Denny Green's Draft Strategy

Picking the ponies with a blindfold and a dart is often just as accurate as the myriad draft boards out there, but at CardinalInsider we're looking for all the angles we can find. Today CI takes a look at Denny Green's past drafts, his tendencies, his triumphs, his flops, failures and fugetaboutits, to see what direction he might be leaning this year.

Dennis Green is known as an enigma around the league, a brilliant offensive mind that never shied away from welcoming controversial personnel into the locker room.  While in Minnesota he's seemed to be always amidst a swirl of controversy though was capable of building explosive offenses that were tempered by lackluster defenses, particularly in the secondary.  The current Cardinals team is shaping up to be in the same mold as the Green era Vikings, strong air attack, solid ground game (with the addition of Edge), solid defensive line, unheralded linebackers, questionable secondary.  Once Green gets his much maligned, and deservedly so, offensive line in order he'll have a younger doppelganger of his old Vikings squad with a premier back in James in playing the part of Robert Smith.


Taking a look at a list of Quarterbacks that have started for Green one starts to see some patterns:


Rich Gannon – Early Gannon was a fairly undisciplined gunslinger, very mobile scrambler but made questionable decisions. Appeared in 12 games.


Sean Salisbury – Immobile, got the job done with smarts and decent arm.  Appeared in 22 games.


Jim McMahon – Immobile, aging, strong armed.  Appeared in 12 games.


Brad Johnson – Immobile, precise, understated and underrated, smart decision maker. Appeared in 25 games.


Warren Moon – Top of the line but aging QB when Green got him, accurate, still decent scrambler when needed  Appeared in 52 games.  


Randall Cunningham – Athletic but aging QB when Green got him, scrambling gunslinger that created space downfield with his legs. Appeared in 29 games.


Jeff George – Immobile head case/locker room cancer with rocket arm.  Appeared in 14 games.


Dante Culpepper – Athletic and huge, mobile and powerful, strong armed gunslinger, questionable accuracy when not throwing to Moss. Appeared in 27 games.


Josh McCown – Athletic, strong armed QB, questionable decision maker and accuracy.  Appeared in 16 games.


Kurt Warner – Formerly elusive now immobile, strong arm, accurate, good decision maker when not pressured.  Appeared in 10 games.


Some trends become apparent when you look at the tenure of each Quarterback.  Green prefers very athletic gunslingers, but also can work with statuesque game managers until the next scrambler comes along.  His teams have flourished with Moon, Johnson, and Culpepper under center, but one could almost see Green chafe at the conventionality of the offense under Johnson prior to his exodus.


The "knock" on Green is that he has a penchant to spend early draft picks on Offense, often times when his defense was desperately wanting.  Of the 14 drafts Green has participated in as a head coach he's selected 56 defensive players to 42 offensive.  In the first round he's only favored offense 8 times to defenders 7.  In the second round he's tended to heavily choose on the part of defense, selecting 11 defenders to only 3 for the offense.  The third and fourth stanzas show much the same, 9 defense to 5 offense and 9 defense to 6 offense respectively.  The aforementioned "knock" doesn't seem to hold true by the numbers, but has as much to do with the gambles he's made at such draft positions as well as significant disparity between his high powered offenses and ineffectual defenses. 


It doesn't help that his staff appears to be far less competent at evaluating defensive talent.  Of the defensive picks in the first four rounds few names stand out as having solid careers (Ed Mcdaniel – ‘92, C. Hovan – ‘00) and those that did have done it with other teams (Corey Fuller – ‘95, Gilbert Brown – '93. Kailee Wong – '98).  With the exception of Fuller who was a serviceable back for three teams, and Antrel Rolle for whom it is too early to evaluate, none of his defensive backs were better than average.  Taking Rolle out of the equation due to injury and youth and Green's staff is 0 for 16 overall on DB's that made the pro bowl at least once, or for that matter even struck fear into the heart of the receiver they were covering.  For those who remember Robert Griffith's 2000 Pro Bowl appearance, he was un-drafted and joined the team in '94 as a free agent.


Green essentially makes his own bed each year by failing to find quality defense in the draft he is forced to repeat his mistakes over and over again.  Arizona's reputation as a football backwater is diminishing so luring quality free agents will be less daunting as it has been in years past, especially with the payday James received.  So hope exists if Green's inability to cull quality corners from the draft persists.


He has had luck finding high quality offensive lineman in the draft picking up Todd Steussie, eventual Pro-Bowlers Matt Birk and Korey Stringer, as well as making a Pro Bowler out of an undrafted Jeff Christy in '99.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that any early offensive picks would go towards shoring up the o-line to protect Kurt Warner and create lanes for Edge.  However Quarterback is an area of need with only oft-injured, aging Warner and untested Navarre currently on the roster, and Green is a pass happy schemer on offense. 


Both Vince Young and Jay Cutler are certainly piquing Green's interest, and with some boards showing Young falling as far as 13 in the draft it wouldn't be a surprise to see Green try to catch lightning in a bottle twice with an unpolished athletic quarterback with the 10th pick.  Young looks be a cross between Daunte Culpepper and Mike Vick, which is sure to have Green drooling, regardless of less than ideal arm mechanics. 


Of the teams ahead of Arizona here's how I see it playing out:.


  1. Texans – Its been the Reggie Bush Bowl from the beginning, any talk of picking someone else is smoke and mirrors.
  2. Saints – Truly put themselves in the catbird seat by signing Brees (provided his shoulder holds out), they are free to shop their pick and look to be the wildcard, though I see them with Mario Williams, DE to replace Darren Howard.  
  3. Titans – Appear to be high on Leinart with his old USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow already in place, if they reach terms with McNair though he would seem to be a perfect mentor for the similarly talented Vince Young. 
  4. Jets – With the signing of Patrick Ramsey and Chad Pennington on the mend, they will be better served picking up D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT be the cornerstone of their line for the next decade.
  5. Packers – Have needs at o-line, wide receiver, and defense.  Look to them to take A.J. Hawk LB, to help out Nate Barnett.
  6. 49er's – Young and in need of help at nearly all areas look for them to take Michael Huff who will probably see time at corner and safety.
  7. Raiders – Smartly looking for Aaron Brook's replacement expect a QB at this spot.  The track suited one loves athletic QB's and there are still two on the board at this time.  Young showcased himself on the biggest college stage but Cutler has the rocket arm for Al Davis' beloved vertical offense.  Pretty much a coin flip on this one, but I expect Al to surprise by taking Cutler earlier than expected.  
  8. Bills – The J.P. Losman era is not nearly over yet, they'll suffer through at least another season before he ends up as a back up in K.C.  With defensive minded Dick Jauron at the helm the Bills will look to stiffen their d-line with Brodrick Bunkley from Florida State.
  9. Lions – New look Lions will need to strengthen their offensive line to protect Kitna, King, or whomever starts so picking a QB would be like repeating the Joey Harrington era.  Expect them to be smiling all the way to the podium as they pick mammoth Tackle Winston Justice (6'5, 319 lbs) from USC. 
  10. Cardinals – Cagey Green knows his o-line and defense need help but can't pass up the idea of having Young scrambling in the broken field or zinging passes to Boldin and Fitzgerald.  Vince Young plays understudy to Kurt Warner and Green looks to fill in positions of need with remainder of picks.


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