Zahlmann: Pro-style system doesn’t equal NFL success for CSU football

Luke Zahlmann

The NFL Draft brings about feelings of euphoria for the athletes who finally see a lifetime’s worth of work come to fruition and hear their names called.

Colorado State football has seen its players drafted as high as number one overall (Gary Glick, 1956). However, in the history of the program, only 93 players have heard their name called as part of the draft process. Even within the last seven years—a period in which the Rams have seen an increased presence in the NFL—Colorado State has only had six players drafted.

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Despite running a pro-style offense, the Rams have been neglected offensively in the draft. Pro-style offenses create NFL-ready talent, specifically along the offensive line and under center. Garret Grayson, a quarterback, was the last transcendent talent CSU boasted. The 2015 third-round pick has yet to accumulate a single regular season pass.

The talent at the top of the college football spectrum belongs to few. Schools like Alabama, Ohio State and the University of Southern California litter the draft with their alumni each spring. Alabama is in the national championship conversation nearly every year thanks to their top recruiting classes and highly paid coaching staff.

These powerhouse schools have been the pinnacle of college football for years and that figures to remain true in the near future. However, the margin between good and average programs has become wider than ever, a troubling realization for Group of Five schools like Colorado State. This disparity in talent has led to the draft being dominated by the big schools. Their games are on a bigger stage and televised to death by the major broadcasting companies.

“Gruden’s QB Camp,” which is televised on ESPN, is a prime example of the coverage media gives to the most successful schools. Aside from Carson Wentz of North Dakota State University, Gruden has hosted few quarterbacks from schools that do not receive massive attention from the media. Meanwhile, many of the quarterbacks from Power Five schools that he has hosted have been nonexistent after draft night. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden are just some of the notable players to bust into the NFL.

Garrett Grayson is the only Colorado State quarterback ever to be featured on the show. In addition to his talent, this publicity was a factor in boosting his draft stock into the front half of the 2015 draft. Grayson was given the coverage that he deserved, but other Colorado State players have not been as lucky.

Colorado State has ranked in the bottom half of the nation in total defense since 2012, indicative of the lack of superstar talent that crowds the defensive meeting rooms of top schools. Though many Rams have shown defensive potential, even players like Kevin Davis go undrafted after stellar collegiate careers. Though Davis was a perfect fit for CSU’s defense, NFL scouts fear that his skill set may not translate to the next level.

Davis played in a system that allowed him to record an abundance of tackles which was good for the stat junkies, but not for the scouts who saw an undersized linebacker that ran a 4.91 second 40-yard dash. According to his NFL.com combine scouting report, Davis lacked “functional strength and interior grit.”

The Rams’ football team faces a fundamental problem in the way college football is currently run. Players are recruited to fit the systems of the school they attend. Because some schools feature systems unfit for the next level, many players are unable to use college as a stepping stone to the NFL. The reason for the complication is the fact that college coaches are hired and fired based on their success. If a system garners more wins, the coach will rely on it regardless of its ability to prepare college athletes for the pros.

The flaw leads to coaches recruiting for the own program’s success rather than searching for players to be drafted. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has created a resume that rivals any college coach in the country despite relying on lackluster quarterback play. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, but the league is juxtaposed by the lay of the land in college football.

Quarterbacks who have the most success in college enter the league at the top of the draft, regardless of their experience level in the pro-style offense that the league advocates. Many are unsuccessful in the NFL due to their lack of experience in the systems they are thrust into.

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This would lead to the conclusion that more quarterbacks and players coming from systems that mirror those of the NFL would be noticed in the draft, but the system has not worked that way for Colorado State players as they continue to see their names fall off draft boards.

It seems heart and hard work will be the path to success for Rams that go undrafted and are forced to claw their way through the trenches of the NFL.

Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or by Twitter @lukezahlmann.