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More teams realizing they have to wait for first-rounders to develop

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 15:  Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries #74 of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the pre-season NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 15, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Chiefs defeated the Cardinals 34-19.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The teams picking at the top of drafts are always hoping for immediate impact.

But for teams deeper in the order, patience is a necessity, especially with a growing sense that players entering the NFL aren’t as ready as they used to be. Whether it’s because of increased early entrants or the systems college teams are running, more and more teams end up drafting players who can’t be immediately useful.

Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman invoked former 49ers coach Bill Walsh saying he had a “two-year rule” to see if a player had a future with the team, but said it now has to be a three-year process.

“We’re not getting instant oatmeal anymore,” Gettleman said. “And you’ve got to understand there’s going to be growing pains. Nothing’s easy. A guy can have all the talent in the world. But this game is about fundamentals and when we’re getting them they don’t have it. So our coaches have to really coach and teach, and it takes longer.”

Gettleman illustrated his willingness to take the long view last year, drafting linebacker Shaq Thompson with the 25th pick, choosing a guy who might eventually replace Thomas Davis. Thompson started 10 games but played a fairly limited role for the Panthers this year (only 34.3 percent of their defensive snaps), as they try to get the college utility player ready to contribute more.

And the guy Gettleman might have preferred to Thompson also illustrates that principle. The Panthers would have taken Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, but the Cardinals chose him a pick before. Humphries wasn’t ready to win a starting job out of training camp, and was inactive for all 16 games this season.

“We drafted D.J. last year knowing we were going to redshirt him because we had so much to teach him,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “If he threw him out there, he was going to fail. Once they fail, it’s hard to get those scars off. He didn’t dress a game purposefully just to get better and better.”

For teams like the Panthers and Cardinals which have had success recently, it’s easier to give a guy time to learn, since the staffs have a sense of security that allows development. Bad teams with coaches under pressure don’t have the luxury. It also takes a roster talented enough that rookies aren’t forced into situations they’re not ready for.

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47 Responses to “More teams realizing they have to wait for first-rounders to develop”
  1. walker615 says: Feb 24, 2016 5:05 PM

    The fact that it’s the good teams doing this leads me to believe there’s something to it ( Broncos did the same with Shane Ray). Bad teams are forced to throw guys in the fire, they fail and never recover from it, and you’re drafting the same position again 2 years later. Brutal cycle.

  2. ebdug says: Feb 24, 2016 5:10 PM

    No. If a first rounder isn’t producing his very first year he is a bust. Nothing is better than on-field experience. That pick needs to make his mistakes early so he’s not making them three years into his career.

  3. billclintonspetkraken says: Feb 24, 2016 5:12 PM

    Rushing players into the fire too quickly can, and most likely, see their careers derail before they acclimate to the intensity of the NFL. Fans and owners are too impatient, they want to see success immediately. The days of drafting a #1 overall pick and then sitting him for a year – see: Carson Palmer – are over.

    Side note: Speaking of rushing players who weren’t ready, I still hear the phrase “…And with the 12th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Christain Ponder” in my nightmares.

  4. gixrider says: Feb 24, 2016 5:17 PM

    Wow. To have an NFL GM state that college players are coming into the league lacking the “fundamentals” is something. During the recruiting phase colleges will brag about how many players they send into the pros….maybe prospects should look into how many of these players actually pan out instead. If I have dreams of playing in the NFL, the last thing I want to do is go to a program that is putting out players that lack the fundamentals. I know NFL coaches would never publicly announce which schools put out the least prepared players, but it sure would be interesting to know.

  5. davejsepdx says: Feb 24, 2016 5:20 PM

    “If a first rounder isn’t producing his very first year he is a bust.”

    Mr. Aaron Rodgers for you on Line 1.

  6. milwaukeeguy says: Feb 24, 2016 5:21 PM

    I like how immediately after a pick the NFLN or ESPN hosts will go the graphic that puts that player into the starting lineup and say something along the lines of, “this pick should make Matthew Stafford really happy.”

  7. babygaga19 says: Feb 24, 2016 5:21 PM

    Raiders give their players a lifetime audition. See Derrick Carr.

  8. johnc44 says: Feb 24, 2016 5:22 PM

    ebdug says:
    Feb 24, 2016 5:10 PM

    No. If a first rounder isn’t producing his very first year he is a bust. Nothing is better than on-field experience. That pick needs to make his mistakes early so he’s not making them three years into his career.
    ————————————————————-
    Don`t you think that`s a little to black and white for the real world? There are some that are ready right away and more that need time.Rookies need to earn their playing time to earn the respect of their teammates.Playing a guy just because he was drafted in the 1st round isn`t good.And not drafting a player you think can be great just because he came out early and isn`t ready right away is a good way to lose out on some great players and have a bunch of low ceiling guys.

  9. fanofpft says: Feb 24, 2016 5:23 PM

    Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  10. redrew says: Feb 24, 2016 5:27 PM

    Ridiculous.
    If they can’t make any impact as a rookie, then these players should never have been drafted in the first round. These coaches are making excuses for bad picks. Wasted cap millions that could be used to help the team win now.
    Belichick….1st round is for bonafide starters. 2nd round is for upside. Middle rounds are for depth. Late rounds are for flyers

  11. charliecharger says: Feb 24, 2016 5:32 PM

    Oh Really? I remember Bill Walsh won the super bowl in 1981 with 3 rookie DBs. Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson. Oh, and the nickel back was rookie Lynn Thomas. Lott had 8 interceptions that year, returned three for TDs, plus had a fumble recovery for a 4th TD. I think Walsh was pulling someone’s leg.

  12. axespray says: Feb 24, 2016 5:33 PM

    Doesn’t surprise me that it takes longer to develop guys now, especially with college coaches running these gimmick spread crap instead of teaching their players fundamentals.

  13. charliecharger says: Feb 24, 2016 5:37 PM

    Andrew Luck won 11 games his rookie year, and he joined a team that had gone 2-14 the year before. One size doesn’t fit all.

  14. zswittman says: Feb 24, 2016 5:42 PM

    Aka the packers

  15. bassplucker says: Feb 24, 2016 5:44 PM

    Maybe those taken in the second half of the 1st round. But if you’re picked in the top 10 or 12 you had damn well better be starting Day One and you had better be better than the guy you replaced. Otherwise your GM wasted a pick.

  16. norseyapper says: Feb 24, 2016 5:48 PM

    There are exceptions of course, but you can see the waiting and training happening more often.
    One exception is when injuries derail plans. Sometimes that guy slotted as #3 on the depth chart until he grows, learns, adjusts, is thrown in there ready or not because the guy(s) ahead of him get injured.

  17. Emmanuel Goldstein says: Feb 24, 2016 5:50 PM

    There are so many different dynamics at play. Players coming out of college ball come from different systems. Players coming from college may not have the fundamentals. College players may have seen something in their college coach they don’t get in a NFL coach. NFL coaches may not be able and/or willing to coach up a guy that needs it. ..The list goes on and on.

    A good GM knows they have to take each player on an individual basis and take into account the whole player and not just the couple stats that go along with their position. And it’s extremely easy for some of the great teams (Patriots, Panthers, Broncos, Seahawks) to say they want guys to ride the pine and learn, because they usually have a lot of depth at most positions. A team like the Titans wouldn’t be able to take that strategy – because at that point you’re just paying a guy to sit on the bench with no proven winners to learn from.

  18. gogreenbiotch says: Feb 24, 2016 5:52 PM

    Top 15 picks that aren’t qbs need to play right away. After that it’s pretty much a cap shoot. Also when I hear a coach, even one I like, like Arians saying these things it reeks of we made a bad pick and this is the bs we are feeding the season ticket holders. The Cardinals were really one player away last year. What if that player was someone they drafted instead of their “redshirt olinemen”. Just admit you over drafted the kid, but you still think he can be a player

  19. ebdug says: Feb 24, 2016 5:53 PM


    ohnc44 says:
    Feb 24, 2016 5:22 PM

    Don`t you think that`s a little to black and white for the real world? There are some that are ready right away and more that need time.Rookies need to earn their playing time to earn the respect of their teammates.Playing a guy just because he was drafted in the 1st round isn`t good.And not drafting a player you think can be great just because he came out early and isn`t ready right away is a good way to lose out on some great players and have a bunch of low ceiling guys.

    I understand what you’re saying but we’re talking about the top tenth of a percent of the college players. I’d agree with training a 2nd rounder, but those top guys need to be ready to go now.

    This GM is already making excuses for his next bust. I’d rather hear him say, “If I make a good pick he’ll start for us right away.”

  20. dwoofer says: Feb 24, 2016 6:15 PM

    Doesn’t being picked in the first round mean that, of the remaining players, the picked player is the absolute best at his position ? How can that player not have some positive impact on the team. If he sits out an entire season (or seasons), somebody didn’t do their homework. (Exception: all-star player already at that position BUT a first-rounder ought to be able to play at least some of the time)

  21. lgbarn says: Feb 24, 2016 6:17 PM

    I blame the instant gratification you see in college with the spread option. It’s ruining the future of some of these guys. QB’s having to learn how to huddle and call plays. Everyone on the offense having to learn how to learn a fully complex offense. Receivers having to learn how to run a full route tree and the list goes on.

  22. campcouch says: Feb 24, 2016 6:24 PM

    Happens in every job. The new guy may be fresh and exciting, might make some great splash too, but he still has to grow and learn the ropes. I wouldn’t expect immediate returns on an employee who just came into our system. An experienced worker? Minimal excuses, but everyone needs to learn something from the get go. Strange that the NFL is just realizing this.

  23. granadafan says: Feb 24, 2016 6:26 PM

    Any team, whether high school, college, or pros that relies on 1st year players is doomed to go through some rough times. If a player is so exceptional as to EARN the playing time, then that’s not the same thing.

  24. xbarkingfrogx says: Feb 24, 2016 6:31 PM

    Watching the Combine I am starting to feel normal again. The nightmare of SB50 is slowly washing away and I just cant wait until Cam makes his first first down this fall and starts Dabbing!!! Men, carry on. We must keep pounding!!

  25. sc5000 says: Feb 24, 2016 6:31 PM

    Bad franchises make bad picks to join bad football teams and expect a 21 year old kid to save them.

  26. bigbluefan1 says: Feb 24, 2016 6:39 PM

    Even the best take time to get into the NFL game
    They need to sit listen and learn
    some teams the Browns and Skins come to mind anoint a pick as savor and that is a sure way to fail you put all that pressure on the back of a 21 year old kid. Now he is the face and savor of the billion dollar empire

  27. terminalmancer says: Feb 24, 2016 6:42 PM

    Maybe you could say that, for some positions, the top 10-15 drafted players must contribute right away. But for the most part? That’s pretty unrealistic. The proliferation of hurry-up spread offenses means that offensive players don’t need to read the field and defensive players have almost no experience with more complicated schemes. College football isn’t really a minor league for the NFL anymore–that role has been taken by the NFL bench.

  28. 1969whitetrash says: Feb 24, 2016 6:59 PM

    It’s always been a a three year rule, always. Troy Polamalu had a horrendous rookie season yet had a HOF career, had the team labeled him a bust based off of his first year they would have made a massive mistake. The only positions where rookies are truly plug and play are offensive/ defensive lineman, running back, and tight end. Also, the spread option offense is killing QBs fundamentals, it’s alarming how many QBs have never taken a snap under center.

  29. 1969whitetrash says: Feb 24, 2016 7:00 PM

    Also, it’s like any profession. Most lawyers fresh out of law school aren’t prepared for a trial.

  30. igornathanhiggers says: Feb 24, 2016 7:12 PM

    It’s the GMs job to find a contributor in the first round. If he isn’t doing that, what’s the difference between him and I, or him and you?….He’s getting paid to put together the best roster and if he can’t find a contributor in the 1st round of the draft, maybe that team should just save themselves some and money and just hire Mel Kiper Jr Jr…

  31. araidersfan says: Feb 24, 2016 7:23 PM

    babygaga19 says:
    Feb 24, 2016 5:21 PM

    Raiders give their players a lifetime audition. See Derrick Carr.

    ==============================

    I’m not claiming that Carr is All-World at this point. But any Burros fan who thinks that Brock Osweiller is even close to – let alone better than – Carr is certifiable. Anyone who can examine the game on the field knows that without that defence, Denver would’ve struggled to get to .500.

  32. dohczeppelin says: Feb 24, 2016 7:27 PM

    charliecharger says:
    Feb 24, 2016 5:32 PM
    Oh Really? I remember Bill Walsh won the super bowl in 1981 with 3 rookie DBs. Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson. Oh, and the nickel back was rookie Lynn Thomas. Lott had 8 interceptions that year, returned three for TDs, plus had a fumble recovery for a 4th TD. I think Walsh was pulling someone’s leg.

    ___________________________________

    Yes, but that was 35 years ago. Hence all of the references in the article that basically say “it isn’t how it used to be.” The NFL is much more competitive now. Everyone is bigger and faster now and game plans are incredibly more complex so that increases the gestation period for new players.

    Hate to burst your bubble but the championship teams of the 70s and 80s would get annihilated by even a middle-of-the-pack team from 2015. Watching games from back then is almost like watching football in slow motion compared to the modern game.

  33. purplepride11 says: Feb 24, 2016 7:46 PM

    Carr also throws crucial interceptions that lose games. He is a good qb. But time will tell on him.

  34. bigbenh8tr says: Feb 24, 2016 7:51 PM

    La’El Collins……………

  35. kevingreene160sacknoHOFclub says: Feb 24, 2016 8:17 PM

    I admit I never played more than HS football, but when I see these playbooks looking like encyclopedias I have to laugh.

    THAT is exactly what limits young players from making an impact– by injecting a mental cloud of doubt into what should be muscle memory and reaction.

    How can we talk about 3 years teaching fundamentals when the average career is only 3.5?

    A lot of very rich, proud, paranoid, and confident men have overthought a game.

  36. cbell618 says: Feb 24, 2016 8:34 PM

    QBs, LTs, & MLBs will usually require more development because of the play calling, scheme reads, and general in game adjustments that these positions are generally responsible for.

    If your a 1st round RB, DB, or D-Lineman and not getting significant playing time in year 1, there is either a maturity problem or something else is probably wrong.

  37. tjacks7 says: Feb 24, 2016 8:36 PM

    You only named two cases/teams…

  38. realtruthteller100 says: Feb 24, 2016 8:37 PM

    this is something coachs need to be aware of. i remember a certain d-coordinator in pennslyvania who didnt wait for his prospects to develop and it cost him his freedom. kindve a extreme case but the point holds, its a slipery slope folks

  39. unitunite says: Feb 24, 2016 8:49 PM

    Kinda makes you think they should start a developmental league instead of letting the NCAA exploit the players for free labor…

  40. emphraser says: Feb 24, 2016 9:27 PM

    No, ebdug knows best.

    Ebdug. Every time.

    That is all.

  41. gonakgod says: Feb 24, 2016 9:31 PM

    depends on the position imo

  42. culturalelitist says: Feb 24, 2016 9:56 PM

    Its’ refreshing to see that the NFL is realizing this. Now, if only teams will stop rushing rookie quarterbacks into action immediately.

  43. darrinnelsonkilledthedream says: Feb 24, 2016 11:58 PM

    The sciences of conditioning and physical development have minimalized any gap between good/great athletes and freak of nature athletes.

    The game has evolved into a chess match of the highest order and the great majority of these outstanding rookies are no match for 40 or 50 year old coaches who have game planned against any available opponent weakness week in week out, month in month out, year in year out for decades.

    Rookies who make an impact these days are as much or more mental freaks than physical.

  44. nicewolf64 says: Feb 25, 2016 1:39 AM

    if you are drafting someone in the 1st round that doesn’t have the fundamentals down, then why are you drafting them in the 1st round? Perhaps the scouting combine should be more than a serious of exercises that doesn’t always translate to onfield performance. We are beginning to see why some teams draft near the top every season.

  45. denrec says: Feb 25, 2016 4:21 AM

    cbell618 says:
    Feb 24, 2016 8:34 PM

    QBs, LTs, & MLBs will usually require more development because of the play calling, scheme reads, and general in game adjustments that these positions are generally responsible for.

    Cam and Luke are shaking their heads…

  46. Rolo Tomassi says: Feb 25, 2016 5:44 AM

    I wonder if Aron Rodgers would be in the NFL if he didn’t go to Green Bay? What if Lovie Smith had him in Chicago? ?

  47. jimmysee says: Feb 25, 2016 10:00 AM

    In related news, the earth is round and the sun rises the east.

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