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?
20 May 2008
by Ned Macey
The Broncos struggled mightily both running the ball and stopping the run during the 2007 season. This draft was obviously dedicated to the offensive side of the problems. First-round pick Ryan Clady from Boise State should step in immediately for retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle. Clady is very athletic, although he appears more polished in pass protection than run blocking to date. If he can start immediately at left tackle, it also frees last year's third-round pick, Ryan Harris, to support other areas of the line.
Clady was the big-ticket item for this year, but the Broncos also added center Kory Lichtensteiger from Bowling Green in the third round and running backs Ryan Torain from Arizona State and Peyton Hillis from Arkansas in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. Drafted running backs by the Broncos gain immediate interest in fantasy circles, and Torain is intriguing. He is a physical runner who seems well-suited to the one-cut Denver system. Hedropped in the draft because of a Lisfranc injury suffered his senior year, but he has enormous sleeper potential. Hillis is more of a fullback/H-back type, but could be used creatively as a receiver out of the backfield.
The most questionable decision was the Broncos' selection of wide receiver Eddie Royal with their second-round pick. A Virginia Tech product, Royal is extremely fast but very raw as a receiver. Basically, he is a return man with receiver potential. The selection of Royal over the similar skill-set but larger hype of DeSean Jackson will certainly bear scrutiny. The NFL's new fascination with return men high in the draft is a little disconcerting. Just because Devin Hester is a once-in-a-generation type of player does not make every fast guy worthy of a second-round pick.
Defensively, the Broncos did not make a move until their fourth selection, No. 148 overall, when they grabbed Kent State cornerback Jack Williams. Again, Denver emphasized speed with this selection at the expense of both size and possibly technique. The other pick who may have an impact this season is defensive tackle Carlton Powell, a solid run-stuffer from Virginia Tech.
The Broncos are never shy about jumping into the veteran acquisition market's bargain bin. They have been rather active since we last saw them in our draft preview. The biggest impact play is likely the acquisition of Dewayne Robertson from the Jets in exchange for a conditional 2009 draft pick. The bargain is a good one, as Robertson has some talent and seems suited for the 3-4. He is not a great solution to the Broncos' run defense woes, but he seems clearly worth the gamble of a midround 2009 pick.
The Broncos also added a couple of mediocrities to compete for the second or third wide receiver positions: Darrell Jackson, last seen as a productive receiver two years ago in Seattle, and Samie Parker, last seen as a productive receiver five years ago for the University of Oregon. They also signed Dylan Gandy, late of Indianapolis, to provide depth at guard.
The Broncos addressed all of their needs in some fashion in the offseason, so they have no unaddressed holes. Some would question their solution of Robertson and middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides as a full solution for the run defense woes, but at least it will get D.J. Williams back to outside linebacker. One unfilled hole is placekicker, where the Broncos wisely let Jason Elam walk but appear to be relying on the very unproven Matt Prater, who lost his job to Morten Andersen in Atlanta last season.
The Broncos signed seven rookie free agents, and several have a chance to make the team. The most likely candidates are Oklahoma kicker Garrett Hartley and Toledo punter Brett Kern. Hartley's only competition is Prater, while Kern is contending with Sam Paulescu.
The Broncos also added University of Houston running back Anthony Alridge, who averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry last season and had one of the best 40-yard times at the Combine. He is very undersized, but given the success that Selvin Young had last year, Aldridge is certainly intriguing. The Broncos also may find a place for offensive lineman Mitch Erickson from North Dakota State.
The early returns are that the Chiefs had the greatest draft in the history of time. They landed defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey AND offensive tackle Branden Albert AND cornerback Brandon Flowers AND running back Jamaal Charles AND tight end Brad Cottam AND safety DaJuan Morgan? That is six players in the first three rounds. Amazing! Of course, to acquire some of this talent, they shipped their best player, Jared Allen, to Minnesota.
The trade for Allen netted the Vikings' the 15th overall selection, which became Albert, as well as the 10th and 19th selections in the third round, which became Charles and Morgan. Before we get into these prospects, let us consider what history shows us they are likely to receive. The three picks were 15, 73, and 82. Let us see who was selected with those picks in the first five drafts of the decade.
|Year||Pick 15||Pick 73||Pick 82|
|2000||Deltha O'Neal||Ron Dixon||Leander Jordan|
|2001||Rod Gardner||Eric Westmoreland||Heath Evans|
|2002||Albert Haynesworth||Will Witherspoon||James Allen|
|2003||Jerome McDougle||Wayne Hunter||Ricky Manning|
|2004||Michael Clayton||Keith Smith||Devard Darling|
Needless to say, that is an extremely mixed bag and should temper some of the amazing optimism surrounding the Chiefs' draft. Securing six picks in the first three rounds, and two among the first 15 picks, is a recipe for praise from draft evaluators. The Chiefs turned those picks into Albert and Charles, highly touted players in draftnik circles. The three-pick haul for Allen was sizable given the current market, but remember that draft picks, even well-regarded picks, are far from a guarantee.
Pessimism aside, the draft haul was impressive on several fronts. Dorsey has minor injury concerns, but if he remains healthy, he is almost a sure thing. The selection of Flowers is also solid, as the cornerback is very smart and technically sound, and his lack of speed should be protected in the Tampa-2. Charles also provides a solid backup running back who Herm Edwards will hopefully use to spell Larry Johnson.
The difference between a solid draft and an outstanding draft is Albert. A late riser up draft boards, Albert played guard in college but projects as a left tackle in the NFL. His athletic talent is not doubted, but some scouts hesitate to assume that he can play left tackle just because his measurables say he can. If Albert becomes an above-average left tackle, then this draft is a serious winner. If he cannot handle it, he becomes an overpaid guard.
Among the later draft picks, the most intriguing is wide receiver William Franklin from Missouri. The Chiefs are extremely thin at wide receiver -- Devard Darling currently is the No. 2 wideout -- so Franklin should be able to make the team. He has excellent speed and also the ability to play slot receiver. The Chiefs have not had a solid third receiver in years, and Franklin has the chance to grow into that third option.
Is it too easy to write "the offense?" The team left its quarterback position unresolved. The Chiefs believe (or at least hope) that Brodie Croyle is the long-term answer, but Croyle arguably has the least potential of any current NFL starting quarterback. Further, Croyle does not have a particularly talented receiving corps. Despite Franklin's potential, the Chiefs still have extreme weakness at wide receiver. Behind the exceptional Dwayne Bowe, they have Darling, Franklin, and Jeff Webb. The offensive line still has enormous holes, with only guard Brian Waters, Albert, and maybe tackle Damion McIntosh as assets.
Defensively, the Chiefs have fewer holes, but they lack depth at the safety position behind two young and unproven starters, Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard, relying primarily on John McGraw or the rookie Morgan. They also have a questionable pass rush after the departure of Allen.
The Chiefs, aware they still have holes, signed 17 rookie free agents. They do know their own weaknesses, at least. They added three defensive ends, including Jonal Saint-Dic from Michigan State and Johnny Dingle from West Virginia. They also added three wide receivers, including big, physical Jabari Arthur from Akron and undersized Luke Swann from Wisconsin.
One year ago, in the postdraft Four Downs on the NFC North, I questioned the impact Adrian Peterson would have on the Vikings. They already had Chester Taylor and showed many other glaring needs. Of course, Peterson had an extraordinary rookie season and put Minnesota on the cusp of the playoffs.
One year later, I would like to prove that I do not learn from my mistakes. The Raiders' decision to draft Darren McFadden is only a good idea if he has a similar impact. The Raiders had one effective facet of their team last season: their running game. They re-signed Justin Fargas this offseason after he proved he could be a quality running back. Teams constantly demonstrate that they do not need a high pick to have a productive running back.
Yet the Raiders still spent the fourth overall selection on McFadden. For another team -- say the Jets at No. 6 -- McFadden would have been a great pick. The selection was even more galling because the Raiders passed on Glenn Dorsey, who could have solidified their biggest weakness, run defense. McFadden has the chance to be a very special player, so I could be proven wrong again, but the selection was certainly questionable on some levels.
The emphasis on McFadden is in large part because he was the Raiders draft. They did not pick again until the fourth round and only selected four other players. Among those, they took two wide receivers, Arman Shields from Richmond and Chaz Schilens from San Diego State. Both players exhibit a great deal of athletic talent. Most likely to make an impact this season is fourth-round pick Tyvon Branch from Connecticut, who probably will play safety for the Raiders. The only lineman they added was defensive end Trevor Scott from Buffalo.
Not running back and cornerback. Really, the Raiders still have enormous needs despite profligate spending. Their offensive line deserves credit for the impressive running performance last year, but they are not exactly an elite unit. The two starting receivers, Javon Walker and Ronald Curry, both have long injury histories. The defensive line features big expenditures in Tommy Kelly and Derrick Burgess but has little depth and little ability to play the run.
If you only have five draft picks, you better do a good job with undrafted free agents. The Raiders signed seven undrafted players. One potential keeper is Northwestern cornerback Marquice Cole, who has good speed and could be a solid return man. Also keep an eye on beefy defensive tackle Larry Brown out of Oklahoma State. Their only offensive lineman added was Eddie Keele, who is recovering from an ACL injury but has upside.
The Chargers had a stacked roster, but few draft picks. One solution would be to draft for possible holes in the future. Instead, the Chargers directly addressed the minor holes they had, and with that showed that they really think 2008 could be their year.
In the offseason, the team's key losses were nickelback Drayton Florence, running back Michael Turner, and fullback Lorenzo Neal. (They let Marlon McCree go because they had better options, not because they could not afford him.) So with their first pick, the Chargers selected cornerback Antoine Cason from Arizona. Cason is an ideal fit as a third cornerback. His weaknesses are run support and pure speed, but he should hold up well in the slot.
The Chargers' next selection addressed the loss of both Turner and Neal. Jacob Hester is a bruising running back from LSU who can punish a defense. Hester also could be used as an undersized fullback. The Chargers are deemphasizing the fullback position in their offense, and Hester could play both backup tailback and short-yardage fullback. Just in case Hester does not translate as a halfback, the Chargers added Marcus Thomas from UTEP with their next selection.
They closed their draft with cornerback DeJuan Tribble from Boston College and offensive tackle Corey Clark from Texas A&M.
The Chargers have no holes in their starting lineup. Their starting 22 is arguably the best in football, but they could have depth issues, particularly on the offensive line and at safety.
The Chargers roster is pretty much set, so this is not the best place to get a tryout as an undrafted free agent. Of course, the team likely touts the success of Antonio Gates in minicamp, but he was a different talent joining a different Chargers team. Still, San Diego takes the process seriously, adding 17 rookie free agents. The most intriguing may be offensive tackle Tyler Luellen from Missouri. Many thought Luellen would be drafted, and he fills a position that lacks depth on the Chargers.
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