I know the title of this post might take some people aback, especially after I suggested a few months ago that if Charlie Weis really wants Jimmy Clausen and is unsure about Matt Cassel, then the Chiefs should strongly consider drafting him. I still stand by that statement, but with a disclosure: the Chiefs' scouts better be on board with a decision like that too.
A lot has been made of Romeo Crennel's involvement in the Senior Bowl and how that should help the Chiefs get direct access to some of the brightest young prospects in the game. Little mention has been made of Weis' involvement with Notre Dame and how he spent most of the past few years watching endless tape not only of his own players, but also the Irish's opponents' players. And, of course, there's the point that it's been refreshing to see Haley, Weis, and Crennel so involved with the combine and some of the pro day workouts.
One thing we haven't really considered is whether these coaches are doing too much in this draft. That may sound like a good thing, but it isn't always. More after the jump.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how Pioli could engineer a solid draft in 2010 now that he has his full scouting network in place. Call me a purist, but I am a huge supporter of scouts. These are the guys who spend a full year studying these kids. These are the guys who studied these players well before they were coached to become combine workout warriors. These are the guys who know the difference between a kid's 40 time and his speed on the field. These are the guys who know the difference between a kid's on-field intelligence and his Wonderlic score. These are the guys who know about a kid's attitude before he is trained to answer questions robotically, as if in a job interview.
Put simply, scouts are trained to be unbiased evaluators of talent who are not just asked, but required to make recommendations on players based on endless hours of due diligence. They can't afford to make a bad recommendation--their entire job depends on it. One bad recommendation on a high profile pick could undermine their entire credibility and perhaps even threaten their job, so you can bet they're going to do their homework. Weis and Romeo don't have those same kinds of incentives, especially at their experience level.
In fact, one of the worst things a personnel organization can do is to drown out the advice of scouts. Too often, we see owners, general managers, and coaches take their sweetheart pick in the early going. You can't possibly tell me that the Raiders' scouts were imploring Al Davis to take Darrius Heyward-Bey last season. And how many times did we get burned in the past by the Chiefs taking picks on recommendation from their buddies rather than from the scouts?
There's a reason for that. Most coaches and General Managers don't have time to relentlessly watch tape of players. They have too many responsibilities during the season that conflict with that. Most of their evaluation of a player occurs during the Combine (aka, football's beauty pageant), after most of those players have been coached or trained to give a good performance. It's easy for one of these guys to floor a Coach or General Manager with an exceptional combine performance. My guess is, it's much harder to floor a scout. If a guy performs well at the combine, a scout probably expected it. If a guy performs surprisingly well or poorly at the combine, then a scout will take a second look. Maybe the scout will find that a player plays fast, even if the 40 time doesn't reflect it. The name Brandon Flowers should ring an immediate bell. Maybe the scout finds that a player's strong performance was a one-time thing. Either way, if a scout does all of his homework, the combine shouldn't really affect his evaluation that much. Coaches and GMs, on the other hand, often get a one-time look. If they're dazzled or underwhelmed by a player, the very first thing they should do is go to the scout and ask him if that represents what they thought all along. And if they tell them to draft or not draft a player despite the combine performance, they better be willing to stake their reputation on it.
Or maybe the scout finds a blemish that required a lot of deep digging. Looking back at Junior Siavii's pre-draft profile, it's hard to imagine the scouts didn't see the warning signs. I still to this day remember watching Junior Siavii's workouts. The guy moved like lightning for his size and in every interview I read, he always said the right things. You can't possibly tell me that scouts didn't see some major fatal flaws in his game. That they didn't notice potential work ethic issues. Everyone else saw it. Why didn't the Chiefs? To this day, I continue to wonder who made the call on this. My guess is that it wasn't a scout.
Coaches and General Managers don't know these things. Romeo Crennel got a chance to see a bunch of players at the Senior Bowl up close. I'm sure he learned a lot from that experience, but don't you think that most of the kids in that game knew what was at stake? Just because I do phenomenal work when under direct supervision from my boss doesn't mean that I'm going to do that same kind of work when my boss is away. How many times do you see a prospective employee nail an interview, only to prove to be a bum once he gets put into the actual job? It's because the interviewer's opinion of that person is based primarily on one impression. He/she doesn't know how that person behaves or acts when the lights are off.
Others will suggest that Charlie Weis knows his players and the players he prepped to play against as well as any scout. While true, Weis' experience is based on evaluating a limited few prospects and in most cases, a limited number of impressions. I imagine Weis' frame of reference when he thinks about Jimmy Clausen or Golden Tate is to compare them to the players he coached against. I can't imagine he knows a whole lot about Sam Bradford or Dan Lefevre. How can he make that comparison? Besides, Weis has an emotional connection to the players he's coached. He coached them up and I'm sure he wants to see them succeed in the pros. How many times have we seen teams hold onto players that are well past their prime because they just don't recognize that there isn't much gas left in the tank. I wonder if Ken Whisenhunt truly believes that Joey Porter is the guy he used to be. I wonder if Carl Peterson actually thought that Donnie Edwards was the player he used to be when they brought him back. And I know a lot of people wonder why Scott Pioli brought so many Patriot castoffs into the Chiefs' organization. A few years ago, I posed the question of whether Mike Solari's allegiance to his own players was a large reason why the Chiefs continued to rely on Jordan Black. Scouts, on the other hand, are emotionless. They aren't drawn to a feel-good story. They aren't emotionally invested in any of these guys. And when they evaluate a guy like Golden Tate, they compare that evaluation to the hundreds of receivers they've evaluated over the years and the dozens of receivers they evaluated throughout the season.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel are there to assist in the talent evaluation process. They will make the Chiefs much better at on-field evaluations and I feel pretty confident that, with their experience, they can look at game tape and tell Pioli where the biggest holes lie. And yes, I value Weis' and Crennel's advice to the scouts about players that really caught their eye. But that's where their involvement needs to stop. Pioli should consider the coaches' advice, but the scouts need to have the power to trump some of those recommendations.
The biggest mistake the Chiefs can make in this draft or any draft is to ignore their scouts. If I'm a hiring manager for a company, I would be leery about hiring someone on the spot because they nailed one interview, even if a recruiter points to a spotty track record. Scouts stake their entire career and reputation on making recommendations through extensive homework and due diligence. Romeo and Weis are two very experienced coaches and that experience can often bring them power. I can only hope that Pioli's extensive experience in personnel-related matters has taught him to make sure that a scouts' input is always heavily weighted into every decision.