Commentators on ESPN's halftime show debated whether Adrian Peterson, rookie halfback for the Minnesota Vikings, is already the best running back in the National Football League. One of the commentators (whose name I neither knew nor caught) said, "No," reasoning thus: "If he's so good, how come six teams in the NFL passed on him during the draft?"
No, no, no, a thousand times no. This sort of reasoning reveals more about those six teams than it does about the player at issue, Adrian Peterson. Worse, it exposes the commentator as football's equivalent of law professors who evaluate any given faculty candidate according to her alma mater, class rank, law review position, and/or clerkship. Those CV entries are the legal academy's equivalent of draft position -- evidence of the initial "expert" evaluation of a player, but not evidence of that player's talent. Once a player hits the field, draft position no longer matters. Once a candidate for law teaching puts pen to paper, educational credentials have no greater relevance in the academy than draft position has in the evaluation of an active NFL player. What if a particular candidate has yet to write, let alone publish, meaningful legal scholarship? In today's market, that fact alone speaks volumes.
Say it together, folks: Performance, not pedigree, is the best predictor of performance.
Having been the seventh pick in the 2007 draft says nothing about Adrian Peterson. These numbers do:
Those would be gaudy numbers for a whole season. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings are halfway through their schedule. Already the owner of the NFL's single-game rushing record, Peterson has a legitimate shot at the league's record for rushing yards during a single season.
Carries Yards Average Touchdowns 158 1,036 6.6 8
Here's a bonus. Do you want to be a competent NFL analyst for a national sports network? Watch this Adrian Peterson video. Those five minutes will put you way ahead of the ESPN analyst who evaluated Peterson according to -- of all things -- his draft position.