Monday, July 8, 2019

Proscout Inc. Era—Top Players Not Yet in the Hall of Fame

By John Turney
Mike Giddings, Sr.
In 1982 Paul Zimmerman introduced Mike Giddings to the popular sports world. Giddings had been around a long time, but few fans knew about him or what he did. After playing football and being in NROTC at the University of California—Berkeley, Giddings was commissioned a Second Lt., in the USMCR and served active duty then was in the reserves where he served with two of the most famous marines ever. His platoon Sgt. Geo. Burke, became Sgt. Major of Third Marine Division and his Gunny, John Massaro, became Sgt Major of entire Marine Corps.

He coached in high school and then college before entering the NFL as an assistant coach under Dick Nolan in the late-1960s and worked with him through the early 1970s. He left there to become the head coach and general manager for the Hawaiians in the World Football League.

When that league folded John Ralston of the Broncos hired Giddings as the first NFL pro player personnel director and began to evaluate players in 1976 (also looking back on the '75 season) as well as coaching the offensive line and linebackers. Then, in 1977 started his own scouting firm, Proscout, Inc. (PSI).

They have been going strong ever since. Their current ratings are proprietary but after a player has been out of the NFL for five or ten years Giddings will speak some about their evaluations. Paul Zimmerman cribbed off of PSI quite often over the years as did Merlin Olsen would get some nuggets he'd use in broadcasts from Mike Giddings, Sr. (Coach) or Mike Giddings Jr. (Gidds). To this day, when we will watch an old game from the 1980s that Dick Enberg and Olsen did you can hear Olsen say things you know had to come from PSI.

These days Gidds runs the company, he's boss but Coach still does the evaluations of the "big guys"—the linemen and 'backers—and he's stated he will never retire, he will die with a coaches clicker in his hand. 

With all the excitement of the upcoming Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class and so many folks writing on Twitter or their web pages of belongs who should be part of that class we thought we'd ask Coach to pick a team of the players he thinks have the right stuff for the Hall of Fame.

Coach and Gidds think a player needs at least five or so "blue" seasons to be considered for the Hall of Fame and in almost everyone on his 'team' fits that bill. Of the company's years, they have coined many axioms or phrases. Among them are "The eye in the sky does not lie", meaning the film shows everything. Another is "don't move blues" which means if you have an All-Pro caliber player, don't change his position. And there are scores of others that impart the wisdom of PSI to their subscriber teams.

To follow along you need to know a few terms—
"Blue" is the highest rating for PSI. It can be qualified with "high" or "low" as in "high blue". "Red" is next best. Also, in addition to a color evaluation or "grade" players are each position are ranked. So, a player who is the best can be referred to as "top 1".

A player might have a rank of '5' for one year, then a '2', then a '22', then a '13', then an 8th place. That could be summarized as "thee years in single digits"—like that.

In the Proscout's era (1975-present) the player with the most seasons with "single digits" is Junior Seau among non-skill players and Jerry Rice among skill players, it's almost synonymous with "blue". We use both terms to reduce the redundancy of verbiage in this post.

Also, "looks" or "views" is the times they have evaluated a player on film.

Okay, to the team—
Offense
Many casual fans will not know the names Don Macek and Dave Szott and may scoff at those names as being great of have at least five "blue" (tops or All-Pro level) seasons.

Macek was a "red" as a guard but then moved to center in his third season and was 'single digits' from 1978-82 and even the 'top 1' in 1982 (the year before Dwight Stephenson began his dominant run) and then was again high blue in 1985. In 1982-84 he was a solid red.

To be fair, after Stephenson became the 'top 1' in 1983 there was quite a gap between him and all the other centers. Coach thinks the "gap between Stephenson and the field was higher than anyone in the PSI era".

Szott, perhaps, will raise the most eyebrows among readers. After all, he never made a Pro Bowl, though he was a consensus All-Pro in 1997. So, how does a guy fly under the radar so often? Had to say, all Giddings can say is, you guessed it, "the eye in the sky does not lie". And he has the gravitas to defend his grades and methodology.
Most fans will have heard Ed White's name but they might suggest that White, too, lacked the "honors" to be a Hall of Famer. However, White was "single-digits" by PSI every year from 1977-83, being the 'top 1' twice. During that time the highest All-Pro consideration he received from the media was Second-team All-Pro in 1979—He was never a First-team All-Pro in that span, though he was a First-team in 1974 and 1975. But that shows the disconnect between the evaluations of PSI and the voters for the All-Pro teams, sometimes they are similar, sometimes they are not.
Doug Wilkerson is a very strong honorable mention. He was the third member of likely the best inside trio ever (right there with Langer, Little, and Kuechenberg and Grunhard, Shields, and Szott). Wilkerson was blue five times and red once from 1976-82, very close to Ed White.
At tackle, Mike Kenn had evaluation numbers that were not as good as Anthony Munoz but his eval numbers did exceed those of Jackie Slater, the Rams Hall of Famer. He always had "blue" feet and was 'single-digits' nine times and was the 'top 1' twice. Sometimes he was a 'high blue' in a year he didn't make the Pro Bowl. As far as traditional honors he was All-Pro at 24 and also at 35. How many lineman can make that claim?
Joe Jacoby was a good pass protector but his forte was run blocking. Tony Boselli was not as good a pass protector as Kenn and not as good a run blocker as Jacoby but conversely, he's a better 'pass pro' than Jacoby and a better run blocker than Kenn. He's in between if you will. he had the required five blue seasons even though he played just seven seasons.
Jacoby and Kenn have been passed over and are in the senior pool but Boselli still has a good chance since he's still a modern-era candidate for the Hall. In fact, we think he will be part of the Class of 2020.
Russ Francis edges Todd Christensen, who had several blue seasons and tons of traditional honors as well. From 1982-87 he was "single digits" (top 10) and was "red" in 1987.

Outside of  Ed West and Hoby Brenner, who PSI thinks are the absolutely best-ever blockers at tight end, Russ Francis was next in line. And couple that with the fact he had "blue" receiving skills as well. He had great hands and feet. So, his overall game puts him on this team and Christensen was a superior receiver but not near the blocker gets an honorable mention.

There is no quarterback out there that meets the minimum standards of five 'blue' seasons.

Ricky Watters edges Roger Craig as the running back, he has the rare distinction of having been "blue" on three different teams.
Craig was "blue" from 1984-88 and very high red in 1983 and 1989. Early on PSI saw the value in backs catching the ball and also in pass protection. Players like Watters and Craig (before that Chuck Foreman and Lydell Mitchell) scored well, as did current Hall of Famers like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. If there was a second running back on this team it would be Craig.
At fullback Moose Johnston stands out. It's not a position that well ever produce a Hall of Fame but in the PSI-era it was a very important position the almost all NFL running games. Everyone had a "guard in the backfield" and Johnston was tops.
Cliff Branch was a late bloomer—it took him a few years to be able to run the full route tree well, but he was dominant on the "go" routes. One of his great years (1974) were pre-PSI but we assume it was blue. The same is true for Drew Pearson, he was not a late bloomer but he had an excellent season pre-PSI and was blue and high red beyond his "Pro Bowl" years. You can see more detail about Branch and Pearson HERE.


Defense
As a 30 end, Richard Seymour is the best not in the Hall of Fame. He was a Howie Long-type player who played 5-technique (tight-5) in base and was a 3-technique in nickel. He was blue at both multiple times.
Charles Mann gets no ink. None. He's like Macek or Szott, he was great but flew under the radar. Mann was never a "top 1" or the 'best' at his 40 end position but he was singled digits (blue) seven times, one more than Reggie White and on less than Bruce Smith, a couple of pretty good ends. So, he's the 40 end for the PSI team.

Rob Burnett deserves an honorable mention at defensive end. Similar in some ways to Mann, but not quite as "blue" as often. He'd was a 4-3 end who'd play end in the base defense and moved inside in nickel/dime.
As an overall defensive tackle Bryant Young was a bit more 'blue' than Warren Sapp, though Sapp was the better rusher overall. Young was a "top 1" once and blue four more times. Young is still on the modern-era list for the Hall of Fame so he may have more hope to one day be inducted than some others.
Fred Smerlas was blue early in his career in the early 1980s then again in the late 1980s and was generally "red" in between but did have a pair of 'down' seasons in 1984 and 1985. One PSI note reads, "no better hop and dodge DL in NFL. A unique style. Quick 1st move".
At inside linebacker Randy Gradishar stands out. He has seven blue seasons in the ten he played. It's hard, under the type of scrutiny PSI employs, to score that high that often. Some Gradishar notes read

"Best All-Time ILB at the combination of neutralizing and operating in space." . . . "Can cover the Y-Flat"  . . . "AAB" Always Around Ball" ... 90% tackler every season, including last (Blue is 85% efficiency and above)" . . . "Blue in Diagnosis, fit in action" . . . "Zone stop curl—Broncos asked Gradishar to do what no other ILB could do. No one!"
Viking Matt Blair gets little "HOF ink" but his "blue" seasons were more frequent that even some  'backers who are already in the Hall of Fame. Blair was one of the top handful of kick blockers ever, he also was a fine, fine Sam 'backer. Eight times he was single digits and was a "top 1" twice. In addition to that, he had four "red" seasons, so even in an 'off-year' he didn't fall far behind the pack. He could rush, cover, string out sweeps, and fill a gap. And who knows it?
Clay Matthews had a long career and didn't hit many of the "walls" other players did due to age or injuries. He was indestructible. He had five 'single digit' seasons and three other 'red' seasons in his first dozen seasons. Late in his career, he became a 'NRE' nickel right end and did well in that role.
The Raiders' Lester Hayes is a clear HOF corner according to PSI as is Louis Wright. Wright was tops in 1976-79 including being #1 twice, then was hurt, rebounded with three "red" seasons and returned to blue in 1984 and 1986 (1985 low red). Wright did not have "blue" hands, though, he dropped quite a few potential interceptions and that kept his career total low and possibly hurt his HOF chances.
Lester "Molester"  Hayes was also 'tops' often. He was 'single digits' in 1979-93 and high double-digits in 1978 and 1984 before hitting a wall. In the files of PSI you will find the term "shutdown corner" and though it was for Monte Jackson it was the first time we'd seen that term and it was also applied to Hayes in the 1980 grades. (Note: edge rusher was being used by PSI in the late-1980s and their use the term 'wave rushers' whereas the popular media term is 'DL rotational players" or something like that).

Hayes was a 1980 Defensive Player of the Year and is one of the ones on this list to have lots of "mainstream" honors—Pro Bowls, All-Pros and so on. The third corner in line is Albert Lewis who was a complete corner who also excelled on special teams which added to his value but not quite the cover guy as Hayes and Wright, but not very far behind.
"In all our views of Donnie Shell we never found a "bad look". He was high blue every year from 1977-86 with the exception of 1983, when he was 'red'. He's the all-time leader in interceptions among strong safeties and had plenty of mainstream honors plus four rings, two as a starter yet he's never been close to the Hall of Fame.

Eugene Robinson played longer, but Nolan Cromwell's peak a bit higher. If you look at the individual traits on Cromwell's chart you see "blue" everywhere—range, hands, feet, and so on. Cromwell was the top free safety for several years, then the Rams moved him to strong safety ("don't move blues"). The next year the strong safety got hurt so Cromwell moved back to free safety and got hurt himself.
Cromwell came back in 1985 and 1986 and was "high red" both season and played both strong safety and free safety. In 1987 he was in a 3-safety rotation playing strong safety in the first quarter then free safety in the second quarter. Sitting the bench in the third quarter and back to strong safety in the fourth. Had Cromwell not had his career messed with, maybe his All-Pro roll would have continued after he hurt his knee. Cromwell, like Hayes and Shell, has mainstream honors, he was the 1980 NFC Defensive Player of the Year and has glowing "testimonials" he's another player who was HOF-level but has not gotten close.
Robinson did it all, he was a complete, smart safety. He caught a lot of grief for a poor personal decision at the Super Bowl in 1999. But that should not detract from his career. In an era with safeties like LeRoy Butler, Darren Woodson, Carnell Lake, and Steve Atwater it's easy to get lost, but as with all these players, again, 'the eye in the sky does not lie" and in PSI's opinion Robinson was better than them all.

Agree or disagree with the picks of PSI, no one can challenge the dedication and experience of Coach and Gidds and it's always good to get a second set of eyes and opinions that don't come from the same old sources and seem to ape each other.

Some people's heads will explode when they see usual names missing from this team, the players who were All-Pro and All-Decade but sometimes the film shows different things. Most times it's just a difference of opinion but other times the mainstream sources have it wrong. Yes, we'll say it again, "the eye in the sky does not lie".

19 comments:

  1. Great article as usual...

    Always thought the SD Offensive Line of the 80s was way underrated, and that Macek, White, Wilkerson and Washington had great cases for the Hall, but some people felt Fouts quick release of the ball was the key to their success. True or not, these guys were great run blockers as well and everyone from Don Woods to Capalletti, to Muncie, Brooks and James ran with purpose.

    It's hard to believe Shell, Kenn, Gradishar and Jacoby aren't already in the Hall but safeties and offensive lineman have always been under represented.

    On the flip side, could you guys ever post overrated players that graded so poorly from PSI, that it was a wonder they had much of a career at all ? Or would it be to disrespectful to the former players ?

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    1. give you a few: Cortez Kennedy, Faneca Fralic

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  2. So we are supposed to ignore what we all know and think that some no-name players or average players like Charles Mann were great? We just trust that this guy says Don Macek was that good and not mediocre? I call BS.

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    1. Charles Mann was not an average player. I don't have the info in front of me but I would guess he was in five Pro Bowls and may have had some sort of All-Pro recognition three times.

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    2. 4 pro bowls and 2 all pro selections

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  3. I agree with most all of these players being in the HOF. Really appreciate the research you guys do here.

    -Did Bob Kuechenberg and Bob Young have the misfortune of having their greatest seasons before the PSI era began in earnest?

    -A bit surprised we dont see Albert Lewis here.

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  4. Mike Kenn was a monster for years and years and its shameful that he's been overlooked.....of course I don't have the comprehensive film-study
    that's being identified here, but Cortez Kennedy graded poorly? one can't imagine the hole in those Seattle defenses if he were missing

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    1. not poorly, just overrated---compared to what many thought. He graded well, just not "blue" year after year

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  5. Pearson, Branch, Carmichael & Harold Jackson: put 'em all in.

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  6. Very interesting, some of these people I didn't know much about

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  7. This is awesome stuff that just adds to a players resume (like # times 1st team all-pro, 2nd team all-pro, pro-bowl, etc.) This is in response to the person who called BS. This has value; if you disagree than weight it thusly (assign low weight to it). The trick is in the weighting of these honors.
    I second the request to see who these folks believe is overrated. I'd also like to know if they have any comments on some of the 60's stars on your decade team (Olsen vs Lilly perhaps).

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  8. I'll give you some 50's overrated if you like, this might hurt a little. Ernie Stautner, Sam Huff, Art Donovan, and as you can tell I only watch one side of the ball.

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    1. its unclear which side you watch if you think these guys don't belong

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    2. He's right, though. Those guys do not leap out on film

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  9. Mann was known for being a very tough run player correct?

    A few more thoughts/questions:

    Was Bryant Young a blue player in his rookie season?

    I actually have Dwight Stephenson bests year as his 82 season. He had the best run blocking grade of his career for me that year

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    Replies
    1. yes, Mann very solid...Young, yes, blue vs run as rook.

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  10. of those guys listed i would endorse Branch Gradishar Hayes Jacoby Pearson Shell White

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  11. Couldn't agree more on Branch Gradishar(especially) Jacoby Boselli as well as Cromwell. Always thought Cliff Harris was outstanding. Still cant understand Ken Anderson not getting a mention. Would be interested to see how he compared with Griese for example. He always seemed as good if not better just didn't have as good a team around him

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