Last night I got to thinking about this, and I finally wrote down some of my thoughts and it inspired me to write this post up. I know you all would probably rather hear my thoughts on individual prospects, see my rankings or read through my thoughts on recent happenings that pertain to the draft. However, my greatest aspiration in my life as far as my career is concerned is to not only be a general manager of a NFL team, but to ultimately win a Superbowl as the GM of a team. So naturally I have given some thought to what I would do if I ever got a job as a GM, and it inspired me to write this blog post articulating some of the conclusions I have come to at this time. This is mostly focused on player personnel, though I have some thoughts about how to look for a good coach also. But this is going to be long enough without any of those thoughts. Enjoy!
Ron Wolf hoists the Lombardi Trophy with his Head Coach Mike Holmgren
First, you have to consider what schemes you think you want to run so you can hire coaches who shares similar views on how a team should be constructed. Personally I prefer a team that is tough, has a big, strong offensive line and can overpower teams up front. I can’t stand the ZBS because I think it makes it hard to have a lot of success in short yardage situations and on the goal-line, and those are the areas that I want my team to capitalize on. I want one or two receivers who have impressive size, are physical after the catch and attack the ball in the air. They don’t have to be burners, but I’d like them to be able to stretch the field and go up and get the ball. Also, having the kind of toughness that enables them to go across the middle and make a catch in traffic is essential to me. And naturally the QB has to have a quality arm to stretch the field, make accurate passes, etc. However he has to stand tall in the face of pressure and he needs to have the toughness and poise to step into a throw and take a hit. How he reacts in the face of pressure will be incredibly important, plus he has to be a great leader. These quarterbacks are hard to come by, but I am convinced that the best way to prepare your team for a Superbowl is to have a good leader at QB.
On defense I think that I would want to run a 3-4 scheme. I like the options that the scheme gives as far as blitz packages. However I would like to run a base 3-4 with players who are versatile enough to play in a 4-3 in obvious passing situations. That would enable us to take the NT off the field, play the two 3-4 DE’s inside at tackle and the two OLB’s would move to DE to rush the passer. That would give the front line a lot of pass rushing potential, plus we could potentially drop a lot of players back in coverage. But mostly I like the toughness of a 3 man defensive front because each defensive lineman has to be big, strong and smart enough to be responsible for 2 gaps. I’d like each defensive lineman to be able to stand up to a double team because that would make the linebacker’s job easier. I’d like my corners to be able to play man coverage and zone coverage, but being able to play man coverage is more important because the most intricate blitzes in the scheme will leave the corners on an island. Being able to trust them in man coverage will be critical. But if they can play zone effectively it opens a lot of options up as far as zone pressures and overloads.
But first and foremost I would want to build a tough team that can run the ball effectively anywhere on the field, and I’d want to build a team that has a great defense that can go toe to toe with any offense in the NFL and at least slow them down. I have subscribed to the defense wins championships mantra for a long time, and even if your offense is a great unit you need a defense that either creates a lot of turnovers or one that bends but does not break when opposing offenses start to move the ball. I believe stopping the run is the first thing you need to establish before you can have a great defense. Stopping the run makes the opposing offense entirely one dimensional and puts them in a difficult position: Do I continue to attempt to maintain a balance in play-calling even though I know I’m not going to get anything out of the run plays? Or do I abandon the run and become one dimensional and predictable? Neither is a good option for the offense, which gives the defense a significant advantage. Particularly because the team does not have to bite hard on play-action fakes because the run has been stopped so effectively.
I wouldn't have tied the fate of my franchise to Sam Bradford even if God had told me to.
Plus, by dedicating yourself to building a winning defense it means you won’t feel pressured to draft a QB in year one of your regime. This is an extremely common practice, but I think it backfires more often than it usually works. You have to be absolutely sold on the QB you are picking, and usually that means spending a 1st rounder on him. I personally would not have picked any of the QB’s in this draft. I would hate to have the fate of my franchise tied to Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy or anybody else. If I had an established QB already I would have considered taking Tebow just because his intangibles are off the charts and I think his work ethic is too good to discount him as a NFL QB. However, other than potentially picking Tebow I wouldn’t have tied the fate of my franchise to any of those QB’s. Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and possibly Joe Flacco in round 2 are the guys that I would have tied the fate of my franchise to, particularly Ryan and Sanchez. In the upcoming draft I think Jake Locker has a lot of potential, but I need to see more development. I would, however, gladly spend a mid-1st or higher on Christian Ponder at this point. I also think Matt Barkley has franchise QB potential like Ryan and Sanchez did in college.
Matt Ryan made his entire team better at Boston College, and he has done the same on the Falcons. [Photo via Newscom
A QB who can win games for you is key in my opinion. Finding a special QB who gives his team a chance to win just by stepping on the field is hard to do because they are so rare. Brett Favre is one, Matt Ryan is one, Tim Tebow could potentially be one but his intangibles have never been in question. I also think that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Matt Barkley fit this bill. Those are the guys that I like as QB’s, guys who are great leaders and to quote Ron Wolf: “Players who give their team the advantage simply from stepping on the field.” Ron Wolf and Thomas Dimitroff are two of my idols when it comes to GM’s that I have allowed to influence me. I also really like Ozzie Newsome, the current GM in Baltimore. They all draft efficiently, fill needs well and really preach depth throughout the team. They also didn’t take over, clean house and bring in “their people.” I think that is a mistake that is far too common in the NFL, but people still continue to get jobs and wipe out everyone because it was a losing organization. But just because someone was employed by a losing organization does not make them a loser themselves. It means they were in a bad situation. You have to take the time to not only evaluate the coaches and scouts, but other staff members and especially the players to see if they are capable of helping you build a winner. If you just fire everyone then you are throwing away potentially valuable resources that could have sped up the rebuilding process, and it’s all because you were too lazy to evaluate their performance during the previous season.
This is one reason that I would love to be brought in during the NFL season so I could see how everyone operated during the season. This way I wouldn’t have to predict how they would operate based off of how they conduct themselves during the offseason. Ron Wolf had this opportunity and made the most of it by evaluating everyone by watching tape, talking to current employees and seeing if they had the guts to tell him what they really thought, not what they thought he wanted to hear. That is exactly how I would run my organization. Namely, I want you to tell me what you think. Stick to your guns, stand up for what you truly believe and sell me on a prospect if you think he is good. If he’s good we could use him, but if we look at tape of him and he’s not as good as advertised then we won’t pick him. Simple as that. I have no tolerance for “Yes Men” who just pat you on the back and tell you that you are right all the time. That makes no sense to me because, to put it simply: You aren’t right all the time. You are human and you will inevitably make mistakes. That is why you have a team working with you so they can work to balance you out and keep mistakes to a minimum. Yes Men don’t limit mistakes, and I actually think they only serve to give you a big ego. And I have always believed that the only thing a big ego is good for is impeding current progress by getting in the way. So no “Yes Men,” they are a waste of time.
Thomas Dimitroff did a great job of keeping a core of stop-gap players intact while "trimming the fat" and bringing in an influx of new talent when he arrived in Atlanta.
After you evaluate your team you should have an idea of how many quality players you have, how many are just average, and how many are below-average. If you can trim the fat and cut players who won’t help turn you into a winner you should do it. Ron Wolf did this when he took over the Packers and Thomas Dimitroff did this same thing when he got to the Falcons. He released fan favorites Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman and just recently he released Keith Brooking as he was no longer serviceable as a WLB. This is the way you must approach these moves. These situations are delicate since they are popular players, but when they are a hindrance to you when you play them you need to cut them unless they will take less money to be a back-up. That rarely happens, so you must cut ties with them in my opinion.
Then you need to look at the key positions and determine which need to be upgraded soonest. For me, QB, LT, NT, OLB, ILB and CB are the most important positions to fill with quality players. Having a great leader at QB and ILB is extremely important in my opinion, as they are the heart and soul of their respective units more often than not. That is why they are so integral to me. You also need a good LT to protect your QB’s blind side from elite speed rushers throughout the NFL. NT is integral for the 3-4 defense that I would want to run. The NT will clog up both A gaps (the gap on either side of the Center) and if he does his job well he will draw a double team and make it difficult for the opposing RB to find anywhere to run up the middle and he should be forced to try to cut-back or bounce the ball outside. Then I want two very good pass rushers at OLB. The more guys you have who can get after the QB the better, but having an OLB who can rush the passer really well is an extremely useful asset. If they can get after the QB standing up and with their hand in the dirt they would be ideal. I want to be deep at this position especially, same with NT and corner.
I personally believe that if the heart of your offense or defense goes down you are likely to be in trouble regardless of the back-up you have for him, but at positions that demand a quality player but not an elite player or leader depth is critical. At those positions the players are replaceable and rotatable. Having a quality back-up at NT means you can keep your starter fresh and not have a significant drop-off should he get injured or if he rotates out. The same can be said at OLB and CB. Like I said, the more OLB’s you have that can get after the QB the better off you will be. You will absorb injuries easier, you will keep your starters fresh and you will have opportunities to create match-up problems if you two or three OLB’s who warrant playing time. And the deeper you are at corner the better because so many teams use three, four or sometimes even five WR sets. If you can match-up with those sets with corners who are capable of playing man or zone coverage your defense will be in a much better position to slow or stop the opposing offense.
Reggie White gave the Packers a true star and leader. He played a key role in bringing a Superbowl to Green Bay. [Photo Tom Lynn
So, once you evaluate the quality of players in those key positions you can look to sign a potential impact free agent if there is such a player available that would fill a need, would not hinder the development of a young player at the same position and that would help speed up the rebuilding process. Michael Turner was such a player for the Falcons, and Reggie White was such a player for Ron Wolf and the Packers. Then you should look to bring in other veterans who can be stop-gaps at positions of need while you look to the Draft to fill those voids more permanently with a younger, better player. I don’t like rushing rookies into playing time before they are ready, and these veterans who you can usually sign for a reasonable price give the rookies a good mentor and they give them time to adjust instead of forcing them to play immediately.
I would probably focus my efforts to find a stud QB, LT, ILB and NT early in the draft. If there is a QB I am comfortable tying the fate of my franchise to available at my pick or that I could potentially trade up to get then I will go after him and solidify that position for the next decade with a great player and leader. Otherwise I will wait until I am confident enough in a QB in another draft. Rushing into a selection with this position can set your team back three, four or even five years, so I refuse to rush it.
Ray Lewis has been the heart and soul of the Ravens defense for years.
Next I would look for an elite leader and playmaker at ILB. If there is such a player available (such as a player in the Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis mold) then he would certainly warrant an early selection. I think Brandon Spikes was such a player for the Patriots, and I think that the trio of Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo gives the Patriots the best combo of a NT and an ILB in the NFL. Running up the middle of their defense is going to be extraordinarily difficult with those three guys lined up against you. That is what I want for my defense, a team that is extremely tough up the middle and extremely athletic on the outside to rush the passer and defend the pass. But most importantly you need a terrific leader, and Spikes has been called the Tim Tebow of Florida’s defense. That speaks volumes about his leadership capability. Plus he hits extremely hard, has great instincts and is big and strong enough to attack and shed blocks from offensive linemen. If there is a player in that mold available early in the draft, like the 1st or 2nd round, I will make sure I get him if it possible.
Next I have to look at LT and NT. Both are equally important to their respective units in my opinion, so the order in which I acquire one is not important as long as I get a good one. Picking a guy early just to fill a need is not an interest of mine, and I would rather sign a stop-gap guy, draft someone in the mid-rounds and develop them into a potentially solid starter rather than reaching for someone that I don’t think will be able to play early or ever develop into a quality starter.
If I have either filled these four need positions or if there is not a quality player that I think warrants that early of a pick at those positions then I will look to strengthen my offensive and defensive fronts, or to grab a playmaker at RB, WR or a CB or S who can add depth and potentially develop into a starter. More or less, I look for a BPA. When your team is severely lacking in talent the more talent you can stockpile the better. And I have always considered the dilemma of:
Patrick Willis was the BPA for the 49ers at #11 and he has had the vastly superior career to most of the players selected ahead of him.
“Do you pick the best player even if he doesn’t fill a significant need or do you take a lesser player that fills a big need?” I would personally pick the better player nine times out of ten. Settling for a decent or solid player when you could get a good or even great player at a position of relative strength makes little sense to me, especially if your team is hurting for playmakers as the team you are now working to rebuild probably is. Imagine if the Falcons hadn’t picked Matt Ryan, and instead picked Glenn Dorsey because he would have filled a huge need. They would have been lucky to win five games in 2008, instead they went to the playoffs. Imagine if they hadn’t moved up to get Sam Baker, or if they hadn’t drafted Curtis Lofton? Those three players were terrific additions for that team, and they came at three of my key positions that I would seek to upgrade.
After the first year I would ideally have a team with a few quality players and a couple pillars of the team intact from my four key positions. If I have my franchise leaders at QB and ILB then that would be perfect, but that is a hard feat to accomplish. But like I said, you can’t be pressured to draft a QB in the first year of your regime. If you don’t think there is one that can lead you to a Superbowl and win it, don’t pick one. That is exactly how I felt about Sam Bradford this year, and that is why I think he and the Rams are going to be bad for a long time. Mark my words, if Bradford starts from day one he will be a bust and the Rams will regret picking him.
I know this was a long-winded post, but I think that it was good for me to get some of this down on some kind of word-processor and I think it should make for an interesting read. I think my blueprint for building a franchise is pretty solid even though I have no experience making personnel decisions in the NFL yet. Obviously this is just an outline, and you can’t force selections of my four key positions of QB, ILB, LT and NT. If there aren’t good players available in those classes, or if all the good ones are gone when you are picking, you are definitely better off moving on down the list and looking for another position. And if there is a player at another position, particularly one that is a need, that slid and you didn’t think he’d be available and you think he can help you win a Superbowl, go ahead and pick him. I suppose I subscribe to the BPA state of mind, but only to a certain extent. I’m not going to pick three QB’s in a row because I think they can all win me a Superbowl, that makes no sense. I would look for a BPA at another position and ignore the quality QB available early in the draft if I already had one.
So, hopefully you enjoyed reading this. If you have a comment feel free to leave one and I will make sure I respond to it.
Thanks for reading!
– Tom Melton