Former Bears Scout: Passing on James Starks was the “most embarrassing moment” of my career

Green Bay Packers running back James Starks gains 27 yards to the Packers 32-yard line as he shakes off a tackle attempt by Philadelphia Eagles Kurt Coleman during first quarter action of the Philadelphia Eagles-Green Bay Packers NFC Wildcard playoff game in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field January 9, 2011. UPI/John Anderson

Former Bears scout Greg Gabriel wrote an interesting article for the National Football Post. He describes the scene as the Bears tried to decide between James Starks and Dan LeFevour.

As we got closer to our pick, Angelo made the decision for the Bears to draft Starks. When we drafted a player there was a protocol we followed. After the decision on who to draft was made, Cliff Stein (the Bears contract negotiator) would call the players agent and tell him we were planning on drafting his player. He would tell the agent that the wanted to get a 4-year contract with the player and wanted the contract done by a certain date. If the agent agreed then I would call the player and give him the news that the Bears were going to take him. This is exactly what happened with Starks. I was on the phone for a minute or so with Starks when Angelo walked in my office and told me he had changed his mind and was drafting LeFevour. I put Starks on hold and then said to Angelo that Stein had already talked to the agent and I had the player on the phone…we couldn’t do business like that. He said he was sorry but he decided he wanted LeFevour and the card had been turned in.

I then had to tell the player (a player that I had developed a good relationship with over the previous two years) that in fact we were not drafting him. Hearing a kid go from being extremely excited to silence was not easy. It was the most embarrassing moment I had experienced while scouting.

This is something of a story now that Starks is emerging as the top tailback for the Packers. He rushed 23 times for 123 yards against the Eagles, showing very good burst and wiggle through the hole. He also showed some nice hands out of the backfield, which makes sense since he caught a total of 93 passes in 2007 and 2008 as a member of the Buffalo Bulls.

After Ryan Grant went down, the Packers decided not to add Marshawn Lynch to the mix at tailback and it appears that Starks was the main reason why.

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2011 NFL Divisional Round Odds

coln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 09 January 2011. EPA/JUSTIN LANE fotoglif882603

Ravens @ Steelers, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
This will be the third meeting between these two teams this season. In Week 4, the Ravens beat a Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers in Pittsburgh, 17-14. But the Steelers got their revenge in Week 13 by beating the Ravens 13-10 in Baltimore behind Troy Polamalu’s strip of Joe Flacco late in the fourth quarter. It’s a little surprising to see oddsmakers open this game at 3.5 with the way the Ravens played last Sunday in Kansas City. One would think that they would have set the point spread at 3 and let the public play with it from there. I can’t see this line going up throughout the week. The public remembers that the Ravens should have beaten the Steelers twice this year and they tend to latch onto Wildcard teams because those teams’ performances are fresh in their memory. I bet this line closes at Steelers –3, or even –2.5.
THE ODDS: STEELERS –3.5 (36.5)

Packers @ Falcons, 8:00PM ET, Sunday
Home field advantage is usually worth three points, or so the logic goes. To see the Falcons opened at only –1.5 means one of two things: either oddsmakers believe that the Packers are the team to beat in this game or they believe that the public believes they’re the team to beat. (Or it could mean both, I guess.) Aaron Rodgers and the Pack are red-hot and the public views them as a legit Super Bowl contender. With the way James Starks ran last week, people are starting to buy into a Green Bay championship run, which means an upset this Sunday in Hotlanta. That said, the line has moved all the way up to 2.5 in the matter of 24 hours, so is Vegas getting heavy sharp action on the Falcons? It’s good to see that this matchup received the primetime spot on Saturday night because it should be the best game of the weekend.

Seahawks @ Bears, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
It’s not surprising that the Seahawks are underdogs again but didn’t their upset of the defending champs last Sunday by them a little bit of respect? They already beat the Bears once in Chicago this year and yet they’re double-digit dogs. Neither oddsmakers nor the public (at least the majority of the public) believes that the Seahawks have two upsets in them, especially since they have to go on the road this week. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the line drops from 10 to 9.5 or even 9 by kickoff. I don’t get the sense that everyone is on the Bears’ bandwagon this year, so the public may take the points with the road dog. But if you like the Bears, it may be best to wait and see if the number comes off the all-important “10.”
THE ODDS: BEARS –10 (41)

Jets @ Patriots, 4:30PM ET, Sunday
The line opened at Patriots –9 and it almost immediately jumped to –9.5. But the spread has now dropped back to 9 so maybe Vegas is getting action coming in on both sides. It’s hard to imagine that the line wouldn’t move back up to 9.5 or even 10 by kickoff after the way the Patriots spanked the Jets 45-3 in their last meeting. But maybe Rex Ryan made believers out of people by the way he held Peyton Manning in check. In the end, I can’t see the public not backing New England and if the line stays below 10 then it would be a gift to Patriot backers.

Balanced Packers edge out Vick, Eagles to advance to Divisional Round

Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (C) runs the ball against Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney (L) in the third quarter during their NFC Wild Card NFL playoff football game in Philadelphia, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Here are six quick-hit thoughts on the Packers’ 21-16 victory over the Eagles in Sunday night’s Wildcard matchup.

1. Thanks to Starks, the Packers finally find offensive balance.
The role that James Starks played in this game cannot be overstated. All season, pundits have criticized the Packers’ inability to run the football and have questioned whether or not they could protect leads in the fourth quarter. But Mike McCarthy made Starks a focal point in his game plan (either that or he just rode the hot hand after Starks busted off a 27-yard run on his first carry…either way, nice work, Mike) and the rookie responded by rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries. From a yardage standpoint, Philadelphia held Aaron Rodgers (18-of-27, 180 yards, 3 TDs) in check. But because the Packers were able to stay balanced, when Rodgers did throw the ball he found open receivers (especially in the red zone). If Starks runs this way next Saturday night in Atlanta, the Pack could be headed for the NFC Championship Game against the Bears. (Oh whatever – I’m just saying what everyone is already thinking…the Seahawks don’t have two miracles in them.)

2. Rodgers silences critics (however few remain).
I was shocked with how much attention was paid to Rodgers’ 0-1 record in the postseason. He’s played at a MVP-like level all season and leads one of the most explosive passing games in the league. No, he didn’t have a playoff win coming into this weekend but he does now. He didn’t throw for a ton of yards but he was incredibly efficient. He engineered three big scoring drives in this game and had James Jones not dropped a deep ball right before halftime, Rodgers’ numbers would have been even better than they were. Because of him, the Packers are legit Super Bowl contenders.

3. Vick comes up short again.
Right before the Eagles’ offense took over down by five with less than two minutes to play, I texted a friend that if the drive didn’t end in a Michael Vick turnover I’d be shocked. After Vick led the Eagles down to Green Bay’s 38-yard-line, he took an unnecessary shot to the end zone and was intercepted by all-world corner Tramon Williams (what a season this guy is having). As a Falcons backer, I immediately felt the Eagles fans’ pain. I had seen similar outcomes like that before. Vick makes some incredible plays at times but he’s always been careless with the football. He’s always been a quarterback that with the game on the line, you don’t know if he’s going to do the unthinkable or make a boneheaded decision that will leave a bad taste in your mouth for three days following the game. That one throw doesn’t take away the great season he had and he kept the Eagles in this game throughout. (He also played that final drive on a bad ankle and came back strong after suffering a quad injury against the Vikings last week.) But if he wants to be elite and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he can’t continuously come up short in the clutch.

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