Political pundits have polls. Draftniks have 40-yard times.
Just as polling a small sampling of Iowans in January probably won't foretell the winner of the White House, who really believes bench press reps are an indicator of how a defensive end will fare in the zone blitz?
Scouts call them "measurables," a blanket term for everything from the "short shuttle" run to wingspans. But if you really want to gauge a player's potential, perhaps the best evidence lies beyond the numbers.
"You hear all about the measurable stuff," Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. "But there's no scale that talks about instincts and awareness. That's what you have to feel as a coach. You know what you're looking for."
Giants general manager Jerry Reese said, "A lot of guys can run around in shorts. I call it gymnastics. But when you get hit in the mouth, can you get up and do it again? Are you a football player? We like speed. We like all that stuff. But you will find guys who can do all that who are not really football players."
There are publications and an ever-increasing number of Web sites devoted to fulfilling the public's insatiable appetite for analysis. Much is made of the difference between 4.3 and 4.5 seconds, it sometimes borders on lunacy.
Rest assured, scouts, general managers and coaches are fully aware of players who register less-than-ideal measurables. But teams know you should never let the numbers decide for you.
Scouting will always involve some level of science. But it has just as much to do with gut feelings. Bucs coach Jon Gruden, for example, aims to get a few critical pieces of information from each prospect.
"Do you have the passion to play?" he said. "Do you really want to do this 52 weeks out of the year? You have to have a passion and be really self-motivated to want to do this. Sometimes you might push that guy ahead of another guy you question."
In Carolina, coach John Fox has his philosophy.
"I call it football character," he said. "How does the guy adapt to playing football? (In the NFL) there's more to learn. There's more to study. There's so much more to know. Some guys have the makeup. Some guys don't. The guys that do, that's a huge variable for me."
Attitude and makeup can influence performance significantly. That's why Gruden uses creative methods of assessment.
"Sometimes you learn a lot by watching a guy when (his team) is two touchdowns behind," Gruden said. "I'll say, 'Let me see some film of this guy when they're down 30 points.' Or let's watch this guy play when it's tied up in the fourth quarter. We do a lot of strange things like that to measure a guy."
Measurables are part of the equation and always will be. But the key is to avoid giving them too much weight. Reese said the Giants, for example, merely flag players who fall short on paper. The most critical evaluation, he said, can trump the measurables.
Put simply, can the kid play?
"I think it's about production," Marinelli said. "I always (judge) on production. The higher productive guy, he may not look as pretty. He may not be as tall. He might not have all the measurable fits, but I look at production. (Former Florida State linebacker and current Lion) Ernie Sims didn't have all the measurables. But his instincts are incredible."
"Sometimes," Eagles coach Andy Reid said, "you get caught up in all that other stuff and you forget what you saw on the tape. You start imagining that the guy is actually that fast or that big or all this. You have to be careful of that."
Another factor that can prompt a team to look past a player's shortcomings is a strong conviction from a staff member. Scouts, in particular, are relied upon heavily in this way.
Marinelli says, "It's about film and feel. Sometimes, you just say, 'This guy's got it.' "
Misjudging players by trying to see potential where there is none can lead to wasted picks. Conversely, you risk losing out on the next big player if you fail to look past the measurables.
It's the ultimate judgment call.
"That's the thrill of it all," Gruden said. "Getting the information and making tough decisions."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.