- The Browns GM has twice had the top overall draft pick, including last year, when he spent it on Baker Mayfield. Among the lessons he can impart from being in that position: Don’t show your hand early.
MOBILE, Ala. — John Dorsey is really good at keeping his mouth shut.
How do we know? Last year at this time he was concealing his intentions like a mobster. Coming out of 2017, the consensus was that USC’s Sam Darnold would go first overall to Dorsey’s Browns. Around the combine, word circulated that the pick might actually be Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Then came Darnold’s pro day, and it flipped again. And a week before the draft, buzz came back around on Allen.
How hilarious this all must have been to the general manager at the top of the draft board. He knew who was taking, of course. In fact, Dorsey had known forever.
“Baker [Mayfield], in my intuitive feel, I knew in October,” Dorsey said, on his drive from Mobile to catch a flight home out of Pensacola on Wednesday afternoon.
That’s October 2017. That was three months before the Senior Bowl, four months before the combine, and six months before the draft itself. It was well before the public was convinced that Mayfield would go in the first round at all. And it was two months before Dorsey was even hired in Cleveland.
At the time, following his June 2017 firing as Chiefs GM, he’d set up a one-man scouting operation at his house. On Mondays and Tuesdays he’d do pro scouting. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays he’d do college scouting. And he even went out to live-scout college games on some Saturdays. Dorsey averaged about seven hours of tape a day, and being out of league, for the time being, didn’t affect his conviction.
He had it on Mayfield, right from the start.
“Baker’s one of those very unique guys,” Dorsey says. “He’s got the skill set where guys rally behind him and believe in him—My god, they love this guy. I can’t wait to meet him. It’s those moments where you see his teammates absolutely respect him to the utmost, and trust him. So don’t believe what everyone else is saying—see what these young kids are saying about this guy.
“There were a couple galvanizing moments where you’re going, ‘He’s got it.’ Especially at that position, you want to say he’s got it.”
That gut feeling of Dorsey’s has the Browns in a much different place than they were a year ago—and as 30 of 32 teams turned the page to 2019 this week, there’s something instructive to take from that.
In this week’s Game Plan, we’re going to look at some central figures from the two Super Bowl teams, and I’ll answer your questions on overtime, the Dallas staff changes, Le’Veon Bell, the Hall of Fame shots of a couple prominent Patriots, and which teams are going to be in the market to draft a quarterback.
We’re starting, though, with the unofficial start of next season, which annually takes place right here in coastal Alabama. And every year there’s one team that’s operating with a pretty important piece of real estate, holding the first overall selection in the draft.
Last year it was the Dorsey-led Browns. This year it’s the Cardinals and Steve Keim.
So I figured it’d be interesting to see what Dorsey would tell Keim about what lies ahead, knowing there’s a chance Keim’s already made up his mind on what to do with the pick, as Dorsey had at this point last year. Dorsey has actually been through this twice now, having had his finger on the trigger as the Chiefs took left tackle-of-the-future Eric Fisher atop the 2013 draft.
That time around, he was much deeper into the process before he decided that Central Michigan’s Fisher was the one: “I know exactly when [that moment] was. I know exactly when it was. I’m not going to share that with you, but I know exactly when it was. It was later, way later than Baker.”
And therein lies the first lesson: to let the decision come to you.
“It’s not my experience, it’s the organizational experience [to look at],” Dorsey said. “From an organizational overview, everyone needs to understand that each draft is different. The strengths and weaknesses of the draft are different. That’s the important thing, because if you really deep dive into the 2013 draft, it was a weak draft.
“And with Baker, because we’re such a quarterback-driven league, to me, it wasn’t even close. So you have to understand the draft. The great ones have always told me, don’t pass up a great player.”
So that’s one piece of advice for Keim and Co. (not that they asked for it). Here are four more:
1. Loose lips sink ships. I asked Dorsey why he was so secretive during the run-up to last April, given that he had the first pick, and so it wasn’t like someone could sneak up and take his guy. “I’ve always been raised, ‘Why show my cards?’ I’m not gonna show my cards. I’d never show my cards,” Dorsey said. “You know what the functional benefit is? The NFL is a very competitive business. Why tell anybody anything? It’s too important a decision to tell anybody anything.” Especially when there might be something to learn from keeping it quiet, like …
2. Finding out about your staff. Dorsey built a robust, experienced team of scouts in Cleveland, but it’s never bad to know more about the people around you. And the GM could do that by seeing what his staffers’ opinions were, and how they might change over time. “I just wanted to hear what everybody has to say, and I want to see how many people change their mind,” he said. “When you get to know the players, guys change their mind. You then begin to separate the real evaluators from the guys who don’t have strong conviction. You want guys with strong conviction who will stand up for what they see. The art of scouting is the ability to have conviction and belief in what you see.”
3. Conviction is the key word. But collaboration is right there with it, in making sure everyone is invested in the pick. That’s why, when I asked Dorsey what the first thing he’d tell Keim is, he said, “Listen to the room. And at the end of the day, hopefully your organization and your intuitive feel are aligned. Consensus is important because eventually the coaching staff is going to have to coach them. But also realize one thing—you have to be strong enough to say, if it’s in your heart, ‘Nope, it’s gotta be this way.’ And you have to convince the room it’s that way.”
4. Not just what but why. When the pick was a tougher one for Dorsey, in 2013, he studied not just what his scouts were telling him, but also why they might feel differently than he or others did. And in the process he figured he might learn something on the player or the scout that he didn’t know before. “Within the office, there were some who were [Mayfield] advocates, and there were other guys who you have to hear out,” Dorsey said. “Then you have to be very open-minded in how you go about the Q&A with the group to get them to see certain things. It comes down to, ‘Why did he say this? Why did he look at this?’ It’s a very slow, methodical process, understanding why you see it this way.”
Arizona’s situation is a little different, of course. The Cardinals took a quarterback in the first round last year. There isn’t another team in the top five that needs one, which might make it hard to trade the pick, if they were so inclined. And the two players that, as of now, are seen as the best in the class—Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams—weren’t in Mobile this week, nor was Keim.
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But the principles that Dorsey put into motion can apply. So too can a hope that Keim and his staff will find someone they have eyes for like Dorsey had eyes for Mayfield.
The love, as we said, ran pretty deep there. In fact, when I asked if he feels any different about Mayfield now than he did last January—after Mayfield put together a starry rookie year and fueled an unlikely run at the playoffs, one that went deep into December—Dorsey didn’t flinch.
“No,” he said. “Not at all.”
He knew what he was looking at then, just as he knows what he’s got now—“100 percent.” We’ll see if Arizona has a similar feeling 12 months from now.
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WEEKEND WATCH LIST
Without a game this weekend (sorry, Pro Bowl), I figured we’d look at four under-the-radar guys who have played surprisingly big roles as their conference finalist teams have advanced.
Patriots FB James Develin. New England has reinvented itself as a power running team, and Develin is a key cog in it. I’ve said plenty in this space about Bill Belichick’s love for common sense, and Develin’s presence on the roster fits right along with that approach—a hammer to throw at front sevens that are getting smaller and smaller. And Develin has also delivered in the passing game, and as a short yardage ball carrier (six carries, four touchdowns this year).
Rams P Johnny Hekker. Greg Zuerlein got all the pub, justifiably, last week. Hekker, meanwhile, converted another fourth down on a fake punt with his strong right arm, and was a factor in controlling field position against the Saints. Belichick, by the way, has been effusive about Hekker over the years, calling him a “weapon” before the two teams played in 2016.
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Rams WR Josh Reynolds. Losing Cooper Kupp was a huge blow for the Rams—and his 2017 draft classmate Reynolds has been vital as the team has gradually learned to make up for Kupp’s loss by shuffling the deck (and putting Robert Woods inside more). Last week in the Superdome the second-year pro set up a third-quarter touchdown with a 16-yard end around, then had a 33-yard catch in the fourth quarter to position the Rams to pull even for the first time. And the coaches believe he’s improving by the week.
Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy. The Patriots’ amoeba defense is keyed by hybrid linebackers who can do anything on any snap. That sort of ability is why Dont’a Hightower has been valued over the years in Foxboro. And in Van Noy, they’ve found a more affordable version to pair with their former first-round pick, and that version was all over the place in the team’s win at Arrowhead.
TWO FOR SATURDAY
A pair of intriguing draft prospects to keep an eye on this weekend.
Delaware S Nasir Adderly (Senior Bowl, 2:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network). This week is a great one for smaller-school guys to prove they can hold up with athletes from college football’s bluebloods, and that’s just what Adderly has done here thus far. “He was the easiest mover at the position, and arguably among all the DBs,” said one AFC college scouting director. “He has good size, speed, range and ball skills. He’s opening some eyes.” The evaluator went on to say that Adderly’s playing his way into first-round consideration, in adding these good days to a boatload of production (the only player in college football with 160 tackles and nine picks over the last two years) that’s sitting there on the tape.
Missouri QB Drew Lock (Senior Bowl, 2:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network). Duke’s Daniel Jones came in here as the presumed No. 2 quarterback in the class (behind Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins), but I’m not so sure it’ll stay that way. Entering the week, scouts I trust had a higher opinion of Lock than I thought they would, and the Raiders staff that’s coaching him has been impressed with how confident he’s come off in two days of practice. One NFC assistant who checked him out at practice this week, and studied his tape, told me he really liked Lock’s release, accuracy and athleticism, and thought he looked better than Jones with the two side-by-side for the North team. There’s a long way to go, but Lock sure seems to have a shot at going in the first round. The question? He’s played in very simple spread offenses (in both college and high school), and so his ability to evolve is, at this point, a pure projection.
From Steven Bradford (@stevenabradford): What teams do you expect to be in the market to draft a first-round QB?
I’d put them in two categories. The first would be the teams with an immediate or fairly immediate need: Jaguars, Broncos, Redskins, Dolphins. Then you have the teams that could look for a successor to an older long-term starter: Bengals, Packers, Steelers, Chargers, Patriots and Saints. And we’ll assume the Titans and Bucs are still in on Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, for the time being.
That makes 10 teams, with the Saints being the one among them without a first-round pick and none of the clubs sitting in the top five. It’s early, but that could make for some interesting pre-draft jockeying.
From dadtrick (@PatsATweetin): Outside of New England, is there uproar over overtime rules if KC wins the toss and marches for the TD?
I honestly don’t have a big issue with the current overtime rule, and I’m not sure everyone wanting to see Patrick Mahomes get one more crack at it (which we all did) is a legitimate enough reason for an overhaul. The adjustment to allow a team to answer a field goal addresses the changing landscape of offense and kicking (it had become too easy to get into range). And I don’t think it’s crazy not to give a team a possession if it can’t stop an opponent from going the length of the field.
That said, I’d love to see the NFL go to a basketball-style overtime, with a set 10-minute period, which would bring the clock into play and better recreate normal game conditions in the extra session. I also understand where that would probably add plays to your average overtime game, bringing a player-safety element into the decision-making process. And like I said, the way it is now isn’t bad.
From Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins): So should Kellen Moore or Jason Garrett call plays for the Cowboys?
Calvin! You may know better than I do, but I’d say you give Moore the power to begin with, and have Garrett backstopping him if he struggles. From everything I’ve heard, Moore’s very open-minded and in-tune with offensive innovation at different levels of football, which is just what the Cowboys were looking for, with the hope that Dallas will find the right way to get the most out of Dak Prescott.
Going to Moore, assuming this gets pushed over the goal line (he and presumptive new QBs coach Jon Kitna are working together this week at the Pro Bowl), is a little risky and outside the box, for sure. But it does make sense, because you’ll have elements of continuity and necessary change in play.
From J. Goodloe (@Justin_goodloe): Why do you believe Le’Veon is going to Tampa?
I said this on The Herd a couple weeks ago—Colin asked me to make a prediction, so I did. And I made it before the Bruce Arians hire, and it was based in part on rumblings from October that Tampa could have been a Bell trade destinations. So there are some moving parts here.
What I would say now is this still feels to me like an operation—with Arians in the fold and GM Jason Licht heading into Year 6—that will be aggressive about trying to win now. If Arians can straighten out Jameis Winston, the talent is there, without question on offense, and the one hole is at tailback, where 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones hasn’t lived up to expectations. So maybe the Bucs go hard after Bell, maybe they don’t. I just saw a fit there.
From Andrew (@AndrewGlenn11): Bill Belichick is a master when it comes to neutralizing the opposing team’s best player. How do you expect him to address Aaron Donald?
It looks like Donald will see a lot of left guard Joe Thuney, and so I’d expect Belichick (and really more so Josh McDaniels) to help on the All-Planet D-tackle in obvious passing situations. And therein lies the key—staying out of those third-and-longs, which is a way that the Patriots neutralized the Chargers’ and Chiefs’ pass-rush groups for most of their two playoff games.
And you’re right, Belichick is a master at making the opponent play left-handed, which is why the other defensive linemen become key. Last year it wasn’t Eagles star Fletcher Cox blowing the Super Bowl for New England. It was Brandon Graham. So it’d be smart to keep a close eye on the matchups Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler are drawing.
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From Gregory James (@JAE655): Are Gronkowski and Edelman Hall of Fame-worthy?
With Rob Gronkowski, I don’t think there’s a question. I view him a little like I view Darrelle Revis—at his peak he played his position at about as high a level as it could possibly be played. In fact, I think you can make a strong argument that no one’s ever played the position at the level Gronkowski has for spurts of his career. That should be plenty to get him in.
I have my doubts on Edelman. He’s the heart-and-soul of that offense. He’s killed it on the Super Bowl stage. And he’s pushed into the category of being a Patriot icon. But across the sport? The committee is adjusting the bar now for receivers because of the explosion of the passing game in the NFL, and Edelman would be fighting for a place in Canton with freaks like Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones. So I don’t see it.
I will say, though, that the slot position in New England has been vital through the Brady/Belichick Era—from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Edelman and Danny Amendola. None of those guys may be Hall of Famers, but they certainly haven’t lacked impact on their team.
From Rex (@DrPayne): Is Michael Thomas still the best receiver in the NFL after his 36-yard championship game?
I knew this was coming, so I’ll just go ahead and confront it. Yes, I still think there’s an argument to be made that the Saints wideout is the best receiver in football, because of his versatility and ability to attack every level of the defense. But I’ll also man up and admit the core of my argument did take a hit on Sunday in Rams-Saints. I defined Thomas on how hard it is to take him out of a game. And the Rams did it.
By the way, not to fence-sit, but in our MMQB Awards, I did give Offensive Player of the Year to Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins. I think it’s very, very close between the two.
From Ryan Spahr (@Hamrhed16): How likely are the Bengals to bring in Jack Del Rio for defensive coordinator?
Ryan, we wrote on Monday that you can see traces of the Rams’ staff setup in how (presumably) Zac Taylor’s first staff in Cincinnati is being put together. And a part of that is having a veteran defensive coordinator like Wade Phillips. So I’ll give you three names that are in the mix: former Jaguars/Raiders coach Del Rio, former Panthers/Broncos/Bears coach John Fox and former Niners coach Mike Nolan.
Between them, as was the case with Phillips, there’s a lot of head coaching experience, on top of defensive expertise, which certainly would help a 35-year-old who’s never been even a coordinator on the NFL level. Bumping around in Mobile this week, I don’t think anything is done on that front quite yet.
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