Few in the NFL have had the career of Gil Brandt. After working as a part-time scout with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s, he moved with his boss, Tex Schramm, to join the newly created Dallas Cowboys in 1960. Brandt spent the next 29 years working alongside Schramm and legendary head coach Tom Landry helping build one of the NFL's most historic franchises.
Since then, Brandt has remained close to the NFL by evaluating talent and contributing as a senior analyst for NFL.com. But he also has a connection to fantasy football as well. Over the past few seasons, Brandt has been ahead of the curve in identifying a number of fantasy stars, landing on Arian Foster and Julius Thomas (to name two) well ahead of the rest of the population. For that reason, I caught up with Brandt to pick his brain about what -- and more importantly who -- he's looking for in 2014.
Marcas Grant: What are you looking to see from players at training camp?
Gil Brandt: You just can look at players and you can see that they're going to do good. As an example when you take Washington, (Ryan) Grant, the Tulane wide receiver who doesn't have great speed is going to do well. But he's in a tough situation because they've got so many receivers around him. He's going to be a guy that you'd like to have on your team, even if you're not going to get much production out of him.
MG: What is the biggest obstacle to guys making an impact in their first year?
GB: The difference between training camp and Week 1 is the difference between being a student in high school and being a graduate student at MIT. Everything they see is new and different and so consequently they have to adjust on the fly. The other thing that is happening with these guys is that a lot of these young guys hit the wall. In college, you play 12 games. In the National Football League you play 16 games during the season, you play four preseason games. Before you even get the the playoffs, you've played 20 games. Add to that the fact that a lot of people now are having these scrimmages. For example Philadelphia scrimmaged New England. New England scrimmaged Washington. These guys hit the wall is what they do. So usually players will start pretty good, but they will slow down toward the end of the season. What offsets it a little bit is that guys that should start pretty good if they're second or third year players, they don't start as good as when they're rookies.
MG: Are there coaches/teams that tend to do better at getting their young players to contribute?
GB: I don't think so. You've got to be at the right place at the right time and stay out of the tub. You've got to stop being injured.
MG: With college teams throwing the football so much more now, is it helping rookies get adjusted to the pro game?
GB: It starts at the high school level now. About 15 years ago, in high school football in Texas about 92 percent were running teams. Now about 92 percent are passing teams. What's happened is it's not only helped the receivers, it helps the quarterbacks, it helps the offensive linemen. It's a big advantage now from what it used to be. You used to get a player and he didn't know how to run routes. Now they all know how to run routes because of 7-on-7.
As for the defensive backs, the origin of all the clutching and holding and grabbing is probably now ... because to a lesser extent the guys are grabbing and clutching in high school football against the spread. And a little more they're clutching and grabbing now in college football. What we're seeing in the National Football League is not something that a guy comes in and it's foreign to him. He's seen it because he's participated in it to a somewhat similar degree at the high school level and at the college level.
MG: Will we get back to consistently having 300-carry running backs?
GB: I think that day is gone. Most everybody is alternating their running backs and it's smart. It took place when (Tony) Dorsett came to our football team, the Cowboys. Coach Landry -- whether it was game planned or not -- 20 carries was his limit. That was considered not a lot, because we had running backs that were carrying the ball 35 or 40 times. We alternated backs but it wasn't as highly advertised as it is now. And one of the reasons it wasn't highly advertised is because for every writer we had then, there's 15 now.
Later, Gil and I talked about a few specific players he thinks could take off this season. Dynasty leaguers, pay close attention.
More on tight ends: "The tight end has become a marquee position. (Vance) McDonald and (Luke) Willson. Those two Rice tight tends -- one at San Francisco, one at Seattle are going to do well. But I don't think that there's a (Julius) Thomas out there this year like there was last year. I think there are some guys that are going to do pretty well, but I don't see a Thomas out there."