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?
03 Jun 2006
Best player available analysis by Sean McCormick
Remainder of Four Downs by Darrell Michaud
(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|
|37||DB Jimmy Williams||13, 15, 20, 22||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|79||RB Jerious Norwood||66, 68, 75, 124||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ashton Youboty, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson|
|139||OT Quinn Ojinnaka||288, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|184||WR Adam Jennings||238, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|223||QB D.J. Shockley||206, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
Atlanta traded their first-round pick to acquire three-time Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham from the Jets. The Falcons didn't have much luck the last time they went this route, but Abraham is a far more proven commodity than Peerless Price was. The practice of trading picks for veteran players can put a strain on a team's salary structure -- Abraham signed a six-year, $45 million contract, while last year's 15th pick overall, linebacker Derrick Johnson, signed a five-year deal worth $10.4 million -- but for a team that is looking for immediate impact, the trade route makes sense. Abraham won't help Atlanta improve on their rush defense (26th by NFL rankings, 32nd in DVOA) but he'll team with Patrick Kerney, Rod Coleman and Chad Lavalais to form one of the most gifted pass-rushing units in the league.
As it turned out, the Falcons were able to land a player with a first round grade anyway, as they nabbed Virginia Tech corner Jimmy Williams with the 37th pick. Williams didn't have a strong senior season and he turned a lot of teams off with his combine interviews, but at one time he was the unquestioned top cornerback prospect in the draft. The Falcons have had good success with Virginia Tech players, and they hope that Williams will team with fellow Hokie DeAngelo Hall to give Atlanta the best set of corners in the division. Williams won't be rushed into the starting lineup, but he has the talent to displace Jason Webster by midseason.
Opinions were largely positive on Mississippi State running back Jerious Norwood, with three of the boards considering him a minor steal, but both Quinn Ojinnaka and Adam Jennings were taken higher than they needed to be. There was speculation that the Falcons would spend a late pick on Marcus Vick, but instead they opted for Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley. Shockley's mobility and athleticism gives the team the option of keeping their playbook intact should Michael Vick go down. With Matt Schaub a likely candidate to be traded at season's end, the team will groom Shockley in the hope he will become a viable backup quarterback.
The Falcons acquired left tackle Wayne Gandy from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for Bryan Scott and a conditional future draft pick. Gandy and Scott were players who'd fallen out of favor with their teams. The Falcons upgraded their safeties in the offseason, and Scott, a poor run defender, ended up the odd man out. Gandy, meanwhile, committed 19 penalties in the last two seasons and lost his starting job to right tackle Jammal Brown.
The Falcons also signed Arena League wide receiver Troy Bergeron. Last year, the Georgia Force wide receiver broke Oronde Gadsden's receiving yards record by netting 1,372 yards on 105 catches, 31 of which went for touchdowns. The 22-year-old, who never played a game in college, also led the AFL in kick return yardage.
Defensive tackle T.J. Jackson (Auburn) was named to the All-SEC second team with 41 tackles. At 6'1", he lacks the height normally desired from defensive tackles, but he weighs 311 pounds, making him the largest Falcons defensive tackle. His Auburn teammate, Travis Williams is a tweener linebacker/safety that might not be able to fit in either role, but should be able to contribute on special teams. Tight end Daniel Fells (Cal-Davis) provides a big target with large hands for Michael Vick, but lacks the blocking ability to contribute much as a backup. Safety Greg Threat (Miami) lost his starting job before the 2005 season, but his physical tools make him a fine run stopper.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|27||RB DeAngelo Williams||14, 17, 23, 29||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|58||DB Richard Marshall||27, 31, 33, 42||DB Richard Marshall (2) OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty,|
|88||LB James Anderson||112, 117, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing, DT Gabe Watson|
|89||OT Rashad Butler||101, 113, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing, DT Gabe Watson|
|121||DB Nate Salley||145, 200, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|155||TE Jeff King||231, 249, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|234||C Will Montgomery||217, 241, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|237||DE Stanley McClover||62, 67, 123, 144||DE Stanley McClover (2), RB Andre Hall (2)|
With Stephen Davis no longer in the backfield, it was widely expected that Carolina would look to the first round crop of runners for a replacement. But in a mild upset, they bypassed big, bruising LenDale White in favor of Memphis senior DeAngelo Williams. There is always a temptation to lock in on players that fit in a successful system, and a White-DeShaun Foster backfield would have given Carolina the kind of 1-2 punch of power and speed they utilized during their 2003 Super Bowl run. Instead, John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney ignored scheme and simply took the better player. Williams is in the mold of a Brian Westbrook, a shifty, smallish runner who will do better on stretch plays than trying to bang between the tackles. He may be the best receiver on the team after Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson, so expect to see him utilized both in the slot and out of the backfield.
In the second round the team took Fresno State corner Richard Marshall, who was considered a major steal on all four boards. The junior cornerback has the good size and long arms that Fox values, and he is effective in both zone and man coverages. Marshall won't start, but his presence in the nickel and dime packages will help the team handle the departure of Ricky Manning Jr.
After Marshall, most of Carolina's picks were steady but not sensational. None of the group of James Anderson, Rashad Butler, Nate Salley or Jeff King was a steal on any of the boards, but each player was picked at roughly the proper point in the draft. With their final pick, the Panthers grabbed BPA gold with Auburn defensive end Stanley McClover, who was considered a late second-round pick by two of the draft boards. McClover doesn't have a lot of versatility, but he definitely has the speed to get to the quarterback. With Julius Peppers drawing attention on the other side, McClover has the opportunity to make an immediate impact as a third-down pass-rush specialist.
Carolina signed linebackers Keith Adams of the Eagles and Na'il Diggs of the Packers. Adams excels on special teams and can step into a starting role if pressed. Adams will compete with Diggs and Adam Seward for the final linebacker spot alongside Dan Morgan and Thomas Davis.
Wide receiver Jovon Bouknight (Wyoming) amassed 1,116 receiving yards in his senior year. While Bouknight lacks the physical tools that allow him to get separation, he runs excellent routes and and shows the polish and experience of a three-year-starter. Tackle Albert Toeaina's (Tennessee) speed and technique have been called into question, but no one can deny his sheer power and run blocking ability. Defensive end Devan Long (Oregon), is a high-motor overachiever with limited physical skills. He's also the younger brother of Titan defensive tackle Rien Long. Tackle Adam Stenavich (Michigan) lacks mobility but shows excellent strength and technique. He can play multiple positions on the line and his versatility should allow him to make the team.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|2||RB Reggie Bush||1, 1, 1, 1||RB Reggie Bush (4)|
|43||DB Roman Harper||68, 76, 91, UR||RB LenDale White (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|108||OT Jhari Evans||160, 207, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|135||DE Rob Ninkovich||100, 207, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|171||WR Mike Haas||85, 116, 161, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|210||OT Zach Strief||156, 167, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|252||WR Marques Colston||206, 212, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
The Saints spent much of the pre-draft period trying to trade down from the second pick, but their failure to get a deal done turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and New Orleans was there to catch Reggie Bush after his shocking one spot 'fall' on draft day. The Saints had no crying need at the running back position -- they just gave a big contract extension to Deuce McAllister and brought in Michael Bennett to be the backup -- but to the team's credit, they didn't let that dissuade them from taking the consensus best player in the draft. Bush is the most versatile offensive prospect since Marshall Faulk, and it will be interesting to see how new head coach Sean Payton decides to utilize him. Payton was the offensive coordinator for the Giants when they made their 2000 Super Bowl run, and he rotated Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, giving each of them nearly an equal number of carries despite the fact that Barber averaged 4.7 yards a carry while Dayne managed only 3.4. Barber has subsequently shown that he can easily handle a full workload, and if Payton is wise, he will simply give Bush the starting job to start the season. Not only is Bush already the best outside runner, the best receiver not named Joe Horn, and the best return man on the team, he is also a more effective between-the-tackles runner than McAllister. The Saints offense has suffered for years from McAllister's inability to consistently generate four yards on first or second down carries -- he tends to mix in a few long runs with a lot of 1-2 yard carries -- and correcting that problem will do more than anything else to lift the offense.
It's good the Saints pulled off a slam-dunk with their first round pick, because the rest of their draft was not inspiring. Roman Harper is limited athletically, and he was taken at least one round before any board projected him to go. Jhari Evans is a small-school project who is at least two years away from competing for a starting job. One of the boards liked Purdue 'tweener Rob Ninkovich, but it's not clear where he is going to play in the team's 4-3 scheme. He'll have to bulk up if he wants to see regular time in the defensive line rotation. The Saints did a better job with the back end of their draft, where they were able to land Mike Hass, Zack Strief and Marques Colston all at good value. Hass is a particularly interesting addition. He doesn't have speed, but he runs crisp routes, has excellent hands and shows excellent awareness on the field. On a team stocked with athletically gifted underachievers at the receiver position, Haas could establish himself as a reliable underneath target and a third-down specialist.
The Saints and the Browns swapped centers in the offseason. LeCharles Bentley signed with Cleveland, and New Orleans filled the hole by trading for Cleveland center Jeff Faine. Cleveland selected Faine, a product of Notre Dame, 21st in the 2001 draft. For Faine, New Orleans moved down from the 33rd pick to the 43rd pick.
New Orleans sent their fourth round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for defensive tackle Hollis Thomas. Thomas is a non-factor in the pass rush, but at 306 pounds he effectively takes up blockers. However, at 32, Thomas is best used in a limited role in a rotation.
Linebacker E.J. Kuale (LSU) has been making waves in Saints camp. "I think he understands what it takes probably to make an NFL roster," head coach Sean Payton said of Kuale. The ruptured tendon of James Allen should help E.J. find a spot. Sean Payton called defensive tackle McKinley Boykin (Ole Miss) "explosive and sudden," which are terms not often used to describe Saints defenders. Cornerback Anwar Phillips (Penn State) was expected to be taken on the second day of the draft. (You'll notice his name as Best Player Available for much of the seventh round.) He has the physical tools to play the position, but struggles at times with the mental aspect of the game.
|Pick||Players||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|23||G Davin Joseph||34, 35, 45, 47||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|59||OT Jeremy Trueblood||65, 69, 73, 98||OT Eric Winston (2), DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope|
|90||WR Maurice Stovall||48, 64, 69, 72||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing, DT Gabe Watson|
|122||DB Alan Zematis||46, 59, 72, 98||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson|
|156||DE Julian Jenkins||130, 130, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson|
|194||QB Bruce Gradkowski||156, 189, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|202||TE T.J. Williams||177, 199, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|235||DB Justin Phinisee||UR, UR, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|241||DE Charles Bennett||241, 255, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
|244||RB Tim Massaquoi||280, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
The Bucs offensive line disintegrated against every quality front seven it faced last year, so it was no surprise to see the team target the unit for improvement in the draft. It was a surprise, however, to see how they went about it. Tampa Bay passed on the chance to end Winston Justice's slide, preferring Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph. Joseph was generally considered the top guard available, and he brings some versatility thanks to his stint at left tackle with the Sooners. What makes the decision to pass on Justice all the more questionable is that the Bucs felt they had enough of a need at tackle to address it in the second round, where the team nabbed 6'8"Boston College mauler Jeremy Trueblood. Unless the team had Justice pulled from their board due to character issues, the better approach would have been to take the tackle first and then follow up with the top guard available, in this case Max Jean-Gilles, in either the second or third rounds. Good offensive lines are usually built from the outside in, and Tampa's decision to address the interior line first may result in a less talented unit down the road.
Tampa got excellent value in the middle of their draft. Maurice Stovall was considered a late-second/early-third prospect. He doesn't have a lot of pure foot speed, but Jon Gruden's attack doesn't require it. The Bucs didn't get much production from their tight ends down in the red zone last year, and the 6'5" Stovall will give Chris Simms a quality receiving option when the field shortens up. Alan Zematis was the more highly rated of the two Nittany Lion corners, and his style translates well into Monte Kiffen's scheme. Zematis will have to unlearn the Penn State side-pedal before he sees much action, but he has the talent to challenge for a starting spot down the road. Stanford defensive end Julian Jenkins was a bit less regarded than his teammate Babatunde Oshinowo, but he still represented good value in the fifth round. Jenkins is a solid two-way defensive end who shows good strength at the point of attack. He's currently listed behind Simeon Rice on the depth chart, but Jenkins doesn't have the explosiveness to develop into an edge rusher, so his future is probably on the strong side. Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was considered a minor steal on the two boards that went past 100, but with Tampa's depth at the position he'll have a tough time making the active roster. Gradkowski is probably destined for NFL Europe and the practice squad.
In an outstanding move, Tampa Bay signed fullback Jerald Sowell to replace the departed Jameel Cook. Not only does Sowell provide Cadillac Williams with superlative blocking, but he gives Chris Simms an extra receiving threat out of the backfield. Sowell performed badly as a receiver last year, but then again, Brooks Bollinger took most of the snaps that year. With a competent quarterback, Sowell should once again be both one of the best blocking and receiving fullbacks in the league.
Tampa Bay also picked up one of the biggest cases of wrecked potential in the league by signing wide receiver David Boston. Boston established himself as one of the league's top young receivers in the 2000 and 2001 seasons, but failed drug tests and injuries have slowed him down considerably. Boston has not played much since a fair 2003 season.
Running back Andre Hall (USF) averaged 6.5 yards per carry in his four-year career at USF but, at 5-9, stands shorter than the ideal running back. Linebacker Anthony Trucks (Oregon) specializes in rushing the passer, racking up 11 sacks and forcing five fumbles in 2005. However, Trucks needs to fill out to stay at linebacker in the pros. Safety Jahmile Addae (West Virginia) hits hard in the running game but lacks coverage skills.
61 comments, Last at 24 Jun 2006, 2:10am by Stephen Yang