Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Your Pre NFL draft Post-draft retrospective

To beat the rush I have decided to give my NFC North draft grades now.

Detroit: Had their typical poor draft. C-
Vikings: they totally blew it, what were they thinking? F
Bears: Not usually a well-run team, they did better than normal. B
Packers: Had a good draft to round out their solid roster. A-/B+

This may seem ludicrous to you, but it is hardly any more sensible to provide grades the day after teams pick. For all the money, time, and effort that goes into the NFL draft (the biggest offseason event of any sport) the “science” of predicting success in the NFL is exceedingly dubious. In some ways you are indeed better off trying to predict based on the track record of an individual General Manager (a GM is the person who picks players for teams). And even the best GMs will miss a fair number of their picks. The truth is the history is that littered with guys everyone thought would be studs that never made. In 1998 there was a huge debate about which quarterback should go first overall: Tennessee’s Peyton Manning or Washington State’s Ryan Leaf. Peyton Manning went first and went on to win 4 league Most Valuable Player awards in a Hall of Fame career. Ryan Leaf went second and is generally considered the biggest draft bust of all time. He was hated by his teammates and fans while with the San Diego Chargers, washed out of the league in three years while winning only four games. Afterwards he went on to coach college football at some tiny Division II school where he was fired for stealing painkillers from the players and eventually ended up in prison.

And this is far from the only case. In the 2003 draft the Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off the greatest draft trick of all time. They talked to the Minnesota Vikings about a trade so long that the Vikings 15 minute time limit to make their pick ran out. That Jags then snatched up their prize Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich – who they unceremoniously cut a week before the 2007 season. The Vikings who were ridiculed for making one of the most boneheaded moves ever settled on Okie State defensive tackle Kevin Williams – who made six Pro Bowls and anchored the “Williams Wall” defense for years.

In 1982 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – at that time arguably the most mismanaged franchise of all time – drafted someone they didn’t mean to in Penn State guard Sean Farrell. Realizing their blunder they traded for another pick to take their real target defensive end Booker Reese out of Bethune-Cookman. Turns out Reese had a little cocaine problem and the “Yucs” traded him away in less than three seasons. Farrell naturally went on to be a quality starter for eight years.

Perhaps the greatest story was legendary Cleveland Coach Paul Brown’s determination to get a quarterback with the sixth pick of the 1957 draft. He was devastated when the three QBs he was looking at were picked before his selection. So he settled on a running back from Syracuse.

Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing eight of the next nine seasons, never missed a Pro Bowl in his career, retired as the all time leading NFL rusher, and is arguably the greatest running back of all time.

To be fair the Paul Brown – all three of those QBs he wanted panned out. Paul Horning became a Hall of Famer – but at running back, Len Dawson became a Hall of Fame quarterback (although not for the Steelers who drafted him, nor in Cleveland where he played in 1960 and 1961, but the Kansas City Chiefs), and John Brodie was a quality starting QB for many years. Adding Jim Brown propelled returning QB Tommy O’Connell to the Pro Bowl that very season. After which he was replaced by Milt Plum, Cleveland’s second pick in 1957, who made two Pro Bowls. There is a reason I called Paul Brown legendary – and it isn’t just because the Cleveland Browns are named after him.

Have I convinced you?

As time passed and people started to realize how easy it is to bust a pick some have espoused the idea teams are better off taking offensive linemen. This isn’t true (last paragraph), but for a GM worried about losing his job it can make sense – a bust at tackle is not remembered as much as a bust at quarterback.

Anyway with regards to this year’s draft realistically it takes about three years to determine how good a draft pick was. And even then player’s careers are still evolving. Recent Lion addition Reggie Bush is an excellent case in point.

Trojan Bush was expected to be first the overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, but the Houston Texans controversially passed on him for NC State defensive End Mario Williams (rumor has it that was in part because of his evasiveness about a house an agent had let his parents stay at rent free. Investigations into that eventually cost Bush his Heisman – the first player to lose one – and USC a National Championship). It was a strange draft for the Texans as it was an open secret they were going to get rid of their GM Charlie Casserly AFTER the draft. Five years later it looked to be brilliant a move – Williams made two Pro-Bowls for the Texans while becoming one of the more feared DEs in the league. Meanwhile Bush fell to the Saints at #2 and never took off in New Orleans and was traded to Miami for next to nothing.

But in the last two years Bush redeemed himself in South Florida with two solid seasons proving despite his small physical frame he could be the main running back on an NFL team. While he was doing that Williams suffered through injuries before signing a huge free agent deal with the Buffalo Bills last year where he did not make the impact many fans expected.

So that is why we should conclude the Packers had the best draft in the NFC North.


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