Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
General manager Rick Smith runs the large scouting staff and the draft operation and works to build consensus. But the Texans are not drafting anyone coach Gary Kubiak doesn’t want, and Kubiak will lean heavily on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the new members of the defensive staff. They’ve taken a lot of fire for last year’s first-rounder. Cornerback Kareem Jackson struggled as he started all year.
The Colts haven’t done as well at the top recently. Bill Polian, who’s new title is vice chairman, is still overseeing things, and although his son Chris is more active now as the general manager, you can be sure the elder Polian is still calling the shots. I expect he’s determined to break a streak where four of the last seven players picked in the first and second rounds are question marks -- offensive tackle Tony Ugoh has already busted and guard Mike Pollak, running back Donald Brown and defensive end Jerry Hughes all have a lot of work to do to prove worthy of their status.
General manager Gene Smith has complete authority over the draft, but he worked his way up the ranks as a scout and surely gives his staff’s opinions a lot of power. He will also take input from Jack Del Rio and the coaching staff. Smith’s got a formula that puts a premium on guys who’ve led in college. Look for the class to include several four-year players who captained their college teams. He’s not afraid to take a guy who draftniks and other teams may not value in the same way.
The Titans will talk consensus, but general manager Mike Reinfeldt has more power now that he’s working with a first-time head coach in Mike Munchak. A new power player is involved, too. Ruston Webster came on board after last year’s draft as the VP of player personnel. He’ll have a big say. The lockout and lack of quarterbacks at this stage mean the systems won’t change dramatically in Munchak’s first year. But he and his staff can sell the scouting staff and start to get slightly different personnel based on what coaches would ultimately like to do.