NFL Nation: Greg Gabriel
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: Draft Philosophy.
General manager Jerry Angelo has emerged from what amounted to a two-year draft hiatus following the high-profile trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams. It will be interesting to see if any philosophical shifts are detectable in what will be the Bears' first draft since Angelo overhauled his front office. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel departed, his position was dissolved and Tim Ruskell was hired to oversee the college and pro scouting departments. To this point, there has been a general sense that Angelo -- a onetime scouting director himself -- has been drawn to individual players he likes more than he has been guided by a larger plan to build a balanced team. Case in point: He has drafted 18 defensive backs and 11 offensive linemen over his tenure. Six of those 11 offensive linemen were taken in the seventh round, part of the reason the Bears are short-handed at the position this offseason.
If the Lions have proved anything under general manager Martin Mayhew, it's that they value every last drop of the draft. In some instances, Mayhew has gone to great lengths to secure an extra pick, no matter what round it is in. On at least two occasions, he has traded a player recently signed as a street free agent or claimed on waivers for a seventh-round draft pick. In several cases, Mayhew has included those picks in trades for other players. This spring, he and the Lions appealed a relatively mild NFL tampering discipline, hired a prominent attorney and achieved the slightest reduction in the penalty: A seventh-round pick lost in 2012 rather than 2011. Some teams consider seventh-round picks to be throwaways or places to grab a player otherwise destined for college free agency to avoid a bidding war on signing bonuses. Under Mayhew, the Lions use them as a daily commodity.
Green Bay Packers
Generally speaking, more is better for the Packers. It's been well-chronicled that Packers general manager Ted Thompson built his championship team almost exclusively through the draft, and that approach requires volume to gather enough depth and maximize the chances for hitting big on players. Thompson famously traded back into the 2009 first round to select linebacker Clay Matthews, but a betting man realizes it's far more likely that he will trade back in any given year to accumulate more picks. Thompson rarely pursues the hot name or flashy personalities or even flashy players. Case in point: Choosing nose tackle B.J. Raji over receiver Michael Crabtree in 2009. But there is no arguing with the Packers' approach under Thompson, which has built layers of quality -- if not elite -- depth at multiple positions across the board.
Every team insists that talent trumps need in the draft, but under vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, the Vikings have drafted for need more often than you might think. Consider 2010. The Vikings entered the draft knowing their depth was thin behind injured cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They also had lost backup tailback Chester Taylor via free agency. Their first two picks? Cornerback Chris Cook and running back Toby Gerhart. In 2009, they wanted to replace right tackle Ryan Cook. The answer was Phil Loadholt, their second-round pick. In 2008, the Vikings traded up to draft safety Tyrell Johnson because they knew starter Darren Sharper was entering his final season. There's a difference between taking what the draft gives you and maneuvering to make sure it gives you what you want. The Vikings lean toward the latter under Spielman.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the 2010 draft, according to the National Football Post, the Chicago Bears called Buffalo tailback James Starks to say they planned to draft him with the No. 181 overall pick. At the last moment, however, general manager Jerry Angelo changed his mind and selected Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour instead.
How did the National Football Post get this information? The blog post was written by Greg Gabriel, who was the Bears' director of college scouting at the time and the man who had Starks on the phone when Angelo announced his final decision. Gabriel called it "the most embarrassing moment I had experienced while scouting" and made clear he favored Starks over LeFevour:
I was in Starks' corner. The reason being his talent, and the plan was to carry only two quarterbacks on the active roster. With Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie under contract I did not see how LeFevour could make the team. I had watched Starks play live 4 times during his career; there was not a doubt in my mind that he would contribute to the Bears. I liked Dan LeFevour as well. He had great intangibles, is very smart, has a strong arm and was a fit for Mike Martz' offense. But under the circumstances it would be difficult for him to make the team.
Ultimately, the Green Bay Packers took Starks 12 spots later in the sixth round at No. 193 overall. As we all know by now, he rushed for 123 yards in the Packers' wild-card playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears lost LeFevour to the Cincinnati Bengals when they tried to pass him through waivers to get him in on the practice squad in September.
Disagreements and last-second changes of heart happen all of the time on draft day. You just don't hear too many examples quite as specific as this one. But the Bears parted ways with Gabriel after the draft and he is no longer obligated to keep company secrets.
Martin Mayhew seemed prepared for the question. Detroit's new general manager was more than ready to address concerns about his apprenticeship in the failed tenure of predecessor Matt Millen.
"I would say this: Judge me by what I do," Mayhew said, "and don't judge me by who my friends are or how I got here. Judge me by my actions. To me, at the end of the day, that's what it's about. It's what happens here."
|AP Photo/Carlos Osorio|
|There is a lot riding on who Martin Mayhew and the Lions select with their No. 1 pick.|
Mayhew spoke those words in January. Three months later, Judgment Day has arrived. Mayhew's clean slate, assuming you gave him one, is about to receive its most significant etch. He has directed the Lions to an internal decision on whom to select with the No. 1 overall pick in Saturday's draft, and while the choice has yet to be revealed publicly, it will forever define his career in Detroit.
A good decision will jumpstart the Lions' resurgence. A poor choice, or even one that goes awry for reasons unforeseen today, will cement his connection to Millen and dig an even greater hole for the franchise.
Consider the shining moment in the career of Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian: Choosing quarterback Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Polian already had built a strong reputation by then, but the success of his decision catapulted him to at least 11 more years of employment with the Colts.
On the other hand, can you even name the general manager who selected quarterback Alex Smith with the top pick in 2005? (San Francisco coach Mike Nolan made the final decision.) What about the man who drafted defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000? (Cleveland general manager Dwight Clark.)
Such polarity prompted Polian to offer some sobering advice earlier this winter. Asked what he would say to Mayhew as the Lions contemplate their options at No. 1, Polian said: "Pray a lot. And recognize that you can't be right [all the time]. You're going to be wrong 50 percent of the time."
To a certain degree, all four of the NFC North's top personnel men are facing a crucial set of decisions this weekend. Let's look at the remaining three, in order of their current selection in the first round:
1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Atlanta Green Bay 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New England 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Detroit Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Miami Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Kansas City Washington 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Baltimore 4:05 PM ET Tennessee Denver 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Arizona 4:25 PM ET New York San Diego 4:25 PM ET Seattle San Francisco 8:30 PM ET Carolina New Orleans