PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – APRIL 25
By Leo Haggerty

DRAFT GOSPEL ACCORDING TO POPE LEO

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

OK, my children, open your Draft Bible to page 1. Follow along as I read to you Chapter 1 of the Gospel according to Pope Leo.

Verse 1 is extremely simple.  Trust your draft board. You put players in specific slots for a reason.  Don’t second guess yourself if all of a sudden a player you rated as the #8 talent is still on the board when you pick at #19.  Treat it like it’s manna from heaven.

Verse 2 is also self explanatory.  The game film never lies.  Don’t get enamored with a great combine workout if it doesn’t equate to twelve or more game tapes.  You play the game in pads and not shorts.

Verse 3 is the final installment in Chapter 1.  Don’t have unrealistic expectations.  Players are on you draft board in specific slots because of the ability they’ve shown and not the football acumen you hope they will show.  That’s referred to as a reach and is the recipe for draft disaster.

I was first exposed to this theory way back in the early days of my scouting career.  So, let’s hit the reset button to the 1990’s.

I was hired by Ourlads’ Scouting Service who, at the time, was the premier private scouting service of collegiate football talent in the country.  Located out of Mount Laurel in beautiful South New Jersey, the company was run by Tom Hepler with his son Phil as his right hand man.

My first assignment with Ourlads’ was the Blue-Gray Football Classic in Birmingham.  To show you how long ago that happened to be, the Christmas Day game in Alabama is no longer played.  That’s a shame but I digress.

While the six members of the Ourlads’ contingent was sitting around the hotel after the morning workouts, I wanted to get someone’s opinion of what was important.  Luckily, I was sitting right next to Carmen Piccone who was the former head scout for the New Orleans Saints.  He was retired from the NFL and has since passed in 2005 to that Great Gridiron in the sky. RIP, my friend.

Having a chance to pick his brain about the draft was like sitting at the feet of Socrates.  Obvious, I was all ears with a notebook in hand.

I asked Carmen this question.  “What do you expect from a player as to the position you draft him” was my query and I soaked up every word that Carmen uttered.

He preached that, above all, you must trust your draft board completely.  If you choose a player in the 4th round, as an example, and you have him as a 2nd round talent, then you treat the pick with 2nd round expectations.

With that be drilled into my memory bank, he proceeded to teach me the nuances of the National Football League Draft.  As my dad used to say, “I was hanging on his every word” and that was an understatement.

The most important point he stressed to me was that a first round pick on your board has to play as a starter.  The ONLY exception to that is the quarterback.  You could let a rookie QB marinate behind a veteran signal caller so he can learn the speed and intricacies of the pro game.

Then, he stated that a second round pick on your board has to contribute.  The nickel corner.  The posse wide out.  The 3rd down back.  The edge rusher in passing situations.  The return specialist.  Somehow, they get on the field.

Now, he gave me the most astute and valuable information that I took away from his Pro Football 101 lecture.  Anyone that you select that is on your board as a 3rd round selection or lower, you are taking for depth.  You’re looking to shore up a position of need and don’t expect those players to be immediate successes. You can take a player in the later rounds that is a “project” or a “late bloomer” that could become that “diamond in the rough” down the road.  If you’re looking for a starter in those rounds, you’re probably not a good football team to start.

It was sage advice and it became my mantra from that day forward.  Hopefully, that explains why I show little interest in selections in the 4th round or lower.

Please remember what Pope Leo has brought to your attention today.  So, until next year, go in peace with the new knowledge that I have bestowed upon you and, above all, stay safe.