Of all the steely poker moves in NFL draft history, consider the agreement former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi made with Chargers executive A.J. Smith with eight minutes left on New York’s pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
• Smith had already selected Eli Manning (the top quarterback on his board and Accorsi’s board) with the No. 1 overall pick, knowing full well that Manning would not play for the Chargers.
• Accorsi and the Giants, owner of the No. 4 pick, had previously turned down a mid-April proposal from Smith, who he didn’t know at all, to swap selections because the deal included Osi Umenyiora. Smith promised to call again Friday, the night before the draft, but never did, opting to wait until the Giants had barely enough time to log an official trade before time ran out.
• Because you can’t draft a player for another team (the league would nullify the deal), Accorsi had to ask Smith who he would like, take him on faith, then trade him to the Chargers afterward. Smith wanted Philip Rivers, presumably the No. 2 quarterback on his board. Accorsi liked Ben Roethlisberger, who he had ranked just behind Manning. Smith could have backed out at any time (about a five-minute window) before NFL football ops official Joel Bussert set the deal in stone, leaving Accorsi with the No. 3 passer on his board.
“I made the pick and held my breath,” Accorsi said over the phone this week.
Sitting to Accorsi’s right throughout all this white-knuckle insanity? Current Giants general manager Dave Gettleman. Accorsi surrounded himself with like-minded people, but the ones who rose through the typically insular ranks of the scouting department were the ones who pushed back and took risks, like Gettleman.
Gettleman is now behind the wheel for the franchise's most significant draft since 2004. And while the Browns bookend the top four, no one has the power to upend the natural order in a similarly quarterback-crazed field quite like Gettleman. Accorsi is not surprised that, beyond a few tidbits, his protégé has the rest of the world scratching their heads.
“He’s got more options than I had [in 2004],” Accorsi said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do and I don’t think he feels any pressure to get anything done early. You just don’t know what’s going to happen....
“He’s done it. He’s been under pressure. He’s made really tough, controversial decisions. He’s not going to get ruffled and he knows what he wants.”
That resolve could prove terrifying for a younger or more desperate general manager in a few weeks. Why? In a draft without with four sure-fire first-round quarterbacks but none of them a guaranteed franchise-changing talent, I believe Gettleman would take N.C. State edge rusher Bradley Chubb. I’ve been connecting him with the team for weeks—even prior to the Jason Pierre-Paul trade, which conveniently opens a starting spot in new defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s defense.
But because of the mad rush for quarterbacks, and the exorbitant price the Jets set to simply guarantee a spot in the dance, Gettleman has flexibility. The Bills (picking 12th and 22nd in Round 1) have made no secret of their desire to gain entrance into the top three, and their general manager, Brandon Beane, worked under Gettleman in Carolina. The Cardinals (15th) are high on at least one of the quarterbacks slated to be taken in the top five, and the Ravens (16th) could at least have one toe in the water. The Broncos (5th) and the Dolphins (11th) are both within striking distance and are both headed by general managers or executives who have traded up for first-round quarterbacks before. At least one other team in the mid- to high-20s has been doing extensive quarterback work on the theoretical top six. While the Browns (4th) also have a tradable first-round pick, the No. 2 pick eliminates so many variables for QB-hungry teams.
In short, Gettleman is in the perfect place and he knows it. He was hired almost specifically to handle this turbulent moment, even with the Giants’ potential interest in finding a younger, out-of-the-organization type to replace Jerry Reese. He could trade back and still net one of the two sure-fire edge rushers in the first round. Buckle up.
“Knowing Dave, I know he has backup plans for backup plans,” Accorsi says.
• WHY THE GIANTS SHOULD PASS ON THE QBS: Andy Benoit on why, unless they absolutely love one of the quarterbacks, GM Dave Gettleman should look to do what he was likely brought in to do: build a team that can win now.
JOSH ALLEN AT NO. 1? REALLY?
In Peter King’s monstrous Monday Morning Quarterback this week, he cited a FOD (Friend of Dorsey, Browns general manager John Dorsey) who projected the Browns would take Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen with the No. 1 pick.
That’s still hard to swallow for those who, on the surface, have a hard time loving a quarterback with a bad TD/INT ratio and an even more troubling completion percentage (56.3, when at least some NFL QB coaches I’ve spoken to over the years view 60 as a low bar standard). Going deeper, Football Outsiders’ QBASE quarterback projection algorithm has Allen way behind, calling his statistics “horrifying”:
Last year, Wyoming finished 119th in passing S&P+ out of 130 teams in FBS. That will be the lowest rank ever for a quarterback chosen in the top 100 picks of the NFL draft. Yes, I know, Allen wasn't playing with a bunch of NFL-bound talent around him. He also wasn't facing a lot of NFL-bound talent on defense. The average opponent faced by Wyoming ranked just 83.5 in pass defense S&P+. Allen's performance against top opponents was brutal. He threw two picks with no touchdowns against Iowa, with just 4.35 yards per attempt. He completed just 9-of-24 passes with 64 yards and a pick against Oregon. He completed 44 percent of passes with two picks and only 131 yards against Boise State.
Since 1997, there have been 27 different quarterbacks chosen in the top 100 with QBASE ratings below zero. The best of these quarterbacks was either Josh McCown or Brian Griese. It's a terrible group of quarterback busts. Negative-QBASE passers chosen in the first round include Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, and Patrick Ramsey.
I was curious, then, what someone who knows Allen quite well would say – both about his statistical shortcomings and about his potential as a No. 1 pick. Enter Brent Vigen, Wyoming’s quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and associate head coach. We wrote about his prowess as an NFL pipeline coordinator last week.
Throughout the season, Vigen has been one of the Cowboys’ main conduits between curious NFL scouts and Allen.
The MMQB: What has been the common line of questioning when scouts come in asking about Josh?
Brent Vigen: “I think it’s generally the same. It’s not a matter of his talent, it’s getting to know more about him as a competitor and a student of the game. His background, how he reacts to situations. It’s really no different than when we evaluate high school prospects. You have a sense of what you think about the kid physically and on the field, but what’s their character? How are they when things don’t go well? That’s what I’ve gotten more than questions about scheme or specific plays or anything like that.”
The MMQB: Do you have an idea of where Josh is ending up?
BV: “You could certainly see different scenarios unfolding. No one has told us much of anything as far as what their plans are, but it’s apparent that several teams have positioned themselves to understand everything they possibly can about him. And if they have the chance and it presents itself, they would feel they know everything they need to know in order to take him. I will say all those teams at the top have all shown a lot of interest and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him end up in any of those places.
The MMQB: Does that include the team at No. 1?
BV: Yeah. I think that’s fair. They had a whole contingent out here at pro day and the night before. It’s not like they’re just paying lip service to him. I could definitely see that happening—based on that alone.
The MMQB: Do you scoff at people who point at his completion percentage? What do you make of that number and critics who say Josh needs to be more accurate?
BV: I think it’s a deeper understanding than just the number. I do think the number matters. The number, though, may be a bigger product of your offense than the quarterback. I know from an accuracy standpoint and decision-making, his numbers spiked this year. That doesn’t make the stat sheet, but that’s our grading sheet. We grade each game, so no, I think he’s fully capable of doing the things he needs to do. To assess those numbers is fair, but sometimes it’s more of a reflection of the offense than purely the quarterback. That’s scheme, personnel, all the things. Sometimes offenses do things to inflate completion percentage. Good or bad, that probably didn’t happen for us this year. So he’s become the brunt of that and he’s had to take it all on. I think the only way he’ll be able to dispel that is to go to the next level.”
PARSING THE DRAFT HOT TAKE DU JOUR
Lamar Jackson needs an agent
Our Jonathan Jones had a great look at Lamar Jackson’s upbringing this week on The MMQB. His mother, Felicia, has apparently always been insistent on keeping Jackson as a quarterback—even through high school attempts to make him an emergency safety or punt returner.
I don’t see anything wrong with this. For those who think Felicia is controlling or out of her element, they should acquaint themselves with the delusional world of suburban childhood athletics. What Felicia was doing is no different (and in some ways more direct) than the maniacal maneuverings of AAU dads, travel baseball parents or softball moms. My daughter is a pitcher. My son is a shortstop. My kid runs point. And unlike many of those parents, her understanding of Lamar’s potential was actually based in reality. Felicia was simply holding coaches to their promises—imagine that at the college level. I would venture to guess that for every quarterback drafted over the past 15 years, there has been a vocal parent, uncle or guardian figure hoisting them through the youth scene.
The trouble, for me, comes in the organizational aspect. I asked one agent who has represented first-round picks if a certified rep can make a positive difference in draft stock. The answer, typically, is no for first-round picks (although they try, relentlessly, and sometimes unabashedly). For mid-round prospects? Moving a prospect from round five to three would be significant, but not unprecedented. From my understanding, Jackson isn’t making it out of the first round.
I’ve seen the spreadsheets agents keep of a rigorous pre-draft schedule. It's a lot for one person to handle and is often tracked by a team of handlers. Apparently clubs are having a “hard time” getting a hold of Jackson for private workouts. This is where I feel Jackson’s team could benefit from some seasoned experience.
Unfortunately, the NFL is not a welcome place for outsiders who don’t speak the language and adhere to the rhythm of the league’s shadowy underworld. Jackson’s defenders have been mostly organic—those of us who watch the same tape and are thrilled with his poise, decision making and, yes, functional game speed. Would this process have gone smoother if there was some marketing representative or agent hybrid who could combat the negative press through sympathetic reporters? Possibly.
But I like that Jackson doesn’t seem bothered by any of it and remains loyal to the plan. Kind of what you want from a franchise quarterback, no?
• LAMAR JACKSON, HIS MOTHER AND THE PLAN THEY’VE ALWAYS HAD: Through the controversial decision to not hire an agent, Jackson and his mother are the same as they’ve always been: silent and singularly focused on making him a starting quarterback.
YOUTUBE HIGHLIGHTS THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Calvin Ridley vs. Ole Miss (2016)
I would compliment some of the blocking and the situational smarts that help the Crimson Tide create some space in the passing game, but really, if anyone is taking a chance on a wide receiver in the first round of this year’s draft, they’re going to need a strong conviction.
If you’re Baltimore, for example, do you take another huge swing at someone like Ridley in the first round? Or, do you finally look at the quarterback and think about how your offense is functioning?
We’ll have more on the receiver drought next time…
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