AFC South: Tom Landry

 
  Getty Images
  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.

The Formula
Here is a complete listing of the point system used in the calculations:

MVP: 15 pts for each award

AP All-Pro: 15 pts (a one-time value for appearing on a 1st or 2nd team)

1st Team All-Pro: 5 pts for each year

SB Wins: 5 pts for each win

SB loss: 2.5 pts for each loss

Rookie of the Year: 3 points

Pick Value: Takes the average slot at which the first player at each position is chosen and subtracts it from the pick where each individual player was selected. This value is then divided by 10. For example, the first quarterback comes off the board on average at pick 10.6, therefore Peyton Manning's "pick value" is (1-10.6)/10.

-- Ryan McCrystal, ESPN Research

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."

Draft Pick Value Rankings
Player Pos. School Team Rd. Overall Yr. SB
W-L
Score
1. Jerry Rice WR Miss. Valley St. San Francisco 1 16 1985 3-1 88.07
2. Joe Montana QB Notre Dame San Francisco 3 82 1979 4-0 87.14
3. Brett Favre QB Southern Miss. Atlanta 2 33 1991 1-1 84.74
4. Peyton Manning QB Tennessee Indianapolis 1 1 1998 1-0 84.04
5. Lawrence Taylor LB North Carolina N.Y. Giants 1 2 1981 2-0 82.30
6. Jack Lambert LB Kent State Pittsburgh 2 46 1974 4-0 76.70
7. Terrell Davis RB Georgia Denver 6 196 1995 2-0 73.90
8. Tom Brady QB Michigan New England 6 199 2000 3-1 71.34
9. Emmitt Smith RB Florida Dallas 1 17 1990 3-0 69.00
10. L.C. Greenwood DE Arkansas AM&N Pittsburgh 10 238 1969 4-0 68.19
11. Shannon Sharpe WR Savannah State Denver 7 192 1990 3-0 68.17
12. Mike Webster C Wisconsin Pittsburgh 5 125 1974 4-0 68.13
13. Karl Mecklenburg LB Minnesota Denver 12 310 1983 0-3 67.60
14. Jack Ham LB Penn State Pittsburgh 2 34 1971 4-0 67.50
15. Brian Sipe QB San Diego State Cleveland 13 330 1972 0-0 66.94
16. Alan Page DT Notre Dame Minnesota 1 15 1967 0-4 65.34
17. Mark Moseley K Steph. F. Austin Philadelphia 14 346 1970 1-1 65.20
18. Herb Scott G Virginia Union Dallas 13 330 1975 1-2 65.14
19. Anthony Munoz OT Southern Cal Cincinnati 1 3 1980 0-2 64.57
20. Ronnie Lott DB Southern Cal San Francisco 1 8 1981 4-0 64.54
21. Rayfield Wright DT Fort Valley St Dallas 7 182 1967 2-3 64.54
22. Bruce Smith DE Virginia Tech Buffalo 1 1 1985 0-4 64.49
23. Barry Sanders RB Oklahoma State Detroit 1 3 1989 0-0 62.60
24. Rocky Bleier RB Notre Dame Pittsburgh 16 417 1968 4-0 61.00
25. Dan Abramowicz WR Xavier New Orleans 17 420 1967 0-0 60.97
26. Larry Brown RB Kansas State Washington 8 191 1969 0-1 60.90
27. Rod Martin LB Southern Cal Oakland 12 317 1977 2-0 60.80
28. Mike Wagner DB Western Illinois Pittsburgh 11 268 1971 4-0 60.54
29. Walter Payton RB Jackson State Chicago 1 4 1975 1-0 59.70
30. Larry Cole DT Hawaii Dallas 16 428 1968 2-3 59.57
31. Randy White DT Maryland Dallas 1 2 1975 1-2 59.04
32. Charles Haley DE James Madison San Francisco 4 96 1986 5-0 58.99
33. Ben Davis RB Defiance Cleveland 17 439 1967 0-0 58.20
34. Mike Singletary LB Baylor Chicago 2 38 1981 1-0 57.90
35. Ted Hendricks LB Miami, Fla. Baltimore Colts 2 33 1969 4-0 57.40
36. Joe Greene DT North Texas St. Pittsburgh 1 4 1969 4-0 57.24
37. Larry Brooks DT Virginia State L.A. Rams 14 355 1972 0-1 56.84
38. Robert Holmes RB Southern Kansas City 14 375 1968 1-0 56.80
39. Billy Johnson WR Widener Houston Oilers 15 365 1974 0-0 55.47
40. Marshall Faulk RB San Diego State Indianapolis 1 2 1994 1-1 55.00
41. Rod Woodson DB Purdue Pittsburgh 1 10 1987 1-2 54.74
42. Zach Thomas LB Texas Tech Miami 5 154 1996 0-0 54.50
43. O.J. Simpson RB Southern Cal Buffalo 1 1 1969 0-0 54.40
44. Ron Yary OT Southern Cal Minnesota 1 1 1968 0-4 54.37
45. Deion Sanders DB Florida State Atlanta 1 5 1989 2-0 54.24
46. Terry Bradshaw QB Louisiana Tech Pittsburgh 1 1 1970 4-0 54.04
47. Dwight Clark WR Clemson San Francisco 10 249 1979 2-0 53.87
48. Cliff Branch WR Colorado Oakland 4 98 1972 3-0 53.77
49. Thurman Thomas RB Oklahoma State Buffalo 2 40 1988 0-4 53.30
50. Rodney Harrison DB Western Illinois San Diego 5 145 1994 2-2 53.24
MVPs: Manning and Favre won three. Montana won two. Taylor, T. Davis, Brady, E. Smith, Page, Moseley, B. Sanders, Sipe, Gannon, L. Brown, Faulk, Payton, Simpson, Bradshaw and T. Thomas won one.

All-Pro teams: All except Bleier and Cole were named first- or second-team All-Pro.

Rookie of the Year: Taylor, Lambert, E. Smith, B. Sanders, Faulk and Greene earned ROY honors.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Larry from parts unknown: Hey PK. You have spoken (or included links to articles, i cant remember which) about the colts needing to re-sign Dominic Rhodes. With Edge asking for his release from the Cards and the seeming lack of available places for him to go, do you think it is possible that he could return to Indy on the cheap (comparable to what it would take to bring back Rhodes)? I'm not sold at all on Mike Hart (probably because i just dont like U of Michigan. Thanks. -Larry

Paul Kuharsky: That's an interesting question. Possible, but unlikely. Rhodes is old, but Edge is older and has more wear and tear. Going and re-signing Rhodes was a kind of rare circumstance for the Colts. Never say never standard disclaimer, but a return for James seems unlikely to me. And I think they like Hart much more than you do.


Martin in SLC writes: Do the Titans even have Hayward-Bay on their radar or does the loss of Albert place more need for defense in the draft? I know they drafted Jones last year and Tony Brown had a good seaon, but knowing the Titans, I have a feeling that isn't good enough up front. Look forward to see what you think.

Paul Kuharsky: Sure, Darrius Heyward-Bey is on their radar. I think he will be gone before 30, but I think they will look closely at him, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt.

I don't think defensive line is the concern -- I didn't think so even before they signed Jovan Haye. They've got no corners under contract beyond Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper (and nickel Vincent Fuller), so right now I see them leaning cornerback and waiting on receiver.


Dennis from parts unknown writes: couldn't the colts add two big d tackles and still be qick evrywhere else

Paul Kuharsky: How about one? They could have one real big and one bigger than the rest, but still they'd need them to be able, at least, to move quickly laterally.


Matthew in Washington, D.C., writes: Do you think that Maurice jones-Drew can handle being the main running back? I think if he gets a bit more work he can continue to be effective, but that he will benefit from being paired with another guy who's got some of the skills Taylor had...

Paul Kuharsky: I think he can. But I think they need a better guy to work with him than Greg Jones. That's two power runners. MJD benefited big-time from having a creative guy like Fred Taylor as the counter, and I think the Jaguars would benefit from attempting to pair Jones-Drew with someone Taylor-like.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts had Jim Caldwell in place ahead of time and expect a seamless transition into the post-Tony Dungy era.

It looks like a sound plan.

 
  AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  Jim Caldwell has big shoes to fill in Indianapolis, but many in his position have been successful before.

But popular wisdom says you don't want to be the guy to replace the guy. It's the replacement's replacement, the theory follows, who gains the distance necessary from a legendary name to be able to succeed.

For many, the thought of replacing a popular and successful coach brings back memories of some infamous NFL names.

Former Minnesota coach Les Steckel is still remembered for a 3-13 year in 1984 that wound up being a sabbatical season for Bud Grant. Ray Handley replaced Bill Parcells for the Giants in 1991 and went 14-18 in two seasons. Richie Petitbon replaced Joe Gibbs in 1993 and flamed out with a 4-12 season.

Are you familiar with Phil Bengtson or Paul Wiggin? Me neither.

Bengtson followed up Vince Lombardi in Green Bay and managed three third-place finishes. Wiggin was 11-24 in two-and-a-half seasons following Hank Stram in Kansas City.

But none of that is reason for Colts devotees to fear the dawn of the Caldwell era as he replaces a potential Hall of Famer who takes a .668 winning percentage with him into retirement.

Thanks to some help from Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information, we can take a detailed look at how the successors to the winningest coaches have fared.

While there were some strikeouts, the history is hardly a horror story. Two successors won multiple Super Bowls, two more were playoff regulars and another is leading his team into the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

So here's a run through how things have panned out after big-time winning coaches stepped away or were removed. These are the top 10 coaches with the best winning percentages in the Super Bowl era (minimum 100 games coached since the 1966 season):

 
  Andy Hayt/Getty Images
  Tom Flores did very well as John Madden's successor, winning two Super Bowls for the Silver-and-Black.

1) John Madden, .759 (Raiders)

Tom Flores replaced Madden in 1979 and Flores went 91-56 in nine seasons, leading the Raiders to wins in Super Bowl XV and XVII.

2) George Allen, .712 (Rams and Redskins)

Jack Pardee replaced Allen in Washington, and Pardee was 24-24 in three seasons (1978-80). Joe Gibbs replaced Pardee and won 140 games from 1981-92 and three Super Bowls.

3) Tom Landry, .674 (Cowboys)

Jimmy Johnson replaced Landry in 1989 and Johnson won back to back Super Bowls in the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Johnson was 51-37 from 1989-93. [Corrected from earlier when I gave him credit for the one Barry Switzer won in 1994.]

4) Don Shula, .672 (Colts and Dolphins)

Like Landry, Shula was replaced by Johnson. In four seasons (1996-99), Johnson was 38-31 and 2-3 in the postseason. Since Shula, Miami has had six different head coaches.

5) Tony Dungy, .668 (Buccaneers and Colts)

Replaced by Caldwell this week.

6) George Seifert, .648 (49ers and Panthers)

Seifert did some replacing himself, following Bil Walsh. Steve Mariucci replaced Seifert in San Francisco in 1997, and Mariucci got the Niners to the NFC Championship in his first season. In six seasons, Mariucci made the playoffs four times. Since Mariucci left, the 49ers have had three different head coaches.

7) Bill Cowher, .623 (Steelers)

Mike Tomlin replaced Cowher in 2007. In his second season, Tomlin is preparing the Steelers to host Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game.

8-T) Joe Gibbs, .621 (Redskins)

Petitbon was a dud.

8-T) Bud Grant, .621 (Vikings)

Returned for another season after Steckel bombed, then saw Jerry Burns go 55-46 from 1986-91.

10) Bill Belichick .616 (Browns and Patriots)

When he finishes his term in New England, he'll leave a tough headset to fill.

And here's one from outside the top 10: a succession scenario the Colts would be thrilled to mimic.

Bill Walsh, .609 (49ers) -- Replaced by Seifert in 1989, Seifert went on to win two Super Bowls in his first six seasons. He won at least 10 games in all eight of his seasons and only missed the playoffs once. Like Caldwell, Seifert inherited a pretty good quarterback situation, getting two years of Joe Montana and six with Steve Young.

 
  David Boss/US Presswire
  Blanton Collier replaced the legendary Paul Brown, and never had a losing season.

As I couldn't stop asking, here are the succession stories of some other Hall of Fame coaches:

  • Paul Brown -- Blanton Collier was in Cleveland from 1963-70, and didn't have a losing season, going 76-34-2.
  • Weeb Eubank -- Charley Winner took over the Jets in 1974 and went 9-14 and didn't last two seasons. He was let go after nine games in 1975.
  • George Halas -- Following the 1967 season in Chicago when Halas left the Bears' post for the final time, he was replaced by Jim Dooley, who was 16 games under .500 (20-36) from 1968-71.
  • Marv Levy -- Was replaced by Wade Phillips in 1998, and Phillips went 29-19 in three seasons, losing two playoff games.
  • Chuck Noll -- Bill Cowher took over in 1992 and went 149-90-1 in 15 seasons, reaching two Super Bowls and winning one.

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