Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
30 May 2006
Best player available analysis by Sean McCormick
Remainder of Four Downs by Ned Macey
(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|
|1||DE Mario Williams||2, 2, 2, 2||RB Reggie Bush (4)|
|33||LB DeMeco Ryans||26, 30, 37, 38||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|65||G Charles Spencer||63, 64, 70, 87||OT Eric Winston (2), DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|66||OT Eric Winston||32, 34, 35, 43||OT Eric Winston (2), DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|98||TE Owen Daniels||132, 161, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope, DT Gabe Watson|
|170||RB Wali Lundy||180, 182, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB Darnell Bing, RB Andre Hall|
|251||WR David Anderson||256, 277, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
In their study "The Loser's Curse: Overconfidence Versus Market Efficiency in the NFL Draft," professors Cade Massey and Richard Thaler suggest several reasons why teams refuse to trade out of the top of the first round even though it makes good strategic sense for them to do so. Among the reasons are teams' overconfidence in their ability to pick the correct players, teams' overvaluing the worth of having a top pick, and teams' tendency to assume that other teams covet the same player that they do. Enter the Houston Texans. When the college football season ended, everyone in the country agreed that Reggie Bush was the best player in the draft and that Mario Williams was a very talented defensive end who didn't consistently play up to his talent level. But then came the combines and the individual workouts and finally the pre-draft onset of paralysis by analysis, at the end of which Houston decided that Williams was their man. BPA theory doesn't have a problem with the Texans deciding they needed Mario Williams more than they needed Reggie Bush. It does have a problem, however, with the Texans addressing that need with the #1 overall pick. Houston could have slid down a spot or two and still landed their target, and they probably would have found teams interested in moving up for Bush, just not at the rates the trade value chart that every NFL team uses. If Houston offered to swap picks with the Jets in exchange for a fourth-round pick, they almost certainly would have gotten a deal done. The Texans would have saved significant money, garnered an extra draft choice, and likely still have gotten Mario Williams at four. If Williams was gone, the team could still have landed D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the best player on the board, and one who played a position that Houston desperately needed to fill. But Houston overvalued Williams, overvalued the worth of the pick and possibly overestimated the level of interest in Williams to boot. (Although to be fair, the indications were that New Orleans was leaning towards taking Williams over Ferguson with the second pick.)
While the decision to leave Reggie Bush on the board at one is that will leave the Texans open to second-guessing, there is no question that Williams fills a major need. The team is switching to a 4-3 defense and does not currently have the personnel to make the defense work. Williams will start on the right side, and he'll be counted on to provide most of the pressure, as Anthony Weaver is not a pass rush threat on the other side. The Texans filled another hole in their front seven with second round pick DeMeco Ryans. Ryans is a bit undersized, but he's a classic 4-3 weakside linebacker who can make plays in space. The Texans didn't address their offensive line until the third round, but when they did, they got terrific value, nabbing Charles Spencer and Eric Winston with back-to-back picks. Winston was the top player available on two of the boards, and if he is able to regain the form he showed early on in his college career, he could turn into one of the real steals of the draft. At the very least, Winston and Spencer will provide depth and competition to a unit that was woefully short on both last season.
The acquisition of Jeb Putzier means that fourth-round pick Owen Daniels won't be counted on to contribute this season. Denver had a long tradition of developing quality pass catching threats at the position while Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator, and Daniels has the ability to become a quality short-area target.
Matt Millen soldiers on in Detroit, but the game's second-least-successful general manager, Charley Casserly, has decided to step down. Casserly was hired two years before the Texans ever played a game, but the extra time proved no help. The three expansion teams before Houston all made the playoffs within four years. Houston's best record in four years is 7-9.
Casserly made a name for himself in Washington, where he served for over twenty years. Of course, he was the GM only starting in 1989. When Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992 season, the Redskins nose-dived. They did not make the playoffs again until 1999, Casserly's last year with the team.
Casserly's mark will remain on the franchise for years to come. David Carr, his first selection, remains the face of the franchise. Casserly will likely be judged largely on his decision to take Williams over Bush this year. If the past off-season tinkering did not point the franchise in the right direction, Casserly's tenure was an unmitigated disaster.
To replace him, the Texans are considering Denver assistant GM Rick Smith. Smith is only 36, but he is widely respected as a brilliant young football mind. The move would make sense in light of the recent hiring of former Denver assistant Gary Kubiak as head coach. Getting a GM who will be on the same page as the coach will help the Texans move forward together.
Houston fans may have been disappointed by the decision to bypass Reggie Bush, but fortunately the Texans had a better solution. They signed two-time Super Bowl winner Antowain Smith. The veteran cast-off got an opportunity to be a featured back after the injury to Deuce McAllister a year ago. Smith responded by ranking 40th in the league in DVOA, strikingly similar to the 45th he ranked in Tennessee the year before and 34th he ranked for New England in 2003. It seems doubtful that Smith will have Domanick Davis looking over his shoulder.
The new Houston regime's makeover of the offensive line continued. After signing center Mike Flanagan and guard David Loverne before the draft and spending two third-round picks on tackles, the Texans added Ephraim Salaam after the draft. Salaam was once an intriguing player, but after four mediocre years in Cleveland, he lost his job in Jacksonville a year ago.
The Texans added 16 undrafted free agents, focusing mostly on areas of need. With no proven defensive ends, they added four after the draft. The most intriguing may be Middle Tennessee product Devarick Scandrett who has the build if not the production.
More intriguing may be the battle for the third quarterback position, which will go to an undrafted player. The Texans cut Dave Ragone and have brought in Quinton Porter from Boston College and Matt Baker from North Carolina to compete for the job. Both have little experience. Porter had a little more success in college, but Baker is the better athlete.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|30||RB Joseph Addai||36, 39, 40, 40||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|62||DB Tim Jennings||71, 78, 78, UR||OT Eric Winston, DB Richard Marshall, DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|94||LB Freddie Keiaho||123, 170, UR, UR||DT Gabe Watson, G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing|
|162||OT Michael Toudouze||175, 194, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|199||OT Charlie Johnson||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|207||DB Antoine Bethea||99, 133, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|238||DB T.J. Rushing||193, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
When you're picking at 30 and every mock draft in the country successfully predicts the guy you are taking, that's a pretty clear sign that you are ignoring the value on the board and drafting for need. The Colts weren't going to walk out of the draft without securing a replacement for the departed Edgerrin James, and while LenDale White had a higher grade than Joseph Addai on almost every board, he was a poor fit for the Colts' offense. Addai is not an instinctive runner, but he has two skills that will serve him well in Indianapolis: he can catch the ball and he's an excellent pass blocker. With Peyton Manning in the backfield, a rookie running back is going to have to prove he can keep the franchise upright before he sees the field. Addai never was a full-time starter at LSU, and he figures to split carries with Dominic Rhodes.
In the second round the team had the opportunity to take either Richard Marshall or Ashton Youboty, the two highest-rated defensive players on the board, but instead went with Georgia corner Tim Jennings. Bill Polian has built his defense with fast, undersized players and Jennings certainly fits the mold. It remains to be seen whether the team intends to have Jennings compete for a starting spot or if they drafted him specifically to upgrade their nickel and dime packages. In the third round, the team landed another undersized player in San Diego State linebacker Freddie Keiaho. Keiaho is 6'0" on a good day, and he weighs only 225 pounds. Players with that frame rarely turn into starting linebackers in the NFL, and none of the boards felt Keiaho was worth risking a first-day pick on.
Rather than addressing the offensive tackle position early on in the draft when there were elite prospects sliding down the board, the Colts waited until the second day, adding tackles Michael Toudouze and Charlie Johnson. The Colts have put together one of the league's top lines primarily through second day picks and free agent moves, and with so much money wrapped up in the skill positions, it's no surprise to see them continue the trend. Toudouze is currently second on the depth chart at right tackle, but his future probably lies at guard.
Antoine Bethea toiled in anonymity at Howard, but he is a good athlete who makes plays all over the field. Two of the boards thought he was good enough to warrant a mid-round pick.
The Colts have added no veterans to their team after the draft. In fact, they have only added Adam Vinatieri to their team since the end of last season. The Colts decision to start Robert Mathis at defensive end and bring Corey Simon off the bench means that only one of their 22 starters has played a game for a team besides Indianapolis. The easiest job in football is not Colts punter but their talent scout at the NFL level.
One reason the Colts can relax during veteran free agency is because they do so well with rookie free agents. Projected starters Dominic Rhodes, Jeff Saturday, and Gary Brackett were all college free agents. At this point, the Colts seem a little deep to offer many opportunities. One area where they lack depth, however, is at linebacker. They added four rookie free agents. Colts fans are most familiar with Brandon Hoyte out of Notre Dame. More likely to make an impact is Dale Robinson out of Arizona State.
The Colts also lack a third quarterback. They signed Josh Betts and David Koral to compete for the role. Betts replaced Ben Roethlisberger at Miami of Ohio, while Koral was a backup at UCLA.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|28||TE Marcedes Lewis||32, 41, 42, 44||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|60||RB Maurice Drew||46, 53, 55, 61||OT Eric Winston (2), DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|80||LB Clint Ingram||88, 105, UR, UR||DT Gabe Watson, G Max-Jean Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing|
|160||DE Brent Hawkins||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|213||DE James Wyche||157, 163, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|236||DB Dee Webb||91, 93, 104, 109||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
Because of Jacksonville's decision to draft for need -- and their failure to accurately read the draft -- the Jaguars used their first two picks on players with second-round grades. The team was hoping DeAngelo Williams would slide to them, but Carolina snatched him up one pick before the Jags were on the clock. With Williams off the board, Jacksonville switched gears, grabbing UCLA pass-catching tight end Marcedes Lewis in the first round and then fellow Bruin Maurice Drew in the second round. Lewis and Leonard Pope were considered very similar prospects on all four boards, and Pope was still available in the second round. Perhaps Lewis will go on to justify the pick, but the team would have gotten better value if they used their first-round pick on corner Jimmy Williams and their second-round pick on Pope.
By addressing tight end in the first round, the team also missed out on the chance to grab LenDale White. White had a terrible off-season, but at one time he was considered one of the elite talents of the draft. The diminutive Drew is an explosive player who figures to upgrade Jacksonville's kick coverage, but he's likely too short to ever be an every-down starter. White, in contrast, would have been a perfect replacement for the aging Fred Taylor.
While the Jaguars didn't get much bang for their buck out of their early picks, they did very well with the back end of their draft. Syracuse defensive end James Wyche was inconsistent, but he still made a lot of plays. Wyche has a great frame, and several boards considered him a solid developmental prospect. Webb was even more of a bargain, as he graded out as the best player available on two of the four draft boards. It's not easy for low-round players to make the roster on a 12-4 team, but by picking players with middle-round grades, the Jaguars gave themselves the best chance of getting contributions from all of their picks.
Jimmy Smith has been in Jacksonville for every year of the team's existence, and for most of that time, he was the Jaguars' best offensive player. Smith arguably was still the Jaguars' best offensive player a season ago at age 36. The Jaguars knew his retirement would be coming, but it may be a year too soon for the team.
Counting on a receiver to be productive at such an advanced age would be foolhardy in most situations. Smith, however, may have been the rare exception. Here is a table of players who are most similar to Smith over a two-year span, which we originally planned to run in the Jacksonville chapter of Pro Football Prospectus 2006:
|Player||Year||Team||Y1 Rec||Y1 Yd||Y1 TD||Y2 Rec||Y2 Yd||Y2 TD||Y3 Rec||Y3 Yd||Y3 TD|
Charlie Joiner appears four times on this list, and the similarities are not just at this stage of Smith's career. Like Smith, Joiner took a while to become an impact player before emerging as one of the game's best receivers. He stayed productive through age 38.
Joiner is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an honor most commentators believe Smith will not garner. This gut reaction seems to be the result of Smith's low profile, as his numbers certainly are adequate. He ranks seventh in all-time receptions and 11th in all-time receiving yards.
Of course, passing numbers have gone through the roof in recent seasons. While Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, and Terrell Owens should easily merit enshrinement, separating Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, Isaac Bruce, and Keenan McCardell will be much more difficult. Maybe those with votes will consider the fact that increased passing has not only inflated receiving totals but the importance of wide receivers. If it were up to me, both Smiths and Bruce will one day have a bust in Canton.
(Ed. note: If they don't put Rod Smith in the Hall of Fame, they might as well just close the thing.)
The Jaguars flirted with LaVar Arrington to fill their vacancy at outside linebacker. When Arrington's price got too high, they turned instead to Nick Greisen. The former Giant is serviceable but nothing special. The Jaguars entered the off-season hoping to upgrade on Akin Ayodele, but they failed despite ample cap room.
They did nothing to replace the void created by Smith, but this is wise. Losing Smith is not a problem because the Jaguars lack depth at wide receiver. It is a problem because the Jaguars have plenty of depth but no clear number one option. Neither the draft nor free agency would help them with that need for 2006. By 2007 or later, it is likely that Ernest Wilford or Matt Jones will have developed into the threat they lost in Smith.
Jacksonville is a fairly advanced team without many holes, so it is an uphill battle for an undrafted free agent to make the team. The one area where Jacksonville lacks depth and talent, however, is the offensive line. With that in mind, one player to keep an eye on is Richard Collier, a tackle out of Valdosta State. Maybe you have heard of this school, but I certainly have not. VSU is located in Valodsta, Georgia, very near the Florida border. Three players have been drafted out of VSU: Robert Morris in 1990, Antonio Edwards in 1993, and Artie Ulmer in 1997. Ulmer had a decent career as a reserve linebacker, but he is currently unsigned. Collier needs to make the Jaguars for Valdosta to continue to boast an active NFL player.
|Pick||Players||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|3||QB Vince Young||7, 9, 10, 11||OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (4)|
|45||RB LenDale White||21, 25, 28, 58||RB LenDale White (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|102||DB Calvin Lowry||90, 146, UR, UR||DT Gabe Watson (3), DB Ko Simpson|
|116||LB Stephen Tulloch||188, 229, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|137||LB Terna Nande||166, 171, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|169||DT Jesse Mahelona||139, 153, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|172||WR Jonathan Orr||82, 139, 172, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|215||DB Courtland Finnegan||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|245||LB Spencer Toone||271, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
|246||RB Quentin Ganther||200, 215, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
Tennessee has spent the last two seasons trying to use the draft to get out of salary cap hell. They exercised 24 picks over 2004-05, most in the league. Now they are going to stake their rebuilding project on the hope that Vince Young can run through pro defenses the way he shredded USC. It's a tremendous risk for the organization. Young's dominance at the college level is beyond question, but there are serious concerns about his ability to adjust to the pro game. Not only did Young play in a highly simplified scheme, but tape suggests that he wasn't even making the line calls -- tight end Dave Thomas was. Now he is being asked to absorb a sophisticated offense. He's also stepping into a potentially ugly situation. The coaching staff made no secret that they strongly preferred Matt Leinart, and the impending trade or release of Steve McNair means that Young may be thrust into the starting lineup well before he is ready to play. If the team struggles and Jeff Fisher is let go after the season, Young will have to learn his second offensive system in as many years. It's a recipe that has destroyed many promising quarterback prospects. By far the safer course would have been to select D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the consensus best player available, and draft a quarterback in a later round to groom behind McNair. Instead, general manager Floyd Reese rolled the dice on greatness.
The team's second-round pick was also a risk, but in this case the risk was wholly justified. LenDale White was the best player available on two of the boards, and even then his ranking was probably depressed by his dreadful off-season. If White had dedicated himself to training instead of the buffet line, he would have been taken in the first round; instead, Tennessee scooped him up with the 45th pick overall. White might not be a workout warrior, but he showed great functional strength at USC, and his stiff-arm of Michael Huff in the championship game answered any questions about his ability to play with physicality. Neither Chris Brown nor Travis Henry has been able to consistently stay healthy, so White figures to be in the mix for the starting job.
The rest of Tennessee's draft lacks name recognition, but it grades out well. Calvin Lowry, Jesse Mahelona, Jonathan Orr and Quentin Ganther were all considered good value on several of the draft boards. Orr is exactly the sort of tall, athletic receiver the team has had success developing over the last few years. Mahelona and Lowry won't push for starting jobs, but they'll add quality depth.
The Titans are in limbo pending a decision on the future of Steve McNair. After not working out a deal with Baltimore during the draft, talks appear to be on hold pending an arbitrator's decision on McNair's grievance. The Titans denied access to their workout facility since an injury there would leave them on the hook for all of McNair's $9 million salary.
Of course, it seems a little ridiculous for McNair to risk that money working out on his own when he is under contract with the Titans. He is not afforded the freedom to choose his own team, but he also has to incur all of the risks of an injury. If the Titans are so worried about paying him the money, they can ship him off to Baltimore. The waiting game, which the Titans hope will reach June 1 so McNair's cap hit can be spread over two seasons, is unfair to McNair and a low-class move. Nobody in the Tennessee front office should be proud of themselves for this behavior.
Meanwhile, the uncertain future of McNair has a negative impact on the rest of the team. For now, they seem content to go with Billy Volek as the starter while Young develops. Rumors of a Kerry Collins signing are on hold while McNair's situation is resolved. Maybe the Titans are happy with Volek, he of the -10.2% DVOA during his supposedly successful 2004 campaign. It would be smarter to have sent McNair to Baltimore and brought in a couple of veterans to complete with Volek, if only to provide an option besides Young when the Titans inevitably falter.
Tennessee added 23 undrafted free agents to their roster after the draft. A handful have the potential to stick on the roster. Offensive lineman Brad Rhoades is versatile enough to provide good insurance at the position. Wide receiver Mario Hill from Mississippi will get a long look at a position where the Titans have few proven assets. The most intriguing addition may be Copeland Bryan who could serve as a pass-rush specialist. He posted 7.5 sacks at Arizona in his first year as a defensive end.
147 comments, Last at 13 Oct 2006, 6:30pm by Gerry