Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
25 May 2007
by Alex Carnevale
It's hard to put down the Texans' draft. They took a player most every team liked with the 10th pick, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. A few mocks had Okoye going much higher, and after making the call to bring in Falcons backup Matt Schaub, the Texans were probably relieved not to have to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on Brady Quinn. The second-round pick was gone because of the trade, but with the rest of their mid-round picks, they addressed short term needs at corner and added a guy who can immediately come in and help in the return game in Jacoby Jones. He'll compete with Andre' Davis, Kevin Walter, and David Anderson for the chance to catch the passes that don't go to Andre Johnson. The overall strategy of the Schaub move has a chance to work out, but the improvement is going to have to come with the defense, and their front line is going to be an interesting group for the next few years.
The Texans have some exciting players on the roster -- they're more in need of replacement-level depth around playmakers like sophomore linebacker DeMeco Ryans, cornerback Dunta Robinson, and receiver Andre Johnson. Head coach Gary Kubiak saw Mike Shanahan's expertise in that area while in Denver; bet on him to do a better job with depth before and during the season in his second year in Houston. Naming Kevin Walter as your number-two receiver is an uninspiring omen, but again, the improvement has to come on defense.
The Texans took home NCAA Football coverboy Jared Zabransky, whose bowl game antics likely entitled him to at least one year of holding a clipboard and doing nostalgia-based interviews. "Do you wish you were back in college, Jared?" Doug Flutie can give him some tips. Linebacker Jon Abbate from Wake Forest pulled his hamstring before the combine after deciding to come out early -- he could impress if healthy.
As Aaron Schatz wrote in his draft preview, the Colts' top five needs were DT, WR, RB, LB, and CB. They went ahead and did the following with the top of their draft:
|1 (32)||Anthony Gonzalez -- Ohio St.||WR|
|2 (42)||Tony Ugoh -- ARK||OT|
|3 (95)||Daymeion Hughes -- CAL||CB|
|3 (98)||Quinn Pitcock -- Ohio St.||DT|
Nice job hitting three of five with the first four picks. Wideout Anthony Gonzalez is already the 94th ranked receiver according to KUBIAK's projection of 29 receptions for 489 yards, which you will learn as soon as the annual hits the presses. Media criticism largely focused on the Colts' move to grab tackle Tony Ugoh, but the guy gets an A for web design and doesn't have much downside to speak of. So what are the Colts going to do about a backup running back and their bare bones linebacking core? The Colts may regret passing on Michigan linebacker David Harris or other players with that second-round pick, even if Ugoh works out. And if Joseph Addai goes down, do the Colts really want to start De De Dorsey?
The Colts' needs at corner were addressed in the third round, but the Colts' depth is still suspect, with second-year player Tim Jennings failing to impress the coaching staff in his rookie season. Perhaps focused more on their new stadium, the Colts can assume that they'll still be playing on one of the fastest tracks in the league by 2008. They probably won't have Bob Sanders then, as the already banged-up safety is going into his walk year. Does this mean the Colts continue to win games by 42-40 scores until Bob's healthy around playoff time? It worked once, but it's something less than a foolproof plan.
"There are a lot of different ways to find good players," said Tony Dungy in what was the 32nd article written with the same headline in every newspaper in an NFL town. The Colts nabbed the Ivy League's career rushing leader, Clifton Dawson out of Harvard. In reality, Dawson has no one skill that stands out; the reason he didn't get a look in the later rounds is summed up neatly by his combine numbers: 5-foot-9, 206, 4.56. The chances of his stepping off the practice squad are slim. More interesting is defensive tackle Ramel Meekins, an undersized lineman who comes from Rutgers but could fit in as a special teams player, with the possibility of getting snaps at fullback.
Pretty much everyone and their mother knew the Jags were wild about Florida safety Reggie Nelson -- that is, except for Lance Zierlein's source. Trading down four spots while still getting Nelson was a smart move, making the Jaguars even more of a sleeper team for 2007. Now they just need some awake fans.
Not many. The Jags will only struggle if their depth is tested at key positions, or if the great quarterback waffling of 2006 reprises itself in 2007. Back to their draft-day trade for a second: in swapping picks with Denver, the Jaguars got third- and sixth-rounders. For those still addicted to the Jimmy Johnson board, here's how the value works out. The Jags give up #17 overall (950) and get #21 (800) and #86 (165) plus #198 (12.2). Mmm, value. For the record, #86 ended up in Baltimore's hands, where they took offensive tackle Marshall Yanda, who had a second-round grade and was targeted because of Ozzie Newsome's relationship with Kirk Ferentz.
This meant that the #17 pick ended up turning into the #21 (800), plus the #101 (96), #166 (25) and # 203 (10.2). Those picks turned into, respectively, punter Adam Podlesh from Maryland ("It's just a great honor to be the first because you don't see a lot of punters drafted at all"), defensive tackle Derek Landri from Notre Dame, and the #203 pick ... somehow went to Atlanta. So according to the Johnson chart, the Jags got less value out of the second trade (931.2) than the first (977.2). Ask Kirk Ferentz.
If you're interested in who the Jags signed as an undrafted free agent, you're probably one of them, or one of them came out of you. This was a group more dead to rights than a 10-year-old who picked up the Halo 3 Beta. Too soon? In all seriousness, Dan Parrish is a big tackle from Florida A&M, and if his Wikipedia page is any indication, he could be headed to Canton.
Without dispensing a draft grade -- we went to the new age feel goodery known as Openings, where there are no grades -- the Titans' draft was a mixed bag. Texas safety Michael Griffin was a strange pick at 19th overall, when you consider they had a position switch to corner in mind. Perhaps you only need to hear the quiver in Jeff Fisher's voice: "That's what we're doing, and I believe it is going to work out." Anybody remember Tebucky Jones? When Pac-Man comes back next year, the odds the Titans will be "thrilled" about Griffin moving back to his natural position are about 3-to-2.
It's too bad they weren't still putting jerseys on draftees when it came to No. 50, because the commissioner could have draped a gigantic red flag over running back Chris Henry out of Arizona. With LenDale White nearing 800 pounds, Henry now has a chance to become an every-down back in the NFL, yet the guy's major in college was philosophy. Does this not say it all? Actually, the player himself has a chance to succeed if his writing skills are any sign of his on-field ability -- he'll be way ahead of Curt Schilling and the Titans' underachieving group of incumbent backs -- but the worst part of reaching for Henry was missing the chance to address a real need early. That Henry may now be more critical to the current running back situation than he was originally expected to be isn't exactly proof of forethought.
Fifth-round defensive lineman Antonio Johnson started all of five games in his college career. Excited yet? Fourth-rounder Chris Davis has a chance to contribute at the wide receiver position.
We hate to praise the Giants -- they are Bill Barnwell's team, after all -- but Steve Smith went right after Henry at #51. An interesting wide receiver prospect, he would have added depth at a position the Titans needed. When a team finds itself making an offer to Keyshawn Johnson, that opens them up to all the draft criticism in the world. When that offer was reportedly $7-8 million over two years, that opens them up to potential Congressional censure. Where they'll look for another receiver at this point is anybody's guess.
Like myself, kicker John Vaughn is a Tennessee native with an exceptional time in the 40 yard dash: 4.96. Why they make kickers run it, we'll never really know. What we do know is that Vaughn hit 20-of-24 field goals in his senior season, including 2-of-3 from beyond the 50-yard line.
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