The Dallas Cowboys began using computers to evaluate college prospects back in 1963. Over the next 25 years, only two players -- Bo Jackson and Tony Dorsett -- received a higher overall grade than Rod Woodson, who will be enshrined this summer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Woodson's computer evaluation was the final piece in what had been a series of overall glowing reports on the star defensive back from Purdue University.
Starting in 1981, Dallas sent scouts around the country immediately following the college season to conduct workouts that evaluated players' athletic ability. We had worked with the University of Colorado to set up this program, which included all sorts of sophisticated equipment that measured quickness, peripheral vision and other key traits. (And as an aside: the first guy we had lugging that equipment around the country was a young Jerry Angelo, now GM of the Chicago Bears.)
Anyway, over the next seven years, we tested more than 2,000 players. Woodson's results placed him among the top 10 athletes we ever tested.
All of these tests were geared toward grading players' athletic ability. They didn't tell you who could actually play football, but they told you who couldn't play. And the accuracy rating was unbelievable. But to really gauge a prospect's chances, you've got to factor in other things like smarts, character and competitiveness.
Well, we had to look no further than the scouting report filed by our own Dick Mansperger. Here's what he had to say about Woodson:
"Outstanding characterâ¦ Very talented athleteâ¦ Smooth and very fluid in his movementâ¦ Strong, sure tacklerâ¦ Excellent range and timingâ¦ Hard workerâ¦ Good toughness and tackler for his positionâ¦ Outstanding accelerationâ¦ Bit of a gambler, can play press coverage or off the receiverâ¦ Hall of Fame potential."
He gave Woodson as high a grade as you can get.
In addition to the scouting reports, I had come to know Woodson pretty well before the 1987 draft. I usually got to know many of the college All-Americans at a preseason event each year -- and since Woodson was a preseason All-America pick two years in a row, that was six days over the two years that we were together. The thing that impressed me most about Woodson was the pride he took in talking about his family back in Ft. Wayne, Ind. He especially bragged on his mom.
Of course, Woodson had a great career at Purdue, where he started 44 games in four years. The Boilermakers won just 18 games in the four years, but there wasn't much talent around Woodson. He sometimes was a one-man team -- returning punts and kickoffs, intercepting 11 passes, and finishing his career with an amazing 445 tackles. In his final college game, against Indiana, he even started on offense as a receiver, and closed out his college career with a win.
He also ran track at Purdue -- and qualified for the 1984 Olympics as a hurdler. Legendary Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady told me Woodson could have played varsity for the Boilermakers. (Keady, by the way, knew a little something about football; he was drafted by the Steelers after playing at Kansas State.)
In early 1987, Woodson participated in the NFL Scouting Combine, running the 40-yard dash in times of 4.31 and 4.33. He had a 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump, 36-inch vertical leap, and a 3.98-second short shuttle. By today's standards, those are good numbers, but not great. But they were great back then. Remember: These days, players spend 2-3 months in special programs training specifically for the combine workouts. That was not the case back then and the 1987 combine was held in late January.
One sour note for Woodson at the combine: He only had 10 reps at the bench press. His NFL Network colleague, Solomon Wilcots, had 11.
Prior to the '87 draft, Dallas coach Tom Landry remarked that if Woodson had played spring football at Purdue instead of running track, he'd have come into the NFL and started immediately as a rookie at either corner or safety. That said, it didn't take long for Woodson to make his mark in the league.
Which makes it all the more surprising that Woodson didn't get picked until the 10th overall spot in Round 1 of the draft. As I recall, after the first six or seven players were drafted, some people in the Cowboys' war room were good-naturedly kidding Mansperger about how the guy he graded so high was still available.
Whatever the case, it worked out pretty well for the team that drafted him, Pittsburgh. Eight years later, Woodson became the first NFL player to have a major knee operation and return in the same season -- a testament to his athletic ability. Woodson was hurt in the season opener, yet he made it back to play for the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX against Dallas.
I still see Woodson quite a bit in the offseason at charity golf events, especially one in Pittsburgh hosted by former Steelers great Andy Russell. Woodson didn't take up golf until after his football careeer ended, but it's not surprising that he's become a pretty solid golfer.
Woodson remains the same, quiet, in-control type of guy I remember from his college days. And now he can add Pro Football Hall of Fame to his impressive resume.