Q & A With NFL Draft Expert Tony Pauline
By Sean M. Deegan
Publisher, Jets Insider.com
April 19th, 2006
With less than two weeks before the 2006 NFL Draft, the anticipation is near fever pitch for Jets fans. With two selections in the first round and five during the first day there is plenty to be excited about.
Which direction will the franchise go?
For a little help we asked Tony Pauline, President of the TFY Draft Preview and NFL Draft analyst for Sports Illustrated.com.
JI: Before we start, tell us, how does someone become a “draft expert” or “draft guru” and what is your background?
Tony: “ First- I hate the terms “expert” and “guru”; I prefer draft analyst. I started fifteen years ago working with local papers in New York and beat writers like Bryan Burwell. The TFY Draft Preview began in 1997 as a publication and grew into a large scale web-site. After being an independent site for two years we signed on with Rivals.com and later Scout.com. Five years ago Sports Illustrated (SI.com) approached me about providing them with scouting reports, draft articles, etc.”
JI: How do you derive your information and opinions on potential draft picks?
Tony: “Lots of work! I watch game film 11-months a year; April is the only four week period I am not watching three-to-six game films a day. In the fall I travel weekly scouting games and practices through the college season. Come January spend a week at the Senior Bowl and another seven days at the NFL Combine a month later. Then of course there are 100’s of conversations with scouts, coaches etc., throughout the year.”
JI: How would you characterize the overall draft this year?
Tony: “It has great depth; there are players with first round grades who’ll be available through the early part of round two and prospects with first day grades will filter through the fourth round. As we get closer to the draft you’ll hear lots of general managers wishing for multiple selections in rounds two-and-three. The players at the top of the draft are very good, though there is not a huge drop-off in talent as we’ve witnessed in the past.”
JI: What do you think of the Jets moves thus far? What about Mangini and Tannenbaum in general?
Tony: “I think they’ve been very solid thus far; they brought in possible starters or role players and have not paid a steep price. They also have people guessing as to what they will do in the draft, which is always good.”
JI: Do you expect to see any surprises with the first three picks?
Tony: “I doubt it. The Saints presently rank Ohio State linebacker AJ Hawk ahead of defensive end Mario Williams of North Carolina State, in fact a lot of teams do. The big intangible is the belief that a linebacker should not be taken with the second selection of the draft, especially before a defensive lineman or offensive tackle.”
JI: Could the Saints trade?
Tony: “They will try and work a trade until the very end; the want AJ Hawk or tight end Vernon Davis. They can’t trade lower than the fifth pick held by Green Bay and expect Hawk to be available. No team may be willing to pay the price to jump into the second slot with the available depth in this draft.”
JI: Will the Titans select Matt Leinart?
Tony: “Right now Tennessee’s general manager, Floyd Reese, is leaning towards Vince Young. But the team’s offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, wants Matt Leinart, who he coached to a pair of national titles and a Heisman Trophy at USC. It’ll be a battle to the very end and it could come down to whoever has the owner’s ear.”
JI: What’s your feeling on what the Jets will do at number four?
Tony: “Right now they are targeting offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia and Mario Williams, which is not a surprise to anyone. Both are outstanding prospects who immediately fill huge needs on the line of scrimmage. AJ Hawk is also a real possibility at the fourth slot.”
JI: Will the Jets trade up and select one of the quarterbacks?
Tony: “Everything I’ve heard and have been told is no- they’d rather trade down before they move up or will just stand pat and pick number four. I also think it would be a bad move for the Jets to move up. The team has a lot of holes and no single player is going to push them over the hump. They are better off collecting as many picks and players as possible.”
JI: Were they to select a quarterback who do you feel is the best fit, and why?
Tony: “Matt Leinart of USC, no doubt. He is the most polished and NFL ready of any quarterbacks in this draft. He has great upside and is a true leader with a great understanding of the game and terrific quarterback intangibles. He’s lost only two games in three years and won as many national titles; that’s pretty amazing. I also think one must factor in the way he’s handled the pressure and media in Los Angeles, where USC football is presently king. That translates well to handling the pressure and media in New York, which would be tough for Vince Young of Texas and even tougher for Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt.”
JI: Do you realistically think the Jets could trade down?
Tony: “It will be tough. I don’t think there will be a player available at number four that a team will pay a premium to move up for. Funny thing about the draft and trades; the weeks leading up to the event there is all kinds of talk about teams moving around and picks switching hands yet it only occasionally happens in the first round.”
JI: What will happen when the Jets pick at #29?
Tony: “You can have a wish list but it is very tough to predict who’ll be available. Ohio State center Nick Mangold is a terrific fit for the Jets and can play the pivot for a decade. If a highly-rated running back such as Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney slips into their laps then he has to be a consideration. Of course if they are still looking for an offensive tackle and a player like Eric Winston is available that also must be a priority.”
JI: Before you know it the Jets will be on the board again, choosing at number 35.
Tony: “At that point you’ve got to look at value- which previously predicted top 32 player is still available. Guard Max-Jean Gilles of Georgia or maybe Gabe Watson the defensive tackle from Michigan are considerations. So is Bobby Carpenter of Ohio State, though he probably won’t make it to #35. There should be a plethora of cornerbacks available and with the recent signing of Andre Dyson the Jets could trade down at the top of the second.”
JI: There is a lot of talk about Michigan DT Gabe Watson on these boards. What are your feelings about him?
Tony: “Physically he has the makings of a dominant interior defensive lineman. Sadly he only plays to his capabilities occasionally and is rightfully labeled an underachiever. He came into his senior season with high grades yet failed miserably to meet the expectations placed on him. That is a concern, especially for a 340-pound kid.”
JI: Any predictions on the Jets choices in round three?
Tony: “Again- you have to look at value; which highly rated player has slipped through the cracks for whatever reason. Offensive linemen like Chris Chester of Oklahoma or Greg Eslinger of Minnesota would be considerations if Mangold is not chosen earlier. A multi-purpose developmental player like cornerback/receiver/return specialist Will Blackmon would be enticing. Some two-gap defensive linemen such as Barry Coefield of Northwestern of Ray Edwards from Purdue would also be attractive.”
JI: What about receiver?
Tony: “It will be a consideration but the Jets need speed at the position. Except for a few highly rated prospects this years crop of receivers are mostly in the “possession wide out” mold.”
JI: Can you give us any late round sleepers?
Tony: “Willie Colon, a local offensive guard from Hofstra is an interesting prospect. He is a talented lineman who played tackle in college and possesses terrific pass blocking feet yet lacks the height/size to be a left tackle in the NFL and will move into guard. Tennessee’s Albert Toeina is a huge run blocker on the right side who has starting potential. Another SEC player, Melvin Oliver of LSU, is a defensive lineman who nicely fit in as a rotational player up front. Louisville’s Joshua Tinch could be one of the most underrated pass catchers in the nation. He is a big bodied wide out and a terrific red zone threat. Likewise linebacker Nick Reid of Kansas was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year yet is flying under the radar screen and could start in a 34 defense. Quarterback Jeff Mroz of Yale is a terrific developmental prospect. Richard Burch of Mississippi Valley State is a real sleeper to my mind. He played well at Mississippi State in 2004 but transferred to MSV with academic problems. Burch has good size, athleticism and skill yet needs a little time to complete his game.”
JI: Is this a very busy time of year for you?
Tony: “Believe it or not most of the work is done. The 681 scouting reports which are in the TFY Draft guide were completed a month ago and will be appearing on SportsIllustrated.com soon. From here on out I talk to scouts and coaches on the phone at length while also doing tons of television and radio interviews.”
JI: Anywhere we’ll be able to see you?
Tony: “They’ll be a Comcast special entitled “The Draft House” which I’ll be doing with NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan. It will air the days prior to the draft. I am also scheduled to be interviewed on “The Daily Show” Sportsnet New York the week before the draft. There are also a bunch of different Fox-Sports appearances I’ll be doing for Direct TV subscribers.”
Tony Pauline’s website, located at TFYDraftPreview.com is dedicated to year round coverage of the NFL draft. His work is also found on Sports Illustrated’s web-site (SI.com).