Ah Pro-Ready. Possibly my least favourite draft term. Vague enough to not really mean anything, but pervasive enough to completely change how we rank draft prospect.
Theoretically it gives us a good insight into who can be early contributors in the NFL, but really it limits imaginative thinking on draft day. Why do I think it’s so awful? It’s partly because of my beliefs over what a good drafting philosophy is, but also because it’s just a silly way of labelling players and it needs to stop. There will be a lot of people who will gawk at this theory, so let’s go through why the pro-ready label is so ridiculous.
Firstly, I really don’t believe there is any such thing as a safe, pro-ready prospect in the NFL Draft. Jeff Okudah was supposedly one of the cleanest corner prospects of the last decade. How did his rookie season go? Andrew Thomas was the most pro-ready of those top four tackle prospects in 2020 by most accounts, but was by far the worst of the lot this past season. The draft is a complete crapshoot the majority of the time, as much as us twitter scouts would like to say otherwise, so the word is completely pointless the majority of the time.
Secondly, let’s call it what it is for just a moment. There are some racial undertones to draft coverage, especially with Quarterbacks, and it makes itself clear with terms like pro-ready. White linebackers are described as instinctive and having excellent football IQ. Black linebackers are described as athletic and toolsy. It’s clearly problematic. Just look at the whole Justin Fields palava right now. Fields is athletically gifted but can’t process well enough and doesn’t have a good enough work ethic. Our full of smiles white Quarterback Mac Jones however is hyped as the perfect teammate and a brilliant scheme fit for everybody despite his lack of arm, athleticism and any evidence he can perform without the best offence in college football around him.
Explain to me how Mac Jones is more pro-ready than a two year starter in Justin Fields.
Yes I think Fields has issues with holding on to the ball too long, and yes he does need to get through his reads faster, but the evidence is clear that he can do it. It’s all over his tape. Even with that though he has the athletic tools to make up for any early issues he has as a passer, which Jones does not, and I’d love to hear how the guy who was at the forefront of the campaign to get this season played, and fought through broken ribs to out-duel the number one pick in this draft in the Sugar Bowl, doesn’t want it enough. There’s a theme here, and it’s staring us in the face.
Away from the undertones of the term pro-ready and the debates it causes, this whole Fields vs. Jones debate is indicative of the main issue we have when viewing the concept as a desirable trait. Because, beyond any other argument, pro-ready is just an inherently stupid term to use when talking about Quarterbacks. It’s the reason the Chicago Bears took Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. It’s the reason Lamar Jackson was selected 22 picks after Josh Rosen. It’s the reason people genuinely believe that Mac Jones is a better fit to the 49ers at 3 over the clearly more talented pair of Fields and Lance. It just makes no sense. I don’t understand why people look for a plug and play starter at the Quarterback position from Year 1, instead of a player who has genuine superstar potential for the next decade plus. Mac Jones may have a theoretically higher floor than Justin Fields or Trey Lance, but who actually cares? NFL GM’s don’t want to bust on a Quarterback because it probably means they’ll be out of a job, but I’d rather go down in a blaze of glory with Trey Lance than watch Mac Jones be out-manoeuvred by a more talented Quarterback in key moments, a la 2019 Jimmy G. The best Quarterbacks in the league are these physically gifted freaks right now, so why would you ever settle for a cheaper and less talented Matt Ryan over a Josh Allen type who is raw but could be genuinely special.
It’s the same reasoning behind why I have Kellen Mond ranked higher on my big board than Kyle Trask in the developmental sphere of this Quarterback class. I don’t care about getting a potentially limited starter in Trask. Instead I’m going to throw my chips towards the guy with all the traits to be great. Now there is a much higher chance that Trask hits his ceiling in the NFL, for him I’d say that would be the career of Nick Foles, but he’s never going to be good enough for me to want him as my Quarterback long term. Kellen Mond has a more boom or bust profile, but whilst the chances of him hitting his ceiling is lower, his ceiling is Dak Prescott. I know which one of those guys I want to gamble on.
For me this translates to other positions as well. As I said earlier, I don’t think there is such a thing as a truly safe prospect. Especially with the 2021 Draft being packed with opt-outs that we haven’t seen play in a year. Therefore why should we chase these ‘pro-ready’ guys, when they are more than likely just not, rather than taking shots on guys with huge ceilings who may need a little work. I think the only position where I’m truly considering how pro-ready a player is running back, but that’s a positional value thing mainly. Given the lower value, I’d prefer to get a guy who will execute what you ask him to on Day 3 than a high end talent in Round 2. Give me Rhamondre Stevenson over any of the top tier guys every day of the week and let me invest in valuable positions on Day 2. Other than that though, it’s a silly thought. Especially given teams should never enter the draft needing to fill a massive need. That should be sorted in free agency.
So let’s stop using the term pro-ready. Knowing that some players project to be early contributors is useful, especially in the mid rounds where I’m looking at more limited prospects, but when I’m making a long term decision for my franchise it shouldn’t factor into the equation. Let’s chase elite talent at elite positions, especially when it’s about choosing the face of your franchise moving forward. Because you don’t want to be stuck paying a Mac Jones $30 million a year when Lamar or Mahomes come to town. We’ve already seen how that plays out.
Follow Ed on Twitter @Farradise