Upside is potential, that slippery concept that plagues developing nations and wrecks NFL drafts. Potential - according to many a wise old coach - is a fancy word for "ain't done shit yet", and its value rests entirely in its realization.
The workout warrior and late bloomer/adopter are two of the most enticing forms of recruiting potential.
Workout warriors are straightforward. Every year, a few kids use the scouting combines to elevate their value with impressive displays of athleticism. Sometimes that physical testing is a starting point of inquiry which unearths great film or foreshadows a dominant senior year; other times the film underwhelms and it forces coaches to ask whether those physical attributes will ever show on the gridiron.
Late bloomers/adopters are my favorite upside recruits. The Haitian emigre who started playing at age 16; the 6'6" former hoopster turned TE who takes up football as a junior and catches 50 balls (but doesn't know how to get in his stance properly); the option QB with awesome athletic ability that can't throw and has never played DB. Typically, I value these prospects highly because I don't sweat the easiest aspects of football development - adding strength and weight, teaching technique, position switches where athleticism usually translates.
Of course, assessing psychology and motivation, which are huge factors, deserves its own discussion.
So can a prospect be a little bit of workout warrior and late adopter?
The question came into my mind recently after watching film on Prestonwood Christian Academy's Mike Mitchell and his subsequent rise up the charts from lesser known prospect to one of the most highly regarded prospects in the country (now the #46 player in the country according to Rivals) propelled by summer combine testing.
According to Rivals Southwest Analyst Brian Perroni:
"Mitchell was somewhat of an unknown heading into this spring but he has shown out in a big way," he said. "He was one of the best overall performers at the Dallas Nike camp and really showed that, despite his size, he is very good in coverage. He can play either inside or outside effectively with his tremendous combination of size and athleticism.
Mind you, "showing in a big way" means the garnering of accurate height, weight, 40 yard dash, vertical leap, and medicine ball throw data with some drills run in shorts. Mitchell's was awesome. No new football film came to light, but it was enough to garner offers from Ohio State, UCLA, and OU. And heavy evaluation from Texas, most likely as a Defensive End.
Here's Mitchell's film:
The film reads more SMU than USC and even some of the highlights meant to illustrate certain concepts don't show what they think they do. Not to mention the poor level of competition. However, starting at around the 2:10 mark, he flashes raw ability coming off the edge that gives you some insight into his future appeal. Switch his position to DE or 3-4 OLB, clarify his responsibilities, and then what do you have?
Contrast Mitchell's film with Texas commit Deoundrei Davis, who is ranked one spot above Mitchell on the Rivals national rankings. You couldn't make a more direct comparison between an athlete who is really good at football and a great physical specimen playing football. It also forces you to define athleticism very specifically - Davis is much quicker and more dynamic on the field, but Mitchell would best him in most standard combine measures. So are combine measures even the right measures? Or is Mitchell playing out of his natural position?
Defining upside has its downsides.