Listening to NFL Draft experts discuss former Tennessee Vol defensive end Derek Barnett is like taking a college seminar entitled “Case Studies in Overthinking Things.” No offense to Todd McShay — because he’s saying great things about Barnett — but he’s also a pretty good example of the overthinking on Barnett. In one breath, he notes that Barnett had 52 tackles for loss and 33 sacks, one more than Reggie White’s record of 32. In the next, he’s fretting over Barnett’s NFL Combine and Tennessee Pro Day results, troubled over not being able to reconcile the two sets of data.
Dude, you’re thinking too much. The Combine and Pro Days are meant to help teams gather data to allow them to form an educated opinion about what a player might be able to do. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but let’s think about it in legal terms and call it circumstantial evidence. You look at the data and you think, “Yeah, I think this guy is X.” Or, “All of this stuff makes it look like this guy is X.” Or even, “I know beyond a reasonable doubt that this guy is X.” You can make a decision on circumstantial evidence; we do it all of the time. If the data makes you believe enough to act, then go ahead and act.
But if you actually see the guy do X, well, then you have absolute proof. A smoking gun, you might say. Actual knowledge. And it should go without saying, but actual knowledge is better than circumstantial evidence. If you know something to be true, and if the circumstantial evidence confuses you because it leads to a different conclusion, then there’s something wrong with your circumstantial evidence, not with your knowledge.
And yeah, I know that they use the Combine and Pro Days to help determine whether college production will translate to the NFL. I get it.
But I’ll take 33 sacks over a 40 time or a vertical leap any day. It ain’t 40 yards to the quarterback, folks, and he’s not straight up in the air, either. Those things are designed to tell you whether your guy can sack the quarterback. So let me save you the trouble: Derek Barnett can sack the quarterback. I’ve seen it. And so have you.