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?
13 Jun 2006
Best player available analysis by Sean McCormick
Remainder of Four Downs by Michael David Smith
(Ed. note: For this 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|
|42||DB Danieal Manning||52, 60, 71, 100||RB LenDale White (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|57||DB Devin Hester||79, 98, 106, UR||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|73||DT Dusty Dvoracek||82, 95, 97, 111||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|120||LB Jamar Williams||154, UR, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babtunde Oshinowo|
|159||DE Mark Anderson||45, 53, 81, 91||DT Babtunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|195||FB JD Runnels||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|200||G Tyler Reed||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
There may not be a team in the league with a more curious draft than Chicago's. After a season that saw the Bears field one of the best defenses in the league and an offense that huffed and puffed to cross midfield, general manager Jerry Angelo took defensive players with his first five picks. What is more confusing is that it wasn't a case of Chicago simply taking a best player available approach, as the players they took were for the most part not all that highly rated. If anything, the draft seems to have been informed by Chicago's playoff meltdown, when their defense was completely incapable of even slowing down Steve Smith.
Chicago traded out of the first round and then used both of their second round picks to address the secondary. Danieal Manning is an athletic safety with good coverage skills, but he played his college ball at Abilene Christian, which is a long way away from the NFC North. Manning will need time to adjust to the step up in competition, but with a roster full of safeties who aren't ideally suited for a Cover-2 scheme, the team will be tempted to press him into early service.
Devin Hester played his college ball at NFL-factory Miami, but he's not ready to contribute immediately, either. He bounced back and forth between wide receiver and cornerback without ever excelling at either, and his lack of reps at corner has hindered his development. He's another player with a high potential to bust, and none of the boards considered him worthy of a second-round pick. At least he should help the Bears improve their punt returns, because unlike Bobby Wade he can hold onto the ball most of the time.
Dusty Dvoracek and Jamar Williams were drafted to add depth along the front seven. Dvoracek had some alcohol-related problems at Oklahoma, but he's a tough football player who has the speed to get into the backfield and be disruptive. He's an excellent fit in a one-gap system, and it's not a surprise to see the Bears placing a high value on him. Williams is dangerously slow for an undersized linebacker, and it's hard to envision him challenging for playing time.
Chicago's best pick was Alabama defensive end Mark Anderson. Anderson doesn't have the explosive speed that you would expect for a 260-pound end, but he gets off the snap quickly, reads and reacts well, and shows a decent closing burst. He'll contribute immediately in a rotation and has the chance to become a quality starter once he adds some bulk.
The big news in Chicago has been the lack of news: The Bears figured that there's no reason to make big changes when you've just won your division, so they'll go into 2006 with all 22 starters from 2005 projected to start again. The only notable free-agent additions to the team were cornerback Ricky Manning and quarterback Brian Griese, both of whom are currently projected as backups.
But the lack of free agents doesn't mean the Bears haven't engaged in contract negotiations this off-season. Two of last year's most important players, running back Thomas Jones and linebacker Lance Briggs, expressed frustration with their contract situations and threatened to skip the team's mandatory veteran mini-camp last weekend, although both did attend camp. Jones thinks (rightly) that it's ridiculous that Cedric Benson, last year's first-round pick, makes significantly more money than he does despite significantly less production. But that's a beef he ought to take up with his union, which has agreed to a system that pays unproven rookies more than proven veterans. Briggs is on the last year of his rookie contract, and when you've gone from a third-round pick to one of the best linebackers in the league, you're going to be underpaid. He thinks (rightly) that he won't get to test the market when his contract expires because the Bears will put the franchise tag on him. But that's a beef he ought to take up with his union, which has agreed to a system that restricts the movements of free agents who get the franchise tag.
Chicago fans were disappointed that the Bears went with defense and ignored their need for a tight end in the draft, so they're hoping one of the two undrafted free agent tight ends they picked up, Tim Day of Oregon and Cooper Wallace of Auburn, can catch on. If they could combine Day and Wallace into one player, they'd have something: Day is a good receiving threat but doesn't block as well as a 256-pounder should, while Wallace blocks well but doesn't have great speed or hands.
The undrafted free agent who has the best chance of making the team is Ohio State kicker Josh Huston. Incumbent kicker Robbie Gould, a rookie last season, doesn't have a strong enough leg: He made only three of eight field goals from beyond 40 yards (with a long of 45), and he had only one touchback in 54 kickoffs. Huston is a good kickoff man and could take Gould's job with a strong preseason.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|9||LB Ernie Sims||12, 12, 14, 14||QB Matt Leinart (4)|
|40||DB Daniel Bullocks||39, 43, 43, 57||RB LenDale White (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|74||RB Brian Calhoun||52, 59, 67, 77||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|141||OT Jonathan Scott||71, 90, 93, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|179||DB Dee McCann||264, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|217||OG Fred Matua||86, 119, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|247||LB Anthony Cannon||UR, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
For anyone looking to dispute the validity of a best player available approach to drafting, exhibit A would undoubtedly be Matt Millen. The Lions embattled GM has put together several well-regarded drafts, but they haven't added up to a competitive team. Indeed, of the group of Shaun Rogers, Kalimba Edwards, Dominic Raiola, Boss Bailey, Kevin Jones, Ted Lehman and Mike Williamsâ€”all players who were considered excellent value when they were selectedâ€”only Rogers has been an unqualified success. The rest of the players have either been inconsistent, injury-prone, or simply terrible.
Perhaps Millen was a bit gun-shy after the Mike Williams pick blew up in his face last year, because Millen wanted no part of the consensus best player on the board, USC quarterback Matt Leinart. Instead of scooping up a franchise quarterback that simply dropped to him, Millen stuck to his pre-draft plan, opting for linebacker Ernie Sims. New coach Rod Marinelli is installing a Cover-2 defense, and Sims is a ferocious hitter and excellent pass defender who will fit the scheme well. But the fact remains that linebacker is a position group that can successfully be addressed at almost any point in the draft, while elite quarterbacks are almost the exclusive province of the top of the first round.
While Millen has been alert to value at other positions, his failure to quickly repair the Joey Harrington mistake meant that Detroit passed on Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers when each was among the best players available. Now he's passed on Leinart in favor of a tandem of Jon Kitna and Josh McCown. It looks bad now, and it's probably going to look even worse in three or four years.
Millen has strongly preferred players from big time programs during his tenure, and he stayed true to form throughout the draft. Daniel Bullocks showed good speed and burst while he was at Nebraska, and he is a perfect fit in a two-deep zone system. He's already penciled in with the first unit. Brian Calhoun was good value on three of the boards, and he figures to see immediate action as a third down back. Calhoun is an undersized back in the mold of Warrick Dunn, but he has the ability to step in and start should Kevin Jones continue to struggle.
Millen has particularly favored Texas players, so it was no surprise to see him end Jonathan Scott's slide in the fifth round. Scott fits the profile for a Longhorn lineman -- he has great measureables, but his technique and his effort leave much to be desired. Mike Martz and offensive line coach Larry Beightol have a lot of work to do before Scott is ready to contribute, but the pick may well pay dividends down the road. There were several corners with notably higher grades available when Detroit took Dee McCann. McCann isn't fast, but he's a decent in man coverage and has special teams value.
The Lions overpaid for Ross Verba, giving the 32-year-old former Packers and Browns guard $4 million for this season. Verba was once a good player, but he missed all of 2003 with an injury and all of 2005 waiting to find a team that would give him the kind of contract he thought he deserved. After a full season off, that team finally emerged, but the Lions got a player with an awful lot of rust. Good move for Verba, bad move for Detroit.
If the rumor mill is to be believed, defensive tackle Marcus Bell may soon become a free agent. The Lions were docked two days of team activities after a player complained that new coach Rod Marinelli was violating league rules against contact at off-season practices, and Bell is widely reported to be the player who blew the whistle. Marinelli might just decide Bell isn't his type of player and ship him out, but the funny thing is, Bell is his type of player, at least if you go by what he does on the field. As a backup in Detroit the last two years, Bell has had exactly the ability to use his hands in fighting off blocks that Marinelli says he likes in defensive linemen. Bell's linemate, James Hall, is the team's union representative, which means he was responsible for taking Bell's complaints about practice up the union's chain of command. Hall issued one of those noncommittal statements on the team's Web site that people issue when they know they're supposed to say something but don't want to say anything. The full text of the statement was:
"Irrespective of what you may have heard or what has been reported, since the arrival of Coach Marinelli and his staff, the player's commitment to his vision for a winning organization has been tangibly demonstrated through extraordinary levels of participation, effort and energy devoted to his offseason program.
"I have been with this franchise my entire seven-year career and can tell you the level of player participation and dedication to our off-season program has been unprecedented. We look forward, as a team, to continuing to work with Coach and his staff to build the kind of championship caliber franchise the city of Detroit and its fans deserve."
The most intriguing undrafted free agent the Lions signed was guard Frank Davis, who was born in New York but raised in Panama, then earned a scholarship to play football at South Florida when his Panamanian team attended a summer camp in Tampa. Davis is a 326-pound guard who isn't ready to play right away, but he has promise as a long-term prospect.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|5||LB A.J. Hawk||4, 4, 5, 6||LB A.J. Hawk (2), QB Matt Leinart, TE Vernon Davis|
|47||OT Daryn Colledge||44, 55, 60, 64||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|52||WR Greg Jennings||62, 63, 69, 73||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|67||LB Abdul Hodge||38, 51, 54, 72||DB Ashton Youboty (3), TE Leonard Pope|
|75||G Jason Spitz||96, 129, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|104||WR Corey Rodgers||197, 300, UR, UR||DT Gabe Watson (3), DB Ko Simpson|
|115||DB Will Blackmon||66, 118, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|148||QB Ingle Martin||284, UR, UR, UR||DT Babtunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|165||OT Tony Moll||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|183||DT Johnny Jolly||179, 204, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|185||DB Tyrone Culver||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|253||DE Dave Tollefson||UR, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips|
Green Bay did a lot of moving and shaking, pulling off four draft-day trades that ultimately gave the team 12 picks to work with. With a roster full of holes, the Packers were content to split the picks evenly between offense and defense. They started the rebuilding process by adding one of the sure things of the draft, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. It's rare for a linebacker to go in the top five, but Hawk is a complete player who can handle all three linebacker positions and never has to come off the field. For now Green Bay plans to play Hawk at both outside positions; in particular,he will play on the strong side for passing downs, where his coverage skills will help the Packers defend the tight end better than they did in 2005.
The Packers added another highly touted Big Ten linebacker later in the first day when they snagged Iowa's Abdul Hodge. Hodge is strictly an inside player, as he lacks the lateral quickness to play in space. He's a hard-hitter and an excellent blitzer, and he led Iowa in tackles in each of the past three seasons. It wouldn't be surprising to see the team shift Nick Barnett to the weak side and promote Hodge to the middle linebacker spot at some point this season.
At least one board thought highly of Will Blackmon, but he's far from a finished product. Blackmon split his time between corner and receiver at Boston College, and while he is a good athlete, he may not have the quickness or the technique to stay with NFL receivers. His transition to the NFL will also be slowed by a broken foot from his first minicamp; he could miss part of training camp or even the season. Other second day defensive selections included Texas A&M defensive tackle Johnny Jolly, Fresno State safety Tyrone Culver and Northwest Missouri State defensive end Dave Tollefson. Of the group only Jolly stands out as being even moderate value.
Green Bay took the first step towards rebuilding its once-dominant offensive line with the second-round selection of Daryn Colledge. Colledge played left tackle at Boise State, but the Packers are going to slide him inside and play him at guard. Colledge has the necessary athleticism to pull and trap, and he should represent a major upgrade along the interior line. Louisville's Jason Spitz will also be playing guard.
The Packers also addressed the skill positions. After trading Javon Walker to Denver, a move that left them very thin in the receiving corps, they added two rookies in Greg Jennings and Corey Rodgers. Jennings is a player who was moving up the draft boards late, so it was no real surprise to see him taken by the middle of the second round. In the fourth round, Green Bay reached for Rodgers, who has suspect hands and needs to add weight.
Furman quarterback Ingle Martin made a name for himself at the combine, where he threw the ball as well as anyone. The Packers have a long and impressive history of developing quarterbacks, and Martin has all the tools to succeed at the pro level. He'll probably spend a year or two in NFL Europe getting reacquainted with playing from under center.
Can Charles Woodson play at a high level for a full season? No one doubts Woodson's athletic ability, but the Packers gave him more than $10 million for this season alone. If he works hard enough to earn that money, he and Al Harris could become the best pair of corners in the league. But it's more likely that Woodson is going to show his trademark inconsistency, leading the Packers' front office to say, â€œWe paid $10 million for this?â€?
Jon Ryan, who led the CFL in punting last season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has been a pleasant surprise to the Packers this off-season, and he appears to have a leg up on incumbent starter B.J. Sander, who has never lived up to the promise that led the Packers to choose him in the third round of the 2004 draft. All aspects of special teams caused problems for the Packers last season, so scouting Canada, where the kicking game plays a greater role, was a wise move.
Appalachian State defensive end Jason Hunter doesn't have a prayer of standing up against the NFL's toughest tackles on running plays, but he's a quick edge rusher who just might have enough speed to catch on as a special teamer and a third-and-long role player. Those are exactly the type of players that training camps are made for. He'll have a few months to prove he belongs.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|17||LB Chad Greenway||17, 18, 20, 20||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|48||DB Cedric Griffin||55, 57, 60, 75||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|51||C Ryan Cook||99, 169, UR, UR||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|64||QB Tavaris Jackson||226, 250, UR, UR||OT Eric Winston (2), TE Leonard Pope, DB Ashton Youboty|
|127||DE Ray Edwards||82, 84, 107, 117||OT Jonathan Scott, DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|149||DB Greg Blue||88, 145, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
It's generally not a good sign when a team fires its personnel director right after the draft, and Vikings fans are right to be concerned about the quality of the 2006 draft haul. Minnesota started off well enough, taking Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway with the 17th pick. Greenway saw his stock fluctuate in the postseason due to poor workouts that left scouts questioning his functional strength, but he was moving back up late as teams went back to the tape and watched him fly all over the field. Greenway has excellent cover skills, and he should provide an immediate lift for a Minnesota defense that had all kinds of trouble covering tight ends and running backs last year.
It's in the second round where Minnesota's draft started to come apart. The second round is the most cost-effective section of the draft, producing starting-caliber players at moderate cost, and the Vikings had three second-round picks to work with thanks to the Daunte Culpepper trade and a draft-day trade with Pittsburgh. Texas cornerback Cedric Griffin was a decent selection, although there were several corners with notably higher grades still available. Griffin is a bigger corner who excels in zone coverage, but he doesn't have the recovery speed to handle smaller, quicker receivers. Griffin might ultimately be better suited for safety, but the Vikings will give him every chance to play on the outside.
Three picks later, the team selected jumbo-sized New Mexico center Ryan Cook. Cook is built more like an offensive tackle than a center, and he can probably play at guard or right tackle in a pinch. He's not a good athlete, however, and he's a long way from being ready to assume a starting job. Players like Cook tend to go in the fourth or fifth round, and that's where all the draft boards projected him.
While Cook might be considered a reach, the selection of quarterback Tavaris Jackson was more of a lunge. Minnesota traded away two third-round picks so they could move up and grab the Alabama State passer. There was a fair amount of buzz about Jackson as a sleeper prospect, someone who would make a team very happy on the second day, but absolutely no one expected Jackson to come off the board before the likes of Brodie Croyle or Charlie Whitehurst. Minnesota fell into the classic trap of assuming that the other teams shared their evaluation, and they acted on that assumption. Jackson is a raw prospect who will need a lot of work on his throwing motion and his footwork, but Vikings fans who just watched the team trade Daunte Culpepper for a second-rounder are going to have high expectations.
Minnesota recovered somewhat with their final two picks, as both Ray Edwards and Greg Blue were excellent value. Edwards is a bit of an enigma -- he had a great start to his career at Purdue, but he never really developed, and a poor attitude got him benched midway through his junior season. He has day one measureables, and he has the chance to develop into a rotational lineman. Blue was a big hitter who missed a lot of tackles at Georgia. Blue had a terrible time in coverage during Senior Bowl week, and it looks like the Vikings will work him exclusively at strong safety.
There hasn't been any news of the Vikings signing a free agent quarterback, and it appears that there won't be. That means the Vikings are happy to go into the season with Brad Johnson as the starter, Mike McMahon as the backup, and Tarvaris Jackson as the rookie third-stringer. It's hard to understand why the Vikings would be content to have such completely unproven players backing up the 37-year-old and injury-prone Johnson, but apparently they are.
When the Vikings signed Texas Tech running back Taurean Henderson, they added exactly the type of player new head coach Brad Childress loves for his offense. Henderson is a very versatile receiver who did a little of everything in Texas Tech's pass-wacky offense. Much like Brian Westbrook did for Childress in Philadelphia, Henderson might take a handoff on one play, catch a short pass out of the backfield on the next, pick up a blitz after that, and then line up in the slot and go long. All undrafted free agents are long shots to make the team, but Henderson finds himself in a better situation than most.
Minnesota made a highly unusual move when it acquired Eagles receiver Billy McMullen for undrafted free agent Hank Baskett. Childress obviously wants to import players who learned his offense in Philly, having previously acquired McMahon and offensive lineman Artis Hicks. Childress has worked with McMullen and presumably saw something he liked, so to get him in exchange for a rookie who didn't even cost the team a draft pick is gravy.
104 comments, Last at 17 Jul 2006, 1:20am by David Ferrier