Doug Williams used to sit back and listen, never needing to debate a player unless they happened to play one position: quarterback. That changed in June when the Washington Redskins promoted him from a senior executive to the highest ranking personnel member of their front office.
So now that means, as the draft approaches Thursday, that Williams has a much bigger say -- and had a greater workload since the season started. The Redskins named him their senior vice president of personnel in June. With no general manager, the Redskins have a personnel decision-making group that begins with team president Bruce Allen and includes Williams, as well as coach Jay Gruden. Also, Kyle Smith took over the director of college personnel in June, assuming the duties of leading the draft work.
For Williams, his new role meant expanding his personnel knowledge.
“We’ve got three guys on the board, and they ask my opinion -- Why this guy? -- and I have to be able to tell why that guy and where he fits in with us and what he can do for us,” Williams said. “I’ve never been in that position.”
The Redskins revamped their front office three month after firing former general manager Scot McCloughan. The current group ran the Redskins’ draft last year. Because they didn’t bring anyone in from the outside to replace McCloughan, the burden is on this power structure to make it work for owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins also weren't major shoppers in free agency, having signed just three players thus far. If they want to improve on a 7-9 season in a division that houses the Super Bowl champions, they must get the draft right. With the 13th pick, they have a chance to grab an early starter.
Williams, the Redskins’ Super Bowl hero vs. Denver in January 1988, said he’s adjusted his approach. He said he’d arrive at Redskins Park around 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast and start watching film about an hour later. In the past, he’d watch three games or more of every quarterback in the draft. Now, he said he’d watch perhaps two games on many more players at every position.
Williams said that enabled him to at least be familiar with players so he could ask Smith questions.
“I have to make sure they believe in what they say and I can say something I believe in, whether or not I’m right or wrong or we agree or don’t agree, and we can discuss why," Williams said. “We don’t all agree. It’s opinionated. Some might have a guy in the third round and others might have him in the sixth. That’s the guy we make sure we look at because that’s a big discrepancy. Kyle would do a good job putting in the fifth round and saying we have to come back and look at him.”
At the combine in March, Williams laid out the plan. Starting two weeks before the draft, they’d watch more tape on players where there was such a difference in opinion. They spend the rest of that time configuring their board.
Last year, the narrative was that they used McCloughan’s board that had been set before his firing (on the first day of free agency last season).
But Williams said, “The board ain’t never set. Let’s say we need a nose tackle. We might have four guys targeted. You don’t know which one you’ll get. Who you like might get picked (before) your time. The board is set the way you want it, but it doesn’t mean the guys you draft are the guys that I picked on the board at that time.
"Nobody picks from just one guy. When you get to five minutes before it’s your time to pick, you’ve got to look at the board and hone in a player or players; you better pick from about three or four guys from different positions. When you’re on the clock you put them together and you go around the table and say, ‘What do you think?’ You’ve got five or 10 minutes. ‘Put so and so on the tape, let’s look at two more minutes.’ Then you say, ‘Let’s go with so-and-so.’”
Sometimes during the draft a smaller group session is needed, so Williams said he, Allen, Gruden and Smith will leave the room.
“We might go in the hallway, get out and relax for a minute and everyone says, ‘I think this.’ That’s the key is to get everyone involved. Relax and come up with it.”
They must come up with strong solutions to help a defense that ranked 21st in yards allowed and tied for 27th in points and an offense that needs to boost its 28th-ranked rushing attack.
“Let me tell you something,” he said last month, “and I’m not just saying because I’m in this role. I can tell you that this has been the smoothest transition. I’m not taking anything else away from anywhere else I’ve been. Just the way we’ve handled it.