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Could I/O Psychology Have Predicted Tom Brady's Potential Before He Was Drafted?

February 16, 2017

football-field.jpgTom Brady is a great quarterback. There is no question about that. As painful as it is to admit, given that I am a die-hard Steelers fan, I have to say that he is certainly (at least) one of the greatest I have ever seen. His success cannot be questioned.

What I do find interesting about his success is that many say that it was surprising or unpredictable. In other words, people in the media cite that Tom Brady was a mediocre high school quarterback who had to take it upon himself to gain interest from colleges. Reporters tell stories about how he had to split time with Drew Henson during his junior and senior years at Michigan. And, how many times did we hear during and after the Super Bowl that Tom Brady was a 6th round pick and that nobody saw his success coming?

I suppose that’s all true. Nobody saw his success coming. But, should they have? Could they have? Of course they could have seen it, and NFL recruiters should be ashamed of themselves for not figuring this out sooner. Let’s examine what makes Tom Brady great, per an interview with his former offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien. O’Brien, the current head coach of the Houston Texans, cites several attributes that make Tom Brady the amazing quarterback that he is:

  • Competitive Drive

  • Intelligence

  • Feedback Seeking/Acceptance

  • Information Processing/Memory

  • Hard work

  • Athleticism

When we think about how football players are evaluated, I wonder how effectively NFL recruiters consider these attributes? For example, we hear much about these athletes’ 40-yard-dash times and other physical ability metrics measured during the NFL Combine before the draft. In fact, we even occasionally hear information about the athletes’ scores on the intelligence test administered to the participants during the combine.

However, is this measurement sufficient to identify the true potential that a player has related to performance in the NFL? Are they actually measuring the attributes that make Tom Brady stand apart from his peers?

Obviously, I don't think so. In fact, measuring athleticism likely has diminishing returns. There is a tremendous degree of range restriction in this variable because EVERYONE invited to the combine is an elite athlete. While NFL recruiters might tell me, based on opinion, that a 4.2 40-yard time would make them win more games than a 4.3 40-yard time, I am not sure they could find data to back up that claim. You must have the physical abilities to be in the conversation, but a lot (relatively speaking) of NFL prospects have that.

Rather, if I want to find that diamond in the rough, I think I would focus on those areas that go mostly untapped by NFL recruiters. As Coach O’Brien points out, it is those deeper-level psychological attributes that differentiate Tom Brady from other quarterbacks. He is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, but no one presumes to say that he is the greatest athlete, or even the most athletic quarterback to ever play the game. No, Tom Brady is great because he has these other characteristics that make him the player that he is, and those characteristics are very much measurable.

Think about it – everyone says that Tom Brady was a surprise. He would not have been a surprise to me. The attributes that Coach O’Brien mentions as differentiators are attributes that I measure in job candidates and assessment participants every day. These measures of potential matter and they predict performance at every level, in every job, in every industry; and certainly, would work to identify the highest potential NFL prospect.

Had someone had the foresight to test a young Tom Brady with a well-developed assessment battery, they would have seen that they were evaluating a person with incredibly acute information processing capabilities who works hard, wants to get better, and is motivated to win everything in which he competes. There is no question that even a short test battery could have identified this potential more effectively than whatever was used to cause him to fall to the 6th round in the 2000 draft.

These attributes that seem so mysterious and unknowable to the sports media and, perhaps, NFL teams, are commonplace in my profession. Understanding potential is not as difficult as the mainstream sports media would suggest. There is no question in my mind that if you sent the class of upcoming quarterback draft prospects through a Select International assessment battery, that I could predict the Tom Brady profile better than any of the physical ability measures currently used to rank players now.

I feel certain that if I was on the Patriot’s recruiting team back in 2000, Tom Brady would have been picked long before Antwan Harris (the 6th round Patriots pick right before Brady’s name was called who started a total of two NFL games). With a good measure of potential, predicting who will be the next Tom Brady is not some unknowable mystery. We do it every single day for Select International’s clients.

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Ted Kinney, Ph.D. Ted Kinney, Ph.D. is the VP of Research and Development for PSI. An Industrial/Organizational psychologist, Dr. Kinney leads a team of selection experts and developers in the creation and on-going research into the most efficient and effective selection methodologies and tools. He is a trusted advisor to many international companies across all industries. He has particular expertise in behavioral interviewing, turnover reduction, effective selection strategy, and executive assessment.