Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
08 May 2007
Guest column by Jake Schumaker
Michael Wilbon called it "a plague on the world of sports." The guy who drafted Mario Williams, former Houston GM Charley Casserly, referred to it as "the most senseless exercise I have seen." Ira Miller introduced his as "one of the silliest exercises in sports." No, not a Texans game. They're referring to the yearly tradition of handing down NFL draft grades. What I want to do is make the process a bit more meaningful for you. You already have David Lewin's college quarterback projection system. You can read about the curse of signing top draft picks. You know how Mel "Insert hair joke here" Kiper Jr. rates. Our fourth annual draft grade review is another tool you can use to help you truly understand the NFL. It breaks down draft marks from 13 authors, examining their average grades and where they most agree and differ.
This year we used draft grades from:
Now, these are sportswriters we're dealing with, so we'll need to take a few steps if we're going to make any sense out of things. First, remember that they actually rate the average draft as above average, about a B-, as they did last year and the year before. Also note that Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin grades the toughest, about a C+ on average, and Sporting News' War Room Scouts is by far the easiest on teams, with a B/B+ average (that was for you, Dr. Z!). I converted the letter grades into numbers (A+ = 4.3, A = 4.0, and so on). Finally, I rate agreement using a simple statistical measure of spread, standard deviation.
So what about the actual draft? The biggest story was the dramatic slip of large-headed Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. In other words, this wasn't the most star-studded draft, especially compared to last year. Still, teams showed up and drafted, and a few aspects of their performance were clear to our subjects, while others were oddly controversial.
The five drafts our panel most agreed on:
Table 1: Agreement Grades
Everyone thinks Cleveland rocked, snagging their top two targets: left tackle Joe Thomas and the aforementioned Quinn, who comes much cheaper than if he'd gone at the top of draft. The Browns' harshest critic, the stingy Gosselin, gives them a B, still praises them for those picks, and says their third pick, UNLV CB Eric Wright, has "first-round talent." Overall, the Browns were the only team to receive two A+s and the only team with no grade below a B.
The Seahawks didn't have a pick until late in the second round, and like other teams without early-round picks, they were punished. John "Czar" Czarnecki and a few others are highest on the Blue Man Group, but with below-average Cs. He thinks they might have reached with their first two picks, Maryland CB Josh Wilson and Cal defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, and notes that their two late-round receiver picks don't seem likely to replace recently traded wideout Darrell Jackson, gone to San Francisco. Kiper gives the same grade, but adds that Mebane and DE Baraka Atkins will be solid "rotation" players on the line.
The Steelers, Rams, and Bengals acquired some solid talent and filled some needs, but our panel docks them for a perceived lack of upside.
Pittsburgh's grades range from just B to C, and one of those low evaluations still notes that they picked up two good fits for either the 3-4 or 4-3 defense in Florida State OLB Lawrence Timmons and Michigan hybrid LB/DE LaMarr Woodley, as well as a possible replacement for veteran Chris Gardocki in big-legged Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda. The graders seem to like most of the picks, but they dock Steelers for a lack of star power and for losing out on Pitt CB Darrelle Revis, whom the Jets jumped them to select.
St. Louis gets similar treatment. Most believe they acquired some starting talent, but no huge improvements or potential superstars. War Room Scouts graded them the highest, with a B+, and Weir gave them the lowest mark, a C. Both agree that Nebraska DE Adam Carriker alleviates some of the Rams' D-line woes, but they differ on the value of Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard, who Weir doesn't see as much of a contributor, at least immediately.
Cincinnati grades out more poorly, but gets high marks for getting Michigan CB Leon Hall with the 18th pick. Silverman likes Hall as "the best cover corner in the draft" and TCU safety Marvin White for his athleticism. Pierson also likes Hall, but doesn't believe second-round Auburn RB Kenny Irons, or any of the other picks, will deliver the Bengals from mediocrity.
That was the easy part. The NFL draft is still a crapshoot, but you can take a small measure of confidence in the aggregate ratings of the preceding five teams. The next part is trickier. I'm going to look at the five teams whose draft our panel disagreed about to see what we can learn from their differing opinions.
The five drafts that generated the most disagreement:
Table 2: Disagreement Grades
"Passing on Brady Quinn was ridiculous." Mel Kiper does not mince words. He's referring, of course, to Miami's decision to draft Ohio State WR Ted Ginn over Quinn, which seemed to be enough for about half of our panel to give the Fins an extremely low grade, from F to D+. ESPN's SportsNation poll, open to anyone with internet access, failed them. My roommate, both a Dolphins and Buckeyes fan, actually shrieked when NFL Commission Roger Goodell announced the pick. What shocked me is how high the other half of the experts are on the selections. War Room Experts gave the Fins a perfect score, an A+. Seriously. They think Ginn, BYU QB John Beck, and Hawaii C Samson Satele are starters. Pierson adds praise for the rest of their picks: Utah DT Paul Soliai, Syracuse LB Kelvin Smith, and Colorado DE Abraham Wright, calling them the "backbone of a superb second day." Pierson and Prisco weren't quite so high, giving out Bs, but both feel that Beck is a quality QB and that although Ginn is not a top-ten pick, he's a good player. Finally, Dr. Z thinks his grade, a B-, may end up being far too low, because Beck is a "Jeff Garcia type with a better arm." I'm surprised to find myself drifting to the optimistic camp. Most of the experts agree that Miami picked good prospects with most of their picks. If they didn't have to pay ninth-pick money to Ginn, this draft would have tremendous upside potential.
The dissension over New England's rating turns on what each draftnik thought of the team's off-season machinations. The Patriots ended up with only one first-day pick after trading away their second-rounder for Dolphins WR Wes Welker and their third-round pick for the Raiders' seventh-round pick and their third-round pick in 2008. Plus, of course, they traded their fourth-round pick to the Raiders for Randy Moss. One group of evaluators loved those moves and said so. Jason Cole said the Patriots were "way ahead of the pack." Pierson went with "ahead of the curve." Prisco said that they clearly "get" the draft. Overall, they are impressed that the Patriots were able to add so much talent to an already powerful team.
Another group of evaluations is far less positive. While most like the trades, they, like Tom Curran, suggest we "stick to draft selections." Everyone thinks Miami FS Brandon Meriweather was a good pick. However, says Curran, they failed to fill holes at linebacker and behind RB Laurence Maroney. Gosselin thinks the lack of day-one picks prevented the team from gaining "momentum." War Room Experts thinks every pick but Meriweather was questionable. Oh, and Dr. Z wouldn't even give them a grade, since he doesn't know which Randy Moss they're getting. Those that like New England's draft have a more consistent set of criteria for evaluating a draft, as they all take into account what the team got in return for their picks, but you have to wonder if the Pats linebacking corps will have to use someone like Monty Beisel, as they did in 2005.
Philadelphia's draft produced plenty of disharmony, and not just among their fans (though they did give them an F). Some don't understand how Houston QB Kevin Kolb, who looks like a project, fills a need, since he won't be a capable backup for Donovan McNabb this year. The Eagles also take criticism for trading their first-round pick to Dallas, who selected talented Purdue DE Anthony Spencer and left the Eagles with less awe-inspiring Notre Dame DE Victor Abiamiri. Others were more positive. Rosenthal trusts Andy Reid's instructs when it comes to passers and "loves" Nebraska OLB Bradley Stewart and Penn State RB Tony Hunt in the third round. War Room Scouts actually gave the Eagles an A, calling Kolb the "heir apparent" to McNabb, and believes Abiamiri and Bradley can start this year. Everyone makes good points about the perennial favorites to make the NFC Championship, but know this: Kiper said Kolb reminds him of Kyle Boller. Unlike other draft analysts online, Kiper has apparently never heard of David Lewin's college quarterback projection system.
Opinions on Denver's draft range from criticism for their apparent desperation, to praise for their ability to find talent throughout the draft. Czar thinks the Broncos made a mistake by overlooking "huge character issues" with their two picks from Florida, DE Jarvis Moss and DT Marcus Thomas. Conversely, War Room believes they filled huge holes on the Denver line and calls Thomas "the most talented DT in the draft." Dr. Z gives them a D- for the character issues and compares Marcus Thomas, twice kicked off the team, to another Mike Shanahan gamble, Maurice Clarett. While opinions are mixed, it reflects concern over the player's makeup rather than their play. Hear that, Mr. Goodell?
Our final subject, Tennessee, also spawned a wide variety of judgments, but the disagreement had more to do with the talent of the players and how they fit on the team than any off-the-field problems like with Denver. Rick Gosselin, a relatively harsh grader, gives them one of his four As. He thinks they found good players with every pick without reaching. In particular, he thinks NC State C Leroy Harris, Texas Tech WR Joel Filani, and Purdue OT Michael Otto were "steals."
Most of the rest of the panel is scattered around C or D. They do not understand why a team with many needs went with Texas FS Michael Griffin. Miller speaks for the crowd when he says he sees plenty of upside in second-round pick Arizona RB Chris Henry but thinks the Titans could have done better by filling another need with a more consistent college player. Third-round pick Fresno State WR Paul Williams, fourth-rounder Florida State WR Chris Davis, and Filani may develop into competent targets for Vince Young, but Prisco and Czar are the only two that see much upside beyond that. Kiper calls them "good, but not great." Tennessee is a case of a team with many picks, eight, and many needs, and not everyone was impressed. Still, most see either upside or depth, which belies their low average rating.
Like your guidance councilor, we've given each team a GPA by turning the grades into numbers. USA Today's Tom Weir scored drafts using a star system, from one to four, which made his analysis look something like the Pleiades.
(A+ = 4.3, A = 4, B+ = 3.3, B = 3, B- = 2.7, C+ = 2.3, C = 2, C- = 1.7, D+ = 1.3, D = 1, D- = .7, F = 0).
Jake Schumaker is a student at Northwestern University. Like Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, he plays to win the games.
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