Blog Post

What the NFL Draft Can Teach Managers About Talent Assessment

Cornerstone Editors

HR professionals have a lot of information and tools at their fingertips to evaluate talent. But all of that information (hard skills, previous work experience, college degrees) doesn't always mean they hire the best candidate for the job. A prospect is a prospect, after all, and even the most pedigreed can be a bust — so it goes whether you're scouting a sales manager or a franchise quarterback.

Even in the data-driven machine that is the NFL, there's still an element of instinct in recruiting and in determining how raw talent will mesh with a prospect's character and other intangibles. It might be a cliché, but those intangibles can mean the difference between a high-paid superstar and a high-paid flop.

Professional sports are replete with talented prospects who just didn't pan out. Take Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, two of the top quarterback prospects leading into the 1998 NFL draft. "Manning and Leaf were blisteringly hot prospects as they entered the National Football League's annual draft — college quarterbacks of exceptional promise, either of them certain to be that year's No. 1 pick," according to The New York Times.

The Indianapolis Colts selected Manning No. 1 overall; the San Diego Chargers took Leaf with the No. 2 pick. And then their careers diverged. Manning is a record five-time league MVP who has led two different teams to three Super Bowl appearances. Leaf, meanwhile, played sparingly during four seasons and left the league.

Leaf's story isn't unique. To mitigate those expensive misjudgments, the NFL rolled out a "new evaluation system that seeks to probe a prospect's personality: somewhat nebulous qualities like motivation, passion and mental toughness," writes the Times.

Those evaluations aren't perfect. Intangibles such as character and personality are an important part of talent assessment in business, whether it's major league sports or a local retailer, but those traits aren't always easy to identify. And that's why recruiting is part measurable science, part imprecise art.

h/t: The New York Times

Photo: Can Stock

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