It might be a dream job, but NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell understands what work is. The process of studying the game of football is a methodical one. Doing it well requires the attention and the appreciation of the minute detail, patience, and a large dose of humility.
Entering his third decade with NFL Films, Cosell has been studying football with this intense level of scrutiny longer than the average person reading this blog has been an adult. If football knowledge were gold then Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders’ appraisal of Cosell in a recent New York Times feature places the man behind the long-running ESPN program Edge NFL Matchup on par with Fort Knox:
“Greg is just a brilliant man when it comes to” the strategic and personnel facets of the league, Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders said. “Tremendous insight, a tremendous knowledge of personnel, a great command of the intricacies of the game from a strategic standpoint.”
This week I will be featuring a recent conversation with Cosell as well as another conversation we had about the game a few years ago. I’d like to thank Greg for the enormous amount of generosity he’s provided to indulge the interrogation I put him through without advanced notice.
Waldman: Let’s play a game. I name a player and you tell me what comes to mind about him.
Cosell: Are you looking for a scouting report?
Waldman: No, just anything that comes to mind. The first player is Cadillac Williams.
Cosell: Wow, there’s a name most wouldn’t necessarily throw out. I thought when Cadillac Williams first came out of Auburn I though people confused how hard he ran with physical strength and power and I didn’t think he was a powerful runner. I thought he was a hard runner and there’s a difference. There’s a difference between tough and physical and strong and powerful. I thought he was tough and physical, but not strong and powerful. Unfortunately, he’s had so many injuries that I think he’s evolved over time into a very good sub-package back who understands how to pick up blitzes and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Waldman: Mike Wallace.
Cosell: Mike Wallace of the Steelers is one of those rare players who actually are faster than the people he is playing against. Timed speed is often one the most meaningless things because no one runs in a straight line and the game is not played in a straight line. It’s a lateral game more than a straight-line game. So 40 times could be the most useless stat enhanced greatly by the NFL Network now covering the Combine. They’re doing it well, but it’s not that meaningful a stat. But Mike Wallace is one of the few guys who is faster than the people who he plays against and it’s noticeable on film.
Waldman: Matthew Stafford.
Cosell: He is one of my most favorite and disheartening players. Because I think he’s an elite arm talent and I would have loved to be able to have seen him play in the NFL up to this point, but he hasn’t due to injury, which now I guess we have to wait and see. But I thought Stafford was worthy of the No.1 pick and if I had to go back to let’s say Troy Aikman coming out in 1989 and you looked at all of the first pick quarterbacks, I think Stafford in terms of pure arm talent would have to be viewed as top three. To me he’s just a special thrower.
Waldman: Yeah he is. It’s just amazing what he can do out of the pocket or with people hanging all over him.
Cosell: The only question to me was that there were times where he was a little erratic with his accuracy. Some people thought he was very erratic. I didn’t see it that way. I remember watching about 8-9 games when he came out – this is down in your area obviously – and they also had Moreno and a bunch of other guys to watch on that team. First of all, he throws the ball effortlessly. He’s got a power arm and he can throw with touch. To me, he’s just an elite arm talent.
Waldman: Ryan Mathews
Cosell: You know, I liked Ryan Mathews coming out a lot. I would never say after one injury-riddled year that a guy is a bust. So let’s wait and see. I like Mathews a lot. I thought in that draft he was the best “feature back,” or foundation back of an offense. We’ll see. I liked him.
Waldman: I loved his balance and what I call the ability to change the axis of pursuit with one cut while either in the hole or just as he hits the second level. It’s something that he and Adrian Peterson have in common as runners.
Cosell: He’s not quite Peterson, but yeah I know what you mean. A lot of people have talked about his lack of so-called breakaway speed, which again is not really relevant, but I thought he was shifty, I thought he was elusive, and I thought he was powerful. I pretty much thought he had what it took to be a foundation back in the NFL.
Waldman: Let’s revisit Ray Rice. You and I once talked about him and how much you liked him, but at the time it was his first year in the NFL and he wasn’t being used in the fourth quarter. You said he looked a little slow and he did, but then Rice worked on his physical conditioning. How do you feel about him now?
Cosell: I like Ray Rice a lot. I think he’s a very good multidimensional back. He’s a very good receiver out of the backfield. There’s an example of a guy whose small in height, but he’s powerful – unlike a Cadillac Williams or a Knowshon Moreno. Ray Rice is a powerful runner. Now, because of his size, he’s not going to necessarily run through people the way that Adrian Peterson does, but he is a strong and powerful runner with powerful legs and a really strong lower body and really great lateral quickness.
Waldman: Justin Tuck.
Cosell: He’s kind of a unique player because he has the speed and quickness to play defensive end and rush the quarterback and the power and hand strength to play inside and to be really effective to rush the quarterback. He’s a different kind of player.
Waldman: His effort is fantastic.
Cosell: No question.
Waldman: Derrick Morgan.
Cosell: The Georgia Tech defensive end?
Cosell: Of course we have nothing to go in the NFL because he was on IR last year. I thought coming out of Georgia Tech that he was good, but I didn’t see him as a first-round pick. I didn’t see elite speed off the edge. I thought he was a good football player who could evolve into being a good pro. But I never saw him as becoming DeMarcus Ware.
I didn’t see that kind of burst off the edge, but I thought he was a good player who could play the run and rush the quarterback. Kind of like Charles Johnson last year – I don’t know if he’s going to keep doing that, but he was a guy who ended up being a quality pass rusher. Not a burst off the edge, but some speed. Good leverage and power when he used his hands well and he played the run well. That’s kind of how I saw Derrick Morgan coming out.
Waldman: Kam Chancellor.
Cosell: He’s the Virginia Tech kid, right?
Cosell: You know, he strikes me as a sub package player almost as Jon McGraw of the Kansas City Chiefs is used when they go dimes. McGraw is kind of a hybrid safety-linebacker. Kam Chancellor is that kind of player. I remember seeing him at Virginia Tech on film. Didn’t he come out the same time as Jason Worlids the kid that the Steelers drafted? Yes. I watched a lot of Virginia Tech games and I didn’t think he was dynamic in any way. He’s a build up speed guy. Not necessarily that fast. He wasn’t a real quick-twitch guy. He’s a big kid as I recall. He’s like 6’3” 230 lbs. –
Waldman: Yeah, they looked at him as possibly a linebacker.
Cosell: Yeah. To me he is a sub package player (see Jene Bramel’s take) and that’s how he was used in Seattle last year. I watched a lot of Seattle down the stretch because they had a chance last year to make the playoffs and when the played dime, he was the sixth DB. So to me that’s what he is.
Waldman: John Beck.
Cosell: Interesting. I really liked John Beck coming out of Brigham Young. Relatively speaking. I didn’t like him like he was a top-10 pick in the draft, but I saw elements of his game –and I always have to be careful when I saw this, but Matt I think you’re smart enough to get when I saw this kind of stuff, you’ll know that I’m not absolutely comparing him to this player right now – but I thought John Beck had elements in his game of a Drew Brees kind of player.
Waldman: He was my top quarterback in that class.
Cosell: Okay, and I was not surprised where he was drafted at all. I thought that he had elements like that. He had a good feel for the passing game. The ball came out quick. Obviously not a big arm, but not a weak arm. A timing-rhythm guy who understood the passing game. Obviously the few chances that he got early in his career, that three-game stretch in Miami where he had all those issues and he got tossed on the scrap heap and everybody forgot about him and decided that he can’t play. I watched him this week against the Colts in the preseason game and he started to look a little more like the John Beck I remember. Whether that happens when the regular season starts I can’t answer that, but he looked like a professional quarterback.
Waldman: I wrote a long post about him a month ago here, so I was curious what you thought.
Cosell: No, I liked him coming out. I remember it, because a lot of people have asked me.
Waldman: Are you getting sick of this game?
Cosell: No, I’m fine!
Waldman: Good, let’s keep going then.
Cosell: I just make this shit up as I go, Matt.
Waldman: That’s what I thought (laughter). Patrick Willis.
Cosell: I wouldn’t be saying anything unique about him. I think he’s the best linebacker in football. He’s incredibly explosive. Almost too explosive for a man that size because he’s 240-plus-pounds. I think he is the best linebacker in football hands down.
Waldman: It’s amazing he stays healthy with that size-explosiveness ratio.
Cosell: Yeah, and he can play the pass and he can get down the seam because they played a lot of quarters with him being the fifth guy in the middle so it’s almost like five across. I guess that could change with a new coordinator, but that’s how he was used in the past. But he to me is just an absolutely special player.
Waldman: Lamarr Houston.
Cosell: Loved him coming out. I noticed that this year that they have him starting left defensive end. Most of last year he started left defensive tackle and did that mostly in college although he did play some defensive end. I think he’s good at everything.
I wouldn’t call him special, but his effort will help him become a very good player (see Matt Williamson’s take) because he uses his hands well, plays with good leverage. He’s not a burst player; one of those guys off the ball where you say Wow! But I think he’s good at everything.
Waldman: Nnamdi Asomugha.
Cosell: To me he is a press man corner. He’s balletic in his movements. He’s smooth and fluid, unhurried, rarely out of position. Everybody is once in a while.
Since I watch everything I can show plays where he gets beat, but usually he’s an unhurried player. He always reminds me of the old John Wooden quote: “be quick, but don’t hurry.” Asomugha always looks like he’s under control and he’s playing very comfortably.
Waldman: Clay Matthews
Cosell: It’s funny. He was sort of the fifth wheel on that USC team with all of those linebackers and I thought he was the best guy on film believe it or not. And I’m not patting myself on the back. It’s just what I saw.
I thought he was hands-down the most explosive mover and he wasn’t even a starter. And it sort of played out in the NFL. He’s an incredible combination of explosion, strength, and leverage. To me you could say he and DeMarcus Ware are the two best outside pass rushers like that.
Waldman: Earl Bennett.
Cosell: The receiver? I think he’s a nice NFL slot receiver (see Sigmund Bloom’s take). He’s a big kid. Not particular fast, but I think he understands route running. I think there similarities between him and a guy like Jason Avant. I think they are similar kinds of players. I think there is a place for them in the league and depending on the nature of the offense I think they can be effective players in terms of numbers (see my take), but I think essentially that is what his niche is in the NFL.
Waldman: Joe Thomas
Cosell: I like Joe Thomas. I don’t think he’s Orlando Pace or Walter Jones in their prime, but I think he’s a very smooth, fluid, comfortable player. Doesn’t get beat often, but gets beat a little more than people think. A very solid NFL left tackle. I don’t think he’s as good of an overall player as Jake Long, but I think he’s a very good NFL player.
Waldman: Ndamukong Suh.
Cosell: Ah, he’s…he’s…even better than I thought he would be. He has a methodical explosiveness to him. He’s not like super quick/burst-quick, but he is explosive and its methodical – it’s just never ending. When you watch guys in college and you see their strengths you always have to take a step back and say: Gee, will he be that way in the NFL?
Because these are college guys he’s playing against, but he’s been able to be the same way in the NFL. He’s stronger than the guys he’s playing against. And he’s so methodical and relentless. He’s a great player (see Jene Bramel’s take).
Waldman: Bryant McKinnie.
Cosell: He’s a big-time stiff. I mean if you look at his physical attributes you would say that he should be a great left tackle, but he doesn’t play that way. He’s a lazy player, he doesn’t have good technique, and he’s a non-competitive player. He’s one of my least – and you know me, it’s nothing personal, I’m just telling you what I see – he’s one of my least favorite players over the last 3-4 years. He almost engenders a physical reaction in me when I watch him because he bothers me so much.
Waldman: It’s amazing they are going to put him over at left tackle for the Ravens.
Cosell: I know – unless someone can motivate him, but I doubt that.
Waldman: Bo Jackson.
Cosell: Well, again I’m not going to be unique on Bo Jackson. The guy was unbelievable. He was in many ways a more – and this is odd to say- but he was a more explosive Adrian Peterson. Bo was even faster. I mean burst-faster, you know like Oh-my-God-look-at-him-run! faster.
Waldman: He’s a modern day tall tale in my eyes.