Back in 2008 at about this same time of the year, with both the Combine and the draft upcoming, I found myself looking back through the history of the NFL to try and learn exactly how each of those two essential processes had begun. I quickly found that there was a vast wealth of information available on the subject, and starting collecting books that referenced them, articles that covered their past as well as the present, and I also started questioning people who I knew were familiar with those subjects. The history of the draft is interwoven into the NFL, which was the first league to hold a reverse-order draft for its teams. Last Monday, we examined the league's formative decades -the 1920s and '30s; today we'll take a look at the monumental developments that followed in the 1940s. I hope you'll enjoy it.
As we prepare for the upcoming draft, it's worth looking back to discover the history of the event, which is intricately tied to the birth and development of the league, and its attempts to deal with salaries, eligibility and team building. Over the next several weeks, I'm going to offer a partial history of the patterns and practices of the NFL Draft that will touch on those issues, as well as those of the practice of scouting, team success and even the beginnings of the computer age, each of which has played its own role in the history of the league. Come along with me as I stroll back into the past, to a time before the Great Depression, when an organization changed its name and became a national institution that would endure, flourish and grow over the next 90-plus years into the remarkable entity we know as the National Football League.
So many folks have asked me about the story of why Walter Payton used that funny, straight-legged almost kicking style of running when he broke free that I feel like I was inadvertently teasing you. I didn't feel right about that, and as it turns out, I had quiet, nice day today. I had time to put together the things that I know about the tale. I hope that you enjoy it.
Among the many things that conventional wisdom says that you can't coach, high on that list is toughness. It's an innate quality that some players have and some don't. Broncos fans love it, and point to such young players as Ryan Clady, Peyton Hillis and Wesley Woodyard as well as older ones such as instant favorite Casey Wiegmann.
Toughness is getting better in the 4th quarter. Toughness is Weapon X, three-way player Spencer Larsen and Elvis Dumervil. Toughness wins ballgames.
For a college football player, getting an invite to the Combine is only half the battle. Unless you're Andre Smith, there is the intense preparation - the Combine is a week-long job interview and the modern player knows that. The players will be tested, analyzed, interviewed, scrutinized and in many cases the metrics don't even fit the skills that the players will require at the next level.
The Combine can be likened to the SAT tests that most of us dreaded in high school. When I took them, you were assigned, you walked in and tested, and you waited for the results to come in the mail. As you can tell, that was a long time ago. Now, there are pre-tests, preparatory courses ad infinitum, and the rare students who walk in cold are already behind in the ranks. In the same way, there are now courses to prepare the player for the Combine. And if you don't make the Combine, you're like those students unprepared for the SATs. The odds are low and the obstacles high.
If the V-word (versatility) is really going to be Josh McDaniels’ MO, thy name is Connor Barwin. This is a very rare player who really can do it all. How many players in the past five years could you draft respectably as a TE and draft highly as a 4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB, 4-3 SAM or 4-3 DE? Offensively and defensively, Connor Barwin is as close to a complete package as a modern player can be and he’s rocketing up the draft boards after an excellent showing at the Combine.
The change to a 3-4 alignment has become increasingly popular in the NFL, as have integrating the hybrid formations. There are several reasons: Although their roots are several decades old, like all alignments, they are most recently emerging in response to the increasingly complex offenses and to rule changes that favor the offense.
Like every approach, they have strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths is the availability of linebackers who are otherwise ‘tweeners' - those who are too big for the more-traditional 4-3 formations, yet who lack the size and strength for the 4-3 DE position, much less the two-gap 3-4. Our colleges turn out many of these players each year, and with the growing 3-4 movement, the best of them can have a solid career in the NFL. And that's where Cody Brown comes in.
"…pick of the draft, the 325 lb. DE from football powerhouse Stillman, Sammie Lee Hill!"
You bet. In an innovation that worked beyond their hopes, Greg Thompson, head coach of the Stillman football program, spoke to Dennis Conner, his OC, and they decided to try something new on defense. Their answer was Sammie Lee Hill, a very big, very versatile player with a lot of skills.
The website for Ardmore, Oklahoma says that it was twice named an All-American City by the National Municipal League. In 1984, it was the only Sunbelt City on the Elite, Nine-City List. That same year, Hugh Bayless cited Ardmore in his book, the 50 Best Towns in America. He may have understated the case.
A lot of people in this world have no greater enemy than themselves. It could be said that we all do. Shonn Greene, the 5’11 235 lb. running back for the Iowa Hawkeyes knows that first hand. Before he could juke out of the reach of linebackers and opposing safeties, he had to get out of his own way. That job was, by far, the hardest.