Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
General manager Jerry Angelo is preparing for his ninth draft with the Bears, and his approach has changed significantly during that time period. He had a number of hits early in his career, from cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs in 2003 to receiver Bernard Berrian in 2004 to kick returner Devin Hester in 2005. But a few stumbles since then -- defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 among them -- have coincided with a move away from the draft focus; Angelo has gutted the 2009 and 2010 drafts to acquire veteran players. Angelo takes into account the opinion of coach Lovie Smith but has final say on the entire draft approach.
General manager Martin Mayhew emerged from the staff of former president/CEO Matt Millen with a strong understanding of the failures in that regime. Mayhew revamped the draft process, added more people to internal conversations and listens carefully to coach Jim Schwartz. It's hard to find a trend for Mayhew's thinking so early in his career, but his first draft produced nine players who saw action in 2009. At least four -- quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy -- will be starters at some point in 2010. Private as a player, Mayhew operates in near secrecy with the Lions.
General manger Ted Thompson is entering his sixth draft as the Packers' top football decision-maker. All personnel men value the draft, but you would be hard-pressed to find one who puts such unequivocal faith in it as the sole avenue for stockpiling the roster. Thompson has signed only a handful of notable free agents during his tenure and none in the past three years. On the other hand, the Packers' regular starting lineup in 2009 included 18 players originally drafted by the team. Thompson lost a valued adviser in new Seattle general manager John Schneider, but he also leans on director of college scouting John Dorsey and director of football operations Reggie McKenzie.
Rick Spielman doesn't have the title of general manager, but as vice president of player personnel, he has run the Vikings' past three drafts. Spielman uses an intricate numbering system that places players in groups by their potential and then assigns a number -- sometimes carried out to decimal points in the ten-thousandths -- to rank each of them within that group. The approach led Spielman to choose receiver Sidney Rice over Dwayne Jarrett in 2007, among other decisions. He has also been willing to take injury and/or character risks in the first round if he's comfortable with his staff's research and evaluation.