Clinton Earl Portis retired from the NFL this past week after one of the most underrated careers for his position in the history of the League. Portis finished his 9 years with 9,923 yards rushing, ranking 27th on the all-time list. His career performance surpassed those of William Green, T.J. Duckett and DeShaun Foster, all drafted ahead of him, COMBINED! The trio of RB’s accumulated 8,493 yards, 64 TD’s. C.P. eclipsed that mark by almost 1,500 yards and 11 TD’s. He accounted for another 2,018 yards and 5 TD’s with 247 receptions.
The Bailey for Portis trade
Portis was hampered by injuries that limited three of those nine seasons to a total of 21 games, and missed the 2011 season. He will forever be known for the trade that sent him to the Washington Redskins in exchange for Champ Bailey. Bailey became one of the all-time great Defensive Corners in Broncos history, while Portis finished as the Redskins 2nd all-time leading rusher. Neither ever helped lead their teams to a Super Bowl, though Bailey did play in the 2005 AFC Championship.
“I never cheated myself, and I gave everything that I had to this organization and to this Redskins nation, to this D.C. nation,” Portis said. “I love this area, and I will always feel a part of this community.” It’s understandable that Clinton sees himself a Redskin, he spent two years in Denver (accumulating back to back 1500+ yard seasons). But Clinton’s personality didn’t sit well with then Head Coach Mike Shanahan. The Broncos had proven success at the position with the likes of lesser draftees Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary. After Portis’s second explosive season, agent Drew Rosenhaus was eye-balling a “new deal” to replace the original rookie contract.
The rest is history. Champ Bailey’s agent, Jack Reale, met with me at the Senior Bowl to discuss the interest in a Bailey for Portis trade with the Redskins. It was agreed that Reale would leverage Washington and I would take the sale back to Shanahan.
The 2002 NFL Draft
I remember Portis for a different reason. 2002 was my first draft as General Manager. Responsible for the overall scouting process and War Room logistics, I oversaw everything to do with the draft sans the FINAL say on who we’d pick (seemingly a big deal with a lot of outsiders). The Broncos were guided by “needs” vs “best available”. 8-8 in ’05 and 25th in Offensive Pass Efficiency, the staff felt a dire need for a deep threat receiver to add to the offense. Rod Smith led the corps with an 11.9 average, at age 31 the coaches felt they were seeing a slide in his ability to stretch the field.
Owner Pat Bowlen had a strong personal relationship with University of Hawaii Head Coach June Jones. Jones’s offense had produced one of college football’s most deadly deep threats in Ashley Lelie, and the Broncos became determined to get him with the 19th pick. After that was interest in S Ed Reed, WR Josh Reed, OG Kendall Simmons, LB Napoleon Harris and DC Mike Rumph. Four of the five were gone before we even got to the 2nd round.
Scouting the National Champion Miami Hurricanes
Portis was an early out Junior fresh off a National Championship run. Four ‘Canes were selected in the first round, overall eleven would be drafted. Clinton was coming off a career high junior season after suffering a foot injury the year before. He measured 5107 204 lbs at the Combine and like many of his Miami teammates chose not to participate in the drills. His size and lack of verified measurables, coupled with the fact he hadn’t participated in any College All-Star games, likely held him out of most first round projections.
Denver knew what it wanted in a running back. Though only a 200 lbs, he played like 225 lbs from the waist down. Portis ran with power and vision on the inside, exactly what we needed. Explosive, tough and determined, he had an excellent center of gravity, very hard to knock off his feet. A back that got a lot of yards extra on effort. What he also had was big play breakaway speed; 232 of his career NFL carries went for 10 yards or more.
To be continued….