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?
02 May 2005
by Ned Macey
Here at Football Outsiders, we prefer to wait six years to discuss the quality of a draft, but since major writers across the country wait six hours to pass judgment, it is entertaining to see what they think. The fact that most writers seem to agree that Dallas and Arizona had great drafts, while the Jets (your first pick, a second rounder, on a kicker?) and Denver did little to improve their team provides little room for debate. More interesting are drafts by those teams where the writers vary wildly on their draft grades. So, without further ado, I present our second annual Draft Grade Review. Last year's debate can be viewed here.
I looked at ten different draft grades that I found online. You can check them out in full at the links below:
Most of the report cards are conventional letter grades. Of note, Jarrett Bell uses what he must feel are clever football analogies that roughly correspond with letter grades A through D. If Ron Borges' grades seem a little off, it may not just be his nature. His grades were issued after only the first day of the draft.
The average grade was computed to be, in the spirit of Dr. Z, a B-/B. The good doctor has a fondness for being unable to commit to a specific grade, preferring instead to add the A/A- option. Rob Rang at NFLDraftScout.com was the easiest grader, while Rick Gosselin was the toughest. Gosselin often failed to give good reasons for his negative grades, so maybe he just went to a college where grade inflation was not the norm.
With ten different opinions, many teams saw grades running the gamut. Half the teams received at least one score of A- or better, while only three teams did not receive a C or lower. Occasionally the writers found some level of agreement. For instance, Washington received a grade in the C range on every single report card. Sorting through the clutter, here are the seven teams where the analysts' views were most divergent along with the grade each writer gave to each team:
Kansas City: Borges and Pompei both gave the Chiefs an A, while Kiper and Bell gave them a C, and Prisco gave them a C-. What caused so much confusion? It appears to be whether or not you counted their acquisition of Patrick Surtain for a second round pick. Pompei applauds the first round selection of Derrick Johnson and adds that "they got a Pro Bowl corner for their second round pick." Kiper, however, despite liking Johnson claims they "did not do enough to help their defense." Prisco does not appear to count the acquisition of Surtain, but he also says he "is not a big fan of Derrick Johnson's play." The other point of contention is their selection of punter Dustin Colquitt in the third round. Kiper calls Colquitt "inconsistent" while Rang says he has "Pro Bowl ability." Pierson knocks them down to a B-, calling taking a punter in the third round a "luxury."
Green Bay: The discrepancy here is all about Aaron Rodgers. Bell understands why they took Rodgers but says it "prevented the choice of an immediate impact player." Rang and Borges cannot overlook the value of getting Rodgers with the 24th pick, and the Rodgers selection is the only thing cited by Maske in giving them an A. The other point of contention is which needs that the Packers addressed. Rang loves the pick of receivers Terrance Murphy in the third round and Craig Bragg in the sixth, while Kiper, who likes Murphy, says the Packers did not need a receiver and that "there is just not enough defensive help in this class." Everyone agrees that second round pick Nick Collins, a cornerback from Bethune-Cookman, was a major reach. I think Pierson may sum it up best: "If Rodgers eventually replaces Favre with any degree of success, it will be a great draft. Grade: C-."
San Diego: The Chargers' draft was mostly players under the radar, and no single debate led to the divergent grades. Kiper liked Shawne Merriman but said "the rest of the players the Chargers selected were taken a little early." Some people disagreed about the selection of Luis Castillo in the first round, but the disagreement was not about his positive steroid test but his quality of play. Rang says Castillo may "prove to be the best defensive lineman in the draft," while Kiper says he "did not have a first-round grade." Dr. Z thought the steroid allegations allowed Castillo to fall to the Chargers where "they weren't afraid to take a chance." Also interesting is second-round wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who Prisco says "will really boost the Chargers' receiving group" but Kiper thinks was a reach because the Chargers were "desperate to add a receiver."
Jacksonville: Nobody really liked Jacksonville's draft, its highest grade was a B+, but some people downright hated it. The reason was their first round selection of workout wonder Matt Jones. Pompei says the rest of the draft was ok, but "Matt Jones ruined it." He gives the Jags a D. Everyone likes the pick of offensive tackle Khalif Barnes in the second round and no other pick received serious complaint, although several expressed concern about third round cornerback Scott Starks who is only 5'8". It all comes back to Jones, who even Rang called the ultimate "boom or bust pick of this draft." Rang gives the Jags' front office the benefit of the doubt, so he gives them a B+. Borges tries to be diplomatic (as best he can) calling Jones "one of the most intriguing guys in the draft." He thinks, however, that Jacksonville had too many other needs to take the risk.
Minnesota: Of the ten graders, Minnesota received seven A's, two B's, and one C-. The reason behind the C- is a critique I am surprised did not come up more often: taking Troy Williamson over Mike Williams. Maske argues against the selection of Williamson, saying "It's football not a track meet." Everyone else seemed to have accepted the pick. Kiper had Williams # 1 on his board, but he just says that Williamson "wowed" Minnesota and gives them a pass. Gosselin says that Williamson "might make them forget Randy Moss." Didn't almost everyone have Williams ahead of Williamson going into the draft? What am I missing? Everyone likes where the Vikings got Erasmus James, with Dr. Z calling him the best outside rusher in the draft.
San Francisco: Most people think San Francisco had a solid draft, but Borges disagreed. He seems to think Alex Smith has too many question marks, from his college offensive system to the failure to negotiate a contract before the draft. He thinks center David Baas and running back Frank Gore were reaches. Rang disagrees, seeing major upside in Smith and in Gore, who suffered several knee injuries in college. Prisco agrees with Rang on Gore, saying he "will be a 1,000 yard rusher early in his career." Dr. Z likes the selections of Baas and Adam Snyder to fortify the line for Smith. Interestingly, despite all of the debate leading up to the draft, only Borges seems to be questioning Alex Smith, and even he does not suggest the 49ers should have taken someone else.
Cincinnati: The Bengals had grades all over the board with much of the discussion about the character of the players. Second round linebacker Odell Thurman and third round receiver Chris Henry both have questionable pasts. Prisco cannot overlook their talent and calls Thurman the best linebacker in the draft. Pompei downgrades them for ignoring character, which he calls "a Bengals' tradition." Dr. Z does not seem to like the brashness of Henry and offers the not-so-encouraging thought that "Chad Johnson will bring him around."
These discrepancies are really the most interesting part of draft report cards, showing where the controversial decisions were made. For the most part, they center on one particular player, generally someone who had impressive pre-draft workouts. In this instance, Troy Williamson, Matt Jones, and Luis Castillo all caused dissension. The never-ending debate between talent and character also caused some differences. Much like the overall grades themselves, nobody knows which writer is right as of today.
Finally, when you put ten different grades together, it gives some idea of the general consensus on who drafted the best. Knowing that this is only for fun, and neither I nor anyone connected with Football Outsiders believes Draft Grades are important, I went ahead and calculated what the average grade was for each team.
To do this, I just converted each grade to a number score in line with the grading scale I had growing up, calculated the average, and turned it back into a letter grade based on the same scale. I went ahead and used the B+/A- for really close scores in honor of Dr. Z. No word on whether this particular homage will lead to my wife's hair turning red. Here are the consensus draft grades for the 2005 draft: