Eye for Talent, Period. By David Palermo

03/27/2017
DB+

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
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
132Ziggy HoodDTMissouri
379Kraig UrbikTWisconsin
384Mike WallaceWRMississippi
396Keenan LewisDBOregon State
5168Joe BurnettDBCentral Florida
5169Frank SummersRBNevada-Las Vegas
6205Ra’Shon HarrisDTOregon
7226A.Q. ShipleyCPenn State
7241David JohnsonTEArkansas State
2008 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
123Rashard MendenhallRBIllinois
253Limas SweedWRTexas
388Bruce DavisLBUCLA
4130Tony HillsTTexas
5156Dennis DixonQBOregon
6188Mike HumpalOLBIowa
6194Ryan MundyFSWest Virginia
2007 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
115Lawrence TimmonsLBFlorida State
246LaMarr WoodleyLBMichigan
377Matt SpaethTEMinnesota
4112Daniel SepulvedaPBaylor
4132Ryan McBeanDEOklahoma State
5156Cameron StephensonGRutgers
5170William GayCBLouisville
7227Dallas BakerWRFlorida
2006 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
125Santonio HolmesWROhio State
383Anthony SmithDBSyracuse
395Willie ReidWRFlorida State
4131Willie ColonTHofstra
4133Orien HarrisDTMiami (Fla.)
5164Omar JacobsQBBowling Green State
5167Charles DavisTEPurdue
6201Marvin PhilipCCalifornia
7240Cedric HumesRBVirginia Tech
2005 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
130Heath MillerTEVirginia
262Bryant McFaddenDBFlorida State
393Trai EssexTNorthwestern
4131Fred GibsonWRGeorgia
5166Rian WallaceLBTemple
6204Chris KemoeatuGUtah
7228Shaun NuaDEBrigham Young
7244Noah HerronRBNorthwestern
2004 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
111Ben RoethlisbergerQBMiami (Ohio)
238Ricardo ColcloughCBTusculum
375Max StarksTFlorida
5145Nathaniel AdibiDEVirginia Tech
6177Bo LacyTArkansas
6194Matt KranchickTEPenn State
6197Drew CaylorCStanford
7212Eric TaylorDTMemphis
2003 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
116Troy PolamaluDBUSC
259Alonzo JacksonLBFlorida State
4125Ike TaylorCBLouisiana-Lafayette
5163Brian St. PierreQBBoston College
7242J.T. WallGeorgia
2002 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
130Kendall SimmonsGAuburn
262Antwaan Randle ElWRIndiana
394Chris HopeDBFlorida State
4128Larry FooteILBMichigan
5166Verron HaynesRBGeorgia
6202Lee MaysWRTexas-El Paso
7212LaVar GloverCBCincinnati
7242Brett KeiselDEBrigham Young
2001 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
119Casey HamptonNTTexas
239Kendrell BellILBGeorgia
4111Mathias NkwentiTTemple
5146Chukky OkobiCPurdue
6181Rodney BaileyDEOhio State
6182Roger KnightLBWisconsin
7218Chris TaylorTexas A&M
2000 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
18Plaxico BurressWRMichigan State
238Marvel SmithTArizona State
372Kendrick ClancyNTMississippi
377Hank PoteatCBPittsburgh
4103Danny FarmerWRUCLA
5137Clark HaggansLBColorado State
5163Tee MartinQBTennessee
6173Chris CombsDEDuke
6204Jason GavadzaTEKent State
1999 – PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
113Troy EdwardsWRLouisiana Tech
259Scott ShieldsDBWeber State
373Joey PorterLBColorado State
374Kris FarrisTUCLA
395Amos ZereoueRBWest Virginia
4109Aaron SmithDENorthern Colorado
5136Jerame TumanTEMichigan
5166Malcolm JohnsonWRNotre Dame
7214Antonio DingleDTVirginia
7219Chad KelsayLBNebraska
7228Kris BrownKNebraska

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?

116Buffalo BillsEJ ManuelQBFlorida StateACCfrom St. Louis [R1 – 5]
239New York JetsGeno Smith” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geno_Smith”>Geno SmithQBWest VirginiaBig 12
373Tampa Bay BuccaneersMike Glennon” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Glennon”>Mike GlennonQBN.C. StateACC
498Philadelphia EaglesMatt Barkley” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Barkley”>Matt BarkleyQBUSCPac-12from Jacksonville [R4 – 1]
4110New York GiantsRyan Nassib” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_Nassib”>Ryan NassibQBSyracuseBig Eastfrom San Diego via Arizona [R4 – 8]
4112Oakland RaidersTyler WilsonQBArkansasSECfrom Tampa Bay [R4 – 10]
4115Pittsburgh SteelersLandry Jones” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landry_Jones”>Landry JonesQBOklahomaBig 12
7221San Diego ChargersBrad SorensenQBSouthern UtahBig Sky
7234Denver BroncosZac DysertQBMiami (OH)MAC
7237San Francisco 49ersB. J. DanielsQBSouth FloridaBig 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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