Four Downs: AFC East
Best player available analysis by Sean McCormick
Remainder of Four Downs by Aaron Schatz
(Ed. note: For this round of Four Downs, we're pleased to present Sean McCormick's "Best Player Available" analysis for each division, along with the usual gang commenting on other moves by each team before and since the draft. The reasoning behind BPA analysis is explained in this article. Each player drafted is listed along with his position on four different independent draft boards and the Best Player Available according to each of those boards. Please note that two of these boards only ranked 100 players.)
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|8||DB Donte Whitner||16, 18, 22, 22||QB Matt Leinart (4)|
|26||DT John McCargo||44, 46, 47, 51||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|70||DB Ashton Youboty||24, 32, 33, 42||DB Ashton Youboty (4)|
|105||DB Ko Simpson||39, 49, 52, 60||DT Gabe Watson (3), DB Ko Simpson|
|134||DT Kyle Williams||77, 80, 85, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|143||OT Brad Butler||228, 246, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter|
|178||LB Keith Ellison||152, 184, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall|
|216||OT Terrance Pennington||248, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), RB Andre Hall, DB Anwar Phillips|
|248||G Aaron Merz||UR, UR, UR, UR||RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)|
In an inauspicious start to their draft, Buffalo pulled off not one but two of the first round's biggest reaches, prompting commentators to wonder if Marv Levy was in over his head as a general manager. But a funny thing happened on their way to draft ignominy: the Bills pulled off a string of impressive selections that made the overall quality of the draft look a whole lot better.
The expectation was that Buffalo would take Brodrick Bunkley at eight, but instead the team threw the first curveball of the day, opting for Ohio State safety Donte Whitner. Top safeties were in short supply, and Whitner is a perfect fit for the new Cover-2 defense the team is installing. Whitner has the coverage skills to match up on tight ends and slot receivers, he comes down quickly to play the run, and he's one of the fiercest hitters in his class. With rumors that St. Louis was interested in Whitner, Buffalo preferred to stay put and take their man rather than risking a trade down to get him at better value.
It's always worrisome when a team locks into a player to the point where they reach over better players to take him, and in this case Buffalo will have to answer for their decision to pass on Matt Leinart, who was the consensus best player available. J.P. Losman has done nothing to suggest he'll develop into a competent starter, Craig Nall is a total unknown, and Kelly Holcomb is strictly stopgap material. It's not often that a team with such an unsettled quarterback situation will pass on a franchise quarterback.
With the selection of John McCargo, the Bills again sacrificed value in favor of need, only this time they traded second- and third-round picks to do so. McCargo is a poor man's Bunkley, a penetrating under tackle who can shoot the gaps and cause disruption. He fits the new scheme well, but McCargo will have to prove that he can be effective without the presence of Mario Williams and Manny Lawson to free him up. The Bills must have felt the dropoff in quality after McCargo was significant enough to justify the trade up.
Buffalo's draft really got rolling with their third round selection of Ashton Youboty. Youboty plays inconsistently at times, but he has excellent size and athleticism for a cornerback. The Bills have had great success with Ohio State corners, and Youboty should continue the trend. All four boards grade him as one of the steals of the draft, and the pick is all the sweeter because it came to the Bills in return for the mediocre Travis Henry. How's that working out for the Titans?
Fourth-round pick Ko Simpson was another major steal, as he was projected to go in the second round. Simpson is extremely raw, but his upside as a playmaking safety is tremendous. He has the ability to man up against tight ends and bigger receivers in the red zone, and new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will probably use Simpson primarily in that capacity until he learns the finer points of coverage and improves on his open field tackling.
Kyle Williams and Keith Ellison were also good value picks. Both of them are undersized but productive players who fit the scheme, Williams as a one-gap defensive tackle and Ellison as an outside linebacker. Ellison has good cover skills, but he also has trouble disengaging from blockers. For now he'll be tried out on the strong side, but his future may be as a nickel and dime linebacker. Offensive lineman Aaron Merz switched back and forth between center and guard at Buffalo minicamp, and that versatility gives him more value than most seventh-round linemen.
Exiled from New Orleans, Part I
Trying to improve linebacker depth, the Bills dealt tight end Tim Euhus to New Orleans for linebacker Courtney Watson. Watson's 2005 performance was very, very bad according to the individual defense statistics in Pro Football Prospectus 2006. Yes, our individual defensive statistics are very dependent on each player's role in the scheme and the performance of his teammates, but Watson had worse numbers than anyone else on the Saints. Out of 116 linebackers with enough plays to be ranked, Watson finished 113th in Stop Rate, the percentage of tackles that stopped a play short of success. He also finished 102nd in average yards gained when he made the tackle on a passing play (8.0 yards), and 115th in average yards gained when he made the tackle on a running play (5.6 yards).
The Euhus trade makes room for 2005 undrafted free agent Brad "Moe" Cieslak to make the squad as the third tight end behind Kevin Everett and Robert Royal.
Undrafted Free Agents
Wide receiver Martin Nance is the most likely undrafted free agent to make this year's Bills roster. He had nearly 1,500 yards receiving for Miami of Ohio back in 2003, with some guy named Ben Roethlisberger throwing him passes. Then Nance missed 2004 with an ACL injury, and went undrafted despite another 1,100 yards in 2005. He is considered slow (just 4.55 in the 40-yard dash) but could this just be the "year after ACL surgery" effect? Nance has two advantages when it comes to making the team: at 6-foot-3, he is taller than any receiver ahead of him on the Buffalo depth chart, plus snow does not give him the heebie-jeebies.
Other free agents with a chance to make the team, or at least the practice squad, are cornerback Eric Bassey from the University of Oklahoma, University of Missouri linebacker Derrick Ming -- who Buffalo plans to convert to fullback -- and linebacker John DiGiorgio from Saginaw Valley State. DiGiorgio is a hyperactive player who finished his career ranked third all-time in tackles by a Division II player, and could be a useful special teams gunner.
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|16||DB Jason Allen||22, 26, 28, 29||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|82||WR Derek Hagan||66, 67, 86, 88||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|112||OT Joe Toledo||100, 106, 147, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|212||DT Fred Evans||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|226||DT Rod Wright||79, 90, 97, 103||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|233||WR Devin Aromashodu||132, 224, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
While no draft pick figures to have more immediate or long-term impact than the one Miami used to obtain former Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper, the Dolphins did a good job throughout of obtaining value throughout the draft. Perhaps their riskiest pick was their first one, when Miami jumped into the defensive back run and selected Tennessee free safety Jason Allen. Allen is a supremely talented player -- he has elite cover skills and could probably excel as a cornerback if asked to switch positions -- but some people believe the dislocated hip he suffered during his senior season makes him a major medical risk. (According to our man Will Carroll, Allen should be fine this season, and his only problem is a higher risk for recurrence.) The boards considered Jimmy Williams the safer pick, but if Allen can put his injury history behind him, he figures to significantly upgrade Miami's secondary. Allen has the versatility to line up at safety, at an outside corner position or in the slot, and he provides excellent run support.
Derek Hagan had a very productive career at Arizona State, but a poor Senior Bowl week and pedestrian workout numbers caused his stock to drop. Hagan has the size and the hands to be a quality possession receiver, but he doesn't have the explosiveness or top end speed to threaten a defense. Miami already has a burner in Chris Chambers, and they would be happy if Hagan developed into a complementary player.
Joe Toledo was drafted more for his athleticism than his production. He switched from tight end to tackle for his senior season, and a high ankle sprain limited his lateral movement, so this pick is really about upside. Two of the boards felt he was worth the risk, but he's several years from the starting lineup.
Miami did very well with both of their seventh-round selections. Rod Wright has the Texas lineman disease -- he has first round measureables, but his effort is inconsistent. Part of that inconsistency might be traced to a torn rotator cuff that Wright played with for all of his senior season. The injury was discovered at the combine and it was likely the biggest factor in sending Wright's stock tumbling. Wright had surgery and will likely spend the season on IR, but he should be ready to go in 2007. Auburn wide receiver Devin Aromashodu was considered a major steal on at least on board. He has good size and legitimate deep speed, but his route running leaves something to be desired. His best chance to make an impact is as a deep threat and a return man.
Lake Wobegon, Where Every Child Is Above Average
Hi. This is Aaron writing now.
Just a thought: Reports out of Miami say that Daunte Culpepper's rehab is ahead of schedule, and he could be in the starting lineup for the first game of the regular season. Then again, reports out of Cincinnati say that Carson Palmer is way ahead of schedule, and he could be in the starting lineup for the first game of the regular season, and reports out of New Orleans say that Drew Brees will be fine to start the season, and of course reports from Pittsburgh say that despite his motorcycle accident, Ben Roethlisberger will be all ready to go for the start of the season.
Has medical science really improved this dramatically? I am hesitant to believe that all four players will come back and play immediately at the high level that recent news stories seem to be suggesting.
Undrafted Free Agents
Miami is bringing in a couple of big name undrafted free agents -- at least, they have big last names thanks to their familial NFL connections. Yes, the Dolphins signed Marcus Vick and are trying to turn him into a receiver. No, Vick really doesn't deserve as much attention as he gets. More importantly, the Dolphins inked running back Gerald Riggs Jr. out of Tennessee, who had over 1,100 yards with 5.7 yards per carry as a junior, but missed half the season with an ankle injury as a senior. With Ricky Williams now in Toronto, Sammy Morris often playing fullback, and Travis Minor, well, still being Travis Minor, the Dolphins could have an opening for a third-string running back. Other names to watch are Oregon State linebacker Trent Bray, Utah defensive tackle Steve Fifita, and Indiana defensive end Ben Ishola. Ishola is a native of Berlin, so even if he's not good enough to make an NFL roster he'll probably be bouncing around practice squads for however long NFL Europe remains in existence.
New England Patriots
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|21||RB Laurence Maroney||25, 26, 27, 29||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|36||WR Chad Jackson||16, 17, 17, 19||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|86||TE David Thomas||80, 94, 95, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|106||RB Garrett Mills||94, 95, 168, UR||DT Gabe Watson (4)|
|118||K Stephen Gostkowski||UR, UR, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|136||OT Ryan O'Callaghan||70, 83, 99, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|191||DE Jeremy Mincey||174, 192, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|205||G Dan Stevenson||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|206||DT LeKevin Smith||114, 176, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|229||DB Willie Andrews||208, 232, UR, UR||DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
After a season where the defense fell apart and the offense carried the team into the playoffs, it was expected that New England would use the draft to restock the talent in the back seven. Think again. Instead, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli seem to have decided that after years of beating Indianapolis, it was time to join them. The team emphasized offense with each of its first six selections, and spent every first day pick on a skill position player.
Minnesota's Laurence Maroney is a one cut runner who gets through the hole quickly and has the body control to make defenders miss. Maroney was generally considered the best of the non-Bush running backs, and there were rumors that the Colts were eying him as a replacement for Edgerrin James. Instead Maroney will join a rotation that includes Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk, and likely assume the starting job in 2007.
When Florida receiver Chad Jackson slipped into the second round, New England didn't hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade, sending second- and third-round picks to Green Bay so they could get their man. Jackson had moved in front of Santonio Holmes on all four draft boards, so getting him with the 36th pick overall was a major coup for the Pats. Jackson has prototype size and speed. He runs sharp routes and has consistently shown both excellent hands and a clean criminal record (his true advantage over Holmes). He should provide an immediate lift for a receiving corps that has been thinned out by free agent defections the past two seasons.
While the Patriots didn't land any more first-round talents, they got good value out of several of their offensive picks. New England places a premium on smart, versatile players who can operate out of run or pass sets, and both David Thomas and Garrett Mills fit that description. Thomas is a tight end/H-back 'tweener who can play on the line but is going to be more effective if he is moved around to create matchup problems. Mills also played tight end at the college level, but he will be moved into more of a traditional fullback role. Mills is an excellent receiver, and he will likely become a trusted safety outlet for Tom Brady.
Ryan O'Callaghan is a massive right tackle who has been slowed by injuries. Three of the boards considered him one of the top hundred players in the draft, so he was good value in the fifth round. New England also did well with their late round defensive picks, netting Jeremy Mincey, LeKevin Smith and Willie Andrews at moderate value.
The most questionable decision of the draft would have to be taking a kicker in the fourth round. New England had a major need after losing Adam Vinatieri in the off-season, but Gostkowski was not a good enough prospect to warrant anything higher than a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
Exiled from New Orleans, Part II
The defensive line is perhaps the most impressive unit in New England, made up of three first-round draft picks all under the age of 27. So how much more impressive would the unit be with a fourth first-round draft pick to serve as backup? The answer is probably "not much more impressive" considering that the fourth player is Johnathan (sic) Sullivan, acquired via trade from New Orleans. No, that "sic" was not a sign that Johnathan spells his first name in an odd fashion; it was actually the sound of Sullivan burping after downing another five hamburgers. The Patriots hope that they can somehow restrain Sullivan's appetite and recapture the talent that had people comparing him to his college -- and now pro -- teammate Richard Seymour when the Saints took him sixth in the 2003 draft. There's no risk involved, as Sullivan is getting a minimum salary for the next two seasons, and the 2008 and 2009 years on his contract are now void due to a playing-time clause. All it cost to take a chance on Sullivan was underachieving wide receiver Bethel Johnson, who had just four receptions in 2005 and was so far inside Bill Belichick's doghouse that he had Kibbles 'n' Bits coming out of his ears. Seventh-round pick Willie Andrews is the best candidate to take on Johnson's kickoff return duties.
Undrafted Free Agents
The most important name among the Patriots' rookie free agents is Freddie Roach, a linebacker out of Alabama who was coveted by the Dolphins as well. The Patriots seem to find a significant undrafted defender each season (DT Mike Wright, CB Randall Gay) and Roach has been impressive in minicamp. The Patriots also have a tendency to find players whose college coaches have Belichick connections. They signed two players who learned from Charlie Weis at Notre Dame last year -- linebacker Corey Mays and wide receiver Matt Shelton -- as well as three men who played at Florida for Belichick's new best buddy Urban Meyer: cornerback Vernell Brown, offensive tackle Randy Hand, and safety Jarvis Herring.
Finally, it is unlikely the Patriots will go into the season without a veteran quarterback either second or third on the depth chart. But if that is the case, undrafted free agent Corey Bramlet out of Wyoming will probably be the default third-stringer behind Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.
New York Jets
|Pick||Player||Player Rankings||Best Player Available|
|4||OT DBrickashaw Ferguson||3, 3, 3, 3||OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (4)|
|29||C Nick Mangold||25, 27, 28, 28||OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams|
|49||QB Kellen Clemens||87, 89, 113, UR||DB Richard Marshall (2), OT Eric Winston, DB Ashton Youboty|
|76||LB Anthony Schlegel||202, 242, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|97||DB Eric Smith||177, 214, UR, UR||G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DT Gabe Watson, DB Darnell Bing|
|103||QB Brad Smith||138, UR, UR, UR||DT Gabe Watson (3), DB Ko Simpson|
|117||RB Leon Washington||108, 108, UR, UR||OT Jonathan Scott, DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter, DT Babatunde Oshinowo|
|150||TE Jason Pociask||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter|
|189||DB Drew Coleman||UR, UR, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
|220||DT Titus Adams||194, 248, UR, UR||DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall|
Many teams mimicked the Patriots approach to drafting by placing an emphasis on character and intelligence, but New York took that approach to an extreme. The results was a draft class that had the highest average Wonderlic score of any team, but one that doesn't grade out nearly as well on the value boards.
The duo of Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum started off well enough, bolstering the offensive line with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Ferguson was the consensus best offensive lineman in the draft, and he is already penciled in as the starting left tackle. Ferguson is considered the best pass blocking tackle to come out of the college ranks in several years, and he capped a dominant senior year by going to the Senior Bowl and toying with the best edge rushers in college football. Ferguson's quick feet and huge wingspan make it hard for defensive ends to get the corner on him, and he has the strength to absorb bull rushes.
Mangold was the top interior lineman in the draft, a technically sound center with the stoutness to hold up when isolated on a defensive tackle and the athleticism to pull and trap. With Trey Teague suffering a broken ankle in mini-camp, it's likely that Mangold will open the season as the starting center.
The Jets slid back in the second round, acquiring extra picks, and then made a short trade up to land Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens with the 49th pick. Clemens was not highly ranked on any of the draft boards, perhaps in part because his senior season was cut short by a broken leg. He received some powerful support in the days leading up to the draft: Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge both tabbed him as the best quarterback in the class. Clemens is a little short but has a live arm, a compact release, and an impressive ability to find the open man. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did a great job developing Drew Brees, and Clemens has a similar skill set. Most reports already say Clemens was the most impressive of New York's four quarterbacks at minicamp, and it was Clemens, not Chad Pennington, who spent the majority of the time with the first-team offense.
New York's draft began going off the rails in the third round, when the team reached massively on a pair of Big Ten defenders, Anthony Schlegel and Eric Smith. Schlegel has value as an inside linebacker with short area power, but he had no business going on the first day. Smith is an injury-prone safety whose limited athleticism will probably keep him from ever developing into a starter.
Things didn't get much better on the second day, as three of the team's five selections graded out as major reaches. Florida State runner Leon Washington was taken at good value, and with the Jets running back group looking unsettled he has a chance to earn significant playing time. Defensive tackle Titus Adams has a chance to stick as a two-down run stuffer, and cornerback Drew Coleman stood out with strong play at minicamp.
Undrafted Free Agents
It was a happy day around the Football Outsiders office when the Jets signed Brown University running back Nick Hartigan. Hartigan led the school that birthed FO to its first-ever outright Ivy League title, scored 20 touchdowns, and led Division 1-AA with 1,727 rushing yards. (Oh, and he was a Rhodes Scholar finalist.) Because he has what you might call "Division 1-AA speed," Hartigan has bulked up to 235 pounds and projects to play fullback in the NFL. Right now, the Jets depth chart at fullback is empty behind B.J. Askew, so there's an opportunity if Hartigan can make the most of it. You have to figure that, like our fellow Brown alum Sean Morey, Hartigan understands that strong effort on special teams is the secret to making an NFL roster as a Division 1-AA player.
(Yes, I know most of you don't care. Listen, if you think we're bad, consider how excited Chris Berman gets about players from the other seven Ivies. He might explode on air if Hartigan scores an actual NFL touchdown.)
Other names who will challenge for a spot on the Jets roster include Richmond's Stacy Tutt -- yet another quarterback switching to another position, the Jets have him right now at halfback -- and gargantuan (6-foot-9, 350 pounds) offensive tackle Ed Blanton out of UCLA.