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NFL football is a violent game, and traumatic injuries are unfortunate but unavoidable. But are bigger players more likely to be hurt than their smaller peers?

15 Sep 2004

Rogers, Over and Out

by Michael David Smith

There's a word for players like Charles Rogers, and that word is "bust."

I know, I know, we're supposed to be feeling sorry for the guy after his second season ended on its first series. And I do feel sorry for Charles Rogers. He worked hard to rehabilitate after last year's broken collarbone, and then the first time a ball was thrown in his direction this year, he broke the same collarbone again.

But these are the facts: The Lions drafted Charles Rogers with the second pick in the 2003 draft. They inked him to a better contract, with $4 million more in guaranteed money, than Carson Palmer, who was taken with the first pick in 2003. Why did the Lions agree to give Rogers more than Palmer got? Because Rogers' brilliant agent, Kevin Poston, convinced the Lions that Rogers would have a significantly greater immediate impact than Palmer.

Both of his injuries came on seemingly routine plays. Last year's injury came during practice in a hit all witnesses thought was minor. This year's injury came as Rogers dove for an incomplete pass. It was the type of play that happens several times in every game. If Rogers couldn't withstand that, can anyone believe that he could withstand a 16-game season?

Now Rogers has finished two professional seasons. These are his NFL stats: 22 catches, 243 yards, three touchdowns.

Let's take a look at all the first-round wide receivers of the last five years and see what their numbers looked like after two NFL seasons. With Bryant Johnson and Andre Johnson I'll just double their rookie numbers:

Draft Year Player Team Catches Yards TD
2003 Andre Johnson HOU 132 1952 8
2003 Bryant Johnson ARI 70 876 2
2002 Donte Stallworth NOR 67 1079 11
2002 Ashley Lelie DEN 72 1153 4
2002 Javon Walker GNB 64 1035 10
2001 David Terrell CHI 43 542 7
2001 Koren Robinson SEA 117 1776 6
2001 Rod Gardner WAS 117 1747 12
2001 Santana Moss NYJ 32 473 4
2001 Freddie Mitchell PHI 33 388 1
2001 Reggie Wayne IND 76 1061 4
2000 Peter Warrick CIN 121 1259 5
2000 Plaxico Burress PIT 88 1281 6
2000 Travis Taylor BAL 70 836 6
2000 Sylvester Morris KAN 48 678 3
2000 R. Jay Soward JAC 14 154 1
1999 Torry Holt STL 134 2423 12
1999 David Boston ARI 111 1639 9
1999 Troy Edwards PIT 79 929 5

The first thing that sticks out, to me anyway, is that this is a mediocre collection of players. First-round wide receivers of recent vintage haven't been particularly productive. You'd have to be pretty bad to join R. Jay Soward as the worst of this group. And yet Rogers is. And that's despite Rogers being selected No. 2 overall, higher than any of the gentlemen listed above.

But what's most disappointing to Lions fans is what the Lions could have done with the No. 2 overall pick in 2003. Millen said before the draft that the four players he was considering were Rogers, Andre Johnson, cornerback Terrence Newman, and defensive end Terrell Suggs. Millen had his choice of any one of them; he also could have traded down a few spots and still selected one of them while getting an extra pick or two. Instead he stayed where he was, apparently confident that Rogers was the best of the four by a significant margin. Is there any doubt now that he was the worst of the four by a significant margin?

Of course, it's easy to second-guess a team's draft selections, and it's fair to point out that no one can predict injuries with any degree of certainty. But no matter what the reason, Rogers hasn't performed for the Lions. With 243 career receiving yards to date, Rogers is only nine yards ahead of Yatil Green, the first-round pick of the Dolphins in 1997. Coming into the draft Green was much like Rogers: He had had a great college career and was thrilled to be selected by his hometown team (Green attended Miami; Rogers attended Michigan State), he had demonstrated impressive leaping ability at the scouting combine to go with his great speed, and he looked like a perfect fit for a team hoping to add a deep threat. But Green blew out his knee in training camp and missed all of 1997. Like Rogers, Green worked hard to rehabilitate, and then, like Rogers, he suffered the same injury again the next season. Green finally got on the field in 1999, but he was never the player the Dolphins thought he would be.

I don't think Rogers will ever be the same player again, either. If he rehabs and gets back on the field next year, is it realistic to think he'll be able to forget his past injuries and go full speed over the middle? I'd love to think so, but I doubt it. Perhaps the one consolation to Lions fans is that unlike the Dolphins, who traded down in the draft and passed on Randy Moss the year after Green's injury, the Lions drafted another promising receiver, Roy Williams. But the presence of Williams doesn't make the absence of Rogers much easier to take. Two seasons in, Rogers has given no one any reason to believe he can stay healthy in the NFL. He looks like he'll end up just another player with great potential and nothing to show for it.

(Ed. note: This is as good a place as any to point out a new weblog on our links page, Patrick Breheny's The Lions' Den. We need more team-specific weblogs out there so go give him some attention.)

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 15 Sep 2004