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What is a 9C prospect? Leveraging an MLB scouting system to account for both talent and projectability in NFL prospect evaluation.

Should we be talking about NFL prospects in a different way?

NFL: Houston Texans at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft has long been described as a “crap shoot” to reflect the degree of randomness that seems associated with the successes and failures of draft selections. Indeed, teams spent hundreds of hours evaluating and vetting players so that they can make the best pick possible. Yet, as the New York Jets have shown multiple times over the last decade, teams still whiff on their picks all the time.

I’m reminded of this every year as I spend more hours than I probably should trying to figure out which NFL draft prospects that I do and don’t like. Rather often I’ll find myself saying “I love X player’s skillset, but I think they’ll only thrive if they land in a specific system” or “I like X player’s talent, but I think Y or Z might be fatal flaws that they won’t be able to overcome at the next level,” and that’s a level of nuance that I’ve never found easy to convey briefly and clearly.

But then Baseball HQ released their New York Mets prospect rankings for the 2024 MLB season. As a Mets fan, I was very excited to read this. Of note, I consider myself a pretty well-read baseball fan, so it’s not all that often I read something and say “What exactly does that mean?” That wasn’t the case with this article though. When I looked at their rankings, they had a grading system that listed players in a somewhat puzzling way that listed players by two descriptors: a number and then a letter. For example, the Mets top prospect is a player named Jett Williams who received a grade of 9C.

By now, you may be saying the same thing that I was: “What exactly does 9C mean?” Admittedly, it isn’t all that intuitive (or at least that’s what I’ve since told myself). Thankfully though, Baseball HQ explained their rating system in a brief and digestible way:

PLAYER POTENTIAL RATING

Scale of (1-10) representing a player’s upside potential

10 - Hall of Fame-type player

9 - Elite player

8 - Solid regular

7 - Average regular

6 - Platoon player

5 - Major League reserve player

4 - Top minor league player

3 - Average minor league player

2 - Minor league reserve player

1 - Minor league roster filler

PROBABILITY RATING

Scale of (A-E) representing the player’s realistic chances of achieving their potential

A - 90% probability of reaching potential

B - 70% probability of reaching potential

C - 50% probability of reaching potential

D - 30% probability of reaching potential

E - 10% probability of reaching potential

The number ranges from 1 to 10, with a greater number reflecting greater potential, while the letter ranges from A to E, with letters closer to A reflecting a player who is “more likely” to reach their potential. Putting that together, you end up with a very clear and fast way to state both your evaluation of a player’s upside as well as how confident you are in a player’s likelihood of reaching it (e.g., 9C means a potentially elite player with a 50% chance of reaching that ceiling). For me, those are the two biggest parts of scouting, so I think this system is really neat.

I imagine NFL front offices are already using grading scales like this. What I’d like to see is for more fans and analysts to use it (or something similar to it). Saying a player is talented is easy, but having to state how confident you are that their talent will shine through at the next level is another. In some cases, the talent is clear and the risk is low. An example might be cornerback Sauce Gardner, whom I would have called a 9B prospect on draft day. In others, I would have said the talent was clear but there were substantial question marks that might impede that talent from panning out at the next level. An example might be quarterback Zach Wilson, whom I would have called a 9D/E prospect. I thought he would only thrive in more vertical passing systems (which as luck would have it were not used by the team that drafted him). This letter aspect of the grade allows for the same “9” grade to reflect the evaluation of “I think they could be really good,” while the letter shows clear differentiation of two similarly “talented” players who have very different risk profiles.

Overall, I think this system provides a really easy way to convey each of those evaluations (upside and confidence) and I think it’s pretty neat and ingenious. I think using this system around Gang Green Nation (and other outlets where draft discussions happen) could improve conversations around the quality of draft prospects as discussions unfold over the next few months. With that in mind, it’s a system that I personally will be trying to use moving forward. I encourage others to consider doing the same so that we can maximize the usefulness of the discussions between members of the amateur scouting community over time.

Poll

Do you like the letter-number prospect evaluation system?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Yes, and I think I’ll try to use it
    (75 votes)
  • 25%
    Yes, but I don’t care enough to adopt it
    (30 votes)
  • 12%
    No
    (15 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now