As the NFL Draft approaches all attention is focused on combine numbers, interviews, risers and fallers etc.. A different approach I'd like to attempt here is to rate the major positions by the influence of systems,coaching, conference and history. My top rated position will be the position most independant on success due to "influences". My lowest rated position will be the position most dependant on influences and thereby the hardest to predict NFL success from college performance. This list would also be my list of which posistion I would find easiest to scout from easiest to hardest. ( Not that ANY part of scouting is easy! )
1) Running Back - Barring injury, this position nearly always delivers quality that translates universaly from college to the NFL. For a number of years the top rated RB's have produced when called upon. In fact, this position seems one of the deepest every year with low draft choices and undrafted FA's making splashes in the NFL nearly every year. Years ago I would have listed this position lower ( i.e. never pick a Penn State RB ! ) but I don't think that influence there anymore. For the most part if a running back is great in school, he's solid in the NFL
2) Corner Back - The roll of cover back is one that is independant of system/coaching/conference. I say this because it's one of the only positions featuring one on one evaluation. Watching film of CB's makes for much easier evaluation than most other positions. Put a great corner on a 3/4, 4/3, blitzing, zone, or man defense team and you can still see the greatness.
3) Safety - Much the same arguement as I made with CB. However, how a team uses the safety position might mask weaknesses. A team using an offshoot of the cover-two might not yield good evaluation data on a safety's run support strength for instance. Some great safeties didn't have the college credentials that would have predicted success ( Bob Sanders ) but for the most part early round picks yield solid players.
4) Defensive Line - No coach or system can produce an NFL nose tackle without that player having the size and strength needed at this position. I don't think scouts consider the school if a player's 6'4'' and 325 lbs and can press 225 lbs. 45 times. Size and strength can come from any conference.
5) Offensive Line - Like the D-Line size is size strength is strength. However, I think this position, being much more technical than d-line, is more influenced by coaching and system. There are schools that produce a disproportionate number of good NFL O-line players ( Michigan, Auburn i.e. ) and there are always more successful 0-liners drafted from the major conferences. Also dependant on offensive systems as far as determining pass or run blocking skills.
6) Linebacker - There seems to be excellent correlation between college performance and NFL success for the top LB's taken in each year's draft. Yet I think this position can produce a lot of surprises in the NFL. Remember, Brian Urlacher was a safety in college. The position is moderately dependant on system.For example a linebacker asked to blitz more ( with success ) in school will be coveted in a 3/4 scheme. A great D-line can also open up opportunity for a linebacker to make plays that he couldn't with a weak D-line. This muddies the water looking at stats alone.
7) Wide Reciever - There's some obvious influences at this position. Prolific passing teams can produce prolific recievers who can't block or run a crisp out or beat even a linebacker to a spot. Certain conferences/schools seem to yield more consistant NFL talent. This position can drive a scout nuts trying to project a WR's future performance in an NFL offense. The level of defensive back talent in a conference bumps a WR's stat weight up.
8) Tight End - Usualy a very small group in the draft, TE is a position virtualy impossible to predict NFL success from a college career. There always seems to be consensus pre-draft for the top 5 TE's available but raely do these rankings translate well to NFL careers. A position filled with busts and surprises. There is some good history of good TE's comming from certain schools ( Purdue, Wisconsin, Miami ) so there is some support for heavy "influence" at this position.
9) Quarterback - This position is absolutely rife with influences. There are schools and coaches that produce high stat QB's every year that bust in the NFL. I believe this is the hardest position to evaluate as the number of variables is enormous. Take Cam Newton for example, is he the next Michael Vick or the next Joe Webb? Why are there so many fourth, fifth and six rounders starting for NFL teams? Why is it nearly impossible to pick a can't miss QB in the first round? I have this position last because there are so many influences to consider. How many times have you heard a QB with great college stats referred to as a "system" guy?