Eye for Talent, Period. By David Palermo

The NFL Draft grows every year, and so does the number of ‘armchair general managers.’ Thanks to independent film breakdown sites like Cover1.net, which offers a condensed football education, fans are ‘in the know’ now more than ever. Much like the emergence of the All-22 camera angle for the average fan, draft and scouting sites have taken off. This has increased the amount of fan criticism of front office positions like the general managers, and there is no doubt that GM Doug Whaley has been in the crosshairs of the Buffalo media since he assumed the position in 2013.

But the problem is that most fans don’t (can’t?) view Whaley’s tenure objectively.

Doug Whaley’s Track Record

Doug Whaley is equivalent to a franchise quarterback like an Aaron Rodgers, in that both were groomed for the position they now hold. Buddy Nix had the vision to immediately find his own successor from a great franchise in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are an organization of stability from the top down. When they hire general managers, coaches, scouts, etc., they stick with them. That organization oozes continuity because they hire evaluators, teach them, value them, and grow with them.

Whaley was a scouting ‘soldier’ for that organization for many years. He spent ten years as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pro scouting coordinator. Here were some of his responsibilities:

“Responsible for advance scouting of the Steelers’ opponents. His focus was breaking down opposing players for the team’s upcoming opponents.

He was also responsible for making campus visits and scouting college players throughout the year. Whaley also evaluated unrestricted and restricted free agents throughout the season and into the free agent offseason period.”

Here are some of the picks he had a hand in for the Steelers from 1999-2009.

2009 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 32 Ziggy Hood DT Missouri
3 79 Kraig Urbik T Wisconsin
3 84 Mike Wallace WR Mississippi
3 96 Keenan Lewis DB Oregon State
5 168 Joe Burnett DB Central Florida
5 169 Frank Summers RB Nevada-Las Vegas
6 205 Ra’Shon Harris DT Oregon
7 226 A.Q. Shipley C Penn State
7 241 David Johnson TE Arkansas State
2008 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 23 Rashard Mendenhall RB Illinois
2 53 Limas Sweed WR Texas
3 88 Bruce Davis LB UCLA
4 130 Tony Hills T Texas
5 156 Dennis Dixon QB Oregon
6 188 Mike Humpal OLB Iowa
6 194 Ryan Mundy FS West Virginia
2007 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 15 Lawrence Timmons LB Florida State
2 46 LaMarr Woodley LB Michigan
3 77 Matt Spaeth TE Minnesota
4 112 Daniel Sepulveda P Baylor
4 132 Ryan McBean DE Oklahoma State
5 156 Cameron Stephenson G Rutgers
5 170 William Gay CB Louisville
7 227 Dallas Baker WR Florida
2006 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 25 Santonio Holmes WR Ohio State
3 83 Anthony Smith DB Syracuse
3 95 Willie Reid WR Florida State
4 131 Willie Colon T Hofstra
4 133 Orien Harris DT Miami (Fla.)
5 164 Omar Jacobs QB Bowling Green State
5 167 Charles Davis TE Purdue
6 201 Marvin Philip C California
7 240 Cedric Humes RB Virginia Tech
2005 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 30 Heath Miller TE Virginia
2 62 Bryant McFadden DB Florida State
3 93 Trai Essex T Northwestern
4 131 Fred Gibson WR Georgia
5 166 Rian Wallace LB Temple
6 204 Chris Kemoeatu G Utah
7 228 Shaun Nua DE Brigham Young
7 244 Noah Herron RB Northwestern
2004 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 11 Ben Roethlisberger QB Miami (Ohio)
2 38 Ricardo Colclough CB Tusculum
3 75 Max Starks T Florida
5 145 Nathaniel Adibi DE Virginia Tech
6 177 Bo Lacy T Arkansas
6 194 Matt Kranchick TE Penn State
6 197 Drew Caylor C Stanford
7 212 Eric Taylor DT Memphis
2003 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 16 Troy Polamalu DB USC
2 59 Alonzo Jackson LB Florida State
4 125 Ike Taylor CB Louisiana-Lafayette
5 163 Brian St. Pierre QB Boston College
7 242 J.T. Wall Georgia
2002 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 30 Kendall Simmons G Auburn
2 62 Antwaan Randle El WR Indiana
3 94 Chris Hope DB Florida State
4 128 Larry Foote ILB Michigan
5 166 Verron Haynes RB Georgia
6 202 Lee Mays WR Texas-El Paso
7 212 LaVar Glover CB Cincinnati
7 242 Brett Keisel DE Brigham Young
2001 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 19 Casey Hampton NT Texas
2 39 Kendrell Bell ILB Georgia
4 111 Mathias Nkwenti T Temple
5 146 Chukky Okobi C Purdue
6 181 Rodney Bailey DE Ohio State
6 182 Roger Knight LB Wisconsin
7 218 Chris Taylor Texas A&M
2000 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 8 Plaxico Burress WR Michigan State
2 38 Marvel Smith T Arizona State
3 72 Kendrick Clancy NT Mississippi
3 77 Hank Poteat CB Pittsburgh
4 103 Danny Farmer WR UCLA
5 137 Clark Haggans LB Colorado State
5 163 Tee Martin QB Tennessee
6 173 Chris Combs DE Duke
6 204 Jason Gavadza TE Kent State
1999 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 13 Troy Edwards WR Louisiana Tech
2 59 Scott Shields DB Weber State
3 73 Joey Porter LB Colorado State
3 74 Kris Farris T UCLA
3 95 Amos Zereoue RB West Virginia
4 109 Aaron Smith DE Northern Colorado
5 136 Jerame Tuman TE Michigan
5 166 Malcolm Johnson WR Notre Dame
7 214 Antonio Dingle DT Virginia
7 219 Chad Kelsay LB Nebraska
7 228 Kris Brown K Nebraska

When you look at that list, over the course of ten years you can’t deny that Whaley and his scouting staffs had their fair share of hits and misses. Every team and GM does. Finding 2-3 future starters or productive players per draft class are what teams shoot for. How many starters or productive players has he drafted in his short tenure?

We can blame the organization or Whaley for that matter on the EJ Manuel pick. Everyone knows he was instructed to find the best QB in that draft, did and Nix instructed him to draft Manuel. I guess you can pin that on him, even though he wasn’t named GM until after the draft. 

How did this QB draft class pan out?

1 16 Buffalo Bills EJ Manuel QB Florida State ACC from St. Louis [R1 – 5]
2 39 New York Jets Geno Smith” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geno_Smith”>Geno Smith QB West Virginia Big 12
3 73 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mike Glennon” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Glennon”>Mike Glennon QB N.C. State ACC
4 98 Philadelphia Eagles Matt Barkley” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Barkley”>Matt Barkley QB USC Pac-12 from Jacksonville [R4 – 1]
4 110 New York Giants Ryan Nassib” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_Nassib”>Ryan Nassib QB Syracuse Big East from San Diego via Arizona [R4 – 8]
4 112 Oakland Raiders Tyler Wilson QB Arkansas SEC from Tampa Bay [R4 – 10]
4 115 Pittsburgh Steelers Landry Jones” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landry_Jones”>Landry Jones QB Oklahoma Big 12
7 221 San Diego Chargers Brad Sorensen QB Southern Utah Big Sky
7 234 Denver Broncos Zac Dysert QB Miami (OH) MAC
7 237 San Francisco 49ers B. J. Daniels QB South Florida Big East

 

Everything starts with how you evaluate talent, and last I checked the Bills have had a plethora of talent and an increased overall record since Doug Whaley has taken charge. Here is how I would break down the avenues by which teams acquire talent: the draft and free agency (including undrafted free agents) could be considered 75% of how a roster is built. This leaves 25% open for trades. Why only 25% towards trades? They are rare in the modern NFL.

So lets look at the different ways and reasons Whaley made the moves he has.

The Bills defense was a 3-4 scheme when Whaley took over as GM in May 2013, but Pettine got the Browns Head coaching gig so what did he do? Signed former Head Coach Jim Schwartz to become the defensive coordinator. Schwartz brought in a wide nine 4-3 defense, and the savy coach adapted the players to his scheme the best he could and the defense dominated. The defense was phenomenal, but the offense was bad.

Most fans scoff at the decision to trade up to get Sammy Watkins in 2014 to help jumpstart the offense. The draft became known as a deep WR draft class so the capital surrendered (2015 1st rounder) overshadowed and will always overshadow Watkins’ talent.

Fans still overlook his talent because of what the team gave up, even more so after this past season due to his foot injury. Never mind that he is an elite talent.

 

Marrone left following the 2014 season and the organization moved onto Rex’s 3-4/4-6 hybrid defense. Feeling that the defense would continue its dominance Whaley addressed the offensive side of the ball so what did he do?

He traded an injured second round linebacker Kiko Alonso for All Pro Running Back LeSean McCoy. That was hands down the best move by Doug Whaley to date. Yet, Whaley doesn’t get credit for it because apparently Chip Kelly initiated the trade? Whaley pulled the trigger, right? He should get the credit.

 

What else did he do to improve the offensive side of the ball that season? He signed Harvin, Taylor, Incognito, Clay, drafted John Miller and Karlos Williams. Not to mention an instant starting corner in Ronald Darby. Is that not providing talent for his coaching staff?

All in all, Whaley had to acquire talent to fit three completely different defensive schemes, and two different offensive schemes. How much consistency can you expect from young players that are going through complete system changes? He was tasked with bringing in players for completely different defenses and often with opposing skill sets (4-3 vs. 3-4). But still no credit.

Fans will say, “Whaley doesn’t get credit for bringing in Zach Brown, Lorenzo Alexander, Richie Incognito, Taylor and many others. Those were Rex Ryan moves.” You mean to tell me that Whaley, his pro personnel director Jim Monos, and advanced scouting staff, people who are assigned to scout free agents, just rolled over and approved? No. Rex may have recommended those players, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Everyone did their homework on those players, evaluated their skills, traits, and potential fits in Rex’s scheme (or  Shady’s fit in Roman’s scheme/offensive philosophy) and Whaley executed.

Retaining their own guys is a common approach by teams such as the Packers and Steelers, and something that Whaley has attempted to do. The Bills gave second contracts to Cordy Glenn, Aaron Williams, Fred Jackson, Eric Wood, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Marcus Easley, and guys they brought in as free agents or UDFA like Nickell Robey-Coleman, Tyrod Taylor, Lorenzo Alexander, Richie Incognito, and others.

 

Has Whaley struggled with some responsibilities that fall under the GM title? Most definitely. Consider Marcell Dareus’s contract. Whaley may not have put the contract together, but he certainly gave the thumbs up, and leaving out verbiage that could void the contract if he continued to get into trouble off the field was a gaffe.

There’s no language in Dareus’ contract that voids the guaranteed money due to suspension in future years of the seven-year, $102.3 million pact that he signed in 2015, which would leave the Bills with sizable dead money on their cap if they did want to part ways with Dareus. -Pro Football Talk

 

The window for guys like Kyle Williams, Eric Wood, and even LeSean McCoy is closing. The Bills have six picks in the 2017 NFL draft, and I have full trust that Whaley will nail it (again). This draft is deep at positions that he typically scouts well in linebacker, corner, and safety, which are also positions of need.

Whaley now has a coach and scheme to which he can commit resources. The team hired Sean McDermott for the long run and they plan on staying the course. McDermott put offensive and defensive systems in place that are respected and have been successful. They are the kinds of systems that maximize their players’ potential, but also allow the team to build depth and plug in a player without a steep drop off in execution if a starter gets injured.

Do not let only one avenue for finding talent (the draft) cloud what the main goal is: finding quality talent anywhere we can. This is something that Whaley has done amidst an ownership change, coaching changes, and scheme changes galore. Overall, Doug Whaley certainly deserves blame for his mistakes, but he also deserves praise for his impressive successes.

Follow Dave @NumbBillsFan and Adam @NumbBillsAdamD

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2 comments on Eye for Talent, Period. By David Palermo

  1. Charles Territo says:

    Again, another great unbiased report. I just had to share this on my Facebook timeline! Here is my comment made for the post.
    “I love my Buffalo Bills through thick and thin. I will never become a stupid fan changed by the Media or other fans. This is the only NFL team I will follow. There is a trending report that Doug Whaley will be fired after this draft. I question the truth in that report. Why? Because of who originated this report. Jason LaCanfora?? For some odd reason other reporters re-posted it as their own. Jerry Sullivan(FOOL TOOL). Vic Carucci(FOOL’S GARDEN OF HELL). There are others who did the same. Jason was the reporter(??) who had Tom Coughlin all but signed and delivered as our new GM and HC?? Not much later we in fact signed Sean McDermott as HC!
    This report by my favorite non biased site, Cover1 is a MUST READ to it’s conclusion for all Bills fans. Maybe by seeing in print, his accomplishments will better educate those who think he isn’t a good GM? I hope we do not fire Whaley. I am a fan of his for what he has done amidst the turmoil that is my Buffalo Bills.”

    1. Billsfan0001 forever says:

      Nice resume … FOR PITTSBURG
      LOOK
      character and leadership count there’s no escaping the turmoil that’s going on at one bills drive. As a lifelong bills fan from day one I am sick and tired of excuses. Whaleys resume is at best mediocre at Buffalo and his leadership and management style have not been supportive . As an airline pilot you may have 1000 successful takeoffs and landings but when you crash one big plane full of people, we pull your license you don’t fly anymore I applaud you for coming to his defense and making the case for Doug Whaley in Buffalo. if you can read the tea leaves it’s time to MoveOn. the only reason he’s there in my opinion is that the big guy needed to get up to speed and they are not gonna put up with a mediocre performance. as for his part in contracting that’s been a debacle. we overpay for average players contracts are are given the players that don’t perform I can name a couple off the top and I know you can to try Jason peters try Marcel Darius how bout fitz. it looks to me like Whaley if surrounded by the right organization could be very successful he hasn’t been surrounded by that kind of organization in Buffalo and he has not been the type of person that was able to pull it all together. go along and get along that’s not getting it anymore.

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