One of the core facets of personnel evaluation is risk versus reward. Rare are the collegiate talents who bring little or no risk to the table, so the key in picking players is to figure out which factors make it worth overlooking a prospect's weaknesses.
Two factors that seem to weigh strongly in favor of a candidate are (1) how well he plays in big games and (2) whether he shows progress in big-game performance over his career.
A good example of how these factors can positively impact a player's draft status occurred in the case of Cam Newton.
He started his college career as a backup quarterback at Florida and then ended up transferring to Blinn Community College. After leading Blinn to a national title, he moved on to Auburn.
Newton got off to a fast start last season, posting a 172.61 composite passer rating in September and October -- an elite total, but one that had to be taken with a grain of salt, given that three of the Tigers' games in that time frame were against Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Kentucky.
However, in November, December and January -- when it mattered most -- Newton's passer rating was 195.0. This included contests at archrival Alabama, versus South Carolina in the SEC championship and versus Oregon in the BCS title tilt.
Consistent career progress and stepping his play up against some of the best teams the world of college football had to offer were prime reasons the Carolina Panthers were willing to overlook his significant mechanics issues and make Newton the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
If Newton is the positive side of this personnel evaluation coin, former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor is the negative side. He is very similar to Newton in physical stature (Newton is 6-foot-5, 248 pounds; Pryor is 6-6, 233), and he shares some of the same mechanics issues. The big difference, though, is that Pryor fell well short of Newton in the areas of big-game performance and career progress.
There are many ways to illustrate this.