IRONMAN a.k.a. Tony Stark
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An unofficial guide to the draft
(mushmouth marvin lewis is wondering where this insightful guide was 4 years ago when he started coaching.)
(April 10, 2007) -- No matter how your favorite team stacks its own draft board, no matter what the team needs are and regardless of the free-agent activities surrounding your squad, there are a few unofficial guidelines that I might keep next to me come Draft Weekend.
Each and every draft has a personality of its own and with the expenses surrounding quality free agents, rosters have to be built during the draft. So here are a few things that would be taped inside my draft book for the last weekend in April.
1. Don't take one guy with a character alert: Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to come down hard on the bad guys. The majority of veteran players are fed up with the antics of some of the problem children around the league and no one is talking about how much these players are tearing down the locker room. Four-game suspensions strangle a team because of the 53 man roster limit. I bet Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn't taking another chance on a guy with first-round talent and has character issues.
2. Look for the medical competitive advantage: Modern medicine is ever changing and teams with an aggressive medical staff are providing general managers with a larger pool of talent to draw from. It's going to be interesting to see which team pulls the trigger on Louisville running back Michael Bush. He was headed toward a first-round grade when injuries side-tracked him. As Chargers GM A.J. Smith said to me last year following the draft, "we listened to our doctors and took the players accordingly." Well, a number of teams failed OT Marcus McNeill because of a narrowing of the spine. But Smith grabbed McNeill at the 50th pick and he went on to start all 16 regular season games on his way to the Pro Bowl.
3. Don't pass on a franchise quarterback: I don't care if your quarterback's name is Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Donovan McNabb. If a signal-caller is there when you're on the clock, just take him. Look at what the Falcons were able to get in a trade for Matt Schaub. A quarterback is a blue-chip investment. If a team like the Lions pass on a potential franchise QB for the second year in a row and look back a few years from now to see Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn in the Pro Bowl, they will feel the same way the Jets felt when after passing on Hall of Famer Dan Marino. If Oakland had taken Leinart or Jay Cutler last year, it would have been negotiating with Calvin Johnson right now.
4. Identify the top three matchup nightmares and take one: The NFL game has evolved into a chessboard of matchup problems. Whether it's a Reggie Bush in the backfield, or Antonio Gates as a tight end, or a safety with corner skills, every team wants to create more matchup problems for their opponent.
5. Dedicate one early second-day pick on the best special teams player on the board: In a typical NFL game, there are close to 30 special teams plays. They change field positions; sometimes score points and a other times that special player can make a big difference. Don't hesitate to take one of the top three special teams players, especially a returner. The Bears hit a home run last year, selecting Devin Hester with the 57th pick in the draft. Not many of the 56 players chosen before him did more for their teams' success.
6. Always let the game tapes trump the workout in shorts: There always seem to be a workout warrior who rises up the draft boards because of a 4.3-second time in the 40-yard dash or 35 reps on the bench press test. If those numbers are intriguing, then take a look back at the game tapes. Playing speed is a whole lot different than the 40 speed. For example, Dwayne Jarrett ran a slow 4.6 seconds and some believe he has dropped to the second round. The top rated cornerback on most boards is Leon Hall, who ran a 4.39 40. Watch the game tapes to see who looked faster in a football uniform.
7. Trade up or down to get the player you really want and make the deal happen: After all the work done to prepare for a draft, make sure you get the key player you want if your research leads you to him. For example, if Calvin Johnson is the best player on the board and you believe as one head coach said to me this week, "Calvin will play in at least 10 Pro Bowls," then go get him and be a dealmaker. When I was at the Jets we traded up to get Brett Favre and missed by one spot. I hate to think about what the future held for me and everyone in that room if we were able to get to the right spot on that draft day.
8. Sign the two biggest offensive linemen not drafted: There are expanded practice squads and then there is NFL Europa where offensive linemen can develop. I have done it and smart teams are looking to take a guy or two with rare size and a willingness to work. Sign them immediately following the draft and put opening day in 2009 as the target date to play them. With 800 days of structured prep time to teach techniques, develop strength and play 20 games in Europe every spring, should do the trick.
Antwaan Randle El's versatility proved valuable in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XL victory.
9. Use a pick on an athlete who was a college quarterback to do other things: The 49ers drafted Penn State QB Michael Robinson with the 100th pick last year. He has versatility as a running back, wide receiver, special teams player and he's the third-string QB without worrying about the game rules governing the third QB. There's always a player like Antwaan Randle El out there and every team needs to find one and be willing to develop a package around him. Two potential candidates in this year's draft pool are QBs Paul Thompson of Oklahoma and Syvelle Newton of South Carolina.
10. Use one late pick or compensatory pick on Jeff Samardzija: Sure the Notre Dame clutch receiver signed a big baseball contract, but stranger things have happened. Samardzija caught 179 passes and scored 27 touchdowns. What if he can't get his curveball across the plate? If I draft Brady Quinn, I would surely select Samardzija early on the next day and let Quinn do the recruiting.
11. Listen to the one scout in the draft room who's opinion is contrary to the group: Because everyone in the NFL seems to talk with each other, there are universal opinions about players. Too many times it's just safer to go with the flow and inflate or deflate players like everyone else does. If one of your scouts is willing to stand on the table for a guy, contrary to the group, then listen to him. Risk takers are few and far between in the personnel business and a scout willing to go away from the flow just might know something the rest of the group doesn't know. I remember a Carolina Panther scout begging the team to draft Wayne Chrebet in the seventh round. No one listened and the rest was history.
12. Draft a basketball forward who was a very good high school football player: The NFL rules really can favor a big man with hand-eye coordination as a receiver down the field. Call him a move tight end, a hybrid receiver, or anything you want. No one in NFL history had more success finding athletes to play football like NFL.com's Gil Brandt did back in his glory days of the Dallas Cowboys. The college basketball courts are full of 6-foot-6 athletes who are starting to realize their NBA dreams are never going to happen. If they played high school football, like Antonio Gates did, then the project has a chance. Just like those big offensive line projects, a team has two years to develop a basketball player.