Players get to the NFL in different ways. Some are obvious talents that are highly regarded by ‘Internet scouts’ as well as league evaluators, and some take less direct routes. Last week, we chronicled the story of a Saints OH Khiry Robinson, who had to wait for an all-star invite, then wait for an NFL camp tryout invite, and finally beat the odds by making the team in New Orleans.
This week, we illustrate the ‘who you know’ aspect of evaluation with another former Saints rusher, Pierre Thomas, who is the team’s all-time leader in catches by a running back. Though Thomas was never a headline-grabber during his time in the Crescent City, he was a reliable part of an explosive offense and a versatile back.
He came in through the back door with the Saints, however, with the help of a former coach. Ex-Saints scout Barrett Wiley tells the story of how the team wound up signing him as an undrafted free agent. Here’s the full interview, if you want to check it out.
“(Assistant special teams coach Greg McMahon), the position coach who coached Pierre (at Illinois had recently been hired to the Saints’ staff). . . and he knew what Pierre would bring to the table. So he knew that every day, Pierre was going to show up, (and) he was going to work as hard as he could. He was going to give his all, everything he could, and he . . . informed us that, you know, Pierre may not be the prettiest, the biggest, the fastest, but he’s going to work. At worst, if he makes the roster, he’s going to be able to contribute on special teams, because everyone has a role on the NFL team. Whether you’re a starter or a backup, you have to contribute on special teams. So with that said, Pierre came in — Pierre was a need position – an (undrafted free agent) after the draft and he became that running back who just blossomed into a solid borderline starter and a contributor for the Saints. He was a guy who showed up every day, did everything, you know, just whatever his deficiencies were, he overcame them. That’s the best way to describe Pierre. I can’t say anything negative about him. He can’t break an 80-yard run; that’s his only negative if you think about it. But everything else he does, he does well and you can live with it.
“The coach would start to talk him up a lot . . . leading into the draft . . . like that Thursday, Friday (before draft weekend). He would come down (to talk to the scouts), and say, ‘I got a guy.’ He would come to the draft room and say, ‘I got a guy, (and) wherever he may be on the board, when we need a running back, I got a guy.’ One of those situations. The coach, he’s putting his neck on the line for that guy in terms of, from his evaluation standpoint, not his true livelihood, but just his evaluation standpoint. So the coach said, ‘hey, I got a guy,’ and we went with that. The area scout watched him, and said, ‘well, it depends on what you want, but I wouldn’t have a problem with that, I wouldn’t fight against that.’ (It was) one of those situations.”