Part II of our injury series: Do some injuries become more common later in the NFL season? And has the NFL succeeded in cutting down on concussions?
29 May 2007
by Ned Macey
The key for the Bears this season is the development of Rex Grossman, and they tried to help their young quarterback by nabbing top tight end Greg Olsen in the first round. The latest in a string of excellent University of Miami tight ends, Olsen's receiving skills are much more developed than his blocking ones. He is a bit of a workout warrior, as his production at Miami was not exactly awe-inspiring. He only caught one touchdown pass last season, showing that, unlike some tight ends, his value may come in between the twenties.
The Bears took defensive end Dan Bazuin in the second round, a pick that is more about the quality of the player than a specific team need. Bazuin was a playmaker at Central Michigan, and time will tell if that translates to higher competition. For now, this pick and the ascension of Mark Anderson into the starting lineup could spell the end of Alex Brown's tenure in Chicago. The third round netted another highly productive MAC product in running back Garrett Wolfe. The depth chart behind Cedric Benson is fluid, and Wolfe could see substantial playing time. Wolfe does not have a great deal of receiving experience, but he showed good potential in mini-camp. With the very next pick in the draft, the Bears took out Lance Briggs insurance in Michael Okwo, a speedy, undersized linebacker who should fit in well on the weak side.
The draft's second day brought two offensive linemen and three defensive backs. Fourth-round guard Josh Beekman from Boston College was the highest lineman picked by the Bears since Marc Colombo in the first round in 2002. Beekman could immediately compete with Ruben Brown and eventually replace center Olin Kreutz. Tackle Aaron Brant from Iowa State is athletic and could develop. The Bears re-scouted previously fruitful terrain for defensive backs, grabbing safety Kevin Payne from Louisiana-Monroe and Corey Graham from New Hampshire, the alma maters of Chris Harris and Jerry Azumah respectively. Payne has potential as an excellent run-stuffing safety. Graham, like Azumah, is an excellent return man, but with Devin Hester on board, he will be more important as a cornerback -- where he should be a natural for the Cover-2 system. Trumaine McBride, an undersized corner from Mississippi, rounded out the draft.
It is too easy to say quarterback here, but the Bears had no shot at finding a definite upgrade on Grossman and were probably wise to stay put at this point. More noticeable is the failure to draft a wide receiver. Muhsin Muhammad is 34 years old, and Mark Bradley has battled injuries since he was drafted in 2005. Olsen is a nice addition, but Grossman will not develop if Rashied Davis and Mike Hass are seeing extensive playing time. Depending on Tank Johnson's treatment by the authoritarian Roger Goodell, the Bears could also use more depth at defensive tackle.
The Bears' undrafted free agents had bigger resumes than most of their draft picks. Chris Leak was quarterback of National Champion Florida and had a solid mini-camp. Time will tell if he's more successful than the last Gator quarterback to join the Bears. All-time Division I-AA touchdown leader David Ball, a wide receiver from New Hampshire, could certainly stick given the aforementioned lack of receiver depth. (Remember that the previous all-time Division I-AA touchdown leader was some guy named Jerry Rice.) Leak and Ball have the big names and fill in positions of need, but one of the less-touted players with intriguing upside is tight end Fontel Mines, who is undersized but could develop into a receiving threat. He would be even more interesting if he was Fontel Mines from the Colorado School of Mines, but he's actually from Virginia.
Matt Millen has received few plaudits in his career as a general manager, but remember that time in 2004 when he traded down one spot in the first round, picked up a second-round pick and still drafted Roy Williams? Millen waited for another sweetheart deal with the second pick this year. It turns out Mike Ditka is no longer running a team, so Millen stayed put and took Calvin Johnson. Johnson, Williams, and Mike Furrey could make up one of the top wide receiver corps in football and will certainly make life easier for Jon Kitna.
Millen got active in the second round, jumping up and down the round to get three second-round picks. First, the Lions selected their "quarterback of the future" in Michigan State product Drew Stanton. Second-round quarterbacks not named Drew Brees rarely turn out well, so the odds are against Stanton. Stanton is unlikely to emerge as merely competent, as he has the tools to be a star but lacks the consistency and accuracy to even start. If he develops into a starter, he could be outstanding, but he is a risky pick near the beginning of the second round. Defensive end Ikaika Alma-Francis from Hawaii fills arguably the Lions' top defensive need and is a talented pass rusher. Safety Gerald Alexander out of Boise State seems to be a bit of a reach.
The Lions shipped off Josh McCown and Mike Williams for a fourth-round pick and converted them into A.J. Davis, a cornerback from North Carolina. Davis joins a very shallow depth chart and could compete immediately for time as a nickel corner, which may be his future given his undersized frame. They also drafted guard Manuel Ramirez from Texas Tech, an enormous player who lacks great mobility and may not be able to deal with the athletic defensive linemen in the NFL. The draft closed with linebacker Johnny Baldwin from Alabama A&M and cornerback Ramzee Robinson from plain old Alabama. Baldwin is an intriguing prospect who may have the coverage skills to excel at middle linebacker in the Tampa-2. Robinson was Mr. Irrelevant and is the type of prospect that spot usually implies.
The Lions had major needs at linebacker, offensive line, and cornerback that were not addressed until the second day with players unlikely to contribute this season. Even after the selection of Baldwin, linebacker depth is a major problem. While not the highest priority on a team, the Lions' tight end depth chart is extremely skimpy, with Dan Campbell and Casey Fitzsimmons topping the depth chart.
For the past several seasons, Calvin Johnson's talent has been stifled by the erratic play of quarterback Reggie Ball. Now, Ball joins Johnson as a wide receiver on the Lions. Ball only got an invite to rookie mini-camp, not a contract. He is not the athlete that either Matt Jones or Antwaan Randle El is and is a longshot to make the team. Tight end George Cooper makes it a Tech triumvirate, and he has a decent shot of making the team due to his blocking ability.
Brett Favre was not happy with the draft. He did not get the "weapon" he so desperately wanted. The Patriots acquired Randy Moss for a measly fourth-round pick. The Packers' fourth-rounder was used on Allen Barbre, an offensive linemen from Missouri Southern State who is unlikely to contribute until Favre has happily retired in Mississippi. Of course, the fact that a team's biggest star did not like the draft does not mean it was a bad draft.
First-round defensive tackle Justin Harrell has amazing physical skills but battled injuries in his senior season. The Packers were widely considered to have "reached" for Harrell with the 16th selection, but Harrell also has been said to have "top ten" talent. Once running back Marshawn Lynch was off the board, no running back was worthy of a first-round pick. The Packers' next biggest need was arguably defensive tackle, and Harrell could contribute immediately.
With Lynch gone, the Packers targeted Brandon Jackson of Nebraska. They traded down in the second round to take him. Most draft prognosticators had multiple backs that Green Bay could have taken ranked higher. So, Jackson, even more than Harrell, becomes the key pick of this draft by Ted Thompson. If he is the best fit for the Packers' system -- and he ran in a similar zone-blocking scheme in college -- then this draft could be surprisingly productive. After an outstanding draft last season, Thompson should get the benefit of the doubt.
Favre finally got a receiver with third-round pick James Jones from San Jose State. He projects as more of a possession receiver due to average speed. Fifth-round receiver David Clowney from Virginia Tech may have more upside than Jones and is a deep threat. Third-round safety Aaron Rouse, also from Virginia Tech, is a former linebacker who may not have the speed to be a consistent safety but should provide good run support.
Besides Barbey and Clowney, the second day netted two linebackers, Korey Hall and Desmond Bishop; kicker Mason Crosby; running back DeShawn Wynn; and tight end Clark Harris. Hall and Bishop will be mostly special teamers behind an established linebacker corps. Crosby could make a run at Dave Rayner, who is not sufficiently accurate as a kicker. Wynn, the talented back from Florida, will have an uphill battle to make the team, but if he puts it together he will be a major bargain.
The Packers filled defensive tackle running back, and wide receiver needs with their first three picks, but they did nothing to address their glaring lack of depth at cornerback. Behind veterans Al Harris and Charles Woodson, the Packers have the underwhelming trio of Will Blackmon, Patrick Dendy and Frank Walker. The Packers also did not touch their thin tight end position until the selection of Harris in the seventh round.
The Packers added a handful of undrafted free agents. Quarterback Jerry Babb broke several Jake Delhomme records at Louisiana-Lafayette. Babb will compete with Ingle Martin for the third quarterback position. The player with the best shot for the team may be Ryan Powdrell, a fullback from Southern California. Brandon Miree is the starter, but he is not a great player, and veteran William Henderson was released.
When Adrian Peterson fell to the seventh spot, the Vikings snatched up one of the draft's top talents. The status of his injured collarbone led to his fall and likely will determine whether or not this was a wise pick. The good news is that despite pre-draft reports to the contrary, Peterson will not need surgery before the season. Peterson has the potential to be one of those rare running backs who is not a product of his offensive line. Obviously, he also has a history of injuries and will be of little use on injured reserve. Unfortunately, Peterson will likely have only a minor impact this season, as he is only a moderate upgrade over Chester Taylor, and the lingering injuries could lead him to be broken in slowly.
Peterson was not a need pick, but the Vikings quickly turned to filling needs with their next four picks. The second round netted Sidney Rice, a speedy but unpolished receiver from South Carolina. The third round found Marcus McCauley, an excellent pick at cornerback, who will provide depth behind Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin. Rush defensive end Brian Robinson came in the fourth, a must-have given the Vikings poor pass rush. The Vikings added wide receiver Aundrae Allison in the fifth round. Allison, like Rice, is a burner who is unrefined. He has intriguing physical skills but is likely several years away from contributing.
The Vikings did finally add a quarterback to their current depth chart of Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger, but seventh rounder Tyler Thigpen out of Coastal Carolina is hardly likely to revolutionize the position. Thigpen had a very good senior year but is undersized and only has the one good season. The draft was rounded out with linebacker Rufus Alexander and another wide receiver, Chandler Williams. Alexander, at least, was highly productive in college.
The Vikings' primary need remains quarterback, but they obviously disagree with that assessment. The quantity-over-quality approach to wide receiver is also a unique strategy. The Vikings opted to fill their safety needs through free agency â€“ signing Mike Doss and re-signing Tank Williams â€“ rather than adding an impact player in the draft. The right side of the offensive end may depend on the development of Ryan Cook, a 2006 draftee. Overall, the offensive line is not the unit the Vikings hope it is, and it is a little surprising to see them completely ignore it in the draft.
The Vikings signed 15 undrafted free agents. None are exactly big names that generate fan interest. Michigan State offensive lineman Kyle Cook is an interesting player who could add depth. Southern Illinois tight end Braden Jones has excellent physical skills but never produced until his last season. Safety Jeremy Burnett from South Florida has decent cover skills and could stick.
Well, that's it for Four Downs. Bring on the dead period of the NFL schedule! Seriously, now -- well, late this week, when the book is finished -- is an excellent time to submit a guest column, especially something fun or historical. E-mail your idea or rough draft to mailbag-at-footballoutsiders.com. We're also planning on putting together some articles over the next two months with bits and pieces of data from game charting that didn't make it into the book. -- Aaron Schatz
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