One of the NFL's best receivers notched a -2.3% DVOA last year. Does a target-by-target breakdown show he was better than that?
29 Apr 2009
by Vince Verhei
The Steelers built their Super Bowl champion squad on a foundation of long-term planning. Of their 22 starters last season, 20 were drafted by Pittsburgh, but only four -- Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Darnell Stapleton, and Casey Hampton -- started 10 or more games in their rookie years. The rest were brought in via the draft and promptly placed on the bench. They were developed slowly, not thrown to the wolves. Other perennial playoff contenders like the Colts and Eagles draft similarly, for the future, not for the upcoming season.
With that in mind, it's silly to try to evaluate a draft mere days after players have been selected -- but that doesn't stop everyone under the sun from trying. Rather than throwing out yet another collection of alphabet soup at you, we've collected the grades of some of the Internet's most popular draft evaluators to try to find a wisdom of the masses. For the sixth year in a row (here are the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 versions), we've compiled and compared the draft grades of various experts to see which drafts were most popular.
Our draft graders this year:
One grader presented us with a difficult assignment. In a fairly pretentious move, SI.com's Tucker sorted his draft evaluations into descriptive groups rather than mere letter grades, as if "Loved It" is substantially different than "A+." It's not always clear which groups should rank higher, but after reading his text, we have translated his categories into letter grades thusly:
With that out of the way, it was just a matter of converting all the grades into grade point averages (counting an F as an 0.0, a D as a 1.0, all the way to 4.3 for an A+) and looking at which teams averaged the highest and lowest grades. We've also looked at the most polarizing grades, as measured by the standard deviation of all grades, to see which teams caused the most disagreement.
Highest Grade: A+, Pete Prisco
Lowest Grade: B-, Mel Kiper, Charles Robinson
Comments: Tucker has high praise for new Eagles Jeremy Maclin ("arguably the best receiver in the draft") and LeSean McCoy ("the most elusive and pure runner [in the draft]"). Czarnecki writes that Maclin was the top receiver on the draft boards of 18 teams. The Eagles also get points for trading picks to acquire tackle Jason Peters and defensive back Ellis Hobbs, causing Weisman to simply write "Wow." The Eagles scored top to bottom; under "Questionable Move," Prisco writes "Hard to find any. I mean it."
New England Patriots
Highest Grade: A, Jason Cole
Lowest Grade: B-, Ross Tucker
Comments: The wheelers and dealers of the league value quantity over quality. "The fact that teams continue to give the Patriots draft picks seems insane," writes Cole, who was most impressed by the team's new defensive backs: "[Safety Patrick] Chung is a big-time hitter and [cornerback Darius] Butler has great speed." Among the Patriots' myriad acquisitions were two picks in next year's draft. "Considering how mediocre this draft was, that was a smart move," according to Rosenthal & Silva. Weisman calls defensive tackle Ron Brace "a two-gap devourer of blockers and insurance against Vince Wilfork leaving in free agency."
New York Giants
Highest Grade: A+, Rob Rang
Lowest Grade: C+, Ross Tucker
Comments: Rosenthal & Silva like the Giants' new receiver: "Failing to land Braylon Edwards was a bit disappointing, but Hakeem Nicks comes from a pro-style offense, offers terrific hands and route running, and may be the draft's most NFL-ready wideout." Weisman notes that linebacker Clint Sintim led the ACC in sacks, adding that he "can move up and rush from [the] line." Rang is a fan of the Giants' later selections: "With raw talent to work with in skill position players Rhett Bomar, Travis Beckum, and Andre Brown in the middle rounds, it is hard to find a fault in the Giants' work this past weekend."
Green Bay Packers
Highest Grade: A, Mel Kiper, Ross Tucker, Charles Robinson
Lowest Grade: C, John Czarnecki
Comments: "I love what this team did to solidify its shaky defense in the first two picks alone," writes Kiper, "with the selection of two excellent players in defensive tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews." Robinson notes that "nose tackles in the 3-4 scheme are at a premium, and the Packers had a great one fall in their lap in Raji." Tucker calls Raji "the best defensive tackle in the draft," saying he can play nose tackle or end in the Packers' new 3-4. He also likes the versatility of Matthews, "the best combo pass rusher-pass defender available."
Highest Grade: A, Ross Tucker, Jason Cole
Lowest Grade: B-, John Czarnecki
Comments: Tucker congratulates Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome for "getting tremendous value at every selection." He says tackle Michael Oher "has all the physical tools to be a good starter in the NFL" and claims that defensive end Paul Kruger "will quickly fit in on the Ravens' intimidating defense." Cole applauds Baltimore for taking tackle Michael Oher as late as they did: "Oher is a lot closer to the likes of Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith and Jason Smith than his status as the No. 23 overall pick indicates." For Rosenthal & Silva, this is nothing new: "Ozzie Newsome is one of the best, year after year."
Highest Grade: C-, John Czarnecki
Lowest Grade: F, Tom Mantzouranis, Larry Weisman, Ross Tucker, Jason Cole
Comments: Weisman opens with a question: "[Wide receiver] Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh? He disappeared for games at a time, is not a well-rounded receiver but boasts the key Raider attribute -- straight-line speed. Just a huge reach and not enough value here." Tucker finds the Raiders plenty entertaining: "I would pay money to get a copy of the Raiders draft board. Seriously ... Sorry, Raiders fans, but it does not look like there is any light at the end of the black tunnel." Cole calls this draft "another cry for help by the Raiders as they keep taking players based on outdated theories about what works in the NFL." He says that safety Michael Mitchell, whom the Raiders picked in the second round, "was considered a borderline prospect, someone who should have gone in the sixth or seventh round. Furthermore, this was the eighth time in the past nine years that the Raiders have used a first- or second-round pick on a defensive back. They wouldn’t have to do that if they would pick good ones."
Highest Grade: B, Tom Mantzouranis
Lowest Grade: D, Gregg Rosenthal & Evan Silva, Mel Kiper, Ross Tucker
Comments: Rosenthal & Silva loath almost every move the Cowboys made: "Getting gifted press corner Mike Mickens in the seventh kept this draft from getting an F, even when factoring in the Roy Williams trade." Kiper gives them something of a pass for not getting to pick until the third round, "but they then went out and reached on [linebacker] Jason Williams and [tackle] Robert Brewster." Tucker's summary is so concise we can just list the whole thing here: "The Cowboys traded down and drafted a bunch of players who won't even make their roster. What is the point of that? Out of their 12 picks, maybe two of them will contribute in 2009. Not good."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Highest Grade: B, Mel Kiper
Lowest Grade: D, John Czarnecki, Ross Tucker
Comments: "I'm not really convinced that the Bucs had to trade up in the first round in order to select Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman," says Czarnecki. Tucker takes it a step further: "The Bucs probably could have traded down and still landed him." Weisman knocks the Freeman move and names the guilty party ("Hang this one on new coach Raheem Morris, who knew Freeman from Kansas State"), and says things went downhill from there ("drafted a couple of D-linemen who don't seem to be special").
Highest Grade: B+, Gregg Rosenthal & Evan Silva
Lowest Grade: D, Rob Rang, Jason Cole
Comments: Rang doesn't like the deals the Broncos made: "A series of solid defensive backs (Alphonso Smith, Darcel McBath, David Bruton) was lost a bit in a shuffle of trades with Seattle that essentially gave the Broncos third- and fourth-round picks in a weak 2009 draft for a first-round pick in next year's draft. The decision is one of several in a mystifying offseason in Denver." Cole calls new running back Knowshon Moreno "a terrific player," but points out the Broncos already signed a bevy of runners in free agency. "Also," he adds, "giving up a first-round pick in 2010 for the right to get Alphonso Smith could really backfire in a serious way." We'll get back to Rosenthal & Silva and that B+.
Highest Grade: B, Gregg Rosenthal & Evan Silva
Lowest Grade: C-, Ross Tucker
Comments: Reviewers were nearly unanimously lukewarm to this draft; the Redskins' standard deviation of 0.37 tied with Tennessee for the lowest in the league. "Brian Orakpo looks like Tarzan but too often plays like Jane," writes Tucker, who evidently hasn't seen a picture of Johnny Weissmuller in a while. Czarnecki also hems and haws on the new linebacker: "Orakpo had some nicks, but some teams thought he was the draft's best edge pass rusher." Prisco reminds us all that Washington traded away their second-rounder last year for Jason Taylor -- "How'd that work out?"
New York Jets
Standard Deviation: 1.21
Highest Grade: A, John Czarnecki
Lowest Grade: F, Ross Tucker
Comments: Yes, a standard variation significantly higher than a full letter grade. This is what happens when you give up a lot for a quarterback who only started one full season in college. Czarnecki argues the price wasn't that high: "The Jets should have been forced to give up another second-round pick next year instead of three reserve players they no longer wanted." Cole referred to these reserve players as "roster flotsam," which would be a great name for a fantasy football team. Rosenthal & Silva didn't hold back: "We love their aggressive move. They targeted a franchise leader for the next decade and got him. The veterans the Jets gave up were just role players and Sanchez is a smart, accurate passer who can handle the pressure of New York." On the other side of the fence, Tucker says the Jets should be in win-now mode, but "it is hard for me to imagine USC quarterback Mark Sanchez being better as a rookie than fourth-year vet Kellen Clemens." Their next lowest grade was a B- from Weisman: "Bold move to go up for [Sanchez]. This after ditching Chad Pennington and the dalliance with Brett Favre. Give them points for courage of their convictions in trading up and taking the Southern California junior, who could well be their starter this year."
San Francisco 49ers
Standard Deviation: 0.89
Highest Grade: A+, Rob Rang
Lowest Grade: C-, Larry Weisman, Ross Tucker, Pete Prisco
Comments: For Rang, this was about more than receiver Michael Crabtree: "The 49ers' ability to add a first-round pick in next year's draft (from Carolina), as well as fill holes at essentially every position, was the key to their draft." Weisman disagrees completely: "They did not have much to work with after [Crabtree], though, and they may not have done much with what they had." He specifically notes that running back Glen Coffee "shows few measurable NFL skills." Robinson writes simply that Crabtree "could be a great one," but Prisco lists Crabtree under "Questionable Move": "That foot makes it a risk. So does his diva act."
Kansas City Chiefs
Standard Deviation: 0.86
Highest Grade: A-, Jason Cole
Lowest Grade: D, Tom Mantzouranis
Comments: Cole raves about the Chiefs' selections of defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Alex Magee, saying that along with new quarterback Matt Cassell, they are "key foundation players." Rosenthal & Silva call Jackson "a stretch with the third pick," but gave the Chiefs a B- "because they stole a franchise quarterback in [Cassel] with their second-round pick while the rest of the NFL napped." Mantzouranis gave the lowest grade, but unfortunately his comments are limited to pithy phrases; all he has to say about Kansas City is "erratic behavior hinders progress." Kiper gave the Chiefs a C-. "I do like the selection of offensive tackle Colin Brown in the fifth round," he adds, "but the rest of the late-round picks didn't really do anything for me." Rang says the Chiefs did a poor job of filling their needs: "With questions surrounding the ability of their current linebackers to function well in the new scheme, it was surprising [general manager Scott] Pioli didn't use a single draft selection on the position."
Standard Deviation: 0.81
Highest Grade: B+, Gregg Rosenthal & Evan Silva
Lowest Grade: D, Rob Rang, Jason Cole
Comments: Rosenthal & Silva were big fans of the players Denver picked: "... the Broncos got quality with the best running back in the draft (Knowshon Moreno), the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospect (Robert Ayers), and a nice value in second-rounder Alphonso Smith." They were less enamored with the process: "Giving up a first-rounder for Smith, however, gets Denver marked down ... If [quarterback Jay] Cutler’s unnecessary trade counted in this grade, we’d give Denver an F." And these were the guys who liked Denver's draft.
Standard Deviation: 0.76
Highest Grade: A-, Tom Mantzouranis
Lowest Grade: D+, Gregg Rosenthal & Evan Silva
Comments: Mantzouranis on Carolina: "Flourishes in stressful situations." Apparently he is talking about the new Panthers and not Jake Delhomme. Anyway, for more on Carolina, we turn to Tucker, who gave them a B+: "The Panthers give up next year's first rounder for the second year in a row, but it doesn't matter because they got the pass-rusher they desperately needed ... in Everette Brown, a guy who many people thought could have gone in the top 15. Georgia defensive tackle Corvey Irvin will contribute in the rotation as a rookie." And then there's Rosenthal & Silva: "Brown only projects as a third-down rusher in the Panthers' 4-3 scheme."
Here's every team's grade for each reviewer, with overall GPA and standard deviation:
|2009 Team Draft Grades By Reviewer|
|TEN||C||B||C+||B||B||B||B-||B-||B||2.74||0.37||2009 Team Draft Grades By Reviewer|
Now here's some useless data for you: Which of these reviewers was hardest to please? Who was the biggest pushover? And whose grades were pretty much all the same?
|2009 Team Draft Grades By Reviewer|
|Reviewer||GPA||St. Dev.||High Grade (team)||Low Grade (team)|
|Rang||2.84||0.817||A+ (Giants, 49ers)||D (Broncos, Raiders)|
|Mantzouranis||2.82||0.844||A (Giants)||F (Raiders)|
|Cole/Robinson||2.75||0.888||A (Three teams)||F (Raiders)|
|Czarnecki||2.75||0.756||A (Five teams)||D (Buccaneers)|
|Rosenthal/Silva||2.74||0.892||A+ (Giants)||D (Raiders)|
|Prisco||2.66||0.787||A+ (Eagles)||D (Raiders)|
|Kiper||2.61||0.710||A (Packers)||D (Cowboys, Raiders)|
|Weisman||2.46||0.857||A (Eagles, Giants)||F (Raiders)|
|Tucker||2.41||1.036||A (Four teams)||F (Jets, Raiders)|
Tucker looks like both the toughest and also the most erratic grader; that may be a reflection of the way we've interpreted his nebulous rankings. Rang, the only reviewer to dole out two A+ grades, had the highest overall average. Kiper was the steadiest grader, putting exactly half the teams in the league somewhere between B- and B+.
161 comments, Last at 09 May 2009, 7:44pm by Vince Verhei