AFC South: Gil Brandt
But as the media’s four days here got under way Thursday, I started thinking.
The league’s made it clear it wants to continue to grow the event for TV purposes, to get more fans in Lucas Oil Stadium to watch workouts and to continue to take year-round ownership of the sports calendar.
Aside from that sort of growth, what would the talent evaluators want to see added to the combine that could assist them in their jobs?
I’ve annoyed as many people as I felt was reasonable with that question and got an array of answers.
Ruston Webster, Titans general manager: “Maybe it’d be nice to see the receivers and the DBs have some one-on-one time or something like that. That won’t happen, but some competition would probably be good to see.”
Carl Peterson, former Chiefs GM, current chairman of USA Football: Guys running in pads. Peterson said he would like to see the standard 40s continue to maintain an apples-to-apples comparison over the years, but he would add a second time for players to run in pads. It can be dramatically different and gives a much better indication of football speed. He said if it ever happened, there would be a big issue made of having all players in a common type of pads for their positions.
Rob Rang, analyst for NFL Draft Scout: “One of the things I’ve always wished they’d do is take advantage of the technology that we have today and start using some electronic testing as the key way of being able to time not only the 40-yard dash but the three-cone drill, things of that nature. Have electronic testing for the bench press drills. You sometimes hear about when players are doing the bench press and some of the repetitions aren’t allowed because he doesn’t lock his arms out or whatever the case may be. If you had some laser sighting there, you would be able to know what is the range that a player has to lock his arms out to for that to be considered a repetition.”
Bruce Arians, Cardinals coach: “Pads. Let them play football. I don't think agents would go for that.”
Rick Smith, Texans general manager: “If anything, if you could have more time. I don’t advocate that because I think it’s set up the right way at this point. But in the grand scheme of things, I think as an evaluator if I had a little more time with a guy it’d probably be good.”
Bill Polian, former GM of the Bills, Panthers and Colts, current ESPN analyst: “I’d cut it back. It’s too much now. It stresses these kids way too much.” Prospects get wake-up calls as early as 5 a.m. They have days filled with medical appointments, meetings, press sessions and test-taking, and that doesn’t even count the actual workouts.
Polian said he would consider cutting out a player’s media obligations but that he would look for wherever something could be trimmed. He noted a new intelligence test added to the Wonderlic this year. The new test will take an hour, and he’s not sure what he’s getting as an evaluator in exchange for 333 hours of test-taking by this year’s combine participants.
Mike Smith, Falcons coach: “Fifteen minutes goes fast in the interviews. If we could have a little bit more time. Maybe cut the numbers down [from 60] and allow us more time to spend with each player.”
Ryan Grigson, Colts general manager: “Put them in pads; that’s the only thing. The great thing about this is it’s just one more reference point. If you think a guy’s a great cover corner, a great athlete, has great speed on film, then if he runs 4.35 you say, ‘OK, he’s really that guy.’ But the play speed and the actual game playing is so huge.
“I’ve gotten burned on it myself. A lot of times you can go out and watch a player in drills, a corner for instance, he’s 6-foot-1, 200 pounds that’s a low-rated guy. Then you go out to practice and his movement skills are off the charts. And you get bamboozled into thinking he’s a player. Well there is something to be said for how you process information as a football player. That’s why I like taking guys who are productive in the actual environment.”
At least some drills in pads could make the workouts closer to football and further from something evaluators need to translate into football.
Gil Brandt, pioneering personnel man for the Dallas Cowboys, currently with NFL.com: “The one thing you could do is put some sort of drill in every year that’s foreign to everybody. Let’s say the triple jump, for example. Everybody is practicing these things now so they get them down. Do something like the triple jump, which shows your explosion. Then next year come up with something else.”
I love this idea.
One challenge would be keeping the secret, but if it were determined late and kept among very few people under lock and key, the element of surprise would be a great addition. Beyond providing more info about a guy’s athleticism, personnel men could see how players react to something they have not rehearsed.
And such front-office architecture helped them find a player like guard Herb Scott, drafted 330th out of Virginia Union in 1975.
Dallas thought he was the 50th best player available. The Cowboys drafted him 330th and he was a two-time first team All Pro who played in three Super Bowls.
It’s hard to have that easy of an advantage anymore, of course.
But lest you think no rock goes unturned, consider this piece by Jack Bechta on how spending on scouting is not what you might imagine.
The fact is, plenty of owners used to spending big bucks on players, coaches and executives see scouting staffs as a place to save. Bechta says, and I'll bet he's right, it’s an area where spending more could actually pay big dividends.
"If I ran a team I would have the highest R&D cost in the league because I know it will save my team money in the long run and give me more wins. I would allocate more money on intelligence testing, character/social habit evaluations and practice habits. I would use more private investigators and even hire former highly respected coaches (and former strength coaches) to gather hard to get information from college coaches.
"Of course the second part of this equation is that you have to find coaches who can develop your draft picks. Why not hire a scout to exclusively evaluate other coaches and keep scouting reports on them?
"It baffles me that I can ask one of my current players (or even a college coach) about a prospect he played with or coached in college and he may tell me to “stay away” because of some obvious reason. However, an NFL team will never get the same Intel I received by just doing a little diligence. It also amazes me how one NFL team can pick up on a major character, work ethic or physical deficiency while others won't catch it."
At least one recent AFC South development has shown a scouting department shrinking, not growing. In May of 2009, the Colts eliminated the jobs of longtime player personnel official Dom Anile and several others in the scouting department. The moves came as part of restructuring efforts aimed at cost-cutting.
As for the sort of things that happen in scouting players, here's one that Bechta would certainly appreciate from the Titans and their bungled pick of Pacman Jones in 2006. The team gave some weight -- I’m not saying a lot, but it was part of its equation -- to the endorsement of a guy who’s West Virginia career overlapped with Jones’ who happened to be the son of a Titans assistant coach.
When investing huge dollars and a valuable pick into a guy who allegedly smashed in someone’s face with a pool cue at a bar, I’d say the team could have done a far more thorough investigation that would have steered it elsewhere.
I'd like teams to have such well-equipped scouting staffs that a recommendation like that would be diluted to the point where the people involved in the decision couldn’t try to soften the blow years later by talking about it.
If I’m a bad team looking to close the gap on the guys making regular visits to the playoffs, I’d consider really ramping up my expenditures for what Bechta refers to as a team’s research and development department.
My team would still miss in the draft -- it’s an “inexact art” as Bill Polian calls it. But I am guessing it would miss a bit less. And I’d want to know just how much that difference could mean to my franchise.
Through camp I'll try to do an evening file with some highlights from the three places I wasn't.
- Gil Brandt of NFL.com picks the Texans to win the AFC South in the Chronicle's Camp Insider. I think they're better served to fly under the radar, but you take the positive attention when you can get it.
- Lance Zierlein marvels at how Frank Okam can look so good on one snap and so bad the next. Consistency is the biggest issue for a lot of promising players.
- Reggie Wayne showed up for Colts camp with his traditionally unique way. This time he arrived in a dump truck. Writes John Oehser: "Moments later, he emerged wearing a hard hat, construction vest and belt with a hammer, jumper cables and a pair of receiving gloves." Classic stuff. I love it and wish I'd been there to see for myself.
- Indy signed top draft pick Donald Brown.
- Eugene Monroe is still unsigned.
|Joe Montana, Danny Abramowicz and Walter Payton were pretty good buys. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
A rookie receiver on a rookie franchise in 1967, Danny Abramowicz was halfway through the preseason when coach Tom Fears sent The Turk for him.
Defiantly, Abramowicz went to the meeting but violated the protocol.
The contract he got as a 17th-round pick out of Xavier was worth $17,000 and when he joined the team he had sought out Fears.
|Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images|
|Wide receiver Jerry Rice provided pretty good value for being picked 16th in the 1985 draft. |
"When I reported to training camp, I said 'Coach, I know you don't even know who I am, but all I am asking for is a fair chance,'" Abramowicz remembered in a recent phone chat from his home in Steubenville, Ohio. "He said O.K. In those days we played six exhibition games. Three games into the exhibition season I was on special teams and never got to play a down at receiver.
"The Turk knocked on my door and said, 'bring the playbook' and I did not bring the playbook. I went downstairs into coach Fears' office and I said, 'Coach, you didn't give me a chance, I'm not leaving.' He said, 'You're serious, aren't you?' And I said, 'I'm as serious as a heart attack.' So he said, 'OK, go back to your room, I'm going to give you a chance.' I walked out the door and wiped my brow and said, 'Wow, that worked.'"
Abramowicz played receiver in the next game and played well, becoming a staff favorite. In the regular season, an injury to a starter got him his next big chance, and he wound up his first season with 50 catches for 721 yards and six touchdowns. Two years later he was a first-team All-Pro.
"He caught everything he ever touched," said Eddie Khayat, the defensive line coach for those Saints. "He had great hands, he could go deep, he was so tough. And I don't think I've ever been with a coaching staff that pulled so hard for a guy to make the team, because he was all-out all the time and tough on special teams."
We break from the form for this blog entry, which includes no significant AFC South hook.
Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Research and Mark Francescutti of ESPN Stats & Information worked through a formula and came up with our list of the 50 All-Time Best Buys in the draft and we jumped at a chance to write about it.
Receiver Jerry Rice of the 49ers, the 16th player selected overall in the 1985 draft, tops the list. His teammate quarterback Joe Montana, the 82nd player selected overall selected in 1979, ranks second.
Only three players represent the AFC South division: Peyton Manning, one of just five overall No. 1 picks on the list; running back Marshall Faulk, who started out as a Colts' first-rounder; and Billy (White Shoes) Johnson of the Houston Oilers.
And the best stories are of guys like No. 33 Cleveland defensive back Ben Davis (439th in 1967), No. 30 Dallas defensive tackle Larry Cole (drafted 428th overall in 1968), and No. 25 Abramowicz.
Told he ranks ahead of Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Joe Greene, O.J. Simpson, Deion Sanders and Terry Bradshaw, Abramowicz wondered about the criteria, which factors in draft position and is explained fully with the in the box to the right.
"That must be a stacked deck, how did I get in there?" Abramowicz said. "That's awesome. I think the world of all those guys, they were great players."
Five Cowboys are on the list. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt was Dallas' long-time chief personnel man and easily recalled the stories of four All-Time Best Buys (he left the Cowboys before they drafted Emmitt Smith, No. 9 on this list), including No. 14, guard Herb Scott, drafted 330th out of Virginia Union in 1975.
Brandt said Scott had a bad body coming out of college -- not unlike Alabama's Andre Smith right now -- but film showed he never got beat in games. According to Brandt, scout Dick Mansperger deserved the credit for finding Scott. At that time, Mansperger focused exclusively on traditionally black universities.
The guard ranked 50th on the Cowboys' board, they drafted him 280 spots later and he was a two-time first team All Pro who played in three Super Bowls and won one. How's that for value?
"Coach [Tom] Landry called me in during training camp and he said, 'I want to trade John Niland,'" Brandt said, referring to the guard who'd been to six Pro Bowls. "I started laughing. He said, 'Herb Scott is an unbelievable football player. If we can trade Niland now coming off a Pro Bowl year...' Well, we traded him and that enabled us to get [receiver] Tony Hill, who was a very good player for us.
Abramowicz went on to coach for Mike Ditka in Chicago and New Orleans. Now, he's part of "Crossing the Goal", a program that airs on the Catholic Network EWTN, and he's written a book, "Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint." Married for 43 years, he's got three kids and four grandchildren.
During his best year in 1969, the Saints called on him as a fill-in punt returner, even though he'd not done it since he played at St. Peter's grade school. He fair caught the first one as he was instructed, then got brave and decided he could return the next one. He wound up hit "like a truck over a rooster," his front teeth smashed in, the start of dental issues that the 63-year old said has included 14 root canals.
But he was a quick learner when it came to NFL survival. Stitched up and sent out for a third punt in that game, he made the prudent play.
"Before the ball got through the cheeks of the center's rear end," he said, "I had both hands up in the air."