“Moneyball” would have us believe that any skilled researcher can predict the future success of an athlete making a big step up in competition primarily by studying his statistical past.
Nonsense. It takes trained sports professionals to make projections that can’t be backed up statistically and aren’t obvious to most of us.
Kansas University defensive coordinator Dave Campo’s evaluation of Arizona State’s Darren Woodson, selected in the second round of the 1992 draft by the Dallas Cowboys, illustrates one way in which figures lie. Campo was one of many who attended Arizona State’s pro day.
“I’m sitting in the room watching tape, and I see this guy flashing across the field, but he’s not making any tackles,” Campo recalled. “He’s a weak-side linebacker, they’re running the ball away from him all the time. They’re not running at him. They’re running away from him. He’s running over there. Well, Arizona State had such a good team that guys were getting tackled before he had a chance. But he’s right there.”
Campo heard others saying things such as, “You know that Woodson kid, I don’t know if he’ll hit anybody. He’s running all around, but I don’t ever see him doing anything. He doesn’t have any statistics.”
Woodson had stats as a sophomore, before foes knew the value of running on the opposite side from which he played.
“I’m watching the tape, and my eyes are lighting up,” Campo said. “And then I’m watching him on the special teams. He’s the first one down.”
Jimmy Johnson, then the Cowboys' head coach and Campo’s boss, had emphasized the need for a big strong safety because the NFC East was loaded with teams that thrived on power football. The Cowboys worked out Woodson as a defensive back.
“Here’s this guy, 218 pounds and 6-2, and he runs a 4.38 (seconds),” Campo said. “So I watched him work out and went back to Jimmy and said, ‘Look, I don’t know if this kid will be a great ball hawk because he’s never been in the secondary. He’s been close to the line of scrimmage all the time.’ But I said he’s got the feet to play in the secondary.”
After his rookie season, Johnson told Campo that Woodson would start at safety the next year, and Campo wasn’t so sure he was ready. Johnson wasn’t swayed, and Woodson retired as the Cowboys’ career leader in tackles.
Campo stressed Johnson deserves the credit because he was the one who pulled the trigger on making Woodson a starter so soon, but the truth is, without Campo, Woodson never would have been a Cowboy.
When a KU defense short on speed, size, Division I experience and hard hitters gets abused this fall, remember Campo can project talent, and that should pay dividends in time.