Sometimes it seems that NFL organizations, with all the technology and psychology and physical data at their disposal, make it more complicated that it needs to be.
Remember Little League? The biggest, most athletic kid pitched and batted cleanup and played shortstop when he wasn’t pitching. It wasn’t exactly rocket science. The coach put his best player where he needed him most. Period.
All of this came to me the other day while reading an old interview I did with Paul Warfield, the Hall of Fame wide receiver with Cleveland and Miami who is pictured at left. Paul was a sensational athlete, a star at both running back and defensive back for Ohio State, but in the old-school NFL that didn’t seal any kind of deal.
Get a load of what happened on his first day of training camp as a pro.
“The Browns originally drafted me as a cornerback,” Warfield said. “That decision changed very quickly.
“As soon as I got to training camp and took my luggage out of my automobile to the dormitory where I would be staying, one of the assistants came by my room to say that coach (Blanton) Collier wanted to see me.
“I knocked on the head coach’s door and waiting inside were Collier and Ray Renfro, one of our top receivers, who had just retired. Coach said, ‘We have made the decision that you are going to play wide receiver and that (flanker) Ray Renfro is going to be your mentor for the next several weeks.’ ”
There was a lot of that going around back then.
Charley Taylor, like Warfield, was taken in the first round of the 1964 draft. The Washington Redskins took him third overall and were thrilled to see the former Arizona State running back rank sixth in the league in rushing as a rookie.
Two years later, however, a new Redskins coach, Otto Graham, took a new look at things. He moved Taylor to wide receiver and another Hall of Fame career was born. When Taylor retired in 1978, he was the NFL’s all-time receptions leader, and all at a position he never considered in college.
So moving tall and talented athletes to wide receiver seems like the most obvious move, huh? Consider Herb Adderley, a first-rounder from 1961 who starred at Michigan State as a running back and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
The following season Vince Lombardi got painted into a corner due to injuries and tried Adderley at cornerback on Thanksgiving Day against Detroit. No pressure, kid.
Worked out pretty good, though. Adderley excelled as a 6-foot corner, one of the best in league history at the position. He, too, was voted into the Hall of Fame after playing on five NFL championship teams.
“When I think of what Adderley means to our defense,” Lombardi once said, “it scares me to think of how I almost mishandled him.”
There are plenty more examples, more modern and more local.
Dolphins wide receiver Nat Moore was a running back at Florida. Devin Hester from Suncoast High School and the University of Miami was drafted by Chicago as cornerback. He excelled, however, as a kick returner and eventually played wide receiver, too.
Then there’s Tony Lippett, a fifth-round draft pick by Miami in 2015. He was All-Big Ten as a wide receiver at Michigan State but got switched to cornerback by the Dolphins last year. The experiment is ongoing but well worth the effort considering the team’s needs at the position.
As for Ryan Tannehill, would the Dolphins had ever considered him at quarterback if his former coaches at Texas A&M hadn’t switched him from wide receiver midway through his college career?
Now new Dolphins coach Adam Gase is building his offense around Tannehill and looking to find a cornerback in the draft.
Is Gase bold enough to try somebody else back there, a free agent or even a regular who doesn’t see himself as a cornerback but might have the skills to do it?
Much simpler to think of fitting a certain star-shaped rookie into a certain star-shaped hole.
Simpler but not always smarter.