Look Beyond First Round Draft Picks When Eyeing Top Talent to Lead Your Business Ecosystem

With one final drive to take the lead in Super Bowl LVII, an injured Patrick Mahomes further cemented his legacy as a future hall of famer. In six years in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback has appeared in three Super Bowls and won two, being named the game’s MVP in both victories. His dominance in such a short span makes it easy to forget that he wasn’t the No. 1 draft pick in 2017.

Today, it’s unfathomable that nine teams passed up Mahomes for other players in that draft, including one other quarterback, the No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky of UNC. Despite high expectations, the former Tarheel standout has had a bumpy pro career compared to Mahomes, who didn’t garner as much pre-draft hype even though he had his own standout career at Texas Tech.

This isn’t the first time that an underrated player far exceeded expectations, while a higher rated one struggled to live up to his own. Aware that this phenomenon goes beyond the sports arena into the business ecosystem, I did a little digging after all the confetti settled on the field in Arizona. What I found is a timely reminder that it’s unwise to automatically assume a candidate ranked first in the job marketplace is the best or only management or executive recruit your organization should consider.

No. 10 Draft Pick Outshines No. 1 through 9

No player drafted ahead of Mahomes has even come close to his success, especially in the playoffs, where every team ultimately wants to land at season’s end. That year’s No. 4 pick is the only other Super Bowl winner, while the No. 3 pick played in the big game but lost. The other seven have never reached this coveted pinnacle.

This season, only three other players in the top 10 of Mahomes’ draft class made it into the playoffs. Two lost in the first round, leaving only Christian McCaffrey (No. 8 overall) who made it to the NFC Championship game before his San Francisco 49ers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Talent Abounds in the Second Round of the Draft

As many accolades as Mahomes deserves for his playoff run to Super Bowl LVII, let’s not forget about the other quarterback in this year’s game who came exceedingly close to winning his first Lombardy Trophy. Jalen Hurts of the Eagles is the perfect example of a top talent who’s been looked over more than once for players perceived to be the superior choice.

After leading Alabama to back-to-back National Championships in his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was benched at the half of his second title game in favor of the up-and-comer Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts stayed the course behind his replacement, finished his degree early, and enjoyed a spectacular final season of eligibility at Oklahoma, earning a spot as a Heisman finalist. Even so, he was selected behind four other quarterbacks, going No. 53 overall in the second round of the 2020 draft.

The Best of the Best Come from All Draft Rounds

This year’s Pro Bowl serves as another reminder to look beyond the surface in search of talent. Almost two-thirds of the 2023 Pro Bowl selectees were chosen in their draft class after the first round. And yet, this year they were voted the best at their position by coaches, players, and fans, representing the top 6% of all NFL players.

Buffalo Bills tight end and first-time pro bowler Dawson Knox is a great example of a player who has finally been able to showcase his talent despite some career challenges. After missing most of his senior season of high school ball due to injury, Knox was a walk-on at Ole Miss, where he proved himself and earned a scholarship playing alongside some of the best college tight ends. Selected 96 in the third round of the 2019 draft by the Bills, he’s become a valuable asset for that resurgent franchise.

The GOAT of the Sixth Round

Of course, this conversation about overlooked talent wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tom Brady. Many now consider the seven-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Super Bowl MVP, and three-time NFL MVP the greatest of all time. But it was a different story in the 2000 NFL draft.

Despite a respectable 20-5 record as Michigan’s starting quarterback his junior and senior years and several entries in that football powerhouse’s record book, the New England Patriots didn’t pick up Brady until the sixth round at No. 199. Other NFL owners, general managers, and coaches involved in that draft forever lament failing to initially see his true potential.

The Key to Scouting Top Talent for Your Business Ecosystem

The NCAA and NFL don’t have a monopoly on high potential talent that is underrated in comparison to their more obvious peers. The business world has many high-quality management and executive candidates that often get overshadowed by more conspicuous talent, who despite their shiny resumes aren’t always the right fit for an organization. The key to finding your own Tom Brady amid a pool of well-regarded, successful leadership candidates lies in a strategic hiring process.

This includes understanding your company culture. As the success of the duos of Brady with coach Bill Belichick and Mahomes with coach Andy Reid show, chemistry matters. You also need to thoughtfully identify the functional skills and interpersonal competencies like emotional intelligence needed to be successful in the role and within the existing and aspiring organizational structure.

With culture and skills clearly in mind, you can focus on extensive candidate due diligence that looks underneath the surface of a resume. At Focus Search Partners, this means vetting candidates through on- and off-list reference checks that enable us to detect things like the quiet confidence and hunger-to-win of a Jalen Hurts, the persistence and team commitment of a Dawson Knox, or the unwavering competitiveness of a Brady or Mahomes to prove themselves the actual best.

With carefully curated candidates like these joining your leadership ranks, you’ll have a company dynasty in the making, quickly becoming the envy of other investors and boards who focus only on the shiniest resume in the draft pile.

By Paul Frankenberg, Founder and Managing Partner of Focus Search Partners

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