Bowl season begins with the unheralded and unranked, but features several tight pre-Christmas matchups.
15 Apr 2011
by Tom Gower
Once upon a time, teams with high picks in the NFL Draft had to choose among several very good players from an undefeated Auburn Tigers team. Perhaps more importantly, they had to decide whether a quarterback who played in a spread scheme could transition successfully to the NFL. Sound familiar? Yes, it's time for a Football Outsiders annual tradition -- a look back at the draft that was six years ago.
At Football Outsiders, 2005 was our second year covering the NFL Draft, and we ramped up our coverage. Beyond the customary Report Card Report, former writers Michael David Smith and Russ Levine put together a mock draft and also previewed some of the top offensive and defensive prospects. Following along on the trip to memory lane and, if you wish, refresh yourself on the picks.
Conventional wisdom: There wasn't the embarrassment of riches there was in 2004, with three potential franchise quarterbacks in the Draft. Instead, you had a top tier of two, one of them an underclassman who played in a funky offense and the other a Jeff Tedford Quarterback who'd have to overcome the stigma of playing for the man who coached both Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller. Some teams weren't convinced there were two quarterbacks in the top tier.
Highest pick: Alex Smith, Utah, first overall to the 49ers.
Best player: Aaron Rodgers sat on the bench behind Brett Favre for three years before getting the chance to start, but in that time he tremendously improved his craft. He improved his throwing motion, his arm strength, and his understanding of the game, taking full advantage of being a rare high draft pick allowed time to develop on the bench. Once he adjusted to moving in the pocket, he became one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and seems poised to continue at the elite level for years to come.
Biggest bust: David Greene, Georgia, 85th overall to the Seahawks. Alex Smith has certainly been a disappointment for the first overall selection, but for most of his tenure, the 49ers would have been a difficult team for anyone to quarterback. Greene, though, was a Tim Ruskell Special, drafted highly because he'd started four years in the SEC and won a lot of games. He's one of only two quarterbacks drafted in the top three rounds during the past 20 years not to attempt a pass in a regular season game (Giovanni Carmazzi, a 2000 third-round selection of the 49ers, is the other).
Best value: Kyle Orton, Purdue, 106th overall to the Bears and Matt Cassel, USC, 230th overall to the Patriots. Perspectives of Orton are skewed due to his poor play early in his career when he was forced into the lineup, but he's since developed into an above-average NFL starter. Opinions of Cassel vary, but even the harshest critics agree he's been an extraordinarily good player for a seventh-round pick.
Conventional wisdom: While there were no sure-fire franchise quarterbacks, there were three outstanding running back prospects. How highly were they regarded? The mock draft at Football Outsiders (Other Motto:
"Running Backs Are Mostly Pretty Fungible") had all three going in the top eight picks. Thunder and Lightning from an undefeated Auburn squad -- Cadillac Williams as the superior runner and Ronnie Brown the more complete back -- and a power back with good speed from Texas in Cedric Benson were each poised to be Top 10 picks. There were also some intriguing backs later in the draft.
Highest pick: Ronnie Brown, second overall to the Dolphins.
Best player: Brown's versatility and role as Wildcat triggerman makes him a good pick and the best of the highly rated backs, even if the Dolphins were probably expecting more than 800 yards rushing and 250 yards receiving a year on average. Lapping him in both categories, though, is Frank Gore.
Gore was yet another in a long line of phenom running backs at the University of Miami, and flashed talent early in his career that made you think he might be better than Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, or Willis McGahee. The injury bug struck him, though, as tore both of his ACLs in college. The 49ers took a risk drafting him at the top of the third round, 65th overall, and he's put up almost 1,600 more rushing yards and 800 more receiving yards than Brown as the focal point for a mostly talent-poor offense.
Biggest bust: The Broncos surprised most of the league by drafting Maurice Clarett, 101st overall with the final pick of the third round on what was then Day One of the draft. Unfortunately, the Broncos apparently neglected to check whether Clarett had actually been working off in his time away from football, and ignored the slow 40-yard dash and doughy physique that indicated he hadn't. The former Buckeye star didn't make it out of training camp.
Best value: Gore is the clear winner here. Also deserving of a mention are two backs drafted in the fourth round by NFC East teams with consecutive picks: Marion Barber, 109th overall to the Cowboys, and Brandon Jacobs, 110th overall to the Giants. Fullback Madison Hedgecock, drafted 251st overall by the Rams, was one of the best players of recent vintage drafted in the final five picks.
Conventional wisdom: As there were three running backs, there were three highly esteemed wide receiver prospects. Former Michigan Wolverine Braylon Edwards was the almost-unquestioned best of those, combining size, athleticism, and speed. Also in the top rank were speedster Troy Williamson from South Carolina and Mike Williams, who'd dropped out of USC when Clarett won at the trial court level and ended up spending the fall of 2004 away from football.
Highest pick: Braylon Edwards, Michigan, third overall to the Browns.
Best player: Roddy White, UAB, 27th overall to the Falcons. It took a couple years, and the acquisition of a shiny new quarterback at the top of the draft, but eventually White the diamond shone through the muck in Atlanta and emerged as one of the top receivers in the league. He's been in the top four in receiving DYAR two of the past three seasons.
Biggest bust: Most years, this would be Troy Williamson, South Carolina, seventh overall to the Vikings, who was supposed to replace Randy Moss, but unfortunately only replaced Moss's production on the plays he didn't seem to be trying. This year, though, it's Mike Williams, ex-USC, 10th overall to the Lions. Opinions on Williams were deeply divided even at the time of the Draft. Mel Kiper had him as the top player, while many NFL teams were skeptical of his very limited track record of production and didn't believe he had the athleticism to be a quality NFL wideout. (Titans general manager Floyd Reese said after the Draft he had Williams graded as a fourth-round pick.) Lions general manager Matt Millen overcame the sunk cost fallacy enough to spend his third Top 10 pick in four years on a wide receiver, only to discover that ... no, Mel Kiper was somehow absolutely wrong.
Williams ranked 78th in DVOA and 76th in DYAR as a rookie, then put up worse numbers in his second and third years before the Lions released him during the 2007 season. The Titans signed him, found out 272-pound receivers who couldn't block weren't very effective, and cut him. He spent two years out of the NFL before re-emerging as a useful player with his former coach at USC Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks, though he did only rank 66th (of 85) in DVOA last season.
Best value: The year did not prove to be a great draft to find productive wide receivers after the first two rounds. Titans third- and fourth-round selections Courtney Roby and Roydell Williams, now of the Saints and Redskins respectively, were the only ones to play in 2010, and they combined for eight receptions last year, all by Williams. If the best value wasn't White, it was Vincent Jackson, Northern Colorado, who went 61st overall to the Chargers. His size and ability to go up for the football proved to be an excellent fit for Philip Rivers' skills, and he ranked in the top four in receiving DVOA and DYAR in both 2008 and 2009 before sitting out much of 2010.
Conventional wisdom: This was not the best tight end class. Heath Miller was clearly the top prospect, and was seen as a fairly complete player – above average in catching and blocking. He wasn't seen, though, as the sort of explosive vertical threat that recent first-round picks Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow were. Beyond Miller, there were no standout prospects.
Highest pick: Heath Miller, Virginia, 30th overall to the Steelers.
Best player: Miller. The conventional wisdom was absolutely right, and he's been exactly what the Steelers expected and needed.
Biggest bust: There two tight ends picked in the third round, "the other" Alex Smith, Stanford, 71st overall to the Buccaneers, and Kevin Everett, Miami, 86th overall to the Bills. Smith was a useful player for the Bucs for a couple years. Everett was primarily a backup for his first two seasons, then suffered a career-ending spine injury on kickoff coverage Week 1 of the 2007 season.
Best value: Bo Scaife, Texas, 179th overall to the Titans. He rivals L.J. Smith as the worst position player ever to receive the franchise tag, is probably the worst player ever to get a raise the year after receiving the franchise tag, and doesn't have any above-average NFL skills, but has still had a much more productive career than any tight end in this class save Miller.
Conventional wisdom: There were two clear top offensive tackles. Jammal Brown of Oklahoma was probably better off at right tackle, while Alex Barron had the feet but not yet the strength and technique to play left tackle.
Highest pick: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma, 13th overall to the Saints.
Best player: Logan Mankins, Fresno State, 32nd overall to the Patriots. The back-to-back Super Bowl champions had a lot of positional flexibility with the last pick of the first round and used it wisely. The reason first-round guards tend to perform so well is because teams generally don't draft guards in the first round unless they are exceptional prospects. Mankins was, and he has become one of the best guards in the league, even if his Pro Bowl nomination this year was ridiculous.
Biggest bust: Alex Barron, Florida State, 19th overall to the Rams. When Barron was inserted into the lineup, he added some much-needed athleticism to a fading Rams offensive line. Unfortunately for Marc Bulger and the other Rams quarterbacks, he quickly turned into the punch line of a joke. "False start, No. 70 on the offense, five-yard penalty, repeat first down. Holding, No. 70 on the offense, 10-yard penalty, repeat third down."
Best value: While it may not have been a good draft to find a receiver in the later rounds, it was an excellent draft to find an offensive lineman in the later rounds. The Titans drafted future left tackle Michael Roos in the second round, then drafted future right tackle David Stewart, Mississippi State, 113th overall. Other offensive linemen drafted in the fourth round or later include Jason Brown, North Carolina, 124th overall to the Ravens; Todd Herremans, Saginaw Valley State, 126th overall to the Eagles; Frank Omiyale, Tennessee Tech, 163rd overall to the Falcons; Geoff Hangartner, Texas A&M, 169th overall to the Panthers; Chris Myers, Miami, 200th overall to the Broncos; Chris Kemoeatu, Utah, 204th overall to the Steelers; and Scott Mruczkowski, Bowling Green, 242nd overall to the Chargers. There aren't many great players in that list, but that's an embarrassment of talent compared to most later rounds.
Conventional wisdom: It was very much like 2011, at least once you got past the first 10 or so picks. There weren't the standout players who will be chosen early this year, but there was an excellent amount of depth, especially when it came to edge rushers.
Highest pick: Travis Johnson, Florida State, 16th overall to the Texans.
Best player: Take your pick of Justin Tuck, Notre Dame, 74th overall to the Giants; Trent Cole, Cincinnati, 146th overall to the Eagles; or Jay Ratliff, Auburn, 224th overall to the Cowboys. Cole has the most sacks, with 57; Ratliff has the most Pro Bowls, with three in a row; and Tuck is the only one to earn All-Pro consideration in more than one season.
Biggest bust: The Texans were hoping Johnson would be the key to their defensive line as a stout run-stopper and excellent pass rusher. He proved instead to be a disappointment whose seeming talent always exceeded his production. He was a better player in San Diego after a 2010 mid-season trade, but he still didn't live up to expectations.
Best value: Most years, Jovan Haye, Vanderbilt, 189th overall, who was a good fit after moving inside to tackle for the Buccaneer's Tampa-Two scheme and then got a big free-agent contract from the Titans, would be a candidate for best value -- but not in the same year as Tuck, Cole, and Ratliff.
Conventional wisdom: It was a good year to find an edge rusher for a 3-4 scheme, as there were both premium prospects and depth. For a 4-3 scheme, Derrick Johnson was an all-around star.
Highest pick: DeMarcus Ware, Troy, 11th overall to the Cowboys.
Best player: It looked for a couple years like this would be Shawne Merriman, Maryland, 12th overall to the Chargers. Merriman had double-digit sacks his first three seasons, but has struggled to remain on the field and show the same explosiveness since then. Ware, meanwhile, has come on and may be the league's best edge rusher.
Biggest bust: Dan Cody, Oklahoma was considered a potential first-round pick and a steal when he went to the Ravens at 53rd overall, but he couldn't stay healthy in the NFL. He missed all of 2005 and 2007 with injuries and didn't find any suitors when the Ravens released him in training camp in 2008.
Best value: Leroy Hill, Clemson, 98th overall to the Seahawks was an unexpected impact player as a rookie for the Seahawks, although he's had some off-field problems the last couple years. The best second day linebacker selection was Michael Boley, Southern Mississippi, 160th overall to the Falcons, even if he hasn't been what the Giants hoped he would be when they signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal in free agency in 2009.
Conventional wisdom: There were three corners who stood out and would end up as the first three defensive players chosen. Antrel Rolle had the Miami pedigree, but some questioned if he'd be able to adapt to NFL rules against physicality and if he might have to move to safety. Adam "Pacman" Jones brought explosive return ability, but lacked ideal size and temperament. Carlos Rogers was in between both Rolle and Jones -- a big corner with good but not great athleticism and less star potential.
Beyond the top three, you could find speed, speed, and more speed if you looked at Stanford Routt, Fabian Washington, and Justin Miller. Marlin Jackson and Corey Webster had played extraordinarily well at college's highest level.
Highest pick: Adam "Pacman" Jones, sixth overall, to the Titans.
Best player: Nick Collins, Bethune-Cookman, 51st overall to the Packers. The top corners worked out relatively close to as expected, with Rolle moving to safety, Rogers becoming good but not great, and Jones, well, being Pacman Jones. Collins, meanwhile, has developed into a standout for the Super Bowl champions.
Biggest bust: It's funny to say a player who ranked at the top of our game charting statistics in 2006 and was the league's best punt returner that same year (yes, even better than Devin Hester) is the biggest bust at his position, but Pacman was a massive headache to the entire Titans organization everywhere but on the field on Sundays for two seasons -- even before his involvement with "making it rain," a Las Vegas shooting and a year-long suspension.
Best value: Gerald Sensabaugh, North Carolina, 157th overall, was a good player for the Jaguars for a couple years before the Cowboys signed him in free agency. Although he's bounced around more than you'd expect, Chris Harris, Louisiana-Monroe, 181st overall, has been a good player for the Bears and Panthers and made the Every Play Counts All-Pro Team as a rookie.
Conventional wisdom: Mike Nugent was the best kicking prospect since at least Sebastian Janikowski, and well-deserving of a high pick if you were the kind of organization that believed in spending high draft choices on kickers and punters.
Highest pick: Kicker Mike Nugent, Ohio State, 47th overall to the Jets.
Best player: Punter Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee, 99th overall to Chiefs. There were five specialists chosen in the Draft. Besides Nugent and Colquitt, the Colts took Dave Rayner in the sixth round as a kickoff specialist, the Rams drafted punter Reggie Hodges in the sixth round, and the Broncos took kicker Paul Ernster in the seventh round. Rayner was cut after his rookie season and Hodges during it, while Ernster actually made it to his third season before being given the heave-ho. Consider Colquitt the default winner.
Biggest bust: Nugent. He wasn't exactly a bad kicker for the Jets, merely average. He made most of the field goals you'd expect a kicker to make, and missed his fair share of the more difficult ones. He had an OK leg on kickoffs -- not great, but not horrible either. He performed like an average NFL kicker, the kind you can find as an undrafted free agent.
Best value: The Tennessee Titans, for drafting left tackle Michael Roos in the second round instead of Nugent and finding Rob Bironas, who's been the kickoff man and placekicker the Jets hoped Nugent would be, in a kicking competition during training camp. No specialist has been drafted in the first three rounds since this Draft, which is as it should be.