2018 Draft Review: Round 4-7

My preface to the Chad Thomas piece– the best spin you can put on this is “an intriguing gamble that will succeed only if Thomas decides he wants to play.said:

If I had any sense, I wouldn’t post this today– I’d hold off and try to calm down. The problem is that I might not be in a better mood after today.

I have been very positive about John Dorsey. It has been based on the number of Pro Bowl players he has produced– an average of more than one a draft. There is a fair possibility that his success rate– and the rather large number of failed picks– has been due to the way he drafts. If all you do is throw Hail Marys with every pick, you’ll miss a bunch of them. But you’ll also complete at least a few of them– and those hits will look spectacular.\

It is a good thing I posted the Thomas piece, rather than waiting to see the other picks. Had I done so, I would be dead of apoplexia.

It now seems clear that I owe Andy Reid an apology. The reason Dorsey and Tom, Heckert ever looked like viable GMs is that he was the adult in the room, keeping each guy from doing anything really stupid.

Maybe hs is a genius. We’ll have to see. I still like only two of these picks.


WR Antonio Callaway. Florida

This selection creates a new function for Puff Gordon: Mentor.

Or maybe Dorsey decided to draft an actual criminal in order to make Puff– whose crimes (other than driving while intoxicated) have been victimless- seem more sympathetic.

I have two comments on this pick– both of which are drawn from popular culture and neither of which are safe for work:

The first reaction is taken from John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. It comes when the researchers at the South Pole realize that they are trapped in a facility with an alien that can take on any form. This clip is the tl;dr— it will take you four seconds to watch; if you want the full scene, here it is.

Our second reaction occurs is drawn from Blazing Saddles, after Slijm Pickens perceives the scope of big government, he asks a question that one might also ask about John Dorsey.

Let’s run through the facts.

1. The rape: In December of 2015,  a woman accused Callaway of sexual assault and another player of attempted sexual assault. In a hearing, an attorney (a Florida alum– and a former athlete who has donated money to Florida’s football and basketball programs) cleared Callaway. His defense was that he couldn’t have done it– that he was “so stoned” that he didn’t want to have sex. I’m serious about that– if you want to research the case, you could begin here.

2. The drugs: In May of 2017, he was arrested on drug possession charges– and allowed to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. To be fair, he got the same option than any first time cannabis offender gets.

3. The fraud: In August, he was suspended from the team for basically a credit card fraud scam. He and some other players used their scholarship funds s to purchase textbooks from the student bookstore– by swiping their student IDs and having it deducted from their fund balance– and then selling the books to other students for cash.

Rather than transfer– or apply for readmission– Callaway decided it would be simpler to see if any NFL team would be stupid enough to give him millions of dollars.

The answer: The Cleveland Zoo.

Can he play? Definitely. His TSX profile doesn’t skimp on what a wretched human being he is– but they give him the appropriate credit. The NFL profile is less impressed with his skills and doesn’t think he can even be a slot receiver. But they’re willing to concede he can be the kind of return man that Jabrill Peppers was supposed to be.

Dorsey’s apologists are certain to point to Tyreek Hill, who was convicted of domestic violence and thrown out of Oklahoma State. Dorsey drafted Hill in the fifth round; he has gone to the Pro Bowl twice.

The differences? Hill:

  • Had one incident– not three. It’s bad (he hit his pregnant girlfriend; details here), but hasn’t done anything since. (They didn’t stay together, but she has been born-again and has said she forgives him. Apparently he has kept all his legal obligations.)
  • Had someone else involved. Everyone agrees it began with an argument that escalated to a fight (which he ended by using his superior strength to beat her, and no I’m not excusing him). Maybe you could say Callaway’s attempted rape began as a seduction. where everyone was wasted. Maybe you could say his drug arrest (he was riding around stoned in a car where the driver got stopped for not having a seat belt– and mostly for being black) isn’t exactly criminal. But the textbook thing? That’s not something that just happened– it was planned and executed.
  • Seems to have shown genuine remorse. Not sure if I would trust the coach who let him transfer— but the guy says he was initially opposed to him, but decided that he was a decent kid. Cindy Boren of the Amazon Post is an apologist for nobody— she seems to like him.

Also Hill cost a fifth-round pick, Callaway a fourth-rounder.

Also, Dorsey traded up to get him. He gave the 114th and 178th picks to New England in order to get the 105th. I’d object to giving up a pick to move up nine slots.

The thing about the trade that is truly appalling: Callaway wasn’t going to get taken. I don’t know personnel guys with every team in the league– but I know four. Three said he wasn’t even on their board– that their owner of GM wouldn’t even consider a player with three incidents. As one put it:

“He didn’t even try to get to another team. He just concentrated on getting a paycheck. That tells me he doesn’t care about playing ball– it’s just a means to an end. We want people who would play football, even if the Democrats outlawed professional football “ (He’s a proud Trump voter.)

This is an appalling pick in every respect.

Draft Grade: Z (for Zoo)


After this pick, we get to the sort of pick I was naively expecting John Dorsey to make.

LB Genard Avery, Memphis

He’s a short linebacker with very raw skills. He grew up in Mississippi (apparently without any cows) and he never got any serious coaching either in high school or in college. His skills were good enough to get the job done. He didn’t plan to go to Memphis– assumed he’d go to Ole Miss and see what happened. (One guy tells me he assumed he couldn’t get to the NFL, because he was too slow to be a defensive back and not tall enough to be a defensive lineman or a linebacker.)

He’s the son of a single mom– who was apparently heavily involved with marijuana as a child. At least, he claims that he used to cut grass for money. (He also washed cars; I’m yanking your chain).

Avery was also a state champion weightlifter (in his small-school division) in high school. I’m told he also threw either the shotput, discus or hammer (the guy couldn’t remember; he was pretty sure it wasn’t a javelin.)

After the 2015 season, he apparently ran into an agent, who told him that he could play in the NFL if he improved his skills. He worked out with a couple of Memphis alums, and his play got a lot better, as you can see from the college stats.

He got to the combine and his performance blew people away: #4 in the bench press; #6 in the three-cone agility drill, #7 in the vertical leap, #12 in the shuttle drill,

That begged the question: “How good would Avery be if he had been born in Lakewood, Ohio– and gotten to one of the parochial high schools (Ignatius, Ed’s or Joe’s) that sees God’s purpose as winning State titles and getting players ready for the NFL?” t

A lot of people (including TSX) think the answer is that Avery would be worthy, based solely on potential, of going as high as the third round. (Why not– the Browns reached for Chris Kirksey there– and he didn’t have any of Avery’s ability.)  Getting him in round five is an amazing steal– and taking Callaway in the fourth is an inexcusable risk.

Avery is the sort of prospect that everyone thinks Kirksey is. It appears that every bit of attention he gets will be transformed into production, at an accelerated ratio.

With his strength and speed, he ought to be able to play strongside linebacker, fight off the tight end (especially the “receiver posing as blocker” type) and make an enormous amount of plays. The thing that might limit his production is his ability to cover. He’s too short to handle tight ends and bigger receivers and not fast enough to cover backs like Duke Johnson.

I think.

This is by far the best pick of the draft. At the very least, Avery’s play on kicking teams will make people forget the name “Tank Carder.” That alone makes him a viable #5. If he can play as well as it appears he might, he has a shot at a Pro Bowl

Draft Grade: A+


I don’t know a lot about the next two picks, so I’ll just outsource this mostly to the two draft sites.

WR Damion Ratley. Texas A&M

He’s 6’2″, just under 200 pounds and his 40 time is somewhere between 4.35 and 4.45. He has a 38-inch vertical leap and large hands. As a senior, he averaged 23.1 yards per catch with 6 TDs.

Sounds great, right? But he had only 30 catches as a senior– only 47 in four years. No, he wasn’t injured– he just didn’t play very much, and when he did, he didn’t produce. That’s why he wasn’t invited to the combine.

Both TSX and NFL.com have the same verdict: if he gets to a team that wants to coach him– and the coaching doesn’t go in one ear and out the other– he could be an All-Pro.

Whether the Cleveland Zoo– which couldn’t manage to tutor DeShone Kizer to any degree, despite him being their #2 pick– can do that is questionable.

One point in their favor is that Al Saunders (a brilliant receivers coach… about 20 years ago) has been shifted to Special Projects (the kind of job given to septuagenarians). The new receivers coach, Adam Henry, did a fair job of potty-training Odell Beckham Jr. (to the degree that is possible). In college, he tutored Jarvis Landry

If the Browns stick him on the practice squad and spoon-feed him, they might have a fine player someday. This is the sort of gamble that makes sense– especially at pick 175.

Draft Grade: B+


Last but not least is the perfect John Dorsey #7 pick.

FS Simeon Thomas, Louisiana-Lafayette

Here’s everything the guys at NFL.com know about him. Definitely watch the film of the draft announcement– as both the analysts working for the NFL Network say they don’t know anything about him. (Which really Michael Silver– the guy on the right. Bucky Brooks has come to terms with his informational shortcomings.)

The chryon during the announcement also flashes his stats, so I’ll let you get there there.

TSX offers some of his measurables– and the information that he was suspended for felony theft charges.

Since 13 guys went into the room to take stuff, I’m not going to suggest he is a criminal mastermind– or even a bad seed. Maybe they got drunk or high and he just went along.

There are, you should know, teams for which this would be the end of the discussion. But not the Cleveland Zoo.

Since he is maybe a decent kid who did one stupid thing– which maybe was just “going along with thr crowd”– , I won’t go too ballistic about this. Maybe he can even play– although the story singled out two players as major contributors and neither was him, I doubt it.

Figures that the guy who owns Pilot Flying J would hire Dorsey.

Draft Grade: C+

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2018 Draft Review: Round 3 (Chad Thomas)

If I had any sense, I wouldn’t post this today– I’d hold off and try to calm down. The problem is that I might not be in a better mood after today.

I have been very positive about John Dorsey. It has been based on the number of Pro Bowl players he has produced– an average of more than one a draft. There is a fair possibility that his success rate– and the rather large number of failed picks– has been due to the way he drafts. If all you do is throw Hail Marys with every pick, you’ll miss a bunch of them. But you’ll also complete at least a few of them– and those hits will look spectacular.

We’ll have to see.

DE Chad Thomas, Miami 

I don’t have a lot to say about this pick. Twenty years ago– or ten– or even five– I would have gone on at length. But I’ve gotten older and wiser.

1. If you look at the TSX profile on Thomas, you will find that it suggests that he be taken in rounds 6 or 7. They rate him 19th out of 135 defensive ends. Other analysts rate him higher– some as high as top-five.

2. The reason he is rated so poorly by TSX can be found by looking at his workout stats (which are, with one exception, outstanding)– and then looking at his production in college. Thomas was one of the bluest of the blue-chip prospects coming out of high school. But he was fundamentally useless in both 2014 and 2015– and only marginal in 2016 and 2017.

3. If you want to make a big deal about the number of tackles for loss (11.0 and 12.5), you can. The number I look at the exceptionally low number of tackles (37 and then 41) in both years.

4. The most significant workout number to me is the “0” under Bench Reps at 225. Players aren’t obliged to do any of the drills– they can skip any they choose, for whatever reason. My experience is that when a defensive player in the front seven decides not to lift weights, there is only one reason: when he tried it, the number of reps was so absurdly low that doing the drill would have put a black mark.

I could provide a long list of players who decided not to lift. I’ll limit it to one: Meowkevious Mingo. If you read that profile, pay attention to the number of tackles that he produced. It is disturbingly similar to Thomas’s.

5. There are players (like Denzel Ward) who try to add weight and strength, but their body types don’t permit them to bulk up. Thomas doesn’t have that problem– his body will permit him to ass strength. He just hasn’t.

6. Ward’s lack of strength isn’t nearly that big a problem for a corner. It is a reason he shouldn’t be the fourth pick– but he can still get his job done if he covers well enough. A defensive end has to beat blocks, and it takes strength to do it. If they don’t have strength, they fail.

7. When you combine Thomas’s lack of dedication to training– and his erratic production on the field– it sure suggests that his attitude is a problem. His physical ability let him dominate in high school, even if he didn’t apply himself. When he got to college– where the level or performance was higher, that lack of dedication hurt his production. What happens when he gets to the NFL– where the level of performance is even higher?

8. His NFL.com draft profile mentions that Thomas can play multiple instruments: piano, electric bass, guitar, drums, trombone, euphonium, tuba and trumpet. I don’t know how good he is at any of them… but learning to play an instrument well requires a lot of dedication. That suggests he simply doesn’t care that much about football.

9. Not liking football is perfectly acceptable. I didn’t like to play football either. But I am not asking an NFL team to pay me to play for them.

10. The Browns say that they have looked deep within Thomas’s heart– that they know and love him. They believe he will accept their coaching and succeed.

I can’t interview the guy. I can’t claim that I know him. The people now running the front office have been doing this work for a long time– with some success. Perhaps they are right and I am wrong. I doubt that. But I have been wrong about players before.

11. Pretty much everyone agrees Chad Thomas will either be a big star or a total bust. I’ll pretend this is a 50-50 bet and split the difference for his grade.

Draft Grade: C-

2018 Draft Review: Pick 2-B (Nick Chubb)

And now we come to one of those posts that I sincerely hoped the hiring of John Dorsey would mean I never, ever needed to write again.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

Remember the song you sang as a kid, about the bones in your body? The things that connects the hand bone to the arm bone– and the arm bone to the shoulder bone– are called ligaments. The human knee has four ligaments:

  • The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (also known as the ACL) is the one that literally connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. The ACL is the one everyone knows– it’s the one that usually gets wrecked– the most serious injury.
  • The Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) also connects the thigh and shin. The ACL is in the front of the knee– the PCL (as you might guess from the word “posterior”) is in the back side. Sometimes you hear about this– I knew about it.
  • I also had heard of the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). It links the thigh to the shin on the inside of the knee.
  • But here’s one I didn’t know about: the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL). There are two bones in the lower leg– shin and fibula. The LCL connects the thigh and fibula.

If you enjoyed this anatomy lesson, thank John Dorsey for providing it. Nick Chubb– the running back the Browns selected with the 35th pick– tore three of the four ligaments in his right knee on October 10, 2015.

The good news– such as it is– is that Chubb didn’t tear his ACL.That’s still OK. And he can still play. Sort of.

I’m so furious about the pick I’m not even going to bother building a table. Instead, I’ll do a screen capture from Chubb’s stats at College Football Reference. You can see exactly how much damage was done by looking at the column entitled Avg in the Rushing section:

Nick Chubb Capture

7.1 yards per carry as a freshman. Then up to 8.1 as a sophomore. But after he came back, it was down to 5.0– and only up to 6.0 as a senior.

Don’t say “6.0 yards is more than good enough.” Chubb won’t play Appalachian State and Samford in the NFL. The way you should interpret the data is that the injury cost him 30% of his ability (from 7.1 per carry down to 5.0). Even as a senior, he only got back up to 85%.

OK, now that you have the key takeaway in the Rushing section, you may proceed to the Receiving section– specifically, the number of receptions. His TSX profile explains that he isn’t quite as bad as the raw numbers would suggest– Georgia did most of their throwing to Todd Gurley and Sony Michel (who got taken late in round 1 by New England)– but he’s still not anyone you want to throw to very often.

The problem with a player whose production is this unbalanced: If he’s in the game, defenses know it’ll be a run. Should Duke Johnson enter the game, defenses can deduce a pass to the back. Only Carlos Hyde provides some semblance of uncertainty.

Here’s the next issue. Due to his injury, pretty much everyone says that Chubb’s workload will have to be managed. It would be ideal if he got only 10-15 carries per game.

Only 10-15 touches? Yes, that’s exactly what you look for when you spend the 35th pick in the draft.


But the good news is that the Browns have two experienced offensive coaches. They should be more than capable of setting limits for players. I mean, we all remember how capably Hue Jackson ensured that rookie QB DeShone Kizer– one of the youngest and least experienced players in the NFL was never asked to do too much in 2017.

Remember how adroitly Jackson shared the running duties between Johnson (82 carries) Isaiah Crowell (206 carries) in 2017? It got to the point where Jackson was so irritated at Crowell that he was making jokes about “the Crow” to reporters. But even then, he couldn’t divide the workload. He wasn’t any better (198 carries for Crowell; 73 for Johnson) in 2016.

The only person less ept than Jackson at dividing up the workload would be Todd Haley, who was (for reasons passing understanding) put in charge of the Browns. In 2017, the idiot running the Steeler offense gave 321 of the 437 carries (that’s 73.4%) to Le’Veon Bell. But wait– there’s more: Bell was also Pittsburgh’s second-leading receiver. The Steelers threw 584 times– Bell was targeted 106 times.

The end result: Bell produced 1,946 of the Pittsburgh’s 6,047 yards– second only to Gurley. Thanks to Haley. Bell naturally wants to be paid an enormous amount of money for gaining nearly 1/3 of the team’s yards. And because Haley put an enormous amount of wear on Bell’s tires, he increased the probability that Bell’s productivity will decline much sooner than normal.

Thanks to Todd Haley, if Pittsburgh gives Bell a huge contract, he’ll probably be wildly overpaid for at least some of it.

And this is the guy who’s going to be in charge of ensuring that Chubb isn’t overworked.

Since I don’t scout players, I don’t like to tell a GM who he ought to draft. I’ll just note that three other backs were drafted in round two: USC’s Ronald Jones (to Tampa at pick 38), Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson (Detroit; pick 43), LSU’s Derrius Guice (Washington; pick 59). They all have some question marks. But even Guice might be a better bet than Chubb.

I really detest picks like this. If Chubb busts out, people will say “Well, who could have known? The draft is a crapshoot” and stuff like this. If you take a player with a huge honking risk, then the odds of you shooting snake eyes rise accordingly.

This is the sort of dice roll that a team with an aging QB– one trying to win it all before his career ends– might want to take. Not an 0-16 club trying to lay a foundation for the future. Heckert did the same damned dumb thing with Montarrio Hardesty in 2010. It blew up in his face– the odds are that Chubb will be just as big a bust for Dorsey.

Draft Grade: F-

2018 Draft Review: Pick 2-A (Austin Corbett)

Well, this draft is simply getting worse and worse. At the end of the third round, Denzel Ward– a player who could have been taken 6-12 picks later– is by far the team’s best pick. The other four have all been the kind of craziness that I’ve been used to seeing from Sashi Brown, Ray Farmer, Tom Heckert and Eric Mangini.

  • QB Bacon Mayfield (as the TV guys kept calling him) is entirely a roll of the dice– one that the Browns could certainly have made at pick #4.
  • OL Austin Corbett can be a good (not great) player at three different positions– all of which the Browns currently have pretty well covered.
  • RB Nick Chubb has the same backstory as Montario Hardesty– a horrific injury that took him from great to good, and means he can’t be a feature back.
  • Every analyst agrees that DE Chad Thomas is capable of being a dominating strongside end. Everyone is split on whether he will be.

The best explanation I can offer: John Dorsey has cancer, and won’t live more than five years. Rather than simply playing the percentages– taking the highest-rated player with each pick; the consensus choice of all the people whose opinions he trusts– he’s swung for the fences on all five picks.

If these picks all hit, the Browns will get very good, very fast. The probability that even three of them will avoid busting is very very low.

I’m gonna get to Bacon, but it’ll probably be after the draft. Let me let clean up the trash before it accumulates.

OL Austin Corbett, UNLV

If almost any other team had made this pick, I’d give it a very high grade. Corbett is a dead ringer for Joel Bitonio– in fact, both of them were on the Running Rebels in 2013.

Corbett redshirted that season– but after the Browns took Bitonio (with the 35th pick) in 2014, Corbett stepped in at left tackle and missed one game in four seasons. He protected the blind side in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and spent 2016 (for no good reason) on the right side.

Every writeup on Corbett is glowing. The TSX analyst, in the section where they say “What recent NFL player is he most like?” said he was almost exactly like John Greco.

To repeat what I’ve said many times before, I like TSX because they offer the most consistency from position to position. Everyone else has units they do well and others they’re bad at.

Mel Kiper is terrific at assessing wide receivers and defensive linemen… I wouldn’t pay any attention to what he says about quarterbacks or linebackers. Everyone else has the same issues.

Because TSX uses several guys– who seem to concentrate on positions, rather than regions, you don’t have to keep those mental notes.

Corbett is a leader (team captain) and he’s smart as a whip. He’s already married. He made the National Honor Society and was pre-med. Wants to be an orthopedic surgeon afer his career ends.

So what’s wrong? The first point is that he almost certainly won’t have a long career. If he wants to be a doctor, he won’t be able to do it if he has CTE. The number of players retiring early after an injury has gone through the roof.

I wouldn’t blame Corbett for hanging it up if he gets his bell rung– why should he go insane and commit suicide in his 40’s or 50’s? But a player likely to retire early obviously isn’t an ideal pick.

Second, Greco has been a productive regular for three different teams (he played for the Giants last year and is still on the roster). But he never made the Pro Bowl. Neither has Bitonio.

Taking a “pretty good” player with the first pick in the second round? Even though he had a bunch of trade offers (according to Sports Illustrated)? That won’t get an “A” grade.

Last but not least, while everyone likes Corbett, absolutely no one expects him to succeed at tackle. The majority expect him to (as Bitonio did) slide inside to guard. Others are convinced that his best position is center– especially if he goes to a team that faces a lot of 3-4 defenses (like the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers).

To help teams make their draft decision easier, Corbett played center at the senior Bowl. Played it pretty well, too.

The obvious question: How does that benefit the Browns? They have Bitonio (who’s 26) and Kevin Zeitler (27) at guard. They’re both exceptionally well-paid, so they can’t be traded and absolutely can’t be cut.

Since:

  • J.C. Tretter has had trouble staying healthy
  • He played all 16 games, but didn’t set the world on fire in 2017
  • About 90 people in the front office came from Green Bay, where they saw him keep getting hurt– which is why they let him sign with the Browns
  • Sashi Brown gave him 3 years and $16.5 million, of which the Browns still owe him $10 million

I assume Tretter will be departing forthwith– ideally for a draft pick, but for cap relief if that can’t happen.

I don’t object to upgrading at center… but since Corbett hasn’t played there, it isn’t a gimme. The Browns made this assumption with Cam Erving, and that blew up. The possibility that Corbett might not succeed at center is very real.

If the Browns needed a guard, I’d probably give this a B+. But with all these issues, it makes Corbett a below-average pick.

Draft Grade: C-

2018 Draft Review: Pick 1-B (Denzel Ward)

I suppose I have to say something about the draft– something more insightful than “Yeccchhhhh.”  So let me take a crack at last night’s bungled first round by starting with the pick that I wouldn’t grade as low. :

Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State 

There are three problems with this choice. First, it’s a “need” pick. Ward isn’t graded as the fourth-best player on anyone’s list of prospects. He lands somewhere between #8 player to #15; that’s where he should have been drafted.

Yes, it’s a reach– a small one, but still a reach. The Browns probably rationalized if by saying “Look, we need help at corner– a legitimate shutdown guy. Slot #4 is a little too soon to take Ward, but if we trade down, we risk losing him.

“Let’s just pick him now, even though it’s half a dozen picks sooner than he should go. Yes, we’re giving away a chance to get 2-3 extra picks– but we have a lot of picks. Let’s just do it.”

That is marginally rational.Ward is the highest-rated corner in the draft. He probably wouldn’t have gotten past Miami  at #11 (they took Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, who can play either corner or safety) and definitely not Green Bay at #18 (they took Louisville’s Jaire Alexander). The trades we know they could make would have put them too far down.

  • Dorsey could have traded the #4 pick to Buffalo in exchange for Buffalo’s #1 (pick 12) and two second-round picks  (Buffalo traded with Tampa to move up to slot 7, so they could take Josh Allen.) But then Miami probably takes Ward.
  • Arizona gave up their #1 pick (slot 15) plus a #3 (79) and #5 (152) to get up slot 10 and bust on Josh Rosen.

Plus, had Cleveland not taken Ward– and traded down– Chicago (at #8) or San Francisco (at #9) might have decided “We can always use a corner. ” Or another team might have traded up.

But let’s note this for the record: By taking Ward, the Browns kissed off at least two draft picks. 

It’s not a good use of the pick.


Problem #2 with Ward is that he’s undersized. In a world where everyone wants big and tall receivers, Ward is a smidge under 5’11” and 183. As his TSX draft profile notes, he has worked very hard to try to add muscle mass, but it hasn’t been successful. He doesn’t have the kind of body type that can lift weight and fill out.

Which means he’ll be giving away a few inches and 20 pounds to everyone other than Antonio Brown.

Could he cover A.J, Green? Possibly– Joe Haden did. But Ward won’t be able to bump receivers off-stride– and if there’s a jump ball, he’ll lose.

Ward will have to do everything with speed, footwork and leaping. He can do that– he’s very fast– but that will take a toll on his legs, and… Well, I’ll get to that in a minute.


I compared Ward to Justin Gilbert on Facebook. That’s somewhat unfair, although not inaccurate. Gilbert was terrible on running plays because he hated contact– he didn’t try to blast through blockers and he wanted no part of open-field tackles.

Ward, unlike Gilbert, gives 100% on running plays. But because he is undersized (Gilbert was 6’0″ and 205), any offensive player who makes an effort can block Ward out of the play. He also won’t be able to bring down any ballcarrier without help.

But as Yoda said to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Ward, unlike Gilbert, will try,… but due ot issues beyond his control, Ward (like Gilbert) probably will “do not.”

Teams still run the ball 35-40% of the time, so being limited on those plays matters.


A friend who likes Ward thinks the griping about his size is silly. “He’s Joe Haden. Isn’t that good enough for you?”

It actually is a good comparison– and it’s problem #3.

Joe Haden is very similar to Ward. Both players are 5’11”; Haden (190 pounds) is only a little heavier than Ward (183). Haden was chosen three picks later (seventh slot) in 2010.

Haden went to Pro Bowls in 2013 and 2014– would have gone in 2012, had he not been suspended for using PEDs (a failed test means you are automatically ineligible to be chosen). He was simply robbed of a trip as a rookie in 2010.

But the five years between 2010 and 2014 were the only productive stretch of Haden’s career. Haden’s career as a shutdown corner is over– at age 29, after eight seasons. And he’s been unproductive since he got injured in 2015.

Haden has missed 27 games in eight years (four for PED, but he took them so he could bulk up). It’s a fact of life: Small guys get knocked around a lot.

Ward won’t be able to shift to safety to prolong his career. When he can’t cover, he’ll be done.

The fourth player taken in the draft should be able to contribute for 10+ seasons. If they’d taken someone else (DE Bradley Chubb, LB Roquan Smith or LT Connor Williams or Matt McGlinchey) , they’d have someone who can play longer and deliver a larger return.


Let me also mention a point from a friend who doesn’t like Ward. He points out that Ward is often linked to the list of Ohio State defensive backs who have become first-round picks since Urban Meyer was hired.

“What they never mention is that those guys all suck.”

It’s a slight overstatement, but only two Buckeye backs have lit the world on fire. Let me list them from first to most recent:

Bradley Roby (2014, pick 31): He was taken a lot later that projected, thanks to concerns about his attitude. His play turns out to be the big issue. There have been 64 regular season games since the 2014 draft and he’s played in all 64. But he’s started only 14.

Roby has made 49 deflections (pretty good– you want a defender who gets 15-20) but he’s only made 6 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries.A good corner can be involved in half a dozen turnovers a year.

As a rookie, he looked very impressive on runs (65 solo tackles, 2 assists). He’s had only he’s gotten only 103 (18 assists) in the last three seasons. His three sacks represent less than one a year.

It’s not terrible– especially for a late first-rounder. But it isn’t the kind of playmaker Roby was supposed to be.

Eli Apple (2016, pick 10): Before you say “But he hasn’t had enough time to establish himself!” remember that thy two good Buckeye defenders were both drafted in 2017. #1 picks shouldn’t take years to develop– they should begin to contribute in year one.

Plus, Apple is playing his way off the team. he’s already lost playing time. As a rookie, he played in 14 games, starting 11. Last year he played in 11 and started 7.

He’s been good on running plays: 82 solo tackles and 16 assists. That’s very good. Most 16-game starters get 50-60 solo tackle; he’s started only 18.

It’s almost certainly because he’s 6’1″ and 199– biggest of the bunch.

The reason he has started only 18 games is that he’s not contributing on pass plays. He has only 1 interception and 15 deflections. He has no sacks, one forced fumble– the only impressive thing is the 4 fumbles recovered.

It’s not what you want from the tenth pick. Especially since the papers keep publishing stories about how much the coaches and his teammates hate him.

Gareon Conley (2017, pick 24): A woman accused him of rape. The Raiders decided not to let it scare then off.

They should have. Conley showed up heavy, then got injured in training camp. He missed the first game,  looked bad in the next two games and then got shut down with an injury.

He didn’t play much– but he also didn’t play well, He did make 7 tackles (five solo), but he recorded no sacks, fumbles or interception. He helped get Jack Del Rio fired.

Malik Hooker (2017, pick 15): He was a good pick. He was having a strong rookie season for the Colts until he blew up his ACL in game 7:

  • 7 games– 6 starts
  • 3 interceptions; 4 passes defensed
  • 15 solo tackles, 6 assists.

Not a great year– no sacks, no fumbles forced or recovered. But usually rookies start slow and get good in the second half of the year. Hooker went down at the point when most rookies make the leap forward.– and he was already good.

Marshon Lattimore (2017, pick 11): He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and that decision was a no-brained. He intercepted 5 passes and broke up 19. He forced a fumble and recovered one– adding 43 tackles and 9 assists.

Of course he was 6’0″ and 193 pounds, with a longer reach and bigger hands, so it might have been easier for him to do it than it will be for Ward.

I don’t believe in jinxes (“Nobody wins the Heisman and has a good career” or “Clemson receivers always disappoint”). But since people have been trying to build Ward up by placing him in the tradition of great OSU defenders, knowing that several have busted out is germane.


Bottom line is that I’m not impressed by the pick. Not a great player, not good value for a draft this well-stocked. It’s a very poor return on investment for pick #4.

It’s not wrong to want a good corner– or even to draft them in the first round. But if Dorsey wanted a good corner, he should have traded down– or looked to find on in rounds 2-3. Good corners are rarely found in the first ten picks; Haden, Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Chiefs’ safety Eric Berry have been the best of the 11 players in the top 10.

Usually the multiple Pro Bowl corners look like gifted but somewhat raw athletes playing for schools who didn’t face topnotch opponents. They get dinged for “didn’t face strong competition” and “iffy mechanics”, which drops them out of the top 10. As soon as they get coached up, they turn into Aqib Talib or Devin McCourty,

Ward is the exactly opposite– excellent mechanics, faced good competition. But not a sensational athlete. The odds of him becoming a Dee Milliner or Morris Claiborne– not a Haden– seem rather high.

Draft Grade: C-

 

Review: Free Agency (Part 1)

The John Dorsey era continues to get better and better. So far, the new front office has done exactly what they needed to do to improve.

I don’t love any of the players they’ve signed. Few are likely to be blue-chip players. But they added a bunch of red-chips. That means they can dump the white chip players on the roster in 2017– or at least demote them to second or third string.

That will have a huge impact on the roster.

I’ve got to dip into some analytics to explain this, but there won’t be any equations. Also the ideas here apply to all professional sports.

1. The 2017 Browns had many replacement-level players (or worse) on their roster.

A replacement-level player is someone who, as the scouts say “is good enough to get you beat.” Players like Jamar Taylor or Jason McCourty wouldn’t start on a playoff team. A decent team (between 7-9 wins) might start one of them.

But last season, those guys played a combined 1,864 snaps (just about fulltime). In that time:.

  • Opponents targeted the receiver they were covering 156 times.
  • They allowed 109 completions– that’s a 69.8 completion percentages.
  • Opponents gained 1,376 yards (12.6 yards) on those catches.
  • They allowed 8 TDs and made only 3 interceptions (all by McCourty)

Knowing those four stats, we can figure an NFL passer rating for them. The rating (106.1) is horrific. If wondering why those two weren’t targeted more often, the answer is simple– there were easier marks:

  • Safeties Jabill Peppers and Derrick Kindred were allowing 80% completions– with only two interceptions.
  • Linebackers Chris Kirksey, Joe Schobert and James Burgess allowed 90% and they combined for one pick.

McCourty looked good because nobody picked on him. If the quarterback wanted yardage, he targeted one of the safeties; if he wanted to move the chains and kill the clock, he looked for the linebackers.

Teams start players whose performance shows they don’t belong in the lineup for a variety of reasons:

  • They just drafted him and are hoping he’ll get better with more experience.
  • He’s a veteran– often signed to a big contract– and they’re hoping he can snap back.
  • He’s been hurt and they think he’ll improve when he’s 100%.
  • They don’t know how to scout, so they can’t find anyone better.

The last is almost always the main reason. And, yes, better players always exist.

In baseball or hockey, people who can outplay a bad team’s regulars are on the bench– or, if his team wants him to play every day, in the minors. In the NBA, they’re probably still in Europe– or they’ve just been brought over and are being used for depth while they try to figure out the US game.

In the NFL, they can be found in one of three places:

  1. On the bench or on kicking teams. They’re first or second-year players– usually low-round picks undrafted free agents, so nobody noticed them. They haven’t worked their way up the ladder yet.
  2. The practice squad. It isn’t just for developmental projects. If a team can only use one player at a position (center, running back, nose tackle, blocking tight end)– and they stumble across a third– they often put him here.
  3. The waiver wire. Thanks to the salary cap and the lack of a minor-league  (or international leagues, a viable starter can be without a contract. Let me run through some examples:
    (a) He’s a veteran who had a big contract and got cut in an economy move (if he remains unsigned, Dez Bryant would be an example). (b) He has been rehabbing an injury. When he wasn’t ready by opening day, hit team cut him, rather than put him on IR and pay him.

    Here’s a real common one: (c) The player was productive– but then the team changed schemes and he didn’t fit the new one (small or slow receivers). Equally common: (d) They changed coaches and he didn’t get along with the new guy.

    And, thanks to the Baltimore Ravens, we also have (e) refused to stand for the national anthem. There is zero reason– not talent, not durability, not attitude and not production– for a team to refuse to sign Colin Kaepernick, but give Robert Griffin another chance.

I prefer to call players like Jamar Taylor “starters who suck”, but most analysts consider that to be rude. Their euphemism is “replacement-level players”, meaning that his performance level is so low that he deserves to be replaced.

The standard that gets a player designated as replacement-level is “production consistently 20% below the average for this position.” It’s been set at this level for two reasons:

  • Looking at past seasons shows that teams who replace a player 20% below average with a sub (not a “good player trapped behind a star” guy, but just a regular backup), a minor leaguer,  a practice-squad player, a guy playing in another country or a street free agent will get better production from the position.
  • 20% worse than average is the point where players on teams that win consistently always lose their jobs. Good teams don’t tolerate mediocrity (or worse) very long.

Another way to look at it– if you don’t care for stats– is that if you rank every player at the position, he’ll be 20% below average. In a 32-team league, a player who is exactly average would rank as the 16th-best player. A replacement player would grade out as the 20th-24th-best starter. (On the Browns, DT Trevon Coley or LB James Burgess would be replacement-level.)

Analysts have been saying “Teams who scout well can find valuable players cheaply. Sometimes even really good starters.” since I started reading Bill James in 1983. The rise of Moneyball — and a string of players like Casey Blake or David Ortiz in the last 35 years– have pretty much driven people who deny it out of baseball. The NFL has stubbornly refused to accept it– but the 2017 season provided ample evidence that talent really isn’t scarce:

There aren’t dozens of undiscovered stars (Wes Welker), but there is enough talent to ensure that a team never needs to lose games with a really terrible starter. Brian Hoyer— not a great player– is 16-21 as a starter. That’s .432 winning percentage– almost exactly what a replacement-level player would produce.

Talent is available if a team is willing to use the “next man up” approach.

2. A roster composed entirely of replacement players will lose 60% of its games.

Bad front offices always want to deny this, but this is simple logic: Teams lose because some (or all) of the roster can’t play. With a few exceptions (the Kansas City teams coached by Romeo Crennel), a losing team will have players who finish at or near the bottom of the league in every ranking. (There will be a few Joe Thomases, but the majority would be untradeable.)

Let’s try some more logic. Replacement players perform at a level 20% below average. If every player on the team is 20% below average, then the team’s record will be 20% below average. An average record is a .500 winning percentage, so a replacement level record (20% below .500) will be a .400 winning percentage. To convert that to wins and losses:

  • In baseball, a team with a .400 winning percentage will finish 65-97.
  • A .400% basketball in the NBA produces a 33-49 season
  • In the NFL (which has ties), a team that loses 60% of the time will go 6-9-1.

The actual result in a season can and will vary. They can play a really strong– or very weak strength. They could have an injury or two to their best players. They could have a bunch of fluke plays (or penalties called by Jeff Triplette or Edf Hochuli). But a team made up of replacement players absolutely should be expected to finish somewhere between 5-11 and 8-8, and the normal expectation would be 6-10.

Sashi Brown knew this– it’s why he told the media he’d be disappointed if the Browns didn’t go 6-10 in 2016 (and again in 2017). This is why Terry Pluto keeps saying the Browns will go 6-10 every year. A 6-10 record is what you should be able to get if you have a 100% mediocre roster.

That fact is how we know (well, everyone except Doug Lesmerises) that Sashi Brown was inept. He took over a 3-13 team, and didn’t simply fail to improve it to 6-10… He went 1-31.

3. An NFL team that goes 3-13 (losing 80% of the time) doesn’t even have replacement players.

Again, basic logic. If you can build a roster of players on street corners and go 6-10– and you win half that number, your roster is much worse than replacement level.

There’s simply no excuse for a non-expansion team to lose 80% of its game. It means you have players who, plainly and simply, are worthless. In a ranking of all the starters, all your starters would finish 29th to 32nd.

In any other major sport– where they play a lot of games– losing 80% of the time would never happen. A baseball team that went 32-130 would see both its GM and its manager fired. An NBA team that went 16-66 might see its front office survive– but only because people would assume they were tanking for a lottery pick.

People tolerate inept management in the NFL because (a) they think in terms of games and (b) a season had so few games.

If a team goes 3-13, someone will always say “We could have won 3 more games. We lost a game where the coach didn’t call time out and the clock ran out on us. Our #2 pick missed ten games. Our receiver dropped a pass in the end zone in one game; there was a tipped pass when the defender made a diving interception.” It is very easy to find a handful of games you think you deserved to win– which is why Bill Parcells used to say “You are your record.:

The reality: one NFL game is 7% of a season. If the Cave lost five straight (7% of an NBA season)  or the Indians lost 10 straight– nobody would say “We just had some bad luck.”  (OK, maybe Matt Underwood.)

When your NFL team goes 3-13 (much less 0-16), it sucks. Your front office needs firing; your roster needs an enema.

4. Free agency can’t help you get better… unless you have a really, really bad team.

You can’t use free agency to boost a replacement-level roster (a 6-10 team) to an  average one (8-8) or a good one. Maybe if you had a truly terrible starter at a critical spot (quarterback, left tackle, corner, kicker) who cost you game after game– and you sign a Pro Bowl player to replace him. But that’s rare.

The reason most teams can’t get good better by using free agency: nobody can afford to sign enough good players.

Free agents are almost always wildly overpaid– far above market value. One or two GMs are worried about being fired; they decide it’s better to overpay– and wind up in salary cap hell down the road– than it is to get fired. If they’re handing out big bucks, nobody else can get players at fair market value.

I’ve been asked why Dorsey didn’t sign any receivers. The reason can be found by looking at these four signings:

1. Allen Hurns, Jacksonville: His 2017 (39 catches on only 56 targets– a 69.6 catch percentage– for 484 yards and 2 TDs) was nice. That’s not a star– but it is an ideal third-down receiver.

Spotrac (the contracts site) estimated his market value bu identifying the five most comparable players, based on his 2017 production. They estimated his salary at $2.6 million, because the five made (in ascending order) $410,000, $1.323 million, $2.5 million, $2.75 million and $6 million

The outlier on the list– the guy making $6 million– was DeSean Jackson. He’s 31, has made three Pro Bowls, has five 1,000-yard seasons and led the NFL in yuards per catch in 2010, 2014 and 2016. Jackson’s 2017 was similar to Hurns because Jackson had the worst season of his career. They’re not comparable players.

But Dallas gave Hurns $12 million for two years– the same salary as Jackson; twice Hurns’s his market value. The only fiscally responsible thing about the deal is that Dallas guaranteed Hurns only $2.5 million.

2. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville: Signing him would have been an intriguing gamble. In 2017, he hurt his knee in game one and missed the rest of the year. he caught over 70 passes in each of the two years before that: once for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs, the other for 882 yards and 6 TDs.

Robinson’s hands aren’t great (he’s caught only 52.6% of his passes– as bad as Corey “Hands” Coleman), but he can run if he catches it.

Luckily for Robinson, Chicago went 5-11 last year and finished 29th in points. GM Ryan Pace fired coach John Fox– and he kept his job by the skin of his teeth. Since everyone said QB Mitch Trubisky didn’t have enough weapons (very true; Chicago’s ‘ best receiver last year was journeyman Kendall Wright) Pace signed Robinson.

That would have been OK. But Pace gave Robinson 3 years and $42 million– with $25 million guaranteed. He simply isn’t that good.

3. Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta: I assume I don’t need to recap his career. Signing Gabriel wouldn’t be a good move, but only because players like him are easy to find. Small receivers with good speed and above-average hands graduate from small schools every year, only to learn that every NFL team want receivers 6’0″ or taller, and there are no jobs.

But the Browns could obviously benefit from having a veteran who played for the Browns, helped get his team to a Super Bowl– and is still young enough (26 last year) to improve a bit.

But Pace signed him as well– and the contract he gave out ($27 million over four years– with $14 million guaranteed) is far more than any team should have paid.

4. Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis: He certainly isn’t a great player–  not even close. In four season he has 152 catches and 1.875 yards.

To a team that played Ricardo Louis, he’d be a huge step up. But Jacksonville (which had just lost Hurns and Robinson) handed Moncrief a  one-year, $9.6 million deal– fully guaranteed.

Contracts like that is why the GM of an 8-8 team can’t improve to 10 wins in free agency– stars cost too much.

It’s why a 6-10 team can’t reach 8-8. You have to replace replacement-level players with good ones– and unless you spot a bargain free agent (a player every team has overlooked) you can’t do that.

But it is very easy to use free agency to replace worthless players with replacement-level ones. Nobody who is 6-10 or better wants replacement-level players… unless they want a backup or an insurance policy.

A 3-13 team can offer that player a starting job (for at least a year). If you replace the people responsible for your 3-13 record with players who helped other teams go 6-10, you’ll probably improve to 6-10 too.

To return to the starting point. Last year the Cleveland pass defense let opponents gain 3,881 yards. Their judgment index (TD passes to interceptions) was an ungodly 28 TDs and only 7 picks.

Lets say Dorsey’s additions improve the secondary merely to below average– yardage drops to 3,100 (which would be 19-20) and the judgement index is a mediocre 21-10. That would probably take the Browns from 410 points allowed (31st) down to 340 (16th).

Best of all, replacement-level players don’t cost you a lot of money– you’ve only got half a dozen GMs to bid against.

Dorsey hasn’t fixed the roster with these moves– he’s just filled the gaping holes by stocking up on duct tape plastic sheets and Bond-O. Unless Dorsey has scouted exceptionally well, only one (maybe two) of these players will be starting in 2020.

But by the time Opening Day of 2020 rolls around, Dorsey will have had three drafts– and 2½ more free agency seasons (free agency will re-start after the draft when teams dump veterans to make way for their picks)– to bump up his talent level. And some of these players might be able to stick as subs.

Since you’re probably tired of reading me, I’ll stop here and post the next piece– the ratings for the deals– separately.

 

The John Dorsey Profile. Part 2: His Resume

What impresses you so much about Dorsey?

If I hadn’t just deal with the flu– to the point where I had to delay this for weeks, until after you saw the deals he made to bring Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor and Damarious Randall onto the team— I’m guessing this section would be a harder sell.

I like Dorsey because his personnel judgment, through basically every stage of his career, has been outstanding. H’es shown that he knows how to (a) identify good players, (b) set their fair market value and (c) make appropriate deals.

The strongest criticism you can make of Dorsey is to question the percentage of credit for any specific decision to give him. He’s never been in a situation where he acted entirely alone– where there was no other intelligent and successful person weighing in.

The strongest affirmation you can make is that there are an enormous number of positive indicators, at every step of the way. The simplest way to explain this is to walk through Dorsey’s career.

1. He played in the NFL. Dorsey spent five seasons in Green Bay under Forrest Gregg as a kicking teams coverage demon and occasional starter. The team was falling apart: 8-8 in both of his first two years, then 13-33-1.

Dorsey was active for every game (he four games because there was a strike in 1987 and he wouldn’t cross the picket line) and started 15. He was the sort of player Tank Carder was– not physically talented enough to start, but good enough to hold a roster spot until he had a serious injury and missed a year

That’s always an asset– knowing what players look like because you saw them.

Ray Farmer and Dwight Clark played in the NFL. They were terrible.

Sashi Brown and Butch Davis didn’t play in the NFL– they drafted worse. I guess that means there is no simple “yes-no” question that guarantees success 100% of the time. What a shock.

Pro playing experience isn’t essential, but it is helpful. It gives the person, through memory, an understanding of what it takes to play in the league. At the very least, Dorsey knows how poor the linebackers and kicking teams were– and how much character it takes to play in the NFL.


One of the first steps forward is the departure of largely-failed kicking teams coach Chris Tabor. The stories (both about his re-hiring in Chicago) make him seem like a greater coach than he was.

The Browns made more than their share of errors in the transition game over the years. This year they had a punt blocked,  missed an extra point and five of 20 field goals. Both K Zane Gonzalez and KR Jabill Peppers were supposed to be huge upgrades– they weren’t. Peppers ended up losing his job as kick returned to Matthew Dayes. The Browns finished in the bottom five in the NFL in yards allowed per punt return and kickoff returns.

The stories all claim that Tabor wasn’t fired– that he was snatched away by a team that made a hiring coup. The reality is that the Browns let him out of his contract; they replaced him with a better man,

Nobody who has looked at the Arizona Cardinals would say that the Browns had better performance. Amos Jones (kicking teams coach of the Steelers, then with the Cards when Bruce Arians joined) is vastly superior.

Playing in the NFL doesn’t guarantee you can pick talent. But it does give someone real-world perspective with which to push back on scouting reports.

The Browns drafted Cody Kessler based on analytics. There’s a theory that says “Quarterbacks who start 40 games in a major conference and have a completion percentage over 60% turn out of the better QBs than people who don’t.”

The Boys from Harvard thought (like Terry Pluto) that the stat hugely important. It was (I am told) one of the major reasons (1) they weren’t impressed by Carson Wentz and (2) drafted Cody Kessler four rounds sooner than he needed to go.

Dorsey (who drafted Kevin Hogan– who will beat Kessler out– much lower) apparently has said Kessler’s arm isn’t strong enough.”

Along the same line, a former pro whose played with teammates deemed too short or slow at the combine– who ended up becoming a star because he compensated with other skills– is more likely to push back against the people who want to draft solely on measurables.


To resume, when Dorsey blew out his knee, GM Tom Braatz gave him a chance to scout. That isn’t a point in Dorsey’s favor. Braatz was a terrible GM (he went 20-37 with Atlanta and then 29-49-1 in Green Bay). But when Braatz got fired (after Dorsey’s third season as a scout), the new GM, Ron Wolf, retained him.That is.

Ron Wolf again. He won one title– big deal.

No, he won three. His teams also reached two more Super Bowls, though they did lose (to Vince Lombardi’s Packers and Mike Shanahan’s Broncos). Of the four teams Wolf was employed by in 40 years, he turned all four into playoff teams (and he only spent two seasons with one club and four with a second).

Wolf met Al Davis when they were both in the Army; he came to Oakland as a scout when Davis was hired as the Raiders’ head coach in 1963. Wolf became Oakland’s chief scout and stayed until 1975. During that time, the Raiders went to Super Bowl II, and often had a better regular-season record than Chuck Noll’s Steelers and Don Shula’s Dolphins.

Oakland won the Super Bowl in 1976, but Wolf had left in 1975 to become Tampa Bay’s first GM. The Bucs went 0-14 in 1976 and then 2-12. But they went 5-11 in 1978 before improving to 10-6 and reaching the NFC Championship in year four.

Wolf wasn’t there by 1979– he lost a power struggle with John McKay in 1978– but he drafted the players that playoff team was built upon.

Wolf returned to Oakland between 1978-1989 (when they won two Super Bowls). He then spent 1990-91 with the Jets. He and GM Dick Steinberg (who’d taken the Rams and Patriots to the Super Bowl) inherited a 4-12 team. They went 6-10 in year one. and then 8-8 (which got them a Wild Card berth). That got Wolf hired by Green Bay.

According to Wolf’s quasi-memoir (for some reason, he decided to present it as a business management book), when the Packers hired him, he didn’t like the players they’d been drafting. Step one was to interview every scout and (as it turned out) fire most of them.

Dorsey stayed. In fact, he got promoted twice– first to senior scout, then Director of College Scouting in 1997 (the year the Packers made the Super Bowl and won it).

Dorsey spent two seasons (1997 and 1998) as director of scouting. In both seasons, Green Bay reached thge Super Bowl. They also drafted two Pro Bowl players (safety Darren Sharper and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck) and got a third (guard Mike Wahle) in the supplemental draft.

But Wolf was still in charge

Yes. Also, Mike Holmgren was coach– sharing his hunches with everyone even then. Other successful front office people worked in the Front office too.

The Packers believed a team should never draft a player unless everyone more or less agreed on him.It was one of the things Wolf instilled– an idea drawn from Sid Gillman, Paul Brown and a couple of other legendary minds:

“Don’t take a chance on a player whom most of your staff doesn’t like– unless you’ve spending a very low draft pick.

“If you let one person play a hunch, you’re telling everyone else that their opinion matters less than that person– that hurts morale. Also it means you can waste a pick– and the team suffers– if only one person on the staff is wrong.

“If you have a comparably-rated player than everyone more or less agrees on, take him instead.”

Given that philosophy, we can’t give Dorsey sole credit for the three Pro Bowlers who got drafted. It’s still three guys in two years.

That ratio– one Pro Bowl player per year– will continue for the next 20 years.

At the end of the 1998 season, (Dorsey’s second season as Scouting Director), Holmgren’s contract expired. The Walrus believed (wrongly) that he could handle being both coach and GM.

When Seattle gave him a big contract to do it, he left, taking two members of Wolf’s front office with him. Ted Thompson became Holmgren’s GM for administrative functions (meaning he did the GM job while Holmgren was coaching) and Dorsey became Director of Player Personnel.

How’d that work out?

Badly. The Seahawks reached the playoffs– but had a horrible draft in 1999. They made seven picks but got only three starters (the best only started two seasons). At the end of the 1999 season, Dorsey returned to Green Bay as scouting director.

I have heard three different stories about what happened:

  1. Dorsey says he missed Green Bay (he’d left his family there) so he asked Wolf to take him back– and Holmgren to let him return.
  2. A Seattle friend says Holmgren made almost every pick in 1999 based on one of his “hunches”. Except for a few rounds, the top players on Dorsey’s board didn’t get taken. Having his views overridden really upset Dorsey– plus they picked badly.
  3. Green Bay slipped to 8-8 without Holmgren and missed the playoffs. Wolf took an enormous amount of heat from the fans (remember, in Green Bay, fans own the team) for letting the coach get away. He fired Ray Rhodes after one year and brought back Dorsey.

Which story do you believe?

All of the above:

  • There were numerous reports about Holmgren overruling his staff. Like Butch Davis did in Cleveland, he’d get a glint in his eye and the discussion was over. In Holmgren’s four years as GM, Seattle made 38 picks– only two of whom (RB Shaun Alexander and G Steve Hutchinson) were any good.
  • Wolf was under pressure. He retired (at 62) only two years after the 8-8 season. When Green Bay hired Mike Sherman in 2000, they promised him that he’d serve as Coach and GM after a year of working under Wolf.
  • Dorsey stayed with Green Bay for 12 more years. He rarely interviewed for openings; a source who’d know if he was looking to move up says “Compared to some guys, Dorsey didn’t seem to want to leave.”

Dorsey spent the years 2000 to 2011 as Director of College Scouting. During those 12 years, the Packers drafted 15 Pro Bowl players:

Counting the three guys in two seasons as college scout with the 1990s Packers (and the year in Seattle) that’s 15 seasons as the senior draft guy and 18 Pro Bowl players selected.

Because Dorsey wasn’t the #1 man in the hierarchy (the GM was) or even the #2 man (the coach was), I can’t give him 100% credit for any of those picks.

But in 2012, Green Bay promoted Dorsey to Director of Football Operations (in an attempt to keep teams from hiring him), which made him the #2 guy in the ranking. He could, if he wanted to, overrule McCarthy– only Thompson could stop him. Also, all five of his drafts (2013-17) with Kansas City were under his control.

In those six years, we see the same rate of return– six years, seven Pro Bowl players:

The seven Pro Bowl players in six seasons, added to the 18 in 15 years, means Dorsey has (to underplay this as much as I can) worked for teams that drafted 24 Pro Bowl players in 21 years.

The striking thing about that draft history is how well balanced it is. Let me break down the players by position:

  • QB: 2.
  • RB: 1.
  • OL: 5 (three tackles, two guards)
  • REC: 7 (five wideouts; two tight ends)
  • DL: 4 (two ends, two tackles)
  • LB: 2, (If you think Gbaja-Bijamila was was more of a 3-4 linebacker than a 4-3 end, you could add him here and reduce the linemen to three)
  • DB: 3. (two corners; one safety)
  • KT: 2. (a kick returner, and kick coverage)

That’s every position on the field. And since the Packers switched from a 4-3 to 3-4 on defense, it is everything except a 3-4 defensive end.


That broad distribution is an enormously good sign, One of the problems with hiring a vaunted scout as your GM is that virtually no one scouts every position equally well.

Usually people are best at scouting the positions they played or coached, with the next level of skill being the positions they played or coached against. That is, a former center will be best at scouting offensive lineman– with defensive linemen being next.

Some scouts have prejudices about certain schools (or conferences) races or body types. Some guys still believe in the “Award winners are all overrated” theory; others don’t trust stats (or rely on them too much).

A guy with a known blind spot about certain things can be overruled by the GM when he is one of the voices in a room. If he becomes the voice, he often indulges himself.

Phil Savage would be an excellent example. Savage had a reputation as a brilliant judge of talent– but only about offensive linemen or the front seven on defense.

His opinions about offensive skill positions were flawed (Baltimore had enormous problems finding quarterbacks and receivers), and he was very biased about programs. He loved the Miami Hurricanes and overvalued Big 12, SEC and Big Ten prospects.

Savage admitted that he didn’t think PAC-10 players play well in the cold; for some reason he doesn’t have that same skepticism of SEC players. People have told me that he feels PAC-10 teams play finesses ball– that they weren’t physical.

I don’t know if any of that is true– but that’s how Savage behaved in Cleveland.

In his first draft (2005) Aaron Rodgers literally fell into his lap. A lot of people thought Rodgers would be the first pick, but San Francisco felt Utah’s Alex Smith (who hadn’t played as much and hadn’t got as much high-end coaching) had a higher ceiling and took him.

With the second pick, Nick Saban  (coaching the Dolphins) took RB Ronnie Brown (feeling, I guess, that Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels were good enough).

2005, by the way, was the draft that scared teams off taking running backs with high picks. Brown, Cedric Benson (taken fourth) and Cadillac Williams (fifth) all bombed, and everyone decided backs were too unreliable to be trusted. They kept taking all the other positions they had been taking, but this is the reason some people don’t want to pick Saquon Barkley high.

Unfortunately, Rodgers played at Cal-Berkeley. Savage took Michigan WR Braylon Edwards (who had some good years, but was basically a bust), took FS Brodney Pool and WR Antonio Perkins of Oklahoma– and chose QB Charlie Frye in round three. The following year, he took LB Kam Wimbley (Florida State) WR Travis Wilson (Oklahoma again) and LB Leon Williams of Miami– all fo whom busted

That– plus a disastrous trade for Brady Quinn in 2007– is what got Savage fired.

Green Bay ended up with Rodgers due to an impressive bit of discipline. Green Bay wanted a replacement for Brett Favre, but they only had pick 24. After working out their mock drafts, they simply waited for Rodgers to fall to them.

They didn’t pull a Tom Heckert-style panic move and give away draft picks in order to move up. They waited and waited– and the minute they were on the clock, they grabbed him.

Someone on in the draft room (perhaps Coach-GM Mike Sherman, more likely one of the assistant GMs– or maybe Dorsey) had correctly assessed the draft needs of the teams with the 20 picks between the Browns and Green Bay and concluded that none of these teams were likely to pick Rodgers.

To be fair to the teams who passed on Rodgers in that draft, 8 of the 20 players taken instead of him went to the Pro Bowl. Also Many of the teams who passed on Rodgers had a reason. Minnesota, for example, took WR Troy Williamson (a complete bust). But if they had taken Rodgers, everyone would have said “Why do you need him when QB Daunte Culpepper just gone to the Pro Bowl?”


I am, as some of you might guess, not rambling. I mention this because it very likely could happen again. Green Bay and Kansas City have been very successful by “reading the room” and not reaching for players they like. We might see something like this again. on draft day.

Since Dorsey was at at least partially responsible for Rodgers and Matt Hasselbeck, I’d guess he can be trusted to identify a quarterback.

You don’t think Dorsey made those picks?

I think he was one of many people in the room who agreed on those choices:

  • Wolf served as GM until the 2001 draft was completed.
  • After Wolf retired, Coach Mike Sherman served as Coach and GM from 2002-04; Green Bay went 32-16, making the playoffs all three years.
  • When Seattle removed Holmgren as GM in 2005, Thompson immediately returned to Green Bay as GM. He served a GM in 2005 (when they went 4-12), then hired Mike McCarthy as coach in 2006. That tander went 121-70, with a Super Bowl win and playoffs in 9 of 12 seasons.

As the infomercials say, “But wait– there’s more.” The front office also included John Schneider (the GM who got Pete Carroll into two Super Bowls) and Reggie McKenzie (who inherited the mess Hue Jackson left in Oakland and got them to the playoffs).

That said, Dorsey was in charge of scouting; nobody suggested he was doing a bad job. I’ve occasionally heard stories about a player who got taken because someone sold the rest of the room (Green Bay took Donald Driver in round 7 because Alonzo Highsmith loved him), but everyone credited Dorsey as the guy driving the train.

Anyway, the Packers drafted 18 Pro Bowl player in 14 years (getting at least one in 10 of the 14 years) despite drafting consistently low. It seems unlikely that the head of College Scouting was the weak link. Since he went to the Chiefs– and they got a Pro Bowler per year– the odds get lower.

To return to the chronology, in 2012, Green Bay gave Thompson a loftier title and ‘promoted’ Dorsey to Director of Football Operations. That was done so Green Bay could claim that Dorsey was the GM (in charge of all football operations) and moving to another team as a GM would be a forbidden lateral move.

The argument didn’t hold up. When the Chiefs went after Dorsey, they said “In 2011 Dorsey was second in authority to Thompson– the same thing was true in 2012. It doesn’t matter if his title changed from High Mogul to Grand Panjandrum– his place in the hierarchy (second to Thompson) is the issue.”

The league office needed to rule on it, but Kansas City was able to hire Dorsey away to be their GM in 2013.

Then he hired Andy Reid and rebuilt the Chiefs?

Not exactly Because the Browns hired one of the people who screwed the Chiefs up as their offensive coordinator, I’ll go into what happened in detail in another piece. But here are the bullet points for Dorsey’s tenure in Kansas City:

  • Dorsey inherited a team that had gone 23-41 under GM Scott Pioli and head coaches Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel (yes, they di-id).
  • The team went 2-14 the year before Dorsey was hired.
  • The Chiefs improved to 11-5 in year one and went 43-21 in four years.
  • Dorsey was fired– but not for cause.

The reality is more complex, but the first three are factual (albeit misleading)– and I’m pretty sure about the fourth.

Why is it complex?

1. Dorsey didn’t hire Andy Reid; Reid didn’t report to him. Both Dorsey and Reid reported to Owner Clark Hunt.  While both were interviewed at the same time, Dorsey was hired a week after Reid was.

It wasn’t a shotghun marriage. Because Pioli and Haley had spent three seasons at each other’s throats, Hunt wanted to make sure the coach and GM could work together. One reason he hired Dorsey and Reid is that both guys worked for the Packers (Reid was on Holmgren’s staff for eight years) and knew each other well.

2. The two men shared power. On paper, Dorsey had full control of the roster. But when a rookie GM is working with a veteran coach– who has been highly successful– it’s never that cut and dry.

It’s not correct to say (as some people do) that the moves were always approved by Reid, but Dorsey didn’t have full control. If they butted heads, the owner made the call– and Hunt made it very clear that he didn’t want them constantly butting heads. But it wasn’t the traditional “Coach reports to GM” arrangement.

3. The team Dorsey and Reid inherited wasn’t nearly as bad as their record. The went 2-14 in 2012, but it had won 17 games in the two previous years and had a bunch of players who’d gone to the Pro Bowl. What happened wasn’t a rebuild– it was more like an episode of “pimp my skill positions“.

Do you know why Dorsey got fired?

Oh, that’s easy. Dorsey got fired for the same reason GM Tom Modrak got fired by the Eagles after 2001. In both cases:

  • The head coach and the GM were hired at the same time and given contracts of equal length.
  • When the team became successful, Reid said he wanted more control over personnel and indicated that the team needed to commit to either him or the GM
  • The owner decided it would be harder to find a new coach and dumped the GM.

Andy Reid was Mike Holmgren’s protege. Like Holmgren, he’s always positive that the team will do better if he makes every decision. Reid is very skilled at convincing owners that he is responsible for everything good, while the GM did everything that went wrong.

Unfortunately, the post-mortem of Modrak’s departure isn’t online anymore, but the “Why was Dorsey fired?” contains almost exactly the same quotes:

“His management style and communication within the franchise came under scrutiny, according to a Kansas City Star report.

“John does stuff and doesn’t tell people why,” a source told the newspaper.

That’s exactly what was said when the Eagles let Modrak go– and it wasn’t true then, either.

How do you know what happened?

Because I know a lot of people in Philly and I understand how the Holmgren coaching tree works. Let me give you a sample conversation that illustrates the “communication problem” that occurs when Read is your coach:

Reid: “Why are we even considering this idea? We need to get this player and that one instead.”

GM: [Outlines the problem, the merits of each option and explains why he disagrees.]

Reid: “You’re wrong. My way is much better.”

GM: [Explains, at length and in detail, the problem with Reid’s approach and why he prefers his alternative.]

Reid: “Your way won’t work. If we do it my way, we win the Super Bowl next year.”

As a friend from Philly put it “You can’t reach a consensus with a brick wall.” At some point, the GM realizes he has two options:

  • “Give up and do it Reid’s way.” (Your reward for knuckling under will be Reid telling the beat writers he likes how the front office turned a simple decision into a long, drawn-out process).
  • “Act over his objections” (and have the papers report that Reid wasn’t consulted, and never had a chance to make his case).

Over time, Reid gets frustrated, Eventually he says “It’s silly to keep fighting all the time. We need people on the same page. If you want to keep the GM, I’ll leave when my contract expires.”

When Jeff Lurie fired Modrak (after the Eagles had gone 11-5 and made the playoffs), it happened in May. Hunt whacked Dorsey in June.

You’re being pretty hard on Reid

I wasn’t that hard on him in 2001– I wrote that the Eagles decision was unfortunate, and wearing two hats wasn’t working for Reid’s mentor in Seattle. But I also said Reid had done a great job turning the Eagles around– that he might well deserve more control. Over the past 17 seasons, my support for “Let’s give Andy Reid more input” has plummeted.

2001-05: Reid as Coach and GM. The Eagles got away with this for a while. They went 54-26, losing the conference championship three consecutive seasons– then reaching the Super Bowl, but losing. But the team didn’t seem to be improving (they were adding a lot of veterans)– and it crashed to 6-10 in 2005.

2006-09: Reid as coach, Tom Heckert as ‘GM.’ The quotes indicate that Heckert (and Joe Banner) did a lot of the work, but Reid had final say on the roster. Players couldn’t be brought into or sent out of the organization without Reid’s OK. That worked less well. Philly reached the playoffs there times and lost the conference championship loss in 2008,but their record declined to 38-25-1.

Heckert left to join the Browns– who gave him control of the roster. Neither Lurie (who perceived the slippage) nor Reid (who still felt constrained) tried hard to keep him.

2010-12: Read as coach, Howie Roseman as ‘GM’. Reid still had control, but his hold on power was slipping. The Eagles went 10-6 (losing the wild card) in year one, fell to 8-8– and when they went to 4-12, Reid was done.

Since the Eagles just won the Super Bowl with Roseman in charge, that’s another sign that Andy Reid shouldn’t be running the show. Since history seems to be repeating in Kansas City (albeit much faster), that’s still more evidence.

The Chiefs went 43-21 with Dorsey as GM, making the playoffs three times. Without him, they fell to 10-6, squeaked into the playoffs and lost to a weak opponent.

With Alex Smith and Marcus Peters gone, the chances of the Chiefs staying over .500 seem remote. Reid threw a bunch of coaches overboard (he’ll call plays next year) and Kansas City is trying to beef up the front office. Reid will be 60 next year, and if Mahomes doesn’t play well next year, I’d guess he is done.

I don’t see anything there to scare me off Dorsey.

Dorsey hasn’t communicated well here

He hasn’t said what the fans and media want to be told. They keep having hissy-fits because he won’t blow smoke up their butts. That’s not the same as communicating poorly.

How do you know Dorsey isn’t the problem?

Let me give you two reasons.

1. Here’s s a lengthy profile of Dorsey. It was written by the team media department, so it goes a little over the top. But assuming that they didn’t make everything up, Dorsey doesn’t come off as the kind of obnoxious jerk the firing analysis made him out to be.

Sometimes these essays disappear when a person leaves. If you can’t fine it, try the archived link here.

2. I’m positive I know who the source of “What we’ve got is failure to commun’cate” story. I don’t trust the SOB.

When a reporter does an analysis, they almost always mention the sources for the story at some point in the piece. It’s a psychological tic– they speak in very general terms, but then mention a couple of names. That makes it very easy to figure out who spoke. Here’s another line from the story:

“For instance, the typically stable Chiefs also made waves this offseason when Dorsey released director of football administration Trip MacCracken and director of pro scouting Will Lewis.

That made it very clear. Dorsey fired two people– the story quotes two people who (based on the identifiers in the piece) were not working for the Chiefs. Those are most likely the sources.

More to the point, the anonymous Dorsey-basher sound exactly like Trip MacCracken, who used to work for the Browns. McCracken, like Sashi Brown, is another one of these egocentric lawyers who imagines that passing the bar automatically conveys greater knowledge about personnel than some dimwitted ex-jock.

When he was in Cleveland, MacCracken spent a good amount of time complaining about the idiotic decision Savage made in 2007, when he passed up a “no doubt about it” Hall of Fame running back (meaning Adrian Peterson) to take “a blocker” (Joe Thomas).

You can argue that a running back helps more than a tackle. But Thomas has been better at his job than Peterson has. Peterson is about to get cut again– probably ending his career– while every team would take Thomas if he came back.


I researched Dorsey’s firings and learned that they stemmed from arguments (toward the end of Dorsey’s tenure) about excessive contracts given to veterans. Specific issues were:

  • The point in the player’s contract when negotiation for an extension began (earlier than needed)
  • The amount of the contract (longer and more highly-aid than necessary)
  • The way the contract was structured. Not just the amount of guaranteed money; but whether the salary was consistent from year to year or structured to be very low for a year or two– then really high.

It looked to me as if the contracts were team-unfriendly– as if the person didn’t care about cap issues. In those cases, it’s because the coach (who wants to win now) wanted the player signed and the matter settled.

I’m told that both guys were aligning with Reid over Dorsey. Lewis (who would produce the estimates of where the player ranked in relation to his peers) would report that the player was substantially better that other sources believed he was. Rather than make smaller offers– and risk extending the process– MacCracken made the deals generous.

Dorsey decided they were working against him, so he let them go. Reid didn’t appreciate losing allies; it strengthened his resolve to shoulder Dorsey aside.

That’s just your opinion.

Well, all of this stuff is just my opinion. I know that nobody else has hired MacCracken and Lewis to comparable positions.

I’m not worried about Dorsey’s communication skills. I’m more interested in how well he drafts. The evidence suggests he is very good at that.