So Bill Belichick and Thomas Dimitroff are on the phone a couple hours before the start of the first round Thursday. The general manager of the Falcons asks the head coach of the Patriots, his former boss, what he thinks about the bold move Dimitroff is contemplating making: two first round picks, a second round pick and two fourth round picks to move up 21 spots in the draft to select wide receiver Julio Jones.
“You know Bill,” Dimitroff told me. “He would never have done this move. It’s just not his makeup. He talked about the value we would be giving up.”
Belichick was much better situated than Dimitroff to make a move for Jones. He had the draft picks as ammunition, and he had a bigger need for him. But that kind of trade isn’t what Belichick does.
It wouldn’t be what most decision makers do. In fact, I spoke with a number of them who questioned the deal. So I decided to ask Dimitroff, the reigning NFL executive of the year, about the criticisms.
Criticism 1: the Falcons gave up too much.
The deal was complicated a bit by the fact that players could not be included. If there had been labor peace, you can bet the Falcons would have replaced a draft pick with a player in their offer. Dimitroff won’t say it, but including Michael Jenkins in the compensation package would have made perfect sense.
The Falcons general manager studied his options carefully before pulling the trigger on Julio Jones.
That aside, the compensation package wasn’t as intimidating to the Falcons as it might appear. The only difficult thing they had to come to grips with was giving up a first round pick in 2012. The two fourth rounders they gave up, one this year and one the next, didn’t bother Dimitroff because the Falcons have a number of former draft picks who would be competing with the fourth rounders for roster spots. The Falcons have yet to decide if those players need to be replaced, or could be future starters. Trading away those picks buys them more time with the players they have already invested in.
The other nice part of the deal is for all the Falcons gave up, they still had seven 2011 draft choices after the trade.
Criticism 2: It’s not worth doing what they did for a wide receiver.
The road to the unemployment line is littered with wide receiver busts. If the Falcons were going to move up, they could have moved up for a pass rusher. In fact, if they couldn’t move up for Jones, they were set to attempt a smaller move up for a defensive end.
But Dimitroff, along with his talented lieutenants Les Snead and Dave Caldwell, did a lot of research about moving up for a defensive end versus a receiver, contemplating a trade for over a month. They noticed of all the first round defensive ends picked over the last five years, very few of them were producing double digit sack numbers.
“There are issues with receivers, no question about it,” Dimitroff said. “Our thoughts were there have been just as many busts at quarterback, defensive tackle and defensive end.”
Dimitroff is not alone in his reasoning. “I talked with some of my cohorts who are more in line with that kind of thinking,” he said. “There are certain groups in this league who philosophically are more steeped in a traditional mindset. You only draft certain positions that high, or only move up high for a player at certain positions. But there seems to be a newer order of thought. If that player is in fact impactful, a potential difference maker not only with skill set but with leadership ability, then I think there is more consideration now than ten or 15 years ago.”
Criticism 3: The Falcons did not need Jones.
The Falcons have a run-first offense. They already had a Pro Bowl receiver in Roddy White, and another who is a fine No. 2 in Jenkins. But they set a priority of becoming more explosive offensively. “With this move, we feel we can be that much more creative with our offense,” Dimitroff said. “We are driven by the run, but we need to produce on the passing side of the game. It will help us to a certain extent, alleviate some of the tilting of the field to Roddy White, which has been done by defenses time and again.”
Even though White’s production may decrease, and Jones may not be a league leader in catches and yards, the Falcons believe they will have a more effective offense. They now easily have the most gifted pair of starting wide receivers in the NFL, which will cause serious problems for defensive coordinators.
Jones can make White more effective, and other teammates too.
Dimitroff was speaking with Alabama coach Nick Saban on Friday about Jones. “He was raving about him, and as you know it takes a lot to truly impress Nick Saban,” Dimitroff said. “He was saying skill set aside, play making ability aside, what he brings to the franchise can be profound in terms of his competitiveness and his passion for the game. You combine that with Roddy’s competitiveness and passion for the game, along with the rest of our receiver group, and I really believe this is going to be a very good boost to our progress.”
This move may work out. It may not. But it was not done without careful and reasoned thought.
Things I Didn’t Used To Know
*Cornerback Prince Amukamara fell to the Giants at the 19th pick, but he probably should have been a top 10 pick based on talent. What was behind Amukamara’s fall? In many draft rooms, the scouts liked Amukamara more than the coaches. The DB coaches and defensive coordinators got together and decided they weren’t as high on Amukamara as many of their scouting counterparts. The coaches pointed to Amukamara’s short arms (30 1/2 inches, 71 ½ inch wingspan) and small hands (8 ½ inches). And there may have been more to the story. A lot of NFL people are skeptical about Nigerian players like Amukarma. “And it’s not just white men,” one executive said. “It’s whites and blacks.” It’s still a subtle form of racism. The word on Nigerians: they are soft, not tough enough and too educated. It would be a pity if that’s what cost Amukamara.
*Ndamunkong Suh and Nick Fairley both are interior pass rushers. Most teams would classify both as under tackles in a four man front. But when they are on the field together for the Lions, they both can’t be under tackles, right? Well, not exactly. The Lions don’t deploy their tackles like a lot of teams. Instead of using one player strictly as an under tackle and the other as a nose tackle, the Lions use a left tackle and a right. Both can rush the passer.
*If Christian Ponder had not been chosen by the Vikings with the 12th pick, he probably would have been chosen shortly thereafter. The strong suspicion of people with inside information is the Redskins were ready to pounce at 16. The Dolphins also were a threat at 15.
*According to an ESPN interview with Bruce Feldman, new Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter isn’t exactly scientific when it comes to fueling his body. He said he eats three double cheeseburgers, a medium order of fries and a six-piece order of McNuggets from McDonalds almost every day. Wow. I’ve known other athletes who have eaten similarly through the years and I always have marveled how they perform so well and look so good while eating such junk.
*One first round pick visited a team before the draft and lost his wallet three times in a day. How do you lose your wallet three times in a day?
My Sunday Best: Value picks
Prince Amukamara, Giants – He went to the Giants at 19, but his ability easily could have merited going 10 picks earlier.
ICONCan anyone explain how Cameron Jordan slid?
Cam Jordan, Saints – Personnel men were stunned he lasted until the 24th pick, especially because J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan and Adrian Clayborn were chosen ahead of him. Jordan was highly productive on tape, he had a great Senior Bowl and he killed it at the combine. There was no reason for him to slip.
Akeem Ayers, Titans – The UCLA linebacker lasted until the 39th pick, where the Titans grabbed him. He was graded high enough to be picked in the teens, and it appeared he was versatile enough to play in multiple schemes, so this was puzzling.
Da’Quan Bowers, Bucs – We all know why he fell like a cannon ball, but almost everyone still thought he would be a first rounder, not pick No. 51.
Mikel Leshoure, Lions – He was the fourth running back taken, with the 57th selection. At one point it looked like he might be the first back off the board.
Martez Wilson, Saints – Getting Wilson in the third round may have been a steal for Sean Payton. Some teams I spoke with thought Wilson had first round talent.
Leonard Hankerson, Redskins – He was the ninth receiver taken, but the third best on some boards.
Jalil Brown, Chiefs – He could have gone as high as the second round but lasted until late in the fourth.
Taiwan Jones, Raiders – With his speed, I would have made a considerable wager that he would not have still been available on pick No. 125.
DeMarcus Love, Vikings – He lasted until round six because of knee issues, but strictly from a talent perspective, he could have been a second rounder.
Tyler Sash, Giants -- No one would have blinked if he would have been chosen in the third round, three rounds earlier than he was chosen.
Are there any value picks you think I missed?
Scout Talk: Draft Impressions
Here are some thoughts about the draft from NFL front office men.
*One personnel director who liked the Titans’ pick of Jake Locker with the eighth selection was not overly concerned with Locker’s inaccuracy. “He was more accurate in 2009 than 2010,” he said. “He was accurate with his throws during his workout. And he threw with accuracy when he was on the move. He just wasn’t always real comfortable in the pocket.”
*Another was intrigued by the Jaguars trading up to take Blaine Gabbert. “That was risky,” he said. “That move will define Gene Smith. At least they have the luxury of not throwing Gabbert to the wolves with David Garrard there.”
*The Seahawks’ selection of OT James Carpenter in the first round was a hot button issue. One front office man said he thought it was a reach. Another said he thought Carpenter may be the most gifted offensive lineman in the whole class, but he’s raw and might have problems picking up a complex scheme. A third said his team had Carpenter rated as a borderline first round pick, but he was surprised to see him taken with the 25th selection given the other talent that remained on the board.
*It appeared the Senior Bowl separated the first round offensive tackles, but the order in which they were selected argued otherwise. Nate Solder did not perform well in Mobile, but was the second offensive tackle off the board to the Patriots after underclassman Tyron Smith. “I thought Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi, Danny Watkins and Derek Sherrod helped themselves at the Senior Bowl,” one front office man said. “Some people were spooked on Solder after the Senior Bowl.”
*On the subject of the Patriots, one scout explained their curious pick of Ryan Mallett in the third round this way. “Bill Belichick’s draft strategy is to go safe early, to hit doubles. Then he gambles middle and late—he goes for home runs.”
*Some may have been critical of the Lions for drafting Nick Fairley when they already were set at defensive tackle, but one front office man saw the wisdom of the pick. “”How can you ever say a defensive lineman of that caliber is a bad pick?” he said. “There is a reason why all of those defensive linemen went.” Said another, “With Fairley and Suh, their back seven is going to look a lot better.”
*From the rich get richer department: “I really liked what the Ravens did. We were interested in taking that OT [Jah Reid]. They can afford to take Jimmy Smith because they have Ray Lewis, and Smith is unbelievably talented.”
*The second day run on linebackers surprised more than one talent evaluator. “A lot of teams reached on backers,” he said, pointing to Jonas Mouton going to the Chargers in the second, Nate Irving going to the Broncos in the third and Kelvin Sheppard going to the Bills in the third. Said another, “Mouton was picked way too high.”
*The Bears’ second round selection of Stephen Paea was a hit with a few front office men. “He is a very good player and a great kid,” one said. “Plus he’s a perfect fit for that system. They are going to love him.”
One Man Yelp: Bill Parcells Draft Confidential
You can debate Bill Parcells’ acumen as a drafter, but I enjoyed hearing him talk about some of his philosophies with Mike Tirico on the ESPN special Bill Parcells Draft Confidential, which aired last week prior to the draft. Parcells always is interesting. He almost always has sound opinions, and he knows how to connect with his audience. For instance, talking about 5-6 Jacquizz Rodgers, he said, “We call those guys mascot players. They look like the team mascot.” And, when talking about a player with too many red flags, he calls it, “May Day in Moscow.”
These were some of the highlights:
Bill Parcells has an interesting formula for evaluating and drafting.
*Parcells believes a top 10 draft pick should be used only on a pass rusher, cornerback, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or offensive tackle, with few exceptions. Don’t tell that to the Falcons. Or the Bills or Bengals.
*He prefers a quarterback meet these seven criteria before selecting him high in the draft: More than a three year starter; has started 30 games; has won 23; has thrown at least two touchdowns for every interception; has completed 60 percent of his passes; is a senior; is graduating.
Which quarterbacks held up from the class of 2011? Andy Dalton and Ricky Stanzi. Greg McElroy was three starts shy of qualifying.
*He understands the mindset that caused teams like the Titans and Vikings to reach for quarterbacks in the first round. Asked about the subject, he said, “If you wait to see the robins, the spring is over.”
*He leans heavily on productivity when grading running backs because there isn’t a physical prototype for the position. Among the things he looks at are rush average, yards over 10, 20, 30 and 40 yards and durability.
*Parcells uses letter grades for “typing” prospects. This goes along with a number grade. Here are his letter grades. I have added one of my own examples of each type of player.
A (dominant impact player): Von Miller.
B (impact player): Cameron Jordan.
C (impact player but undersized): Andy Dalton.
D (consistent player): Anthony Castonzo.
E (non competitive player): Justin Houston.
F (lacks speed): Ahmad Black.
G (undersized): Noel Devine.
H (projection): Aldon Smith.
I (size and speed): DeMarco Sampson.
J (growth potential): Nate Solder.
K (redeeming quality): Karl Klug.
*Some of his favorite players in the draft were Ryan Kerrigan, Cedric Thornton, Casey Matthews, Ryan Williams and Ricardo Lockette.
*Peyton Hillis being named cover boy of Madden 12 by a vote of fans is more evidence why Pro Bowl voting should be done by professionals.
*The price Roger Goodell apparently will pay for being open, honest and accessible is he gets to wear the black hat. But is he really the one responsible for the labor problems?
*When did the list of measurables expand to include entourage size?
*And finally, did you hear about the wedding the other day that everyone was talking about? The Panthers and Cam Newton, for better or worse.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.
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