Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
07 Jun 2006
Best player available analysis by Sean McCormick
Remainder of Four Downs by Ryan Wilson
(Ed. note: For the next round of Four Downs, we're pleased to present Sean McCormick's "Best Player Available" analysis for each division, along with the usual gang commenting on other moves by each team before and since the draft. The reasoning behind BPA analysis is explained in this article. Each player drafted is listed along with his position on four different independent draft boards and the Best Player Available according to each of those boards. Please note that two of these boards only ranked 100 players.)
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|12||DT Haloti Ngata||8, 8, 9, 11||DT Haloti Ngata (2), DT Broderick Bunkley, OT Winston Justice|
|56||C Chris Chester||79, 81, 111, UR||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|87||DB David Pittman||87, 116, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DT Gabe Watson, DB Ko Simpson, DB Ashton Youboty|
|111||WR Demetrius Williams||50, 53, 58, 59||WR Demetrius Williams, DT Gabe Watson, DB DeMario Minter, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|132||RB P.J. Daniels||196, 223, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|146||DB Dawan Landry||187, 270, UR, UR||DT Babtunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|166||TE Quinn Sypneiwski||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|203||P Sam Koch||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|208||DB Derrick Martin||87, 96, 137, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|219||DE Ryan LaCasse||186, 233, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
The good news is that Baltimore got their man when they traded up a spot to nab mammoth Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The bad news is that they gave their division rival a draft pick for no reason whatsoever. The Ravens essentially bid against themselves for Ngata's services -- if Cleveland had truly been interested, it's doubtful they would have moved down for a sixth-round pick -- but at the end of the day, Baltimore was able to address their need for an interior presence with one of the best players on the board. Ngata's new job is to do everything possible to keep Ray Lewis clean and free to chase the ballcarrier: take on opposing offensive linemen, do the Lewis family dry cleaning, vacuum his carpets, whatever.
General manager Ozzie Newsome was able to find good value throughout the draft. In addition to Ngata, who was considered a minor steal on all four boards, the Ravens also did well with wide receiver Demetrius Williams, cornerback Derrick Martin and defensive end Ryan LaCasse. Newsome has had a blind spot when it comes to identifying receivers, but he may have found a good one in Williams, whose speed and hands made him a standout at the Senior Bowl. Williams graded out as one of the best picks in the fourth round. Derrick Martin has the size and speed teams are looking for at the corner position, but he would have been better off returning to Wyoming for his senior season, as his technique needs work. Seventh-rounders are expendable, so Martin won't have much margin for error in training camp.
Ryan LaCasse is too small to stay at defensive end, so the team will try him out at weakside linebacker. Baltimore has also moved last year's second round pick Dan Cody to the weak side, which suggests that they are looking to generate pass rush from the position. LaCasse has good upfield speed, but it's not clear he has the necessary athleticism to drop into coverage.
Since the last edition of the AFC North Four Downs the Ravens have signed veteran punter Leo Araguz to compete for the starting job now that Dave Zastudil is in Cleveland, added depth in the secondary with CB Corey Ivy, and inked the former Pro Bowl special teams standout, defensive end/linebacker Gary Stills.
The big free agent signing -- the one the Ravens are still hoping to make -- involves Steve McNair. Last week an arbitrator ruled that the Titans, McNair's current employer, couldn't change the locks on him to keep him from showing up for work. According to the Tennessean, McNair was scheduled to make $9 million in base salary in 2006, but the Titans, who have some salary cap issues, offered a reworked deal that totaled $5.5 million. The Ravens, currently playing the role of the bridesmaid, already have a five-year deal on the table that would pay McNair $12 million next season.
Tennessee contends that they are very interested in bringing McNair back for 2006, but if actions speak louder than words, McNair will open the season in purple and black, much to the delight of everyone in Baltimore except Kyle Boller.
(Ed. note: Of course, the Ravens and Titans finally completed their trade on Wednesday.)
With the quarterback position currently in flux, UCLA standout Drew Olson is currently listed third on the depth chart after Boller and Brian St. Pierre. During his senior season, Olson finished third in the nation in passing efficiency, threw 34 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He's a solid pocket passer but struggles when he is forced to make throws on the run ... Iowa's Ed Hinkel was one of the best possession receivers in college football but he was released after he failed his physical due to a broken arm suffered during the 2005 college season ... Currently Baltimore has very little depth in the secondary -- especially at safety -- but the team only signed one defensive back in the post-draft scramble, and that was cornerback Ronnie Prude.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|24||DB Johnathan Joseph||23, 24, 29, 30||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|55||OT Andrew Whitworth||50, 65, 65, UR||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|91||DE Frostee Rucker||173, 246, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|123||DT Domata Peko||UR, UR, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|157||LB A.J. Nicholson||152, 220, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|193||QB Reggie McNeal||154, 167, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|209||WR Ethan Kilmer||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|231||WR Bennie Brazell||UR, UR, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
Cincinnati has built a division champion primarily on the strength of its first day drafting, but it is unclear if this year's haul is going to provide the same kind of impact. In the first round, the Bengals jumped into the run on cornerbacks, tacking South Carolina cover man Johnathan Joseph. The Gamecocks have been something of a cornerback factory recently, turning out both Dunta Robinson and Sheldon Brown, and Joseph's skill set compares favorably with those players. He is very raw, however -- Joseph came out early after only one season as a starter -- and the learning curve for the position is a steep one. In the second round, Cincinnati took the quick-rising Andrew Whitworth as insurance against the potential departure of longtime right tackle Willie Anderson after this season. Whitworth is not a good athlete, but he's a mountain of a man and he excelled in the rugged SEC. As with the Joseph selection, Whitworth was decent value but not the best player on the board, or even the best player at his position. Cornerback and offensive tackle were two areas where good talent slipped during the first day, and a combination of Winston Justice and Richard Marshall or Jimmy Williams and Eric Winston would have graded out substantially higher than the players the Bengals ended up with.
Things went quickly downhill after the first two picks. Defensive end Frostee Rucker might be popular at the local Wendy's, but none of the boards thought he was worth more than a sixth-round pick; Cincinnati grabbed him at the end of the first day. Three of the Bengals' five picks on day two didn't merit a grade on a single draft board. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson had major character concerns heading into the draft, concerns that his recent arrest on burglary and vandalism charges did nothing to alleviate. Reggie McNeal, the player who draft guru Corey Chavous quixotically insisted was the best quarterback in the draft throughout the NFL Network's television coverage, was the only one of Cincinnati's second-day picks to be considered a steal on two boards, and he's a candidate for a position change. The Bengals envision McNeal as an Antwaan Randle El type, and they'll be working him primarily at receiver.
Chad Johnson's getting some new gold fronts. The Bengals restructured his contract -- giving him an extra $10 million over the next year -- and Johnson will now be in Cincinnati through 2011.
Less publicized but almost as important as the Johnson deal, Cincinnati also re-signed guard Bobbie Williams. The Bengals' offensive line was one of the best in the league last season (they were fourth in Adjusted Line Yards and second in pass protection) and the front office also hopes to re-sign two other important contributors, each entering the last year of their respective contracts: tackle Levi Jones and guard Eric Steinbach.
In other news, the team made Jeremi Johnson the highest paid fullback in the league when they restructured his deal in April. The Bengals also replaced quarterback fourth quarterback Craig Krenzel with Dave Ragone and signed Anthony Wright to serve as Carson Palmer's backup, with Doug Johnson third on the depth chart.
Erik Meyer (Eastern Washington) adds more depth at quarterback and is a good scrambler, but he needs to work on his mechanics ... Eric Henderson registered 25 sacks at Georgia Tech and could add depth at defensive end ... Despite losing Matt Schobel to the Eagles, the Bengals have already released the three tight ends they signed as free agents: Greg Estandia, Ryan Hamby and Bristol Olomua.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|13||DE Kamerion Wimbley||13, 15, 21, 21||DT Broderick Bunkley (3), OT Winston Justice|
|34||LB D'Qwell Jackson||35, 41, 41, 79||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|78||WR Travis Wilson||57, 68, 76, 77||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|110||LB Leon Williams||120, 158, UR, UR||WR Demetrius Williams, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|112||OT Isaac Sowells||118, 124, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|145||RB Jerome Harrison||70, 125, 138, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|152||DB DeMario Minter||54, 81, 101, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|180||RB Lawrence Vickers||162, 196, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|181||DT Babatunde Oshinowo||49, 71, 72, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|222||DB Justin Hamilton||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
Cleveland fans who watched in horror as former coach Butch Davis give away a second-round pick so he could move up one spot in the draft and select Kellen Winslow II shed tears of joy when they saw the Browns trade down a spot in this year's draft. It's not that the Browns made out like bandits; they only nabbed a sixth-round pick for their troubles. But getting an extra pick, any extra pick, while still drafting the player they wanted all along has to qualify as a tremendous success considering the team's appalling recent draft history.
The additions of Willie McGinest and Ted Washington in the offseason gave the team some flexibility as they continued the switch to a 3-4 defense. Broderick Bunkley carried the highest grade on three boards, but in the end general manager Phil Savage decided (correctly) that the supply of pass rushers would dry up before the supply of linemen, so he opted for fellow Seminole Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley is explosive off the edge, and he has the necessary athleticism to play in space. He's already penciled in to start opposite McGinest. Cleveland added two interior linebackers as well, drafting D'Qwell Jackson and Leon Williams. Opinions ranged on Jackson, who was productive at Maryland but is extremely undersized for a 3-4 inside linebacker, and Williams was generally considered an underachiever at Miami.
While Cleveland didn't get exceptional value out of their linebacker selections, they did superbly just about everywhere else. Travis Wilson didn't have a big senior season due to the unsettled quarterback situation at Oklahoma, but he's a big, rangy target who runs crisp routes, and he was excellent value in the middle of the third round. Scatback Jerome Harrison and fullback Lawrence Vickers were well regarded on most of the boards, and each has a good chance to make the team. From a value standpoint, Savage's two best picks were Georgia cornerback DeMario Minter and Stanford defensive tackle Babatunde Oshinowo. Minter has some character red flags stemming from a drug arrest his freshman season, but there's no questioning his measureables or his production. Minter has good size and an excellent closing burst, and he is solid in run support. Oshinowo was even more of a bargain, as he was considered a second- or third-round pick on three of the boards. Oshinowo isn't a playmaker, but he is able to consistently hold his ground and tie up blockers. The fact that Cleveland was able to land such a promising nose tackle prospect in the sixth-round makes their decision to pass on top end linemen like Bunkley and Haloti Ngata seem very sound.
(Ed. note: From an intelligence and personality standpoint, I thought Oshinowo was the most impressive interview I sat in on when Michael David Smith and I were at the combine in Indy. The guy actually used his last year of eligibility on classes toward a Masters in electrical engineering. When you get to the NFL, where every single player is physically talented, intelligence can definitely make a difference. I know some people thought he was out of shape at the combine, and he's entirely built for absorbing blockers in a 3-4 defense rather than making plays in a 4-3, but people will be kicking themselves in a couple years.)
After a flurry of activity early in the free agency signing period (LeCharles Bentley, Kevin Shaffer, Ted Washington, Willie McGinest), things have been pretty quiet at Browns headquarters in Berea, Ohio. Prior to the draft the Browns traded safety Chris Crocker to the Falcons for a fourth-round pick that was eventually used to take offensive lineman Isaac Sowells.
Tight end Aaron Shea signed with the Chargers, and Cleveland signed Darnell Dinkins, formerly of the Ravens, to add depth behind Kellen Winslow.
Running back Chris Barclay (Wake Forest) only weighs 175 pounds but was the 2005 ACC Player of the Year and scored 40 touchdowns during his career ... Quarterback Darrell Hackney (UAB) is 6'0'', 240 pounds, but finished his career as the school's all-time passing leader (9,886 yards) with 71 touchdowns and 33 interceptions ... Wide receiver Steve Sanders (Bowling Green) is a long shot to make the team, but if football doesn't work out he can devote his full attention to running the Peach Pit After Dark.
|Pick||Players||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|25||WR Santonio Holmes||19, 24, 25, 33||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|83||DB Anthony Smith||75, 82, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|95||WR Willie Reid||129, 232, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|131||G Willie Colon||208, UR, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB Ko Simpson, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|133||DT Orien Harris||67, 93, 104, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB Ko Simpson, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|164||QB Omar Jacobs||160, 164, UR, UR||DT Babtunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|167||TE Charles Davis||216, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|201||C Marvin Phillips||205, 227, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|240||RB Cedric Humes||158, 198, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
Pittsburgh has been bleeding away talent at the receiver position for the last two seasons, so the team made a major move to restock, trading up seven spots to land Ohio State speedster Santonio Holmes. Three of the draft boards agree that the Steelers got Holmes at the proper point in the draft, but all four boards had him as the second-rated receiver behind Chad Jackson, who would have been available for Pittsburgh if they had stayed put. Instead they traded away third- and fourth-round draft picks for Holmes. While the price seems high, Holmes does fit the offense well. Pittsburgh uses their second receiver as a vertical threat to open up room for Hines Ward to work underneath, and Holmes has both the acceleration to run past cornerbacks and the hands to make tough catches down the field. While the Steelers hope they found their Plaxico Burress replacement with Holmes, they also went looking for a replacement for Antwaan Randle El, drafting Florida State's Willie Reid in the third round. Reid is a bit undersized to play on the outside, but he has an ideal skill set for a slot receiver. Reid may not see the field regularly with the offensive unit, but look for him to contribute right away as a return man.
The Steelers lost depth at safety, quarterback, running back, and defensive line during the off-season, and they used the draft to replenish each of those positions, beginning with their selection of Syracuse safety Anthony Smith in the third round. While Troy Palomalu has the strong safety spot locked down until further notice, the team needs free safeties who can cover, and Smith's forte is pass defense. Orien Harris was an undersized defensive tackle at Miami, but in the Steelers' 3-4 defense he will play right end. One of the attractive things about playing a 3-4 is that it allows teams to draft 'tweener prospects who don't fit in a conventional 4-3 scheme, and Pittsburgh is hoping that Harris will be able to develop as a run-stuffing end who can still provide some inside pass rush. In the sixth round, the Steelers finally put an end to Omar Jacobs's catastrophic slide. Jacobs had no business opting to leave early for the draft after a lackluster junior season, and his footwork and throwing technique will need major work. It will be up to quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple to get Jacobs acquainted with the fundamentals of the position in time to replace fading veteran Charlie Batch as the backup quarterback. Cedric Humes was a bargain at the back end of the draft, and he fills the team's need for a short-yardage back in the post-Jerome Bettis era. What is notable about each pick is that while they were clearly addressing team needs, they were doing so with tremendous value, as all four players were considered minor to major steals on at least two boards. That's how you restock your roster.
Pittsburgh re-signed almost all of their free agents before the draft, with Antwaan Randle El, Kimo von Oelhoffen and Chris Hope being the notable exceptions. Linebacker James Harrison also earned a new deal and adds depth at both linebacker positions. Defensive lineman Rodney Bailey returns to the team after spending one season in New England and another in Seattle.
Last year, undrafted free agent rookie wide receiver Nate Washington so impressed the coaches that he made the team out of training camp at the expense of fourth-rounder Fred Gibson. Washington only caught one pass all season, but could emerge as the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver when training camp breaks. Not bad for a Tiffin University alum who, prior to the 2005 draft, NFLDraftScout.com ranked as the 145th best college wideout in the country (out of 201).
Defensive end/linebacker Mike Kudla (Ohio State) has a very good chance to make the team as a linebacker. You might remember Kudla as the guy who bench pressed 225 pounds a mind-boggling 45 times at the NFL Combine ... Defensive end Lee Vickers (North Alabama) is listed at 6'6", 285 pounds and runs the forty in 4.57 seconds. He could make the team as the special teams wedge buster as he learns the defensive end position in the Steelers' 3-4 alignment ... Just in case Brown alum Sean Morey doesn't make the team again, Pittsburgh also signed Princeton tight end Jonathan Dekker to improve the odds of an Ivy Leaguer on the 53-man roster.
82 comments, Last at 22 Dec 2006, 3:52am by Bill