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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It's easy to blame Bill O'Brien for the Texans woes. He is a lousy GM, a below average play caller and his offense is boring, predictable and ineffective. Not once has he had a top 10 offense in the league. So he does not get a pass here.

But Deshaun Watson shouldn't, either.

Last year, Watson was in the MVP conversation entering the game in Baltimore. Four of the nine games he played before that, Watson had an ESPN Total QBR over 85, which is playing at an elite level.

Since that 41-7 debacle (where his QBR was 13.6), Watson has played 10 games. He has topped 85 just once (and barely - 85.6) in the win over the Patriots. While QBR is not the be all end all, it shows a trend. And before you blame the talent around him or the ridiculously stupid DeAndre Hopkins trade, eight of those games were with Hopkins in the lineup.

Over his last 10 games, Patrick Mahomes has done it five times (and just missed last week at 84.7). Lamar Jackson has done it six times in his last 10. Russell Wilson is six for his last 10. Dak Prescott? Three. Aaron Rodgers? Three. Ryan Tannehill? Three. Josh Allen? Two. Lamar Jackson led the league last year with an 83 for the season. Watson was sixth at 71.3. To be a top 10 quarterback, you had to average 64.1. In two games this season, Watson sits 20th, about where he was over the last six regular season games and two playoff games last year.

In essence, Deshaun Watson - who often gets compared to those players - is not on their level. Yes, O'Brien has a lot to do with it, but it's also time to start looking at Watson's performance and regression as an NFL quarterback.

In 2018, Watson had four such games. In 2017, four in six starts. And now ONE since that Baltimore game. In fact, he has topped 80 just once in that stretch, and 60 just three times.

What it tells us is Watson has been an average quarterback over his last 10 starts. The Texans invested heavily in an offensive line to protect him. They have added depth at WR but a net loss without Hopkins. Elite quarterbacks turn in performances like that roughly half the time. Getting more consistent has always been an issue for Watson. But since that Baltimore game, he has not been close. And he is being paid to be elite.

In the end, O'Brien is still the main culprit. He has hand picked all the players around Watson, he designed the offense, and he controls everything.

But it's time to quit giving Watson a pass. Right now, he is part of the problem.

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