Drafting left tackle Robert Gallery may be safer route than taking a QB
Updated: Tuesday April 20, 2004 1:50AM
Several teams may be interested in trading up to draft Robert Gallery.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Last week, I wondered what it might feel like to be San Diego general manager A.J. Smith in the days before the NFL draft. Would he be able to pass on taking Eli Manning with the first pick this weekend and live with himself? This week, I take you into the confines of Iowa coach KirkFerentz's office to watch some tape of Hawkeyes left tackle Robert Gallery.
There's a play in Iowa's 21-2 win over Arizona State from last fall that I ask Ferentz to run back and forth, forth and back. It's a counter running play, with the left side of the line moving right to pile-drive a crease in the Sun Devils defense. Gallery, the athletically mountainous 6-foot-7, 323-pound kid from a farm town in Iowa, takes three or four steps laterally right and backward, locked onto his man. Suddenly, Gallery stops and digs in. The Iowa running back is about to sprint past him into a good-sized hole if Gallery can hold his ground. If Gallery gets pushed back a yard further, the back will be stopped for a two-yard loss. But Gallery digs in and doesn't move an inch, even with the ASU plowhorse hard-charging into him. Gallery and his challenger just stop. Dead. The back scoots past the Gallery scrum for a good-sized gain into this hole.
We watched a few plays of Gallery locking onto his man and moving the helpless defender six, eight, 10 yards downfield. But as far as I'm concerned this run against ASU was his signature play. Gallery had all this guy's momentum backing him into the Iowa backfield, and all of a sudden it was like they both hit a wall. Awesome.
"I am telling you as strongly as I can," said Ferentz, "that there is no way we would have been a top-10 team without Robert. It's hard just watching a few plays to put into words how valuable he was for us."
Which is a long-winded way of getting to my point of the day: If you could have Robert Gallery or Eli Manning in this draft, who would you take?
Normally I'd say it's a dead-solid lock. Take the quarterback. But look at the tackles with similar pedigrees drafted in the last 10 years: Tony Boselli, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace. Boselli, until chronic shoulder injuries doomed his career two years ago, was one of the three or four big reasons why Jacksonville burst out of the gate as the most rapidly successful expansion team in NFL history. The Jags could run behind him and he was a fierce pass-blocker. I remember covering the Jaguars-Chiefs in Week 2 of the1998 season, with the late Derrick Thomas coming off a six-sack opener for Kansas City. Six. And Boselli shut him down without a sniff. I think Thomas touched Mark Brunell, literally, once that day. Ogden is as prototypical a left tackle as the modern game has ever seen. Not as mean as Boselli, but athletic and fast and strong. The perfect player for a vital position. Pace has been a very good player, maybe not a classic all-time left tackle, but one of the best three or four in the game pretty consistently since the Rams picked him first overall in 1997. There isn't a stronger tackle in the league.
Let's look at all the tackles who've been drafted in the top five in the past five drafts and who've played tackle in the NFL. (That eliminates Leonard Davis, picked second overall in 2001 by Arizona; he's a guard now.) There are five: Boselli (1995, second overall), Ogden (1996, fourth), Pace (1997, first), Washington's Chris Samuels (2000, third) and Buffalo's Mike Williams (2002, fourth). It's too early to judge Williams. Samuels has been a very good player, but prone to injury. Boselli, Ogden and Pace were or are legitimate consistent Pro Bowlers. Samuels made the Pro Bowl too, but he hasn't played to the level of the others. So, basically, all four of the franchise tackles whom we can judge now have been very good-to-impeccable as NFL players.
Conversely, let's look at the quarterbacks picked in the top five since 1995. There have been 11: Steve McNair and Kerry Collins in 1995, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith in 1999, Michael Vick in 2001, David Carr and Joey Harrington in 2002, and CarsonPalmer last year. Manning and McNair are the only players of the 11 who I'd put on the level of Ogden and Boselli. McNabb has been good to very good. I'd call Collins good. Couch has been a C-minus; Smith and Leaf get F's. You have to give Vick, Carr, Harrington and Palmer incompletes.
Couch was the first pick in his draft, Leaf the second and Smith the third. Those are colossal mistakes The Browns, Chargers and Bengals, respectively, had to eat. There has been no such eating of franchise tackles in the last 10 years.
Last point on this subject: The quarterbacks of the last five Super Bowl winners have come into the league as a sixth-round draft pick (Tom Brady, twice), a ninth-rounder (Brad Johnson), a waived former first-rounder (Trent Dilfer) and an undrafted free agent (Kurt Warner). The left tackles for those same teams have been drafted in the second round (New England's Matt Light, twice), the third round (Tampa Bay's Roman Oben), the first round (Baltimore's Ogden) and the first round (St. Louis' Pace).
That's only anecdotal, but it says to me teams do just fine winning, and winning big, without big-time, big-money quarterbacks. It would be a stretch to say that teams have found the great left tackles to be of higher value on winners in recent years, but the evidence is at least interesting and worthy of some thought. It's also interesting worth considering the impact of a high-drafted quarterback from the money angle. Here's Brady, a two-time Super Bowl winner, and he'll have a reasonable $8.3 million cap number next year. You really don't want any player on your team to be more than 10 percent of your total cap. I'm not saying Peyton Manning doesn't deserve anything he can get, but the money he gets adversely impacts the Colts from building a team around him better than the Pats can build around the reasonably priced Brady. When the quarterback is coming from such a low draft position, a team can afford to pay him a lower number than a very high pick. For a while, at least.
I am loading my argument. But it's just that I think Eli Manning and Robert Gallery will go 1-2 this Saturday, and if I were the Giants or Redskins or Browns, and I could move up, I'd do whatever I could within reason to move. If I were the Giants, I'd take Gallery, re-sign Collins for the next four years, and take my chances. I'd run the risk that Manning or Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger becomes an all-timer. They all won't. The odds are against three quarterbacks from the top of one draft all becoming great are monumental. But the odds say that Gallery will probably have a very good pro career and maybe one of the best a tackle has ever had. I guess what it comes down to is I've seen too many quarterbacks who were supposed to be saviors turn into Akili Smiths and Ryan Leafs, and I've seen too many good quarterbacks get picked late. I'd rather have the sure thing. I'd rather have Gallery.
Last week, while interviewing Gallery at an Iowa City restaurant, I noticed something that I wanted to point out to give his parents some credit. Every time the waitress came by to fill his water glass -- he'd just finished working out, so he was a thirsty dude -- Gallery looked up at her and said, "Thank you, ma'am."
That may not seem like much. Maybe it isn't. But he probably thanked this woman six times in the course of the 60 minutes we spent at the table. I've seen American restaurant manners quite a bit in my 46 years, and that doesn't happen very often.
... With Atlanta coach Jim Mora, who is getting comfortable in his first pro head-coaching job.
MMQB: How's it been so far working with your offensive line coach, Alex Gibbs? He has some unusual methods.
Mora: I love it. Alex has a certain type of player he likes. They don't have to be big. They can be smaller and more maneuverable guys, but they have to be quick and smart, and they have to be able to cut-block. The ability to bend the knees and get low on people is important to Alex. And he likes a lot of the linemen other coaches haven't wanted to keep. He's just a great teacher.
MMQB: Will your offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and Michael Vick be a good match?
Mora: Mike grew up a 49ers fan. He loved watching Steve Young play. Now to be studying the same offense Steve used, and Joe Montana used, is a big thing, a good thing for Mike. He's into it. I see him embracing what Greg is teaching him.
MMQB: You have to find a way to keep him healthy for 16 games.
Mora: Like [with] Steve, we want to have the ball in Mike's hands when the play breaks down. You don't want to take away his innate ability to make plays, and we all recognize his tremendous athletic ability, but we'll be smart about it. We're going to try to enhance his ability by working on his decision-making. And we're going to do a good job of protecting him.
HE WANTS THE G-MEN TO GRAB GALLERY. From Brendan Killeen of Manhasset, N.Y.: "Being a Giants fan I have to admit that I'm not too excited about all the rumors concerning them trading up to get Eli Manning. While I do think he'll be a fine QB, I believe the Giants have more pressing needs than a QB, mainly on the offensive line. Kerry Collins, while not the best QB in the world, is serviceable enough as long as he has a decent line protecting him. Collins might not be the long-term answer, but haven't we learned by now that you can find a good QB in the later rounds?"
Brendan, if I were doing the picking for the Giants, that's probably the way I'd go. I love Gallery. If New York can move up and take him, it would be getting a great and conscientious player for the next dozen years. You're right: Quarterbacks drafted in later rounds can be molded into good players.
I DIDN'T KNOW THERE WERE STEELERS FANS DOWN UNDER. From Dean of Perth, Western Australia: "Pittsburgh and Plaxico Burress: Should they trade him now to get something for him, or do you let him play out the last season of his contract and (likely) see him leave for more dollars at the end of the year?''
In today's game, Dean, I think you hang onto difference-makers and worry about 2005 in 2005.
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
AND NOW WE HEAR FROM THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES. From Bryan Auge of Yellowknife, Canada: "George Santayana said: 'Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' I cannot believe the Chargers are even considering trading down. They could draft the brother of Peyton Manning. Despite this, people are still advising the Chargers to trade down to get a different quarterback and picks. Stockpiling picks means continued losing."
Brian, the reason I think the Chargers should trade the pick is simple. I think Philip Rivers is very much in Eli Manning's league. I think he's just as good a pro prospect. And if you can get an extra couple of first-day draft picks by trading down and still getting Rivers, particularly when you're in need of as many good young players as San Diego is, you have to do it.
AN INTERESTING THOUGHT. From Jason Jarvis of Lincoln, Mass.: "You wrote: 'I think a bunch of Patriots players are stunned that the Red Sox let Pedro Martinez get away with his diva stuff, like leaving the stadium before the end of a game.' Doesn't that just sum up the difference between baseball (selfish, overpaid, lazy athletes) and football (hard-working, tenuously contracted, tough athletes) -- as well as between the Boston Red Sox (overwhelming individual talent but ultimately losers) and the New England Patriots (overwhelming team concept and ultimate winners)?"
I don't agree about the denigration of the Sox necessarily, because I think they have some real gamers like Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, Pokey Reese, Derek Lowe and others. Those guys exist in the world that baseball has created. If football players didn't have a salary cap they might be more similar to baseball players than you think. The Patriots are lucky that the salary cap backs up the philosophical leanings of Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli.
AMEN, BROTHER. From Gary Cole of Billerica, Mass.: "It makes me cringe when I hear owners talking about adding more playoff teams. A team that finishes just above mediocrity has no business being in the playoffs."
Congrats, Gary, for writing the e-mail of the week. You said it perfectly.
I EVEN GET SECOND-GUESSED ON MY SOPRANOS OPINIONS. From Joe Robberson of West Barnstable, Mass.: "That dean of college admissions dude may have ended it too quick with Carmela, but it was necessary to move the plot forward. Carmela has to come back to Tony and A.J. at some point and this breakup leads to her revelation that because of her past, she'll always be suspect, even though the truth about her character is that she really is a user."
Here's my problem with it, Joe. Say you're a very average-looking 44-year-old school counselor, single, and some hot and available woman is all over you. I don't care how much pride you have. You're going to go for the gusto for longer than two rolls in the hay.
"I think there's a very substantial chance he won't be in the draft.'' --NFL attorney Jeff Pash on Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett
The NFL heads to court in Manhattan Monday hoping that a stay of a lower-court ruling allowing underclassman Clarett to enter Saturday's draft is upheld.
To clarify, if the stay is dissolved this week, Clarett and USC receiver Mike Williams will be in the draft. If it is dissolved after the draft at some point, the NFL will hold a special Supplemental Draft within 10 days of the ruling for Clarett and Williams. If the stay continues to be upheld through the offseason, Clarett and Williams will not play in the NFL this year.
Driving from Iowa City to St. Louis last week after interviewing Gallery, I noticed one of the most interesting exit signs on any American highway. It came on U.S. 61, about an hour north of St. Louis. The off-ramp sign read:
Louisiana Mexico 1 Mile
Quite a cosmopolitan place, that northeast Missouri.
1. I think, even though I've said it once, it bears repeating: This is the most well-mannered, bright, well-spoken group of top draft prospects I've ever met in my 20 years covering football. I mentioned this to Giants GM Ernie Accorsi last week, and he heartily agreed. "It's not a stretch with guys like Philip Rivers to say, and really mean, that you'd wish your daughter would meet one of these guys," he said. "There's a bunch of really great kids in this draft." It's more than these guys simply being media-savvy. There's no paper trail of off-field crap behind the majority of these players. The NFL has to be thrilled.
2. I think there hasn't been a draft in recent memory with the potential of massive movement at the top of it like this one. Look at the top slots. I think it's 40-60 that San Diego will trade the top pick, 70-30 that the Giants trade the fourth pick, 50-50 that the Raiders (at No. 2) and Washington (at No. 5) trade out, and if Cleveland, at No. 7, doesn't move up to take Gallery, it won't be for lack of trying. Then again, last year I thought there's be a lot of deals and it was mostly very quiet throughout the first round.
3. I think this might be why Pioli is so good at his job as the Patriots' vice president of player personnel. He was recently named the NFL's Executive of the Year by The Sporting News, and one of the writers at the function asked Pioli about whether he'd gotten any time off to savor the Super Bowl win. "You enjoy those things after you retire, I'm told," he said. "We got back from the Super Bowl and went into 13 straight days of meetings, preparing for the offseason, free agency and the draft. It's awesome." You want your stud personnel man to feel that way, don't you?
4. I think, speaking of the New England football club, one thing that flew under the national radar last week was a letter sent out by the Patriots to season-ticket holders announcing that they would not raise ticket prices. Not that big a deal, I guess, until you consider that the Patriots haven't hiked ticket prices for three straight offseasons. What are the odds that a team would win its first Super Bowl ever (2001), miss out on the playoffs (2002), then win its second Super Bowl (2003) -- and not jack up the prices after any of those seasons? That's a heck of a job by Bob Kraft.
5. I think, as a pretty close follower of baseball, that no matter whether it is proven that Barry Bonds ever used steroids or human growth hormones, I'll always have skepticism about his records. I can't help it. I believe he used something. I don't believe Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron used anything. I'm a big innocent-until-proven-guilty guy, so I in no way think Bonds' records should be asterisked unless there is some dead-solid proof that he cheated. But I can't pretend that I think Bonds is clean.
6. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Crappy Sopranos. The insertion of Tony's dad's floozy might lead to some spectacular end a week or five from now, but God, was that the non-sequitur storyline of all time or what? Sheesh.
b. Montclair (N.J.) High School Softball Note of the Week: The long and winding softball career of southpaw hurler Mary Beth King has taken her to ancient Clearman Field in blue-collar Belleville, N.J., annually since fifth grade. Before Saturday's Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League tilt between Montclair and Belleville at Clearman (where Bill Parcells once played American Legion baseball) seven times on a total of four teams had Mary Beth journeyed seven miles east to the complex, which is tucked into a Belleville neighborhood. Seven times she'd lost. As a freshman, she came into the game in relief. In her third inning, she got nailed in the forehead with a one-hop line drive that knocked her to the ground, out cold. As a sophomore, she endured a particularly ugly 11-0 trouncing. Last year, she took a 2-0 loss. And so this was it -- her last chance. Thanks to her junior batterymate MegMylan's two-run homer in the fourth (Attention all Division I coaches: You are going to want to see this Meg Mylan kid throw and hit, because she's going to be a major-college stud someday), Montclair took a 4-3 lead to the bottom of the seventh. The Belleville kids all crowded their side of the screen, loudly encouraging their hitters and razzing the pitcher. You could make out few words, just a lot of guttural "ooooooohhhaahhhhgot-er2-1rayyyyy'' from 10 or 12 kids, chirping as loud as they can to disrupt the pitcher. Mary Beth struck out the first batter swinging. The second kid walked. Louder chirping. Smell of blood. Next kid hit a little pop off the end of the bat between the pitching circle and second base; our shortstop and second baseman lunged for it and missed it. Lots of screaming. But the kid on first had to wait to see if the ball would fall, and she got a late jump to second, and, incredibly, our center-fielder, Rebecca Houston, had the presence of mind to spring in from center and cover second. Second baseman Roni Herbst, from her knees, threw to Rebecca, and it's a force at second. Whew. What a play by a heady center-fielder. Now their nine hitter's up. The Belleville coach, the crafty and resourceful and tough Carl Corrino, calls over the batter and has a discussion with her. The kid got into the box. Only she didn't get into the box. She was leaning over home plate, and if she's in the batter's box, she's was in it just barely. Mary Beth went to 3-1 on her. Huge noise now. She took a couple of steps toward home and asked the ump, "Is she in the batter's box?'' The ump then redrew the line of the box, but the kid still leaned way over the plate. Mary Beth threw ball four. Full howl mode now, and the Belleville crowd was into it too. Now the leadoff batter, a righty batter, who had grounded to second twice and struck out swinging. The tying run, on second, and the winning run, on first, get set to sprint off the bag when the pitch is thrown. Strike one. Ball one. Strike two. Foul to the screen. Foul to the screen. Another fastball, on the outside black. The ump rang her up. Ballgame. Montclair 4, Belleville 3. Expressionless, Mary Beth jogs to the sideline and shook hands with her coach, Lonnie Smith. I've said this before in this space, and you are sick of hearing it, but I want some of what she has. A lot of it. Here's what our paper, the Newark Star-Ledger, had to say about the game yesterday.
c. Coffeenerdness: Starbucks is not going to like this. Not one bit. But I had a Dunkin' Donuts medium latte yesterday, for $2.27, and it was delicious. Good espresso quality, I thought -- and for a buck less than Starbs.
7. I think the two teams that really got a tough break on the schedule are Seattle and New England. The Seahawks start the season with 2,200- and 2,600-mile trips: to New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Now the league makes it up to them a bit by letting them finish with three winnable games (at the Jets, Arizona, Atlanta), but starting with two mondo trips isn't very winning-friendly. The Patriots, after opening with Indy on Thursday, Sept. 9, play one game in the next 23 days. How about getting your team ready to play, then playing one game, then having 10 days before the next game (and having that one at Arizona, at 1:15 in the Phoenix sun, when it'll be 103 degrees), then having 13 days before the next game because the Pats have the third-week bye?
8. I think, of the contenders and near-contenders, Jacksonville's sked is the one I like the best. How about this for regularity: 16 Sunday games, 15 of them at 1 o'clock local time?
9. I think TyLaw's got some 'splainin' to do.
10. I think the reason the draft is so much fun, and gets so many fans all fired up, is because with so many teams floating mistruths and not leveling with anyone till their 15-minute period comes up, it's a time of true mystery. Fans like mystery. Saturday's going to be a lot of fun.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.