Tad Hensinger

SPARQ Ratings: The Key to Finding NFL Gems?

Created on Jul. 03, 2014 1:39 PM EST

NFL teams are always trying to find a new and better way to evaluate talent. There are all sorts of mental tests as well as physical tests. Teams have vast scouting departments following college prospects before they are even seniors. Teams have game tape to watch. Outside organizations are developing new technology for teams to use, such as the "force plate" test that Jadeveon Clowney was evaluated on by the Atlanta Falcons. The bottom line is that NFL teams are becoming increasingly technological and innovative when it comes to evaluating the talent they are looking to acquire. Teams want to know all about a player's injury history, his chance of injury, his physical capabilities, his mental abilities and much more. When it all comes down to it, however, the NFL combine still rules and plays a huge factor in finding the late round gems.

Recently, claims have begun surfacing more than ever that the Seattle Seahawks have developed an almost secret but well proven method of evaluating late round draft picks that predicts NFL success fairly successfully. The fact that it is well proven is largely based off the success of coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have had in finding late round talent and developing them into key starters or key backups. Guys like two-time Pro Bowl pick Kam Chancellor(5th round), Defensive Player of the Year candidate Richard Sherman(5th round), Super Bowl MVP Malcom Smith(7th round), starting corner Byron Maxwell(6th round), former star nickelback Walter Thurmond(4th round), stud cover linebacker KJ Wright(4th round), and former defensive linemen Red Bryant(4th round). The list could go on, but these players are just some of the late round gems Seattle has unearthed. The NFL combine definitely shows off what these athletes can do. On the other hand, it sometimes hurts them because they display certain traits a team finds undesirable. Richard Sherman was once thought to have tight hips that would keep him from changing directions and turning into a quality player. So, how else do NFL teams, particularly the Seahawks, evaluate talent? They use the Nike SPARQ Rating.

The Nike SPARQ Rating is comprised of five major factors: player weight, 40 yard dash time, 20 yard shuttle, vertical jump and the kneeling powerball toss(combine bench press can be substituted). The broad jump is also used as an extra factor while John Schneider likes to use the 10 yard split for offensive linemen. Every single year there are players that go to the combine and a few of them soar up the draft boards seemingly out of nowhere(Blake Bortles, anyone?) or else tumble way lower than initially expected(I'm looking at you, Teddy Bridgewater). It isn't always explainable or fair, but it happens. The Seahawks, however, don't usually let this affect them at all. The answer is the SPARQ rating combined with all the other research they do on a player. The SPARQ rating is generally used to predict the overall athleticism of an athlete. The higher the rating, the better the athlete. If it is so valuable to predict athleticism and the Seahawks have used it to great success, why isn't everyone? The fact is the NFL is a copycat league so it's only a matter of time before more teams lean on this in their talent evaluation. But the Seahawks are so adept at using it because Pete Carroll has been aware and involved in it dating back to his USC days. At this point, the question really is figuring out how it helps the Seahawks.

The late Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders had a penchant for drafting players with exceptional physical tools but many of them didn't pan out into the stars he hoped. This is the key. The Seahawks drafted a guy like wide receiver Paul Richardson only in part because of his borderline sub-4.3 speed in his 40 yard dash. You can find a player with physical tools, but the key for Seattle is finding the person that has both the physical tools and the mental tools. Richardson only weighs about 170lbs, exceptionally light for an NFL receiver. You can bet, however, that he's going to use that criticism as motivation. This is what Seattle does so well and why their late rounds draft picks have been so successful. The use the SPARQ rating to determinethe athleticism of a player and then evaluate his intangibles. If the player has a high SPARQ rating and the team feels he has the intangibles they want, look for him to be high on Seattle's draft board. Justin Britt was drafted much higher than most teams expected, with many pegging him as a 5th rounder at the earliest. Thanks to Seattle's talent evaluation system plus the SPARQ rating, he enjoyed a much higher draft status. At the end of the day what makes a football player successful is if he can simply play the game or not. Teams would probably rather have a slightly less athletic player but one that knows the game in and out compared to a physical specimen that can't make plays regularly. The Seahawks have found a good mixture of using the SPARQ rating and their scouting department to unearth gems that can play and are also highly athletic. While the SPARQ rating shouldn't be the defining factor of a player's potential, it is a great tool to help evaluate later round talent where diamonds in the rough aren't usually found often.
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