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?
16 May 2007
by Bill Barnwell
Let's review. The Bills drafted Willis McGahee with their first-round pick in 2003, right after giving Travis Henry a big extension. Without any leverage, the Bills held onto Henry for an unhappy season before dealing him to Tennessee for a third-round pick. McGahee lasted till this season, at which point he was unhappy and requested a move. The Bills traded him for two third-rounders and a seventh-rounder. Finally, the Bills used their first-rounder this year on a running back, California's Marshawn Lynch, and he might be the worst of the three. When you consider that only eight of the 20 top backs in football according to 2006 DPAR were first-round selections, you'll understand why we hesitate to approve of Buffalo's pick.
Lynch is a relatively safe bet as far as running backs go; he's an intelligent, agile runner who doesn't have to come off the field on passing downs. While he ran a 4.47 40, it's a combine time not matched by his actual speed in pads. He'll be better than Anthony Thomas, but he's not a big-play back by any means. The Bills would have been better off trading down and drafting an offensive lineman, or drafting cornerback Leon Hall to replace Nate Clements. Instead, Buffalo plugged more resources into a position they've yet to fill optimally.
Their second-round pick was a much better one. They traded one of the third-rounders from the McGahee deal to move up and draft Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, an intelligent, instinctual linebacker who showed the ability to play in the middle toward the end of his final year at school. If his skills there are as good as reported, he will be the starter from day one, moving Angelo Crowell to the outside, where he's better suited. Or, as Crowell said on Sirius NFL Radio, "... I would kind of prefer to play on the outside just because that's what I'm used to." While Crowell will need to improve his coverage skills in 2007, he can take lessons from Keith Ellison, who will be on the other side of Posluszny and was superb in his zone coverage.
Getting Lynch pushes the Bills out of any Michael Turner discussions. Defensive tackle Darwin Walker wants a new contract and is going to hold out until he gets one; if John McCargo looks good in his return from injury, the Bills might be more hesitant to actually give Walker what he wants, although it seems silly to trade Takeo Spikes for a guy who doesn't show up. Depth at cornerback and a starting wide receiver remain on the Bills' to-do list; the only receiver left on the market who fits the bill (no pun intended) would be former 49ers wideout Antonio Bryant, who would likely be available at a bargain-basement price. Quick, before the Patriots notice!
Florida wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius should really make the team over Peerless Price; Cornelius is small (5-foot-10), but he's a football player with great instincts and legitimate speed who will be a useful special teams guy somewhere. He might have a career similar to...
Ted Ginn Jr., the guy who Miami chose ninth overall in the shock of the draft. Ginn represents the biggest controversy of the draft, having been selected in lieu of Brady Quinn, who seems like the quarterback the Dolphins have been waiting for. The good news is that our quarterback projection system says that second-round quarterback John Beck, out of BYU, will be almost as good of a player as Quinn is -- and he'll be that player earlier, since Beck is turning 26 in August. The bad news is that we don't hold out much hope for Ginn to be much of a player on the pro level.
Nine receivers have been drafted out of the Big Ten in the first round since 2000. Of those nine, Ginn's numbers coming out of school are comparable to his fellow Buckeyes -- Santonio Holmes (who averaged nearly five yards more per catch) and Michael Jenkins (who's been a bust with Michael Vick in Atlanta). His numbers are better than Bryant Johnson, who has also been mediocre for Arizona. Players like David "The Bomb D" Terrell and Charles Rogers outproduced Ginn by a large margin and were colossal failures in the NFL. The argument can be made that that college production in the Big Ten has little to do with NFL success.
Looking at Ginn's measurables, though, doesn't offer up much hope. Ginn's listed weight is 178 pounds; no one smaller than that from 1999 on has become anything more than a competent wide receiver at the NFL level, and even those guys (Dennis Northcutt and Todd Pinkston) wouldn't be worth first-round selections. The guy who Dolphins fans would like Ginn to be similar to, Washington's Santana Moss, weighed 180 pounds, but he also outstripped Ginn in other ways.
Ginn's vaunted 4.28 40 time is the centerpiece of his case as a first-rounder. While he didn't actually run the 40 at the combine, he was faster than Moss's 4.31. In fact, Ginn's numbers are eerily similar to that of another recent wideout. They ran the same exact 40 time and are the same height; our mystery receiver is three pounds heavier, has a vertical jump one inch higher, and outjumped Ginn by a foot on the broad jump. That receiver? Houston's Jerome Mathis, who the Texans selected in the fourth round in 2005. Mathis was a Pro Bowl kick returner his rookie year but is unlikely to pay many dividends in the passing game. With Ginn's struggles to break through press coverage and run the limited routes he was expected to in college, it looks like Miami used the ninth overall pick on a return specialist.
Hawaii center Samson Satele in the second round was an excellent pick, giving the Dolphins a guy who can play either center or guard; unfortunately, they could use both, which is why there's talk of acquiring disgruntled Jets guard Pete Kendall. It would be a smart move, with the Dolphins currently penciling in the untested Dan Stevenson as their starting right guard.
It's hard not to wish good things on a man named Tuff Harris; the Montana corner will fight Howard's Geoffrey Pope (can you imagine a Tuff Pope?) for a reserve cornerback spot. A guy likely to make the team is former Alabama-Birmingham offensive tackle Julius Wilson, a monster stone that vaunted offensive line guru Hudson Houck will undoubtedly make one of his targets for shining. Wide receiver Michael Malone also was picked up from San Houston State; Malone is the son of NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone, not the namesake and former "One Life to Live" writer. Just clarifying.
While the Patriots would have loved to make the same trade the Cowboys did with the Browns, they made a similar swap in dealing the second of their two first-round selections for the 49ers first round pick next year, which will almost assuredly be before number 28. The Patriots also received a fourth-round pick in the deal, which they then used to acquire Randy Moss the following day, a deal already discussed on our blog.
Without second- and third-round picks, the Patriots' only trip up to the podium on Day One netted them Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, who is the sort of intelligent and versatile player the Patriots like to acquire and employ. Talk of Meriweather's character concerns are slightly overblown, as each incident he's been involved in has involved him coming to the defense of a teammate or friend. Meriweather isn't the physical specimen that LaRon Landry is, but his football smarts are stronger, and the Patriots won't use him in roles that he can't physically handle. As soon as Patriots defensive backs start going down, expect Meriweather to enter the starting lineup and keep his spot. Fourth-round defensive tackle Kareem Brown, also of Miami, is a space occupier in the middle who will be useful when Ty Warren needs snaps off.
If the Patriots aren't the deepest team in football, they're right up there. It's hard to think of an obvious need for the team other than linebacker depth; the other concerns are all minor and dependent upon injury. If Tom Brady went down for the season, a veteran quarterback to provide insurance in the case that Matt Cassel isn't any good would be wise (and Vinny Testaverde doesn't count), while a pure runner to take some of the load off of Laurence Maroney might be a useful backup. Corey Dillon's pride has been hurt by the lack of market for him, so he might choose to go back to the Patriots a few weeks into the season.
The Patriots have a tiny class of undrafted free agents, which might show how few roster spots they have available. One of the spots they do have free is at quarterback, where former Michigan and Idaho State quarterback Matt Gutierrez could stick. Gutierrez transferred from Michigan after 2005, and he's a gigantic quarterback with a fantastic arm and good football smarts, but inexperienced and slow. He's a good guy to stick on the practice squad.
While the Jets didn't fill their biggest hole (nose tackle), they should be credited for not reaching and instead moving around to shore up two other questionable positions with intelligent picks. The Jets traded up in the first round, dealing second- and fifth-round picks to go from 25 to 14 and pick Pittsburgh cornerback Darrelle Revis, who pretty much represents the polar opposite of Justin Miller. Miller will return kicks, while Revis will handle punts; Miller's an athlete who struggles with the finer points of being a cornerback, while Revis is already an excellent cornerback who would be stretched by superior athletes like the aforementioned Moss or Ginn. Having them both means Eric Mangini can use each of them in roles that fit their skill sets.
A bigger move, perhaps, was the second-round selection of Michigan middle linebacker David Harris, for whom the Jets traded a third-rounder to move up and acquire. Harris is arguably the best run defender available at linebacker in the draft; his superior instincts and run-plugging can make an immediate impact on a Jets defense desperate for a run-stopper on the second level.
A nose tackle still stands out as the most pressing concern, but the only guys still available are elder statesmen like Seth Payne and Jason Fisk. With rumors that Kendall will hold out of training camp without a new deal, the Jets have made overtures to local guard Joe Andruzzi to potentially replace Kendall if he goes elsewhere. The Jets could also use another tight end -- hey, Doug Jolley's available! Eh, maybe someone else.
Maine defensive tackle Mike DeVito looked like an absolute monster when I saw him play against my alma mater of Northeastern last season; of course, he won't be up against the Huskies offensive line come training camp. In all seriousness, defensive tackle remains the Jets' biggest hole and the spot where an undrafted free agent is most likely to stick.
190 comments, Last at 22 Jul 2007, 2:03pm by sebman2112