Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with former Denver Broncos’ General Manager, Ted Sundquist, of TheFootballEducator.com and Eye-Draft.com to discuss the ins and outs of the NFL Draft. We talked about topics ranging from scouting, strategy, evaluating, and beyond. Mr. Sundquist has provided us with some fantastic, first hand, insight that you will not find anywhere else.
Many Jets fans became familiar with Mr. Sundquist when he was mentioned as a candidate to replace Mike Tannenbaum as the team’s General Manager, prior to the John Idzik hiring. From 2002-2008, Mr. Sundquist was the General Manager of the Denver Broncos, where he achieved the 2nd highest win percentage in franchise history, and remains the 2nd longest tenured Broncos’ General Manager. Prior to his reign as General Manager, Mr. Sundquist worked in the scouting department for the Broncos from 1992-2001.
Mr. Sundquist was responsible for acquiring countless Pro Bowl and All-Pro players during his time as the Broncos General Manager through trade, free agency and the NFL Draft. Free agent and trade acquisitions under Mr. Sundquist (both as GM and Scouting Executive) include, but are not limited to, John Lynch (9x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro), Champ Bailey (12x Pro Bowl, 7x All-Pro), and Dre Bly (2x Pro Bowl).
Notable draft selections under Mr. Sundquist include players such as Al Harris (5x Pro-Bowl, 2x All Pro), Mike Anderson (2000 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year), Deltha O’Neal (2x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro), Clinton Portis (2002 AP/PFWA NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, 2x Pro Bowl, All-Pro), Trevor Pryce (4x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro), Jay Cutler (Pro Bowl), Brandon Marshall (4x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro), and Elvis Dumervil (3x Pro Bowl, All-Pro, 2009 NFL Sacks Leader), among many others.
Beyond his work with the Broncos, Mr. Sundquist was a finalist for President of the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 & GM of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. He served as a front office executive with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League in 2010, was recently interviewed for the San Francisco 49ers GM position (2011) and was considered a finalist for General Manager of the New York Jets (2013). Sundquist sits on the Athletic Foundation Board for the United States Air Force Academy and has worked as a college football analyst for the The Mtn. Network – Comcast/CBS Sports which covered Mountain West Conference Football. He also has served as an NFL Draft analyst for the NFL Network (via The Football Educator).
Today, we bring you part 1 of our 2 part interview with Mr. Sundquist. Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2, and if you haven’t already, give Mr. Sundquist a follow on Twitter, as he provides even more insight and perspective on all things NFL and NFL Draft.
For a unique look inside it all, also be sure to check out Mr. Sundquist’s website, TheFootballEducator.com for more in-depth coverage of the NFL as a whole, including front office perspective, free agency, the NFL Draft, and much more.
For some great NFL Draft interactive content, be sure to sign up for Eye-Draft.com, where you can step into the shoes of your favorite NFL team’s General Manager and formulate your perfect draft!
I’d like to personally extend my gratitude to Mr. Sundquist for taking the time to read over my questions and provide some of the most informative NFL Draft content we’ve seen to date. On behalf of everyone at Turn On The Jets, Thank You, Ted, for being so courteous and informative!
After reading our discussion with Mr. Sundquist, be sure to follow the links to The Football Educator on each question for even more in-depth insight from Ted.
Chris Gross: Speaking in general terms of all prospects entering the draft, what are the biggest points of emphasis for evaluating how they will fit with a team?
Ted Sundquist: Each Club is tasked with defining what the position specifics are for their own particular requirements on offense or defense, but generally these are similar throughout all 32 clubs. It’s why most of the College Draft pundits feel as if they can evaluate for the entire League and then “mock” their own thoughts/evaluations on to each individual organization.
What they’re missing are the vertical threads that finish the fabric of every club. These are both widely common and particularly unique for each NFL team. The critical factors run vertically, regardless of position, and should be the “biggest points of emphasis” in evaluating the right fit for your club.
Critical factors focus more on the “who” vs the “what” of young college prospects. Critical factors spin out of the identity set forth by ownership and the front office management, not local or national media. These are the ties that bind your club regardless of position, regardless of contract, regardless of position on the depth chart. Critical factors are what help carry your club through offseason conditioning, two-a-days in training camp, the ups & downs of the regular season, and the pressure of the playoffs.
Character, Mental Alertness, Competitiveness, Quickness & Body Control, Strength & Explosion, and Production. General Managers and head coaches can maximize the performance of every player on a 53 man roster if they’ve worked with ownership and predefined their expectations of these “vertical fibers” that tighten together their team.
Read more of Ted’s answer here!
CG: Based on your experience, what indicators are most crucial when trying to determine if a quarterback has franchise potential?
TS: Poise and Confidence; one really begets the other. A confident quarterback is one that can rely on both his physical and mental tools to put his team in the right play, in the right position, and then flawlessly execute his responsibility. That confidence comes from having put in the work both on and off the field in preparation of the moment. It comes from knowing that his teammates know that he is in “full control” of the situation. As a result, there is no nervous anxiety, no questionable decision making, no last second self-doubt. The quarterback is poised under both the enormous physical and emotional pressures that are raining down on him like “stinger missiles”.
We’ve all seen “can’t miss” candidates taken at the top of the draft that ultimately “crash and burn”. These are players that had never struggled with the game of football and were able to use a dominant set of physical tools to defeat opponents throughout their development as young quarterbacks. But once stacked up against equal to superior competition, they folded under the pressure. They weren’t willing to put in the extra work or didn’t have the capacity to shake off mistakes and press on to the next play.
Read more of Ted’s answer here!
CG: One of the hottest commodities in today’s NFL is a player who can consistently rush the passer. A common debate topic leading up to the draft seems to be discussing whether or not a player can make a transition from playing primarily defensive end in a 4-3 to an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Outside of pure athleticism and physical prowess, what factors do you look at when trying to decipher who the players most capable of making such a transition are?
TS: The answer becomes increasingly evident when you discard athletic ability and physical skill set; Instincts and Awareness. Many defensive ends in a 4-3 have never been asked to do anything but rush the passer. They’ve gotten by throughout high school and into college using a quick first step, long reach, and explosive burst to beat their opponent and pressure the pass. “Play the run through to the quarterback”. Coaches that have a “special pass rusher” knowingly take full advantage of it every snap.
But if a 4-3 defensive end is suddenly employed in a 3-4 scheme and asked to do things his body has never been asked to do before, his mind had better be able to counter quickly as well. So much of being a successful linebacker in the NFL is about putting yourself in position to make plays, not necessarily “running them down”. If a player has an excellent feel and recognition for movement around him, then more than likely he’ll be able to utilize dominant physical attributes to put him where his mind says to go.
But a player who can’t “read and react” to what his eyes are telling him might as well be playing blindfolded. Professional football is just too fast and unforgiving for even an instant of delay. 3-4 OLB’s are the catalyst to success in the scheme, their ability to create plays versus run and pass from every vantage point (on or off the line of scrimmage) is key.
Look for 4-3 college defensive ends with not only the physical tools but also the inert instincts to diagnose and keen awareness to respond, to quickly be snatched up in the NFL Draft by clubs utilizing a 3-4 defense.
Read more of Ted’s answer here!
CG: There has been a lot of talk of an interior offensive lineman being taken in the top ten of this year’s draft, particularly Alabama’s Chance Warmack. Would this position be a reach in the top ten, or are certain players an exception to the notion that the position does not hold top ten value?
TS: The rookie contract system was so askew that trying to negotiate a newly drafted safety at #4 against last season’s hottest skilled position player made it next to impossible to stay within the boundaries of “market value”. Agents ignored the role their player performed on the field and forced negotiations on the positional sequence the player was picked. The only way around this particular problem was if you were trying to compare “apples to quarterbacks”. That is quarterback would trump just about every other position because, well because it was quarterback. Otherwise your new guard’s agent would demand wide receiver compensation because they were both selected #10.
Nothing could put your Cap and contracts guy into hot water with his peer group faster than negotiating off the “market value” of a position. Veterans kept a close eye on the incoming rookie class compensation and if things got a little too close for comfort, they’d immediately have their own agent on the phone demanding a renegotiation. “How on earth could you pay a first year tight end more than a 5 time Pro Bowler?” Thus NFL front offices walked the wire with a Top 10 pick to ensure they didn’t pass on a more spotlighted talent at a more glamorous position, and they didn’t screw up the market value of the rest of the position group across the National Football League.
The new CBA extension and the adjustments made to rookie contracts may have just opened up the market for positions long time thought to be not worth the value of a Top 10 pick. Last season we saw S Mark Barron taken at #7, ILB Luke Kuechly at #9, and NT Dontari Poe knocking on the door at #11. Old habits die hard and it’s going to take a while to change the thought process of many professional football front offices.
But the chances of a Chance Warmack (Alabama OG) sneaking into the Top 10 are much more likely and deserved for what he brings to your team, and what you have to pay for him from a “market value” perspective. The exceptions to the rule in the past revolved around the “special player”, but perhaps now we’ll see a more equal opportunity regardless of position and the more obscure players placed front and center in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft.
Read more of Ted’s answer here!
CG: When reviewing an overall roster after any season, successful or unsuccessful, what are the best ways to identify a team’s top needs and what is used to rank them in terms of importance?
1.) Careful consideration should be given to all 3 units; offense, defense, and special teams.
2.) Each unit should be inspected for general wear & tear; age, injuries, production, developmental potential, contractual ramifications.
3.) Clubs should breakdown every game, series, and play to get the most accurate forecast of where individual efforts excel and where they fall short regarding game dynamics, situations, and scenarios.
4.) Sidestep bias by rotating personnel evaluations throughout the organization; player personnel grades the entire team, offensive staff grades defense, defensive staff grades offense. Crosscheck, crosscheck, crosscheck.
5.) Modern statistical analysis cuts through the fog of yards per catch, average per carry, total tackles, and so on, giving a more realistic assessment of how players actually affect the game.
6.) Football Administration determines market values and dollar cost averaging of player performance in reference to both the short and long term health of the club.
7.) Ownership weighs in on what it’s willing to accept in off field behavior and or violations of League rules, regulations, and protocol, as well as general direction in budgeting for any necessary moves or changes.
The bottom line is a combined front office effort; coaching, personnel and ownership, that lays out the course of action needed to either maintain success or get back on track. Those teams that KNOW how to WIN will correctly identify the areas of need and make the necessary adjustments, those that don’t will continue to wallow in futility. And yes, it does start with correctly evaluating your own team needs and allocating the resources in the proper rank order to fill them.
Read more of Ted’s answer here!
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for part 2 of our discussion with Ted. We’ll talk impending contract situations, “boom or bust” prospects, drafting value over need & vice versa, draft planning, and General Manager/Head Coach dynamic in relation to the NFL Draft. You won’t want to miss it!