NFL Nation: Draft Watch 2011 decision makers

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: decision-makers.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones remains the most hands-on owner in the NFL, as reflected by his title of general manager. That makes him more directly responsible for the Cowboys’ draft choices than a typical owner would be. Jones solicits and seems to value input from scouts and coaches. The group has been together long enough for individuals to have a good feel for one another. Tom Ciskowski, who took over the top scouting job after Jeff Ireland left for the Miami Dolphins, has been with the organization since 1992. Coach Jason Garrett, who helped make the call on drafting Felix Jones in 2008, has been with the Cowboys since 2005. Their voices matter, but Jones is the dominant personality in the organization. He makes the call and everyone knows it.

New York Giants

General manager Jerry Reese is the driving force behind the Giants’ draft decisions. He’s methodical and disciplined in his approach, as are the Giants. The team has had only three GMs since George Young first held the job in 1979. Reese has been with the organization since 1994 and has served in the GM role since replacing Ernie Accorsi before the 2007 season. The Giants’ decision to promote Reese following Accorsi’s retirement allowed them to maintain continuity and stability. Winning a Super Bowl following Reese’s first season as GM served as validation. The Giants seem to have a good thing going with Reese and coach Tom Coughlin working together.

Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Andy Reid remains the Eagles’ primary decision-maker on personnel matters. Like any coach, Reid relies upon his personnel department to do the legwork. Unlike most coaches, Reid makes the final decision on draft choices and has done so since his hiring in 1999. The Eagles’ personnel team has evolved in recent seasons. Tom Heckert, the Eagles’ personnel chief through most of Reid’s run as head coach, left to become the Cleveland Browns’ GM following the 2009 season. The Eagles promoted Howie Roseman as Heckert’s successor, a move that maintained continuity. Team president Joe Banner remains influential, but Reid makes the call.

Washington Redskins

Coach Mike Shanahan has more power than any Redskins coach since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999. He has wielded that power over defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and flexed it repeatedly in his handling of quarterback Donovan McNabb. Shanahan is the boss and everyone knows it. Snyder has taken a lower profile as a result. Bruce Allen, son of former legendary Redskins coach George Allen, has served as general manager since replacing Vinny Cerrato late in the 2009 season. He brings administrative expertise to the front office. This is Shanahan’s show, however.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Baltimore Ravens

Ozzie Newsome continues to be one of the NFL's best general managers, and right-hand man Eric DeCosta is starting to create a significant buzz in league circles as well. DeCosta is widely viewed as the Ravens' future GM whenever Newsome decides to retire. But together they have helped Baltimore become a consistent contender in the AFC North.

The Ravens rely heavily on their regional scouts to provide the initial groundwork, while the front office digs deeper to determine which prospects fit the system. The Ravens have an established identity, and they evaluate toughness and football character better than most teams. Baltimore also thrives on finding value picks in the draft, particularly in the middle rounds, which is hard to do.

Cincinnati Bengals

Many have been critical of Cincinnati's lack of a general manager and lighter resources in its front office and scouting staff. Bengals owner Mike Brown recently defended the practice. But the results, which include zero back-to-back winning seasons in 29 years, speak volumes.

The Bengals had a solid draft last year and that needs to continue to develop the same consistency as their rivals. With fewer resources than most teams, the Bengals too often miss on important things such as character and work ethic, which eventually comes back to haunt them.

Cleveland Browns

The power duo of president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert flexed its muscle for the first time last year in Cleveland. The result was a solid draft that landed cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy in the first three rounds. The Browns also made a shrewd trade to land 1,000-yard rusher Peyton Hillis from the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn.

But Cleveland posted its second consecutive 5-11 season, proving there is still plenty of work to do. Starting with the No. 6 overall pick, Holmgren and Heckert have a chance to land impact players in this draft to help ease the transition for rookie head coach Pat Shurmur.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Not much has changed in Pittsburgh, which is a good thing for the Steelers. Pittsburgh continues to let the front office dominate the offseason while giving way to the coaching staff during the season. Kevin Colbert mostly stays out of the public eye but is well-known as one of the league's top general managers. The Steelers continue to build through the draft and got plenty of rookie contributions last year from center Maurkice Pouncey and receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown during their Super Bowl run.

This year some of Pittsburgh's philosophies will be put to the test. The team usually avoids cornerbacks in the first round but may have several good options at No. 31. The Steelers also have the propensity to take the best available player later in the first round instead of the biggest need. Do not be surprised if the Steelers go against the grain in both instances.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Atlanta Falcons

Make no mistake, general manager Thomas Dimitroff is the man running the draft room in Atlanta. He comes with a heavy personnel background from his days as a scout with the New England Patriots and this is the time of year he enjoys most. Dimitroff has a good working relationship with coach Mike Smith and the two often watch film together. That gives Dimitroff a strong feel for what his coach wants in players. So far, this arrangement has worked very well, with the Falcons producing winning records in each of the three seasons Dimitroff and Smith have been together. One last thing on Dimitroff -- he’s not a dictator. He values the opinions of those around him and that includes more people than you’d expect. Even though the Falcons were almost certain they were going to take quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, Dimitroff was asking an Atlanta staffer who was at some of the pre-draft media events in New York for updates on the quarterback’s demeanor.

Carolina Panthers

In the early years of the regime of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, there was a lot of talk about them running an equal partnership, and that was very true. But Fox is gone and Ron Rivera is in his place. Even before Fox left, the partnership stopped being equal. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but Hurney has been calling the draft shots for at least a couple of years. That was extremely evident last year when the Panthers used a second-round pick on Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback Fox wanted no part of. Rivera and his coaching staff will have input and college scouting director Don Gregory is an important cog. But more than ever, Hurney is the person running the draft in Carolina.

New Orleans Saints

General manager Mickey Loomis isn’t a real public person and that probably prevents him from getting the full recognition he deserves. He and coach Sean Payton are very much in this together and their track record has been very impressive. Loomis is at his best as an administrator. He knows what Payton and his staff are looking for and he matches up that knowledge with what his scouts give him. Anybody can hit on first-round picks, but the Saints have had some big success in the middle (Jahri Evans and Jimmy Graham) and later (Marques Colston) rounds. That’s the mark of a machine that’s working well.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mark Dominik is the general manager and he prides himself on being a person who carries (the best) parts of people like Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell, Bruce Allen, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in his thinking. So far, it has worked out pretty well. In his first draft, Dominik landed Josh Freeman, who has turned out to be the first true franchise quarterback this team has ever had. Amid a lot of distractions, Dominik never has taken his eye off the fact that the Bucs are building everything around Freeman. Coach Raheem Morris and scouting director Dennis Hickey play big roles in the process, but you started to see Dominik’s blueprint take hold last season when the Bucs went 10-6.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo remains in place for what will be his 10th draft with the Bears, but this will be his first under the new structure he established last spring. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel left the organization, and director of player personnel Tim Ruskell is now Angelo's right-hand man on all personnel issues. There have been some changes in the internal process, but ultimately Angelo has the final say on draft day. It's been a while since Angelo had a full complement of draft picks after gutting the past two years in trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Gaines Adams. He'll pick No. 29 overall this year, the first time he's had a first-round draft pick in three years. Angelo's success in the first round has been mixed. Two of the six players he's selected in the first round over his tenure, tight end Greg Olsen and offensive lineman Chris Williams, figure as starters in 2011.

Detroit Lions

In two drafts since the Lions named him general manager, Martin Mayhew has upgraded the team's talent level and given its fans hope for continued success. It's true that Mayhew has benefited from high selections in those drafts -- he's made four picks in the top 33 over that stretch -- but it's worth noting all of them appear set for long careers. Those who have followed the Lions closely over the years know that hasn't always been the case for high draft picks. Moreover, Mayhew has refused to allow his style to be classified. In 2009, he drafted tight end Brandon Pettigrew at No. 20 overall, his top-ranked player remaining on the board, despite bigger needs at other positions. On the other hand, he targeted tailback Jahvid Best last year as the answer to a specific need. All of which makes him difficult to predict next month, which I'm sure is just the way he likes it.

Green Bay Packers

We might as well start calling this time of year "TTT" -- "Ted Thompson Time." The Packers' general manager has steadfastly relied on the draft to build his team, eschewing veteran free agency in all but a handful of cases, and the approach paid off with last season's victory in Super Bowl XLV. Most of the Packers' top players are Thompson draft picks, from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receiver Greg Jennings to nose tackle B.J. Raji to linebacker Clay Matthews to safety Nick Collins. True to his personality, Thompson has half-jokingly lamented the time he lost to draft preparation during the Packers' Super Bowl run. He'll have a few extra hours in the first round, where he'll pick No. 32 overall thanks to that little championship thing his team won in February.

Minnesota Vikings

Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman has run the team's draft for the past four years, although former coach Brad Childress had considerable influence when it came to quarterbacks. That's a big part of the reason why the Vikings are all but barren at the most important position in the game, and that's why it's been almost a singular focus for Spielman and his staff over the past few months. Spielman has a good working relationship with new coach Leslie Frazier, but it's reasonable to assume he will have more complete control over this draft than any other in his tenure.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals' leadership team remains basically unchanged for a fifth consecutive offseason.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt is the face of the organization, even during the draft, in part because general manager Rod Graves keeps a low profile. Both earned contract extensions last offseason. Whisenhunt was coming off back-to-back division titles and had been to a Super Bowl at that point, so his profile within the organization was growing. One losing season hasn't changed that.

Whisenhunt, Graves, team president Michael Bidwill and player personnel director Steve Keim are the primary decision-makers. Whisenhunt appears most prominent among them.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers pulled a surprise of sorts when they named Trent Baalke general manager and made him the No. 1 personnel decision-maker in the building.

The feeling previously had been that the 49ers might have to hand over personnel power to their next head coach if they were serious about landing Jim Harbaugh or another top candidate. That did not happen. Baalke, whose profile became more prominent following Scot McCloughan's departure from the organization one year ago, will make the call during the draft.

The rapport between Baalke and Harbaugh appears much stronger, by all accounts, than the relationship between Baalke and former coach Mike Singletary. That is natural because Baalke played a leading role in hiring Harbaugh; he wasn't part of the process when the team promoted Singletary.

Seattle Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll has the final say on personnel matters. It's in his contract, but not something he flaunts. Carroll played a role in hiring John Schneider as general manager last offseason. Their personalities mesh and the two worked together well in making multiple draft-day moves in 2010.

This is the Seahawks' most comfortable front-office arrangement in recent memory, largely because Carroll and Schneider were brought in together. Each is invested in the other to a degree that did not exist when Mike Holmgren was working with Bob Whitsitt, Bob Ferguson and Tim Ruskell over the years.

The Seahawks' decision-making process has more clarity heading into this draft now that Alex Gibbs has retired as offensive line coach. Gibbs' strong preference for a very specific type of offensive lineman affected how the team approached personnel decisions, especially at guard. His retirement has freed the team to more comfortably pursue the bigger guards its personnel department preferred.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have new ownership with Stan Kroenke purchasing a majority stake, but the day-to-day decision-makers remain in place for a third consecutive offseason.

General manager Billy Devaney takes the lead in personnel matters with input from coach Steve Spagnuolo and executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.

Kroenke hasn't said whether the team will eventually hire a president. It doesn't matter heading into this draft.

The organization is coming off a transforming 2010 draft in which it landed quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Rodger Saffold with its first two choices. Two other recent high picks, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, are also working out well.

That has to work in Devaney's favor as Kroenke assesses where the organization stands.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Houston Texans

General manager Rick Smith runs the large scouting staff and the draft operation and works to build consensus. But the Texans are not drafting anyone coach Gary Kubiak doesn’t want, and Kubiak will lean heavily on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the new members of the defensive staff. They’ve taken a lot of fire for last year’s first-rounder. Cornerback Kareem Jackson struggled as he started all year.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts haven’t done as well at the top recently. Bill Polian, who’s new title is vice chairman, is still overseeing things, and although his son Chris is more active now as the general manager, you can be sure the elder Polian is still calling the shots. I expect he’s determined to break a streak where four of the last seven players picked in the first and second rounds are question marks -- offensive tackle Tony Ugoh has already busted and guard Mike Pollak, running back Donald Brown and defensive end Jerry Hughes all have a lot of work to do to prove worthy of their status.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager Gene Smith has complete authority over the draft, but he worked his way up the ranks as a scout and surely gives his staff’s opinions a lot of power. He will also take input from Jack Del Rio and the coaching staff. Smith’s got a formula that puts a premium on guys who’ve led in college. Look for the class to include several four-year players who captained their college teams. He’s not afraid to take a guy who draftniks and other teams may not value in the same way.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans will talk consensus, but general manager Mike Reinfeldt has more power now that he’s working with a first-time head coach in Mike Munchak. A new power player is involved, too. Ruston Webster came on board after last year’s draft as the VP of player personnel. He’ll have a big say. The lockout and lack of quarterbacks at this stage mean the systems won’t change dramatically in Munchak’s first year. But he and his staff can sell the scouting staff and start to get slightly different personnel based on what coaches would ultimately like to do.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Buffalo Bills

This will be the second draft for general manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Chan Gailey. Vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak is back for his 11th draft. Bills founder Ralph Wilson has been known to get involved on draft day, but Gailey recently said he hasn't seen the Hall of Fame owner meddle. "He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."

Miami Dolphins

For the first time since general manager Jeff Ireland joined the club in 2008, he will run the show without Bill Parcells watching over his shoulder. Parcells stepped away from the Dolphins a few days before the 2010 season opener, leaving his hand-picked GM at the controls. Head coach Tony Sparano also would appear to have a bigger voice with his contract extension. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made the move to make amends after an embarrassing flirtation with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick is entering his 12th draft with New England. He remains in control of every personnel move and hasn't missed without Scott Pioli, who departed for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Belichick receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. The Patriots' draft room must be a sight to behold. On the first two days of last year's draft, they made a series of trades in which they acquired 10 picks (including a 2011 second-rounder) with an average value of the 69th pick and peddled eight picks with an average value of the 85th pick. So these minds somehow accumulated more picks and higher in the order.

New York Jets

General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan enter their third draft together. Top college scout Joey Clinkscales is highly respected in the business, but Ryan has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Denver

This is the only place in the AFC West where there is major change in the decision-making process this year. Denver will be closely watched during this draft for reasons that extend beyond the fact that it owns the No. 2 pick. This will be the first draft since legendary former Broncos quarterback John Elway took over as the team’s vice president of football operations. He was hired in January.

The Broncos have a three-way leadership format, with Elway, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox. Elway has the final say on all decisions. However, Elway will rely on Xanders and Fox. Fox is the key. This is his 10th straight draft as a head coach. But this is an opportunity for Xanders to spread his wings too. He was the general manager the past two years with former coach Josh McDaniels. But McDaniels had final say and he used it. The Broncos had several questionable draft decisions the past two years and have privately made it clear it was McDaniels who was driving the draft ship. This new crew has been busy this offseason preparing for the draft. The Broncos’ brass has been at several pro days and the team has scheduled many workouts and visits with players at many positions. Elway has preached the importance of preparation as the Broncos try to rebuild.

Kansas City

This is Scott Pioli’s show. Pioli is in his third season as Kansas City's general manager. He has final say in all draft decisions. Pioli was part of many successful drafts in New England prior to joining the Chiefs in 2009. Pioli has fit this role well in Kansas City. He is a strong, confident leader. After a so-so first draft in Kansas City, Pioli struck gold in 2010. Several rookies made instant impacts and the class was a big reason why the Chiefs went from four wins to a 10-6 team that won the AFC West. Pioli works well with coach Todd Haley, whom Pioli hired. They seem to have the same draft vision and it seems to be a working well.

Oakland

There is no doubt here -- this is Al Davis’ show. No owner in the NFL is as involved in his team’s day-to-day operations as Davis. That includes the draft. Davis, 81, enters this draft with a hot hand. Oakland had one of the best drafts in the NFL last year and if the Raiders become a playoff team soon, the success of the 2010 class will play a major role. Davis bragged about the class in January and he deserves to boast. Suddenly, the calls from fans for Davis to hire a general manager have quieted. One of the biggest reasons Oakland floundered from 2003-09 was poor drafting, especially in the first round. But Davis proved he can still be effective in the draft room. He still watches countless hours of film and keeps in close contact with the team’s scouts.

San Diego

As in Kansas City, this is a classic leadership arrangement. A.J. Smith is the general manger in San Diego. He has been responsible for making all football-related decisions since he took over in San Diego in 2003. He prides himself in his film study and has been immersed in draft preparation for months. Smith is a strong leader who is known around the league for his willingness to strike a draft-day deal. He’ll move up or down. There’s no insecurity here. He’s in charge and he’s not afraid to use his power.

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