Leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, much has been made of some New England Patriots and New York Giants players competing more intensely than others because they feel slighted, overlooked, underappreciated, and of course, as is exceedingly common in sports, disrespected.
Obviously, some players feel the need to create motivation for themselves, especially given the already heightened competitiveness that professional athletes possess.
Super Bowl 46 “Underdogs”
Tom Brady isn’t much of an underdog these days, whether on the field or in his personal life.
He is still fixated on being drafted in the 6th round though, and that perceived slight has driven him to be one of the hardest workers in the game and in turn one of the most successful stars in the NFL.
New York Giants
The Giants perennially underachieve at home and when favored, yet they have an uncanny ability to perform well when it would seem least likely for them to do so.
Win five straight road games to make it to the Super Bowl? Sure, they were able to do that.
But did no one believing they could pull off that series of long shot wins really influence their play and intensity on the field? Or were these guys just healthy and playing well at the right time of year?
No one can be sure precisely what factors can cause a 55-man team to gel and perform their best. Certainly attitude, health, matchups and, of course, talent, are all mixed to determine who wins each game.
In looking at the rosters for the Super Bowl teams, I started to look at what each player’s college attended and draft position looked like. I wondered what the mix of big school players versus small school players is and also where guys had been drafted.
If I could see how many are truly underdogs out to prove they belong in the NFL, maybe I could begin to understand how things like the “no one believes in me/us” factor can affect performance.
This is by no means meant to be a conclusive explanation for why certain players and teams outperform expectations. It is simply the presentation of data that may support the idea that an athlete or team might gain extra motivation from feeling slighted, and that such motivation can affect the outcome of that player or team’s performance.
First, I looked at where every key player (I identified “key” players as those expected to start or see a large number of snaps in the Super Bowl) was drafted. In all, I came up with 73 total players I expect to make some sort of impact Sunday – 38 for the Patriots, 35 for the Giants.
The breakdown, per team, of how many players were drafted in each round, is as follows:
Patriots Draft Positions
- 1st Round: 6
- 2nd Round: 8
- 3rd Round: 2
- 4th Round: 2
- 5th Round: 3
- 6th Round: 1
- 7th Round: 3
- Undrafted: 13
Over 33% of the Patriots players who will see significant field time went undrafted.
At the risk of sounding like Greggggg Easterbrook (h/t Drew Magary), these numbers suggest the Patriots have excelled with guys who have simply worked harder than most others.
Of course, over 33% were also first and second round picks, but I was very surprised that a Super Bowl team would seemingly have so few highly touted players on its roster.
Giants Draft Positions
- 1st Round: 8
- 2nd Round: 6
- 3rd Round: 4
- 4th Round: 3
- 5th Round: 3
- 6th Round: 3
- 7th Round: 1
- Undrafted: 7
The Giants are much more balanced, as one would expect any team to be, especially a Super Bowl team. Still, they feature almost as many undrafted players as first round picks.
Between the two teams, 27% of impact players were undrafted, while only 19% were picked in the first round.
Now that we have noticed that the best teams don’t necessarily have loads of highly drafted players, let’s look at the schools these players came from. I broke down the number of players per BCS automatic qualifying conferences (“AQ” for the sake of brevity) and the number of players from non-AQ schools.
Patriots Players by Conference
- ACC: 2
- Big Ten: 4
- Big 12: 1
- Big East: 4
- Pac-12: 3
- SEC: 10
Non-AQ Schools: 13
Giants Players by Conference
- ACC: 7
- Big Ten: 8 (Nebraska was in Big 12 when Prince Amukamara attended)
- Big 12: 3
- Big East: 3
- Pac-12: 0
- SEC: 4
Non-AQ Schools: 9
As this demonstrates, over 70% of the impact players in this year’s Super Bowl came from AQ schools. I can’t help but wonder if players who attended big football factory colleges, only to be disappointed come draft day, aren’t the ones who play with the largest chips on their shoulders.
Players like Brady (6th round), Aaron Hernandez (4th round), Ahmad Bradshaw (7th round) and Michael Boley (5th round) probably think back to sitting there on draft day and waiting to hear their names called and use that as fuel to prove scouts, GMs, and media members wrong.
I’m still not sure how many of these guys have ever been disregarded and told they were never going to make it. But what I take away from this is the following:
- In order to make it to the NFL, obviously, you must be talented.
- After that, it is about who works the hardest and who can be the most motivated player to succeed.
If telling yourself that the whole world is betting against you helps you do that, then do that. It just sounds more believable coming from Danny Woodhead than Eli Manning.