Even if you don’t pay close attention to NFL football, you might have heard that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the first pick of the 2012 draft last week.
What you probably didn’t realize is the 252 picks later, the Colts selected another quarterback (this time from Northern Illinois University) named Chandler Harnish. As the last pick in the seven round draft, Harnish is dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant.” Since those selected in the later rounds get little press coverage, being the last pick of the bunch surely feels fairly irrelevant.
The more important lesson is actually how very relevant sourcing and choosing the right person for that position can be.
Mr. Irrelevant is still probably really, really good
Just for context’s sake, there are nearly 1,700 football players on rosters in the NFL at any given time. And out of the 250 or so that are drafted from the college ranks every year, there are thousands who never get a glimpse at the professional playing field.
So even though Chandler Harnish may have not had the skills to be a top pick, that doesn’t mean there weren’t still teams interested in him as he explained in an interview with NFL.com:
I was getting calls from like the Kansas City Chiefs, the Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, just a bunch of teams were (calling) — and I’m talking to my agent every three minutes,” Harnish explains.“It looked like we were about ready to set up a free agency deal. I was ready to go to San Diego. …
“They wanted the decision 10 minutes after they could put the deal on the table, and this was still at pick 240,” Harnish says. “So there were still 13 picks to go. And they put the deal on the table that they wanted me to be a free agent and I had to say ‘yes’ to it. … We tell San Diego we want that deal. Well, my agent tells the Colts, ‘Hey, he’s going to San Diego if you guys don’t draft him with your last pick.’ So, because of that, the Colts were like, ‘We want him. We want to take him before he goes to free agency, and then he goes to San Diego.’”
And why shouldn’t they be calling? Harnish set 30 different records at Northern Illinois. He was very good.
You probably need Mr. Irrelevant talent too
The real secret is that with such large roster sizes (53 per team), teams need these players who maybe aren’t as highly rated or game changing, but can still play a solid game or be a backup for a star. And with only so much in salary space per team, getting a good value in the lower rounds is essential to having a balanced roster and having a team that can compete.
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For someone who is as thoroughly obsessed with talent acquisition as I am, those lower rounds are way more fascinating than the top rounds. The first round or two have been analyzed over and over by TV personalities and internet sites. When you get into the later rounds, you see players that, as job candidates, we might be more accustomed to seeing in a day-to-day hiring process. They might have been a top performer at their last job but it isn’t the no brainer that a first round pick should be.
NFL teams that have done consistently well also do well at picking up good talent in later rounds of the draft and even among undrafted players after the draft is over.
Sourcing excellence, top to bottom
It speaks to the consistency and importance of the sourcing and recruiting function beyond just top hires. It might be tempting to spend an inordinate amount of time on a VP of marketing rather than the marketing associate that you seem to always have an opening or two for all of the time.
While it would be crazy to suggest you spend the same amount of time on sourcing a VP candidate as you would an associate, great organizations, like great football teams, do a fantastic job of making great hires at all levels of their organization. While you may get the props and kudos for finding the big fish, knowing that you created a solid slate for the Mr. (or Ms.) Not-So-Irrelevant positions in your organization is a long term difference maker.