Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Apr 2008

The Myth of Mike Mamula

At the New York Times' Fifth Down blog this week I wrote about Mike Mamula, tight ends and the spread offense, Bill Walsh reading mock drafts, the NFL schedule and Ryan Clady.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 18 Apr 2008

38 comments, Last at 22 Apr 2008, 3:50pm by Bobman


by Dean (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 4:39pm

I have to disagree.

Mike Mamula sucked.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 4:40pm

I think another issue with the lack of TE prospects, is that most are playing basketball instead.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 4:52pm

Re 2, that's funny. I initially wrote a much longer post, about half of which was devoted to my belief that the athletes who would be the best tight ends are all power forwards. But when I read back over it I didn't think I was expressing my idea clearly, so I cut that portion of it out.

by mattman (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 5:51pm

I've been making a similar point on Mamula on a few Eagles boards. I think 2003 first round DE Jerome McDougle (also a tradeup) is a much, MUCH bigger draft bust than Mamula, who was a legit startable NFL player for several years. McDougle's best years in an Eagles uniform were the ones he missed due to injury; that way he only hurt the team financially.

by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 6:22pm

re: 1

Any support for that position?

If not, I guess it IS fun to say "sucked" on a message board, isn't it?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 6:32pm

I'm of the camp that someone can not be called a bust if his lack of success is due to injury. But that's just me.

by peachy (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 7:36pm

re #6 : I agree, with the caveat that a player still is a bust if the injury is incurred due to foolishness off the field (motorcycle accident, beach football etc.)

by Mike Tanier :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 7:59pm

The reason Mike Mamula is ridiculed so constantly by Eagles fans is that we have purged Michael Haddix from our memories.

by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 8:35pm

Wasn't Mike Mamula one of the first prospects to really train for the combine? To go out and learn the "tricks" (techniques, I guess) that allowed him to optimize his numbers? The kind of training that's now standard for just about every prospect with a combine invite? That's Mamula's true legacy.

by DZ (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 8:46pm

Or unless the injury was preexisting like Trev Alberts who claimed he was already toast by the time the Colts took him.

by ElJefe (not verified) :: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 11:08pm

Wait, wait, wait!

It's not because Eagles fans have expunged Michael Haddix from the memory banks, it's because we've forgotten about Kevin Allen (who I think is out of prison by now), Bernard Williams (hey, it'll be 4/20 any day now) and most especially ... Jon Harris. Who has no excuse, criminal, injury, or recreational to justify his awfulness.

by JamesW (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 1:43am

I think a player CAN be called a bust due to injury. Poor return on investment = bust. So did Mamula get paid more than the league average player and produce less than that player? If yes, then objectively he is a bust.

by RobM (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 2:16am

Steve Emtman.

by Xeynon (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 4:06am


Harris was, as I recall, a marginal prospect in the year he was drafted - he was a so-so college player and was considered a mid-to-late round pick at best, and pretty much everyone was shocked when Ray Rhodes took him in the first round (except, according to Ray, Ron Wolf, who had his eyes on "the next Too Tall Jones" a couple of picks later. He was a terrible pick, but considering that he was picked at least three rounds before where he was expected to go, I'm not sure "bust" is the right label.

by *Legion* (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 5:44am

Re: #3 (MDS) - That reminds me of an interview I heard on the radio with some old boxing trainer, talking about the decline in boxing's cultural status. His notion was that a teenage Cassius Clay in today's sports culture would've spent his youth as his high school football team's reserve TE, rather than the amateur boxer that would become Ali.

by bubqr (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 6:36am

Justin Smith is a healthier Mamula, yet I don't hear anyone talking about him as a bust.

by Xeynon (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 7:17am

#3, 15-

The athletic skill sets might overlap, but you don't have much chance of making it to the NBA as a 6'4" power forward. Most people have reached approximately their adult height by the time they graduate high school, and most athletes don't specialize in one sport until college, so I'd think a talented high school athlete would have a pretty good idea of whether he'd be able to make it as a big time bball player or should focus on playing basketball instead.

I think the shift toward TE-light spread offenses at the college level, and the popularity of bigger wideouts resulting in many players who may have been asked to bulk up and shift to TE in the past staying at WR (e.g. this year Sweed, Kelly, Hardy) probably has more to do with it.

by Xeynon (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 7:18am

Ack, that should say "focus on playing football"...

by Rocky the Philly Eagle (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 9:56am

As bad as a Mamula sucked (My favorite moment was when he exposed himself to a female bouncer) He is not as bad a Jon Harris or Jerome McDougal.

I remember watching the 1997 draft. Jon Harris was projected so low that ESPN did not even have a film clips of him. At least he was followed by Jim Druckenmiller and Rae Carruth - two more of the worst picks in football hisory.

McDougal on the other hand broke my heart. I went to Miami at the time, watched every game and knew McDougle was no good. When the Eagles traded a second to move up, I thought they were going for Polamalu. But no they went for a lazy D-end that feasted on lesser competition when he was surrounded by all stars.

by Harris (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 10:08am

I read an interview with Jon Harris that said even he was shocked when the Eagles picked him. That was a bad omen.

Does Freddie Mitchell count as a bust? He never justified a first-round pick, but he did contribute to some very good Eagles teams.

by The Hypno-Toad (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 12:30pm

This comment on the Mamula article blew my mind: "However, considering he was seclected in the first round (7th overall), and did not even make All-Pro in any of his seasons, I think he was a bust. Really? Not making All-Pro in an injury plagued 6 year career makes you a bust if you're picked in the top 10? There are a lot, lot, lot of busts out there then, I suppose. He must have meant Pro Bowl, right?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 2:46pm

12: So, in your opinion, Reggie Lewis was a bust for the Celtics? He didn't meet expectations due to the most serious of injuries.

by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 4:12pm

R lewis was good player for Boston Celtics. He took them to playoffs a couple of times and scored a lot of points. He is not a bust. A bust is guy like Ryan leaf (horrible pick by horrible Chargers), RYan Sims (crap player picked by hiefs in 1st round, or Maurice Clarett (jerk who got taken by Broncos and then never made team).

Lets see Tony Mandrich crap pick by Packers. 49ers take Micharl Rump and Jim Druckenmiller. More like Drunken Miller. That guy was one of worst QBs of the 1990s.
Seahawks dumb, too. when they took Rick Mirer in 1st round I laughed all night long. It was good thing for Raiders because they got to play that crappy guy two times a year

by BDC (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 4:50pm


Yea, that pick was funny wasn't it? Almost as funny as spending a mid first round pick on a kicker don't you think?

by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 6:09pm

Lets see S Janikowski is still on Raiders roster. He aklso is maybe the best kicker in the NFL. That was not a bad pick at all

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 6:44pm

Raiderjoe: The poster that I was responding to stated that someone getting injured still counts as a bust because he didn't produce to the level that was expected. Reggie Lewis was expected to be the next Larry Bird and win some championships for them. Clearly, he didn't. So is he a bust according to that poster's definition? I guess so. I guess Sean Taylor's a bust according to the poster to whom I was responding, since the Skins still have to take the cap hit.

So make sure that you do your scouting properly and that your draft picks don't die.

by masocc (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 7:53pm

Raiderjoe, did you drink so much that you forgot about Todd Marinovich?

by The Hypno-Toad (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 7:54pm

26 - I'm pretty sure that if a player dies, their remaining salary doesn't count against the cap. As a Bronco fan, this has sadly come up a couple times recently. (And yes, I know that wasn't the point you were making.)

by Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabbadu (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 8:40pm

Micharl Rump.

Best misnomer ever.

by RMoses (not verified) :: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 11:28pm

Re:8 Hey Mike...and Chris Hinton...and Bernard Williams...and

by jebmak (not verified) :: Sun, 04/20/2008 - 9:09am

I think that the cross-over athletic skills also has to do with why there are not very many good heavyweight fighters. Anyone with high athletic skills and size will probably be a football or basketball player. That 170lb athelete is much more likely to be a wrestler.

Regarding injuried players being busts, I think that your opinion on that has to do with whether you look at the player as being a bust, or the pick. If your high first round pick suffers a career ending injury in preseason practice, sure, that pick was a bust, but it wasn't really the player that was.

Finally, WE WANT SAPP! WE WANT SAPP! WE WANT SAPP! I get a kick out of that video everytime the draft rolls around.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sun, 04/20/2008 - 9:17am

It's worth noting too (as the author of the article MDS linked to does) that Mamula was not really used properly in the NFL. He was made to be an every down 4-3 end, when he would clearly have been best suited as a 3-4 OLB. In a 4-3, he wasn't such a great fit period, but should probably have played primarily OLB, moving up to DE for obvious passing downs. If he'd been drafted at the same spot by - say - Pittsburgh, he'd probably have been a lot more successful.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Mon, 04/21/2008 - 1:34am

That piece about sums up my recollection of Mamula; disappointing, but not horrid.

RE power forwards, I am a little confused. I don't watch much college hoops but when I did, it seems to me that decent power forwards tend to be taller (above 6-6) than the converted TEs I see in the NFL (maybe 6-4). My mental image of a prototype PF is a guy who is about 6-8. What gives?

Is it that the guys who are prototype height STAY in hoops and the guys with the talent for PF but not the size (yet not quite the skillset for guard), end up in the NFL? Just curious.

How big was Karl Malone? Let's see him strap on the pads in his prime. Barkley? Okay, his listed height seemed to vary from about 6-3 to 6-6, bus I secretly suspect he was in the Spud Webb/Doug Flutie height range.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Mon, 04/21/2008 - 1:36am

FECES! I see #17 answered the meat of my TE question before I even asked it.

Mea culpa.

by Whelk (not verified) :: Mon, 04/21/2008 - 3:11pm

17 - I think that you're absolutely right that most of the 6'4" and 6'5" high school power forewards know by the time they graduate whether or not they'll be tall enough to be an NBA prospect. However, I think that many athletes select their sport of interest even before the end of high school.

There are plenty of high school basketball players who were the tallest people in their middle school, only to find that they stopped growing in 9th grade, and everybody else passed them up. If they don't realize then that their pro sports potential is in football, then these players either play basketball at small colleges or walk on at larger ones (rarely getting playing time). I think that there is an untapped pool of potential tight end talent in the players who may be phenomenal athletes but who didn't jump to football when their basketball peers outgrew them.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Mon, 04/21/2008 - 5:19pm

The TEs playing basketball aren't power forwards, they're small forwards. Lebron James would have been a HOF TE, Tracy McGrady would have been pretty good, even someone like Luol Deng (who has limited athletic potential) would made a steady Alex Smith like TE I think.

by Bob in Jax (not verified) :: Mon, 04/21/2008 - 9:15pm

LeBron at TE! There's a fun idea! I'd like to see a LB or DB try to single cover him! With his hands, power, and body control, he could be open pretty much at will. He also has the frame to carry enough muscle to actually block, and the footwork potential to be good at it. Of course, TE's can't get fully guaranteed 20+ million per year contracts, either. Mr. James is likely to make AT LEAST that much in a year or two, and keep on making it for quite a while. The NFL just can't compete with the NBA for the really best of the best athletes.

And, LeBron doesn't have to watch out for cuts in the NBA. Tall linemen always have their knees tested early and often in the NFL.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 04/22/2008 - 3:50pm

Not sure why, but something just made me think of Manute Bol in hockey skates. He was doing some fund raising thing at halftime of a hockey game.

Hey, if you needed 5 yards for a first down throw it 9 feet in the air and he should catch it every time.... Like a first down robo-covnerter.