Gotta say, dang it's nice to have a decent GM for once!!!!!!!
Rich McKay Draft preview Press Conference - Monday, April 18, 2005:
Rich McKay: Good morning. We are talking about the 70th annual Player Selection Meeting coming up this Saturday. We're looking forward to it. As you know, we have all of our picks this year, which is nice. That is something you will see in the future also. We have one additional pick in the fifth round. We have Denver's fifth-round selection for the Ellis Johnson trade.
I'll give you some basics and then you can ask any questions you want. Overall, it's a good, solid draft. People want to beat up this Draft a little bit on the depth of the draft and to me, it's just like any other draft. There are certain positions in this draft that are really deep, certain positions in this draft that are not really deep. That's typical of most drafts. I think the reason that this draft is treated a little differently by the national media is that it has been a very difficult job to figure out who's going in the top 10. I will say that is definitely a challenge, but beyond that, the draft has plenty of depth a corner, it has plenty of depth at receiver -- it has some very good positions in this draft It has other positions -- probably not as deep.
So we'll see. We look forward to it. It's a long day Saturday because we probably won't pick until 5:30 in the evening, so that'll make for a long day. But we're looking forward to it. Go ahead.
Q: What's the process been like for you, not having Tim Ruskell? I know you said you've leaned on Phil Emery a good bit.
McKay: Having Phil Emery, it's been critical. Last year, through the draft, Tim and I talked about whether or not we should hire a director of college scouting. One of my concerns was, and I told Tim this, was: 'If you end up leaving next year and get a GM job, and I don't have a college scouting director, then I've got an issue as far as what I'm going to do time-wise.' Then we went out and hired Phil. We hired Phil from Chicago. He'd been in a system similar to ours because Jerry Angelo had that system in Chicago and that has worked wonders. Phil has worked way too many hours, spent way too many nights here at the office -- way too many -- and has done a really good job in getting us organized, getting our guys ready and certainly helping me. What we've done is, starting four weeks ago, going back through all the meetings and going back through every player. And then last week we did it again for Coach Mora and for the coordinators, to make sure we re-read every, single player. So we have spent a lot of time on this draft and we're ready to go. Phil has really done a good job.
Q: So you would have normally sat out some of those meetings?
McKay: Yes. I would have used Tim as a filter to kind of get the list down to a certain area and then spend time with that list when you get to that area. In this one I wanted to spend more time, but Phil did a great job organizing the information.
Q: You mentioned a similar system to yours. What are the parameters.
McKay: Grading. The way players are graded. Everybody grades them differently in thee sense of not how you grade a player X versus Y, but what number you give them and what letters you attach. And all the numerology that Phil was used to in Chicago is the same as we use here, same as we used in Tampa. We converted that last year here, Tim Ruskell and I converted it when we got here, which was hard for the Atlanta scouts. But now we've been in it -- this is our second draft in it -- and I'm very comfortable in the way we number players and grade players and Phil is, too. So we're on the same page. There are no issues that way. Last year when we got here, it was hard for me to converse with some of the Atlanta people because they're dealing in numbers that I just didn't understand what they meant and how they applied to players. So it's a little easier now; we're talking the same language.
Q: Aside from the grading system, what else is easier this time around?
McKay: I think understanding the schemes, having operated a year in our system. I think we have a little better feel offensively for what we like and what we don't like. I think defensively, we had a feel last year going into the draft because basically we were going to install a system that was very similar to what we had in Tampa, so I was pretty familiar with what the player profiles would be at the various positions. Offensively, it's been nice to have been in it a year and see it operate and see what works and what doesn't work and what we need to continue to get better at. So it's definitely helped us.
Q: What do you need?
McKay: Good players are what we need. We start every offseason with the same goal, which is to try to get to this week without being able to generate the article: 'If the Falcons don't draft 'X,' they can't play the next season.' And I think we've gotten there. I think we've tried to take care of the needs that deal with the 2005 season. I've never been one who believed that the draft is going to provide the impetus to winning the next season. What the draft provides the impetus to do is to win for a long period of time. So I think in this year's draft, we don't enter in saying 'Boy, we have to have a MIKE linebacker' or 'Boy, we have to have a tight end' or anything. We don't have to have anything in our mind to play next year and win. But we do need a lot of players and good players to build on for the future. And to me, what need gets down to is looking at your players: who's getting older, who's coming out of contract, who are the potential free agents -- who do you need to get guys behind and grow. And I thought last year worked out very well for us. But I was telling [Falcons VP of Football Communications] Reggie [Roberts] that, just looking at the research, we ended up last year, out of our draft -- which we really liked -- we ended up with only about 10 starts, 10 games started by the whole draft class. And yet, I'm thrilled with the draft class. DeAngelo [Hall] gave us about nine starts, Michael Jenkins gave us zero, Matt Schaub gave us won, Demorrio Williams zero, Chad Lavalais zero, Etric Pruitt zero. But yet, like all those players, expect Lavalais to play a lot this year, if not be the started. Expect Demorrio Williams to play a lot this year, if not be the starter. Matt Schaub answered a question which we all asked last year, which was: 'Who's going to be the backup quarterback?' I think Michael Jenkins has a good chance to start this year and contribute a lot, and I think DeAngelo Hall, I think you liked what you saw. So to me, that's the way the draft's supposed to work. And hopefully it will for us.
Q: Is it reasonable to assume that when drafting 27th as opposed to eighth last year, you're less likely to think you're going to get an immediate starter?
McKay: I think it works very simply, this way: when you're a bad football team, coming off a 5-11 record, you're going to have places where&you're going to pick high, so you're going to have a chance to get a better player in the first round, and you're going to have some openings. We did last year. Once we got rid of a lot of the secondary players, we had some openings, so it fit well. And that's probably true: when you pick higher, you've got a chance at getting more of an impactful player. But I've certainly found that when you pick lower in the draft, if you just stick to the basics and pick good football players, you'll be fine. Don't get caught up in the fact that lower, what you'll have a chance to do is pick some players who have a lot of talent, but might not be that great player. They might be good, and they might be bad. And to me, you've got to try and stay away from that player. It's very tempting because his card'll be sticking up on that board and it'll have a fast time and he'll jump real high, he's going to look great when he comes in here and stands behind this podium -- the only thing is: he's got to go out and play and he didn't quite do that in college, otherwise he'd have been picked higher. I think that's the temptation you have to fight this time of year when you're picking low in the draft.
Q: How do you strike the balance on that information, to really evaluate those players? Their college coaches, the backchannels, etc&how do you come up with those grades?
McKay: I think the first and foremost thing you do in scouting, is you rely on the tape. You rely on how the player played. To me, that's the key to life. I think too much time is spent on other issues and I think you have to try to avoid those other issues. You've got to look and evaluate the player and ask yourself, how did he player? How did he play as a freshman? Sophomore? How did he progress? How's he going to fit in our scheme, watching the tape? And I think the next part of it is the character side of it. I have always been one who thought that&when I got into the business, character was about 10 percent of the grade. 90 percent was the physical, 10 percent was the character. I think that's really changed -- at least for us it has. I think it's at least 60-40, if not 50-50. We ask our scouts on the backside of their reports to have a whole page basically on character. We want to know where he's from, we want to know how hard he's worked, we want to know how he adjusts to adversity -- we want to know all the issue. How does he handle pain? How does he play? Is he a tough guy? All of those things. Then we actually give two character grades: a personal character grade and a personal character grade. So there's a lot that goes into it, but I think from an evaluation standpoint, what you have to do is not get caught up in how high did he jump, how did he run his shuttle, how did he run his long shuttle -- boy, that three-cone looked good. Let's not all get caught up in that. Because on game day, there's no three-cone. You just have to put the pads on and play. And the college tape will traditionally tell you that. Smaller schools, tougher projection. But big schools, to me, that's the way you have to stick to it.
Q: Are the stakes higher for you this season considering the success you had last year?
McKay: The higher the bar gets raised, the better off you are. I have worked in situations where the bar was so low, that nobody attended the pre-draft meeting. So to have the bar set as high as it could be that people expect you to go to the playoffs, that people expect you to contend for a Super Bowl -- great. We're happy to have it that way. It's up to us to deliver. Certainly, when you sit in your meetings, you stay focused on the fact that the expectations are high and we've got to deliver. We can't make mistakes. But that really is true all the time. Just in this instance, I think where we are and with the expectations&as I say, we're happy to have them. It's up to us to deliver, but we're happy to have them.
Q: What is it about you or your mindset that separates you from other GMs?
McKay: I don't know that. I think that I try to see it through the eyes of the coaches and see if through the eyes of the scouts and try to create a commonality. I don't try and see it just as a scout, or try and see it just as a coach and I think that has served me well in one sense: you're trying to create a consensus and you're trying to pick players who fit. You're not trying to feed anybody's ego, who says: 'Boy, I found this guy' of 'I can make this guy a great player.' To me, I think it's more basic than that. And one of the other things I pride myself on -- I don't think it's anything that's that great -- is looking at the whole player, look at the person, look at the player, look at what they did, look at their rÃ©sumÃ©. Don't look at the flash. Don't watch a highlight tape and say, 'Wow. If that guy does that every play, he'll be a great player.' Because you know what? He didn't do it. And there's a reason. And if you go back and look behind that, you'll usually find it. To me, I think scouting sometimes, that phrase can get you in trouble because what it usually means is to some people, is 'Boy, if I could find a guy who nobody else knows about and then make him a player&' Well you know what? Not real smart.
Q: On draft day, who has the final say?
McKay: I do.
Q: Other than grading, when you got here what were the other things you had to impart on this scouting staff?
McKay: Character and what we want in character. We don't want in character the statement that, 'This is a good kid, he works hard, no problems off the field.' Not good enough. We want to know where he came from, what his parental situation was, we want to make sure that you have talked to the high school coach -- a requirement -- we want you to tell us what the high school coach tells us about the kid, we want to know about his education, we want to talk to the academic advisor about every player, we want to know from the position coach and the head coach -- their views on the player, we'd like to talk to their teammates and ask their views of the player, then obviously we want to know all the off the field issues. To me, it's a whole picture. It takes a lot of time. I think Phil Emery, our college director, has done a great job this year of emphasizing to guys, that doesn't mean you go into the school once, that doesn't mean you go into the school twice. It means you go into the school twice and you call on the phone and you keep going. So what we try to do is use the February meetings to set our board and get to know the players, and after that we try to make a list of every player and every issue we need to know more about and then tell the scouts, you've got to go back and get it. So to me, that's what we will always emphasize here. I truly do think it's important that we always emphasize to the scouts that when we draft these players, these players represent our organization and they represent our community. And we're going to, every once in a while we're going to get somebody we didn't know everything about, but it shouldn't happen. It should not be what happens. These guys should come in, we should know the issues and we should realize in the end, they represent us and what we stand for. And as much as we want good players, we want good people.
Q: How did you get to that point in your career where you put such an emphasis on character?
McKay: To me, it was where I came in. In 1993 and '94, I was in Tampa and just kind of working behind the scenes and seeing what had gone on. And when I got the opportunity to be the GM, one of the things we did -- Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell and I did -- is I said let's take two weeks, let's meet every day and let's just spend a couple hours and let's go back and say why is this the worst franchise in the history of sport. What is the reason? And we kind of went through and in the end we said number one: no commitment to winning from the top down and number two: the personnel decisions were horrific. And they were horrific because there was too much emphasis put on potential and not on production, and too much emphasis on...when the word character was used, it was really talking about 'characters,' not character. And so we said we're going to change the way we approach this. And we tried to go a little bit on the overachievers. We drafted John Lynch. Derrick Brooks was viewed as an overachiever. We went for the overachiever with the idea that, even if we miss on that player and they may not be Pro Bowlers, they're going to be good players. We need players. We keep having these drafts and you looked at them and in the first five rounds, one guy was even a starter. Well that can't happen. You've got to have more than that. So to me, it was kind of a research project that we did as a high school research project that helped us say, okay, you know what? It's an obvious issue. The only other things that happen, though, to me is that you can have a franchise that has so much turnover, that every time you change schemes, every time you change your approach, you hurt the players and you have an affect on the players. Because when we're drafting in there on Saturday, we're going to draft players who fit this scheme, who fit the way we want to do it. And when you change, you know what? Some of those players don't fit any more. And I think that organizations -- that's one of the things I tried to sell to the Glazers when they bought the team -- is we need continuity. We cannot continue to have turnover. We need to have the same coaches, the same coaching staff and we need to grow with them because it'll help us from a personnel standpoint.
Q: Did you worry at that time that you might be taking a great risk and placing so much emphasis on character that you're maybe overlooking athletic ability?
McKay: Yes. We knew that the days of finding maybe that one player&see, I always felt that Tampa was a franchise looking for the one player to bring them out of the dark ages. Now, they were looking for that player and I realize that when you're going to change the emphasis, you may not find that player. But to me, I thought that was the flaw in the whole theory. You don't find that player. Very rarely do you get the opportunity to draft Michael Vick. Most of the time you're looking for a player who just doesn't exist or you're going draft a player and put him into a circumstance that, quite frankly, he ain't good enough for. And it's not his fault -- it's yours. Typically what happens when you draft quarterbacks at the top is, you were real bad, you have a real bad team, you've just changed coaches and now you drafted a quarterback and put him right onto the field. And then, in a year, you're mad at him. You want to say, 'Whoa, whoa. Why are you mad at him? How about us?' So to me, I think what we looked at is we said we've got to get some players in here. We've got to get some guys who are building blocks who can play right tackle, who can play left guard, who can play tight end. And they don't have to go to the Pro Bowl, they've just got to be good players. And then as we ascend, let' see how many of them go to the Pro Bowl. To me, that worked pretty well for us. I think at one time we ended up with 12 or 13 players who went to the Pro Bowl and you know what? That was still drafting the Ronde Barbers of the world, Brian Kelly -- guys who were overachievers. But you know what? When you have success, amazingly, they get trips to Hawaii. I'm not sure if part of it's success and part of it's them. I don't know. They drive the success. They are the types of players who win games.
Q: Is it harder this year to figure out who's going to be around in the top 20 players?
McKay: Not really, because I think the top 20 players are still going to be the top 20 players. They may go in lot different order this year than they would in years past, but I still think that number is the same. And then to me, I think you can mock draft it and you can come out with the top 20 and I think you can hit 18 of them, maybe 17 of them. Now after that? All bets are off. Because then teams do see it differently and teams do start to say, 'Hey, even though this guy has got 'this' problem and 'this' problem, he can really do 'this,' so let's take him.' So I don't know that from 20 on you can start to predict who's going to be where. But I think from the top 20 you can. You may not know what order, you may not know what trades, you may not know who takes who, but I think you will figure out the names.
Q: Is figuring out the top 20 this year about like figuring out the top 30 players last year in terms of the certainty of rankings?
McKay: It's definitely different. It is definitely different. I think I can give you the top 10. I don't know that I can give you the top 15 because there are some surprises in there and probably some surprises in 20. It's probably a lesser number this year.
Q: Once you're in the draft, are you sort of playing poker and not only watching what you want, but what other teams want so in the event that the player you want disappears, you're set to make a move immediately?
McKay: Yes. What we do is, in our draft room we have a number of boards and one is our draft board, which has all of our grades -- the actual board itself -- set up the way we want it. We don't do a best to worse. We don't just take one and go down the numbers; I've never liked that board. We do it actually as we grade them, all the way across by position. Then we have another board that's our free agency board, which means, post-draft, these are the guys we'd like to sign as free agents. Then on another board we actually mock draft, we put all the picks up. We don't put the names in there. We put all the picks up so it'll say pick two: Miami, slot number 1/2. We'll have that. But then the last board is the needs board. And what we do is we have all the teams up and under the team we'll list what we think is their top three needs, and therefore with four picks before, five picks before us, we'll start to talk about those teams and who we think they may take just because then, if trades happen, if something's going on, you can say, 'Well I think the reason they're doing this is because of that.' Are you right? Not usually, but it's a fun exercise. We like to act like we're right, but you know, you're always a little like, 'Whoo, I didn't see that coming.' But you do spend a lot of time with that. We will this week on Thursday, we'll spend most of the day going through that, going through a mock draft all the way through the second round and then trying to line up team needs and therefore project what they're going to take.
Q: Is it more stressful to have a top 10 pick or to be where you are now?
McKay: It's much more stressful to have a top 10 pick. A top 10 pick is -- as I've described it before -- it is truly Christmas morning. You have cheated and opened up the gifts a little bit. You kind of know what you're going to get. You've seen the bike in the garage. You're pretty sure it's yours. Sure enough, you wake up and it was the neighbor's and they were holding for the neighbor's kids and you're not happy. The top 10, to me...there are too many things that can go on up there. Where we are, I think what you do is you stick to the plan of this is our list, this is who we're going to take, this is the order we're going to take them, everybody relax here. Go out for a jog, be calm. I've been in situations where we were in such a need for a position where we were in this position and said if we don't get this player at this position -- it was a left tackle -- we can't play games. We don't have anybody to line up. That is very, very nerve-racking. Because now you're going to watch every card come off from number five through 15 before you can get into range to move up and that is not, that is not fun. But you always want to pick last. The next place you want to pick is second to last. And you move up from there. So when you're up [in the top 10], you know what it means? Not a good year. So we don't mind being where we are.
Q: Are you so focused just on the Falcons or do you think about the other teams and by the time the draft is done, look at the other rosters and assess where other teams might be going on the field in the offseason.
McKay: You're concentrated on them also. You're paying attention to what they're doing, you're paying attention to who they like and why they like them. You're trying to learn from them because we didn't invent it. So, to us, we're always trying to do that, we're trying to figure out if a team's thinking about changing their scheme, if a team's thinking about getting rid of a player...one of the things I always like to do after a draft is make sure you sit down and look at who everybody took and then say, now, does that mean this player who they have, they don't like? Because maybe we should call them and ask about him. So I think you're always paying attention to that. I think that's what Les Snead and Ray Farmer and Ron Hill do is you continually work the other teams and you specifically do it around draft time because it gives you a little flavor of where they're going and what they want to do and maybe, you might be able to pick up a player or two.
Q: Can you stop and change things you're doing during draft day based upon things like that?
McKay: You don't want to change on a dime. You can be surprised on draft day certainly by it, but you don't want to change. Our philosophy I've stayed with every draft I've ever had is the same: treat it just like a trial. Go into it with the idea that everything is put to bed. There are no surprises. Just realize that there will be a surprise or two involving trades. But otherwise, try to have everything mocked up, try to have every plan set, try to have a hot list of every round and order it up. Don't just leave it to, 'Hey, we'll think about it draft day.' Let's order them up so we know who we're taking in what order so there's no discussion in the draft room, there's no politicking, there's no position coach running in the room saying, 'I've gotta have this player.' You try to avoid that. And then it really gets down to trades. You know, with the Michael Jenkins trade, we were sitting in the top of the second round. We were watching the receivers. We were very focused on getting a receiver. We were very focused on getting Michael. And we were going to sit and wait for a little bit, but then when all the receivers came off the board and there were only two left, we knew we weren't going to get one. So then you start calling every team, you start trying to go ahead of any team you can to try and get a receiver. In our case, it was San Francisco. We knew San Francisco was going to take a receiver and we were convinced they were going to take Jenkins, so we were just trying to get ahead of them. That's when it gets a little nerve-racking.
Q: Who becomes your designated phone guy now that Tim is gone?
McKay: Ronnie Hill and myself will be the phone guys. The phone game is an interesting game. There's a lot of talk and not much action. We've seen phone episodes. There was an episode in Tampa. We used to allow that damn [ESPN] Draft Cam in the room. Whew, I'll never do that again. And ESPN had us going and we were all set up to make this trade and we felt great about it and sure enough, nobody called. And we're sitting there and looking at the phone, so we did pull the thing where I tell Jerry Angelo, I said: 'Jerry, pick the phone up and just start talking.' So he picked the phone up and started talking and it did work to our favor; we got two calls after that and made a trade. We've done everything. It has been done. But the phones are interesting. And what most people are doing is fishing. Everybody's fishing. You know, they want to ask you questions, so the answers always the same: oh, we'll trade anybody, we'll trade anything. Not true. But at least you're going to hear what they have to say.
Q: Is it possible to anticipate before the draft that it will be more defensively oriented than offensively?
McKay: Sure. That is possible. I think by the way you make your lists, you can definitely orient one way or the other. And in our case, you know, we've said all offseason our focus was going to be on defense. You know, we added two players at linebacker who we really like who we think upgrade the defense a lot. Everybody wants to say that we need defensive linemen. We'd like to have them; they're hard to get. So we don't want to be stupid about it, but we'll have a number of them on the list if they fall at the right time. But defensively, we would like to have some players. Offensively, we'd like to have some players. But if you said, are we going to end up with more defense than offense, we'd like to. We've got it set up that way. But you've got to wait and see how it kind of falls off and how names come out, because one of the things that happens in the draft process -- and I don't like it, but it does happen -- is you start with a big, huge pie that has all these names and basically what the process is it's a process of elimination. And it takes a number of months, but really you get the process of elimination and one of the things you try to do in these last two weeks, and I just did again this morning, is say, 'Hey. Whoa, whoa. Let's not kill everybody here. There are some guys who can be Falcons. Let's not get the list down to two because we won't be allowed to select.' And that's one of the problems is that when you start getting too scheme-specific and you start saying, we'll this guy can't do this...okay, he may not be able to, but we don't have another choice, so let's make sure that we keep a number of guys alive and then try to put them in the right order in the right round. Because a lot of what you do in this draft is trying to predict where these players should go; what value are you willing to pay? Because you don't want to over-pay. And one of the hard things I think for coaches sometimes is, their initial response is, well, if we want them, why don't we just take them? It doesn't matter what round. Well no, that is -- as I've told them -- that is going to the grocery store really hungry and you come out with way too many groceries. Don't do that. Take them where they're supposed to be taken. If somebody else takes them, move on. Take the next guy.
Q: Is it safe to say that this defensive end is deeper at defensive end than it is at defensive tackle, but not real deep at defensive end after the top 40 or 50 picks?
McKay: Yeah, although defensive ends to me -- it all depends what you're willing to sacrifice. If you're looking for the perfect defensive end, don't look past pick number two. Because about after that, it's over. I mean, you're not going to find this prototypical end. You've got to decide what you're willing to sacrifice: size, are you willing to sacrifice speed, do you want power? I think just in defensive ends you have to try to figure out what you can play with, as opposed to what you want. Sometimes when you meet with the coaches, we'll go through...okay, talk about in this scheme what we want is the right end and then they describe the guy and I tell them, 'Okay, that's fine. But we have to fly to Canton and get his bust and bring him here.' They don't make that guy. God's not making enough of those. So you have to be realistic. This draft has a number of defensive ends in it, if you're willing to make certain scarifies in certain places.