The drafting of Redskins retiring RB Clinton Portis – Part II

The following is the second part of my account of the drafting of retiring RB Clinton Portis with the Denver Broncos in 2002.

Bronco scouts were convinced of his talent, though skeptical of its consistency.  Even legendary RB coach Bobby Turner was reluctant to put him as a “can’t miss” prospect.  I saw a different player and my 7.0 final grade placed him firmly in the 1st round.

Scouting report

  • Exc mix of qks, spd & str.
  • Tremendous inside ability w/ vision/accel to the hole
  • Kps ft moving on contact
  • Able to turn & get upfld w/burst
  • Vy willing blkr for feature RB. Attacks w/ agg style, will face up inside/out.
  • Impressive effort

These were some of the lines I chose to describe Clinton’s ability that stood out from Ladell Betts, Lamar Gordon, Maurice Morris and Brian Westbrook, four other backs that fell after Portis in the ’02 draft.

Many have misinterpreted Clinton’s personality as selfish and self-centered.  No doubt he’s confident in his abilities, but he had a right to be.  I saw a player whose on the field performance displayed nothing but a team-centered focus.  It’s rare to find any feature back in the pro game, much less college, step up and take on the blitz like Clinton did throughout his career.

NFL Combine questinnaire

Portis used few words in answering his questionnaire at the Combine, but his answers were telling nonetheless.  He enjoyed Public Speaking the most of his college courses.  He was active lifting weights, running with the track team, playing intramurals and working on football skills in the offseason.  He showed no regrets in his college career and listed “Patience” as the most important thing he’d learned.  Asked “Who the toughest player on his team was?”, he answered “himself” and he attributed that to “working hard”.  When asked “Who the best player was?”, he simply answered “Who knows?”  He felt his overall “determination” had accounted for his progress to date and saw playing Pro Football as “a dream he always had”.

University of Miami coaches

The Miami coaching staff described him as a “smart player” that understood football concepts and how to adjust on the fly.  He stayed out of trouble and had not got caught up in the things so many had at “The U”.  His high school record was off the charts; 1st Team All-State, All-Region, All-Area.  Set a school record his senior season with 2,036 yards, 8.0 average and 26 TD’s.  He was on the state record 4X100 relay and state champion 4X400 relay.  He’d high jumped 6’6” and recorded 22’8” in the broad jump.

A 4.38 in the 40 at the Miami Pro Day and vertical jump of 39”, more than convinced me this was a 1st round talent.

NFL Draft Day focus

The club’s focus was squarely on Lelie.  Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary were all returning from 2001.  Running back was not a need at the moment, and our efforts were firmly set on securing the WR.  The only player that might have sidetracked us was Donte’ Stallworth fromTennessee.  Stallworth rated just above Lelie in our meetings and had dropped outside the top 10, but New Orleans took him with #13 and mock drafts had pointed to Lelie being the next available.

No player really caught the attention of the staff after that.  There was talk of trying to trade back in the 2nd round and pick up some extra selections.  Despite my grade of a 1st round and the coaches riding the fence between 1st & 2nd, Clinton was placed as the third RB on our board behind Green and Duckett.  For the record, 11 of the 18 players selected in the 2nd round before the 51st pick weren’t rated worthy of our choice by the staff.  RB DeShaun Foster was and went at #34.  Josh Reed and Andre’ Davis (both WR’s) also garnered 2nd round consideration and went before our turn as well.

Left on the Draft Board

The Denver War Room was antsy…”Who were we going to take?”  Offense and running back were not on the minds of the staff, and no other player had received a 2nd round grade except LSU QB Rohan Davey (who eventually went in the 4th round to the New England Patriots).  Shanahan turned and asked this freshman GM a direct question, “What would you do?”  Without hesitation I said, “There’s still a 1st round player left on the board.”  It wasn’t deemed a need, but he would make our team better.  “Who’s that?” Shanahan asked.

Clinton Earl Portis was taken 51st overall, the 19th pick of the 2nd round.  He will forever be remembered a Redskin, the player Denver dealt to get the great Champ Bailey.  To me he will represent something else, “process and evaluation” over “wants and needs”, the difference between a coach’s eye in the draft and a scout’s.  C.P. taught me the importance, strength, and role of the General Manager in the War Room.

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