Welcome, my friends, to the fifth and final installment of the Top Draft Philosophies Series. Today we are going to look at our very own Jerry Angelo and his 10 years of draft history. How does he rate when compared to the four draft guru's before him? Follow me to the clearing at the end of the jump to find out......
Complete disclosure time. I have to be up front about the fact that I am a former feature writer for the now-defunct FireJerryAngelo.com and have been a vocal critic of Angelo's for years. That being said, I am no extremist, nor do I see everything in black and white. There are many shades of gray in terms of Angelo's performance as a GM.
And I won't turn this into a crucifixion of Jerry Angelo and all of his personnel mistakes. This post is specifically about the draft. If there is enough interest shown in the comments thread, then maybe we'll take a more all-inclusive and in depth look at all things Angelo in a future post (or more). But for now, let's just focus on the draft.
Angelo was hired in 2001 as the Bears general manager. Funny thing about that, though, was the Dick Jauron had final personnel power as a clause in his contract, which made the hiring seem a bit weird. Many people like to tout that clause as reason to discount Angelo from the first two drafts he was a part of (2002 and 2003). I do not make that distinction, as Angelo most certainly had plenty of input into the drafting. He may not have wielded ultimate power, but he did have a say, much like Lovie Smith has had since his 2007 contract extension.
But how has Angelo done in terms of drafting? Because of the muddied circumstances surrounding Angelo's tenure, it's hard to separate his performance individually. From '02-'03, he was not the final word on personnel. and from 2007 through the present, Lovie Smith has contractually granted powers in personnel moves, as well (though the actual weight of his opinion has never been defined outside of Halas Hall, and has been a matter of several heated debates on this very site.). So the only years that Jerry was the sole responsible party were 2004 through 2006. See what I mean?
Now, we've looked at four other successful franchises and the philosophy they follow in drafting and in building from the draft. They were all pretty similar. Funny thing is, for all of the slack that Jerry takes for his draft picks, he tends to follow the same philosophy. Draft for ability rather than for need. Character, fitting the scheme, intelligence and versatility are all keys. While the Bears often look to draft the best athletes, they have been known to overlook athletic shortcomings for football smarts (See Adrian Peterson and Craig Steltz for two prime examples) and they aren't afraid to trade down int he draft to stockpile picks.
So why the wide disparity in results? I have a three part answer to that.
Part 1: Jerry outsmarts himself. He has repeatedly taken some players who are considered "value picks" when they have fallen int he draft due to injury. Players like Mark Anderson, Airese Currey, and Corey Wootton are all prime examples. Another case of outsmarting himself was the attempt to grab CMU QB Dan Lafevour when he was still available in the 6th round last year and stash him on the practice squad. Unfortunately for Jerry and the Bears, Dan was grabbed up off of waivers by the Bengals before they could get him there.
Part 2: I'd also call Angelo the most unlucky GM in sports. I have always been amazed by the number of players Angelo drafts that have no history of injury and then turn to peanut brittle on an NFL field. Far be it from me to make excuses for Jerry, but this has happened an awful lot. And consider some of the promising players that have fell to injury after being drafted here. Vasher was fantastic before lower leg injuries robbed him of his agility. Harris was the perfect...let me repeat that...... perfect 3Tech for the Bears scheme before leg injuries robbed him of his burst. Mark Bradley was about as promising a wide receiver as the Bears have had since Marcus Robinson before injuries piled up on him. Dan Bazuin never saw the field after a major knee injury sidelined him and caused him several knee surgeries. Marc Colombo. Rex Grossman. Dusty Dvoracek. Angelo has had some very bad breaks (no pun intended) with some very promising players.
Part 3: The disparity isn't as wide as some would suggest. Let's take in a few facts, shall we?
In the nine years between the time that Mike Ditka left to the time Angelo arrived, the Bears won one playoff game, had a .444 winning percentage, 4 seasons with 6 wins or less and only 1 season with more than 9 wins. Since Angelo arrived 9 seasons ago, the Bears have won the division 3 times, have won 3 playoff games, have been to the NFC Championship twice and the Super Bowl once. They have had but two seasons with 6 wins or less and 3 seasons with more than 9 wins and a winning percentage of .514.
In the Super Loss, the Bears started 15 players that they drafted. Additionally, Hunter Hillenmeyer was drafted by the Packers, but released before ever seeing the field. The Bears picked him up and developed him, having had an eye on him on their draft board. The entire starting defense was developed by the Bears organization and all pieces except Brian Urlacher were acquired by Jerry Angelo. There's a lot of misinformation out there about those pieces being in place before Angelo arrived. It isn't true. Of the defensive starters in 2006, only Urlacher and Mike Brown were acquired before 2002. And Mike Brown was injured during the run to the Super Bowl. He never got to play in the Super Bowl. Chris Harris started in his place. That unreal defense was a product of Angelo's drafting.
I found an interesting story over at the Steelers lounge as I researched for the Kevin Colbert piece. What I came across was a comparison of draft picks using the career AV stat from pro-football-reference.com that I referenced in my Birth Of A Stat post last week. It ranked every team in the league's draft picks since 2000. Interestingly enough, The Bears rank 9th on this list.
The problem is perception. Before the championship win this year, there were a lot of Packers fans screaming for Ted Thompsons head. Patriots fans have been pretty vocal about what they consider to be a slump in draft quality by Bill Belichick. Polian has taken heat, as well. And Steelers fans seem to jump all over Colbert every year for not drafting offensive linemen high enough. Success is relative, but as fans we tend to see it as absolute.
As fans of a given team, we tend to see little else of other teams draft success or failure other than the headlines. In other words, unless a team is all Al Davis-ish in it's high picks, you don't tend to hear enough about their draft failures to get an accurate picture of the actual percentage of successful draft picks. Look at the last paragraph and just think. Polian is one of the most successful drafters of all time. Belichick has brought glory to a previously miserable franchise. Thompson has built a Super Bowl Champion in a relatively short tenure. And the Steelers are a constant player in the Super Bowl hunt. Yet, if you ask their fans, they can tell you all about the drafting failures and even ineptitude of their teams. Just google each of these teams and take a look at all of the negative stories written about these teams drafting.
Angelo falls victim to this, as well. He is by no means perfect. Don't get me wrong. But he has one of the better success rates in the league. And the Bears have improved under his leadership. And he's done it the same way the other leaders we've looked in this series have done it. There is room for improvement. But let's be fair and compare the man's body of work to his peers instead of against our own personal views of the ideal draft scenarios.
We, as fans, see our own team's drafting through a microscope, and that leads us to miss the same circumstances around the league, even from the very best drafting executives. My point is this. Angelo rates pretty well when compared to his peers. Who'da thunk?