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?
07 May 2007
by Michael David Smith
There are good reasons to question the Broncos' trades -- they gave up an awful lot to move up -- but you've got to give them this: They're clearly better on the defensive line after the draft than they were before the draft. Three of the Broncos' four draft picks were defensive linemen: First-round pick Jarvis Moss of Florida, second-round pick Tim Crowder of Texas, and fourth-round pick Marcus Thomas of Florida. All three of them have the talent to contribute as rookies, and beefing up the defensive line was the top priority of new defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
So does that mean the Broncos did what they needed to do? Not quite. For starters, Moss and Crowder are both undersized ends who are better at rushing the passer than they are at stopping the run. The Broncos already had a young undersized end who's better at rushing the passer than he is at stopping the run in Elvis Dumervil, who led the team in sacks as a rookie in 2006. And big questions surround Thomas; he once looked like a first-round pick, but he got kicked off the team at Florida.
The Broncos' other pick, Notre Dame offensive tackle Ryan Harris, is undersized and has quick feet, which makes Denver seem like the right place for him. He probably won't start right away, but Broncos coach and general manager Mike Shanahan has a certain type of lineman he likes to build his offense around, and Harris fits that type.
When you trade away so many draft picks that you are left with only four, and you use three of those four to bolster one unit, you are obviously not going to fill your needs elsewhere. With longtime middle linebacker Al Wilson gone, the Broncos were widely expected to be in the market for a linebacker, but they didn't draft one. They also could have used a young safety to learn from -- and eventually replace -- John Lynch.
Shanahan belives strongly in giving undrafted players a chance to prove themselves in training camp. Last year, running back Mike Bell went from an obscure undrafted free agent to the top of the depth chart after just a few weeks of August practices. Two of the best players in recent franchise history -- receiver Rod Smith and left tackle Matt Lepsis -- entered the league as undrafted free agents.
Shanahan obviously loved the Florida defensive line: One of the undrafted free agents invited to Denver was Florida defensive tackle Steven Harris. Others include Texas running back Selvin Young, Auburn guard Tim Duckworth, Wisconsin safety Roderick Rogers, and Hampton wide receiver Marquay McDaniel.
There's every reason to believe that LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs' first-round pick, will be in the starting lineup in September. Bowe was the third receiver off the board, and although he isn't the freak of nature that Calvin Johnson is and didn't have as many big plays in college as Ted Ginn did, he looks like a polished, NFL-ready player.
After taking Bowe in the first round, the Chiefs used their other two first-day picks on defensive tackles Turk McBride of Tennessee and Tank Tyler of North Carolina State. It'll be a while before we know if they can play, but it sure sounds cool to have a pair of defensive tackles named Turk and Tank. With two new defensive tackles in the fold, the Chiefs finally said farewell to Ryan Sims, trading Tampa Bay this 2002 draft pick who never lived up to expectations.
Fifth-round pick Justin Medlock of UCLA was the first kicker selected, and he'll enter training camp the favorite to beat out incumbent Lawrence Tynes for the kicking job in Kansas City. Tynes had a shaky 2006 season. He missed what should have been a chip-shot in the playoffs against Indianapolis, which deflated the Chiefs just when they looked like they were building momentum.
The Chiefs' offensive line took a hit when Will Shields retired, so it's surprising that they didn't select a lineman until the sixth round, when they grabbed Texas Christian's Herbert Taylor. Few if any draft analysts see Taylor as a player who can start as a rookie, so the offensive line isn't much better now than it was before the draft.
The Chiefs also didn't take a defensive back even though starters Ty Law and Patrick Surtain are 137 years old. (Each.) The Kansas City Star reported after the draft that the Chiefs' war room was very disappointed when the Giants selected Texas cornerback Aaron Ross, and Ross likely would have been the Chiefs' first-round pick if he had still been available. The Chiefs also considered Tennessee cornerback Jonathan Wade in the third round before going with Tyler instead. No matter the reasons for ending draft weekend without Ross, Wade, or any other new cornerback on the roster, that's still a major need for the Chiefs.
Although he'll enter training camp behind McBride and Tyler in the defensive tackle pecking order, South Carolina nose tackle Stanley Doughty was a good signing for the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. Doughty is an extremely strong 331-pounder who looks like he could step into an NFL defense today and immediately make life miserable for the center across the line from him. Doughty wasn't drafted because he doesn't make much of a dent in the pass rush, but if he can make the team, expect him to play well in the Chiefs' short-yardage defense.
The Raiders drafted 11 players, but this year's draft will be judged, mostly, on the success or failure of JaMarcus Russell. If Russell is a great quarterback in five years, this draft was a major success. If he isn't, it wasn't.
Second-round tight end Zach Miller is a good all-around player who probably dropped a bit on draft boards after a mediocre performance at the combine. Even if he lacks the speed of most NFL tight ends, he should contribute to new coach Lane Kiffin's offense immediately. With its third-round pick Oakland chose defensive end Quentin Moses, who a year ago was seen as a likely top-10 pick but suffered a serious drop after a sub-par senior season.
The Raiders may have had the most activity surrounding fourth-round picks in draft history. They acquired a fourth-round pick in the highest-profile move of draft weekend, exchanging Randy Moss for New England's fourth-rounder. And they drafted Louisville running back Michael Bush, a big-time talent who's coming off a badly broken leg, with their own fourth-round pick.
They also traded a fourth-round pick they had previously acquired in another trade to the Lions for Mike Williams and Josh McCown. (Snapshot of the Matt Millen era in Detroit: He spent the 10th overall pick on Williams, who caught all of 37 passes in a Lions uniform. He spent $4 million on McCown, who never threw a pass in a Lions uniform. He traded those two players and got just a fourth-round pick in return. And this isn't even close to the worst move he's made.)
Does anyone seriously believe the Raiders did enough to improve their offensive line? I don't know about you, but when I watched the Raiders' line last year, I didn't think to myself, "All they need is Mario Henderson." And yet Henderson, a third-round pick out of Florida State, was the only offensive lineman the Raiders picked. Who's going to keep Russell upright?
Among the Raiders' haul of undrafted free agents, the one who at first glance seems to have the best chance of making the team is USC wide receiver Chris McFoy, who already knows Kiffin's offense and is a good all-around player who blocks downfield and can contribute on special teams. Another intriguing undrafted player is Hawaii cornerback Kenny Patton, who in 2005 was one of the few bright spots for Hawaii in a 63-17 loss to USC. Despite giving up five inches, Patton out-leaped Dwayne Jarrett to pick off a Matt Leinart pass in the end zone that day, and that may have made a strong impression on Kiffin.
No general manager has a more impressive draft-day rÃ©sumÃ© than the Chargers' A.J. Smith, but he's been questioned for the way he handled this year's draft. First-round pick Craig Davis, a wide receiver out of LSU, wasn't seen as a first-round pick in the eyes of most analysts, and it seems safe to say that the local fans would have preferred USC's Dwayne Jarrett. And Smith traded a lot (a second-round pick, two third-round picks, and a fifth-round pick) so that he could select safety Eric Weddle of Utah in the second round. Given Smith's track record, he probably knew what he was doing on those choices, but it's hard not to question him for the time being.
Smith's later picks look solid: Fourth-round pick Scott Chandler of Iowa can run, block, and catch, and he has the potential to team with Antonio Gates and give the Chargers a lot of options with two tight ends on the field. Inside linebackers Anthony Waters, a third-round pick out of Clemson, and Brandon Siler, a seventh-round pick out of Florida, will both get a shot at becoming Donnie Edwards' replacement.
San Diego's roster is so stacked that it didn't have many needs in the first place, but some added depth for the defensive line of new coordinator Ted Cottrell would have been helpful, and the Chargers didn't draft any defensive linemen.
The Chargers added 22 undrafted players. San Diego State's Antwan Applewhite, who was a 4-3 defensive end in college but will play 3-4 outside linebacker for the Chargers, looks like one who could make the roster as a special teamer and eventually earn playing time on defense. Applewhite is a good athlete and a good pass rusher. Barry Cryer of Nebraska was overshadowed by linemates Adam Carriker (drafted in the first round by St. Louis) and Jay Moore (drafted in the fourth round by San Francisco), but he looks like a good bet to move from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end and has a fair chance of making the Chargers.
When looking at undrafted free agents, Smith seems to like players who have a connection to the team. That's why Baylor cornerback Anthony Airline is a logical fit: When Airline was at Baylor, Chargers secondary coach Bill Bradley was Baylor's defensive coordinator.
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