KFFL.com NFL Draft analyst Cory J. Bonini recently spoke with legendary NFL Draft evaluator and long-time Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt.
Is scouting players and evaluating talent a year-round thing for you?
Well, Cory, it has become a year-round thing. There's no question about that. As soon as the 2011 draft is over you immediately start working on the 2012 draft. I've already started that process.
You have seen a lot of prospects come into the NFL throughout your career as a draft analyst and VP of player personnel with the Dallas Cowboys. Who is the best prospect, regardless of position, you have ever evaluated?
Well, I think that there are a lot of prospects that are very, very good. I thought at the time that Troy Aikman, out of UCLA, I thought he was one of the most impressive players that I have evaluated. I thought Tony Dorsett, who eventually ended up with our team and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was one of those players. I thought Reggie White, coming out of Tennessee, was one of those players.
In this draft here that takes place April 28, I really think that Cam Newton has the potential to be one of those players. He has the potential to be a franchise quarterback for a long time to come.
Do you ever miss being in the front office calling the shots?
<Laughter> Yes, I do, at times. You know, I think I'm having a lot more fun and I'm going to live a lot longer without having to worry about being criticized for a bad choice that you made.
Sometimes when you make bad choices it's because you draft a player that has all the right tools to be successful except when he gets his signing bonus, which is now huge; all of a sudden that signing bonus is their utopia. Instead of working hard to continue to be good they slack off a bit.
Case in point: Calvin Hill, when we drafted him out of Yale, all he wanted to do was work harder to make more money. The following year we drafted a player named Bill Thomas, out of Boston College, who had the same characteristics as Calvin did but unfortunately didn't have the same work habits.
You told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that you would be shocked if Cam Newton wasn't the No. 1 overall pick. As a talent evaluator, how do you weigh the positives versus the negatives of a prospect as controversial as Newton and ultimately decide to take a chance on the player?
Brandt chats with Roger Staubach
I think you take the chance when you complete your investigation. My investigation started last October with a son through a student that I had at Auburn, and his directive was to find out any dirt that he could on Newton ... and he was not able to find any. He came back with such things like he doesn't cut the line, he goes to class and he drives around a motorscooter.
I've come to know the family, Jackie, the mother ... they've been married for 25 years. I think it's a pretty stable family they come from. The guy's got good work habits. When he transferred from Binn Junior College to there last January, he spent every weekend at Auburn rather than going home or going visit the sights of Montgomery, Birmingham or Atlanta like a lot of people do at colleges over the weekend.
Which prospects do you think could struggle making the transition to the NFL?
I don't think there's any that will have problems. I think that what takes place is if you can look inside that player and find out what's going to happen when he gets money and more notoriety. I think then it's easy to identify those people. I think that the people we have evaluated as top prospects - people that are going to be drafted in the top hundred - usually those are players that have a lot of talent. It's just that ability to use that talent and stay on the straight and narrow.
Which players do you feel will be the steals of the draft?
I think there's always steals in the later rounds. All we have to do is look and see last year: We had 59 undrafted free agents on first-weekend rosters. I think all you have to do is see who was last year's leading rusher, and that was an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee and the City of San Diego that ended up playing with the Houston Texans.
Discuss the significance of the lockout in regards to teams not being able to trade or sign players prior to the draft. How does this change a team's mindset when they address their needs?
Well, it's tough, because usually prior to the draft you had the ability to sign free agents. Let's say that I'm looking for a defensive back in the draft but I was able to sign one in free agency. Of course, that changes my approach to the draft.
I still think you have to take the best player available when you draft. I think what you do is put these players in plateaus and you may have five in a plateau or six in a plateau that all look alike. If you come up to that plateau and you're looking for an offensive lineman and there's an offensive lineman in that plateau, you take him. If you come up to that plateau and you're looking for an offensive lineman and there's not one in that plateau then I think you take the best player available out of that plateau, and those players are very much similar in talent and ability.
Do you see most rookies having a harder time making an immediate impact this year if they miss out on offseason workouts due to the lockout?
Oh, I think it will be a lot harder. You know, I don't think, for example, (Sam) Bradford, would have made the impact he did had he not been able to come in and work right on the first of May last year and be with the St. Louis Rams coaches for the next three months so that when Week 1 came along he was able to start.
I don't think people realize how big and how hard it is to become an NFL player, simply because we do so many things both offensively and defensively. The changes are radical every year ... different coverages, different blitzes that the defense uses, and then offensively, the different schemes people use ... no backs, two backs, five wide receivers, three tight ends. There's just so many things, and as a quarterback, especially, and as a wide receiver, on a number of occasions, they have to adjust to what the defense is doing. If they don't have the opportunity to see all these things and look at in training camp, in OTAs, it's really a hard process to learn very quickly.
Is there anything you think a team can do to lessen the learning curve in that situation?
You could always lessen the learning curve. The only thing is that by expanding the learning curve I think you have a better chance of winning. I think that's why people do so many things.
Many, many years ago, as an example, teams would run two formations offensively - red and brown. Now it's not uncommon to see a team run 25 formations in a game, simply because they want to try to confuse the defense. Defensively, it's the same way. People would have one or two coverages, but now people have 10 to 15 coverages that they use to try to upset the flow of the offense.
Which positions do you feel can make the easiest transition with less hands-on training?
Historically, the easiest position on offense is running back, and I think it will continue to be that way. Probably, historically, the easiest position on defense is the cornerback, because a lot of teams play man coverage so it's not as complicated for what they have to do. If you look at linebackers, as an example, especially on a 3-4 team, where sometimes they're playing with their hand on the ground, sometimes they're dropping into space, and it's a very hard job to coordinate all these things that you have to do to be successful, to have a good 3-4 defense.
Fantasy football has made a major impact on the NFL landscape in the last five to 10 years. Has it changed the way that you analyze the game? If so, how?
I think you continually look for ways and situations to improve what you're doing. I think probably the biggest thing in the last 10 years is the advent of tape. You can now, instead of waiting until next year or later in the season, you can really analyze everything you're doing both offensively and defensively almost on a week-to-week basis. By that, I mean you can look at plays.
Let's just say that flat 49 is a running play, and you can see that flat 49 has not been a very good running play for you as far as productivity. You can go and look to the other side and see that flat 36 is a really good play, but you didn't run it as many times. For some reason, you've looked to the past or remembered the past and found that flat 49 was a good play to run, but it no longer is.
I think those are biggest things that we do today, is that we take this tape that we use now and we try to get as many tendencies off the tape as possible. Now, of course, what happens is the defense does the same thing, so somehow, as a defense, you have to be able to predict the offense. Somehow, as an offense, you have to try to predict what the defense is going to counter with and hopefully you can surprise them with something new.
You can see Brandt's work on NFL.com by clicking here.
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.