Backing it up

5-5-04, 5:10 a.m.


Like he has for most of his 21drafts as the Bengals running backs coach, Jim Anderson stood his ground late in the first round last month as Oregon State's Steven Jackson slipped.

While ESPN droned on in the background like elevator music about how Jackson was the best running back on the board, the various mock drafts stood a virtual unanimous sentry in the Paul Brown Stadium draft room commanding Jackson be the first back taken.

Yet, as the 24th pick interminably reached the Bengals, Anderson stood arms folded in front of his notebooks that at least a month before had anointed Michigan's Chris Perry as the best back.

"It's been fun for the last 10 years or so sitting in draft meetings next to JA because he never has them rated the way the way the experts do," says offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "And after all is said and done, I don't care what people around the league feel or what the draft experts say because he's the one guy I'd want evaluating running backs. Look how it turns out. I admire guys who go by what they see and not what they hear."

Anderson is the first to insist scouting is a joint effort and he offers high praise for scouts such as Paul Brown, Jim Lippincott, and Duke Tobin who have provided him data and feedback through the years as they build to consensus.

If there has been one constant through the last playoff runs (Ickey Woods), the lean years (Harold Green and Corey Dillon), and the Marvin Lewis year (Rudi Johnson), it's that Anderson is not only going to spearhead finding a solid back in the draft, but also extracting the numbers from him once he gets here.

When Perry arrives with the rest of the rookies Friday for his first Bengals practice, it marks just the second time that Anderson opens a season with a first-round pick. The other guy, Ki-Jana Carter, was the 1995 draft's consensus best back.

In Anderson's mind, so is Perry despite some of the May buzzards that love to pick at the post-draft remains and have circled around the Bengals' first choice.

(One guy you hear the Bengals compare the 6-0, 225-pound Perry to is Seattle's Shaun Alexander. Some think he's a clone of the 19th pick in the 2000 draft.

Anderson still remembers the one time he didn't say what he saw in a draft room.

Anderson, who has been at the focal point of drafting two Pro Bowl running backs and three 1,000-yard rushers, now always trusts his eyes. But during one draft he refuses to name, he listened to someone else.

He vowed never to change his convictions again.

"He had seen the guy, but so had I," Anderson recalls in his PBS office. "I let myself be swayed. If you do your homework and have your convictions, you're going to be OK. And that's one time I didn't do it."

Not this time.

There was no debate as the hours passed. Or as St. Louis called to swap first-round picks. Head coach Marvin Lewis didn't approach Anderson to double check the grade.

"He knew he didn't have to," Anderson says. "The work has been done in advance. You know what they say? Study long, study wrong? No need to go back on your research once it's done."

And he stuck to that conviction three drafts ago when everyone bypassed Rudi Johnson until the Bengals picked him in the fourth round. A diamond in the rough that didn't sparkle until he became the first back in team history to rush for three 150-yard games in one season last year.

And in 1997, when Anderson and the Bengals had the troubled but talented Corey Dillon rated No. 1 in a draft where Warrick Dunn (No. 12), Antowain Smith (No. 23), Tiki Barber (No. 36) and Byron Hanspard (No. 41) went before the Bengals took Dillon No. 43. Dillon went to three Pro Bowls as a Bengal while the others have combined for two.

"I'm so involved in what we're doing during the course of the year until we go out and focus on what (prospects) have done in their senior year," Anderson says. "You know about them, but it's not like you're dwelling on what he's done prior to his senior year. A lot of people who do the draft publications are people building off the previous years' stats and how they are projected to do their senior year, while I'm looking at that senior year."

Anderson says he does go back and look at film of earlier seasons, but you get the sense he's looking at the here and now. He certainly did with Perry. Not that it was a deciding factor, but Jackson's numbers dipped from nearly 1,700 yards to 1,545 this past season as Oregon State's offensive line struggled. Meanwhile, Perry went from 1,110 yards as a junior to 26 yards shy of 1,700 as a senior.

"This was a tough year for Steve. It was a tough year for a lot of backs," Anderson says. "But Chris went out and did the things that fit in best with what we do. Steve is going to be an excellent back. I think everyone got good picks. St. Louis obviously thinks Steve does what they do best. Same with Detroit and Kevin Jones."

Anderson's common denominators are how a prospect fits into the Bengals' offense, as well as his production. He's a numbers guy when it comes to evaluating talent. Not the workout numbers, but the bottom-line numbers. Yards. Carries. Yards per carry.

"They've all had different styles," Anderson says. "You could say that Chris is a bigger James Brooks, a shorter Harold Green, not as thick as CD. But what they all had in common is that they were very productive at every level they were ever at. College. Junior College. High School. They had the numbers no matter what level they were at. They always produced."

Many NFL teams were scared off by Rudi Johnson's speed in the 40-yard dash and just his one year of experience in Division I-A. But Anderson looked at that one year, and saw that only Bo Jackson ever got more yards in a season at Auburn. He saw the man get more than 2,000 yards in a junior college season and figured he must have been running away from somebody.

The knock on both Dillon and Rudi Johnson? Too much JUCO and not enough 1-A. To Anderson, stats that come from everywhere don't lie.

"He's always looking for guys that run creatively," says a source familiar with Anderson's scouting. "Jimmy likes guys who can get something on their own if there's nothing there. I think with Rudi it was like, 'With those numbers, who cares what he runs in the 40, he must be making somebody miss.'"

The idea is not to listen to what passes for conventional wisdom, which always seems to crystallize into myths. A Michigan, Big 10 back? Oh sure, his entire offensive line is going to be in the pros while he's out of the league in a few years, right?

At least not this year. Only one Michigan lineman got drafted, and that was right tackle Tony Pape in the seventh round.

Anderson doesn't listen to CW, but he is high on competitiveness. He knew all about Dillon's problems as a juvenile growing up in Seattle, but he loved what the edge and desire to get out gave him to succeed and how he rolled up numbers everywhere he went. Woods, the rookie of the year in 1988 who has one of the 11 1,000-yard seasons Anderson has coached, still stands as one of his best competitors.

"These are guys that want to be the best at whatever they're doing," says Anderson, who saw the streak during Perry's workout at Michigan. "He didn't do some things he felt he could have done better at, but he kept going, and that's football because you have to go on to the next play. And when he came to the football stuff, you could see it, 'Wow, here we go.' You could see he enjoys playing."

The numbers told Anderson that Rudi Johnson likes to play football because he set the Auburn record with 324 carries in a season. That's the kind of production Anderson loves. In a year Perry set the Michigan record with 51 carries against Michigan State, Johnson set the Bengals' record with 43 carries against Houston

"Rudi is like that. He loves playing football. You can't get Rudi off the field. He doesn't want to give anybody else another rep," Anderson says.

In the back of Anderson's mind, it also probably didn't hurt Perry that he felt he should have been playing more regularly earlier at Michigan. Once while scouting a player who had a similar gripe, Anderson reportedly said, "After watching tape of the other guy, I agree with him."

Anderson watches demeanor and how prospects interact with others at the NFL scouting combine and their personal workouts. Sometimes it's a gut feeling, or "some times it's something you banked in your mind." But it always has to be backed up with numbers and tape.

Some draft gurus said one of Jackson's negatives is he might dance too much at times. Anderson gave Perry high north and south grades.

"He's got quick feet. He plays fast. He plays fast all the time," Anderson says. "He's physical, but he can also be a finesse guy. And he finishes. He's not always perfect, but he's a guy always working to move up the field with the ball. Michigan always does a nice job preparing their guys for the NFL. And Chris is one of these guys who just loves to play."

If Perry enjoys playing, Anderson enjoys scouting. Bengals' insiders say he knows it's important, treats it as such, looks forward to the travel and the workouts, and burns up the tape.

They also say he's open minded. In a recent draft, Anderson liked a fullback, but warned the Bengals he would be a different style for them and urged them to bring him in for a pre-draft workout. They didn't draft him, but people are impressed that Anderson is willing to change his style after all these years if the player has the talent.

But this is what Anderson does during the season, too.

"Jim approaches scouting like he does everything else. He's good at it," Alexander says.

If Anderson delivered exhaustive reports after attending the workouts of Perry, Jones and Jackson in March and April, you should have seen him in November and December. He is the offense's resident blitz expert and is charged with coming up with different looks during the week to prepare for what they may see game day. Anderson has been known to be so thorough that Paul Alexander has accused him of coming up with blitzes from Hall-of-Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll.

Of course, Alexander can say that because Anderson is the only guy on the staff that ever coached against Noll.

"That's Jim," Alexander says. "When he does something, he does it right."

Which is one of the reasons why the Bengals aren't worried about the buzzards.

"Let's just say this," Anderson says with a smile. "We got the guy we wanted."

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