NFL Draft Clichés You Must Know To Survive Draft Season

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl is over, which means NFL Draft season is officially here. Obviously as someone who covers the NFL Draft for a living, I love this time of year, but I'll also readily admit that it offers a lot of humorous analysis, tried clichés and ridiculous over-exaggerations about prospects, both positively and negatively. Here are some of the terms, words and phrases you'll hear the most over the next three months, as well as how to understand each usage.

  • "Ten years in the league" guy - Typically a term reserved only for guards, centers and terrific run-defending defensive linemen. Also can be used for blocking tight ends with no receiving upside, linebackers without enough athleticism to play every down (but good enough tacklers/hustlers to play special teams and avoid getting cut) and intangibles quarterbacks (see below).
  • Boom/Bust prospect - If he’s great you’ll claim credit for talking up his upside, if he sucks you’ll claim credit for telling the world he was risky. If he’s in between, you’ll pretend he’s better than he is and mute anyone who disagrees.
  • Safe prospect - Won’t get cut, won’t be great.
  • Ideal slot receiver - Small, white receiver. Nothing else about the evaluation matters. If he’s short and white, he's a slot.
  • Swiss Army Knife - Can play multiple positions/roles, but isn’t good at any of them.
  • Fun prospect - Gadget player who had a couple of highlight-reel splash plays in college, but has no real defined role in the NFL.
  • High motor day three prospect - Sucks at football, but will run hard (slow) and won’t stop running hard (slow) and can probably make an impact on special teams for an average-to-below-average roster (team that sucks).
  • Intangibles quarterback - Sucks at football, but will be good on the chalkboard and give great speeches to the player on the team who are good.
  • Great contested catch receiver - A wide receiver who can’t separate to save his life.
  • Two-down thumper - A linebacker with good smarts, work ethic and tackling ability, but can't move or cover to save his life, and has less athleticism than many defensive linemen. Best case: Tyler Matakevich. Worst case: Scooby Wright.
  • Dog chasing cars - Incredibly low football IQ prospect that plays relentlessly hard.
  • Speed-to-power - A pass rusher with enough burst off the line of scrimmage to build velocity into the point of initial contact against his opponents, creating movement in that exchange.
  • Cannon arm - Inaccurate, low IQ passer who can throw hard and far, not dissimilar from an outfielder in baseball.
  • "Quarterback who can make all the throws" - 'Can' is the operative word here. Physically capable of making all the throws (hypothetically anyway), but doesn't actually do it.
  • Gritty - Dad was a coach, likely sneaky athletic (see below), first one in, last one out, blue-collar, strong work ethic, dedicated to his craft, constant hustler. Was picked last in the Turkey Bowl at age eight and has been inspired ever since. True chip on the shoulder. Usually a college walk-on with no DI offers. If he's a receiver, makes his living over the middle of the field getting relentlessly drilled by safeties, but never staying down longer than 3-5 seconds. Typically a below average athlete without great physical tools.
  • Sneaky athletic - Athletic compared to how unathletic he looks (still typically pretty unathletic).
  • Dancing bear - Not referring to an actual bear (most of the time). Usually in reference to an offensive or defensive lineman who is light on their feet despite being quite hefty.
  • Bubble butt - When a prospect's butt is quite #thicc, representing a strong lower half/posterior chain and stout anchor to hold ground or generate movement at the point of engagement
  • "Good in a phone booth" - Rarely referring to a prospect's ability to successfully dial a pay phone. Means a prospect is good in condensed spaces, but as the area around him expands, so does his level of ineptitude.
  • Heavy hands - A prospect with heavy hands is one who gains immediate control at the point of attack due to inordinate amounts of strength coursing through their phalanges.
  • "Quicker than fast" - In short bursts the prospect moves explosively, but over longer distance their lack of speed is revealed.
  • "Sand in his pants" - Rarely refers to a prospect's inability to properly remove sand from their lower body garments. A lot of this means the prospect can hold up well against more powerful defenders, where too little means he might get run over by those same opponents.
  • "Heavy-legged, waist-bender" - Typically used to refer to an offensive lineman who doesn't move his feet and reach his set points adequately as a pass protector, causing him to get over-extended and fall off contact consistently.
  • Space-eater - Prospect that is fat and difficult for opponents to move. If the space he exists in were edible, he would eat that too.
  • Alligator arms - Prospect that is too much of a b***h to go across the middle and take a shot while holding onto the ball, instead refusing to extend his arms and reel in a pass outside his frame with contact pending. See 'grit' above for the antonym of "alligator arms".
  • Long-levered - Prospect with long arms that may or may not be totally useless.
  • Pile inspector - Prospect who would rather watch his teammates finish off plays and make tackles than stick their nose into a gang tackle. The defensive version of 'alligator arms'.
  • Functional strength - How strong you are as it relates to the demands of your specific position or role on the field. Ambiguous term that can't be measured by anything accomplished in the weight room. Often used to make excuses for players who lift like middle school athletes during the combine bench press event.
  • Cut-on-a-dime - The ability to be moving full speed in one direction and cut sharply in another direction without losing speed. Has nothing to do with an actual dime whatsoever.
  • "Ankle nipper" - Prospect who targets the ankles when tackling, because squaring up another grown man moving full speed at them could possibly result in physical harm. Also known as, "the Gerod Holliman".
  • "High-variance" - Rarely consistent, lot of highs and a lot of lows and will cause their team's fan base to consistently overreact to both extreme results with even greater variance.
  • Build-up speed - Not fast over a distance that actually matters, but if football were a marathon they might actually be worth something.
  • Ballhawk - Prospect who gets a lot of interceptions and passes defensed. Has absolutely nothing to do with an actual hawk.
  • "Passes the eye test" or "looks good on the hoof" - Prospect with an unbelievable frame or build that would make them an excellent swimsuit model, but may or may not have any real bearing on whether they are good at football.
  • "The kid from (fill in name of university here)" - A way of describing a specific player used by scouts all over the NFL who want to appear too busy and important to have time to remember anyone's actual name, despite the fact that their job security, career and lifestyle is solely based on knowing every ancillary detail about that player's life.
  • Generational talent - No one even knows how to actually measure a generation, so this just means a prospect with abilities and a skill set that you don't see every year in the draft, or even every couple of years.
  • "Just looks like a quarterback" - Tall, well-built, strong-armed and decently athletic for the position. Sadly, usually only used to refer to white quarterback prospects.
  • "Nose for the ball" - Usually used to describe a prospect who is always around the ball for reasons the analyst cannot explain because he doesn't understand the position.
  • Proven winner - A prospect whose team was successful in college, regardless of whether or not he was the key catalyst or even remotely helpful in achieving that success.
  • 'It' factor - An ambiguous term used to describe an indescribable trait that a prospect possesses that makes them an attractive player to have on your team. If that didn't clarify things, it's because no one actually knows what "it factor" means.
  • "Student of the game" - If football were a classroom exercise, this player would be an All-Pro. But it isn't, and he isn't, although coaching might be in his future.
  • "Character issues" - Could vary from a player whose teammates don't attend his birthday party to sexual/physical assault. Probably a term that needs some clarification.
  • "Closing burst" - If the ball or ball carrier is in the prospect's sights, they magically achieve turbo boost power that makes them able to complete a spectacular play they would otherwise have been totally athletically incapable of making.
  • "High upside" - Sucks right now, but someday he might not.
  • "Untapped potential" - His college coaches sucked, but we can fix him in the NFL.
  • "North/South runner" - Despite the phrasing, does not refer to a player constantly running back and forth between two opposite directions. Instead refers to a running back who moves linearly downfield with good power and decisiveness without dancing before the line of scrimmage. We're football analysts, not cartographers. Shut up.
  • Pro-style quarterback - Might not be able to throw worth a lick, but you better believe he took snaps from under center, worked those five and seven-step drops and was given full-field progressions (that he couldn't execute).
  • Locker room or high character guy - The type of player you'd be cool with speaking at your son's high school graduation or letting date your daughter. I'm sorry, did you ask what does that have to do with football? Shut up, please.
  • See ball, get ball - I really don't know what this means, I just think of Danny Bateman from The Replacements when I see it.
  • "Just a football player" - A prospect who would literally sacrifice the life of a family member to keep playing this sport.
  • "Assignment sound" - Does his job and nothing else, certainly nothing special.
  • "Plays to the echo of the whistle" - Is dirty and knows how to get away with it.
  • Heat-seeking missile - Not related to weaponry used in wars. A prospect who dials up huge hits at every possible moment and will likely be suspended by the NFL multiple times for playing a physical, violent game in a physical, violent fashion.