Someone was going to take a chance on Janoris Jenkins. Now you'll know why the Rams were that someone.
Les Snead shouldn't be this smart as a first-year GM.
"Draft picks are like stocks,'' Snead said after midnight Friday. "But our draft, as a whole, is sort of like a mutual fund.''
I'll translate: Let's say you have seven picks in a seven-round draft, and you're coming off a 2-14 season, and you've got needs out the wazoo. The guys you pick in the first two or three rounds are guys you have confidence that as people and players will be good long-term investments. But if you have extra picks -- the Rams had four in the top 50 -- you can afford to try to hit a home run. If you fail, it's bad -- Pacman bad. If you succeed, it's great.
The Rams went 2-14 and changed coaches, and changed general managers. When coach Jeff Fisher and Snead began scouting the roster, they saw more holes than they'd have liked -- on the defensive line, at corner, at receiver, on the offensive line and at running back. But they were able, through trades, to pick up two extra second-round picks this year and extra first-round picks in 2013 and '14. So they went about their reconstruction knowing they had a luxury others teams didn't have. With a league-high four picks in the top 45 (later, 50 when they traded down at 45 on day two of the draft), they figured they could afford to take a shot on a boom-or-bust pick.
Snead was working for the Falcons last fall when he began looking into Janoris Jenkins. The Falcons wouldn't have a first-round pick in 2012 because they used it to help acquire Julio Jones last year. So he went to Division II North Alabama, where one of the best cornerbacks in the country was playing in exile from the University of Florida because of his marijuana record in Gainesville. "I go out to watch practice one day, and there's Janoris, playing gunner on special teams,'' said Snead. "And loving it -- playing as hard as he can, competing. That's the thing about this kid: He loves football. With everything that's gone in his life, he loves football. It's just all the other things he's had to get right.''
The Rams had the 31st-rated run defense in football last year, and picked a 322-pound tackle, Michael Brockers, to help fix that in the first round. They have no big receiver -- really, no quality receiver to stretch any defense -- and so picked 6-4 Brian Quick at the top of the second round to help Sam Bradford get the ball downfield. Picking at 39, they took a shot on the problem-riddled Jenkins, and at 65, high in the third round, added Trumaine Johnson, a 6-2 corner from Montana.
"But without all the extra picks, obviously, it would have been tougher to take a chance on Janoris,'' Snead said.
The Rams have put in some safeguards and checks for Jenkins. Snead, or someone with the organization, will call him or talk to him every day about his life, which is a mess. He's had four children with three different women, and he'll have to use much of his first contract to straighten out child support and related family care things. Jenkins knows he'll be monitored by the man who holds the cornerback's life in his hands. "I look the kid in the eye and said, 'It's you and me,' '' Snead said.
I love what the 49ers did late Friday night and Saturday.
To become a great general manager, you have to be willing to take some chances. You have to be willing, on draft day, to make decisions that can impact your team for the next few years, positively or negatively. You have to have the courage of your convictions that if you trade down and lose the player you wanted in the first place, you'll be OK with that; the risk was worth it.
That happened to San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke late Friday night, as the third round was winding down. The 49ers had the 29th pick in the round, the 92nd pick overall. They liked a guard from Wake Forest named Joe Looney. Baalke knew the Niners liked Looney better than a lot of teams. He knew he might be able to get Looney in the fourth round. Might. No guarantees. And if he lost him, Baalke felt fine going with the next man on the board. So when the Colts called looking for a late-third-round pick, Baalke traded 92 to the Colts for the 97th pick and Indy's fifth-round pick in 2013.
On Saturday, at the start of round four, Baalke still thought he could wait for Looney. He dealt 97 to Miami for the Dolphins' fourth-round pick, 103 overall, plus the 196th pick and a sixth-round pick in 2013. At 103, Looney was still there. San Francisco was picking 125th. Dare Baalke wait? Carolina came calling for the 103rd pick, and Baalke dealt that pick for the 180th in this draft and a third-round pick in 2013.
Tick. Tick. Tick. No guards went from 103 to 111, and Chicago was a candidate, but the Bears passed on the line, as did Arizona at 112, and now Baalke was pressing the outer limits, and he picked up the phone and made a deal with Detroit, trading up eight spots from 125 to 117 and throwing in the Miami pick acquired an hour earlier (196) in order to draft Looney ... 25 picks after the Niners were going to take him at 92.
So at the end of the dealing, the Niners got their man. And they got this:
The 180th pick in 2012 -- Michigan State free safety Trenton Robinson.
Carolina's third-round pick in 2013.
Indianapolis' fifth-round pick in 2013.
Miami's sixth-round pick in 2013.
Along with a seventh-round pick in 2013 from Cincinnati in the Taylor Mays trade, and likely compensatory picks for losing guard Adam Snyder and wide receiver Josh Morgan in free agency, San Francisco now sits with a projected 13 picks in the 2013 draft, the most of any team in the league.
"I'd be lying to suggest building up that many picks was our intention at the start of it,'' Baalke told me Saturday night. "But we were able to turn the pick over three times and get our guy, plus five picks [four, after the deal with Detroit]. So it worked out. We're not trying to win in the court of public opinion, or win in the media. We're trying to win games over the long haul and build a team for sustained success.''
That's precisely the kind of deal that helps a team win over the long haul.
So what exactly are the Seahawks doing?
The Bruce Irvin pick at 15 in the first round wasn't that odd -- at least not to two GMs I spoke with. "He was going in the first round, guaranteed,'' one said. "He's got rare pass-rush skills.'' Now, Russell Wilson at 75? Well, believe me or don't, but one coach within 20 picks of the Seahawks said to me Sunday he'd have pushed hard for Wilson with that pick in the third round.
Clearly, though, the second-guessing with Seattle was hot and heavy through the weekend. "They just value players differently than almost every other team,'' one personnel director told me. "They get a feeling on a guy and it doesn't matter if they're the lone wolves -- they're going to take the guy no matter what anyone else thinks.''
On Irvin, coach Pete Carroll said: "Best pass-rusher in the draft.''
On Wilson, GM John Schneider told me: "One of the top three players I scouted this fall. We had a great conviction on him.''
Wilson gets knocked for being 5-10 ½. Which he should. "But he has a unique ability to find passing lanes, which I saw time and again,'' Schneider said. Wilson, he said, had fewer passes batted down last fall than Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Ryan Tannehill. Great conviction. Schneider showed it last year with tackle James Carpenter (who?) in the first round, and he showed it twice this year. His picks are mindful of Ron Wolf's. That's one of Schneider's mentors. If Wolf wanted to pay a first-round pick for a 248-pound party-boy quarterback, no matter how many people in the organization looked at him funny about it, he was going to do it and not think twice.
Brett Favre, by the way.
So Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn will have some surprising company in camp this summer. "We don't exactly have our quarterback position set in stone for the long run,'' said Schneider. So we see.
Making sense of Bryan Anger.
Can a punter, drafted 70th, possible justify that pick?
Let's look at the best punter in the league last year, and let's look at Jacksonville's punting situation last year. San Francisco's Andy Lee was 9.0 yard per punt better than the Jags did on their 99 punts, and, in net punting, 7.5 yards per punt better than Jacksonville. Let's say new punter Bryan Anger, drafted in the third round Saturday, approaches Lee's performance. On a team averaging six punts a game, is 54 yards of field, and 45 net yards of field position, worth it?
The 45 net yards difference, if Anger can provide that, is about four first downs per game. Over the course of a season, if a ball-control team like Jacksonville is 64 first downs better -- and that is not exactly fair, because it's assuming Anger will be as good as Lee is, and there's no guarantee of that -- that should be the difference in a game or two.
Anger, one special teams coach told me this weekend, is one of the best directional punters he's ever seen. "I never get the chance to just kick down the middle of the field,'' he told me. "At Cal, we always wanted to pin the guy in the corner or the sideline. Field position today is so big in football. It's a big deal nobody really focuses on.''
The best two punters alive are Lee and Shane Lechler. Anger went to Cal. All three in the Bay Area at one time -- the cradle of punters. "I look up to them,'' said Anger, who's never met them. "If I could do what they do, I'd be a very happy person.''
The Jaguars are counting on it. They're banking a pick almost no other team in the league would consider on it.
Awards That May Interest Only Me Dept.
Most notable notes from the 77th National Football League draft:
Best pick, offense: Amini Silatolu, G-T, Midwestern State, 40th overall to Carolina. Multiple teams targeted him late in the first round, and GM Marty Hurney got a great value here. He'll bring an attitude and versatility to the Panthers and should be a 10-year starter wherever Carolina needs him.
Worst pick, offense: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State, 102nd overall to Washington. Allow me to jump on a crowded bandwagon. The only reason to do this, and I mean only, is because you're injury-protecting Robert Griffin III. All the other reasons aren't legitimate. Cousins' trade value won't increase as a No. 3 quarterback behind Griffin and Rex Grossman; ask Bill Belichick about Ryan Mallett. And what I really hate about the pick is that the Redskins won't have a first-round pick in 2013 or in 2014. GM Bruce Allen should have tried to peddle this pick for a third-rounder in 2013 somewhere, and if he couldn't find one, he should have buttressed a need position and taken second-round-tackle and value pick Bobby Massie here.
Best pick, defense: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall, 59th overall to Philadelphia. The Eagles took a page from the Giants and improved their pass-rush with good depth in the front seven in this draft. Curry should be a 25-snap rotational rusher.
Worst pick, defense: The Colts passing on CB Trumaine Johnson to take TE Dwayne Allen with the first pick of the third round. Indy was crying out for secondary help. No team in the league last year was as generous in the secondary as the Colts, who allowed opposing passers to complete 71.2 percent of their throws. And they didn't draft one cornerback.
GM of the weekend (tie): Trent Baalke, San Francisco; Buddy Nix, Buffalo. I detailed Baalke's multiple moves to set up the Niners as a power player in the 2013 draft. And getting LaMichael James late in the second round gives Jim Harbaugh the home-run back he hasn't had in an offense that needs a threat like that. As for Nix, who rebuilt his defensive end position in free agency (Mario Williams, Mark Anderson), he bought a new secondary over the weekend, with first- and fourth-round corners (Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks) who will become starting and nickel corners, respectively.
The key to Buffalo's draft could end up being offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders, a fifth-round tackle from Florida State who started at age 18 in the ACC, and started 50 games in college. Cordy Glenn and Zanders one day could make this a great draft.
Trade-up of the weekend: Dallas moving from 14 to 6 in the first round to pick LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Dallas opens with the Super Bowl champion Giants and two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning in the NFL's season opener on Sept. 5. The Cowboys play four games against Eli Manning and Mike Vick, and others against Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.
"We're up 12 with [four] minutes left against the Giants, and then we can't make a play in the secondary for the rest of the game,'' said Cowboys president Stephen Jones. "Believe me, we're all sick having to use our second-round. Sick. I can't tell you how much that hurts. But look at our secondary now. We signed [Kansas City cornerback] Brandon Carr in free agency, and now adding Morris ... We are thrilled about the improvement we've made in the secondary, particularly with the way the game is being played now.''
Trade-down of the weekend: Baltimore trading 29 overall for 35 and 98 overall. In this business, you have to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Ozzie Newsome does. The Ravens had crushes on two players late in the first round -- Dont'a Hightower and Kevin Zeitler. The cost to trade up from 29 was too steep, the Ravens thought, and so they dealt back six spots with Minnesota and got the guy who even the dumbest mock- and real-drafters had in the first round, Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, at 35. At 98 comes Delaware guard Gino Gradkowski, who could transition to a long-term center (and successor to Matt Birk). When I called around over the weekend asking for players GMs and coaches liked, the brother of Bruce Gradkowski came up a few times, and he'll have the chance to solve a long-term problem for a gritty offensive team.
Rabbit ears of the weekend: Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay. The Colts, who allowed the 28th-most points in the league last year, have the added construction problem of changing from a long-time 4-3 defense to the heavier-front 3-4, with many needs. They had four picks in the first two days of the draft and used none on defense, which I noted in an incredulous tweet late Friday night. To which Irsay, using his @JimIrsay Twitter account, responded Saturday: "Hey Peter King, we had NO defense, unlike now, in 1998, n B Polian took 4 Offensive picks n looking back at ur comments then, u said Great Draft!''
I think that means Irsay disagreed with my opinion. But I am honored he remembered my post-draft words of 14 years ago.
Media guy of the weekend (print): Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. McGinn had 10 direct hits in his mock draft, including the unlikely bull's-eye of Dont'a Hightower to New England, Whitney Mercilus to Houston, Kevin Zeitler to Cincinnati and Courtney Upshaw to the Ravens a few picks too early. And he had 85 of his annual top 100 go in the top 100 of the draft, including Regina (Canada) defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who was picked 89th overall by the Saints.
We missed Rick Gosselin's terrific draft reporting this year in the Dallas Morning News, because Gosselin has taken a job as sports columnist at the paper and has to be more concerned with Yu Darvish than Amini Silatolu these days. But McGinn's hard work served his readers very well in Wisconsin this year, as usual.
Brian Dawkins bows out.
So many admirable things about Brian Dawkins, who retired the other day. His play on the field, certainly; the man had an anvil in his shoulder pads, and though so many enforcer-type safeties got the reputation at one point or another for being dirty, Dawkins intimidated receivers while for the most part retaining their respect. I know, I know. Giants fans hate the guy because they think he went over the line. I don't -- at least not purposefully. What I also respected about him was his willingness in some very tough times to stand up and be counted when so many other high-profile players around the league wouldn't be accountable to the press and public. I'll miss Dawkins' terrific play. His teammates will miss his leadership. We'll all miss his common sense.