Bill Connelly takes a look at the early-season S&P+ outliers and whether his eyeballs agree or disagree with the stats. Spoiler: Alabama is underrated. Alabama! Underrated!
04 May 2006
Guest column by Bill Barnwell
The best time to judge a draft, undoubtedly, is only hours after the draft has been completed. With this in mind, newspapers and websites from around the country put some of the nation's finest football writers on a deadline to grade every team's draft by Monday morning. These grades, juxtaposed, tend to reveal inconsistencies. Now, I know that it's somewhat heretical to imply that some writers are basing their grades on hearsay, biased scouting reports, or the half-hour they caught of a N.C. State game on ESPN2 this year while trying to study algebra with their fifth grader. On the other hand, if you believed everything they said, you'd have never gone outside. The third annual Draft Grade Review (2005 version here, 2004 version here) continues the Football Outsiders tradition of looking at â€“ and loving â€“ the disconsensus.
I drew results from eight different draft grades:
The average grade amongst all writers was about a B-; Jarrett Bing, as appears to be his wont, ranked the drafts on a four point system based around some vague concept of showtime and/or audition. Maybe it had something to do with the creepy faux-Merovinigian guy who ESPN thought would be a good idea for their opening. The lowest draft grades came from the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin, who was also the toughest grader last year; the friendliest graders were Dan Pompei and Pete Prisco. Pompei's warmth, undoubtedly, is due to his recent miraculous avoidance of relegation.
Gosselin, much as Ned Macey noted last year, doesn't really offer reasons for why he hands out such low grades; for example, take this comment on Baltimore, who received the standard Gosselin grade of a â€˜C': "Ray Lewis has been squawking about not having enough protection at middle linebacker. The Ravens addressed that by selecting the biggest defensive tackle on the board in Ngata." The Jets, who received the same grade, appeared to do well enough for themselves: "The Jets had the best first round, selecting the draft's top left tackle (Ferguson) and center (Mangold) as walk-in starters on one of the NFL's worst offensive lines. Eric Smith brings attitude and toughness to the defense." If only Mario had been that stifling!
The other highlight of the individual team grades was Ron Borges' (insert requisite Richard Seymour quote here) A-/D- grade for the Titans' draft, writing, "If Young and White fulfill their potential this could be a legendary draft. If they don't, it will be an infamous draft." In this vein, I propose that next year, every team is assigned an A-/D- grade depending upon whether their players fulfill their potential or not.
Only five drafts graded out as B+ or better on average:
(Ed. note: Wow, I'm so busy on the book I didn't even notice ... did Dr. Z finally give up on his ridiculous "A-/B+, B+/B" grading system this year and actually decide that three levels of each letter were enough?)
Arizona's draft was seen, almost across the board, as the best in show for the second year running. Even Mel Kiper's relatively low â€˜B' grade was separated, by him, into an â€˜A' for the first day and a â€˜C' for the second, where he expected them to take more offensive linemen. Kiper's tempered enthusiasm for the otherwise-stars of the draft extended to New Orleans, who he criticized for grabbing safety Roman Harper in Round 2 when he felt they needed a cornerback and linebacker more. Mark Maske, meanwhile, criticized Cleveland for only getting to move up nine spots in Round 2 as part of the Jeff Faine trade; considering the difference in pick value was a high fourth round selection, it doesn't seem like too awful a return for a player who, really, the team had no leverage to work with for trading purposes. You may notice Gosselin's glowing opinion of the Browns' draft; he said about it, "The Browns found quality in every round. They took Pac-10 rushing champion Harrison in the fifth and the draft's best fullback in the sixth. Wimbley and Jackson give Romeo Crennel starting linebackers in his 3-4 defense." Looking at that and the Jets' reviews, I think I'd rather have the C draft myself.
And now, the exciting part. Here are the six drafts that inspired the most dissension:
Houston: As you might expect, Houston's move to draft Mario Williams over Reggie Bush inspired a divergence of opinions. Jarrett Bell asked, "Will Williams be better compared to Sam Bowie or Bruce Smith?", a question that will undoubtedly be on the forefront of everyone's mind when Williams grows six more inches, loses all pigment, and fails to develop a jump hook. Dr. Z said, "â€¦the frosting on the cake was owner Bob McNair telling the New York press that it wasn't the fact that they couldn't sign Bush as much as a desire to draft for defense. Respectfully, sir, may I remind you that you were not addressing town folks. This was The Apple.", which I guess assumes that the Houston press are much more gullible. Maybe Dr. Z hasn't read the Post recently. Everyone loved the pick of OT Eric Winston in the third round, and gave credit to the Texans for all their non-Williams picks.
Denver: Draftniks were split on the pick of Jay Cutler. Gosselin noted that Cutler could be "The Ben Roethlisberger of 2006", which begs the question of who Ben Roethlisberger may be next year. Meanwhile, Prisco named Cutler Denver's worst selection, saying "They must really like Jay Cutler. But this is a team built to win now. So why waste a pick on a project quarterback?" Considering Jake Plummer had the league's fifth-highest DVOA last season, Prisco may have a point. Everyone except Prisco liked the move for Javon Walker, which is strange considering Prisco's comment about Cutler.
Green Bay: Bell, like some of the ESPN analysts during the draft, compared Hawk to a Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher-type player, which ignores the fact that they play inside linebacker as opposed to outside. Most everyone declared Hawk to be the safest pick of the draft, with Gosselin noting that Hawk had "â€¦arguably the best intangibles". I'm not really sure how that argument would go. Everyone also linked Hawk to third-round pick Abdul Hodge as the core of Green Bay's defense for years to come, in what would be a nifty move for Hodge if there was no rookie salary cap.
Baltimore: Besides the aforementioned strange Gosselin comment about the Ravens, people seemed to generally like the Ravens' draft. Dr. Z, as you might expect, loved the concentration on line play: "You bet I like drafts that lead off with two big guys, DT Haloti Ngata, 338 pounds, and they say he still has some growing to do (Did I ever tell you why I really like King Kong? Because there's a guy who won't take any guff from the airlines), and Chris Chester, an athletic center who pulls out and leads plays. " The biggest hater was Mark Maske, who wrote "First-round DT Haloti Ngata helps (Ray Lewis can't blame his performance on the play of those in front of him anymore), but there wasn't much overall sizzle." Some say that the draft lacked overall sizzle, but Pompei says the draft will yield multiple starters, while Prisco notes that the Ravens are a team that "â€¦always drafts well." Several people pointed out the pick of Demetrius Williams as being a likely steal, Prisco comparing him to Outsiders favorite Keenan McCardell in his polish. Are skill position players more likely to be pointed out as steals because they're more likely to be noticed in a fleeting moment of success (i.e. a long TD pass) than other players?
Chicago: Dr. Z was quite hurt by Jerry Angelo not returning his phone calls in what was the real highlight of any of the draft grade articles. Despite liking the Bears' picks, he gave them a D. The variance in grades here was an analysis of whether you liked the Bears' selections or not; the high point seemed to only be a B because no one liked the Bears picking entirely for defense. Worth noting is that the Bears did not pick any linebackers in the draft, which would seemingly indicate that they are going to make an effort to lock up Lance Briggs. Both Kiper and Pompei really liked the pick of DE Mark Anderson in the fifth round.
Buffalo: Strangely enough, everyone seems to agree on the Bills draft. Everyone thinks they reached with Donte Whitmer, and almost everyone feels the same way about John McCargo (and giving up a third to move up and grab him). That being said, everyone also thinks their picks of Ashton Youboty and Ko Simpson were excellent. Borges took a nice little shot with, "Marv Levy looked like what he was Saturday â€” a guy running his first draft at the age of 80." Maske criticized them for not picking Leinart, but that seems just a little bit harsh towards J.P. Losman, who has all of eight career starts.
Finally, here are the average grades amongst the eight draft reviewers for all 32 teams:
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