As the NFL draft has come and gone once again, the scouts head back to the drawing board and begin their evaluations for next year. There are already different iterations of way-too-early 2020 mock drafts posted across Bleacher Report and Twitter. However, let’s pause for a second and take a look at how these scouts and talent evaluators look at the incoming players each year. One of the most talked about, yet most vague aspects of an NFL draft evaluation, is the notion of the “intangibles” that a player brings to the table. Nobody really knows what these “intangibles” are, because they, by definition, aren’t tangible. But everybody seems to agree that they are some of the most important things to evaluate a player by.
A quick google search of “NFL draft player intangibles” brings up over 575,000 results, with articles from The Ringer, such as “How Scouts Evaluate Intangibles,” and Bleacher Report like “10 Intangibles College Football Recruiters Always Look for in a QB.” You can say that a player has “off-the-charts intangibles” and every fan and general manager will want them on their team, but if you say they “lack intangibles,” then suddenly, though nobody can seem to articulate why, their draft stock falls.
One of the most commonly talked about “intangibles” is work ethic: How hard a player is willing to work to improve, how much a player cares about the sport and how much playing in the NFL means to a player. This one is interesting because wouldn’t you assume that almost every player in the NFL draft works hard? Typically you would think that most players in that position also care deeply about the sport. If they have gotten to that level of play — the highest level in the world — it’s fairly safe to assume that they have worked hard and that the sport they are playing holds some significance for them. Every NCAA Div. I football player attests to the grind they go through on a daily basis as well as the physical toll playing the game takes on their bodies, and none of them are necessarily getting off easy in that routine.
The concept of “intangibles” breaks down in some ways the assumption that a lot of fans and talent evaluators make that some athletes are just born with supernatural gifts while others have to overcome every obstacle possible. It’s true that there are genetic traits that help in sports. Size, speed, agility and other traits can be something some person is born better at than another, but to dismiss some athletes as simply destined to succeed also dismisses everything they or anyone else in their life has ever sacrificed to help them make it to where they are. It is no coincidence that the evaluation of player “intangibles” always seems to be racially coded. Things like work ethic and passion for the game can obviously help a player, but GMs and fans alike need to be more careful when they take these evaluations at face value.