Thursday, April 25, 2013

The downside of "upside," from Tedy Bruschi, Timothy Rapp, and Vivek Wadhwa

The National Football League will begin its annual draft this evening, where teams select the rights to college players. When selecting these players, the NFL teams have to examine the college careers of these players, along with other data, and extrapolate how these college players will perform at the professional level.

To simplify the evaluation of a player, there are four possibilities:

1. Player was outstanding at the college level and will be outstanding at the professional level.
2. Player was outstanding in college, but will be a bust at the pro level.
3. Player was bad at college and will be bad in the pros.
4. Player was bad at college, but will be outstanding at the professional level.

Colin Cowherd and Tedy Bruschi were discussing the fourth possibility on Cowherd's show this morning. Now I normally wouldn't take the advice of a guy whose name reminds me of a fraternity hobby, but Bruschi had undeniable success at the professional level.

Bruschi discussed the term "upside." Those who select a player based upon his upside are claiming that the player falls into the fourth category, and that there was some reason that the player was prevented from performing well at the college level. While Bruschi grants that there are exceptions, he believes that the most important indicator of professional success is the ability to succeed at the college level. If you can't succeed there, then you usually can't succeed in the NFL, so to Bruschi, the term "upside" is merely an excuse to justify selecting a poor player.

For a concurring view, see Timothy Rapp's discussion of a particular player:

...I know there are NFL teams and draft pundits who absolutely love Dion Jordan, and I get it. There aren't many human beings that stand 6'6", weigh 250 pounds and can run a 4.6 40-yard dash or post a 32-inch vertical jump, after all.

But where was the production? In 2012, Jordan accumulated 44 tackles (10.5 going for loss), five sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception. The year before wasn't much different (42 tackles, 13 for loss, 7.5 sacks)....

All the athleticism in the world can't make up for a natural feel on the game or actual production on the field.

And the upside vs. proven ability debate can also be found in other industries - especially when those with proven ability cost two to three times as much as those with upside. But Vivek Wadhwa argues:

What the tech industry often forgets is that with age comes wisdom. Older workers are usually better at following direction, mentoring, and leading. They tend to be more pragmatic and loyal, and to know the importance of being team players. And ego and arrogance usually fade with age.

During my tech days, I hired several programmers who were over 50. They were the steadiest performers and stayed with me through the most difficult times.

While it's appropriate to disclose that I myself am over...35, and therefore have a financial interest in sharing Wadhwa's comments, it does illustrate one side of the discussion.

P.S. Bruschi himself was selected in the third round of the NFL draft, at the 86th pick.
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