After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
06 May 2005
by Ryan Wilson
Also check out the pre-draft edition of Four Downs: AFC North.
Unlike previous Four Downs, the AFC North edition will instead take the charter school approach: no grades and an individualized curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning. Of course that means everybody passes, but in all fairness, the teams in this division did a pretty good job of addressing their needs on draft day.
The Ravens have taken eight wide receivers in the last six drafts and they may have finally found their guy. Mark Clayton was their first round pick (22nd overall) and he'll be given every opportunity to start opposite Derrick Mason. With TE Todd Heap back from injury, Kyle Boller will be expected to step up. Interestingly, Jacksonville had the pick immediately before Baltimore and there was some concern that Clayton might go there. The Jaguars ended up taking WR/TE/QB Matt Jones and the Ravens got their guy.
Baltimore also got DE Dan Cody in the second round, and although he probably won't start, he'll get some opportunities as a third down pass rusher as he makes the move to outside linebacker. Some people thought Cody was better than the 53rd overall pick, but he has battled depression in the past and that may have scared some teams off. The Ravens gave up their 2005 and 2006 third round picks to trade up and nab T Adam Terry with the last pick in the second round. He won't start over Jonathan Ogden or Orlando Brown next season, but Terry will add some much needed depth.
On day two, Baltimore took C Jason Brown, who can also add play both guard positions. (C Mike Flynn missed six games last season with a broken collarbone, but is healthy heading into 2005.) After Clayton, maybe the most interesting pick was QB Derek Anderson, taken in the sixth round. He's 6'6" and has a great arm, but struggles with poor decision-making at critical times during the game. (sound familiar?) But unlike seasons past in Baltimore, Anderson will have first-year QB coach Rick Neuheisel to help bring him along. Still, unless "Neuheisel" is German for "Helen Keller: Miracle Worker," Anderson will be nothing more than Boller's backup for the foreseeable future.
The Ravens signed 16 undrafted free agents and the most notable might be UNC QB Darian Durant. He's a hair under six feet, but he's mobile and makes good decisions with the football, two things Derek Anderson has struggled with. The fact that he's athletic but undersized probably means he'll have to switch to wide receiver or running back to have a chance to make the team. Surprisingly, Baltimore didn't draft a defensive back for the second straight year -- especially surprising since they annually try to replace safety Will Demps, and because after Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, Dale Carter is the only player with any experience and he's 35 years old and coming off an injury. Deion Sanders would like to return as the nickel back, but only if he can avoid attending training camp.
The Bengals needed help on the defensive side of the ball and they used their first two picks to bolster a unit that finished 22nd against the run according to DVOA (What is DVOA? Explained here.) last season. First round pick David Pollack was a DE at Georgia but he'll move to OLB in Cincinnati. When moving from DE to OLB most players take at least a year to fully adjust, primarily because they must learn to drop into pass coverage. Things might be different for Pollack however; OLB Kevin Hardy was just released, and there's a chance that head coach Marvin Lewis will let Pollack learn on the fly.
In the second round the Bengals got ILB Odell Thurman, Pollack's college teammate. Thurman brings speed and physicality to the position that was lacking last season. In 2004 Landon Johnson and Nate Webster did a serviceable job, but Thurman could emerge from training camp as the starter.
The Bengals wrapped up the first day of the draft by selecting WR Chris Henry. Many people thought Henry had first round talent but there were some concerns about his character. Henry could join teammates Chad Johnson and T.J. Whosyourdaddy to form a late-round (and to date, more effective) version of the Detroit Lions Big Three. Cincinnati also took WR Tab Perry on day two and there is some speculation that Peter Warrick's ticket is about to get punched. Warrick missed most of the 2004 season with injuries, but with the emergence of Whosyourdaddy, he might be expendable.
35-year old C Rich Braham still hasn't re-signed and the team didn't draft a center until the fourth round (Eric Ghiaciuc). Because of balky knees Braham probably only has one good year left, but if he and the Bengals can't come to terms, it will be interesting to see who will replace him.
The Bengals added some insurance at center when they signed LSU's Ben Wilkerson as an undrafted free agent. Before the 2004 college season, Wilkerson was considered one of the best centers in the country. An early season knee injury caused him to tumble off every team's draft board. However, if he's able to fully recover, he could eventually be the starter.
The Bengals didn't draft a safety (they did sign three safeties as undrafted free agents), which is probably now the weakest position on the team. Kim Herring and Anthony Mitchell will battle for the starting job, but Mitchell may win out because he's stout against the run. Herring and backup Kevin Kaesviharn are better on passing downs, but eventually Cincinnati may look to find a player that can do both.
First round pick WR Braylon Edwards is slated to wear #17. He might want to wear #97 because it looks like he'll have twice as much responsibility after #80 Kellen Winslow lost a game of chicken to a curb. Given that most WRs not named Boldin or Clayton often struggle in their first season, the Browns will have to rely on Andre' Davis, Antonio Bryant and Dennis Northcutt to have productive years. In 2004 Bryant had the highest DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement) of the three, 12.8, which only ranked 41st among all NFL receivers. Offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon will need more from this trio if Winslow misses another season and Edwards goes through the requisite rookie growing pains.
Second-round pick S Brodney Pool immediately upgrades the defensive backfield, even if it means he only sees the field in nickel and dime packages early in the season while he learns the defense. The Browns also have safeties Sean Jones (last year's second round pick, who will be returning from an injury that kept him out for all of 2004), Chris Crocker, and Brian Russell on the depth chart. Crocker started in 2004, but he and Russell will be early-season stand-ins while Pool and Jones learn the ropes.
The quarterback carousel continues as the Browns selected their second QB of the future in as many years, Akron's Charlie Frye in the third round. And given that last year's "franchise" QB, Luke McCown, was traded to Tampa Bay for a sixth-round pick, Frye is currently listed as Trent Dilfer's backup heading into training camp.
Since most of Cleveland's defensive line relocated to Denver this off-season, head coach Romeo Crennel used the second day of the draft to restock personnel on that side of the ball. The Browns are switching to the 3-4 so they'll need one fewer defensive lineman, but that'll be the least of their worries heading into training camp. None of the players taken on day two are expected to start, but they are warm bodies that will fill out the depth chart.
Cleveland signed 15 undrafted free agents; nine were defensive players and three were QBs. (Of course, if Winslow had gotten hurt a week earlier, the team could have signed only tight ends.) The Browns would like to add depth along the defensive line, and they might also be looking for Frye's eventual understudy if Josh Harris doesn't work out. QB Lang Campbell might be that guy. In 2004, Campbell was a Division I-AA All-American at William and Mary who threw for almost 4,000 yards, 30 TDs and only 5 INTs. He's undersized, but is accurate, makes good decisions and moves well outside the pocket.
Going into the draft the Steelers had needs at tight end, cornerback, offensive tackle, wide receiver, linebacker, offensive guard, defensive line, and running back. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, and check. That's oversimplifying it a bit, but Pittsburgh had one of their best drafts, from top to bottom, in some time. They lost Plaxico Burress this off-season, but they got Heath Miller, the best TE in the draft, at the end of the first round. The last time the Steelers had a legitimate pass-catching threat at tight end was during the mid-1990's with Eric Green. In the second round Pittsburgh also added depth to the defensive backfield with CB Bryant McFadden. McFadden was teammates with FS Chris Hope and OLB Alonzo Jackson at Florida State, and he'll probably get his feet wet in the nickel and dime packages this season.
The Steelers lost the right side of their offensive line this off-season and added some depth at the tackle position in the third round with Northwestern's Trai Essex. Essex came to Northwestern as a tight end, but ate his way out the position and ended up at tackle. He's a good athlete with quick feet, but slipped on many draft boards because of questionable work habits. After watching some film of Essex, offensive line coach Russ Grimm thought differently, and was happy to see him still available late in the third round. If he eats his way out of this position, the next stop is 3-4 nose tackle, followed by sumo wrestler and then continent.
Maybe the Steelers' most intriguing pick came on day two when they nabbed WR Fred Gibson in the 4th round. Pittsburgh had a second round grade for Gibson, but character and durability concerns may have caused him to drop. He's a tall, rangy wideout who caught 49 passes for 801 yards last season at Georgia. He'll need to put on some weight in the NFL, but he could eventually replace the departed Burress opposite Hines Ward.
The Steelers signed eight undrafted free agents and Zach Tuiasosopo is the most recognizable name of the bunch. Brother of Marques Tuiasosopo, the Raiders quarterback, Zach will try to make the team as a fullback. Dan Kreider is the starter, but there is not much depth behind him. Also look for last year's undrafted free agent, WR Zamir Cobb, to get a chance to make the roster after having a solid 2004 preseason only to be lost for the year because of an injury.
Next week: NFC South by Russell Levine.
1 comment, Last at 11 Jul 2005, 10:10pm by jim riley