Critical games this weekend in the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC could go a long way in determining conference championships -- and maybe even playoff berths.
14 May 2007
by Jeff Bathurst
Look, no fan base is ever going to get super-charged when their team drafts an offensive lineman in the first round -- especially when that team reportedly had Brady Quinn on the line in an attempt to trade up -- but the Ravens spiced things up in the later rounds (see Troy Smith) and worked to solidify some hard-to-fill positions. There is a lot to like about the Ravens' pick of Ben Grubbs at number 29. Grubbs was the best available at his position in the draft, and he has the chance to be a productive right guard for years to come.
Baltimore certainly seemed to draft for need -- they hit four of FO's five predicted "areas of need" with their seven picks -- but not having a second-round pick hurt. Picking return specialist and all-around speedster Yamon Figurs of Kansas State was the subject of much debate on draft day, and the Ravens finished Day One by picking big Marshal Yanda of Iowa, a guard who will move to tackle.
Day Two was more fascinating, with a speed-rushing linebacker kicking off their fourth round, Antwan Barnes from Florida International. Baltimore also took best pure fullback in the draft, Alabama's Le'Ron McClain, who will replace Ovie Mughelli as a lead blocker.
Then came Troy Smith in the fifth round, ending the Heisman Trophy winner's anticipation. Smith could replace Kyle Boller as the backup in 2008, or not even make the roster. But if the Ravens wanted a young, groomable quarterback, why not go for the guy. And even Michigan's Prescott Burgess in the sixth round could provide depth at outside linebacker.
The Ravens may not think that cornerback is an area of need, but at Football Outsiders we know that the ravages of time are wearing away Samari Rolle. Baltimore also could use a more experienced backup tackle than Yanda to bolster Ogden and Adam Terry.
The Ravens boast of having found guys like Priest Holmes and Bart Scott in the discard pile, but they didn't seem to add much this year, at least based on pre-draft rankings. Offensive tackle Kyle Williams started for one year at USC, and given the Ravens' lack of tackles he could contribute. They also brought in Edgar Jones, a 6-foot-3, 263-pound defensive end from Southeast Missouri State who led Division I-AA with 12 sacks and was compared by one scouting service to the Eagles' Trent Cole. From the legacy file, running back Greg Pruitt Jr., whose father starred for the Ravens' ancestors in Cleveland, signed out of Division II North Carolina Central.
Character carried the days for the Bengals, who took a cornerback first for the second straight year in Michigan's Leon Hall. Add Hall to Johnathan Joseph in the secondary, heat, and serve, is Cincinnati's hope. Hall may not unseat Deltha O'Neal this year, but if not he will learn as a nickel back and take over soon.
"Solid, productive, not flashy but effective," is part of how the Bengals' website summed up the draft, and although that may be just what the doctor (and lawyers) ordered after a tumultuous season in the police blotter, Cincinnati also didn't add enough to a defense that was hurting last season and lost guys like Brian Simmons and Kevin Kaesviharn.
They did find a playmaker in Auburn running back Kenny Irons in the second round, and if you want to get technical, they spent their third-round pick last year on Ahmad Brooks, who may start at linebacker this season. Fourth-round free safety Marvin White of TCU is being touted as a big hitter.
The head-scratchingest move, for some, was the pick of Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe in the fifth round, given the presence of Carson Palmer. The Matt Schaub story shows that the upside on Rowe is if he develops and Palmer stays in place, a breaking-through quarterback like Rowe can be very valuable in trade.
Linebacker was a definite need that went unaddressed in the draft, but the Bengals have signed Ed Hartwell to a one-year deal after he flamed out in Atlanta. They are also high on an undrafted free-agent linebacker they brought in (see below), which is a testament to their scouting and also Cincinnati's bevy of job openings.
Defensive tackle was touched on in the draft by sixth-rounder Matt Toeaina of Oregon, but Sam Adams, Michael Myers, and company might not be good enough.
Florida weakside linebacker Earl Everett was rated higher in some quarters than Antwan Barnes, the Ravens' fourth-round pick. BYU tight end Daniel Coats, if he can get time away from the family (the 23-year-old is married with three kids), could pitch in at an area of weakness. And from the all-name team, Missouri defensive end Xzavie Jackson was rated on some draft boards, as was Hawaii offensive tackle Dane Uperesa.
Sure, the Browns can walk away with a franchise left tackle and a franchise quarterback. That was the opinion of most draft observers before the Selection Meeting got underway. Seriously, though, that the Browns made it happen is a testament to the team's willingness to 1) put aside the hype and center on Wisconsin's Joe Thomas as their first choice and 2) focus on the here and now and deal away next year's number one to make it happen with Slidin' Brady Quinn.
Incidentally, how many teams' draft parties would have erupted in high-fives, chants and toasts (as happened in Cleveland) when their team chose a left tackle over a quarterback at number three? Good for the Dawg Pound. Plus, taking Quinn at 22 instead of three ensures that the Browns will sign him for a much lower number.
As for trading pick number 36 this year and next year's number one for Quinn ... Using the holy "value chart" for trading draft picks, if we assume that Quinn was, to be conservative, the fifth-best prospect in this year's draft, he's assigned 1,700 value points. The Browns, then, will have to draft number 13 or lower next year to have "won" the trade (pick 13 in 2008 and this year's 36 having a cumulative value of 1,690 points.) The team drafting at number 13 this year was the Rams, who were 8-8.
Can the Browns finish .500? Signs point to "not likely," but one can't fault Cleveland for pulling the trigger now and worrying about tomorrow ... next year.
As for the rest of the draft, the Browns nabbed UNLV cornerback Eric Wright in the second round, and despite a troubled college career, Wright was ranked among the top five corners available and gave the Browns three potential studs for Day One. They did not draft again until the fifth round, and picked up more corner help on Day Two in Memphis' Brandon McDonald (who is cousins with Steve McNair and Correll Buckhalter), along with defensive line depth in ends Chase Pittman (LSU) and Melila Purcell (Hawaii), along with wideout and probable return specialist Syndric Steptoe of Arizona.
Having filled their top need with Quinn, the Browns still face a bit of a void at running back, which they can't really have convinced themselves was filled with Jamal Lewis. Change-up guys like Jerome Harrison and Jason Wright are still around, but there's no long-term answer there yet. Having no picks between rounds two and five limited their chance to add some help now.
The late-rounders will help on the defensive line, but the Browns could certainly use some front-line talent and, if not, some depth.
The Browns signed only nine this year, as opposed to the usual 12-15. A potential bruiser is running back Tyrone Moss from Miami, who is powerful at 5-foot-9 and 230 pounds but tore his ACL in 2005 and may still be feeling the effects. Center Scott Stephenson from Iowa State started his career on the defensive line at Minnesota, and he is a project who could pay dividends. Speedy wideout Mike Mason from Tennessee State washed out at North Carolina but has talent, and Arizona State kicker Jesse Ainsworth brings a big leg. And from the "early training camp story" file, expect to read about Division III offensive lineman Rick Drushal, a local kid from Wooster.
A pass-rushing presence at outside linebacker was a top area of need for the Steelers, and they doubled up in the first two rounds, choosing Florida State's Lawrence Timmons in the first and then Michigan's LaMarr Woodley in the second. Most mocks had the Steelers drafting a linebacker if they couldn't get Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis, and when the Jets traded up to 14 to get Revis one slot before Pittsburgh, the die was cast.
Timmons only started one year at Florida State, having backed up in Ernie Sims in 2005, and is just 20 years old and could get bigger than his current 6-foot-1, 234 pounds. And Mike Tomlin joked that he has "the R-H factor ... he's a runner and a hitter." The choice of Woodley was widely applauded, and as he transitions from college defensive end to outside linebacker, he'll chip in as a third-down pass-rusher.
Fans expected running-back or other impact help in the third round, but the Steelers took giant tight end Matt Spaeth of Minnesota (6-foot-7, 270). Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians sounds excited about using Spaeth together with Heath Miller near the goal line. A surprise in the fourth round was trading up to get Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner who put 82 punts inside the 20 in four years after walking on as a linebacker. If you have to blow a fourth-round pick on a punter, you might as well take one who knows how to make a tackle.
Late-round depth guys like defensive lineman Ryan McBean of Oklahoma State and Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson will do their part, and the team sounds high on Louisville corner William Gay (comparisons to Deshea Townsend), and seventh-round wideout Dallas Baker from Florida, who adds size (6-foot-3) to the receiver squad.
Fans wanted a backup running back to join Willie Parker and perhaps Najeh Davenport, but the team bypassed the position in the draft and signed Kevan Barlow this week (which technically still qualifies as bypassing the position). Stephenson could make some noise at guard, but with Alan Faneca unhappy and Kendall Simmons' time perhaps growing short, the team could have used more of an upgrade there. Likewise, Gay could help at cornerback but doesn't address the need to get better at the top.
Minnesota running back Gary Russell is an intriguing name. Russell joined Laurence Maroney as a 1,000-yard rusher in 2005, but then flunked out and tested poorly for scouts. If he can find the will again, he could give the Steelers a lift at the position. And still another 6-foot-7 tight end, Washington State's Cody Boyd, got the call. Center/guard Darnell Stapleton makes it two former Rutgers Scarlet Knights moving on together.
Later this week: AFC East.
(This is Jeff Bathurst's last article for Football Outsiders, and we thank him for helping fill in on Four Downs the last few months while we've been in high-panic book-writing mode.)
72 comments, Last at 21 May 2007, 3:39pm by MattB