GM Joe Goodberry on “Double Down or Standing Pat” (RSPWP III)

Marqise Lee demonstrates why good technique matters. Photo by James Santelli.
Is Marqise Lee the guy this scenario was referring to? Joe Goodberry thinks so. Photo by James Santelli.

Do you trust your scouting intel on a player that you value higher than most or do you stick to your board?

What is 2014’s Writer’s Project?

This year’s RSPWP is a different take on team building. I will have 15-20 written scenarios based on true NFL stories provided to me from current and former NFL employees (scouts, players, and consultants). In each scenario, the participating writer is the general manager of an NFL team has a decision to make. Each scenario will have at least two different writers. I will post the writers’ responses and the actual outcome of the case study (if applicable).

Find out more about RSPWP3 and see other GM Scenarios.

GM Scenario No.4: Double Down or Stand Pat?

You’re the general manager of a squad that went 10-6 last year and lost a nail biter on the road in the divisional playoffs.  It’s your fifth year running this team and they have progressed from a 4-12 after thought to Super Bowl dark horse. The squad’s calling card is a stifling defense and power running game.

This brand of football is the team’s present—and it’s a championship window that’s open—but the makeup and style of play will look a lot different in 3-4 seasons.

The changes need to begin over the course of the next 2-3 seasons, because odds are likely that your star running back only has 2-3 years left in his legs. Just as important is the defense; 8 of 11 starters will need new deals over the next two years and 6 of these players have performed well enough that you won’t be able to afford them all.

Speaking of overachievers, the starting quarterback—a fourth round draft pick—is a rising star.  He’ll be seeking a new deal before his contract expires in two years and he is clearly the face of the franchise.

Right now, your quarterback is producing like a high-functioning game manager. He’s good in the red zone and he doesn’t turn the ball over. He also flashes big-play ability, but your attempts to pair him with a big-play threat have been largely unsuccessful.

The 1500-yard, 12-touchdown free agent receiver you acquired three years ago has missed 24 games since his arrival and last year’s big offseason signing missed 12 games. Your organization has reached a consensus that it must upgrade the receiving corps for the future, because the quarterback has the ability to become the focal point of the offense and it’s unlikely the team will ever have a running back the caliber of its current starter.

One of the players that earned the attention of your scouts is a receiver on a cellar-dwelling ACC team. Fast, tough, sure-handed, and capable of running every route, this player was his team’s offense. Moreover, he’s a team-oriented player that you’re staff gave multiple chances to throw his teammates under the bus for its failures and he never took the bait.

The NFL Draft is finally here and the team is picking 27th overall. You’re sold this player instantly makes your team better, but your research indicates that your organization is the only one sold on him as a first-round value in a class flush with talented receivers.  However, your staff believes he’s better (and a better fit) than all but two of the receivers on your board and those two will be gone within the first 12 picks.

Aside from an under the radar football blogger you monitor, there has been zero mention of this player in the national media from January through April. However, you did see this morning a television segment where a former NFL receiver gave a glowing review of this prospect.

You have 3-4 teams who have inquired about trading into your slot and you believe they value your targeted player low enough that you could trade back 15-20 spots and still get him. But if you’re wrong, you lost a shot at your No.3 receiver on your board—and there’s a small cliff between him and your next option at the position.

Do you trade down and trust your intel that other teams don’t value him as high as your organization or do you take the guy at a premium to avoid missing a weapon that you, your coaching staff, and scouts believe will help usher your offense into a new era?

What decision do you make and what factors lead you to believe that your intel is either reliable or too shaky to trust? What’s your philosophy on playing the “value game” vs. picking the best player available and staying true to your board despite knowing that it might differ from a lot of teams?

Joe Goodberry’s Decision

This seems like an easy scenario on the surface. The right thing to do is to listen to your scouts, stay true to your board, and draft an impact player at a need position. We’re a good defensive team that can run the football, but we need to augment the passing game with a dynamic receiver. As I read through this scenario, I couldn’t help but think of three NFL teams in a similar situation and I’m not afraid to look at what my competition did before me.

The San Fransisco 49ers needed another WR and could have drafted the best of the second tier prospects, but they instead took the best player available in safety Jimmie Ward. With that selection, the 49ers are trying to ensure their defense stays at an elite level for years to come. They ended up addressing wide receiver with a trade for veteran Stevie Johnson and also drafting a receiver in Bruce Ellington in round four.

San Francisco remains in position to push all of their chips in the middle of the table once again in 2014, but they also bought a lottery ticket with Ellington in round four. I’m cool with these results considering their best player available selections were all players that I liked–especially when  they made moves to keep their defense near the top and also sought talent to eventually replace their aging runner. That’s how you keep Colin Kaepernick from getting exposed until you find another receiver.

The Carolina Panthers are another team in a similar situation. They drafted Kelvin Benjamin in the first round. Many analysts cooled on Benjamin as the draft approached, but obviously Carolina’s front office pegged him as their guy. The pick projects to fill the most glaring need on the team.

I wouldn’t be making the same decision that the Panthers did. Benjamin has the size and big-play ability, but I have a hard time seeing him develop into a true No.1  receiver. I assume the Panthers also see what we are seeing, but because Cam Newton needs serious help they couldn’t afford to pass on a weapon for their franchise QB.

Finally, you have the Seattle Seahawks. This team seems to be the exact team this scenario describes. Perhaps the receiver they’re describing was Marquise Lee out of USC that went to Jacksonville at the top of round two. Seattle traded back from the 32nd overall pick to the 45th and ended up drafting Paul Richardson.

Was Lee the receiver the scouts wanted? In a deep WR draft, Seattle came away with two prospects I really like (Kevin Norwood was the second), but is either guy a true number one type that the team lacks? Even without that type, many believe Seattle’s offense is one the verge of exploding with help from their diverse receiving group.

Maybe it’s the fresh Super Bowl championship clouding my mind, but I think Seattle ended up with the better results. The deep class and gaining extra picks makes it worth trading back and possibly missing out on a player your scouts want. I guess it’s hard to be totally sure because I don’t have convictions about this mysterious prospect. If it were a prospect I also fell in love with during the predraft process, I would be more inclined to pull the trigger and let the analysts chirp.

Matt’s Notes

Joe was dead-on that this scenario above is Seattle’s first two rounds in the 2014 NFL Draft. However, what Joe didn’t realize is that the Seahawks got the guy they wanted all along. Paul Richardson was the player on Seattle’s draft card for the first round in case the trade with Minnesota fell through in the final seconds and they had to make a pick.

Seattle was able to trade down twice and still land Richardson, the player they wanted all along. I do like that Joe would be willing to pick a player who analysts might consider a reach, because he is supposed to know more than them as the GM.

If the Richardson pick pans out, it will be a good example of a team that did a good job scouting player values in this draft and making the most of this knowledge. In the 1974 NFL Draft, Steelers’ Head Coach Chuck Noll loved a small school receiver prospect so much that he wanted to take him in the first two rounds. However, the rest of the Steelers brain trust opted for a big-name receiver and a lesser known middle linebacker.

Noll still got John Stallworth, the small school receiver he coveted over the team’s first two picks–Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert. Talk about a draft day coup . . .



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