Dave Razzano is a former NFL scout and Playmaker Mobile correspondent with more than 22 years of professional scouting experience with the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals under NFL coaches including Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil and Dennis Green. He has been a part of five Super Bowls with three Super Bowl wins (49ers, 1989, 1990; Rams, 2000).
Interview by Dewey Hammond.
Whether or not Jason Campbell can be the quote-unquote guy, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here when I’m saying he’s an upgrade from JaMarcus Russell. Talk to me a bit about how you see the Raiders this season, specifically with the addition of Jason Campbell.
First of all, you can find a quarterback at UC Davis that can upgrade JaMarcus Russell, his performance was so bad. Anybody can be an upgrade on him, and I agree with you. But again, you’re getting a guy whose had a history of inconsistency, never got it done in Washington, never really showed the ability to be a playoff-quality quarterback. He was flashy occasionally but that’s the problem: With that position you have to have the consistency week in and week out, that’s the bottom line. So for the Raiders to pick him up, it is an upgrade, but will they be a playoff team? No. It’s a little bit of an upgrade for them, but again, he’s the same guy and he’s going to have the same problems. He’s not a great reader of defenses. He does throw picks. He doesn’t like pressure. He does have a nice arm so he’ll be a streaky player. They do have young receivers out there, so no, I don’t see — it’ll be the same situation, a hot/cold guy. At the end of the year he’ll be better than Russell was, which is not a hard thing to predict, but still he’s a fringe guy at a crucial position.
Let’s head across the Bay Bridge down to Candlestick Park. I know you have a long history with quarterback Alex Smith. Walk me through your thoughts on Alex Smith from the time he was in college at Utah to where he is today and how he’s going to fare with the 49ers.
When I wrote him coming out of Utah — he came out as a junior, after his junior season — and I graded him as a backup player. I was with the Rams at the time, and I didn’t think he was as good as Jeff Smoker, who was the backup from Michigan State we had who had a good arm. He didn’t pan out because he was a little bit of a screwball off the field. But in terms of Alex, I wasn’t as crazy about Alex as a lot of the league was. I thought he was limited. I thought he was a system guy up there at Utah in terms of production. He won games but, again, you have to look at the whole picture. He had a limited arm. He wasn’t a real physical guy. The passes he completed were pretty much underneath in a 10-yard bubble. When he went down the field he was erratic. Great kid, great worker, had a high test — 43, I believe, that IQ test they give, that Wonderlic test. But I thought he was a backup and I think after five years in the league he has yet to prove me wrong. When you take a guy number one, you’re going to give him every opportunity. In the meantime coaches are going to be fired, coordinators are going to come and go, but at the end of the day that’s due to the play of the quarterback. If he was playing like a number one should, I think they’d still have Mike Nolan there. He’s created a lot of that, but again, when you take these guys high you’re going to give them every opportunity and you’re not going to wave them. He got beat out by Shaun Hill last year who was an undrafted free agent. On any other team he’d have been cut, but when you’ve got that much invested, you’re going to give the guy every opportunity, you’re going to say let’s build around him, add players, let’s do this and that. But at the end of the day he’s the same guy and as long as he’s there I don’t think they’ll get it done. They’ll be a little bit better in areas, but as far as them becoming a playoff team, I don’t think it’s possible with him at quarterback.
I’m going to let myself get sidetracked here for a minute. You mentioned the Wonderlic test and Alex Smith’s score of 43, which is high for the Wonderlic. The Wonderlic test is a bit of a mystery to fans. Is there anything you can really gather from a Wonderlic test? Or are the agents and industry so in tune with what to expect — is it really even a fair gauge of a player’s intelligence anymore?
It’s a small gauge, but there are certain positions where it’s more relevant, like a middle linebacker who calls the defenses. You want a guy to be smart, and that kinda shows up, but you go on how they play the game, obviously. Corner, it doesn’t matter. Running back, it doesn’t matter. Defensive end, it doesn’t matter. But when you get into safeties, middle linebackers, offensive linebackers as well. It matters based on the position. At quarterback it matters to a point. McNabb had a 12 test score but it didn’t affect his play. Smith had a 43 test score but he didn’t play as smart. I thought he was limited in terms of judgement throwing the ball intermediate to deep. It doesn’t carry over. It’s a little bit of a gauge but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, performance matters. What matters is a guy’s work ethic and his intangibles in terms of does he want to be the best? Will he maximize his abilities in terms of attention to detail and work ethic, that sort of thing. You do want a high test, but again, players will be overrated scoring a high test. Especially the quarterback. As much as you say he had a 43 test score, when I looked at him I didn’t care what his test score was because I saw him as a backup player. So it can be 30, it can be 40, it can be 20. The bottom line is that his ability on tape, to me, was that of a backup player.
You mentioned overrated. Let’s talk about a guy who’s going to be catching balls from Alex Smith. Is he the real deal? Is he all the hype that he’s been hyped up to be, or is he not going to be the superstar the Niners hope he will be?
I definitely don’t see superstar. I see solid starter. I don’t think he’s a great speed guy. I think he’s an underneath guy who will catch balls. Again, they haven’t had receivers there so he is better than they’ve had, but when you watched him at Texas Tech, he caught tons of balls and a lot of them were just part of the offense. He’s a big guy and he does have really good hands. He’s OK after the catch but when you watch him, yeah, he’s good, but elite? No. He’s not an Andre Johnson type. He’s not a real elite guy. I don’t even think he’s a Greg Jennings type or Donald Driver. Those are really good receivers. I think Crabtree is a little less. I think he’s solid but I don’t think he’s a Pro Bowl caliber guy. Maybe down the line but I don’t see him as that. I think he’s good. I don’t want to speak real critical of Michael Crabtree. I just don’t see him as an elite guy. I think you over-draft guys when you take them that high. It’s an easy position to find. I just mentioned two guys, Driver and Jennings, who were what, both third-rounders, I think. When you’re taking a guy high you better damn well think he’s of Pro Bowl caliber, and I just don’t see that in him.
Let’s talk for a minute about everybody’s favorite evaluator of NFL talent, Al Davis. Obviously the Raiders passed on Crabtree to get Darrius Heyward-Bey. Was that a mistake?
Well sure it was. I think it’s a mistake to take receivers high. It’s the most plentiful position year in and year out. When you’re picking high, I always go quarterback or defense myself. All the other positions you can find guys later in the draft. One of the problems with the Raiders now, and this goes back twenty years, 1990 to now, they’ve missed on upwards of ten #1 picks — many of them top 10 picks. Same with the 49ers. When you look at the numbers, you’re swinging and missing on half your high picks, who should be cornerstone players. Just in the last five years, Fabian Washington, Michael Huff, JaMarcus Russell, and the latest two guys — McFadden and Heyward-Bey — those guys are going to be busts. I liked McFadden as a young guy but if you’re a great back you come in right away and produce, and there were people who weren’t crazy about him. Heyward-Bey, he had nine catches last year. Louis Murphy, he had about 53, 54, and he’s a fourth-rounder. They don’t look at this thing — they look at a profile. They fit a profile without really looking at a guy’s consistency. They do hit on middle-round guys. But these early-round guys all have one thing in common: they fit a height/weight/speed profile. It’s that Raider/Packer — actually the 49ers. (Former GM Scot) McCloughan pretty much came from the Raider mentality. You hit and miss. They’d never consider a Zach Thomas or Wes Welker. They don’t fit the profile. So they take these guys and miss. They have the 40, the height/weight/speed, but that’s a recipe for disaster.