Q & A with Merril Hoge

Merril Hoge's rise to the top of the NFL analysis world includes his breakdowns at draft time. In an interview Hoge granted for the upcoming book "Men of Steel," he passed along a few outrageous opinions on this year's draft.

Q: What do you like about your job?

A: I just like studying tape so much, and watching tape, that it would be hard for me to do another job if I didn't have that access. I could see moving on as long as I have that access and all my comments came from that. I just sat in a draft meeting and listened to all these people talk about evaluating, say, the Rose Bowl game, or watching a kid play somewhere, watching these highlight packages. You can't evaluate anybody like that, good or bad. People that truly know about college players don't know what it's like to play in the NFL, and the differences in the NFL, kind of how you'd have to evaluate a college kid and project him to the NFL, which is a whole different task, which we have been fortunate enough – Jaws and I – the luxury of having the ability over the years of studying and evaluating that we very seldom make mistakes on talent. Two examples last year were Mike Williams in Detroit and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. I mean, for anybody to say Mike Williams would be a great player in the NFL has no clue what it's like to play in the NFL or what's required in the NFL. From a receiving perspective, he really doesn't have any of those skills. He lumbers, has no speed, no quickness. Because he made a bunch of spectacular catches at USC and played at USC, everybody anoints him as headed for the Hall of Fame as a great wide receiver. He's got no speed, no quickness, doesn't run routes very well, is lazy, and is now overweight. I mean, I can't think of any more negatives. And the one thing when you studied him on tape, you got to realize that everything he caught in college was contested. Everything. And so now you've got to almost triple that in the NFL because they're going to contest him with greater athletes. We've seen the proof. Their two top receivers got hurt – and they really only have one that's a bona fide NFL player, Roy Williams – and they went out and got people off the practice squad and street to start for him. They didn't even start him. You were like, ‘Oh, my gosh.'

Q: There was a rumor that the Pittsburgh Steelers were trying to trade for him.

A: The Steelers, I can assure you this, that coaching staff and that front office are not that stupid. They're not going to take a Matt Millen reject after a year. And listen: The writing should be on the wall if you're trying to get rid of a guy you drafted in the first round the next year. That should tell you everything. The cat can't play at this level. Period.

Q: Did you say that last year?

A: Yes. In the draft. In fact Mel Kiper and I went at it. It was probably the greatest draft moment in our draft history. Mel Kiper had him as the best athlete on his board, and I'm like, you have no clue. This guy isn't even the best wide receiver and you have him as your best athlete. If he's No. 1, the kid had better be special, and the kid ain't special. He's not even close to being special. In fact we went at it and he said, ‘I'm going to tell you this: Nobody will ever hire you as a scout.' So Mel Kiper, I would like to know, how many people do you think are going to hire him now.

Q: You don't want to be a scout, do you?

A: No, that's not my objective, but I do take it seriously. I don't look at highlight tapes and look at a game and anoint somebody good or bad. All of these players I've watched three and sometimes eight game tapes on them.

Q: Who's being overrated right now?

A: Vince Young and Matt Leinart. You take Matt Leinart and give him similar winning success at Alabama State or something, he's a third- or fourth-round pick, maybe later. Vince Young, if he wasn't playing at Texas, sheesh. Let me put it this way: A lot of teams I've talked to, and I watched him on a lot of tape prior to the Rose Bowl, so I was the first one to say you guys are taking in one game. Vince Young didn't do anything in that game throwing the football that you'd be in awe over. He made some runs where four guys, legitimately, four guys were standing at the bus stop waiting for a yellow bus to pick them up a year ago. That tells you what kind of defense USC had.

Q: The Steelers are looking at Darnell Bing. Didn't he bounce off Young a few times?

A: I haven't studied him enough on tape. That kid didn't have much around him, I can tell you that right now. They had freshmen linebackers. The defensive line stinks, other than the one tackle. But overall they were a pathetic defense. But Vince Young's strong. He's an amazing athlete, but there's not one person I talked to, that I highly respect as a quarterback evaluator with a job in this league, who said they'd take him in the first round. I wouldn't touch him with any round as a quarterback, but I'd draft him as an athlete. But he's got to play wide receiver for me. He's got to do things for me. If he wants to stick to quarterback there's no way I'd touch him and here's why: People get fired for these decisions. I give you one name: Bobby Beathard. Bobby Beathard was one of the most highly coveted GMs for a long time in the NFL. Well he picked Ryan Leaf and what do you think people think of Bobby Beathard now? They think of Ryan Leaf when you say Bobby Beathard. That's what happens. When you make mistake on any other player, you lose games. When you make a bad decision on a quarterback, you lose your job. Fans don't realize that. Like in Houston, if I was the owner there and they drafted Vince Young, I would fire everybody right then and there. I've been doing the draft five years now and I haven't seen a more dynamic, explosive, special player than Reggie Bush. I've tried to compare him, and LaDainian Tomlinson comes to mind, but Reggie Bush at the end of the day is a better athlete, has better body control and runs better than LaDainian Tomlinson. If you're Houston you feel lucky to get that kid.

Q: Are you thinking about going into personnel?

A: Matt Millen screwed it up for players like me of ever doing that. But I do believe I have worked hard in understanding what it takes to play at this level, and having played at it too it does give me a special advantage. I've walked the line. I know what it's like. I've really studied every position and talked to everybody who's an expert and have learned from everybody who's played the position to study all positions and have a fair evaluation. I just think that the draft, if you really do your homework, have good people in place, you're not going to make many mistakes. If a guy gets hurt, that's uncontrollable. Even with character, if you really do your job you're going to know what kind of guy this is, what kind of risks you're taking. If you do your job it's not that difficult, but to do your job you have to know how to do it. You've got to know what to look for. A college guy who looks great on tape can't fool you because now you have to evaluate who he's playing against and how is he being successful. All of that is part of watching tape for over 20 years and really taking it seriously. That's why I look at Matt Leinart, and Matt Leinart is just a younger Chad Pennington. His arm strength's not very good; he'll have problems throwing the deep balls in the NFL and things to the wide side of the field. He's not very accurate. In fact, he's not very accurate at all. The ball is always behind the wide receiver or they have to wait on it. And anything over 30 yards there's a 70-30 shot it won't be close to that wide receiver.

Q: Do you respect what Kevin Colbert's been doing?

A: Very much so. He's done a couple things: He's made excellent picks and he's been patient. They could've panicked on Troy Polamalu. To see where Troy Polamalu is today from where he was his first year is amazing. He's the first player I ever saw on tape, his rookie year, to literally stand there when the ball got snapped because he didn't know what was going on. It was against the Kansas City Chiefs. I'll never forget it. He went out on motion and I remember Joey Porter hit him on the side of the head, telling him to go back because he was doing the wrong thing, and they snapped the ball and he was just lost. It speaks to two things: The complexity of this league, one, and it's a much harder transition from safety to the NFL than it is from corner to the NFL, because they are the guys who play around the box so they've got to understand motions and shifts. You could see, it was ‘Troy go there.' They didn't have real complexity to their defense, but they didn't face anything that was complex either. You may see a motion here and there in college. In the NFL they're shifting and motioning all the time. But Kevin is a great evaluator and he's patient. He trusts his eyes; he trusts the people around him; he trusts the tape. If you listen to fans, you'd make mistake after mistake. But if you've done your job, and you know what you're doing, you've earned the right to trust.

Steel City Insider Top Stories