Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Mar 2006

FO on FOX: Revisiting Past Drafts

Two years ago I wrote an article revisiting the 1998 draft, and last year I wrote an article revisiting the 1999 draft. This year I've revised those two articles, and they're both now available at FoxSports.com. The 1998 version is linked in the headline, and the 1999 version is available if you go into the comments and click this link.

Yes, I will be writing an article revisiting the 2000 draft. Football Outsiders and FoxSports.com will be the best places on the Internet to get NFL draft analysis for the next month.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 31 Mar 2006

43 comments, Last at 02 Apr 2006, 3:16pm by JRM


by wrmjr (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 3:59pm

Nice articles, MDS. You didn't ask, but I prefer the position by position analysis of '98 to the format of '99. Since you are looking at these things, does it look like teams are better at evaluating college talent at certain positions? For example, in 1998, you note that pretty much all the top OT selections have worked out pretty well. Is that common or uncommon for the position? What about other positions?

by Wooba-Gooba (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 4:22pm

I'm scratching my head on a comment in the 1999 draft article, regarding the best overall draft:
'Every single one of those guys was gone by the time his rookie contract expired.'

I would have thought that a good draft would be noted by the number of rookies asked to remain on the team after their initial contract expired. The sentence within the article makes it seem as if they were run out of town.

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 4:26pm

In the 1999 edition, there's not even a mention of the Eagles fans' tomfoolery, booing their future franchise quarterback? I know that angle has been played to death, but it's got to rank top-5 for all-time collective

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 4:28pm

grrr.... stupid quotes. What that should say is...
it’s got to rank top-5 for all-time collective 'oops, my bad' fan moments.

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 4:51pm

Reading that '98 article made me realize that for all the acclaim Denver gets for finding good running backs, they've been pretty terrible when it comes to drafting receivers.

by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:19pm

I'd like to second the nice words above, and also second that I preferred 1998's position-by-position workup to 1999's general thoughts and impressions. Either way, very impressive work, MDS.

As to whether teams are getting better at drafting, I think the answer is 'Absolutely not.' I've mucked around some with looking at past Oilers/Titans draft picks and who was drafted around them, and the fluctuations between overall talent levels in rounds can be amazing. Check out the number of quality players in 2000's 6th round and compare it to, say, 2001's 3rd round. Or, if they did so well drafting tackles in 1998, looki at the Tackles drafted in 2000 and tell me why Chris McIntosh was #22 overall and Mark Tauscher #224. As a general rule, you're better off with a higher pick, but I'm convinced there will always be early pick misses and late pick hits.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:20pm

I definitely liked the 98 article format better. Both are very interesting - especially since those were very odd years in terms of big draft events.

I have no idea what the rookie contract expired comment meant either.

by empty13 (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:26pm

Denver O was not designed to make stars out of pedestrian WRs...

altho Smith and McCaffrey became stars...

by Duane (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:38pm

Again, nice article MDS. Still, I'm always uncomfortable labelling anyone a bust whose career was adversly affected by injuries (Andre Wadsworth). While he didn't play up to expectations, and we can debate whether a player is in some way responsible for being injury-prone versus injury-resistant, I think he and others like him belong in a special category: Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:41pm

I guess I phrased the comment about the rookie contracts for the Bills wrong. The point I was trying to make is that none of them stuck around with the Bills long enough to get a second contract with the Bills. They're all on different teams now, and have been for a couple years, rather than still on the Bills but with new deals. Basically, I was trying to pre-emptively answer the question, 'If the Bills drafted so well that year, why haven't they become a great team?' Instead I just raised more questions.

by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:41pm

#3 - yes, if there's one thing modern football is lacking, it's references to McNabb being booed on draft day. I guess you'll just have to settle for it being mentioned in during every single Eagles game and in every single Philly sports story. Hopefully that will be enough to get the story out.

By the way, did you know that Philly fans also booed Santa Claus? It's one of those little-known tidbits that isn't brought up much these days.

by empty13 (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:48pm

Wow... that's beyond the pale.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 5:51pm

Philly fans booed Santa? I thought someone punched him. My mistake.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:01pm

I think you are getting Santa confused with Clinton Portis' mom.

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:17pm

RE: #8

With the exception of Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis, the running backs haven't really been

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:19pm

they haven't really been 'stars' either, but they've been a lot more productive than the non-Smith/McCaffrey receivers (except maybe Lelie)

by CA (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:19pm

'Ward is a close second' to Moss? Hines Ward is a fine player, but he is a distant second to Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL draft. Comparing across positions from that draft, Moss is on the level of Manning, whereas Ward is on the level of Taylor and Green.

by empty13 (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:27pm

Several other pedestrian backs looked good in Denver, and not so good elsewhere. Droughns is on probation.

It might be good for some to reduce their assessment of what a 1000 yard back is worth. One sure isnt what it was pre-1976.

1000 yards anymore means 62.5 yards per game. Not quite a stud anymore.

by andy (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:38pm

17: Talent-wise, you are probably right, but talent only gets you so far. I don't think Hines Ward and his Escalade have anything left to prove.

by empty13 (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 6:51pm

Ward DOES play every down.

by PDBIP (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 7:00pm

I wasn't aware that Hines Ward was 'out to prove' anything. He seems immune to the effects of disrespect.

by Nate (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 7:45pm

If it makes any difference, I think John Tait played at a near pro-ball level at LT last year. The NFC is stacked at LT, however. The Bears haven't had a serviceable LT since Blake Brokenplayer - it's a nice feeling to have one.

by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 7:53pm

-Duane I agree with you.

by SJM (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:08pm

While both pieces were informative, the format that I would like most is actually a team-by-team breakdwown. I think this is the most common format for mainstream articles, but those are usually written just days after the draft. I'd like to see an analyis of each team's draft with assessments at the time of some players, assessments at the time of the team's selections as a whole, and a hingsight assessment for each team. I know it would run a bit long and might not have much insigt for any one particular team, but that's the format I'd most like to see.

by playoffs (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:16pm


Great point, Moss and Manning stink badly when they are needed the most, whereas Ward is key in big games. I totally agree that Manning and Moss are similiar, putting up big numbers against lame defenses in their pathetic divisions and then disappearing in important games which are 'must win' situations!

by the K (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:30pm

I liked the articles a lot. I prefer the format of the 1998 article more as well. But the 1999 had this priceless quote: 'Even if Williams' career hadn't gone to pot, no one now could dispute that James has been the better player.' :D

by Barnas (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:34pm

Moss might be faster, taller, have better hands, jump higher ETC, ETC, ETC, but I'd take Ward over him every time.

I don't know if there's such a thing as clutch play. But there's every down, 100% effort play, which Ward gives. I'll take that over primadonaism, ta.

by Theo (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:39pm

I truly, realy thing toughness is the best thing to have for a running back.
Not speed, power or anything.
30% Toughness, 20% skill then another 30% toughness then 20% will.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 9:02pm

Wow. If I knew what I know now, and could choose between drafting Moss and Ward in 1998....that would be a very tough choice.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 9:09pm

Booger, seriously, what the hell.

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Fri, 03/31/2006 - 11:03pm

Nice work, MDS. I understand the point you were trying to make about the Bills' '99 draft; they picked up guys who played well enough to get big contracts with other teams. Of course I'm not looking forward to your recap of the debacle of the Bills' 2000 draft. That's a much less pleasant memory.

by Tom (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 2:00am

Re #24
Check the link for my preliminary workup of how the Titans did with their selections in the 1999 draft. I looked at who was drafted around them, both by slot and by same position. If you (or any others) have feedback, feel free to post it here, there, or email me.

One thing I don't do is a more macro-level analysis of how the picks looked at the time and where else the teams could have gone position-wise. Another thing that would be interesting to look at would be trades, both for draft picks and for established players. Would the Titans have rather had Kevin Carter or the 1st round draft pick they traded to St. Louis, which the Rams used to select DT Ryan Pickett? Or take the trade the Texans made with the Titans to move up to pick Jason Babin; the Titans run a 4-3, so they probably wouldn't have chosen Babin. Who would have they have picked instead, and would they have been better off with it? All part of the draft hindsight game, and not to belittle any of MDS's fine work (just check out the notable 7th round picks he listed that I missed for proof of that).

by coltrane23 (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 2:18am

Nice work, MDS. FWIW, I also prefer the positional breakdown you offered for '98.

I'd forgotten, or perhaps blocked, the draft mediocrity that was the Holmgren Era. Great coach, but his work as a GM has been decidedly not good. More reaches than hits, that's for sure.

Lamar Freakin' King???

by CA (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 9:24am

You guys convinced me. Ward has a passion for the game and gives it his all every time he gets out there on the field. He has a tireless work ethic, and he plays with a lot of emotion. He's the consumate team player and a proven winner. He's a leader on and off the field and the heart and soul of his team. He has a lot of heart (The Heart of a Champion, it's fair to say). Most importantly he is clutch. He truly is better than Moss.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 10:46am

Pat Tillman of Arizona State went to the Cardinals in the seventh round with the 226th pick overall, and before he became a hero off the field, he became one of the league's best safeties.

Man, I really don't want to start a dust-up, so I'll be as delicate as possible with this:

I know that he was offered a 3M/yr contract with the Rams right before he retired to join the Army, but from what I understand, Tillman was desired more for his situational play than his across-the-board dominance.

I think he was more like Bowen: a situational run-stopping nickel/safety.

I recall there was some chatter at the time that Tillman might've been cut by the Cards, or had his role reduced to backup (I believe the idea of a Special Teams Deamon was coined because of him).

So yeah, he was a stud, but I don't think he was

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 10:47am

...'one of the league's best safeties.'

Sorry, quotes bug...

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 11:06am

Ruben, your comment includes all kinds of qualifiers ('from what I understand', 'I think', 'I recall') that make me think you never saw Tillman play. (Not like it's unusual for a football fan to go a few years without watching the Cardinals.)

I did watch Tillman play. I was a big fan of his before I knew anything about him personally. If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Paul Zimmerman, who watches every player in the league, keeps detailed notes, and said Tillman was the best strong safety in football in 2000. Dr. Z wrote that when he reviewed the charts he keeps, 'I couldn't believe the margin by which he outscored everybody on my board.'

Also, there's no such thing as a situational run-stopping nickel. If a team is in a nickel package, by definition it's not in a run-stopping defense.

I stand by what I wrote.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 12:09pm

I'll take your word for it; although I grew up in AZ, I only watched a couple Cards games.

As I said, I was just going off what I could recall.

Whoops...meant 'backer/safety (playing closer to the line on obvious-run plays), but the Bowen comparison stands.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 12:32pm

Comparing across positions from that draft, Moss is on the level of Manning, whereas Ward is on the level of Taylor and Green.

Must... resist... urge... to make Manning-Brady comparison...

by Tim (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 4:19pm

Surprised to see no mention of Jevon Kearse to the Titans in 1999, one of the best players to come out of that draft. Still, good articles though.

by Israel (not verified) :: Sat, 04/01/2006 - 4:19pm

The Ward vs Moss question will be decided definitively by thirty-nine guys a dozen or so year from now.

Does anyone really doubt that their preference will be obvious?

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sun, 04/02/2006 - 9:43am

Does anyone really doubt that their preference will be obvious?

Not really; Moss will get in on the same basis he's parlayed into so many Pro Bowls, and his gonzo signing bonus with Oakland: Hype over performance.

by JRM (not verified) :: Sun, 04/02/2006 - 3:16pm

Hines Ward reminds me of Andre Reed- just an incredibly tough, gutsy WR that will fight to the death for the ball. I know, that's far from analytical, but it makes a difference.

I'd go Ward over Moss seven days a week. And remember- this is coming from the guy that thinks Dallas did a smart thing by signing Owens. I don't have a problem with flashy, attention grabbing guys as long as they have a strong desire to win. I just don't see that in Moss.