A Tale of Three Rookies: The Truth Behind the Mario Williams Pick

July 4, 2009

By Captain Fantabulous… Mario Williams. A 6′7”, 291-pound, 24-year-old defensive end who has averaged over 13 sacks in his last two seasons.

And he’s still a kid.

Many feel the 2009-10 season will be Williams’ year. Where he breaks out from being a talented rookie, to a defensive megastar.

Think James Harrison.

The most surprising thing about the Williams story is the fact that he has to go down as one of the least known No. 1 picks in draft history.

Until Houston started courting him, not many fans had Mario very high on their draft boards.

So how did this deal come about?

Firstly, Mario didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Houston had been watching him for a long time, and liked what they saw.

GM at the time, Charles Casserly, watched Williams eight times during his final college year, and liked what he was seeing.

After a trip to watch Williams against Florida State, he told a friend at Sports Illustrated Magazine, “This guy might make more Pro Bowls than anyone else in the draft”.

They were still far from convinced though. Well until the combine.

They knew Williams was a powerhouse, but were concerned that he took plays off, lacked aggression, and wasn’t athletic enough.

Then they watched a 291-pound, 6’7” athlete, run a 4.65 forty (only marginally slower than Brian Urlacher’s combine time), bench press 35 times, and put in one of the all-time great combine sessions.

They were sold.

Houston’s problems, however, were to come in the form of the Heisman Trophy. Running back Reggie Bush winning it, and hometown hero Vince Young coming in second.

Running back was a big need, and Vince was a fan favorite. There would be pressure to pick both.

Vince Young was never seriously considered.

In fact, The Texans didn’t even grade Young as first-round talent.  They were alarmed by his inability to learn plays, and how, in truth, his college offense was dumbed down to help his game.

Then came his wonderlic score.

He had the physical tools, but not the footballing intelligence to lead an NFL offense.

I would say this was a smart talent assessment. Well, if the Texans hadn’t already offered David Carr a two-year contract extension, pre-draft.

Bush was a more difficult proposition. He was seemingly talented enough to make an immediate impact. But they liked Williams more.

A lot more.

The question for Houston was not who was the better player. It had already been established that they felt it was Mario Williams.

The question was whether they were prepared to turn down all of the attractive commercial bonuses that come with picking a star name like Bush, and at the same time alienate their fan base.

The fans wanted Bush. The owners wanted Williams.

Tough decision time.

They did the unthinkable. Picked their No. 1 choice, Williams, over the best player on the board (at the time), Reggie Bush.

Rumor had it that it was a fiscal pick. Financially motivated. Bush had priced himself out.

Rumor was wrong. Houston had basically agreed terms with both players on the eve of the draft, for basically the same pay.

It was a footballing decision. A very unpopular footballing decision.

Fans were perplexed.

Williams was booed pre-season.

The pick cost Casserly his job.

Fan feeling didn’t get any more placid when hometown hero Young won Rookie of the Year, and Reggie Bush starred for New Orleans in their deep playoff run.

This was a disaster.

Slowly, but surely opinion started to change.

Williams started to dominate.

Vince Young imploded on himself – suffering the exact same maturity problems that scared Houston off in the first place.

Bush started having injury problems, and people began to question whether his college game would actually translate to pro football.

Suddenly drafting Mario Williams became one of the smartest first round picks of all time. A team rising above fan and media pressure, to make the right call.

The future. Don’t write Bush off.

Trent Green, in his weekend column, stated that he felt Reggie would have 4 or 5 monster seasons, before he retired—starting next year.

A rushing, catching, kick returning phenom. And possibly a future 1,000-yard rushing, 1,000-yard receiving season. Maybe a few.

I agree. Reggie’s skill set is unparalleled, and he’s been unnervingly quiet all off-season. He may not have 10 big seasons, but the three, four, five that he manages will be up there with the best of all-time.

Vince has much more to prove.  Even to win a starting place in the NFL.

However, Williams is already an elite Defensive End, and will only get better. He’s a franchise defensive player, who is maybe at the start of a Hall of Fame Career.

Historically, this may go down as one of the best picks in draft history.

Houston football fans should also give a cheeky “Thank you” to one time owner, Bud Adams, who controversially took the team to Tennessee in 1996.

Consensus opinion is that Bud picked Vince Young at three, purely to spite the Houston fans. And he quite simply couldn’t resist the prospect of Houston native Young, destroying the Texans twice a year.

Without this intervention, Young certainly wouldn’t have gone top five, and probably would have slid out of the top 10.

So Bud, ironically, made the Texans pick look even better with his mischief making.

If the fans made the pick, it would have been Bush. If not Bush then Young. If not Young then certainly not Williams.

On an ending note, a message to all fans, booing picks on draft day.

Sometimes we do get it wrong.

NFL Draft: Why Aaron Curry Could Go No. 1

April 25, 2009

By Captain Fantabulous… Detroit will pick one of Matt Stafford, Jason Smith, or Aaron Curry. Desirability in that order.

The Lions are on the clock as I type this though, and represent the only team in the draft that can make its pick before the draft starts.

It seems clear that Detroit will sign the first guy who puts pen to paper at least 48 hours before the draft. Stafford and his agent will be given enough time to negotiate with the Lions and come to an agreement.

If they can, Stafford is No. 1.

If he’s not signed two days before the draft, then it’s on to the next guy. There is no way Detroit will risk a lengthy, expensive quarterback holdout with a pick they probably don’t even want.

Now, the interesting part: Smith and Stafford share the same agent. Meaning he could play one against the other in order to make sure that the Lions pay one of them.

And pay them big.

Demanding big money for both, would, in effect, price one player out and force Detroit to pay the other.

Either that or pick neither of them.

One thing to remember is that tackles and quarterbacks are highly paid whenever they fall in the top five. Matt Ryan and Joe Thomas both got first-pick money and record-breaking deals.

Neither was No. 1.

I’m not sure that Stafford, Smith, or their mutual agents will be bullied into taking anything less than a record deal, no matter who ends up as the top pick.

In steps Mr. Curry.

Even record linebacker money doesn’t approach what teams would have to pay Stafford and Smith. Their demands could very well open the door for a guy like Curry to be picked at No. 1.

Signing Curry at No. 1 would be a very easy deal for any team to make, and I’m sure Curry would be delighted to move up two places for bragging rights alone.

The only thing that may hold Detroit is that they would more than likely have to make a rookie the highest paid linebacker in football history.

Effectively paying Curry, an unproven rookie, more money than Demarcus Ware, Ray Lewis, and Brian Urlacher, could be a mental block they find impossible to overcome.

They are, of course, happy to do this for tackles and quarterbacks, but signing an unproven linebacker to that kind of money could be a mental block for the Lions.

However, it is not entirely out of the question.

New head coach Jim Schwarz is a defensive guy who loves linebackers. He stated recently that Curry would be able to step in and be an “every down player immediately” if picked.

Logic suggests that Stafford and Smith are the Lions’ top two guys. But there is no guarantee that either will be taken No. 1.

Bill Parcells, the Dolphins’ vice president of football operations admitted post-draft that he would have passed on last year’s No. 1 pick Jake Long if he was unsigned on draft day.

His reasoning? A 1-15 team couldn’t afford lengthy, expensive hold-outs.

Detroit is in the same situation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Curry finds himself the No. 1 pick.

Why I Hate The NFL Draft

April 23, 2009

By Captain Fantabulous… On Saturday, with holes everywhere in their team, Detroit will be forced to hand an unproven rookie, who will make next to no impact in the next two years, $30 million in guaranteed money.

The draft system isn’t fair. It helps the best teams and hinders the worst. High picks have no value for poor teams anymore.

By definition, a high drafting team has many holes to fill. So forcing them to shell out record breaking money, on one player, who may not even make it, is inherently wrong.

The draft handicaps poor teams. It takes 10 percent of their resources away from building a solid team, and into the pocket of an unproven rookie.

And they do it with a gun to their head.

Success breeds success in the NFL. If you get into the play offs, you get much higher value picks.

Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots have been playoff mainstays on the basis that most of their resources have been diverted to numerous solid, high value, low price picks.

They don’t have to pay $70 million to sign a starting tackle.

The current draft system is ridiculous. Pro Football is the only sport in the world where rookie players get more than veterans.

Look at Soccer, in the English Premier League. You only get paid if you’re a success. I don’t care how much potential you have for your age. You won’t get a penny until you’re a success in the league.

Young, super-talented, but unproven players are earning 7-8 percent of their veteran team mates salaries.

Most earn as little as $200 a week, until they have made an impression in the first team.

Rookie players should get rookie salaries. To reflect their age and experience.  Aaron Curry should start on a salary at maybe 10 percent of Ray Lewis’.

This sort of rookie structure breeds hunger, success and a better standard of play.

If rookies know they have to be a success in the league, to afford the Bentleys, Hot Tubs and hotter women, I assure you, there will be far less busts in the league.

The NFL seems to put high drafts busts down to bad scouting. Overlooking the fact that all of them have been made multi-millionaires, before even reporting for mini-camp.

Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Adam Jones, Mike Williams all had obvious character flaws.

Let’s set them up for life, and give them more money than they can spend. That will help them adjust to being a professional athlete…

Bold statement, but I almost guarantee that at least one of the above would have been a real success in the league, if they had to earn their dinner from the start.

The NFL draft is not fair on teams or players. And needs to change.

Weak teams should get the first pick of the litter, of course. But at the same time, it shouldn’t financially cripple them for the next five years if it doesn’t work out.

Poor teams have to make much riskier picks. And it’s why they remain poor for so long.

Why Tim Tebow Will Be a First Round Pick

April 4, 2009

By Captain Fantabulous… Tim Tebow is a first round lock. Forget about him sliding down the draft.

I understand the theory:

His arm’s average. He’s not that consistent. He throws up the occasional brick.

He’s obviously a risk.

But the guy has far too much upside, and potential, for 32 NFL teams to not take a risk on the guy.

I read a Peter King article earlier in the year, where he described how impressed the NFL is with Tebow. And that ”at least 10 General Managers in the league were in the “he won’t get past us” draft position”.

And I don’t think it’s that hard to see why.

Firstly, his versatility and talent.

The guy’s 6’3, 240 pounds, and will probably pull out a 4.5 time, at the combine. The type of numbers scouts drool over.

I’ve heard Quarterback, Running Back, Full Back, Tight End and even Safety for the guy, as potential positions when he hits the NFL. Potentially, more than one of them.

The guy has serious talent. And that sort of talent is worth a first round pick. Many teams will think they can coach him into some sort of star.

Secondly, the NFL just loves his character.

The guy is just a born winner, who oozes leadership from every pore. He’s the ultimate competitor, who puts his body on the line for the good of his team.

The sight of Tim, shoulders down,  taking on 250 pound Linebackers, to get over the line for a score, has become almost symbolic of his will to win, and will to be a success.

Scouts love that.

They know he is a guy who will do almost anything to be a success with their organization, will take nothing for granted, and will do anything asked of him. All for the good of the team.

It’s not a trait you find often in young players. And makes handing over $10 million dollars a whole lot more comfortable.

Finally, he’s a lot better passer than people give him credit.

The kid had the second highest passer efficiency in College football in 07, hitting 68% of his targets.

Mathew Stafford in the same year – 55%.

Mark Sanchez, last season – 65%

Both have better arms, and are better in the pocket, but the claim that Tebow isn’t a player that could potentially be an accurate, full time NFL Quarterback is completely unfounded to me.

Sure, he won’t be Peyton, or Tom, hitting wideouts 60 yards away, but I see no reason why he potentially couldn’t be a very tidy, successful Quarterback, with the right coaching.

And I think the NFL is probably thinking the same way.

And then you also have the huge upside of his running.

Tebow for me is probably the first Quarterback to come out of college who has the running skills of a running back. He isn’t a prancing speedster, who’s going to get broken in half every time he gets hit, like a Vick or a Young.

This guy’s 240 pounds of pure power. Who can seemingly take the punishment, and even run over people. A Quarterback who could run between the tackles.

Of course, he’s never been tackled by Ray Lewis, but at the same time, I see no reason why he couldn’t be one of the very first effective 2 way threats.

Remember, we live in a Wildcat era. It was successful last season, so teams will continue to run it. It’s the very reason why Michael Vick will get a big payday as soon as he becomes a free man.

Michael Vick is a frightening proposition in the wildcat formation. As is Tebow.

Ronnie Brown is decent with the ball in his hands, and did a good job for Miami running their Wildcat formation. Can you imagine Tebow back there?

A guy that could run between the tackles for 10 yards, or make a pass, dependent on the coverage. Man, that’s frightening. How would you defend it?

This of course may all be a pipe dream. But my experience with the NFL drafts tells me that a team will take that risk, quite early. More than one will be prepared to take it in fact.

Just look at drafts past.

Vince Young, 3rd overall. Was he any more accurate than Tebow in college? No. But the potential upside was worth the risk.

Jamarcus Russel, 1st overall. Was he actually a better player than Brady Quinn in college? No. But again, the potential upside was worth the risk.

Michael Vick, 1st overall. Was he an out of this world passer in college? No.  But the upside was so great, he was worth a punt.

Tebow is a risk. But the potential upside is so great, that someone will take that risk early.

I struggle to see him dropping out of the top 20.

Workout Warrior: The Ballad of Tony Mandarich

March 31, 2009

By Captain Fantabulous… With draft day fast approaching, I decided to take a meander down memory lane, and have a wee glance at the draft which I consider to be one of the strongest top five of all time—the almighty 1989 NFL draft.

Number one overall, HOF quarterback Troy Aikman.

Number three overall, HOF running back Barry Sanders.

Number four overall, HOF linebacker Derrick Thomas.

Number five overall, future HOF cornerback Deion Sanders.

You’re probably asking, “Who was number two in this once in a lifetime top five”? Who was the guy drafted ahead of Sanders, Thomas, and Sanders?

Well, it was Hall of Fame workout warrior, Tony Mandarich, who probably put in the greatest combine workout in NFL history. To such an extent that he made Sports Illustrated’s esteemed front cover, as “The best offensive line prospect ever.”

Mandarich was no one hit wonder. He had a stellar college career for Michigan State, being named as a first-team All-American, an Outland Award finalist, and a two-time Big Ten Lineman of the Year. But for all his obvious talent, he had “character issues” to match.

He was notorious for turning up to public meetings late, and sometimes drunk. He often missed team meetings because of hangovers. And of course, he notoriously laid out an open challenge to the then-heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, for a street fight, 2 weeks before draft day.

This wasn’t the guy to walk your mother to church on a Sunday.

However, his almost mythical workout numbers swept most of this under the carpet.  A potential problem player became merely “eccentric.”  “Troublesome” became “charismatic.”

And if you check out the guy’s combine, it’s hard not to see how teams got caught up in the moment.

Firstly, you have to understand that we are talking about a 6’6″, 330-pound offensive lineman here.  As a brief example, the top NFL line prospect in the ‘09 draft, Jason Smith, at an inch shorter, and 15 pounds lighter than Mandarich, put up these numbers:

· 40 time – 5.14 seconds

· Bench press – 33 reps

· Vertical leap – 25 inches

· Broad jump – eight feet

Jake Long, the uber-talented number-one overall pick of 2008:

· 40 time – 5.22

· Bench press – 37

· Vertical leap – 27 inches

· Broad jump – eight feet

That’s what we are talking here, in terms of an elite tackle prospect, and their combine performance. Now for Mandarich. I suggest you set your faces to “stun”.

Tony Mandarich, at 6′6″ and 325 pounds, ran an official 4.65-second 40 time, meaning this beast of a man covered 40 yards faster than future HOF players Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice at their respective workouts.

He was only marginally slower than 2009 studs Knowshon Moreno and Aaron Curry. At 325 pounds. Unthinkable. Incomprehensible.


And no, this guy was no one-trick pony. He bench pressed 39 times (only two less than dumbbell wonder Jonathon Ogden). His vertical leap was an unbelievable 30 inches. His broad jump was over 10 feet.

All figures that are rarely touched by tackles in any draft class.

This, my friends, was probably the greatest single workout in combine history. And along with some stellar tackle drills, elevated Mandarich from mid first round to second overall.  His numbers made the Packers pass on three future HOF players for a guy who was fully recognised as a risk.

Like a lot of things that seem “too good to be true,” Mandarich was, sadly, too good to be true.

The whitewashed character issues soon came to a boil (such as calling Green Bay “a village” within months of joining the team), and Mandarich wouldn’t even start a game for the Packers for his first two seasons.

By then, the Packers had realized they had been duped, and soon shipped Mandarich out of Lambeau Field, and out of the NFL.

You see people, the whole Mandarich thing was a myth. A mirage. A carefully-planned assault by Tony on the NFL combine. To be fair to Mandarich, he knew the system and played it perfectly.

He managed to create this unbelievable shell for the scouts to drool over, but they were in no position to look at what lay beneath until they paid him big, and got him in training camp, to the determent of the Green Bay Packer coffers.

Mandarich was a steroid user, all through college. He faked his Rose Bowl tests weeks before the combine in fact, allowing him to sculpt a 330-pound bulk, with only 11 percent body fat. That, my friends, is how a 330-pound athlete works out like a 200-pound running back.

Slack testing laws in college and at the combine allowed Mandarich to abuse the system, and create this almost mythological projection of himself for the scouts. And make no bones about it, Tony planned it this way.

“I wanted to create as much hype as I could for many different reasons—exposure, negotiation leverage, you name it. And it all worked, except the performance wasn’t there when it was time to play football.”

However, becoming a professional athlete meant professional drug testing, and given a choice of fail (and default his multi million dollar contract) or fall, Mandarich chose the latter. His weight plummeted from 330 to 290 pounds in only a few seasons. His power and speed disappeared to such an extent that the Packers felt his only future in pro football was at the less-demanding guard position.

He dropped out of the NFL in 1998, making only 47 starts in 10 years. All the while, the Packers had to come to the realization that they passed on (Barry) Sanders, Thomas and (Deion) Sanders. For a combine myth.

The moral of the tale? The combine matters. But don’t rest your entire draft on it. Running a 4.7 forty doesn’t make you a bust (Rice). Running 4.65 for a tackle doesn’t make you a cert.

Just ask Tony Mandarich. The man that beat the system.

My Dirty Little Secrets: Steroids, Alcohol & God. A provocative title indeed! Click here to order an autographed book directly from Tony.