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What will the game look like 10 years from now?

Good scouts find hidden talent


Jamie from Rhinelander, WI

Vic, just read your comments about Jim Brown being the best. I disagree with you because, honestly, he wasn't that good. Brett Favre I would say is the absolute greatest of all time, followed closely by Charles Woodson. What do you think about that?

I think you're a loyal Packers fan.

Richard from Lake Havasu City, AZ

The unsung hero behind the Steelers of the 1970s was a scout by the name of Bill Nunn (much like Jack Vainisi was with the Packers). What are your memories of his days with the Steelers?

Bill was the sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, the nation's most prominent African-American newspaper. As sports editor of the Courier, Bill was responsible for producing an HBCU All-America team every year. It was the nation's most respected HBCU All-America team and it made Bill an important man in HBCU circles. When he made a visit to Grambling or Jackson State or Morgan State to cover a football game, the red carpet was rolled out for him. His relationships with HBCU coaches and programs was deep and Chuck Noll had the smarts to make Bill a full-time scout for the Steelers in Noll's first season with the team, 1969. What followed was a procession of talent from the HBCU schools to the Steelers: Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Donnie Shell, Glen Edwards, Joe Gilliam, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and more. The moral of the story is that behind every great coach, there's a great scout that finds talent the coach can mold into championship teams. I love scouting stories. Johnny Unitas, for example, would've spent his career playing for the Browns had Weeb Ewbank, then a member of Paul Brown's Cleveland staff, not taken the head job in Baltimore. Ewbank knew of Unitas through Brown, who wanted to sign Unitas but decided to wait until the following season. Imagine the Browns with Unitas and Jim Brown. Ewbank also knew Brown wanted to draft Ray Berry in a particular round and then drafted Berry ahead of Brown when Ewbank became the Colts' coach. Armed with that information, history was changed.

Wyatt from Grand Rapids, MI

Just imagine the level of fan outrage if we had to let a thriving Aaron Rodgers go in free agency, so we could sign/keep four or five aging free agents.

That wouldn't happen. No team is going to let an Aaron Rodgers go because they've capped themselves out. Instead, that team would restructure Rodgers' contract every year, pushing money out as far as possible. It would buy time and then, one day, when Rodgers moved into the twilight years of his career, the team would be facing a cut-and-gut that would remove it from playoff contention for a long time. That's what the Packers are committed to avoiding.

Bryce from Milwaukee, WI

So, Reggie White and others fought to make free agency easier, and teams no longer had to compensate the player's former team with a draft pick. Now MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement does just the opposite, causing the team that signed the free agent to lose the corresponding pick. Good or bad for the sport?

The compensation formula is more involved than what you've described but, yes, the new Major League Baseball CBA provides for a system of compensation for teams losing a free agent, and a penalty for signing a free agent, and I can't help but wonder what Marvin Miller's reaction to this CBA would be if he were alive. Clearly, this new rule will benefit all of the small-market, low-revenue teams that have been hemorrhaging talent because they don't have the financial means to retain it. All of a sudden, those teams have a means for replacing talent. All of a sudden, high-revenue teams are likely to become hesitant in signing free agents because the penalty for signing a dud will be greater than just the money that's lost. When the pendulum swings too far to one side, it has to be adjusted so that its swing to the other side is just as wide. I think this compensation rule is good for baseball.

Michael from Madison, WI

Vic, you have been covering football since the reign of baseball in America. When was the first moment you knew football would displace baseball as America's pastime?

I think all of us knew on the day of Super Bowl III, when Joe Namath and the Jets stunned the world by beating the Colts, that it was just a matter of time. That was the day we knew it would happen; Dec. 23, 1972, was the day it happened.

Bryce from Iron Mountain, MI

I was just watching some highlights of Walter Payton, his epic run against the Chiefs to be specific, and I couldn't help but think how that would have played out with a modern back and modern rules.

Payton was a head-butter. The question is: Did he drop his head to punish defenders, or did he do it to avoid being tackled? I think it's the latter. I think Payton dropped his head to break tackles, not punish defenders. If he played today, a part of Payton's greatness would be denied.

Wayne from Green Bay, WI

Vic, how much do draft prospects' stock actually change in the months leading up to the draft, in the minds of GMs and scouts? We may hear media reports of a player's stock rising or falling, but is this a reflection of what teams are actually thinking? Also, when do teams assign grades and start setting up their draft board?

Most teams make sure they have their draft boards done before they go to the combine. That way, they arrange their boards according to real football, and adjust their boards according to what happened at the combine. Saying a player is shooting up boards means he has risen to prominence based on postseason work, and a closer look at the player is revealing more upside than previously thought. Dontari Poe was a fast riser. Ziggy Ansah is this year's fast riser. Changes a team might make to its board are usually the result of conversation among the team's scouts. One scout might campaign for a certain guy, attempting to heighten awareness for him. It's all part of the process, but don't believe anything you read because the draft is all about intrigue and lies have been known to be told. It's all part of the experience.

Tim from Santa Monica, CA

Vic, I really enjoy your column. You've taught me a lot about the game today and how organizations are handled in this tough salary cap era. My question is where do you see the game 10 years from now?

I think the game will continue to be played more upright, and I think tackling skills will continue to decline. I see the day when 50 passes in a game will be the norm. I think we're going to see sweeping changes in formations, on both sides of the ball. Not only will the head become less involved in tackling, so will the shoulders. Grab, grab, grab will be the norm; football will be played with the hands by tall, long-armed men.

Bill from Plover, WI

Great column. "When it's time to become eligible for the NFL draft, they're all equal." I understand the point, but they are not all equal. Some spent years in college playing against very high class talent, and some excelled against lower class talent, because basically the best players play for the highest class teams. How do scouts and drafters take into account this truth?

You look at the player, not the conference. You judge his talent. That's what a scout is paid to do. If he's scouting a running back, he must take notice of the back's burst and forward lean. If he's playing against inferior competition, then is he dominating that competition? Find him on tape against another player of draft worth. He must've played against somebody good. Anybody can identify the best players in major college football. The good scouts find players where you don't normally find players. They find talent that otherwise would be hidden. They do their homework. They find out that Davon House played his entire final season at New Mexico with an ankle injury that caused him to spend the week in a boot. When they watch tape of him, they take that into consideration and they ask themselves, "What would this guy be like if he were healthy?" Then go find tape of him when he was healthy. New Mexico State won only two games in House's senior season. Think about how demoralizing it had to be playing on that kind of team, playing in front of high school-like crowds. Now go watch tape of the fourth quarter of the final game of that season. Is he still playing hard? That's the kind of work a good scout does.

Scott from Knoxville, TN

$64,000? I'd say $6.4 million.

I was referring to an old TV show, "The $64,000 Question." It has a prominent place in American history. You might enjoy reading about it.

Mike from Phoenix, AZ

Looks like to most Packers fans Ted will receive his due credit only after he's gone, just like Jack Vainisi. They should check out a recent study done by Draftmetrics.com that puts the Packers at the very top of draft effectiveness, using a pretty telling set of indicators. They even concede that luck seems to play a big role in teams' draft success, judging by their lack of consistency over different rounds, except for the Packers, who were very consistent across rounds and years.

The home run picks are often the result of luck. Tom Brady was a lucky pick. The Packers are very fortunate Aaron Rodgers fell to them. The real genius of a personnel department lies in its full body of work. Does it consistently find talent throughout the draft? The Packers do.

Zach from Woodstock, IL

So, if you can't make free agency maniacs get it, do you think Mark Murphy's article can?

In "Murphy Takes Five," Mark's explanation of the dangers of free agency is eloquent. If you don't get it after reading Mark's column, you'll never get it.

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