Last night was a very proud night for the Chicago Bears organization as three former Bears were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The three were Devin Hester, Julius Peppers, and Steve McMichael. I'm sure it's not the first time, but I don't remember a Hall class being dominated by players from one team.
The induction of Steve McMichael was special because of his fight with ALS but also because he's another member of one of the greatest defenses in Chicago Bears history that led them to a Championship in Super Bowl XX.
Peppers only played four seasons with the Bears, but it was a memorable four seasons as he was the dominant defensive end in football at that time. He was a piece of the great defense the Bears had assembled under former General Manager Jerry Angelo and former Head Coach Lovie Smith.
During the Angelo years, I was Angelo's Director of College Scouting, and unlike the way Front Offices are made up now, we had a very streamlined group to lead Football Operations. There was no Assistant General Manager, no Director of Player Personnel, just Jerry as GM, myself as the College Director, Bobby DePaul as the Pro Scouting Director, and six scouts who were as good as any in the League. The group was small, but all were tireless workers and outstanding evaluators.
While we had our fair share of misses, we also hit on a high number of players as 12 players we drafted ended up being Pro Bowl players at least one time during their careers. One of the most memorable was Devin Hester, who became the greatest returner in the history of the game.
During the 2005 College Football Season, Devin was on our radar since about the middle of that college season. One day in October, Jerry walked into my office and asked me if I had done any work on Hester, who was a multi-position player at Miami. At that time, I had not made a school call to Miami that fall. I then spent the rest of the day looking at Miami tape, and it wasn't Devin's play as a positional player that jumped out but rather his work as a returner. It was electric, to say the least.
At that time, Mark Sadowski was the Southeast area scout, so we contacted Mark to make sure that he got all the pertinent background on Devin done, which, of course, in Sadowski fashion, he did a tremendous job.
Our grading system at the time was simple, but the grade told the story of what the player was. For example, a first or second-round player would have a letter grade of an (A) followed by a number grade. A player who was capable of being, say, a pick in the five to ten range would have an A 7.0 grade. A mid-second-round player would have an A 6.7, and a high third-round player would have a B 6.6.
In our February scouting meetings, where we set a preliminary board, we went over players by position. When we were doing corners and got to Devin, we knew he was special as a returner but not as a positional player. The reason was that while at Miami, Devin played several different positions, as he was a running back, a wide receiver, and a defensive back. He never got the opportunity to really develop at any one position. So we could draft him at the appropriate time, we made up a special grade for him, and that was S1. We decided that if a player had an S rating, we could place him anywhere on the board that we saw fit for his talent. Devin's card was then placed in the upper part of the second round, where we felt he needed to be in order for us to draft him.
Following the February meetings, we went to Indianapolis for the Combine. Devin was, of course, on our list of 50 players to interview. We felt that he would tear it up at Indy with his workout, but we lucked out when it was very average by Devin's standards. The less-than-expected workout may have had some clubs fall off some on him. Devin ran fast with a time of 4.46, but we were expecting something in the 4.3s as that's how fast he looked on tape. Devin was disappointed with his time and vowed to run again at the Miami Pro Day, which was only ten days after the Combine. At Miami and running on grass, which is a slower surface than the field turf at the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Devin ran a 4.33 and a 4.35, which was the kind of speed we felt he had.
Later in March, during the Owner's meetings, which were held in Orlando that year, Lovie snuck out of the meetings for a day and flew down to Miami to work out two players. They were corner Kelly Jennings and Devin. Lovie came back very impressed with both players, and in regards to Devin, he felt he would be best suited to play corner in the NFL.
Following that workout, we had Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub do work on Devin. Like the rest of us, Dave felt Devin was special as a returner and wanted him on our team as he could be a difference-maker.
In April, when we had our final Draft Meetings to set the final Draft Board, we had a lot of discussion on Devin. We knew that as a corner, he was going to be a developmental player, and it would be a while before he was ready to play. We also knew that he would be a game-changer as a returner. Being that his primary reason to be drafted was as a returner, the discussion was mostly about where would we have to select him to make sure we got him. We decided that the second round was the ideal spot. We also knew that we could face some criticism for the pick because that was awfully high to take a returner.
That year, we had a late first-round pick and a second but no third-round pick. Besides Devin, the players we liked were Danieal Manning, a corner/safety from Abilene Christian, and the aforementioned Kelly Jennings. Since we wanted to get a third-round pick, we decided to trade down from our late first-round pick, which was number 26 overall. We knew that by trading out of the first, we might lose a shot at Jennings, but we felt that Manning would be available in the second round, especially because he played at the FCS level of college football.
In the days leading up to the Draft, we let a number of teams know that we may be willing to trade down. On Draft Day, as we got closer to 26, we got a number of calls looking to trade for the pick. As I recall, the number was six or seven clubs calling. The best packages were from Indianapolis and Buffalo, and we decided on trading with Buffalo because they had the higher third-round pick that we really wanted. That trade also gave us another second-round pick, and we felt that we could get both Devin and either Manning or Jennings with the other.
The discussion then turned to the player whether we should select first with the higher second-round pick. Jennings was no longer available as he went at 30 to Seattle, so it was who do we take first between Manning and Hester.
We decided to select Manning first because we felt he could come in and start for us at safety, which was a need, and then wait in Hester.
While it turned out perfectly for us, as we got both players, it almost didn't happen. We took Manning with the 42nd pick, and our next second-round pick was 57, so it was an anxious time as Devin was the player we REALLY wanted.
When Devin was still available at 57, I got him on the phone to tell him he was going to be a Chicago Bear. His first words to me were, "For Real?" I said, "Of course, it's for real; that's why I'm calling you." He then told me that Tennessee had called him earlier and told him they would take him at 45. After the Titans called Devin there was an argument in the Titans Draft Room as many wanted running back LenDale White for USC. Jeff Fisher, the Titans coach, won the argument, and Tennessee selected White. Tennessee then called Devin back and said they were going in another direction. Needless to say, we got lucky. In hindsight, we should have taken Hester at 42 and waited on Manning. But in the end, it all worked out, and as they say, the rest is history!