The NFL playoffs finally heat up, as a wild finish in Dallas and a tight game in Kansas City go some way to making up for the blowouts that preceded them.
19 May 2006
Best Player Available analysis by Sean McCormick
Other news by Mike Tanier
(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.)
We're tweaking the methodology a bit to clean up the end-of-round syndrome where a player selection is downgraded because he went at the very bottom of the first instead of the top of the second where he was projected (here's looking at you, Kelly Jennings). Instead of listing players as reaches or steals, we will simply show where they were ranked on the four draft boards, or if they were ranked at all. Two of the draft boards only go 100 players deep, so the fact that they do not rank a second-day player does not necessarily mean that he is coming off the board at the wrong point in the draft; it simply means that there was a better prospect available.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|11||QB Jay Cutler||7, 11, 11, 13||DT Broderick Bunkley (2) DT Haloti Ngata, QB Jay Cutler|
|61||TE Tony Scheffler||83, 84, 92, UR||OT Eric Winston (2), DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|119||WR Brandon Marshall||140, 201, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter|
|126||DE Elvis Dumervil||149, 221, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|130||WR Dominik Hixon||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|161||G Chris Kuper||257, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|198||C Greg Eslinger||74, 120, 144, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), RB Andre Hall, DE Stanley McClover|
Somehow the theory has taken hold that when a team falls short in the playoffs, what they need to do is throw roster management to the wind and sell out for that one player that is going to get them over the hump. But by moving up to the 11th pick to select Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, Mike Shanahan and Ted Sundquist put forth a different vision for how successful teams should draft. Instead of chasing the one player that would have helped last year's team win one or two more games, the Broncos took the player who will keep their playoff window open for the next ten years. Cutler doesn't have the mechanical consistency to succeed in the NFL right now, but he won't have to. Jake Plummer is playing at a high level and is not in danger of losing his starting job this year or even next year. The Broncos will bring Cutler along slowly, with an eye toward 2008. The Vanderbilt star has the same combination of arm strength and mobility as Plummer, and he throws accurately on the move, a must in the bootleg-heavy offense employed by the team.
Most of Denver's selections do not go over well with the draft boards. After Cutler, the only player that any of the boards list as good value is sixth-round pick Greg Eslinger, the center from the University of Minnesota. Eslinger is a perfect example of the sort of player Denver has used to build their dominant offensive line. Eslinger won the Outland Trophy while playing in a zone-blocking scheme that is very similar to the one Denver runs. He is undersized for most NFL offenses, but the Denver scheme prefers smaller, lighter offensive linemen who can move. He won't play much this year, but the team will groom him as Tom Nalen's eventual successor. Denver's decision to pass up Leonard Pope in the second round for the lightly regarded Tony Scheffler will leave the team open to second-guessing. Mike Shanahan has done a great job of developing receiving tight ends, and he may not be concerned with Scheffler's shortcomings as a blocker.
The draft pick that is going to have the most immediate impact is the one that Denver sent to Green Bay in exchange for wide receiver Javon Walker. Perhaps more than any other playoff team, Denver has acquired talent through free agency and trades -- with the acquisition of Walker there are now eight former first-round picks on the roster originally drafted by other franchises. Considering the recent history of rookie receivers, it would not have made sense to try and address an immediate need at receiver through the draft. Walker probably won't be playing at full speed in 2006, as ACL injuries take two years to fully recover from, but even a limited Walker will contribute more than Santonio Holmes or Chad Jackson would have. He'll make the Broncos better next year, and he'll be ready to take the #1 receiver spot away from Rod Smith in two seasons.
Nate Webster is officially a member of the Broncos. Webster visited the team in March, and there were reports at the time that he signed a one-year deal. But Webster had to pass a physical and wasn't officially added to the roster until May 2. Webster sustained a knee injury in Week 4 of the 2004 season and played in only one game in 2005. Before the injury, he was an effective starter for the Bengals and Buccaneers. Webster won't crack the starting lineup in Denver, but he'll provide valuable depth at middle linebacker.
Running back Mike Bell (Arizona) led the Wildcats in rushing four straight times, gaining over 900 yards in three straight seasons. He's a big straight-line runner who can break some tackles, but he lacks speed, moves, and blocking ability â€¦ Cameron Vaughn (LSU) played both middle and weakside linebacker but projects as a "Will" in the pros. He's smart and makes a lot of plays in pursuit. Vaughn may stick as a kick gunner â€¦ Rashon Powers-Neal (Notre Dame) is a halfback/fullback tweener who had trouble adjusting to the fullback position. He'll have to prove that he's willing and able to lead block if he hopes to make the roster.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|20||DE Tamba Hali||31, 35, 37, 47||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|54||DB Bernard Pollard||92, 110, 134, UR||OT Eric Winston, DB Richard Marshall, DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|85||QB Brodie Croyle||73, 78, 147, UR||DT Gabe Watson, G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing|
|154||DB Marcus Maxey||68, 128, 131, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|186||G 'Tre Stallings||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|190||WR Jeff Webb||165, 178, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|228||DB Jarrod Page||188, 224, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
The Chiefs have been drafting defense for years now, hoping that they could make the unit competitive before midnight struck on the high-octane offense, and they pursued that strategy again, going defense with three of their first four picks. With the advanced age of many of the offensive centerpieces -- Willie Roaf is 36, Will Shields 34, Trent Green 35, and Eddie Kennison 33 -- the drafting strategy was a questionable one. The Kansas City rushing attack is the league's best because the team was willing to take Larry Johnson even with Priest Holmes on the roster, and this year a similar best player available approach could have netted much needed young linemen like Winston Justice, Eric Winston or Max Jean-Gilles. With Kansas City's short-term approach to drafting, it's likely that the defense will come around just as the offense falls apart.
Tamba Hali, like every other Penn State prospect, saw his stock slip after a poor Pro Day. Hali is a high effort player who will raise the intensity level on the Chiefs line, but the team probably could have traded down at least once and still landed him at the bottom of the round. Hali has a high floor for a late first-round prospect -- he can defend the run and rush the passer, and he plays with great consistency -- and the Chiefs need to add as many solid players as possible to their front seven, so this pick will probably look better in November and December than it does now. Bernard Pollard came out early for the draft after having some problems at Purdue during the 2005 season, and while he has great upside, the boards felt he was too risky to merit a second-round pick.
The Chiefs finally got around to addressing their offense with third-round selection Brodie Croyle. The team has been without a viable backup quarterback for years now, but opinions are split on how the Alabama star will fare at the next level. Our college quarterback projection system is skeptical of any player with an inadequate completion percentage, and Croyle's was under 60% his senior season. Other scouts look at his slight frame and his litany of injuries and wonder if his body can hold up in the NFL.
The Chiefs did a good job of selecting players at value in the later rounds. Jeff Webb and Jarrod Page were taken roughly when they were projected to come off the board, and Miami corner Marcus Maxey was considered a steal by three of the boards. Maxey didn't start until his senior season, but he projects very well into the Cover-2 defense that new coach Herm Edwards figures to employ.
Peripatetic offensive lineman Ian Allen signed with the Chiefs on May 11; Allen is playing for his fourth team in four years. Allen started 11 games for the Giants in 2003 but was terrible; since then, the Eagles and Cardinals have kept him on the roster in case of emergency. Allen was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Chiefs in 2001 and had an off-season stint with the team in 2002. If history is any indicator, he'll be released in August, play a few games for the Jets, and return to Kansas City in 2007 â€¦ Backup defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson signed a one-year deal to remain with the team. Wilkerson is a rotation lineman who helps out as a run-down end and third down tackle.
The Chiefs were busy after the drafting, signing 16 rookie free agents. William Kershaw (Maryland) has the run-stopping ability to develop into a good Sam linebacker, but he's a poor decision maker on and off the field. Kershaw was involved in a barroom brawl in college, so he'll fit right in with the Chiefs â€¦ Derek Morris (North Carolina State) is a flabby 330-pound guard who can play right tackle in a pinch. The Chiefs have a great track record at turning unheralded youngsters like Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann into great linemen.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|7||Michael Huff, DB||6, 7, 8, 10||QB Matt Leinart (2), DB Michael Huff (2)|
|38||Thomas Howard, LB||31, 46, 47, 51||OT Winston Justice (4)|
|69||Paul McQuistan, G||92, 133, UR, UR||DB Ashton Youboty (3), TE Leonard Pope|
|101||Darnell Bing, DB||34, 49, 56, 56||DT Gabe Watson (2), DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing|
|176||Kevin Boothe, OT||84, 143, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|214||Chris Morris, C||230, 253, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|255||Kevin McMahan, WR||UR, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
The Raiders are another team that will have to answer for their decision to pass on Matt Leinart, but unlike Buffalo and Detroit, Oakland at least drafted a player who was considered the best available on several boards. Huff's blazing 40-time at the combine solidified his place at the top of the draft, but it was his stellar play at Texas that put him there to begin with. Huff is a safety with corner speed, and his crunching hits remind scouts of Troy Polamalu. The Raiders have peppered their secondary with high round picks over the last few years, but they still haven't been able to match up well with the AFC West offenses (or anyone else's, for that matter). Huff's combination of size and athleticism finally gives the Raiders an answer when Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates come to town.
After Huff, the Raiders got back to the business of making typical Raiders picks. Thomas Howard is an elite athlete with questionable instincts who failed to dominate at a lower level of competition. Darnell Bing, whom the Raiders are moving from safety to linebacker, rarely played up to his press clippings at USC. He's a violent tackler and a good athlete, but he doesn't play with any consistency. Kevin Boothe has the physique and playing speed to succeed in the NFL, but his technique is so poor that he failed to be an impact player in the Ivy League. Howard, Bing and Boothe were good value at the points where they were selected -- Bing in particular was clearly among the highest rated players around when the Raiders grabbed him at 101 -- but they are going to a roster that is full of guys who were better athletes than football players. At some point you would think the Raiders would mix in some overachieving high motor types, but for now they continue to stress speed and athleticism, leaving it to their coaches to get the most out of the players.
The Raiders have been busy gobbling up cheap talent since the draft. Running backs Walter Williams, ReShard Lee and Rod Smart will compete with incumbent Justin Fargas and others to back up LaMont Jordan. Lee has the most potential as a runner, but Smart adds value as an all-purpose return man. Williams is a true unknown: a 28-year old with three NFL carries on his resume ... Marcellus Rivers is an H-back type with some receiving ability. He caught 24 of the 25 passes thrown to him last season, so he has value as a safety valve target ... Linebacker Robert Thomas was a first-round bust for the Rams in 2002 who played well for the Packers last year. His average tackle last season occurred 2.4 yards down the field, an excellent average for a linebacker. Thomas is awful in pass coverage, and the Packers used him as a two-down defender last season.
Quarterback Kent Smith (Western Michigan) is 6-foot-4, has a good arm, and can run. He may replace Marques Tuiasosopo as the team's third quarterback â€¦ J.R. Lemon (Stanford) rushed for just 222 yards in 2005, as he missed much of the season with a hamstring injury. Lemon is a 224-pound all purpose back who can catch and block and has some cutback ability â€¦ Tackle Jabari Levey (South Carolina) has the physical tools to succeed but had a reputation as a goldbricker in college. Art Shell will either toughen him up or release him.
|Pick||Players||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|19||DB Antonio Cromartie||13, 16, 24, 30||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|50||OT Marcus McNeill||32, 37, 45, 54||OT Eric Winston, DB Richard Marshall, DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|81||QB Charlie Whitehurst||81, 125, UR, UR||DT Gabe Watson, G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing|
|151||LB Tim Dobbins||94, 134, 159, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|187||OT Jeromey Clary||198, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|188||K Kurt Smith||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|225||DT Chase Page||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|227||C Jimmy Martin||234, UR, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
In something of a departure from their recent drafting history, the Chargers emphasized upside over production or fundamentals with their first day picks. If ever there was an argument for the irrelevance of the college football season to the scouting process, it is Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie only started one game during his Seminole career, but he showed up at Pro Day and put on a workout that Giants GM Ernie Accorsi described as the best he had ever seen. That workout was good enough to cement Cromartie as a first-round talent; far from considering him a dangerous risk, two of the boards listed Cromartie as a minor steal at the 19th pick. Cromartie has exceptional size and athleticism, but his limited body of work would seem to make him a bigger risk than Jimmy Williams, the player that one of the boards considered the best available player at the time. He'll need good coaching in order to reach his potential, but San Diego's track record of developing corners is not a good one. With quality corners like Richard Marshall and Ashton Youboty still on the board in the second round, the team may have been better off grabbing Winston Justice in the first round.
Having passed over Justice in the first, the Chargers moved to secure a tackle with their second pick. All four draft boards considered Eric Winston to be the best tackle on the board at 50, but San Diego opted for the mammoth Marcus McNeill instead. McNeill is the bigger player, but his poor technique sometimes negates his natural strength. He also has some medical red flags stemming from a back injury, but apparently they weren't enough to scare the Chargers off. New offensive line coach Jack Henry comes over from New Orleans, where he did a good job with Jamaal Brown. It will be up to Henry to get McNeill ready to take over for 11-year vet Roman Oben.
One board thought San Diego hit their third round pick right on the nose with Charlie Whitehurst, taking the 81st best player with the 81st pick. The Chargers have now spent three first-day picks on the quarterback position in the last five years. As poorly as general manager A.J. Smith handled the Drew Brees situation, he is still in a unique position to recognize the value of having multiple quality quarterbacks. Whitehurst has prototypical size and arm strength, as well as good NFL bloodlines, but he has poor foot speed and doesn't hold up well under pressure. The team already has A.J. Feeley to back up Philip Rivers, but Whitehurst has physical tools that Feeley lacks. He will be given time to develop, and in time Whitehurst could either push Rivers for the starting job or be trade bait for another quarterback-needy team. Quarterbacks don't generally lose value from sitting on the bench, and with a few quality preseason performances, the Chargers could find themselves getting a first or second round pick in return for their investment.
Of the Chargers' second-day selections, undersized Iowa State linebacker Tim Dobbins was generally considered a good pick at 151, while the rest of the selections were free agent material.
Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was a disappointment in St. Louis. The Rams thought the 288-pound Manumaleuna would be able to work the middle of the field and break tackles after the catch, but he never learned to read defenses and he dropped too many short passes. Manumaleuna was at his best when pass blocking against defensive ends like Julius Peppers. The Chargers won't ask Manumaleuna to run many routes; that's Antonio Gates' job. Manumaleuna will replace Justin Peelle as the Chargers' second tight end, and he'll be on the field when they need another blocker to control Derrick Burgess or Jared Allen.
Marty Schottenheimer always gives street free agents a fair shot to make the team, and the Chargers signed 16 rookies immediately after the draft. Cletis Gordon was a cornerback, wide receiver, and kick returner at Jackson State. He's a size-speed prospect who could get a look as a gunner and return specialist â€¦ Shaun Willis (Oklahoma) is a 260-pound thumper who could eventually replace Lorenzo Neal at fullback â€¦ Jason Murphy (Virginia Tech) is an athletic but raw interior lineman with upside â€¦ Bryson Sumlin (Fresno State) is a small-but-powerful running back with decent hands who might also have value as a special teamer.
If you plan on going to a Chargers game this year, you may want to take the bus. Or walk.
New parking policies have Chargers fans up in arms. Parking fees are going up, lots are opening later, and some prime spots must be reserved in advance. It will cost $150 to park a recreational vehicle, and RVs will be restricted to a specific parking lot on the northeast corner of the stadium.
Can "personal parking licenses" be far behind?
The team claims that the new policies are designed to prevent pregame chaos. The RVs took up multiple spaces in standard parking lots and caused traffic constrictions. Avid tailgaters often engaged in dangerous races to reach the primo parking locales. And 6 a.m. lot openings allowed for seven hours of pregame mischief.
But of course, the team could have changed policies without raising their rates. Chargers fans, already upset by the team's possible move from Southern California, aren't happy about needing a home equity loan to pay for a parking space. "I feel they're just milking us," fan Bob Yates told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "And then they're going to leave town. It's as simple as that."
Some Chargers diehards may turn in their season tickets to protest the new regulations. Others plan to stay one step ahead of the team: they're parking their RVs in vacant lots in Las Vegas and San Antonio and just waiting.
81 comments, Last at 05 Jul 2006, 1:13pm by San Diego Ken