The NFL draft begins Thursday, and while the Seahawks are known for their unconventional approach to the annual talent hunt, I’m certain a commentator will tell us their first selection will possess a high ceiling.
A high ceiling, in draft lingo, means a player has the potential to improve. You’d think anybody awaiting a full-time job after college has the potential to improve, especially athletes surrounded by the most qualified coaches in the business. But draft ceilings are not standard.
Those with a long wingspan almost always have high ceilings, for the simple reason a low ceiling would be uncomfortable for them. On the other hand, a maximum-effort guy known to roll up his sleeves and bring his lunch pail to the practice facility every day likely has reached his ceiling.
Depriving hard workers of a high ceiling strikes me as unfair, but I didn’t make up the clichés used by draft commentators. I just try to translate them.
I know, for instance, the difference between measurables and, um, immeasurables. Strength, size, speed and agility are routinely measured, along with wingspan — a kind of creepy synonym for “arm length.” But what can’t be measured is a player’s presence in the locker room, especially if his lunch pail contains an unwrapped tuna salad sandwich.
Another thing that can’t be measured is a draft pick’s checkered past. Most teams — the Seahawks are an exception — see a checkered past as a red flag. Why such a flag is red and not checkered is beyond me, but again, I’ve got no influence in draft-day clichés.
Nobody called me and asked: “What’s your opinion of the term ‘runs downhill’ to describe the style of a college tailback who doesn’t use a lot of spin moves when he carries the ball?”
Had I been asked that question, I would have replied: “Running downhill? What does that mean? Why don’t you just say he runs forward?”
I’m pretty sure I know why draft commentators prefer arcane phrases over plain speaking. It’s because the arcane phrases make them sound as if they’re football insiders.
This is why receivers adept at getting open with an “explosive first step” are “good in space,” and why running backs prone to fumbling “put the ball on the ground,” and why well-regarded linebackers tend to be “around the ball.”
Well, duh. Linebackers do most of the tackling. The linebacker who enjoys tackling players without the ball probably has a checkered past that should have raised red flags before it drew yellow ones.
Then again, aggressive linebackers can be difference makers capable of making everybody around them better. Difference makers typically are distinguished by their high motors.
If you’ve got a high motor, it means you exert maximum energy on every play, regardless of the situation or the score. Simple enough, but here’s what’s curious: High motors are always associated with defensive players.
The offensive lineman who spends an entire game taking punishment — and, yes, giving it — also has a high motor, but he’s rarely referred to as the difference maker who makes everybody around him better. Instead, he’s a road grader, and though any road grader is powered by a motor, the quality of the motor is more in its durability, I guess, than its height.
Scouts covet high-motored players as much as they covet those with a “high football IQ,” which is code for “he believes the McDonald’s Golden Arches are among the Seven Wonders of the World, but has shown some ability to comprehend snap counts in the huddle.”
Because the Seahawks are slated for the No. 26 draft selection Thursday, they’ll be challenged to hit a home run. (Baseball surrendered its place to football as America’s most popular spectator sport years ago, but some clichés are eternal.)
Still, I’ve got every expectation that Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll — pro football’s equivalent of Lennon and McCartney — can identify a college kid with a high motor and high football IQ whose wingspan around the ball will make him so good in space his teammates soon will regard him as the difference maker who made them better.
Here’s hoping his first step is explosive, his checkered past isn’t a red-flag omen, and his lunch pail doesn’t become a divisive presence in a locker room notable for its high ceiling.