The NFL draft is approaching, and for many new fans of the NFL, the terms and labels applied to prospects can be more than a little murky and confusing. That is true no longer. Thanks to Jon Ledyard’s brilliant article on NDT Scouting a few months ago mixed with my own brand of sarcastic wit, here’s a guide to NFL draft pundit-talk.
For any casual or new NFL fans, the first round of the NFL draft is a TV spectacle rarely matched on television. Here are some common descriptors attached to players, especially those taken in the first round.
“Ten Years in the League” guy: Known by Minnesota fans as the Matt Kalil-level prospects in the draft. The prospects everyone can’t believe they missed on when they bust and the prospect they endlessly talk up when they turn out to be everything you hope and dream them to be. A label usually attached to offensive linemen (because even when they do end up sucking they usually still stick around for a while) and the best of the best when it comes to run-defending defensive linemen. Can also be retroactively tagged to Jim Kleinsasser-esque tight ends (those with little receiving talent), linebackers that are good enough to play special teams for a decade but not start, and “intangibles” quarterbacks.
Boom/Bust prospects: Players with pre-draft red flags. If those red flags disappear once the player fully establishes himself in the league, you talk them up endlessly. If they overcome the player and end his career, you bemoan that someone really should have paid closer attention to those red flags that were ever so clear in his profile. Also known as the Randy Gregory-esque players.
Safe prospects: Players that aren’t going to suck so bad that your GM gets fired, but not good enough to make them Executive of the Year candidates. AKA the Christian McCaffrey-esque prospects.
Fun prospects: Jabrill Peppers except with less talent, so all you have to base their eventual NFL career off of are a few highlights from college. Talent levels can range from Johnny Manziel to Ryan Leaf.
High-motor, Day 3 prospects: Isn’t good enough to be drafted in the first two days, but runs as hard as he can (which is still slow) and plays special teams for a team like the Bears or Browns.
Generational talent: Completely ignores the idea of setting up actual generations (which seem to last less than a year in the NFL) because NFL talent analyzers don’t care to look more than 10 years into the past if they can help it. Usually applied to prospects with a skill set that aren’t found in the draft every year or two.
Character issues: A description, like many others associated with the draft process, that is almost intentionally vague enough to drive you insane. Ranges from being incapable of saying no when asked to rescue a puppy to being the person said puppy is being taken away from (or even worse). How willing a team is to overlook these depends entirely on how good you are at paying people to go away if the accusations are bad enough or how talented you are on the field.
Locker room/high character guy: The player you don’t expect has a weed problem until they have an Instagram photo of them posted online 30 minutes before the draft starts. The kind of player you wouldn’t bring out the shotty for if he started dating your daughter or would immediately wave off if asked to speak at graduation.
Functional strength: A shifting, nearly meaningless scale of how strong and capable you are compared to the others in the NFL who play your position. A term that is useless when trying to quantify what happens in the weight room, but is often used to bolster players who have a tough day on the bench press at the combine.
Intangibles quarterbacks: The Christian Ponders of the quarterbacking world. Not a player you trust a playoff team to, but when you need a halftime speech, boy will they deliver that! Can also diagram plays in his sleep.
Cannon arm: Replace the throwing arm of these quarterbacks with a somehow-legal Howitzer and it wouldn’t change their velocity more than five or ten miles an hour. Unfortunately, like the cannon they regularly find themselves named after, said Howitzer-armed quarterbacks are usually immobile with the added downside of being such dumbasses they were only able to get through their college classes because the university paid someone to do their work for them.
Can make all the throws: Is physically capable of making them, but doesn’t. A label attached to prospects like Josh Allen who NFL owners and general managers drool over while forgetting their accuracy percentage has wavered between 45% and 58% since middle school.
Just looks like a quarterback: A label that is most often attached to tall, gangly-looking MOFOs who are almost exclusively white (just saying, how often you seen a black college QB receive this label? That’s what I thought). Prospects with this label are athletic enough to not be known as Zach Mettenberger, but usually carry more than a few red flags that are overlooked because they’re missing their true calling as GQ models.
Pro-style quarterback: Ability to throw the ball well enough to compete at the NFL is constantly in question. But damn it if these aren’t the three or four poor bastards stuck into a system that actually might prepare them for the NFL, so NFL teams will draft them anyway. Five- and seven-step drops? He knows them by heart. Playing under center? You bet. Can he run through progressions? Probably not, but we’ll pretend like he can!
Ideal slot receiver: AKA the Wes Welkers of the NFL. If you’re short and white, welcome to the NFL! You’re going to be a slot receiver for the rest of your career, better get used to it!
Swiss Army Knife: Can be applied to both wide receivers and running backs (looking at you, Percy Harvin and CP84!) Useless at actually settling down and learning the intricacies of a position, but they’ll make you tear your hair out with some of the plays they inevitably end up making every year or two!
Great contested catch receiver: Has to be good at making them because he’s physically incapable of getting open (side-eyes Laquon Treadwell).
Quicker than fast: You wish that you could outrun a cornerback for a game-winning, season-saving touchdown, but unfortunately you’re just too slow to do so. You’re better off working five yards off the line of scrimmage than 50 yards downfield.
Alligator arms: Candy-asses who are too scared to go over the middle and risk a hit to make a catch that might win your team a game. Antonym of “gritty” (see below).
Cut on a dime: A player with impressive route-running abilities. Not to be confused with a player who runs out on a dinner date with a beautiful woman.
Build-up speed: Functionally about as useful as a WR with the “quick not fast” label attached to them. WR’s who are better off as marathon runners over sprinters.
High upside: You’ll hear this one a lot this year. Generally means that they sucked in college, but with five or six years (assuming the coach lasts that long), they might just turn into something. What that something is, nobody will know until it happens.
Swiss Army Knife: See: WR, Swiss Army Knife.
Cut on a dime: Was once complimented on his tap-dancing abilities in grade school. Turned his shame at being an above-average dancer into makin’ fools miss with good footwork.
“Good in a phone booth”: No longer accurately applies to a player who is still able to fit inside and operate a phone booth when they arrive at the NFL Draft. Now refers solely to players who would make a passable career as carnival contortionists when asked to slide through holes smaller than the ones found in their own ears, but are dumbfounded when presented with a hole created by competent blocking. You know, Trent Richardson, but sucks less than him. A label also often applied to offensive linemen.
North/South runner: A term that, much like a later section of this article, has nearly lost all actual meaning. Is being used less and less these days as running backs are being asked to be more and more agile as the NFL changes their on-field responsibilities. Basically means they can do what Adrian Peterson was so good at when he was in his prime: chooses a hole and sticks with it and powers through it to the best of his ability, to hell with his ability to hold on to the football in the process.
Sneaky athletic: A player who is able to run fast enough to protect his quarterback, but still prefers his double cheeseburgers to be extra greasy. Typically still unathletic despite attempts to make them appear otherwise.
“Sand in his pants”: Player whose legs are thick enough to have their pants converted into sandbag material at the end of the season. Also players who can hold up well against tough(er) opponents, though if you lack enough sand, they’ll be knocked on their ass more often than not.
Heavy-legged and/or waist-bender: So technically flawed that it’s a wonder they allowed you to leave college looking like that. Flawed feet sets mean you’re constantly beat by players who look a lot like Everson Griffen. Can be called incompetent by any fan on the street, or, more specifically, assholes with a website, with that description still being spot-on.
Two-down thumper: A player that sounds as though they’d be better off living life as a rabbit over playing in the NFL. Intelligent, good work ethic and average to above-average tackling ability, but lacks any and all athletic ability that would make them a star. Basically, the Kentrell Brothers-style players of the NFL.
Speed-to-power: An entirely generic idea that actually manages to describe itself rather well, unlike most bits of draft talk. Involves a defensive lineman getting off the line well and using the sheer blast force to bowl over their blocker.
Ankle-nipper: Prefers to tackle ankles over executing the proper form tackles that coaches have been trying to beat into you since second grade. Also the tackle form all defensive players used against Adrian Peterson in his prime!
Ballhawk: Prospect turned down alternate careers as professional golden retrievers or red-tailed hawks to make the lives of NFL quarterbacks hell.
Closing burst: Basically the football equivalent of the adrenaline that mothers who are lifting cars off their kids get.
Assignment sound: Capable of playing exactly the gameplan as drawn up by the coaches. Hosed when asked to do anything else.
Pile inspector: While currently known as the Marcus Peters in real life, the pile inspectors (much like their brothers, the alligator arms on offense) are those players who would rather watch someone else do the tackling than doing it themselves.
Plays through the whistle: Dirty as f*** but knows how to get away with it. The player that people tolerate on their own team while other teams actively hate him and all of you for allowing him on your team.
Heat-seeking missile: Though it would be hilarious to watch them play with an actual weapon attached to them, simply put, they’re the cousin of those who play through the whistle. You know, Andrew Sendejo-type players. The players who frustrate you when they bounce off an opponent ball-carrier when trying to make a big hit but make your mouth fall open when they come close to ending another player’s career. Probably gonna get suspended a game or two every year or so.
Gritty: The sexiest of all descriptors. Any and all players assigned this label are instantly awarded the league-mandated lunch pail, have the ability to be utilized as a slot receiver, and constantly reference the fact that they were picked last in second-grade dodgeball as the driving force behind their career. If accepted into the ranks of slot receivers, said gritsters make it their life’s greatest achievement to be nearly decapitated by safeties.
Dancing bear: One of those rare football terms (/s) that has more than a little bit of double entendre to it. When not involved in gutter-talk ideas, these are offensive/defensive linemen that are lighter on their feet than they have any right to be.
Bubble butt: The PG way to say the man has a phat ass. The Twitter label #thicc describes these players well.
Heavy hands: Players who are allowed to play with weights attached to their hands. Hands can double as WMD’s when smacking the ass of fellow teammates.
Space eater: Those players capable of consuming and ending all life as we currently know it. The Kirby’s of American football, they would eat the air and space around them if they thought it would fill them. Oh, and I suppose they’re also good at winning their assignments.
Long-levered: A player with freakishly long arms. Whether they ever figure out what to do with those arms will entirely determine whether said player has a career in the NFL or the AFL.
High variance: A player that is so inconsistent they have circled right around to consistency again. Lots of high and lows make the fanbase overreact in each direction no matter what happens, how often it happens or how many times it’s happened before.
A dog chasing cars: A player that’s so dumb a literal dog chasing literal cars is smarter than him. Simple-minded pursuit of the football is what he’s good at, and if you ask him to do more, his brain might just short-circuit.
High-variance: A player that will make a team tear it’s hair out on one play and make them want to celebrate them with a statue on others. Physically incapable of doing anything but driving fans insane.
Passes the eye test/looks good on the hoof: Often applied in the same manner as “just looks like a quarterback,” this phrase is applied to all the rest of the NFL world when and where said players look like they are choosing football over a lucrative career in the fashion and modeling world. Used and applied to players in much the way that it used to be applied to baseball players before Moneyball changed everything (#analytics).
Student of the game: The All-Pro in the classroom that sucks once they hit the field for reality-based programming. Future in coaching/broadcasting.
Untapped potential: An insult more than anything else, a polite way of saying their high school and college coaches badly misused a player, but they can absolutely find room for them in their system! This, of course, ignores all the times teams have tried to find room for players like this in the past and have crashed and burned because it actually wasn’t the fault of the coaches that they couldn’t find a good spot for them.
“Just a football player”: The kinds of guys who say, “I would literally kill to keep this job,” and you can’t tell how serious they are about that statement. Also at the level where you can make that sort of threat on their job without anybody in the media knowing or caring.
Nose for the ball: A player, usually on the defensive side of the ball, who is constantly around the ball. This is used to describe players playing a position and performing a task in their system that the analyst is incapable of analyzing because he doesn’t fully understand it himself.
Proven winner: A prospect whose team won a lot of games. Now, depending on the quality of prospect, this is either a booming compliment or basically just acting as the draft-level equivalent of an NFL team like the Browns wanting to sign or trade for a player on the Patriots because they’ve been around a “winning culture” without giving a s*** if said player was a third-team special teams scrub kept around just to have a 53rd player to deactivate on gamedays.
Kid from (fill in name of University): A way to show that an analyst knows the barest amount of information about a player without actually doing their jobs well enough to say more about him. A label also used by people who should know better than to use it because if school attended is all they know about a player, they will probably be looking for work in a few weeks.
‘It’ factor: One of the two most meaningless cliches that is seemingly uttered every year. Nobody knows what it means, and nobody is interested in taking the time to quantify it. Regardless, this is a player you want to have on your team, but without knowing why.
“See ball, get ball”: A phrase better applied to an overachieving puppy dog than a prospect, but used anyway for reasons beyond my comprehension.
And there you have it, a guide for use this Thursday through Saturday and for all drafts in the future. Best utilized in some form of drinking game, especially later on in the draft when descriptions of players get more and more generic as less and less is known about them. The draft is just a few days away everybody, so enjoy yourself! Hope to see a few cliches you’ve heard or seen yourself posted in the comments!