Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rocket Ismail's Failure to Launch All Too Common

And finally, it's Draft Day!  A chance for the NFL Network to over-report about teams scrambling to "move up," making a mad dash for the latest "rising star" and declaring they've found "the missing piece" (The Dan Patrick Show has an excellent list of 'NFL Draft cliches')

But while every NFL Draft is littered with expert predictions about "can't miss" phenoms, Rocket Ismail remains one of the ultimate draft enigmas.  

Ismail was a clear first overall pick in 1991 before pulling a Bill Clinton, dodging the draft, and heading north of the border.  The contract was unprecedented in the CFL: 4 years for $18.2 million, then the richest in football history.  

It still remains mystifying how a prospect who ran a 4.28 40 and posted 4,187 all purpose yards during three years at Notre Dame  could go on to put up only 5.295 yards over a decade in the NFL.  But like Tony Mandarich two years earlier, the Sports Illustrated cover and subsequent article that called him (without a hint of irony) "this year's Jeff George," would mark the pinnacle of Ismail's athletic career.

But had the Rocket not dodged the draft, his failure to launch only puts him on a long and growing list of 'next megastars.'

This was broken down with some great data from Bo Mitchell at Sporting News ahead of last year's draft:
Of the 319 first-round picks taken in the last 10 years (the Patriots forfeited their 2008 selection as a penalty for "Spygate"):
  •  98 made at least one Pro Bowl (31 percent) 
  • 55 made multiple Pro Bowls (17 percent)
In other words, less than a third of "can't-miss" prospects selected in the first rounds of the last 10 NFL drafts have gone to even one Pro Bowl.
As most NFL observers realize, one Pro Bowl season can sometimes be a mirage. Those who have made more than one postseason trip to Hawaii are even more alarming—fewer than one in five from the last 10 first rounds.
If those trends hold up, only five or six teams will draft a player in the first round this year who ultimately lives up to his expectations.
Assuming Ismail would have been a first round pick in 1991 (After signing in the CFL he was picked 100th, in the fourth round, by the Raiders), he would join a large pack of wide receivers who never became stars: 73% of first round receivers never make a Pro Bowl and nearly 90 percent never make two.

Plenty of players have the skills but raise flags ahead of the draft, notably for off-field reasons.  Mandarich and Charles Rogers (or just about any first round Lions pick) are the first two who come to mind, but the list is endless.

Rocket had the skills, intelligence, and all the intangibles to delivered in college - just ask Bo Schembechler - but his inability to translate college superstar ability this to the NFL only highlights the inability to label anyone a "can't miss" prospect
Which is why the NFL Draft is a bit like a weekend in Vegas: lots of participants with high expectations but most go home empty handed.   This leaves only one, certain long term result to come from tonight: we'll have far fewer booms than busts.


  1. 1. This would be a better article if it was about a 10-year period in the distant past (i.e. maybe 1998 - 2008) and not involving picks that are in teh 1st couple years of their careers (i.e to expect most rookies to go to the Pro Bowl in their first season is a little much).

    2. Rocket played 9 seasons in the NFL and was hampered by injuries in his last couple seasons. He also put up almost 2K yards in the CFL, which should be considered in his professional stats. Granted it might not be the NFL, but his NFL stats would have been vastly different if he has spent his first 2 professional seasons in the NFL (young and not as much weat and tear on the body).

    3. Considering the average NFL career is something like 2 seasons, anyone who plays in the NFL (plus CFL) for more than a decade is pretty much a success story.

    1. Typo: Granted it might not be the NFL TALENT-wise...


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