the room. 'You guys all okay with that one?' Says Bradley, 'Let's do it, man.'"
Bortles isn't expected to see the field until 2015, but he's already provided an organizational model that others could follow. In recruiting, in building a depth chart, in any sort of major decision, if I'm a head coach, I'm instructing my assistants to form their own independent evaluations and then putting them all on the table. Maybe everyone has the same player ranked, for example, as the top running back on the board. Maybe 10 coaches have 10 different players as their top running back. There's tremendous value in either outcome.