I love this time of year. It’s the draft season and I usually get to travel to all the All-Star games and catch up with my friends and buddies in the scouting community. For 15 years, I have made the journey around the country where scouts go as they look at the nation’s best seniors entering the NFL.
During this time, I have been able to harvest several relationships with different teams. I love listening and learning from NFL scouts, player personnel guys and general managers when it comes to evaluating talent. The Denver Broncos find themselves getting ready for the evaluation process in draft season, and they’re going to be led by new general manager George Paton.
I’m sure I’ve been around Paton on the All-Star road trip (Shrine Game, Texas vs Nation Game, Players All-Star Classic, NFLPA Game, Senior Bowl, etc), as he started with the Minnesota Vikings as director of player personnel the first year I hit the road (2007). I knew for quite some time that Paton was a future general manager in the NFL who was just waiting for the right opportunity.
This week, Paton made the decision to take over the Broncos. Wanting to know more about the Broncos new general manager, I reached out to some of my top contacts around the league. I wanted to hear their opinion on the hire and what they thought of Paton as a talent evaluator. Here are a few of the notes I gathered from three members of the scouting community – one in the NFC West, one in the NFC South and one in the AFC East. This is some of what they told me.
Luminaries Like Him
I learned from one of my contacts that Paton was on the radar of Jon Gruden years ago. Gruden liked Paton back when he was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That was back from 2002-08, so you can see that Gruden identified Paton as a top-tier talent over a decade ago.
Paton began his career in the NFL as a scouting intern with the Chicago Bears back in 1997. He worked there through the 2000 season before joining the Miami Dolphins as their director of pro personnel from 2001-06. He was hired by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 and worked his way up in that organization until taking the Broncos job of 2021.
Not only Gruden, but I’ve heard that guys like Bruce Allen, Ted Thompson and other luminaries in the scouting world have had their eye on Paton. Add in his relationship with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman (and others I’m sure), and you can see how Paton was one of the most highly coveted prospects out there.
Welcome to the Paton show indeed.
Welcome to the George Paton show.
Let's go to work. pic.twitter.com/rvRSlnSLKy
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 14, 2021
Smart, Patient, Thorough
Paton is seen as an executive with a high level of not only football intelligence but football business intelligence, as well. He’s worked in all sides of the scouting department, college to pro, working on contracts and the salary cap, all while dealing with varying personalities of coaches, players and other scouts.
“Smart, patient and thorough” was part of a text I received back from one of my sources. I’m told that Paton will take the time to properly see a player that he’s drafted develop. He understands what kind of player he wants, and he knows how to find those skill sets in college prospects.
President of football operation John Elway highlighted Paton’s versatility in a press release following the announcement that the team had come to an agreement with their new GM.
“Early in this process, it became clear why George has been such a coveted GM candidate for so many years. He is a proven evaluator who knows every detail of leading football operations. With his experience in all aspects of the job — the college and pro sides, salary cap, trades, working with the head coach and bringing the staff together — George is more than ready to succeed in this role. George has waited and worked for the right opportunity, which shows that he is smart and serious about winning. We’re thrilled to name George Paton as general manager of the Denver Broncos,” Elway said.
Decisions Without Emotion
Sometimes you can be too close to the situation. It happens no matter the industry. There are times when executives have their vision clouded because of emotion. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the NFL, a Fortune 500 company or a locally-owned small business – sometimes, emotions can get in the way.
One of the most interesting things I heard about Paton was that he would make decisions without emotion. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about players – quite the opposite, from what I’m told. However, Paton does not let any emotional ties to a player cloud his judgement. He can make tough decisions on players when the time is right. He works to make his team the best and leaves no stone unturned when evaluating talent.
Paton said all the right things – because he believes them – in a statement to the press.
“I believe in hard work, the grind and not taking any shortcuts to achieve our goals. Drafting and developing players is the No. 1 priority. We will be aggressive — but not reckless — in adding talent to our roster,” Paton said.
A Very Good Man
Perhaps one of the most reassuring things I heard about Paton from these sources was that he’s a genuine, kind-hearted and good man. In fact, everyone I reached out to in the scouting community told me he is a great guy. That type of reputation is difficult to find in any industry, let alone the NFL where egos and cliques run rampant.
I trust the people I’ve built relationships within the league, and if everyone to a man is telling me the same thing about Paton being a great guy, then it must be true. That type of respect gives the Broncos tremendous credibility with this hire.
Elway promised to find the “best candidate, the best person” for the job, and that’s what he did with Paton. It’s a tremendous hire for the organization and I can’t wait to see what kind of team he builds here in Denver.
Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis was certainly impressed in the interview process.
“George is one of the most widely respected and experienced personnel executives in the NFL. He’s a composed, collaborative leader with a clear vision of building a championship team. Getting to know George over the last week, his intelligence, work ethic and leadership skills impressed all of us. He has worked nearly 25 years in the NFL to prepare for this challenge, and we are very fortunate to have George as our new general manager. We’re excited to welcome George, his wife Barbara and his children Bella and Beau to the Broncos family,” Ellis said.
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