There are three main types of NFL Draft prospects in this world: solids, liquids, and plasmas. Of course there are varying degrees of quality within each matter state but for the most part a prospect will fall within one of those three categories.
The solids are the “what you see is what you get” guys. They are the guys with the high floors but also the lower ceilings. Basically when you go after a solid you are probably looking at a guy that will be able to contribute right away with the disparity between their floor and potential not being that wide. Now don’t get me wrong there are some great prospects that are solid guys, in fact I’d put Andrew Luck in this category. His floor seems to be, at worst, a top 10 starting QB in this league with his ceiling being an Hall of Fame player. Sure that is a fairly wide disparity but if you are getting a top 10 starter at their position in the league I would have to say that is a pretty good case for a solid. Sure, he can reach astronomical heights but if at worst that is what you are getting then I’d say that’s a solid prospect.
Other first round solids include: Trent Richardson, Riley Reiff, Luke Kuechly, David DeCastro, Peter Konz.
Liquid prospects are the guys that you look at and see near endless potential that was never fully realized in college. These are usually the prospects that have all the measurables (i.e. height, weight, speed, etc.) and at the very least flashed brilliance in college but were either not consistent enough, played in very specific systems that allowed for gaudy numbers, or they exhibit some sort of injury concern/character flaw (i.e. work ethic concerns, in trouble with the law multiple times, just in general something is up with their psyche). These are the really high ceilings but also pretty low floors. This year’s prototypical liquid is Quinton Coples out of UNC. He is a DE that showed dominance when he wanted to but not on all plays. When you take a look at him you can see that he looks the part but you are still unsure if he is capable of honing his craft to become an NFL caliber player or if he’ll just loaf around and be considered a prospect that never met his true potential.
Another guy that could be a bit liquidy is Robert Griffin III. I personally think he’ll end up being a very good starter in this league but he has all the red flags: played in a completely wide open offense in a conference that doesn’t really play defense. Had incredibly gaudy numbers but still has some mechanics issues to iron out. Unlike Luck, Griffin’s ceiling could be just as high but his floor could relegate him to nothing better than a QB always embroiled in a QB controversy. Like I said I think Griffin will end up being really good but he does fit the bill for how liquids usually look.
Other liquids: Michael Floyd, Dontari Poe, Janoris Jenkins, Jonathan Martin.
This brings us to the plasmas. Plasmas may be guys that are just liquids but the coaches are too stubborn to not count on the particular player year-in and year-out. However, plasmas are unique and are usually players from positions that hold more importance than the rest (usually a QB). A plasma is much like a liquid in that they have a really high ceiling and a really low floor but the disparity between the two is the largest. Not only that but plasmas are guys that can set franchises back years because of their lack of improvement but still being counted on to improve. However, unlike liquids, plasmas are guys that could one day all of a sudden just get it. Liquids, if they improve, gradually do it over time. You can see the improvement coming. With plasmas that isn’t the case. Plasmas are prospects that look like liquid until all of a sudden they immediately become a solid with no warning or rhyme or reason. The position this most happens in is probably WR but DEs and QBs sometimes go this route as well.
To me the ultimate plasma this year is Ryan Tannehill. Here is a guy who hasn’t been playing QB all that long at any level and has seen a meteoric rise up the draft boards due to his measurables and the fact he doesn’t have a lot of film on him, which means there isn’t much bad film. People look at Tannehill and salivate because every coach thinks they can mold him into a Hall of Fame QB. There’s just one problem, his floor is as low as it can get, like Ryan Leaf low. A plasma is usually straddling the line between the hope/future and being out of the league. He is a guy with all the physical tools and in fact, as far as everyone knows, some really good mental makeup but due to his lack of experience at the QB position no one quite knows what he projects to be. Tannehill is also a QB, depending on how high someone selects him (right now he has the chance at being the 4th overall pick), who could completely set a franchise back for a few years. If the coaching staff/front office believe in him and his ability to become the QB of the future for a particular team they will be less likely to try and find him a replacement/competition. For a few years they will be counting on him to be able to step in and become that player they drafted him to be, and if he never does it basically becomes a wasted position and maybe even few years for that particular team.
Other plasmas: Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Andre Branch, Stephen Hill.
Clearly scouting is not an exact science, if it was Tom Brady would not have dropped all the way to the sixth round. Scouting is also very subjective and depending on one person’s opinion, so clearly everyone will view prospects differently. The main goal is to be able to classify each prospect as one of these three states of matter, if you can do that then you should be able to temper your expectations accordingly. And I would like to apologize to all those lovers of gas out there, sorry to disappoint.