You Say Tomato, I Say Future Pro Bowler
Or, The Report Card Report
by Aaron Schatz
At this point, we all know that NFL draft report cards are a bit silly, and that you can't truly judge a draft until those players have been in the league for a couple of years. Therefore, instead of producing yet another draft report card on this site, I decided to put together a report on everyone else's report cards. Sometimes, everyone agrees that a team had a great draft (Detroit). Other times, everyone agrees that a team had a terrible draft (Kansas City). What about the teams that the draftniks can't agree on?
I looked at eight different sets of draft grades, and here they are with links:
- Jarrett Bell (USA Today)
- Ron "The Wicked Witch of the East" Borges (MSNBC)
- Huddle Report
- Mel Kiper (ESPN) (requires Insider subscription)
- Dan Pompei (FOX/Sporting News)
- Pete Prisco (CBS Sportsline)
- Brandon Williams (Pro Football Prospectus) AFC NFC
- Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman (Sports Illustrated)
I'll point out that Dr. Z is so meticulous that he can't grade teams by just "+" and "-" and has to give grades like "A-/B+." Geez, Doc, make a decision. Also, Jarrett Bell graded teams with phrases instead of letters but the phrases basically work out to A, B, C, and D.
There were seven different teams that received at least one "A" and at least one "C" from these writers, with the exception of the Huddle Report. Why not include the Huddle Report? Their report card is based not on subjective analysis but on a numerical formula comparing when a player was picked with where he stood on their Top 300 before the draft. The goal is to judge the draft based solely on using the picks wisely, not based on how the players will perform in the long run. This led to a series of teams where the Huddle Report had a very different grade than the seven writers, which I list at the end.
But first, lets look at six of the teams where the seven subjective writers disagreed. I'm leaving off Chicago, which received good grades all around except from USA Today, but Bell didn't really have anything bad to say about them despite ranking their draft lower than others. Instead, I'll toss on another team (Houston) where there was a lot of disagreement despite no "A" grades.
Those first five teams seem are heavily disputed, while the last two just have one contrarian who disagrees with everyone else. Admit it, you are surprised it isn't Borges more often.
Carolina: Disagreements about Carolina's draft seem to revolve around top pick Chris Gamble, a cornerback from Ohio State. Dr. Z says Gamble "has lock-on skills but he might have trouble with zone schemes. Plus his tackling is not of the bone-jarring variety." But Prisco says Gamble "is a raw player, but he will develop into a star corner. Just wait and see." Kiper also calls Gamble raw, but he isn't as high on his future as Prisco, and both Kiper and Williams seem to downgrade Carolina's draft based on the fact that they just didn't take many players. Pompei says, "For a team that was picking so low, the Panthers did OK." Huddle Report's high grade is mostly due to OT Travelle Wharton of South Carolina (ranked 68, chosen 94), although Dr. Z calls Wharton "a finesse-type pass-blocker" which does not sound like a compliment.
Cleveland: Kiper says, "quality from limited numbers," but even the draftniks who gave Cleveland good grades didn't really seem to like their draft much past the first three players. Clearly everyone loves Kellen Winslow. Most everyone loves Sean Jones as well -- he's the reason for the A from Huddle Report (ranked 40, chosen 59) but Dr. Z may be the exception. I say "may be" because Dr. Z's Cleveland comments are typical rambling, impossible to fully understand Dr. Z, like someone dropped one of his mailbag answers into the middle of his draft grade column. I'm surprised the grades aren't lower, given that Cleveland trade with Detroit to move up the one spot in round one. Pompei straight out says his D comes from Cleveland's trade of a second-round pick to get Winslow. Williams also points out that the Browns "didn't properly address OL needs," and although this isn't directly related to the draft, he makes a good point that the Browns failed to move either QB Tim Couch or WR Dennis Northcutt in a draft-day trade that could have made up for the pick lost in the Detroit trade. Everyone seems high on fourth-round pick Luke McCown, quarterback out of Louisiana Tech who will get to learn for a couple years from Jeff Garcia.
Denver: Otherwise known as, "What do you think of Tatum Bell?" Pompei says that Denver needed a linebacker more than a running back, and that "knowing the Broncos, Tatum Bell will develop into a 1,000-yard back." Prisco says Bell "has the speed to become an effective force." On the other hand, Borges says Bell isn't as good as the backs taken before him, and Dr. Z says Bell is fast but "not a guy who does really tough things out there." He then compares him to Trung Canidate, which I think qualifies as damning with faint praise. As for the other players, everyone likes CB Jeremy LeSueur from Michigan, but many of the second day players were frowned upon. The Huddle Report hates this draft after the Broncos chose four players who didn't even make their top 300, plus Marshall wide receiver Darius Watts way earlier than they had to no matter how much they liked him (ranked 150, chosen 54). Borges really slams the Watts pick, saying he's "not the answer, unless they were looking for a guy as skinny as retired Ed McCaffrey." But can Watts make mustard?
Houston: Every one of these disputed drafts seems to revolve around one player or trade, and this is no exception. Everyone seems to like pass rushing DE/LB Jason Babin of Western Michigan. If you think that trading second, third, and fourth round picks to get him was silly, you gave Houston a C. If you don't mention this trade, like Kiper and Pompei, you gave Houston a B or B+. Prisco says, "Trading those picks to get Babin means he has to be a 14-sack player for that to be worth it" and Williams says Babin "will be either Dwight Freeney or Mike Mamula." Borges notes that "an expansion team needs more than two picks on the first day." Huddle Report gives the Texans a pretty bad rating -- like Denver, they took four players not listed on Huddle's top 300, and while everyone else gushes about CB Dunta Robinson, Huddle had him ranked 19th, nine places below where Houston took him.
Pittsburgh: The grades on this one seem to depend on whether or not you think it is okay in today's NFL to have a draft without players who can provide immediate help. Every comment by every writer on every pick repeats the same phrases: "developing," "long-term dividends," "rebuilding," "isn't ready yet," and "potential."
Cincinnati: Most writers felt their draft was mediocre, but Kiper gave them an A. Like those other writers, he is critical of the Chris Perry pick, but he likes all the defensive choices, calling Kiewan Ratliff a "big play corner" and Caleb Miller a "productive linebacker."
San Diego: Contrast these two statements and let me know if these two guys are writing about the same league. Brandon Williams: "Who's laughing now? The Chargers boldly took Manning, then took the Giants to the cleaners by trading the top pick for Rivers, a third and New York's first rounder next year." Ron Borges: "It's not easy to have the first pick in the draft and still blow it, but the Chargers managed to do so." Pompei, who gave the Chargers an A+, says they picked up "10 other solid players," while Borges dismisses the players below Philip Rivers by stating, "Not a good day when you're picking as high as the Chargers and have so many weaknesses." I think the real reason Borges gave the Chargers a D was their pick of a kicker in the third round (which seems silly to me as well). "If you're as bad as the Chargers were last year," writes Borges, "and your offensive line is in disarray, and you still draft a kicker on the third round, he better be Jan Stenerud. He wasn't."
Those are examples of teams where there was no consensus among the writers. How about the teams where the Huddle Report's grade differed from everyone else's?
The seven writers gave them grades ranging from B to C-, but Huddle Report gave Baltimore an A. This seems to be based on two late players who were picked far later than their Huddle Report rank: WR Clarence Moore of Northern Arizona (ranked 167, chosen 199) and OT Brian Rampf of East Carolina (ranked 176, chosen 246). No disrespect to the Huddle Report, but you don't get an A for nice sixth and seventh round picks.
Huddle Report stands out even more when it comes to the New York Jets, who received grades ranging from C+ to D from the writers but got an A (albeit a very slight one) from Huddle Report. The main value picks that seem to cause this high ranking are CB Derrick Strait of Oklahoma (ranked 47, chosen 76) and OT Adrian Jones of Kansas (ranked 95, chosen 132).
Staying in the AFC East, the flipside of the Jets draft is New England's draft, which received grades ranging from A to B and was hailed by many as the best non-Detroit draft. The Huddle Report, however, gives New England a C for overreaching on the two safeties: Guss Scott of Florida (ranked 160, chosen 95) and Dexter Reid of North Carolina (ranked 155, chosen 113).
Oakland is the other team that had a draft rated highly by most (although Mel Kiper did give them a B-) but poorly by Huddle Report. Huddle gives Oakland a C, primarily for picking DE Shawn Johnson from Delaware (ranked 293, chosen 166) but also for WR Carlos Francis of Texas Tech (ranked 153, chosen 99).
All of these teams have the same thing in common -- the Huddle Report thinks they got even value (or, in the case of the Patriots, much better than even value) on their early picks, but either really good or really bad value on the later round picks. Huddle Report says the numbers are weighted based on how early the pick was, but methinks next year the Huddle Report needs to weight the early rounds a little more.
As for which writers were right and which writers were wrong when it comes to the six teams that caused the most disagreement, come back in April 2010 for Michael David Smith's article "The 2004 Draft, Six Years Later."