OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Draft week is one of my favorite times of the year

J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney were first-round picks for the Texans. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Over the course of my colorful career, I have scouted and sat in draft meetings for Hall of Famers Paul Brown, George Halas, Al Davis and Ron Wolf.

It has been both a privilege and honor to have learned from these icons.

One of my favorite times of the year is the annual crap shoot known as the NFL Draft. The first common draft after the merger was March 14-15, 1967. The NFL and AFL agreed to 17 rounds.

My boss, Oiler GM Don Klosterman, had me concentrate on many of the small black schools. This caused some racist remarks towards me by the redneck assistant coaches, who laughed at my reports on Lem Barney and Willie Lanier.

Don rewarded me by allowing me to pick rounds six and nine.

In the sixth, we selected  linebacker Pete Barnes from Southern University.  He had a 10-year NFL career.

In the ninth round, with pick 214, it took me one second to turn in the card in with the name of Ken Houston, a defensive back from Prairie View.  

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Class of 1986.

Mid-March was a perfect time of the year. While there was not a combine, there was still plenty of time to discover talent. While scouting for the Bears, George Halas told me “You’re either a damn football player or you’re not.” Papa Bear felt that anyone can pick the top 60 college players.

His directive was to find raw athletes, guys who can be coached up.

But with the new marketing strategies since then the NFL gets free publicity.  They don’t want the draft during the opening of the baseball season, nor do they want to compete with the Masters. By the end of April, fans are salivating for the three days.

JerryWorld, the home of this year’s draft and telethon, will have sections for all 32 franchises. They expect upwards of 250,000 fans over the three days.

Halas was so right about the gut feeling backed up by film. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, scouts lugged their 8 mm projectors from campus to campus.

In part because of technology and the millions that are at stake, teams today claim additional time is important.

I’m not buying that, in fact it’s pure bull (bleep).  Scouts and personnel folks spend more time looking at flaws than natural ability.  It’s good that scouts were not looking at smoke shows like Beyoncé, Gisele Bundchen or Kendall Jenner as prospects.

Meet the new boss

It was so refreshing Friday when Texans’ GM Brian Gaine spoke to the media for nearly thirty minutes. Unlike the condescending Rick Smith McNair, Gaines’s approach was down to the earth, giving solid insight to changes that have been made.

Because of trades involving Deshaun Watson and Brock Osweiler, the Texans have four picks -- Nos. 68, 80, 98 and 103 -- in the first four rounds and eight overall, starting Friday night.

This is the first time in team history they have gone into a draft without a No. 1 pick, but there are no complaints since Watson has become their franchise quarterback.

And the old bosses?

History will be made Thursday night, after the booing of  Roger Goodell, when the names of either safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, linebacker Rashaan Evans and defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne are called.  It will make it ten consecutive years with an Alabama player in the first round.

The Tide will still be some ways away from the all-time record: Miami had 14 consecutive drafts with a first-round pick, from 1995 to 2008.

Trojan horses

If Cleveland takes USC’s Sam Darnold with the first pick, the Trojans will have set a record. Prior first overall picks were tackle Ron Yary to the Vikings in 1968, running back O.J. Simpson to the Bills in 1969, running back Ricky Bell to the Buccaneers in 1977, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to the Jets in 1996, and quarterback Carson Palmer to the Bengals in 2003.

Wrong kind of busts (as in, not the Hall of Fame type)

What do Jamarcus (Purple Drank) Russell, Charles Rogers, (taken one spot before Andre Johnson), Johnny Manziel, Aaron Curry, Baylor’s RG III, Baylor tackle and Jason Smith, Vince Young and another Longhorn Cedric Benson all have in common?  The same can be stated with Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Mark Sanchez and his USC teammate Mike Williams.

They are just a few major busts in the last 15 drafts.

It cost their NFL team millions, but the inability to count on their development set back their franchises 2-3 years if they are lucky.

This is yet another example of a Vegas crapshoot, without the skyscraper hotels and hookers.

Late Saturday afternoon, all 32 coaches and GM’s will parrot the same phrase, they could not believe that so and so was still there on the board.”

The fun begins for me, talking to my sources with several teams to see where Texans players were rated. In the year JJ Watt was drafted, Denver had him ranked the 31st player on their board. Their scouts felt he spent too much time on the ground in college.

It is fascinating to see the disparity from team to team.

We will find out three seasons from now all it all shakes out.

Chirp!


 

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