3 Ways the NFL Draft and College Recruiting are Similar

May 8, 2014

NFL General Managers and CEOs alike are often asked about their top annual objectives. Although exact wording may vary, their answer is always something to the tune of “finding the right young talent to help grow our business/win the Super Bowl is near the top of my list.”

It turns out that in addition to having the same annual mission, NFL teams and businesses go about hiring top talent out of college in very similar ways.

1. Ongoing scouting = Talent pipelining & assessing the talent pool

The first step in putting together a great team is to evaluate the pool of available talent.

With 250 NCAA Division I football programs alone, NFL teams and scouts have their work cut out for them when it comes to evaluating the available talent pool. They must formulate a plan, and they must be smart about how and where they spend their time. By knowing and anticipating their short- and long-term needs, NFL teams can pick and choose which players from which Universities to evaluate, just like companies can choose which university career fairs or alumni associations to partner with in order to build a healthy pipeline of candidates and get ahead of their hiring needs. And by carefully choosing and tracking season-long performance of top players, or hires, such as Johnny Manziel or Sammy Watkins, from a given university or group of universities one can set a team or company up for ongoing success.


2. The NFL Combine = Interview day at your company

NFL General Managers and coaches each year create a shortlist of their favorite candidates based on their team’s needs. And every February 300 eager wannabe pros are invited to gather in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, where they test themselves against their peers while being evaluated by a collection of potential employers. Over 4 days, each young athlete shows off his talents to try and impress scouts and coaches while auditioning for what he hopes is a career in the NFL.

While regular businesses can’t rely on a talent combine and see candidates battle it out real time (as much fun as that would be), they can rely on talent pool reports to make more informed decisions. A well-prepared talent pool report helps you and you hiring manager establish proper expectations for time-to-hire and the caliber of talent available. This in turn guides the development of a sound game plan for how to approach, network with, and ultimately recruit your target candidates.


3. NFL Draft = extending the job offer

After developing your talent pipeline and interviewing your top candidates, the next step is making your choice and extending not a job offer, but an opportunity for that candidate to contribute to the success of your business.

The NFL Draft is a good example of this step. Owners and coaches have thought long and hard about how each candidate will fit into their organization, not just from a skills standpoint, but also from a cultural perspective. Business owners ask similar questions: how will this candidate carry himself/herself in the office? How will they interact with their teammates? How well will they learn from the example set by those around them? What contribution can they make to the success of the business?

Once those questions are answered and you have made your decision, it’s critical to be ready and make a strong offer as the near-term success of a particular team or your business may hinge on a single hire.  Be prepared to pull out all the stops, or to offer a trade or compensation in the case of the NFL, to secure a coveted hire.  Ask yourself whether or not a quality candidate has taken an opportunity elsewhere because of delay on your part? And what did such a miss cost your business? Be ready, and make a confident choice.


Take the case of 2012 NFL Number 1 overall draft pick, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts General Manager, Ryan Grigson, and Coach, Check Pagano, drafted Luck, who guided a team that finished 2011 with a 2-14 record to an 11-5 record in just one season, changing the trajectory of the franchise for years to come.

When the success of one’s business or the fortunes of one’s team hinge on finding and choosing the right talent, one cannot afford to make the wrong hiring choices. With all that in mind, make sure your business approaches college recruiting with the same focus and effort as NFL teams navigating the annual draft. It could make the difference between a winning and a losing season.

*Photo source: Bloguin via USA Today Sports, Buckeye State Sports, Beyond The Spread, ESPN.

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