Best Player Available Podcast: Saints AGM Jeff Ireland

I was really excited to welcome Saints Assistant GM Jeff Ireland to the Best Player Available Podcast this week. He was kind enough to join me post-draft to discuss one of the best draft classes any team has had in the last decade, at least. In fact, he took home an award on behalf of his team’s work in 2017

Here are a few of the best quotes from my discussion with Jeff.

On his concerns about drafting Ohio State DC Marshon Lattimore: “You know, Marshon really only played the one season there at Ohio State, and that was a little bit of a concern. And look, there’s some old axioms that I learned over the years in the league, a lot of them being from (former NFL head coach Bill) Parcells. He’d say, be careful (with) the one-year player, the one-year starter, and those were all kind of echoing in the back of my mind as I’m taking Marshon. But again, we felt like the talent was too good. We just saw a competitive player with Marshon with tremendous ability, good ball skills, good character. So we weren’t as concerned and I just felt like it was worth the risk.”

On stacking up talent at impact positions: “I’ll say it one hundred times. If I have to say it a thousand (times), I will. I won’t hesitate to build strength at a core position. That’s something I learned a long time ago, and it was echoing in my head in this year’s draft with the (Houston DE) Payton Turner pick. Don’t be afraid to build a strength at a core position. Defensive end, (cornerback), offensive tackle. I’m not afraid to do that. And when you have a strength, you can do a lot of things and you can kind of maintain consistency at difficult positions.”

On whether the Saints would have taken North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky or Clemson’s Deshaun Watson if they had been available later: “We had them both in the first round. You know, I would rather not say who we liked more, but we saw the as first-rounders. . . We felt like they were both capable starters. We loved the athletes, and with (Watson), we loved his makeup, and it’s very, very sad to see what’s going on with him now. And Trubisky had the arm and and the upside and, you know, again, the makeup as well. So we liked them both. I would be lying if I didn’t say we like them both.”

On the selection of Utah’s Marcus Williams and the urgency to find a way to get Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara: “I give credit to Sean (Payton) and really one of my area scouts at the time, Cody Rager. Cody just nailed the makeup and the character of Alvin. And the more we spent time with him . . . we obviously went to Tennessee and worked him out. I think I talk about that in your book foreword, and we just kind of fell in love with him. Certainly, Sean did, and he had a clear vision for him. So after we took Marcus, we were trying to . . . there was a huge sense of urgency. Now, we . . . had two third-round picks in our in our back pocket and really kind of felt like we wanted to use both of those, because we just had some targeted players that we had wanted to kind of go after. So we were really trying to to get another pick either in the bottom of the second or the top of the third. And we were calling everybody at the bottom of the second, everybody at the top of the third. . . I think we traded with the San Francisco 49ers for the top of the third-round pick, not at the very top, but it was close to it. . . But yeah, there was a lot of urgency.”

Next week, Fran Duffy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com will join me for the last episode of the 10-episode series, and we’ll talk about the first nine shows and our observations about the ’17 draft class and how teams draft. I hope you can join us. Fran is outstanding and I can’t wait to talk football with him. I’m sure you already follow him, but if you don’t, I highly recommend it.

The Best Player Available Podcast: Ep. 8 with Will Lewis (Chiefs)

For the eighth episode of our new podcast on the 2017 NFL Draft, our guest was former Chiefs Director of Pro Personnel Will Lewis. Here are a few of the thoughts he shared on the broadcast, which we published Thursday.

On the role of then-running backs coach Eric Bienemy in developing Toledo OH Kareem Hunt, as well as the team’s decision to draft Hunt: “As far as, you know, being able to learn and being able to to get to that point where he could be a pretty good player, I think when you have Eric Bienemy as the running backs coach, you feel pretty good about what he can get out of almost any player. So I think with all those things factoring in, I think we felt pretty good about (Hunt).

On the other running back Will, in particular, liked for the Chiefs in 2017: “Everybody was impressed with (Florida State’s) Dalvin Cook, and I think I can’t speak for Bienemy, but I think Bienemy had him up pretty high in the mix, partly because he could run downhill, he had speed to bounce outside, and, I mean, he could catch the ball. He was pretty good on the screens. So in our offense at the time and Kansas City’s offense, that was one of the things that you were looking for in a running back. So I have to think that Dalvin Cook was up there pretty high for us.”

On the “tree” of general managers who learned under former Packers GM Ron Wolf: “I think the background for a guy like (former Chiefs GM John) Dorsey started with Green Bay, and that’s the way Ron Wolf did things, and Dorsey was a little bit of a clone, so to speak. He liked to do things exactly like Ron did, whether it was antiquated or not. But, you know, that’s the system that he grew up with and believed wholeheartedly in. So (former Packers GM) Ted Thompson did the same thing. (Seahawks GM) John Schneider did it the same way. (Former Washington GM Scot) McCloughan did it the same way. I imagine (former Raiders GM) Reggie McKenzie does the same way. So a lot of those guys . . . were in Green Bay at one point and (when) then branched off, I think they ran similar systems.”

On the team’s slow buy-in on Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes: “Patrick was an interesting study, and I say that because initially he was kind of missing from the top tier of our board. I mean, he was on there, and it’s like, ‘OK, well, we’ll kind of get to him a little bit.’ So it was it was kind of a little bit of a quiet deal. It was more of a deal where you could see him building momentum as it came along, and I think that was partly because of who was pushing him and who knew a lot about him, who had studied him a lot. And as all that information started coming in, you can see him gradually working his way up the boards.”

On why Iowa TE George Kittle fell to the fifth round: “I would say coming out of Iowa, I mean, with their ground and pound, that it probably didn’t showcase his skills where people would say, ‘this guy is a first- or second-round type tight end.’ So I think that hurt him a little bit as opposed to, had he gone to some West Coast team or down in the SEC where they threw the ball all the time. . . You got tough guys (at Iowa) that just play hard. So I think that was the perception of Kittle, is that he is an in-line blocker. He is a tough guy, I mean, with adequate hands. And he sure went to the right place at the right time.”

Be sure to check out this week’s podcast with Will, who was really sensational. For more on our podcast, and this year’s first round, check out our Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

The Best Player Available Podcast: Ep. 7 with Charlie Peprah (Packers)

This morning, our partners at NFL Draft Bible on SI.com released the seventh edition of our new series, the Best Player Available Podcast. This week, our guest is former NFL player and scout Charlie Peprah.

Not only did Charlie play defensive back at Alabama, followed by time with the Packers, Falcons and Cowboys, but he also served as an area scout for the Packers, one of the best-drafting teams in the league. That makes him not only an expert on the scouting process, but also holder of a unique perspective on the preeminent college football program in the country and a perspective on actually playing cornerback and safety in the league.

Here are a few of his thoughts from this week’s podcast:

On liking Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as his QB1 in 2017: “Watson just had more of a complete picture, I guess. Played at a bigger school. The Alabama game really did it, too. If you don’t remember, when they beat Alabama his last year, he actually kinda started out a little slow, got rattled quite a bit in the beginning, and I’m thinking, ‘OK, we’re about to see what he’s made of,’ and then he kinda settled in, stood up tall and brought them back, so that showed us something. It showed me something. That, for me, is what pushed him up there.”

On Green Bay’s front office/scouting staff philosophy: “There’s a lot of great football minds in that building, and so, when they hire guys, they’re not just kinda hiring guys that are just gonna go out and collect data. They got guys that, they’re gonna trust their opinion, and they believe in them, so the process kinda handles all of that, and they really put a lot of trust in the process, and I think you put all that together, the area guys have a lot of clout.”

On Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon playing ability and on-field performance for the Sooners: “Now, for me, he was my favorite running back. I liked him the best. Just his height/weight/speed, combination, agility, just his overall game. I liked him the best. . . I liked him more than (LSU’s Leonard) Fournette because I’m not a huge fan of just kind-of big bruisers. I give them the respect because, obviously, he was an elite prospect, but play style-wise, I liked Joe Mixon. I thought he was built. If you’ve ever seen him in person, his lower body, his trunk, is thick. He was a young kid. I felt he could do everything (Stanford’s Christian) McCaffrey could do, (Florida State’s) Dalvin Cook could do, (Tennessee’s Alvin) Kamara, all those guys, and was built stronger, and he was younger.”

On BYU’s Taysom Hill, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent: “I remember the last line in my report, I was like, ‘this guy is a hell of a football player. I just don’t know what you do with him.’ . . . When he was with us, what happened was, his pro day, I guess he went out and had a spectacular pro day, and they kept talking about how great it was, and how he was throwing the ball, this and that, but when he came to camp, I remember talking and thinking like I didn’t really see him as a quarterback. But again, I thought, maybe there’s something I don’t know. They really liked him, but he wasn’t there yet developmentally.”

These are just a few of the top observations by Charlie this week. You’re missing out if you don’t listen in, I promise you. Click here to check it out. Also, click here to check out the first five weeks of our podcast, and click here to register for our weekly newsletter, the Friday Wrap.

The Best Player Available Podcast: Ep. 6 with Mike Murphy (Giants)

After our “bye week,” we’re on a new platform, and we’re pretty excited to be part of the NFL Draft Bible on Sports Illustrated network. There are a lot of informative podcasts there, and we encourage you to give them a listen.

You came here to read about our Best Player Available Podcast, however, so here are a few things I found interesting from my discussion of the 2017 NFL Draft with former Giants scout Mike Murphy.

On the value of quickness vs. size over the football: “What happens with (quicker defensive linemen) is they can get isolated on the guard, and they’ve got the quickness inside, they’re close to the football, and that’s Tony Dungy’s thing. He wants the quickness and speed closest to the football, and that works out. Depends on what you’re running. I know with Bill Parcells, he wanted the speed outside, would make everything spill outside, and Tony Dungy was more, he wanted the speed and quickness inside because they’re close to the football, so it all depends on what you’re running.”

On why he believed in Washington WO John Ross despite his limited resume out of college: “He had . . . elite speed, and that’s the scary thing to take the top off of things. I remember (longtime NFL defensive coordinator) Gunther Cunningham, (he) always talked about (James) Jett in Oakland. That was the thing. If you stretch the field, it changes things for your defense and your offense. If somebody can take the top off, and then catch the ball, it changes what you do on the back end and helps your running game out, and I guess he hasn’t, obviously, lived up to the hype.”

On the role of coaches in scouting: “If you run into a situation where the coach doesn’t want (a draftee) at all, and you pick him, they’re not gonna play them. Now, granted, the coach might not be there very long if that’s the case on a consistent basis, but you have to be able to come to some kind of agreement where, ‘OK, they’re not gonna coach this guy, so let’s not bother taking him for one reason or another.’ So yes, (Jerry Reese) was a scout’s GM, but he also very much took into consideration the coaches.”

On the mock drafts NFL teams use: “You know, everybody’s got their own mock draft. I think it was (former Dallas Morning News columnist Rick) Gosselin, and he had his top 100 out of Dallas, and he was kinda somehow tapped into the league and had a good idea of who the top 100 players were gonna go off the board, but you had different mock drafts you used. . . (Gosselin) was a big part of our draft process, especially in Seattle. That was one that they used out there with (GM) Tim (Ruskell) when he came in, so that was one that he would put up there and he would follow through who the top 100 guys were.”

There’s a lot more where that came from. Make sure to tune in. For a look at our coming shows as we round out the series, check out tomorrow’s Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

 

 

 

 

Best Player Available Podcast: Thoughts During our Bye Week

With five weeks of the Best Player Available Podcast in the books, we’re taking a week off. Though we’ve been discussing the 2017 NFL Draft, there’s been plenty to learn beyond just the players picked. If you’ve been listening so far, I’m sure you’ve learned quite a bit about evaluation and how NFL teams think. I sure have. 

Here are my five takeaways from the first five episodes of our series. 

  • QBs are often poorly evaluated: With three weeks until the draft, we’re hearing glowing things about Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, two passers who might go in the top 10 despite having very limited starting experience. I think drafting teams should consider the Bears’ decision to draft North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. On the other hand, Ohio State’s Justin Fields seems to be devalued despite his considerable playoff experience. Teams similarly downgraded Clemson’s Deshaun Watson despite his participation in two national championship games. Watson’s current issues aside, clearly, teams didn’t give him enough credit for being a winner.
  • If a prospect only started for one full season, buyer beware: Trubisky wasn’t the only player with a limited resume that didn’t live up to expectations. As we discussed in last week’s Friday Wrap, Washington WO John Ross, Alabama TE O.J. Howard, Michigan DE Taco Charlton and Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku entered the draft with minimal starting experience and wound up disappointing on the NFL level. It’s something to consider when reviewing the cases of Penn State OB Micah Parsons, Miami (Fla.) defensive ends Gregory Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips, Jones and Lance.
  • Don’t draft a player who’s a ‘B’ player at several positions but an ‘A’ player at none: Stanford’s Solomon Thomas was considered an athletic defensive lineman who could play inside or outside, though there was no consensus on which position was his best. He probably hasn’t lived up to being selected at No. 3. Similarly, USC’s Adoree Jackson was seen as an athletic type who not only played cornerback but also excelled at returning kicks. However, he didn’t turn out to be good enough at cornerback to warrant sticking with the Titans the full five years of his rookie deal. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers was very similar and has also not lived up to his potential.
  • There are strata of first-round picks; there’s the top 5-6, then everyone else: Talking to scouts and evaluators, it’s pretty clear that Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Jamal Adams, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore were the players everyone knew would be NFL stars. After that, there were doubts. I’d say each of these players have proven that scouts were right.
  • In the era of free agency, BPA is a fallacy: I’ve joked that next year, if I do a podcast on 2018, I’ll call it the Need-Based Draft Podcast. While many teams do make some or all picks based solely on their respective boards, the lion’s share are made in reaction to the holes in the roster. I guess that’s human nature. 

We’ll be back next week with former Giants Mike Murphy. In the meantime, make sure to check out the Friday Wrap for more info on the business of the game. Register here.

The Best Player Available Podcast: Highlights from Ep. 5 with Randy Mueller

This week, we reached the halfway point of our series on the 2017 NFL Draft, the Best Player Available Podcast. In Episode 5, my guest was Randy Mueller, who was a senior personnel executive with the Chargers in 2017 and who also served at the executive level with four teams, including stints as GM of the Saints and Dolphins. Randy had some incredible insights not just on his experiences in 2017, but his philosophy on player evaluation and how the draft operates. Here are a few highlights.

On why he was, and still is, a believer in Bengals WO John Ross: “I was throwing out (any misgivings because of his speed). I have a, maybe it’s a soft spot, but I want guys that can run. That is very important to me, the guys that can take the top off of defenses. Hey, you’re talking to the guy who drafted Ted Ginn (No. 9 overall out of Ohio State in 2007) in Miami, right ? So I felt like a guy like John Ross, a guy like Ted Ginn, can change the way people defend you, even if you never throw them the ball.”

On the risks of drafting a one-year starter early: “A one-year body of work really isn’t enough . . . so I do think you have to go back and . . . if I had an analytics department in the Mueller household, I’d put (it) on doing just that. Studying all these one-year guys and bringing some numbers to me to see how that’s all worked out from an analytics standpoint, because I do think there’s something there.”

On the Chargers’ interest in taking a QB in 2017: “That topic of quarterbacks at that point got a lot of discussion from us on the personnel end. Especially those that had been there a while and kinda had seen where Philip (Rivers) had come from. Philip was starting to kinda near that plateau area at that point, so some of us on the personnel side would like to have seen us address that. It’s the one area where (then-head coach) Anthony Lynn, a new coach coming in, really kinda pushed back from. And to his credit, he didn’t want to see us spend a top pick on a quarterback when we had so many other needs to fill. I understood that.”

On the knocks on Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes: “I think the big things you had to overcome was the system, and the fact that they weren’t successful at Texas Tech. Those weren’t his fault, but the system . . . it was (head coach Kliff) Kingsbury at that time, and he didn’t win many games, and it was kinda known by NFL standards as a ‘recess offense,’ you know, you go out to recess and everybody’s going out for passes? That’s kinda what it was, so you kinda had to sort through that a little bit.”

This is just the start, and there are plenty more nuggets in the full podcast. Make sure to check it out, and while you’re at it, also listen to Episode 1 (former Titans exec Blake Beddingfield), Episode 2 (former 49ers scout Bob Morris), Episode 3 (former Bills GM Doug Whaley) and Episode 4 (former Raiders pro director Dane Vandernat), which are also gold.

The Best Player Available Podcast: Highlights from Ep. 4 with Dane Vandernat

The fourth episode of the Best Player Available Podcast is out, and this week’s guest is former Raiders Director of Pro Personnel Dane Vandernat. Dane, who is now the Director of Scouting for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, is not only well-spoken and has incredible insight into the draft, but he’s also honest and willing to discuss things that don’t necessarily make him look like a genius. It’s the kind of refreshing candor that I hoped to get from my friends when I launched this podcast, and so far, I’ve been really pleased.

Here are four (of the many) interesting points he made in this week’s podcast:

  • On the No. 2 pick, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, only starting one year: “That was one of the things that early in my career, our coaching staff really kinda drove home to me was, No. 1, we want multi-year starters at every position and every draft pick, but especially for quarterback. You want a minimum two-year starter, and it was really, obviously, (former USC QB) Mark Sanchez that kinda changed some peoples’ opinions, or it became, hey, is it possible a guy could be only a one-year starter if he’s sitting behind supremely talented people like . . . (former USC QB) Matt Leinart, you know, who obviously also sat behind (former USC QB) Carson Palmer? So, you know, can you have certain situations like that? Obviously, not everyone’s gonna be (former USC QB) Sam Darnold where you go in as a true freshman and you win the job for the next three-plus years. And then, obviously, as we all know, people don’t stay in college for four years anymore. Most people come out as juniors, a la (former Clemson QB) Deshaun Watson. It’s not uncommon these days to not have four-year starters, especially at quarterback, but, for me, I definitely want a multi-year starter for no other reason but I need enough games to go back and really get a great feel for the guy.”
  • On NFL scouts’ concerns about Alabama players: “Obviously, those guys at Alabama, they’re going full pads in the season. They run a physical program. Nick Saban’s coaching his tail off down there and you’re obviously seeing the results from it, but the one thing that’s consistent with Alabama players, or at least had been when I was in the league, was that a lot of their guys come out banged up. A lot of their guys are gonna show up at the combine and they’re gonna have labral repairs, they’re gonna have meniscus repairs just due to the physicality of these guys, obviously, even in practice, going up against the best of the best.”
  • On preferring big-school players over small-schoolers: “(Raiders GM) Reggie McKenzie came from the Ron Wolf lineage up there in Green Bay, and Ron Wolf absolutely did not like small-school football players. He preferred the power conferences and, obviously, the guys who were four- and five-star guys coming out of high school, and that practiced every day against that caliber, that echelon of player, then obviously played on Saturdays against the same type. There certainly is a bias there, but it didn’t really manifest itself so much with Reggie, at least it didn’t have the appearance of it. We never truly knocked a guy in 2017. We drafted Jylen Ware in the seventh round out of Alabama State, so some of the times we certainly weren’t shy about adding players that came from non-elite programs. Our second-round pick in 2017, Obi Melifonwu, came from UConn, which is certainly no college football powerhouse, as everyone knows. So it wasn’t intentional to stick to Power 5 programs.”
  • On how the Raiders stacked the running back board: “(Oklahoma’s) Samaje Perine, for instance, he didn’t really pan out that well in the NFL, but he was a guy that we had a little bit of love for, for instance. He was our fifth-highest rated running back that year, alongside D’Onte Foreman from Texas. For us, we did run a little bit more of a power scheme with our tailbacks, then we supplemented it with those Jalen Richards and D’Andre Washingtons who gave us a little bit more of a scatback/third down back-type skillset. . . we had it, (LSU’s) Leonard Fournette, (Stanford’s) Christian McCaffrey, (Tennessee’s) Alvin Kamara, then Foreman and Perine like I mentioned, and then (Florida State’s) Dalvin Cook, (South Florida’s) Marlon Mack and (BYU’s) Jamaal Williams.”

Next week’s guest is two-time NFL GM Randy Mueller, who was with the Chargers in 2017. It’s a lively and fun discussion, and it’s only a week away. For more on the business of football, make sure to sign up for the Friday Wrap, which comes out Fridays (duh).

The Best Player Available Podcast: Highlights from Episode 3 with Doug Whaley

The top three quarterbacks selected in the 2017 NFL Draft are in the news for very different reasons these days.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 in 2017 out of Texas Tech) is seen as the model for all others, a young riser who could rewrite the NFL record books. Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky (No. 2 out of North Carolina) is at a crossroads, with his team furiously trying to find a passer this offseason and his future with the Bears in doubt. Houston’s Deshaun Watson (No. 12, from Clemson) is seen as one of the most gifted young quarterbacks in the game, but his days with the Texans may be numbered.

This week in the Best Player Available Podcast, I had the chance to talk to former Bills GM Doug Whaley, who held the No. 27 pick in that draft that year. He knew there was very little chance any of the three would slide to Buffalo, but he and his staff had done extensive work on all three. I knew I would be remiss if I didn’t ask how the Bills saw each of them. Here’s Doug’s comments on each of them.

On Patrick Mahomes: “Now let’s think about it. Name one other quarterback that comes out of that Air Raid system that has had success. When you look at him, did he put his team on his back and carry them to a highly successful season? I think he won eight games the last year. We won’t even talk about the coach that had Kyler Murray, Mahomes and Baker Mayfield and never won over eight games. So, you had the system, the lack of really good success, the lack of the ability to put the team on his back and carry them to a successful season . . . and then, he had some gunslinger in him, and could that translate to the NFL? So there were some dings on him. Now, everybody says . . . I talked to Jim Monos (years later), who was our Director of Player Personnel at the time, ‘we passed on Michael Jordan.’ Absolutely. But that does not give credit enough to the plan Kansas City had for him. Do I think Mahomes could be as good as he is today (in another system)? Yes. Do I think it could have happened as quickly in another situation? That’s the million dollar question. If he goes somewhere else, does he develop as quickly as he did in Kansas City? I think a lot of people are not crediting Kansas City’s plan for him and giving more credit to Mahomes as a player. And I’m not knocking his talent and his skill at all. Let me make that clear. He was a talented, skilled player. But he went to an unbelievable situation to accelerate his maturation as a quarterback. . . If you look at it, look at Andy Reid’s offense, and how it has changed since Mahomes took over. Not the same offense he had with Donovan McNabb. Not the same offense he had with Alex Smith. So there’s that part of it — ‘sit behind Alex and learn how to be a pro first.’ And there’s not other quarterback that . . . you can debate (Smith’s) skill level, but his preparation and his attacking the profession as a quarterback . . . Alex Smith, (there could be) no better mentor. He got that piece. Then you have a head coach and an offensive staff that say, ‘let’s stop making this quarterback fit to what we want to do? Why don’t we fit our scheme to what he can do best? All of that plays into it, so you have to tip your cap to Andy Reid and the plan they had.”

On Mitch Trubisky: “Where we really struggled was that, if he was gonna be that high of a pick, and he only started one year, it wasn’t like he was sitting behind a first-round pick, so why wasn’t he able to elevate his game to take over that starting position earlier in his career? So that was a red flag. And then, when you sat down with him . . .  he (didn’t) have that boisterous ‘it factor’ that when you’re around those QBs that are ultimate leaders, guys that raise everybody else around them to another level, where they look him and like, I have to be on point because I know he’s on point. That didn’t come through. Those were the two major things. All the stuff on the field, we said, ‘OK, he’s got something to work with. He does have an upside.’ But you have to look at the total resume, and there were some very big question marks that in our thought processes didn’t warrant (being picked) as high as he got picked. We had him probably in the second round. That’s what we thought. As a second-round pick, we would have loved him. . . But I can’t trash the Bears. Ryan Pace is still employed and I’m not (laughs).”

On Deshaun Watson: “The biggest struggle we had with Deshaun Watson, and if you look at his stats, he had 17 picks his last year, but what was more alarming than the number of picks, was the number of picks in the red zone. That’s where we struggled with him a lot, and you can throw picks, but throwing picks in red zone are momentum -changers, game-changers. Those are . . . possibly 14-point swings that can happen. If you throw a pick and they score, that’s a possible seven that you had, plus the seven that they made, so those 14-point swings . . . those are sometimes tough to overcome. That’s why we struggled with him. And we had him at the bottom of the first/top of the second. But that was the biggest knock that we had on him. (His championship-level experience) is why we had him at the bottom of the first/early second. We obviously had him over Trubisky, but (the red zone interceptions) was that red flag. . . Can he overcome those? Those are those things that, in our opinion, you start trying too hard to make that play, and that’s that double-edged sword. . . How do you curb it where it stops the bad plays but you keep it for the good plays? That was tricky. So that was one of those things that we were concerned about.”

Doug is exceptionally well-spoken and has interesting things to say about the profession of scouting as well as what he thought about several players in the draft that year, including Leonard Fournette, Marshon Lattimore, Myles Garrett and several others. If you’ve already tuned in to former Titans executive Blake Beddingfield (Episode 1) and former 49ers scout Bob Morris (Episode 2), you know these are incredible opportunities to look behind the curtain. I hope you’ll tune in.

The Best Player Available Podcast: What I Learned from Episode 2 with Bob Morris

As you may know, we debuted our second of 10 episodes of the Best Player Available Podcast Tuesday. This week’s edition featured former 49ers area scout Bob Morris, who talked about why the NFL failure of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel might have cost Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes a few draft slots; why he loved LSU’s Jamal Adams but had issues with Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers; and why Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett was “an easy 8.0” and a “don’t think twice” slam dunk at No. 1 overall.

Here are a few things I found interesting from this week’s podcast.

  • There were six cornerbacks that went in the first 33 picks that year, but did they go how Bob would have picked them? Not exactly. He ranked Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore as his top cornerback, followed by LSU’s Tre’Davious White (“I like corners with good instincts. . . he’s an exceptional player and a player I loved to watch play”). Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey was No. 3 (he had him in the second round), followed by USC’s Adoree Jackson (“more athlete than corner”) and Ohio State’s Gareon Conley. Florida’s Quincy Wilson (No. 46, Colts) was his sixth corner. For the record, the draft order was Lattimore (No. 11, New Orleans), Humphrey (No. 16, Ravens), Jackson (No. 18, Titans), Conley (No. 24, Raiders), White (No. 27, Bills) and Washington’s Kevin King (No. 33, Packers).
  • I learned plenty just hearing Bob talk about how he evaluates cornerbacks and safeties. Though he still continues himself coach first, scout second, and values a player’s on-field production over what he does on his pro day, I thought this quote was particularly interesting: “No. 1, as a scout, you need to grade (a defensive back) on how he plays and his traits, regardless of scheme. That’s the first thing you have to do. You got to get the scheme out of it. As a coach, that’s hard for me at times. The corners playing at Alabama, they’re coached really well, you know they play in the scheme really well, so are some physical traits hidden at times? Haha Clinton-Dix, we aren’t talking about safeties, but he was a guy that played so efficiently as a safety at Alabama (that) it hid a very adequate skill-set, and he really was an OK safety in the NFL. You’ve gotta look at the traits. You’ve gotta look at the way they move.”
  • Another point that Bob made was that interception totals and big plays are not coincidental, but a part of a player’s DNA.: “That’s really important to me as I look at guys is their ball production. There’s a reason a guy has a bunch of interceptions, and there’s a reason he doesn’t. A three-year starter with one interception, there’s a reason. A guy that gets seven interceptions as a one-year starter, that’s good. That’s a playmaker. I had a secondary coach tell me a long time ago that he can’t teach playmaking. He can teach a guy to tackle. He can’t teach playmaking. That’s something that’s inherent in the player. Now, you can coach them up to get them into position to make the play, but eventually, he’s gotta see it and he’s gotta believe in himself to go make that play.”

If you don’t listen to my conversation with Bob, as well as the first episode of the series with Blake Beddingfield, you’re really missing out. I encourage you to check them out.

2021 NFL Agent Exam: Using Our Exam Prep

Wow! It’s March already. If you’re registered to take the NFL agent exam this summer, you’re probably eager to start digging into preparation for the exam (especially if you’ve been registered since last year).

We have a lot of people who check in on our exam prep materials but don’t know for sure how they should use them. Let’s go through them, and I’ll provide a few tips on each.

ITL Study Guide: This is the best exam prep resource on the market, bar none. We’ve been offering it for close to a decade, and it’s rare when a client doesn’t provide rave (and unsolicited) reviews. Once you have this, it cuts the CBA down from a gargantuan document to a more manageable size. However, the most important benefit is that the study guide focuses on the relevant topics and cuts out all the fluff. After you buy it and we verify payment, we email it to you, usually within an hour of purchase. I think it’s smart to spend at least a month on it and really absorb all the key concepts. “Exam was easy thanks to the resources available on ITL – study guide laid everything out perfectly,” said one recent client.

Practice exams 1 and 2: These are pretty self-explanatory. We offer two 40-question, multiple-choice exams. Once you complete the 40 questions, the answer key (with explanations of how we arrived at each answer) are at the end. You can take the tests as many times as you want, and I encourage all our clients to do that. The questions are very similar in format, tone and context to what you’ll see in July. So much so, in fact, that test-takers often say the questions were exact to what they saw on the exam (that’s awfully kind, but not true). Once you buy Exam 1 ($175 for non-ITL clients, $125 for clients), you can buy Exam 2 ($75/$50), though I don’t recommend buying them at the same time. In my opinion, buy the study guide, get the information down, buy Exam 1, ace it, then get Exam 2. “Appreciate the practice questions, wasn’t sure what to expect when I paid for the service blind, but I was impressed,” said one client. Said another: “The practice test is great, and I am glad I discovered you guys.”

Inside the League: This is the mother ship. If you subscribe to ITL ($29.95/mo), you’ll save a little money on the practice exams. But more than that, you’ll learn about the business of the game, and maybe more importantly, the (off-field) players in the game. You’ve got to know the big agencies, the scouts and executives who are on the rise vs. falling, the trends in the game, the kinds of players who are getting signed and succeeding in the game, etc. If you are as interested in the game off the field as you are on the field — and if your aim is to be an agent, you should be — check us out.

Zooms: Last year, with the whole world sequestered in their living rooms, we began bringing members of the NFL business community to online settings, mostly at the $25-$30/per night price point. We had current and former scouts, current and former agents, cap experts, etc. It was a lot of fun and very informative. Our first Zoom session of 2021 will be next week with Mike Sullivan, who not only has negotiated the contract of the top pick in the draft twice, and not only worked as Denver’s Director of Football Administration from 2012-20, but also won the Eugene E. Parker Award for Lifetime Service to the agent industry (read more here).

Exam prep class: At last year’s combine, we had our first-ever in-person class for test-takers. It was in Indianapolis during the combine, and led by a current player representative with a history of representing first-rounders. There’s no combine this year but the class isn’t going away. We’ll have more details in the coming weeks. 

Still have questions? Maybe signing up for our free Friday Wrap would help. It’s a weekly look at the football business, and widely read across the industry. You can register for it here.