NFL Insider: Smith Out-Thinking The Room
One thing all of the great minds in the history of the world have in common was their ability to challenge conventional wisdom and follow their own plan. Socrates, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs along with others managed to change the world by following their own great visions and seeing what none of the world could at the time imagine.
Although nothing that happens in professional sports can impact the world like the aforementioned researchers and inventors have, the world of sports has it’s own outside the box thinking geniuses. In basketball, Tex Winter invented the “Triangle Offense” which helped the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers account for 11 titles. Bill Walsh was the architect of the “West Coast Offense” which has won numerous Super Bowls. Tony LaRussa’s forward thinking won multiple World Series titles, and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon makes head-scratching moves that routinely, perhaps inexplicably work out.
The only singular rule to success in the NFL Draft that is tried and true is following your draft board and selecting the best player available.
The angst-ridden, irritable, curmudgeon-like “hoodie-attired” head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick is the modern day NFL’s version of a genius. Belichick doesn’t follow the trends, he makes them. When most teams ran 4-3 defenses, he made a 3-4 switch and won three Super Bowls. When the league was copying him, he went to a hybrid defense.
His Patriot teams went from a two-back style of offense revolving around the running game when Tom Brady was younger, to a wide open shotgun passing attack, and currently to a two tight end offense based on inline principles. He’s gone to Super Bowls while playing each different way.
A common saying is that there is a fine line between genius and insanity.
While Belichick’s resume deems him to have genius status, there is another NFL executive who marches to the beat of his own drummer. That man is Jaguars general manager Gene Smith.
Smith has been with the Jaguars organization for over a decade and is well respected among NFL circles. Smith took over as Jaguars head honcho after the team was coming off a 5-11 season. Three years later the team is…..coming off a 5-11 season.
Gene Smith has a few similarities to Bill Belichick. Both have their own plan and they don’t necessarily conform to conventional NFL thinking. Neither is particularly forthcoming with the media and you get the feeling by being around them that they believe beyond a shadow of a doubt they are the smartest guys in the game.
There is one major difference between Smith and Belichick that has caused another major difference in resumes. Bill Belichick has made mistakes, as every personnel guy has and he will admit to them and rectify the situation. Gene Smith has made mistakes which holds his coaching staff, ownership and fan base hostage while ignorantly standing by and defending those mistakes.
The life blood of any successful NFL franchise is the draft and if you peruse the standings it’s pretty easy to tell who drafts best. The Jaguars have been one of the worst drafting teams in football over the past decade. Although many of Gene Smith’s draft picks are still on the roster, the production from those selections is nearly laughable.
The Jaguars 2009 draft was highlighted by Eugene Monroe, who hasn’t developed into the elite left tackle Jacksonville had hoped he would. Second round pick Eben Britton can barely stay on the field and when he is on the field he’s mediocre. Wide receiver Mike Thomas was solid as a slot receiver and when Smith promoted him to the team’s number one receiver he looked like he didn’t belong in the league.
The 2010 Draft featured surprise Top 10 pick Tyson Alualu who has been anything but an impact player. The team traded up to acquire cornerback Derek Cox from football factory William and Mary who has been benched multiple times. Temple’s Terrance Knighton has been Smith’s best selection and there’s a chance he may not play in 2012 because of a nightclub incident. Just three of Smith’s 2010 draft class remain with the team and one of which, defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith hasn’t played a down in two years.
Last season Smith traded up to acquire quarterback Blaine Gabbert, then surrounded him with virtually no weapons. The end result was a shell-shocked signal caller who had one of the worst rookie seasons in league history. Aside from a meaningless Cecil Shorts touchdown, one of his two catches on the year, none of his other draft picks made a single significant play during their rookie seasons.
On Thursday, Smith traded up two spots to select Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, a great collegiate wide receiver. There is chatter that new owner Shahid Khan was the driving force behind the selection as the team hopes it will bring a return in ticket sales. Smith then selected a 3-4 outside linebacker in the second round (the team plays a 4-3) and then his ultimate gem, punter Bryan Anger in Round 3.
Smith told the Florida Times-Union that he “would rather have a starter in the third round than a backup.” Punters are technically starters (on special teams) so the Jaguars became the first team to select a punter in the first 70 picks in 17 years.
The Jaguars may very well have a genius running their personnel department, just like Bill Belichick. The only difference is that Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s genius is routinely winning division titles and going to Super Bowls while Shahid Khan’s “Gene-ius” makes his team one of the NFL’s laughing stock with the opportunity to pick in the Top 10 every single year.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie