Who is Brian Decker? You may remember him as the subject of a profile Wickersham wrote for ESPN in 2016, which opens with one of the most incredible leads I’ve ever read. The piece was about Decker’s attempts to get himself an NFL front-office job by convincing some team that, actually, the troops could put together a team and dominate the NFL.
Decker was once put in charge of overhauling the United States military’s process for selecting Green Berets, and has since tried to apply his methods to evaluating football players. His system is, in simple terms, meant to reveal which players really want it and which players don’t:
On draft boards, most teams mark a guy as a character risk with a simple symbol, such as a picture of Bill Clinton. Decker distilled his information into a character-risk chart, based on injury-risk charts, so it was easy for coaches to understand: A 1-2 score was a low character risk; 5 was high. Decker’s ideal football player, like his ideal soldier, would have at least average cognitive ability, high self-awareness and a demonstrated ability to handle high-pressure situations and adversity. Think Tom Brady at Michigan or Russell Wilson at NC State. Before they were great, they were in crisis. “He leaned on the pieces that he knew generated real results,” Farmer says. “The things that he got the military to use were so much more scientific than what the league was doing.”
Okay, so are you ready for the punchline? The “Farmer” that is quoted in the above excerpt is former Cleveland Browns GM Ray Farmer, who empowered Decker to evaluate 2014 draft prospects for the team. (Decker was originally hired by former Browns CEO Joe Banner, but was kept on by Farmer after Banner was fired along with former GM Mike Lombardi and former head coach Rob Chudzinski.) Here is who the Browns drafted in 2014:
Maybe Farmer ignored all of Decker’s advice that year; maybe Decker’s supposedly revolutionary evaluation system—which according to Wickersham’s profile seems mainly to be about asking decent questions during interviews—played a big role in those draft selections. Either way, Decker’s been looking for another job for some time now.
Actually, there is another punchline. Wickersham’s profile opens with a scene in which Decker spends five hours talking with Bill Belichick at the scouting combine, a conversation that is described as “job interview of sorts.” That interview was set up by Lombardi, who might not actually know dick about football. Decker works for the Colts now.