Director of Player Personnel, Dan Saganey (4.27.24)

Opening Statement:

“Before we get started, did you guys have (Mike) Hall and (Zak) Zinter square off in some one-on-one’s out there? I love to know who won because it’s going to be a good battle. We’re building bridges. We’re building bridges. Two good players, excited to get them, so hope it all went well with them.”


Can you tell us about Jamari (Thrash)?

“Yeah, we’re very excited to add Jamari (Thrash) to the roster. So  Jamari, for us, we view him as a guy that can play inside and outside. He had a really productive college career at Georgia State and then decided to transfer up to Louisville last year and had another big year there. So, a guy with speed, a guy that showed up really well through the Senior Bowl process. We really enjoyed getting to know him through our spring scouting process. And, you know, with these picks at this time of the Draft, we’re really looking to find players that we’re looking forward to developing, having our coaches get their hands on him and, you know, see what they can do. So, he’s a competitive kid. He’s had production inside and out throughout his college career, and he’s a good playmaker with the ball in his hands. So, add him to the room and let him compete.”


He doesn’t have much special teams experience, but he said he knows that’s got to be his role going forward here. Is he a guy that you can envision, you know, using in those kinds of spots? I guess he was a gunner in school.

“Yeah, I mean, he’s got speed. He’s a tough kid and the thing that stands out about him, even for a slighter receiver, is that he can get off the line and knows how to win. That stuff usually translates pretty well to the gunner spots. So, again, a guy that you can probably develop as a returner as well, just given the production he’s had with the ball in his hand. So, you know, a guy that all those guys, they know they’re going to have to compete for roster spots and special teams is a big part of that. But when you’re looking at receivers, you know, if a guy has twitch, quickness, toughness, they usually find a way to get on the field. So, looking forward to seeing what he can do working with Bubba (Ventrone).”


You’ve been here a long time. Is there ever a conversation like, we should probably start adding some guys from that football factory 2 hours down the road?

“Well, we have lots of conversations about lots of different players. I figure you’d be asking about Akron at this point, but no – I mean, we’re trying to add the best players we can to our roster and everybody’s board’s different. You know, we kind of had to wait a little while today before we made a pick and really just trying to add the best depth and competitive players we can to our roster – regardless of school, regardless of background. All these guys of all different backgrounds these days. And, you know, it’s cool to see a guy have great success and then transfer up and have it translate well and work out well for him and then show up at the Senior Bowl and show out like he did. So, guys like that, you know, we’re excited to add at any point.”


Sure, everybody, most teams have the same opinion of where you’re at right now, the quality of players that are available. How hard is it to trade out at this point? Does anybody to trade out?

“We certainly do our due diligence, making a lot of calls. I mean, we’ve been honestly at all spots. We kind of talk about it every year where we’re very proactive, making calls up and down the board just based on who’s there, based on a handful of players that could be there. And then we kind of sit and wait to see where it goes. But again, you’re trying to find developmental players. We’re in a good spot with our roster where we have a lot of quality vets on this roster that anybody that we draft at this point is going to be able to learn from some pretty good pros and guys that have been around a while. Again, our job is to help [them] play on the roster two, three years out down the line, and that’s where these picks really become important and really good developmental pieces for us.”


This is a general question, but with the transfer portal and everything, does that present any different challenges in scouting guides?

“That’s a great question. I would say, like, the transfer portal has been interesting because, you know, it’s almost a better perspective, right? Because you’re getting background from sometimes three different schools on players now if they’ve gone through two or three schools at this point. So, you’re getting perspectives. You’re seeing how guys have grown and matured over their career, not just at one school. You know, if they’ve stayed with one staff, you’re learning from multiple staffs that they’ve had at different stops. It really gives you a sense of who the player has become, not just as a player but as a person as they’ve gone. So, I think it makes it a little bit harder to gather the information. But our scouts do an unbelievable job. I mean, they’re on the road 200 days a year digging this information up. That’s what they do. So, we’re fortunate we have a really good group so that by the time we’re comfortable making a pick and adding a player to our roster, we feel like we really know that player. And it all starts with gathering that background and all the work that everybody upstairs does.”


Did you know that Hall and Zinter had that ironic, weird connection before you drafted them both on day two?

“I mean, we’re aware of some connections, but I would say we’re really excited to have both guys as football players.”


Did you know that he got shoved into?

“I’ve seen the play a lot. I can tell you about every play in that Ohio State – Michigan game. We’ve seen it probably 80 times as a group together at this point. So that’s what we do from February through about a week ago. So, yeah, like I said, that’s why I was like, did you guys challenge them to a steel cage deathmatch out here before we even started the day [joking]? So, yeah, both those guys obviously are super competitive players and played some pretty good football at a high level. So that’ll be fun to watch that battle in practice for years to come as you guys get to watch them out there. I was not at that game. I was up there a year or two ago, but I was not at this.”


How many? One scout?

“One or two might have been. I think this year is one. We want to say two last year.”


I wanna question about development. This, this is the fifth straight year, I believe, that you guys have drafted a receiver. Two are no longer with the organization, so leaves you with three, including Thrash here. I realize when you’re at this point in the draft, you’re hoping to get lightning in the bottle. How do you feel about the young receiver development right now as far as where it’s at? And is it a case where you guys are just trying to keep reinvesting in that particular position open to him?

“Yeah, that’s a great question, too. I think just to answer the first part of your question, with developing receivers, I feel great. I think Chad O’Shea is one of the best receiver coaches in the league. I think we have a great player development crew here that does a lot behind the scenes to continue working with these guys. You know, with Jamari in particular, the thing that stands out to us is his ability to separate naturally, and he’s kind of proven that at two different levels now and then through the spring in the all-star game circuit, as we mentioned. So the hard part about receiver in the NFL is developing, and that’s why it is like a high turnover position is like there’s sometimes two, three on the field at most, but it takes an opportunity sometimes, you know, it takes an injury for a guy to get on the field and show what they can really do. We’ve had plenty of guys through the years that look great in practice and then they have to show up and prove it. But you need those guys to be able to get to the field and be active to do it. So, I know somebody asked the special teams question. That’s one way to get on the field and prove yourself. It’s plenty – there’s a history of guys in the league that started as special teams players and developed into good players and, you know, thinking through the back through the years here, even Rashard Higgins, you know, had a little bit of action as a rookie. You know, he was a guy we cut, put back on practice squad, brought him right back to the 53, and then it took him a year to really prove what he could do. So, you know, as an organization, I think we’re in a great spot with player development and, you know, our job, again, is to provide depth and so that we can survive injuries over the course of the year. And when those guys get their opportunity to show what they can do they have one or two things in their skill set that allows them to succeed at our level.”


I think it said that Zak had worked a little bit early in his Michigan career at center. Do you guys sort of envision him potentially, you know, some versatility there beyond just guard, you know, just even if it’s just as, you know, an emergency possibility?

“Yeah, I would leave that one fully up to the coaches. I mean, the good thing about Zak is he’s played multiple positions. He is super smart. He’s a guy where you honestly feel like you can plug and play wherever and he’s, you know, he’s going to know exactly what to do. He’s going to know the right angles on how to do it. He’s going to take coaching very well and understand exactly what we’re doing schematically. So long term roster-wise, those things bear themselves out over time. Again, opportunity creates playtime, and we’ll see how he does. But, you know, I think he fully fits our smart, tough, accountable mantra and will fit right into that room really early on.”


D tackles. It just seems like you guys obviously come away with one, but in the NFL, the contracts that veterans are getting in free agency and that emphasis on D tackles you can get after opposing quarterbacks. How in recent years has that changed, like your evaluation of the position and how have you seen it kind of trickle down into college, maybe anything like that?

“Yeah, pass rush is a premium no matter what. I mean, we see the guys that hit the market this year even signed extensions recently at the D tackle position. It’s a highly paid, highly coveted position. And taking a guy like Mike, very good quickness, twitch power, and has really the ideal skill set for what we’re looking for out of a three-technique, when you see guys like that, they kind of jump off the tape. In college, a lot of college teams play odd fronts or play three guys where it’s, you have more DBs than linebackers on the field. But a guy like Mike really was identified pretty early here as a guy that’s a perfect scheme fit for us and fits what we do. And again, it is something that we’re always looking to add wherever we can.”


He had some real dominant stretches down there and maybe some inconsistency. What would you attribute that to?

“Inconsistency? Yeah, I would just say like, he’s a guy that’s going to come off the ball, so maybe it looks a little bit differently when, you know, the ball goes the other way or it gets out a gap, you know, maybe from where he was supposed to be on tape. I just think his strength is coming off the ball, it’s disrupting. You guys have heard Jim’s (Schwartz) phrases over and over, “That’s what he does.” And I just think even his inconsistent plays create opportunities for others, which is how we kind of view things when you’re building your front seven. And we’re fortunate that we have a couple pretty good D linemen around him with the ability to rectify some mistakes. When you got a guy that just gets up the field and disrupts and has power and plays fast. So that’s what we want our guys to do.”


Back to the development aspect. When you look at Jamari’s games in the areas that he can grow, what can he learn from this current receiving core? Just with Amari (Cooper) and guys like Elijah (Moore) and them?

“Yeah. If I were Jamari, I would be watching and listening to every detail that those guys provide with route running. Like when you talk about the three guys you mentioned, they’re all very quality route runners. They all have the ability to play inside and out just like we view Jamari as. So, you know, route running in the NFL versus a high amount of press coverage takes, again, the receiver curve. It takes a little time for these guys to figure that out. His athletic skillset and what he’s proven throughout his college career is already up to par, if you will. And then it’s up to him to learn the nuances, learn those smaller things and really probably learn to study tape and listen to how these guys see the game because that’s a pretty smart receiver group. And guys, one of the best things about that group, we always joke about how we have a pretty boring receiver group here and it’s because those guys, they’re pros. They all pull for each other, they all root for each other and they all learn from each other. And guys have come from different buildings too, so they’ve gathered a lot along the way.”


Receiver class that appears as deep as this one is. What are the challenges with that? Like, do you group guys by. Okay, these guys are whatever by style, I guess, when you’re breaking down and decide who you gonna wind up picking?

“Yeah, that’s an interesting question because we build our board a certain way, but I would say in general we’re looking for guys that can separate, get open, catch the ball and run after the catch. That’s kind of how we view things in general. Receiver, corner(back) is another position in the league where like guys come in all different shapes and sizes and have, you know, maybe highs or lows here and some of that is size. But again, you know, the league’s trending to a lot of eleven personnel. You’re going to play with three receivers most of the game. So we put a premium on guys that we believe can separate and catch the ball, which, you know, Jamari’s proven he can do it at a high level.”


So, who spends his year studying these guys and years in some cases? Are you ready to have a first-round pick?

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to that, actually. It’ll be a lot more exciting probably down here as well, so. But I mean, in general, it’s funny, I remember being asked this question last year and all we do is really shift our board and just shift the players that you’re focused on. So, it’s like if you’re taking a receiver later, you’re still as excited about him sometimes or a player being there in the fifth round, sixth round as you would be getting, quote-unquote, getting your guy in the first. So, the two guys that we added yesterday, were very excited, you know, that it ended up working out and were able to add them to the roster. So, I would say there’s like no shortage of excitement when we’re able to do that. But again, a first-round pick is a huge resource and as we’ve seen the last couple years, those can go a lot of different ways. And, you know, we deploy our resources in a lot of different directions. I would say so. But, yeah, it’d be nice to have that resource back. Looking forward to it.”


Jamari played part of the end of the, or like most of the end of the season with a broken hand. Could you see that difference on film when you were watching it? I mean, what does it tell you about a guy who wants to play through that and stay on the field?

“Yeah, I mean, receivers that play through stuff like that and your job is catching the ball. I think it just, again, proves the makeup of who the kid is. So, you know, tough, competitive, and smart is what we’re looking for in every position. I think he fits all that. And just one more example of how he proves it.”


Do you have any concerns about any drop issues with him?

“No. Our scouts do a really good job of providing that context and, you know, we have a number of different lenses. We look at, you know, drop rate stats, all those things, and we really try to contextualize things the best we can and really go over the player’s whole career, not just one small sample of his four- or five-years playing college football.”


I think you had a few different visits with (Troy) Franklin counting the (NFL) Combine and he came here. Are you surprised he went so low?

“I mean, we enjoyed our time with Troy, too. You know, wish him the best of luck where he ends up. I would say again, everybody’s board is very different. And, you know, where you’re choosing players in the drafts, you’re kind of – for us, we’re looking at bundles of players and the availability to get players that we like at different positions across, you know, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth whatever round it might be. So. But, yeah, I mean, good player and wish him the best going forward. There are a lot of guys we spend time with through the process that you’re excited to see how they end up because you had great experiences with them and want to see how they do. All right, thanks, everybody.”