"The process was really thorough. We took our time. It was important for me to get the right fit for our football team."
--Matt Millen, Former General Manager, Detroit Lions
Matt McGuire, over at Walter Football, is probably best known for his mock drafts. But it's his blog that I enjoy more. Recently, he had a blog entry entitled, NFL Draft Picks Are Business Investments. He wrote something that I think deserves a lot more attention:
If I gave you $4 million to invest, would you invest that money into a company that didn't care very much about what they were doing? Would you be confident about investing in a business that didn't care about customer service, their product, employee relations, employee performance and leadership?
I doubt you would - you might as well throw the $4 million into a fire.
But what if this company had a lot of upside? Would you still be willing to lose the $4 million if you could get a large return in a couple years? It's a massive risk.
How can a company that doesn't care become profitable? It's almost impossible for that to happen.
So why should we evaluate NFL Draft prospects any differently? In translation: How can an NFL player be successful if he has a very mediocre work ethic, doesn't love the game, doesn't take the process seriously, and is immature?
Like McGuire or not (he's not exactly McDaniels friendly), he is absolutely spot on with these comments. Owners are not playing with Monopoly money. These are real dollars that they stand to lose.
As fans, we sometimes forget that the NFL is a business--an entertainment business. And in business (whether it's manufacturing or paying guys to prance around gingerly in black and silver on Sundays), investment returns matter. So, as much as you might "bleed" predominantly orange and blue, as much hard-core passion as you might feel for the Broncos, as much as you might have cried when John Elway hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, Pat Bowlen still has to make a buck. A lot of bucks in fact.
In other words, players are investments. It's that simple. I hate to break it to you if you weren't so inclined. The NFL is littered with players, who, after their investment value wore thin, were shipped, kicked, or dumped to the curb. If it were otherwise, Steve Atwater would have finished his career a Bronco and John Lynch a Buccaneer. But, as we know, it was never to be. For whatever reason, they were perceived as bad investments.
If we accept this premise, then anything that puts an investment at risk is something I'm running away from. If it's my money, I don't care if a player has an upside as high as Chuck Norris. If he has work-ethic issues, I'm staying far far away.
Which brings me to Dez Bryant.
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
This year Bryant is playing the roll of next-great-can't-miss-wide-receiver. And he might just be. While he's not blazing fast, his talent is unquestioned. Pro Football Weekly had this to say about him:
Supremely athletic playmaker with game-changing ability. Has big, strong hands and can snag the ball out of the air with one glove. Runs smooth routes and can accelerate out of his breaks. Has outstanding speed to separate against man or bracket coverage and is very creative with the ball after the catch. Has quick feet, strong legs, great balance and outstanding open-field vision as a runner and returner. Shows terrific concentration and makes acrobatic, in-air adjustments that few NFL receivers are capable of making..an elite receiving talent in a slighter mold of Texans 2003 third overall pick Andre Johnson...a clutch performer who will make a good quarterback look great.
That's quite a description. One might already confuse him with Andre Johnson. And it's this kind of talk that has over 1/3 of the mock drafts out there picking the Broncos to take Bryant.
Let's hope Josh McDaniels doesn't play to the crowd.
And yet, there's another side to Bryant. Jason Cole (Yahoo Sports) recently explored this other side:
Three sources with direct knowledge of Bryant from his days in college, where he missed the final 10 games last season because of lying to NCAA investigators, said Bryant's antics were "consistently irresponsible."
Cole goes on to quote these three separate sources:
"I wouldn't draft that kid unless I had someone to wake him up in the morning to get to meetings, someone to wake him up for practice and someone to wake him up for games," one source said.
A second source said Bryant's reputation was earned because he was consistently late to team activities. That included showing up late for games.
"We're not just talking about being a little late for warmups, but like being late for the actual game," a source said with a chuckle. "When you start to hear some of the stories out there, you go, ‘He did what?' "
Say what you want about sources, but Cole provides three, and if there is even the slightest truth to these reports, you've got to really question Bryant's work ethic and investment value over the long term.
In many ways, I'm much more concerned about these reported practice habits than I am about the revelations about Bryant lying to NCAA investigators. Putting morality aside for a moment, ask yourself this question: If Dez Bryant is showing up late for practices and games in college, how much work ethic is he going to demonstrate when he's already got guaranteed money in his pocket? Is he suddenly going to turn Eddie McCaffrey on us? I think it's doubtful.
How would this kind of practice behavior fit on a Josh McDaniels coached team? Not well. As John Bena wrote on Monday:
With McDaniels every day is a new day - a new competition so to speak - for the 53 men on the roster. The best 45 will be active every Sunday, and regardless of pay-check or draft status the best 11 men on offense and the best 11 men on defense will play on Sunday.
Does Dez Bryant sound like this type of guy to you? Does Byrant sound like he's the type of guy who is going to wake up scared every day, as Rod Smith did, worried that his roster spot won't be there?
Smith's work ethic is what you want to see from any wide receiver, regardless of talent. That's because wide-receiving talent has been notoriously difficult to project to the NFL. While it's hard to label any draft pick a bust, since 2000, there have been 43 wide receivers drafted in the 1st round. Of these wideouts drafted, 10 have made the Pro-Bowl at least once in their career:
Year Drafted Player Pro Bowls 2009 Percy Harvin 1 2007 Braylon Edwards 1 2007 Roddy White 1 2004 Larry Fitzgerald 4 2005 Roy Wililams 1 2003 Andre Johnson 4 2002 Javon Walker 1 2001 Koren Robinson 1 2001 Santana Moss 1 2001 Reggie Wayne 4
This isn't a bad list at all, although you'd get a lot of argument from fans regarding Edwards, Williams, Walker, and Robinson, given their 1st-round status. It's still too early to judge Harvin. But of the 43, though, I'd say Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald have had the sort of impact that is projected upon Bryant.
For those that just have to know, here are the other receivers taken in the 1st round since 2000 that have never been to a Pro-Bowl:
Year Team Player 2009 OAK Darrius Heyward-Bey 2009 SFO Michael Crabtree 2009 PHI Jeremy Maclin 2009 NYG Hakeem Nicks 2009 TEN Kenny Britt 2007 DET Calvin Johnson 2007 MIA Ted Ginn Jr. 2007 KAN Dwayne Bowe 2007 NOR Robert Meachem 2007 SDG Craig Davis 2007 IND Anthony Gonzalez 2006 PIT Santonio Holmes 2005 MIN Troy Williamson 2005 DET Mike Williams 2005 JAX Matt Jones 2005 BAL Mark Clayton 2004 JAX Reggie Williams 2004 BUF Lee Evans 2004 TAM Michael Clayton 2004 ATL Michael Jenkins 2004 SFO Rashaun Woods 2003 DET Charles Rogers 2003 ARI Bryant Johnson 2002 NOR Donte Stallworth 2002 DEN Ashley Lelie 2001 CHI David Terrell 2001 WAS Rod Gardner 2001 PHI Freddie Mitchell 2000 CIN Peter Warrick 2000 PIT Plaxico Burress 2000 BAL Travis Taylor 2000 KAN Sylvester Morris 2000 JAX R. Jay Soward
Still willing to invest your own money?
Moralizer or Risk Manager?
To be clear, I'm not making a moral argument, nor am I making a judgement about Bryant. In life, no one is perfect. In fact, if there was ever a time to cut a kid a break, it's now. Byrant had an extremely hard upbringing. As John Helsely wrote in the 2010 Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide:
Dez was 8 when his mom was caught selling crack cocaine to a police informant. The assistant district attorney called her a "bad dope dealer." And when she pleaded guilty to a felony charge of delivery of cocaine, the sentence was four years in state prison.
Bryant deserves a shot to get it right, to wipe the slate clean, to play in the NFL. In the end, no one really knows how he'll turn out. He might end up being as clean as Eddie Royal, although I doubt he'll get the 91 catches to go along with it.
But this shot should not come at the expense of Denver's #11 pick. The dollars are too great. We're not talking about $4 million as McGuire suggests as his threshold. Oh no. That's chump change. We're talking about $18 to $20 million. That is what last year's #11 pick, Aaron Maybin, signed for. To me, $18 million is simply too much to gamble on a guy who often had to be walked to class during his brief time at Oklahoma State.
Let someone else take the gamble, as someone almost certainly will. There is no shortage of Bryant backers and teams who are willing to take a flyer on so-called "character issues." As Matt Bowen writes in the National Football Post:
Add in Bryant's pro day-which he should light up if he is fully healthy-and I don't see how a team in need of a high first round WR will pass. Yes, there will be clubs who have dedicated meetings to talk about Bryant, and may go a different route because of his character that is now out in the open, but if I am in need of a first round talent at WR, I go ahead and pull the trigger.
The draft is still based off of talent first.
Bowen is right. The draft is about talent. All fans can agree on that. Especially if it's Pat Bowlen's money you're spending.