Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC West

Best Player Available analysis by Sean McCormick
Other news by Mike Tanier

(Ed. note: For the next 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.)

We're tweaking the methodology a bit to clean up the end-of-round syndrome where a player selection is downgraded because he went at the very bottom of the first instead of the top of the second where he was projected (here's looking at you, Kelly Jennings). Instead of listing players as reaches or steals, we will simply show where they were ranked on the four draft boards, or if they were ranked at all. Two of the draft boards only go 100 players deep, so the fact that they do not rank a second-day player does not necessarily mean that he is coming off the board at the wrong point in the draft; it simply means that there was a better prospect available.

Denver Broncos

Pick Player Player Rankings Best Player Available
11 QB Jay Cutler 7, 11, 11, 13 DT Broderick Bunkley (2) DT Haloti Ngata, QB Jay Cutler
61 TE Tony Scheffler 83, 84, 92, UR OT Eric Winston (2), DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope
119 WR Brandon Marshall 140, 201, UR, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DE Mark Anderson, DB DeMario Minter
126 DE Elvis Dumervil 149, 221, UR, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson
130 WR Dominik Hixon UR, UR, UR, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson
161 G Chris Kuper 257, UR, UR, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall
198 C Greg Eslinger 74, 120, 144, UR DT Rod Wright (2), RB Andre Hall, DE Stanley McClover

Somehow the theory has taken hold that when a team falls short in the playoffs, what they need to do is throw roster management to the wind and sell out for that one player that is going to get them over the hump. But by moving up to the 11th pick to select Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, Mike Shanahan and Ted Sundquist put forth a different vision for how successful teams should draft. Instead of chasing the one player that would have helped last year's team win one or two more games, the Broncos took the player who will keep their playoff window open for the next ten years. Cutler doesn't have the mechanical consistency to succeed in the NFL right now, but he won't have to. Jake Plummer is playing at a high level and is not in danger of losing his starting job this year or even next year. The Broncos will bring Cutler along slowly, with an eye toward 2008. The Vanderbilt star has the same combination of arm strength and mobility as Plummer, and he throws accurately on the move, a must in the bootleg-heavy offense employed by the team.

Most of Denver's selections do not go over well with the draft boards. After Cutler, the only player that any of the boards list as good value is sixth-round pick Greg Eslinger, the center from the University of Minnesota. Eslinger is a perfect example of the sort of player Denver has used to build their dominant offensive line. Eslinger won the Outland Trophy while playing in a zone-blocking scheme that is very similar to the one Denver runs. He is undersized for most NFL offenses, but the Denver scheme prefers smaller, lighter offensive linemen who can move. He won't play much this year, but the team will groom him as Tom Nalen's eventual successor. Denver's decision to pass up Leonard Pope in the second round for the lightly regarded Tony Scheffler will leave the team open to second-guessing. Mike Shanahan has done a great job of developing receiving tight ends, and he may not be concerned with Scheffler's shortcomings as a blocker.

The draft pick that is going to have the most immediate impact is the one that Denver sent to Green Bay in exchange for wide receiver Javon Walker. Perhaps more than any other playoff team, Denver has acquired talent through free agency and trades -- with the acquisition of Walker there are now eight former first-round picks on the roster originally drafted by other franchises. Considering the recent history of rookie receivers, it would not have made sense to try and address an immediate need at receiver through the draft. Walker probably won't be playing at full speed in 2006, as ACL injuries take two years to fully recover from, but even a limited Walker will contribute more than Santonio Holmes or Chad Jackson would have. He'll make the Broncos better next year, and he'll be ready to take the #1 receiver spot away from Rod Smith in two seasons.

Recent Free Agent Moves

Nate Webster is officially a member of the Broncos. Webster visited the team in March, and there were reports at the time that he signed a one-year deal. But Webster had to pass a physical and wasn't officially added to the roster until May 2. Webster sustained a knee injury in Week 4 of the 2004 season and played in only one game in 2005. Before the injury, he was an effective starter for the Bengals and Buccaneers. Webster won't crack the starting lineup in Denver, but he'll provide valuable depth at middle linebacker.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

Running back Mike Bell (Arizona) led the Wildcats in rushing four straight times, gaining over 900 yards in three straight seasons. He's a big straight-line runner who can break some tackles, but he lacks speed, moves, and blocking ability … Cameron Vaughn (LSU) played both middle and weakside linebacker but projects as a "Will" in the pros. He's smart and makes a lot of plays in pursuit. Vaughn may stick as a kick gunner … Rashon Powers-Neal (Notre Dame) is a halfback/fullback tweener who had trouble adjusting to the fullback position. He'll have to prove that he's willing and able to lead block if he hopes to make the roster.

Kansas City Chiefs

Pick Player Player Rankings Best Player Available
20 DE Tamba Hali 31, 35, 37, 47 OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams
54 DB Bernard Pollard 92, 110, 134, UR OT Eric Winston, DB Richard Marshall, DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope
85 QB Brodie Croyle 73, 78, 147, UR DT Gabe Watson, G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing
154 DB Marcus Maxey 68, 128, 131, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), DE Mark Anderson
186 G 'Tre Stallings UR, UR, UR, UR DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall
190 WR Jeff Webb 165, 178, UR, UR DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall
228 DB Jarrod Page 188, 224, UR, UR DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall

The Chiefs have been drafting defense for years now, hoping that they could make the unit competitive before midnight struck on the high-octane offense, and they pursued that strategy again, going defense with three of their first four picks. With the advanced age of many of the offensive centerpieces -- Willie Roaf is 36, Will Shields 34, Trent Green 35, and Eddie Kennison 33 -- the drafting strategy was a questionable one. The Kansas City rushing attack is the league's best because the team was willing to take Larry Johnson even with Priest Holmes on the roster, and this year a similar best player available approach could have netted much needed young linemen like Winston Justice, Eric Winston or Max Jean-Gilles. With Kansas City's short-term approach to drafting, it's likely that the defense will come around just as the offense falls apart.

Tamba Hali, like every other Penn State prospect, saw his stock slip after a poor Pro Day. Hali is a high effort player who will raise the intensity level on the Chiefs line, but the team probably could have traded down at least once and still landed him at the bottom of the round. Hali has a high floor for a late first-round prospect -- he can defend the run and rush the passer, and he plays with great consistency -- and the Chiefs need to add as many solid players as possible to their front seven, so this pick will probably look better in November and December than it does now. Bernard Pollard came out early for the draft after having some problems at Purdue during the 2005 season, and while he has great upside, the boards felt he was too risky to merit a second-round pick.

The Chiefs finally got around to addressing their offense with third-round selection Brodie Croyle. The team has been without a viable backup quarterback for years now, but opinions are split on how the Alabama star will fare at the next level. Our college quarterback projection system is skeptical of any player with an inadequate completion percentage, and Croyle's was under 60% his senior season. Other scouts look at his slight frame and his litany of injuries and wonder if his body can hold up in the NFL.

The Chiefs did a good job of selecting players at value in the later rounds. Jeff Webb and Jarrod Page were taken roughly when they were projected to come off the board, and Miami corner Marcus Maxey was considered a steal by three of the boards. Maxey didn't start until his senior season, but he projects very well into the Cover-2 defense that new coach Herm Edwards figures to employ.

Recent Free Agent Moves

Peripatetic offensive lineman Ian Allen signed with the Chiefs on May 11; Allen is playing for his fourth team in four years. Allen started 11 games for the Giants in 2003 but was terrible; since then, the Eagles and Cardinals have kept him on the roster in case of emergency. Allen was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Chiefs in 2001 and had an off-season stint with the team in 2002. If history is any indicator, he'll be released in August, play a few games for the Jets, and return to Kansas City in 2007 … Backup defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson signed a one-year deal to remain with the team. Wilkerson is a rotation lineman who helps out as a run-down end and third down tackle.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

The Chiefs were busy after the drafting, signing 16 rookie free agents. William Kershaw (Maryland) has the run-stopping ability to develop into a good Sam linebacker, but he's a poor decision maker on and off the field. Kershaw was involved in a barroom brawl in college, so he'll fit right in with the Chiefs … Derek Morris (North Carolina State) is a flabby 330-pound guard who can play right tackle in a pinch. The Chiefs have a great track record at turning unheralded youngsters like Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann into great linemen.

Oakland Raiders

Pick Player Player Rankings Best Player Available
7 Michael Huff, DB 6, 7, 8, 10 QB Matt Leinart (2), DB Michael Huff (2)
38 Thomas Howard, LB 31, 46, 47, 51 OT Winston Justice (4)
69 Paul McQuistan, G 92, 133, UR, UR DB Ashton Youboty (3), TE Leonard Pope
101 Darnell Bing, DB 34, 49, 56, 56 DT Gabe Watson (2), DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing
176 Kevin Boothe, OT 84, 143, UR, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (3), RB Andre Hall
214 Chris Morris, C 230, 253, UR, UR DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall
255 Kevin McMahan, WR UR, UR, UR, UR RB Andre Hall (2), DB Anwar Phillips (2)

The Raiders are another team that will have to answer for their decision to pass on Matt Leinart, but unlike Buffalo and Detroit, Oakland at least drafted a player who was considered the best available on several boards. Huff's blazing 40-time at the combine solidified his place at the top of the draft, but it was his stellar play at Texas that put him there to begin with. Huff is a safety with corner speed, and his crunching hits remind scouts of Troy Polamalu. The Raiders have peppered their secondary with high round picks over the last few years, but they still haven't been able to match up well with the AFC West offenses (or anyone else's, for that matter). Huff's combination of size and athleticism finally gives the Raiders an answer when Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates come to town.

After Huff, the Raiders got back to the business of making typical Raiders picks. Thomas Howard is an elite athlete with questionable instincts who failed to dominate at a lower level of competition. Darnell Bing, whom the Raiders are moving from safety to linebacker, rarely played up to his press clippings at USC. He's a violent tackler and a good athlete, but he doesn't play with any consistency. Kevin Boothe has the physique and playing speed to succeed in the NFL, but his technique is so poor that he failed to be an impact player in the Ivy League. Howard, Bing and Boothe were good value at the points where they were selected -- Bing in particular was clearly among the highest rated players around when the Raiders grabbed him at 101 -- but they are going to a roster that is full of guys who were better athletes than football players. At some point you would think the Raiders would mix in some overachieving high motor types, but for now they continue to stress speed and athleticism, leaving it to their coaches to get the most out of the players.

Recent Free Agent Moves

The Raiders have been busy gobbling up cheap talent since the draft. Running backs Walter Williams, ReShard Lee and Rod Smart will compete with incumbent Justin Fargas and others to back up LaMont Jordan. Lee has the most potential as a runner, but Smart adds value as an all-purpose return man. Williams is a true unknown: a 28-year old with three NFL carries on his resume ... Marcellus Rivers is an H-back type with some receiving ability. He caught 24 of the 25 passes thrown to him last season, so he has value as a safety valve target ... Linebacker Robert Thomas was a first-round bust for the Rams in 2002 who played well for the Packers last year. His average tackle last season occurred 2.4 yards down the field, an excellent average for a linebacker. Thomas is awful in pass coverage, and the Packers used him as a two-down defender last season.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

Quarterback Kent Smith (Western Michigan) is 6-foot-4, has a good arm, and can run. He may replace Marques Tuiasosopo as the team's third quarterback … J.R. Lemon (Stanford) rushed for just 222 yards in 2005, as he missed much of the season with a hamstring injury. Lemon is a 224-pound all purpose back who can catch and block and has some cutback ability … Tackle Jabari Levey (South Carolina) has the physical tools to succeed but had a reputation as a goldbricker in college. Art Shell will either toughen him up or release him.

San Diego Chargers

Pick Players Player Rankings Best Player Available
19 DB Antonio Cromartie 13, 16, 24, 30 OT Winston Justice (3), DB Jimmy Williams
50 OT Marcus McNeill 32, 37, 45, 54 OT Eric Winston, DB Richard Marshall, DB Ashton Youboty, TE Leonard Pope
81 QB Charlie Whitehurst 81, 125, UR, UR DT Gabe Watson, G Max Jean-Gilles, DB Ko Simpson, DB Darnell Bing
151 LB Tim Dobbins 94, 134, 159, UR DT Babatunde Oshinowo (2), DB DeMario Minter, DE Mark Anderson
187 OT Jeromey Clary 198, UR, UR, UR DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall
188 K Kurt Smith UR, UR, UR, UR DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall
225 DT Chase Page UR, UR, UR, UR DT Rod Wright (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall
227 C Jimmy Martin 234, UR, UR, UR DB Dee Webb (2), DE Stanley McClover, RB Andre Hall

In something of a departure from their recent drafting history, the Chargers emphasized upside over production or fundamentals with their first day picks. If ever there was an argument for the irrelevance of the college football season to the scouting process, it is Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie only started one game during his Seminole career, but he showed up at Pro Day and put on a workout that Giants GM Ernie Accorsi described as the best he had ever seen. That workout was good enough to cement Cromartie as a first-round talent; far from considering him a dangerous risk, two of the boards listed Cromartie as a minor steal at the 19th pick. Cromartie has exceptional size and athleticism, but his limited body of work would seem to make him a bigger risk than Jimmy Williams, the player that one of the boards considered the best available player at the time. He'll need good coaching in order to reach his potential, but San Diego's track record of developing corners is not a good one. With quality corners like Richard Marshall and Ashton Youboty still on the board in the second round, the team may have been better off grabbing Winston Justice in the first round.

Having passed over Justice in the first, the Chargers moved to secure a tackle with their second pick. All four draft boards considered Eric Winston to be the best tackle on the board at 50, but San Diego opted for the mammoth Marcus McNeill instead. McNeill is the bigger player, but his poor technique sometimes negates his natural strength. He also has some medical red flags stemming from a back injury, but apparently they weren't enough to scare the Chargers off. New offensive line coach Jack Henry comes over from New Orleans, where he did a good job with Jamaal Brown. It will be up to Henry to get McNeill ready to take over for 11-year vet Roman Oben.

One board thought San Diego hit their third round pick right on the nose with Charlie Whitehurst, taking the 81st best player with the 81st pick. The Chargers have now spent three first-day picks on the quarterback position in the last five years. As poorly as general manager A.J. Smith handled the Drew Brees situation, he is still in a unique position to recognize the value of having multiple quality quarterbacks. Whitehurst has prototypical size and arm strength, as well as good NFL bloodlines, but he has poor foot speed and doesn't hold up well under pressure. The team already has A.J. Feeley to back up Philip Rivers, but Whitehurst has physical tools that Feeley lacks. He will be given time to develop, and in time Whitehurst could either push Rivers for the starting job or be trade bait for another quarterback-needy team. Quarterbacks don't generally lose value from sitting on the bench, and with a few quality preseason performances, the Chargers could find themselves getting a first or second round pick in return for their investment.

Of the Chargers' second-day selections, undersized Iowa State linebacker Tim Dobbins was generally considered a good pick at 151, while the rest of the selections were free agent material.

Recent Free Agent Moves

Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was a disappointment in St. Louis. The Rams thought the 288-pound Manumaleuna would be able to work the middle of the field and break tackles after the catch, but he never learned to read defenses and he dropped too many short passes. Manumaleuna was at his best when pass blocking against defensive ends like Julius Peppers. The Chargers won't ask Manumaleuna to run many routes; that's Antonio Gates' job. Manumaleuna will replace Justin Peelle as the Chargers' second tight end, and he'll be on the field when they need another blocker to control Derrick Burgess or Jared Allen.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

Marty Schottenheimer always gives street free agents a fair shot to make the team, and the Chargers signed 16 rookies immediately after the draft. Cletis Gordon was a cornerback, wide receiver, and kick returner at Jackson State. He's a size-speed prospect who could get a look as a gunner and return specialist … Shaun Willis (Oklahoma) is a 260-pound thumper who could eventually replace Lorenzo Neal at fullback … Jason Murphy (Virginia Tech) is an athletic but raw interior lineman with upside … Bryson Sumlin (Fresno State) is a small-but-powerful running back with decent hands who might also have value as a special teamer.

Much Ado about Parking

If you plan on going to a Chargers game this year, you may want to take the bus. Or walk.

New parking policies have Chargers fans up in arms. Parking fees are going up, lots are opening later, and some prime spots must be reserved in advance. It will cost $150 to park a recreational vehicle, and RVs will be restricted to a specific parking lot on the northeast corner of the stadium.

Can "personal parking licenses" be far behind?

The team claims that the new policies are designed to prevent pregame chaos. The RVs took up multiple spaces in standard parking lots and caused traffic constrictions. Avid tailgaters often engaged in dangerous races to reach the primo parking locales. And 6 a.m. lot openings allowed for seven hours of pregame mischief.

But of course, the team could have changed policies without raising their rates. Chargers fans, already upset by the team's possible move from Southern California, aren't happy about needing a home equity loan to pay for a parking space. "I feel they're just milking us," fan Bob Yates told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "And then they're going to leave town. It's as simple as that."

Some Chargers diehards may turn in their season tickets to protest the new regulations. Others plan to stay one step ahead of the team: they're parking their RVs in vacant lots in Las Vegas and San Antonio and just waiting.


81 comments, Last at 05 Jul 2006, 1:13pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Regarding the drastic drop in draft stock of Tamba Hali, I always love it when scouts ignore the evidence of an entire college career in favor of combine results. Does the fact that a dominant lineman on an 11-1 #3 in the nation team in a tough conference runs the 40 slow or can't bench press his own weight 15 million times make him a bad player? I'm just amazed by how scouts do this year after year. How many workout wonders actually pan out? How many times to teams passing on an established guy like Jimmie Williams for an Antonio Cromartie (1 GAME!) regret it? I understand that sometimes these guys work out but come on.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Personally I loved the Broncos' draft, especially getting Walker, but also the college sack leader, Dumervil, in the 4th round and the two quality O-line prospects they got. I am a bit concerned about them not addressing the DT position, but I believe that for most of the season they'll be too far ahead for the other team to run on them much, like last year, so I think improving the receiving corps and infusing youth onto the aging O-Line was an excellent move for next year. And of course, as is stated, Cutler shows they'll be competitive for the next 10 years, because he's perfect for Denver's offense.

I just don't see enough improvement by any other team to justify predicting anything but a Denver division title, and, dare I say it, a Superbowl this year.

Broncos take XLI down!

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re. #1: I watched Jimmy Williams in college and was very unimpressed. The only thing he had over Antonio Cromartie was experience--Antonio is physically more talented and has much more potential.

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

It would be interesting to see what kind of draft success you would have if you randomly picked guys from each of the following categories in that portion of the round: top half first round, bottom half first round, top half second, bottom half second and so on. Players are placed into each category by consensus (however you choose to define it) and randomly selected. It would be interesting to see how this method would perform on average from say 1990-2000. If random picks within category (RPWC) performs sufficiently well (however you wish to measure it), it could be used as a baseline to judge whether or not a team's draft brain-trust added anything positive to that team. In addition, much fun could be had noting that so and so couldn't even beat RPWC.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re: 3
I was just picking a random example based on conventional wisdom. I didn't really see enough VT games to judge (although Williams at least was a starter on one of the best d's in football). I'm sure I could pick a better one but finals have fried my brain.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

2 -

Not only is there not enough improvement with the other teams in the division - They both take a step back. The Chiefs are another year older, with a new head coach. The Chargers gave up their QB, and I think Schottenheimer and many team mates are angrier at AJ Smith then they're letting on. The Broncos drafted well and haven't really lost anything. I think they'll easily take the division.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I don't get how the anger towards AJ Smith is going to present itself in a legitimate sense. Is Steve Foley going to line up Tatum Bell for a bone-crushing open-field tackle, stop, think "I really wish we had signed Drew Brees this year", and then let Bell go by, all the while pointing to the side of his face where he's gotten Brees' birthmark tattooed in his memory?

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Sorry if this is stupid, but isn't Tuiasosopo currently the Raiders' backup, not their third QB?

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


From what I've heard, Andrew Walter is going to be their #2QB this year. They just brought in Brooks to groom him (no, really).

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I thought knock on Hall was that he wasn't much of an athlete and he was poor against the run. I didn't see enough of him at Penn State to judge for myself. Of the guys who got rich that day, though, I say he might deserve it the most.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Is the anger really directed that much at Smith? I question some of his decisions, but letting Brees go without compensation seems more like a money decision than anything else. From living in San Diego several years in the late '90s (pre-Smith), the anger there mostly seemed directed at the cheap, meddling owners.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

...with the acquisition of Walker there are now eight former first-round picks on the roster.

1. Champ Bailey: 7th overall
2. Courtney Brown: 1st overall
3. Jay Cutler: 11th overall
4. Ron Dayne: 11th overall
5. George Foster: 20th overall
6. Ashley Lelie: 19th overall
7. Willie Middlebrooks: 24th overall
8. David Terrell: 8th overall
9. Javon Walker: 20th overall
10. Gerard Warren: 3rd overall
11. DJ Williams: 17th overall
12. Al Wilson: 31st overall

Of these, six were drafted by the Broncos. Eight are starters.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

With Lelie pushing for a trade, I have two questions. 1) Who is likely to trade for Lelie? 2) Who moves into the #3 spot?

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

From FOX Sports: Four teams are reportedly interested in acquiring Ashley Lelie: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

I understand that the Broncos have told Peter Schaffer that they want a first day pick, or a player. How likely is a trade? Your guess is as good as mine. :-)

As for #3, there's no way to tell right now. I don't think Todd Devoe or Charlie Adams showed enough last year. Plummer said that Darius Watts has "sick" talent; if he stops dropping balls, he has a chance. The dark horse is David Terrell, who has apparently turned his life around after leaving Chicago. He's got the talent, he's saying the right things, and he worked hard this offseason.

*grin* Starved for football and even all these speculations are interesting...

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


I personally think Schottenheimer, particularly if the Chargers have a bad season next year due to shoddy QB play, will walk afterwords.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Ah, yes, the ol' "Best Player Available" draft grading has gotten it's second call... Arguing "best player available" may make some sense if the guy drops 10-15 slots. But when he's dropped 50, 60, 70, 80... 120... 200...

So, instead of pointing fingers at clubs, maybe it's the critics who need to re-evalute their positions and admit that they're pet favorite he's not the "Best Player Available." Instead, he might be the best piece o'turd available. He might be the "Biggest over-rated/bust available." But we've gotten 32 clubs and over $100 million in annual NFL scouting costs saying he's not...

And, once that's part of the paradigm, maybe teams drafting these major "falls" should be getting criticized for drafting these players. Nothing like wasting a 3rd or 4th round slot on a guy who's dropped a 80-100 slots because he's got major character defects. It seems to me, this whole exercise, now in it's second installment speaks more about stubborn critics who refuse to adjust their positions than it does about whether a club was right or wrong in its draft choices.

Really, it's kind of disappointing. It was bad enough to read the NFC West criticisms when it was clear the authors didn't even bother to know what position some players were drafted to play. Now this column following the same logic as the first...

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Watts had a knack for getting open and a habit of dropping the ball. He could be very good if he learned how to catch.

I'd hate to see Lelie in KC. That would be two former Broncos in their receiving corps. Philly might be a good fit for him.

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I thought knock on Hall was that he wasn’t much of an athlete and he was poor against the run.

It was mainly a size thing. Hali definitely isn't poor against the run, although sometimes it's a bit difficult to tell - he could afford to take risks that let a RB through because of the LB corps behind him.

I've seen him chase down RBs from behind, coming from the backfield after the RB has already passed the line. The guy just plays at full-speed the entire game, from the start of the play to the whistle blows.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Oh, and Philly has no interest in trading in Lelie - that's already been stated. They were interested in Moulds and Walker, just not at the prices being asked for, but they have no interest in Lelie.

(... for which I am very thankful, mind you)

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Babatunde Oshinowo

Ended up being picked in the 6th round, surely the NFL teams know more about this guy then the Kipers....

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#16 - The whole basis for these articles is to compare the draft 'experts' ranking with the actual draft. I hope the teams with the $100 million or so dollar payrolls for players have more info, scouts, etc. and can evaluate players better. These articles seem to be more of an inditement of the 'experts' than of the teams.

Probably the best way to analyze the draft in terms of BPA would be to acquire the 32 teams' ranking, average it out and then compare in a similar manner. We could never expect that to happen, but it would make for an interesting analysis.

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


I think you'd be surprised. If you read a lot of the comments from the GMs and coaches after the draft, you'll often find that many of them had people ranked similarly to where the draft boards had them. As an example, if you look at the comments Philly made, Philly was likely to take Justice if Bunkley hadn't been available - they had him rated that high. And then when he started to fall, they frantically tried to trade up to get him. Ditto for Max Jean-Gilles. They clearly had the same opinion of the two of them that the boards did.

Now, I don't agree with the draft boards very early on, because early on, you've got to worry about cost as well, and later on I think a lot of teams don't worry about picking the best player available, because most likely the best player... isn't that good, anyway.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

The dark horse is David Terrell, who has apparently turned his life around after leaving Chicago. He’s got the talent, he’s saying the right things, and he worked hard this offseason.

Hmmm, is this the same Terrell who was picked up by New England last year, or am I getting names mixed up? If it is, I wouldn't put too much stock in him. All of us in New England were saying the same things, and he didn't exactly pan out, with Andre Davis making the team ahead of him.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#23: Same guy. However, I believe that at New England, he got a staph infection in his leg during training camp and didn't get on the field until late in the pre-season. So, he was cut, and the Broncos signed him. And he sat for 15 games, last year. "Watch and learn," Shanahan told him. We'll see if he has.

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re: #16

If what you said were true, then you wouldn't have late round picks who become superstars, let alone undrafted free agents, and every first round pick would be a gauranteed stud. Every draft pick is nothing more than an educated guess. A lot of players who "fall" use that percieved slightt as extra motivation. In a league where talent levels are comparable across most players, its that motivation that can be the extra edge in making a roster and making a difference.

Last year Khalif Barnes fell due to character issues and he turned into an immediate contributor.

Meanwhile there are plenty of workout wonders who rise for no good reason. Mike Mamula circa mid-90s being the ultimate posterboy.

I don't put as much trust in the collective scouting ability in the NFL, otherwise, Tom Brady would have been a #1 overall.

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Schottenheimer is gone unless he reaches the Super Bowl. I think that Smith gave serious thought to firing at the end of last season but I think he was hoping that maybe Marty would quit on his own.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

As a Bears fan, I wouldn't pin any hopes on Terrell. He is no where even close to the hype he had out of college. He's celebrated after a 6 yard catch at midfield. For me, the play that epitomized his career was the time he caught the ball (surprisingly), angled upfield, got caught from behind by a linebacker, and fumbled out of bounds. Of course this example isn't perfect. It isn't often that he catches the ball, and the fumble going out of bounds was luck on his part. Don't get your hopes up, Bronco fans.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re: 1

Here's a name to back up your point- Terrell Suggs.

Charles Rogers, Dewayne Robertson, Jonathan Sullivan, and Jordan Gross among others all went before him, despite the fact that he set the NCAA record for sacks in a season. Suggs hasn't missed a game in his 3 years and averages slightly over 10 sacks a year. Slipping to 10 when he should have gone between 3 and 6 doesn't sound like much, but there are a lot of teams that are sorry they passed on him.

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Re 12: Very true. I was looking to distinguish first round picks the Broncos got off other rosters, but the numbers go up even more when you factor in the homegrown guys. (And PFP 2006's Denver chapter will focus on that very thing.)

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

The Broncos and Chiefs are both listed as owning pick 61.

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#27: But we all know that David Terrell was a bust in Chicago. The basis of the hope is the change of scenery and coaching staff.

At one point, this guy had the talent to be picked in the top ten. But, he was immature.

"Off the field I did a lot of bad things," he said. "When I was in Chicago, that's a beast. That city can swamp and consume you, and for a 20-year-old kid -- I let it get me."

In Chicago, he played with nine QBs in four years, and averaged 4 catches for 55 yards over 29 games. He'll have more stability in Denver, but even if he doesn't get any better, those are perfectly decent #3 receiver numbers.

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

kaveman: I suspect a slight flaw in your analysis. Those are good numbers for a number 3 but a number 3 isn't on the field almost every play the way a 1 or 2 would ( and as I assume Terrell was in Chicago - but I am just guessing )

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re 30: Typo. Thanks for the catch. The Chiefs took Pollard at 54 overall.

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#32: True, true, mikeabbott. The reason for my optimism is not simply that I'm a Broncos fan, however. :-)

This guy had 42 receptions for 699 yards in a season when Rex Grossman, Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel and Chad Hutchinson all quarterbacked the Bears. Now when you consider that Muhsin Muhammad went from 93 catches for 1405 yards with 16 TDs to 64 catches for 750 yards and 4 TDs in that Bears offense...

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#25: does anybody have stats from Tom Brady's career at Michigan? Since he's so often used as an example of how NFL scouts don't know what they're doing I'd like to be able to judge for myself how obvious it was that he was going to be a star NFL player.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Tom Brady's senior year (1999) stats are linked in my name. You could probably find the '98 stats as well, I just did a 'tom brady college stats' google search. The numbers for 99:

61% completion rate, 180 completions
2217 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs.

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#35 and #36: An interesting question. The scouting report on Tom Brady said:

"Poor build, very skinny and narrow, will get pushed down more easily than you'd like. Lacks mobility and the ability to avoid the rush, lacks a really strong arm."

On the numbers, to compare, here's Jay Cutler in his final year:

59.1% completion percentage, 273 completions
3073 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re: 35

Just to be clear, I'm not saying they don't know what they're doing. I couldn't begin to point out what does or does not poinnt to someone being a superstar caliber player, so I'm not suggesting anyone can do it. I am saying though that all they make is an educated guess, and the fact that someone falls on draft day past the point where most predict is not an indicator that the guy isn't going to cut it.

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Brodie completed 59.6% of his passes as a senior...really that one incomplete pass challenges his NFL career that much? His WRs dropped an assload of passes as well.

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Profootballweekly lists this for Tom Brady at the time:

The Patriots' Tom Brady is a typical Michigan quarterback: solid, steady and a leader. He has good height (6-4), is very poised, can read coverages and has good accuracy and touch. However, at 211 pounds, Brady looks a little frail, and he lacks great physical strength and stature. He also lacks mobility and a real strong arm.

Now as I recall it, over the past few years, Tom Brady's generally put on weight, added zing to his arm, and worked on his mobility. He'll never be all-world for all those, but he did add just enough to his physical strength that it went well with his 'intangibles'.

I'm guessing that when NFL drafts talk about inexact science, this is what makes it so inexact: projecting a player after adding weight and muscle onto him. Will his body hold up with more strength? Will he improve? If so, by how much? How well will he respond to coaching? Will he actually -get- coaching?

Things like that- Tom Brady spent his NFL career prior to starting concentrating on putting on muscle on his frame, working on his throws, practicing his footwork. Having Charlie Weis work with him did wonders, as well.

I think Jay Cutler will be just fine under Mike Shanahan... but I wouldn't say the same if he were under, say, Mike Tice.

41 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Brady went 20-5 as a starter and won the big bowl game he was in. I think the 'lack of mobility' shows up in the fact that he is strictly a pocket passer, so it is not as big a deal as scouts thought. Also, his arm is way stronger than what people say, he threw much further than Aaron Brooks and the other Q.B.s at that pro-bowl challenge, and he is accurate. Obviously, he doesn't have the strongest arm or anything, but plenty good enough for the NFL.
I actually don't believe that his body of work coming out of college justified more than a third round pick, but that was circumstantial. He had to split time with more highly touted prospects. I'm happy with him at Q.B., but don't think he got totally shafted in the draft, due to circumstance.
Comparing his two year numbers at college to a four year starter is not really taking in the whole picture since he played less.

42 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Our college quarterback projection system is skeptical of any player with an inadequate completion percentage, and Croyle’s was under 60% his senior season. Other scouts look at his slight frame and his litany of injuries and wonder if his body can hold up in the NFL.

Actually, the projection system from the article linked in my name is silent on Croyle. By its own terms, the projection system only applies to QB's drafted in the first two rounds. Now, the article did say that Croyle would be a bust, and Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green a solid starter, perhaps on the assumption that they would be drafted in the first two rounds.

Croyle actually has some similarities to recent successful QB's drafted after round 2. Here are the QB's drafted after round 2 who have finished top 10 in passing DPAR at least once since 2000: Gannon, Griese, Brooks, Brunell, Brady, Bulger, Hasselbeck, Green, Grbac, Brad Johnson. (I did not include the undrafteds, like Warner and Garcia, who took a more round about path to the league).

Several were downgraded because of bulk, but not height, and concerns over whether they could avoid injuries or take the pounding (see Brady, Green, Bulger, Brooks). With exception of Gannon, most were QB league average (6'2") or taller. Besides Gannon, they played for major college programs on balanced or run-oriented teams that ran pro-style offenses, but most of the QB's themselves were not runners. They didn't play in gimmick offenses like run n shoot or spreads, so most did not throw for a ton of yards in college.

As for the question about Brady's stats, I would point out he was a 2 year starter, and he has something like 2 of the top 5 passing seasons in Michigan history. He twice led 4th quarter comebacks in major bowl games, and also against Penn State (with Arrington/Brown) and Ohio State, and was voted team MVP his senior year. He was overshadowed by Henson, even though Henson was the backup who got some series, and completed less than 50% of passes to Brady's over 60%.

43 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

On the Broncos, I see everything riding on Javon Walker, as far as a good or bad draft and offseason. They will probably be better or worse next season, and the only change that I've noticed is Walker. It does seem like their division could become next year's AFC EAST, with Chargers collapsing due to Q.B. shift and management -coach relations, and the Chiefs having a new coach, and the Raiders flat sucking. We shall find out....

44 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re 42: If you check the comments section, David mentioned that Croyle projected to be a bust.

45 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

He did say that pre-draft, but he also said the study did not apply to QB's drafted after round 2. As it turns out, none of the guys mentioned (Whitehurst, Jacobs, Croyle) were drafted in the first two rounds. Therefore, to say Croyle is projected to be a bust based on the study is incorrect.

The study did not compare other QB's drafted after round 2, to see if the Games Started criteria (which would dim the outlook on Croyle because of games missed to injuries) continues to hold up. You might just as well find an inverse correlation between college games started and pro success in later rounds, as the guys who started 4 years in college (so teams had lots of tape and they stayed healthy) but were not deemed good enough to go in the first two rounds perform worse than say, two year starters in college who waited behind other qb's or were injured for parts of their career.

46 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Yes, except Croyle fell outside the bounds of the study. He wasn't drafted in the first two rounds. So we can't say anything about him.

47 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

according to this article credited to AP (link in my name) the Broncos have added another 1st round pick in Kennard Lang, another former browns defenseman.

48 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Fair enough. The purpose of the limitation was to weed out players who were never considered upper tier prospects but who played in QB-friendly systems that inflated their statistics. No one ever thought that Timmy Chang was an upper echelon prospect, regardless of the numbers he put up. Croyle, on the other hand, was widely expected to go in the second round. The fact that he didn't ultimately go until the third, in large part because Minnesota went out and reached for Tavaris Jackson, shouldn't mean that therefore he's a completely inapplicable case study.

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#47: Turns out that not only was Kenard Lang a first round pick, but so was Ebenezer Ekuban, selected 11th overall by Dallas in 1999. Which makes that list 14 members long. Phew. What does it all mean...

50 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

It means Denver has a team filled with guys who have prototype measureables. They're big and they're fast.

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The article stated that there are 8 first rounders drafted by other teams on the Broncos roster, in addition to the 6 you listed that they drafted. So, in other words, better than 1 in 4 players on the Broncos' roster were former 1st rounders! They're athletic, fast, and they get the best out of late round O-Line and RB prospects. What more could one ask for? Only the Superbowl will do this year, I'm afraid, and if the Broncos don't win it with the roster they've put together on both sides of the ball, I must admit I will be disappointed.

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RE 12

The denver list (even as corrected with lang and ekuban) is wrong. Denver shipped Willie Middlebrooks to San Fransisco last offseason for John Engleberger. So Denver is currently sitting with 13 former first round picks including 7 starters and 5 denver picks.

Interestingly enough, assuming that lelie will be gone or 3rd reciever by camp, Denver will be starting only 3 of Its 1st round picks this year.

Also, of the 8 former first rounders from other teams, 7 are rebuilding projects. That is to say denver signed them after they started their careers as disappointments on some other team. I suspect that this is because its better to get premium physical skills with the baggage/injuries/failures of ex-first rounders than actually paying it to high 1st round picks.

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Re #52: Denver *did* ship Middlebrooks to San Fran last season. San Fran cut him, resigned him, cut him, resigned him, and then cut him again. He just signed a 1-year contract with Denver again this season.

Also, Bailey, Brown, Dayne, Ekuban, Foster, Walker, Warren, Williams, and Wilson are all projected as starters. That's 3 of 6 drafted by the team (with Cutler earning a pass since he's a rookie), and 6 of 8 acquired from other teams (with Lang and Terrell being the big exceptions).

Interestingly enough, just a few years ago, Denver was the exact opposite. In 2002, starting on Denver's defense were Bertrand Berry, Kelly Herndon, Lenny Walls, Donnie Spragan, Nick Fergeson, Monsanto Pope... and I forget who else. Either way, 9 of the 11 starters on defense were either undrafted free agents, or players who had spent at least a year out of the NFL. I think it's just a testament to Denver's talent evaluation that they can do it any way and still succeed.

54 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Just a question of curiousity - if we flip the analysis - e.g. use the draft as the proper valuation of players -- which of the the ratings did the best? Any idea which of these guys have done the best over the last few years?

55 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Croyle, on the other hand, was widely expected to go in the second round. The fact that he didn’t ultimately go until the third, in large part because Minnesota went out and reached for Tavaris Jackson, shouldn’t mean that therefore he’s a completely inapplicable case study.

Actually, it does - the study didn't use players who were widely expected to go in the second round. It used players that did go in the first and second round. This includes players that dropped from the first to the second round, or were reached for from lower rounds.

It's entirely possible that the games started correlation is a statistical property - in fact, it could be stronger in the first round than it is in the second round.

There's additional economic concerns as well: a first-round pick on most teams is expected to perform soon. It's just too expensive in general to leave them on as a backup. For a later round pick, that's not so true - Kansas City can easily leave Croyle on as a backup for 3 years without any roster space crunch. In addition, there's significant hints that waiting to start a QB makes them a better QB in the long run, which means that later round picks might could do better than their projection because they aren't asked to do as much as quickly as higher round picks.

56 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Actually, it does - the study didn’t use players who were widely expected to go in the second round. It used players that did go in the first and second round. This includes players that dropped from the first to the second round, or were reached for from lower rounds

I'll leave it to David to make any definitive statements on the matter, but again, my interpretation was that he used the second round as a cutoff point for the purpose of quality control, to keep out guys who were not seriously considered to be starting caliber quarterbacks in the NFL. No one is going to remember what the expectations were regarding the second or third round picks in 1988, but we are certainly aware of what the expectations were for this year, and we know that Travaris Jackson was not generally considered a second round prospect and that Brodie Croyle was. There's certainly no question that Kansas City drafted Croyle with the idea of eventually making him the starter. Croyle's injury history and accuracy problems are bona fide red flags. Russ Lande, who does the player evaluations for, gives quarterbacks a grade for how well they convert key downs, and Croyle's percentage is the worst of any quarterback Lande graded last year.

There’s additional economic concerns as well: a first-round pick on most teams is expected to perform soon. It’s just too expensive in general to leave them on as a backup. For a later round pick, that’s not so true - Kansas City can easily leave Croyle on as a backup for 3 years without any roster space crunch. In addition, there’s significant hints that waiting to start a QB makes them a better QB in the long run, which means that later round picks might could do better than their projection because they aren’t asked to do as much as quickly as higher round picks.

When first round picks play early, it's generally because they are the best quarterback on the roster the moment they walk into camp (which is why they were drafted to begin with). The number of teams with quality veteran starters capable of keeping a first round quarterback on the bench have been fairly few in number- the Jets had Testaverde when they drafted Pennington, the Vikings had Cunningham and Jeff George when they took Culpepper, the Bengals had Jon Kitna and more recently the Packers had Brett Favre. But usually, the first rounder will play, if not at the start of the season, then by the midway point, simply because he's too good to keep on the bench while you trot out Koy Detmer. In any event, I'm not sure what signficiant hints you are referring to. Some first rounders are ready to play quarterback in the NFL immediately and some of them aren't. Some of them are never ready. But seeing as about 45% of the first rounders turn into quality starters and about 10% of the quarterbacks taken in rounds 2-7 turn into quality starters, I don't find the argument that the later round picks are more likely to outplay their projection particulalry compelling.

Does Kansas City have the luxury of sitting Croyle for 2-3 years and letting him develop? Sure. Does that mean that he will develop? No. We remember the Tom Bradys and the Matt Hasselbecks and the Trent Greens because they developed themselves into top line NFL starters, but they're the exceptions. The vast majority of later round picks don't start at all because they never get good enough to start.

57 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I’ll leave it to David to make any definitive statements on the matter, but again, my interpretation was that he used the second round as a cutoff point for the purpose of quality control, to keep out guys who were not seriously considered to be starting caliber quarterbacks in the NFL.

It doesn't matter why the cutoffs were done. It just matters that they were done, and how they were done.

That is, there are a slew of 3rd round QBs in the NFL who might've been considered 1st or 2nd round material but weren't included in the study, and there might've been a slew of 1st or 2nd round material who slipped to 3rd not included.

This is almost entirely pointless, as I really have little doubt that extending the study to 3rd round would probably show the same thing (although you'd want to split it up by round to control for systematics) but given only the info in that study, Croyle's not covered by its methodology.

But usually, the first rounder will play, if not at the start of the season, then by the midway point, simply because he’s too good to keep on the bench while you trot out Koy Detmer.

Take a look at San Diego: they're an extremely oddball case. At that point, you had Rivers, who was making $5M/year or so, and Brees, who in 2005 was making ~$10M a year. That's $15M/year dedicated to your QB spot, and that means that some other area of your team is going to suffer. San Diego chose to do it, but few other teams would.

I disagree it's entirely because of skill level. Eventually you simply can't afford to keep a first-round talent and a starting-quality veteran on a team. It's just too expensive - hence the reason why the Redskins will start Campbell next year, and why Favre will definitely be strongly encouraged to retire.

In any event, I’m not sure what signficiant hints you are referring to

The study on FO a bit ago that said it was better to sit a QB for a few years. It's pretty striking the difference between QBs that sit and QBs that start. There are biases there, sure, which is why I said hint.

58 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

about 10% of the quarterbacks taken in rounds 2-7 turn into quality starters, I don’t find the argument that the later round picks are more likely to outplay their projection particulalry compelling.

Keep in mind that Kansas City doesn't necessarily need him to turn into a quality starter for that to be a valuable pick. They basically just need him to turn into a decent backup. See Matt Schaub in Atlanta, for instance. Schaub isn't a fantastic QB: in two years at Atlanta, he's got about a -6 DPAR in 140 passes. That's about the level of Todd Bouman in NO. Now, granted, he looked really good this year, and really bad last year, so he might be improving, but still, over the course of his contract he hasn't really given an amazing amount of performance to Atlanta.

But in any case - he was a 3rd round pick, and the Falcons are paying him a little less than $500K/year. That's much lower than a normal backup. A team's 2nd QB is typically about $1.25-1.5M. A team's 3rd QB is typically $500K-$750K. That's a nice savings of $750K-$1M on the salary cap for essentially equivalent performance.

You expect high performance from a 1st or 2nd round pick - because they're too expensive to keep as a backup. That's not true for a 3rd round pick - an average of 0 DPAR (i.e. purely replacement) is good value at that cost.

59 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Going all the way back to #1, Cromartie didn't have one game's experience, he only had one start. As I recall, he was the third Corner at FSU his freshman year.

Jimmy Williams doesn't have the agility to be a CB in the NFL, so the fact that he dropped was almost certainly due to the fact that he's viewed as a free safety, and only the very best of safeties get drafted in the top 20 picks.

And as a former tailgater at the Murph, or whatever it's called now, something had to be done. The parking situation there was without doubt the most haphazard I've seen anywhere, let alone a professional sporting event. First come, first serve, park wherever you want on the asphalt, without regard to parking spaces, other vehicles, or pedestrian pathways.

60 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I got something for #1 too.

A lot of the time it's not necessarily the scouts who are wowed by workouts. These guys are working around the clock all year (probably scouting out guys for the draft next year as I'm typing). It's usually the coaches (who don't really have time to pay attention to college prospects until the offseason) that just fall in love with some guy and go against what their scouts have to say.

61 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I think the predictions of demise for the AFC West are overblown. I guess its the recency effect, with the AFC East meltdown last year fresh in minds. Yeah, KC is a year older on offense, but they already had a good amount of games lost to injury on offense last year, including Roaf, Holmes, and Kennison missing games last year. No one retired on the O-line that continues to dominate when healthy, and LJ will be the man again. The Defense should improve over the low standards set in the Vermeil era, but by how much is the question. I dont see 5-11, barring a Philadelphia Eagles situation with every major offensive position having injuries, including LJ. Worst case is more like 2004, with a lot of close losses due to poor game management and late defensive meltdowns, and best case is improved secondary play, continued good offense, and something like a team that was older than the Chiefs on offense and had a new coach, the 2002 Oakland Raiders. I, for one, am not crying about Vermeil's retirement. I loved the guy, but his game management was poor and getting worse, and contributed to the fact that KC was below its expected win total 4 of 5 seasons. He made game decisions like KC had a good defense and mediocre offense. In Jacksonville 2 years ago, leading by 2 at the 2 minute warning, 4th and 1 at Jac's 30, with a rookie kicker, he went for a FG. A first down, with the best o-line in football, would have guaranteed a win. A missed FG was a good possibility from that distance (which is what happened), but even a make meant Jacksonville could win with a TD against KC's swiss cheese pass D. That move makes more sense if you are Carolina 2005 and have a good D, good kicker, and poor running game. He consistently made decisions that left the game to be decided by our worst unit, rather than our best.

As for SD, unless Rivers is the second coming of Ryan Leaf, I dont see a drop off there. If he is mediocre (QB rating in the upper 70's), then they will be a solid team. If he is better than expected, they will be in the upper tier. That pass defense has to improve, and they drafted pretty well on defense upfront, Tomlinson has been dinged up each of the last two years, and Gates is in his prime. I can see a Marty-led team losing again in the playoffs, but I don't see this team being well below .500.

And as for the Raiders, they have to be improved for at least one reason--Norv Turner is no longer the coach. What will we do without the collection of Turner, Tice and Haslett next year?

62 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


63 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

RE: 61
And as for the Raiders, they have to be improved for at least one reason–Norv Turner is no longer the coach. What will we do without the collection of Turner, Tice and Haslett next year?

We might of lost Norv, Mikey T., and Jimmy Haslett. But we did re-gain Art Shell! And who knows maybe Scott Linehan, Rod Marinelli (with the help of Mike Martz and Matt Millen), or Sean Payton will step up to fill the gap left behind by such exemplars of coaching excellence as Turner, Tice, and Haslett.

64 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I never thought that Brees was a big factor for the Chargers. He can't throw deep and that inability allowed teams to stack the LOS and greatly impaired Tomlinson. If the new QB, Rivers, is more accurate on his long throws they may actually be better on offense. Of course, it remains to be seen is he is more accurate on those long passes. If he though, LT may have his best year so far.

65 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Did a Bronco fan say the Broncos didn't really lose anyone?
Let's see: their best pass-catching TE from 2005 is gone. Their top rusher from 2005 is gone. No one on the D-line got more than 4 sacks, and their best lineman, Pryce, is gone, too.

The Broncos did have a good draft, and have picked up some good people in free agency. But Walker's return from injury is far from guaranteed. Lelie was inconsistent even when his attitude was good (which it won't be this year), and Rod Smith is getting old enough where connective tissue gets brittle and skills can erode during halftime.

So the Broncos arguably got weaker at RB, WR, TE, and DL. We'll have to see.

But for Bronco fans, the scariest and most uncertain aspect of the 2006 season was Plummer's performance in the last game of 2005. In 2005 he pretty much stopped making bad decisions and throwing dumb picks. But he looked just as bad in the AFC Championship as he ever did in Arizona. Which Jake Plummer will show up this fall? That will determine the Broncos' chances this coming year.

66 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#65: I have to disagree with almost everything in this post.

Jeb Putzier may have caught some passes, but he wasn't a starter. He was released because his blocking never developed as desired. 37 catches for 481 yards and no TDs won't be too hard to replace; the rookie Scheffler might do it. But anyway, I understand that the Broncos under Heimerdinger are going to run more 3 WR formations this year which is especially interesting considering your assertion that they got weaker at WR (more on WRs later).

Lost their top rusher? This I won't even argue beyond pointing out that from 1995 onwards, the Broncos have rushed for more yards than any other team. Somehow, I think they'll be okay.

The D-line... the Broncos say that the lack of sack production from them last season was due more to scheme than anything else, and that is going to change some this year. Trevor Pryce had 4 sacks last year, but Gerard Warren, at DT, had 3. I like Pryce, but he was visibly wearing down late in games despite the rotation. It remains to be seen if Kenard Lang, the rookie Elvis Dumervil, and the developmental prospect Corey Jackson, can make up for Pryce's loss, but I don't think it was a big loss. Not at this stage of Trevor's career.

The WR situation is uncertain, which is never good. The Lelie situation might yet be happily resolved but even if you write him off, there is Walker. The coaching staff seem confident in Walker's ability to return from his injury. If he doesn't, that would mean that someone would have to step up. In any case, if the Broncos do run more 3 WR sets, who will the 3rd WR be? It could be Darius Watts. Or David Terrell. But, it could be a rookie: Brandon Marshall. Of him, Champ Bailey had this to say:

"I want to know what other teams were thinking passing up on him. The guy's an incredible talent. You can only prove yourself so much in practice, but he's doing well enough to catch everybody's eye, and I want to see how that translates to Sunday."

Yes, yes, I know everyone looks like a star in minicamp.

Finally, Jake Plummer's performance in the AFC championship game has been overly criticized. The whole team played badly. In just the first half, the Broncos allowed the Steelers to convert 86% of their 3rd downs, throw for 180 yards, and start their drives on average, at their 38, while the Broncos started at their 28. Not to mention the time of possession: 18:31 to 11:29. Even Rod Smith dropped an easy ball. All this cannot be laid on Jake's shoulders.

So yeah. Even without a fan's rose colored glasses, I think the Broncos look pretty good this year. And the FO staff concur, subjectively ranking them 4th. I'll take that. :-)

67 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re #63: I'm tired of defending Shell in detail, so let me put it this way.

Art Shell had a 58.7% winning percentage. He made the playoffs in 60% of his full seasons with the team (and was on pace to make the playoffs in his partial season). He had a winning record in 83% of his seasons. He was 2-3 in the playoffs.

John Gruden in his first 4 seasons in Oakland had a 59.3% winning percentage. He made the playoffs in 50% of his full seasons with the team. He had a winning record in 50% of his seasons. He was 2-2 in the playoffs.

Explain to me, please, why John Gruden was worth two first and two second round selections, while Art Shell was worth firing and never getting another legitimate chance to coach in the league for over a decade (and even then being stuck back in Oakland, worst coaching position in the league, all over again).

Re #66: Oh yeah, and by the way, you forgot to mention that Plummer didn't turn the ball over ONCE until Denver was behind by 14 points.

Seriously, Tom Brady had a 4-int game last season. He had 4 multi-int games all season. Jake Plummer never threw more than 2 in a game, and only had 3 multi-int games. He also had the lowest int% in the entire league. Yet somehow people are worried about how turnover-prone Plummer is? What gives?

Forget Arizona. Arizona *IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF JAKE PLUMMER IN DENVER*. Over the last 3 years (his time in Denver), Plummer has finished 5th, 12th, and 6th in DVOA. The only QBs with a higher average DVOA over that span are Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Believe it.

68 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Seriously, a request for Football Outsiders:

Can you please put together an article to dispel this myth that Jake Plummer isn't a top-5 (let alone top-10) QB in Denver? I've never seen a player where the perception from a previous team has followed him after he's done so much to dispel it. It'd be like if people kept insisting that Simeon Rice wasn't any good because he was only average in Arizona.

69 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


I appreciate a spirited defense of one's team as much as the next guy (and you back yours up with citations, at least), but this one went a little overboard.

Jeb was Denver's best receiver at TE last year, He's gone. If Heimerdinger plays more 3-wideout sets, it's not such a big problem, that's true. But the wideout corps is having its own issues, and that burning smell is Lelie finishing off his bridges back to Denver. This si not an insurmountable problem; but it is a question that needs to be addressed. I would wager that guys as smart as Shanny and Heimer have proven to be will address it. The answer just isn't apparent yet.

You've given all the reasons that Trevor Pryce won't be enough to replace Anthony Weaver in Baltimore. You really haven't said who's going to replace him in Denver. The Broncos are hoping that someone will step forward, either Dumervil out of a LB spot, or some other concoction. Don't believe the results from early minicamps; even Chris Redman (he of the single worst DVOA game in history) looked good in minicamps.

Lastly, Plummer. I see you have a sore spot about the fellow. I understand that, but Nathan didn't mention Arizona at all. He said that Plummer had avoided all the things people were worried about, until the AFC title game, where the Broncos as a whole played badly, and Plummer had a very bad game trying to dig out of the hole his teammates put them in. No one mentioned Arizona but you; although you might extrapolate Arizona from talk about Plummer's "reputation." That's thin, though, Jake's 2005 season was an improvement on his previous time in Denver as well.

What do the Broncos ned to return to the title game, then? They need Plummer to play like he did for most of the year, and not under the pressure of the title game. They need one of possibly two new receving options (Smith is on the Rice slide now, sad to say) to assert themselves. They need to improve the pass rush, since their leading sack man (however limited he was) is gone.

Those are all doable, but they are legitimate questions. Proving that Plummer had one of the best seasons of any QB last year really doesbn't address any of them.

70 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re #69:
I'm afraid you're confusing me and Kaveman. I never once mentioned Jeb Putzier or Trevor Pryce. I understand that there are questions surrounding this Denver team that we don't know the answers to yet (although certainly far fewer questions around Denver than around the other teams in the division, which is why they're such big favorites to repeat). I understand that there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed before we start talking Superbowl for this team, too (although again, in my mind, fewer issues than anyone except Pittsburgh or Seattle).

My only contention was that Plummer is better than people give him credit for. That wasn't really directed at you, or really anyone in particular, I was sort of just typing to hear the sound of my own keyboard clicking. :)

I'm also curious why you say that Smith is on the Rice slide. He finished 10th in DPAR, 12th in DVOA, and he posted a phenominal 67% catch rate. The DVOA and catch% were his best marks ever in the DVOA era (2000 and beyond). The DPAR was behind only his phenominal 2000 and 2001 outings. I understand that Smith is old and due to decline eventually, I just wonder why you are so convinced that he's going to decline just one year after having such a huge career resurgance.

71 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

For most of the year, Plummer was a top-5 QB. For most of his career, he has not been. He started to drop off near the end of the year (like throwing a red-zone INT early in the loss @Arrowhead), and then looked atrocious in the AFC Championship game. If it doesn't affect his confidence, he'll be a top-10 to top-5 QB again, sure.

However, Kansas City's questions are at 1 CB position, both DTs, and Fullback; plus backup safety, backup LT, backup QB, and backup WR. They have bunches of competition to shore up the questions at CB, WR, S, DT, and O-line.

KC clearly upgraded at DE, and probably upgraded at S. With Warfield missing 5 games and inconsistent in a handful of others, KC might have upgraded at CB, as well, with someone already on the roster last year...remember, Dick Vermeil hated benching his veterans.

With Denver's questions at DE, DT, WR, TE, and possibly RB and QB (depending on how Bell steps up and Plummer recovers), Denver isn't an easy favorite this year. More questions than KC, but Denver's questionable positions probably no worse than mediocre, rather than KC's sub-par weaknesses.

That probably averages out, overall. I expect a dogfight between the two.

SD took a step back with Rivers taking over for Brees. Probably a year away from contending again.

Oakland added some good talent, but is in need of serious regrouping, maybe two years before contending again, unless they implode along the way.

72 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

#69: Again, remember that Putzier had 481 yards receiving last year. Quote from Fox Sports:

Since Shanahan took over as Denver's head coach in 1995, Sharpe, Byron Chamberlain, Dwayne Carswell, Desmond Clark and Putzier all had at least 475 yards in a season.

Stephen Alexander, the starting TE, has had a couple 500 yard seasons. Dwayne "House" Carswell is still on the roster. And there's a 2nd round pick, Tony Scheffler, in the mix. There might be a depth question, with Duke and Landy getting hurt and being released, but there's no other question here.

#71: With Denver’s questions at DE, DT, WR, TE, and possibly RB and QB...


Never mind.

73 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


Sorry that I conflated you and Kaveman -- I see a long post by a Denver fan starting with "K", and I get sloppy.

Similarly, I think Nathan is going too far with some of this as well. Denver doesn't have questions at running back -- they have a slew of capable backs, and a proven system for getting the most out of them. Heimerdinger isn't going to mess with that much. I would also like to have their problem at QB, with all of Jake's eccentricities. But, hell, I root for Baltimore; I'd like to have that QB Tennessee doesn't want to have to pay. I'm guessing Nathan is a Chiefs fan, because he seems to be taking a worst-case view of every Denver change this offseason. I wish I could work up as much of a butterfly effect regarding Bettis, Kimo and Randle El; but the Ravens will just have to settle for not being as wretched as Basilicus thinks.

74 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re #71: KC has quite a few more questions than that. Green, Roaf, and Shields will all be 35 or older this season. Kennison is 33. Gonzo is 30. There's a lot of age on that offense (a la Oakland 2002).

Oh yeah, and there's that whole thing about losing the HC and OC that made your offense so remarkable in the first place. One might expect that to have something of a negative impact (even if you like Herm Edwards... he's a downgrade from Vermiel, and losing Saunders will probably prove to be huge).

I also see that you forgot all mention of Javon Walker in your analysis, too...

75 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

What question is there with Green's ability? What question is there with Kennison's ability? How many games have they missed over the last 5 years? Until they show a drop-off in their on-field performance and an increase in injuries, it's not a question. Age isn't a question until it is a problem, and you have to consider the age of the player vs the others at his position. There are plenty of 35+ yr-old Ts and Gs who still played at a high level. There are plenty of 35+ year-old QBs who have played at a high level. There aren't many 36-yr-old #1 WRs, 34 is usually the max. Lelie was supposed to have replaced him at least 3 years ago, but has never stepped up.

So you are pinning most of your hopes on Javon Walker playing at a #1 level this year. How many games has Javon Walker played at a high level in the last 12 months? Is he guaranteed to come back at the same level? Has he ever started a full season?
The answers are None, No, and No. Look it up.
Oh, and Favre throws the ball a little differently than Plummer. You might just have a "system" guy. Until he actually performs with his new team, he is, by definition A Question.

That doesn't mean he's a weakness. Kansas City's questions are weaknesses if they aren't resolved. Denver's aren't. That doesn't change the fact that Denver has more positions where there is no way to know what performance you will have, i.e., a question.

How many games has Shields not started in his entire career? 1, his first season.

Roaf could be considered a question, I'll grant you. He missed 6+ games with injury last year. But once he recovered he showed no ill effects the last half of the season, which implies it won't be a factor this year. If he'd missed the last 6 games of the season with a hamstring injury, that would be far more questionable.
Aside from that, Kansas City has an excellent history of developing O-Line players under Solari. KC has been drafting O-line projects over the last several seasons, and currently has 3 relatively young RTs who have each earned a starting position on one of the top O-lines in the NFL over the last few years. Black did not do well in relief of Roaf at LT, yes, but only in comparison to Roaf's Pro-Bowl abilities; but with another year under Black's belt, the Chiefs probably have a more solid backup LT situation than most teams.

76 Re: Four Downs: AFC West


I don't understand why this "Brees Can't throw deep" rumor persists.

He is a pretty good deep ball thrower.

He did have the highest deep ball completion percentage in the league last year (through 12 games, not sure where he ended up).

77 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Re #75: So age wasn't a question for Oakland in 2003, because their offense hadn't suffered any ill effects in 2002?

Give me a break. Age is always a question. It's a simple fact of life that AT SOME POINT a player's ability will drastically decline. The older you are, the more of a question it is. While it's possible that KC lasts another season without showing any ill effects due to age... it's also possible that the floor drops out underneath them like the 2003 Oakland Raiders. Hence, it's a "question".

Despite their production, Roaf and Shields were both contemplating retirement last season. Does that not strike you as a "question"?

And for all of your rose colored glasses, you ignored the fact that Vermeil and Saunders are both gone. Will Herm Edwards be as effective? Dear me, that seems like another question.

How's Tony Gonzalez going to recover from the surgery he had? A minor question, but a question nevertheless.

Who is going to play #2 WR? Again a question.

Oh, and KC's defense has ranked 13th, 28th, and 21st in the last 3 seasons (compared to 6th, 5th, and 8th for Denver). Here's a question for you: Was last season random statistical variation, a regression to the mean, a fluke, or a meaningful sign of improvement?

78 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I think that the afc west division will be a very tough one indeed. Many teams have improved since last year, so we are getting ready to see quite a show!

Oakland Raiders: The Oakland Raiders have a great passing threat in Randy Moss, who will get plenty of catches since Aaron Brooks can use his legs to make time. Jerry Porter will also get his share of catches. Lamont Jordan is coming off a pretty good season, and defenses wont key in on Mr. Moss because of that. Their defensive line is pretty good. With their secondary improving greatly with the addition of Michael Huff and Darnell Bing, who to my understanding moved to linebacker?

San Diego Chargers: It is phillip river's time to shine. He has LT to help keep off the pressure, and LT is getting ready to have a MAJOR season like he was last year until that ankle injury. Nevertheless, he is sure to reach 1800+ with 300 Receiving yards this season. Now the chargers defense is pretty good as well with Shawne Merriman coming off an OUTSTANDING rookie season, and Donnie Edwards being amazing, as usual.

Kansas City Chiefs: If Larry Johnson can do what he did last year, this is going to be a historical year. I however, do not think he will even get near the numbers he posted last year. Defenses are keying in on him now, since 35 year old Trent Green does not have many targets to throw to with eveeryone getting old!

Denver Broncos: The Broncos are coming off a 13-3 season and have made some changes. Javon Walker boosts their offense a lot, and with the elimination of Mike Anderson, it falls a little bit. Their defense is still outstanding with John Lynch, Champ Bailey, and Ian Gold.

Overall, here is how i predict the AFC West will pan out.

Denver - 11-5
Kansas City - 10-6
San Diego - 9-7
Oakland - 7-9

79 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I don't see why you are getting so upset, Kibbles. I'll repeat and expand the major points for you:
Denver has more questions than KC, KC's questions are more dire than Denver's. I don't see why that is so hard to swallow. That means that Denver was a better overall team than KC last year, with less weaknesses. No area was worse than adequate, whereas KC had several areas that were clearly sub-par. In the inevitable off-season shuffling, Denver lost some good players, players who played significant roles on offense and defense. Kansas City didn't lose anyone of note.
Denver started in a better position than KC, and faces diminishing returns in efforts to improve. That's normal. It's harder for a team that made it to the AFC Championship to improve from that level than one who missed the playoffs. Kansas City did more to improve its weak areas, but it was easier to do because their weak areas were so deficient. If you have a sub-par D-line, a few average free agents and a draft pick represents a significant upgrade...but if your D-line was already middle-of-the-pack, you need a top player to improve it. Losing your top sack leader without adding another one cannot be shrugged off.
Both teams lost their offensive coordinator. Both teams return many of their strengths intact.
All in all, Denver probably has the inside track to win the Championship, but KC will push them. Since this is the NFL and injuries happen, KC may end up with a better record.
Yes, age is a factor. You could say the 2003 Raiders imploded due to age, but you could also say it was due to incompetent management, bad coaching, and a string of injuries. When an old team gets injured it's "age". When a young team gets injured, then what? Javon Walker has missed far more games than Willie Roaf due to injury...but supposedly Roaf is an age risk and Javon Walker is guaranteed to play without any rust?
Age is not a factor until it is. When someone plays beyond the norms for their position, I think you can call their age a question. When they are playing within norms, I think calling it a question is just someone playing tit-for-tat.

The only possible way you could interpret my analysis as "rose-colored" is if you think Denver has some sort of mystic destiny to always be the AFC Champ or something. Every year is different. There is a logical way to look at questions, and a haphazard way. Haphazardly, everything is a question, and you don't know until they play the game. Logically, you look at history (both last year, and entire career), allowing for differences based on different systems, different teams, etc. Someone refusing to show up for training camp due to pay disputes raises a question about their willingness to play hard for their team. Spending an entire season on IR raises questions about someone's ability to come back 100%. Losing your top statistical performer raises a question of who will replace him.
When you aren't sure about age, look at historical norms. Tom Nalen is older than Will Shields. Lynch and Elam both have 14 years in the league, Sauerbrun has 12 years (same as Rod Smith). But Sauerbrun's age doesn't impact his position as much as it does WRs, yanno? And I didn't list Lynch or Elam as questionable due to age, did I? So until Roaf and Shields show reduced ability due to age, they aren't questions either.

Stephen, I think your prediction is pretty close. I'd add a win each for Denver and KC, take one win away from SD (Philip Rivers is starting for the first time...there are far more Ryan Leafs in SD's history than Tom Brady's; I also can't ignore that Tomlinson got only 7 yards on 17 carries in one game), and take 2 wins away from Oakland.
I think Oakland assembled some good pieces on defense, but they need a year to play together before they can push for a winning season. If Lamont Jordan was going to draw attention away to give Moss some room, he would have done so last year, but was pretty much just mediocre. Your strongest point is Brooks scrambling ability might buy him the time to make better use of Moss' skill than Kerry Collins did. I don't know, though. With the exception of the Super Bowl appearance, the Raiders just seem to keep finding new ways to fall apart.

80 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

nathan, you do have some points. but randy moss was injured for some time last year, and still put up at 1000 yards. I think phillip rivers will do good, hoever, because hes not a rookie QB taking on the reins of a horrible team who was lucky to have the first pick (STRANGELY FAMILIAR TO ALEX SMITH AND THE 49ERS)

no, he is taking on a playoff bound team and learned from a good qb and has a running attack to work with, and valuable options to throw to.

kansas city has a potential MVP in their starting 22, but defenses will key in on him, which is why i think they will barely limp into the play offs as a sixth seed, andd then win 3 straight road games with excellent playing from trent green until the superbowl, where he will throw 3 interceptions and rush for a VERY QUESTIONABLE TD and then his team will barely win since everything is an offensive pass interference these days.

And yes, i am a sea hawks fan.

but i do think the raiders will improve simply because they should get an easy schedule, (although im not sure) and i think jerry porter is on the midst of a breakout year. because hes learning from one of the best wide recievers in the league.

81 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Yang. Your fantasy forgot to mention that the kick returner for Chef's scores 98 yard winning TD despite three illegal blocks and two holds on the returning team.