The latest NFL Draft news is that Jake Locker, who was a shoe-in as an early first-round pick, will be returning for his Senior year. My gut reaction is that this development helps the Lions.
Right now the Lions look like they are locked into the fourth overall pick of the NFL Draft. Although they could leap Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, or the St. Louis Rams if one of those teams wins or if the "strength of schedule" tiebreaker with the Browns moves in one direction or another, the likely result is that the first three picks are some order of the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cleveland Browns. Now, at least one of those teams will probably draft a quarterback. Every NFL Draft this decade except for 2000 has seen at least one quarterback go within at least one of those first three picks.
Of the probable top three teams, only St. Louis and Cleveland could take a quarterback because Tampa Bay took Josh Freeman with the 17th Overall pick last year. Thus, there's a good chance that one but only one of those teams could take a quarterback. In this scenario, the Detroit Lions could possibly be sitting at number four with either Bradford or Clausen, the only apparent marquee quarterbacks in this draft, on the board. There are a couple of teams within "striking distance" that could conceivably want to trade up to jump above Washington, which likely will take a quarterback if available (specifically, Buffalo, Oakland, and Seattle, who are all slated to pick in the top half of the draft). Washington might even want to swing a deal to move up one spot to prevent one of those teams from trading up to snag the remaining quarterback.
This scenario is much less likely if Locker had decided to enter the draft. With Clausen, Locker, and Bradford in play, the only way that the Lions are on the clock and only one of those quarterbacks is left is if both St. Louis and Cleveland draft a quarterback. That seems less likely. Only once this decade, in 2001, have two quarterbacks gone off the board in the first three picks (although, to be fair, it happened in both 1999 and 1998).
The one downside to Locker's return to school is that it decreases the chances that the Lions will have a legitimate shot at Nebraska Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh (one of those QB needy teams may have drafted Locker over Suh). However, at this point, the Lions drafting Suh is little more than a pipe dream. With a long-term solution at quarterback locked up and problems on defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are highly unlikey to pass up a chance at one of the best defensive line prospects in perhaps the decade. Thus, the only way that the Lions could draft Suh is if the Bucanneers beat at least one of Seattle, New Orleans, and Atlanta, and both Cleveland and St. Louis pass him up for quarterbacks. This is not a likely scenario.
Jake Locker's decision to go back for his senior year of college is undeniably reckless. As a near-certain high first-round pick in 2010, he risks millions by going back to school (everything from a disappointing season, a shoulder injury, or a freak shark attack could cause a drop in his draft status). However, if everything breaks just the right way, he may have given the Lions a prime trade-down opportunity.
The latest NFL Draft news is that Jake Locker, who was a shoe-in as an early first-round pick, will be returning for his Senior year. My gut reaction is that this development helps the Lions.
In a season where the Detroit Lions went 0-16, there were few bright spots besides the one that began with "Calvin" and ended with "Johnson." This was especially true for a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL in about every major category and even saw a severe drop-off in production from former tackling machine Ernie Sims.
However, the defense did feature one player who showed flashes of playmaking ability: rookie defensive end Cliff Avril. Drafted at the tail end of the third round, Cliff Avril made an immediate impact on the Detroit Lions defense in limited playing time, recording 5.0 sacks and forcing four fumbles. Although Detroit Lions fans are cautiously optimistic on Cliff Avril's future in the NFL, at least one beat writer has opined that Cliff Avril looks like he may be the most productive member of the Detroit Lions' 2008 Draft class, beating out slow-to-learn first round pick Gosder Cherilus and non-factor second-round pick Jordon Dizon.
So how good can we expect Cliff Avril to be next year? Can he be a cornerstone of a defensive rebirth in Detroit under head coach Jim Schwartz?
To answer this question, I looked at every 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB that was drafted since 2002. By far, the most predictive measure of a pass rusher's sacks in his second season is the number of sacks that he had in his first. Also useful are the factors that I used in my 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB projections, and are explained at length here. Using these numbers helps to ferret out the players who were good pass rushing prospects but for whatever reason had a bad rookie year. For instance, Mario Williams, LaMarr Woodley, and Shaun Phillips looked like a great prospects coming out of college based on my projection system, but had down rookie years for whatever reason. By their second seasons, all three of these players bounced back to levels that were more in-line with their projection coming out of college.
So how does Cliff Avril stack up? His 5.0 sacks as a rookie is impressive, although not jaw-dropping. Cliff Avril's 5.0 sacks was more than Mario Williams had as a rookie, but fell well short of the rookie seasons for most of the NFL's elite pass rushers (e.g., Dwight Freeney's 13.0, Terrell Suggs' 12.0, and DeMarcus Ware's 11.0). Overall, Cliff Avril projects to have a follow-up season almost identical to his first with 5.16 sacks.
This is actually not a bad projection: it means that Cliff Avril has about the same chance of having ten sacks next year as having zero. Neither result would be unprecedented. Here are the four other defensive ends drafted since 1997 who had exactly 5.0 sacks in their rookie years:
|SECOND YEAR SACKS|
That's an interesting mix of players. On the one hand you have one very good pass rusher and one future hall of famer, and both had strong second seasons. On the other hand you have two players who were drafted in the first round, flashed some ability during their rookie years, and then disappeared shortly thereafter (Wadsworth in particular recorded only one sack past his second season). This is an incredible range of results for Cliff Avril: superstar or superbust. However, if Cliff Avril does have that outstanding ten sack season, the Detroit Lions can be sure that they have themselves a star or at least a solid pass rusher: no player drafted from at least since 1997 that had at least 15 sacks by their second season had less than 40 sacks by their seventh.
But at the moment, there is no way to tell how good Cliff Avil will be. Hopefully, Cliff Avril will be able to eclipse the performance of another promising defensive end who had a promising rookie year with 6.5 sacks: Kalimba Edwards.
Why? Let's start with the value that a tight end brings to the team. The best measure of the value of having a star tight end relative to other positions on a football team is probably market value. Although NFL contracts can be irreducibly complex, the NFL does give us a pretty good sense of market value in the form of "the Franchise Tag" which averages the salaries of the ten most highly paid players at each position. By this measure, the market value of a tight end is very low compared to other positions. Here are the numbers for the 2009 franchise tags, which are calculated by taking the top ten most highly paid players at each position:
Yikes. Although I would not go as far to say that a great tight end brings "no value" to a football team, it appears that NFL franchises at least, would rather have star defensive tackles, quarterbacks, wide receivers, etc., although they apparently prefer Tony Gonzalez to Adam Viniatieri.
However, just because NFL tight ends have low value in a relative sense, does not in and of itself mean that drafting them is unwise. For instance, I have always understood that guards and centers have low relative value compared to left tackles and quarterbacks, but when you draft a guard or a center in the first-round, it is a safe investment. In other words, when you draft an internior lineman in the first round, the lower upside of the pick is offset by much lower risk.
However, I wasn't able to find any evidence that this is the case. In fact, the opposite appears to be true: first-round tight ends are less likely to be stars the best at their positions than other first-round draftees. What follows is a list of football positions and the percentage of the players drafted between 1990 and 2008 at that position who have made at least one pro bowl:
|% THAT MADE PRO BOWL|
This is a pretty rough way to measure success, but it is effective. The position that yielded the second-lowest number of pro bowlers on a per pick basis were tight ends, with only stars at the defensive end position being rarer. Although there were some more tight ends drafted in the 80's who made some pro bowls, even if we expand the inquiry to include players drafted from 1980 to 2008, tight ends are still the group that yields the second-smallest number of pro bowlers on a per pick basis.
I also wondered if maybe the problem was that tight ends tend to go later in the draft, so the question should not be "are tight ends more or less successful than first rounders" but "are tight ends more or less successful than late first rounders." However, of the fourteen tight ends drafted in the second-half of the first round (picks 16-32) only Todd Heap and Eric Green made a pro bowl, while 22.5% of other players drafted in the second-half of the first round made the pro bowl.
None of these numbers prove definitively that tight ends are the riskiest proposition in the draft, but I do think it indicates very strongly that drafting a tight end is not any less risky than drafting any other position except for maybe defensive end.
So where are all of the good tight ends in the NFL coming from? All over the place. Here are the top tight ends drafted (and undrafted) from 1990 to 2008, who have made the pro bowl and their draft position (or lack thereof):
Kellen Winslow, Jr.
As the above chart shows, good tight ends can pretty much come from anywhere. Sure, Tony Gonzalez was a high first-round pick, but there are a heck of a lot of six and seventh rounders on the list.
So, adding this all up, successful tight ends provide the least value to an NFL team of any other position besides kicker and are less likely to come from the first round than perhaps any other position. First-round tight ends come with nearly the highest risk and nearly the lower reward. So why would any team burn a first-round pick on a tight end?
Of course, bust-hood for Brandon Pettigrew is far from certain, and he could very well be the first first-round slam-dunk success at the position since Tony Gonzalez in 1997. Pettigrew has been hailed as the best blocking tight end to go in the first-round in some time. He has good size for the position, and if he learns how to use it, he could be a very dangerous receiver in traffic, able to pluck passes from hungry defenders with his exceptionally long arms.
However, Pettigrew has serious questions about his long-speed. Ultimately, tight ends go to the pro bowl based on their receiving skills. If Pettigrew's lack of long-speed prevents him from being able to outrun linebackers and split the safeties deep down the middle, he ultimately becomes a Michael Gaines: a good blocker who is nearly useless in the passing game. These concerns are underscored by the fact that Pettigrew was not as productive in college as the typical first-round tight end, cracking the 500 yard receiving mark only once in his college career.
Pettigrew's selection came at the expense of players at other positions that have traditionally been "safer" picks that add more value to the team. Specficially, the Detroit Lions passed on OT Michael Oher, CB Vontae Davis, DT Peria Jerry, C Alex Mack, and ILB Rey Maualauga. Only time will tell if the Lions have made a shrewd pick that will buck historical trends or if they are indeed the "same old Lions."
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan recently indicated that brand new first-round tighet end Brandon Pettigrew could have an impact on both the passing game and rushing game next year. This begs the questions: how much of an immediate impact does a first-round tight end typically have on the rushing game and the passing game?
The answer? Not much on either account. All other things being equal, teams who have drafted a tight end in the first-round have see their passing games improve by only 29.5 total yards and its rushing games by only 17.9. I was initially surprised at how insignificant the changes were, but the history bears it out.
It is true that, with a big season, a rookie tight end can have a large impact on his team's offense. Jeremy Shockey had 894 receiving yards as a rookie, and the Giants' passing yards increased by 393 and their rushing yards increased by 98 over the previous season. However, Shockey is the exception rather than the rule. On the other hand, Kellen Winslow, tied with Vernon Davis as the most highly drafted tight end of the last two decades, had no immediate impact on his offense's fortunes. Kellen Winslow's Browns actually got slightly worse: with their passing game dipping by 10 yards and their rushing totals decreasing by 13 yards. Although that is hardly a surprising result considering that Kellen Winslow was hurt most of the season, there are plenty of healthy rookie tight ends who have had similar results.
There is a much more powerful force at work here that actually works in the Detroit Lions' favor: regression to the mean. In other words, teams who have great seasons passing and rushing tend to have less spectacular seasons the following year, just as teams who have poor seasons passing and rushing totals tend to improve. The Detroit Lions, unsurprisingly, fared poorly in both metrics: garnering 2960 yards passing and 1332 yards rushing. Based solely on their performance last season and the miniscule "tight end bump," regression to the mean would bring the Detroit Lions to 3196 yards passing and 1619 yards rushing. And it doesn't even cost a high-round draft pick.
The popular belief amongst fans and national media is that the Detroit Lions would be best served to sit shiny new quarterback Matthew Stafford on the bench for his rookie year. For instance, Sports Illustrated's Don Banks has advocated for giving Stafford a "redshirt" year, and Drew Sharp, ever the prophet, has vaguely counseled the Lions to exercise "patience" in rushing Stafford into the line-up.
I have always been skeptical of the idea that whether a quarterback starts as a rookie has much bearing as to whether he succeeds or not. The reasons why quarterbacks succeed or fail is sort of a "chicken or the egg" problem. Did Joey Harrington fail because he was on the Detroit Lions, or was he on the Detroit Lions because he was Joey Harrington (in other words, did Joey Harrington fail because he was in a "bad situation," or did the Detroit Lions draft Joey Harrington because they are poor judges of talent). I have been firmly in the camp that professional quarterbacks were "born and not made," but I understand why others think differently.
One of the key tenets of the "quarterbacks are made" theory is that teams are best served to sit quarterbacks for a year rather than bruise their fragile psyches by giving them too much playing time too early. Although I recall that the excellent blog over at Pro Football Reference did a similar study, I couldn't find it, so I was curious enough to try it on my own. I took all of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1998 and measured the strength of the correlation between their pass attempts as a rookie and their ultimate success in the NFL. This, I think is the best measure, because the more a quarterback has to drop back to pass as a rookie the more chances, in theory, that that quarterback has to have his confidence shattered by an ill-tempered defensive lineman. "As a measure of "success" I used Football Outsiders' innovative DYAR metric (divided by number of passes attempted), which measures the value that a player adds to a team over a replacement level player. Here is a list of all of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1998 sorted by the number of pass attempts that they had as a rookie:
Sure, David Carr is number two on the list, but Peyton Manning is number one and Matt Ryan is number three. Despite the heavy rookie workload, Peyton Manning has become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and Matt Ryan, based on his rookie numbers, projects to be a perennial pro bowler. While Carson Palmer sat for his entire rookie season and became a very good NFL quarterback, except for five passes, J.P. Losman sat out his entire rookie year and has been one of the worst quarterbacks ever drafted in the first round. Alex Smith, Akili Smith, Rex Grossman, and JaMarcus Russell, all had comparatively little playing time as rookies and have not performed well afterwards.
The correlation between rookie pass attempts and success is exceedingly low with an R-squared of 0.04%, which means essentially that a 0.04% of why a quarterback succeeds can be explained by how much playing time they receive as a rookie. It's not statistically significant, and actually runs opposite to the conventional wisdom: quarterbacks who received lots of playing time as rookies actually performed slightly better over their careers than those who did not. Although it is true that there could be a trend that is simply not showing up in the data, it suggests that there really is not a lot of evidence for the "you need to let a quarterback sit" theory.
So should Stafford start or sit this year? I would suggest that there is actually an advantage to getting Stafford in the line-up sooner rather than later. Although there is no significant correlation between rookie pass attempts and success there is a fairly strong correlation between rookie quarterback performance and ultimate NFL success. Although it is true that most rookie quarterbacks perform poorly, the quarterbacks who turn out to be truly awful perform much worse than those who become good to great quarterbacks. What follows is a list of all of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1998 sorted by their rookie performance (minimum 50 pass attempts). Again, success is measured in DYAR/pass, DYAR being an advanced stat from Football Outsiders which (among other things) adjusts for the strength of competition:
|DYAR/Pass in Year 1|
Admittedly, this is a small sample size, but the relationship is strong. Everyone at the bottom of the list turned out to be poor quarterbacks except for Donovan McNabb--and he had a huge bounceback season in his second year. If Stafford gets significant playing time this season, the Detroit Lions will have two full season of tape on him, and if he is a bust, the Detroit Lions can move on.
This is intuitive to me. College football quarterbacks who perform at a high enough level to become high NFL draft pick are not delicate snowflakes: they are tough guys. If you're Peyton Manning, you're going to eventually be Peyton Manning whenever you start--irrespective of whether you throw 36 interceptions and or are sacked 60 times. However, if you're J.P. Losman, it doesn't matter if you have two years to learn and sit on the bench--when you are inserted into the line-up, you are going to fail.
The Detroit Lions almost made the right play with how they treated the "development" of Joey Harrington. Although they correctly inserted Joey Harrington into the line-up early, they refused to move on when he failed. The Detroit Lions, determined to throw good money after bad, refused to acknowledge their mistake. This failure came with a huge opportunity cost. If they had recognized that they had failed with Harrington, they were in a great position to draft Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 NFL Draft. Similarly, if Stafford plays poorly in his first two years, the Detroit Lions shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on a quarterback like Jevan Snead or Jimmy Clausen in the 2011 NFL Draft.
So put Stafford into the line-up, and if he succeeds, great. And if he doesn't, at least the Detroit Lions need not again pass up on a two-time Super Bowl quarterback in a future NFL Draft.
Hello all, I thought I’d explain myself a bit after making my debut over the weekend. I’m this site’s author’s brother. You can find my other work on the mostly defunct Pre-Marital Sax. I thought I would do a little explaining for my picks, since you all have been sending me emails asking me why I took who I did (OK, I haven’t actually received any email, but my email hasn’t been made available so I probably would have if it had been). Anyway, here are my thoughts trying to justify my Stafford pick:
1. Matthew Stafford.
I, unlike most Lions fans, did NOT want Aaron Curry. When your team is basically an expansion team, you draft for value, not to fill holes. And I didn’t like the idea of drafting a guy at number one, and then moving him to another position. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Jason Smith with this pick if the Lions wanted to sign someone for less than what Stafford wanted, given the importance of left tackle and their low odds of being bust, but his agent’s conflict of interest prevented that from happening.
So why Stafford? Because he played in a pro-style offense against the toughest defenses in the country, has a strong enough arm to make all the throws, is adequately mobile, has a good memory, and showed consistent improvement in his 3 years at Georgia, finally reaching over 60 percent passing in his junior year. His total completion percentage was under 60 percent, but he started since his freshman year and improved every season. But what encourages me, and maybe I’m foolish for thinking I’m smart enough to ascertain this, is that he seems to have the intangibles that good quarterbacks do. He talks, acts, and just looks like a successful NFL QB. Something about the way he carries himself reminds me of Brett Favre, John Elway or Troy Aikman. I am not saying he’s going to be as good as those guys, but he has an air about him that reminds me of them. I can think of certain busts (Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, and Jeff George) who it was clear did not have that attitude. Drafting a QB in the 1st round is a 50/50 proposition at best, and no one really knows how to improve the odds (except maybe this guy), but I get the sense that Stafford has a better than average shot. Watching Stafford skeet shoot with a football:
was reminiscent of what Elway did during his Homecoming show with Rick Reilly. I’m not going to pretend to look into his eyes and get a sense of his soul, but I think he has a huge shot at succeeding.
His biggest negative is that he came out early (mitigated somewhat by being a 3 year starter) and that his accuracy was pretty inconsistent. Those are concerns, but if you're waiting for the perfect QB prospect to come around, you're going to draft a QB once every 20 years.
I foresee him getting little playing time this season, having a promising, yet inconsistent season in year 2, and making major strides in year 3, just as the Lions begin to form a respectable team. His arm strength is a perfect fit with Linehan’s offense and Calvin’s deep playmaking ability. Or he could be a bust and struggle to hold onto the starting job. But you have to try, and I think it is worth the risk at this point. Best case scenario he’s your franchise quarterback you can build around. Best case scenario for Aaron Curry: he’s a great middle linebacker. How many games did Patrick Willis win for the 49ers or Urlacher for the Bears last year? But most importantly, how many games did the Patriots lose because they had Matt Cassel instead of Brady?
Here is a recap of the "Goodbye, Ladies" Draft picks (which we made live during the draft) including the draft picks from "Chuck Longin' For You":
"Goodbye, Ladies" Detroit Lions:
1(1) Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
1(20) Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
2(33) Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut
3(76) Kraig Urbik, OG, Wisconsin
3(82) Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina
4(101) Jason Phillips, ILB, TCU
4(115) Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma
6(192) Mike Mickens, CB, Cincinnati
7(228) Sammie Stroughter, WR, Oregon State
7(235) Zack Follett, OLB, California
7(255) Mitch King, DT/DE, Iowa
Where the "Goodbye Ladies" Detroit Lions were actually drafted:
1(2) Jason Smith, OT (St. Louis Rams)
1(24) Peria Jerry, DT (Atlanta Falcons)
2(41) Darius Butler, CB (New England Patriots)
3(79) Kraig Urbik, OG (Pittsburgh Steelers)
3(89) Jared Cook, TE (Tennessee Titans)
5(137) Jason Phillips, ILB (Baltimore Ravens)
5(163) Duke Robinson, OG (Carolina Panthers)
7(227) Mike Mickens, CB (Dallas Cowboys)
7(233) Sammie Stroughter, WR (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
7(___) Mitch King, DT/DE (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Chuck Longin' For You's Detroit Lions:
1(1) Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia
1(20) Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
2(33) Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
3(76) Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina
4(82) Terrance Taylor, DT, University of Michigan
4(115) Louis Murphy, WR, Florida
6(192) Gerald Cadogan, OT, Penn State
7(228) Danell Ellerbe, ILB, Georgia
7(236) Will Johnson, DT, University of Michigan
7(255) Tim Jamison, DE, University of Michigan
Where Chuck Longin' For You's Detroit Lions were actually drafted:
1(1) Matt Stafford, QB (Detroit Lions)
1(23) Michael Oher, OT (Baltimore Ravens)
2(38) Rey Maualuga, ILB (Cincinnati Bengals)
3(89) Jared Cook, TE (Tennessee Titans)
4(136) Terrance Taylor, DT (Indianapolis Colts)
4(124) Louis Murphy, WR (Oakland Raiders)
6(___) Gerald Cadogan, OT, Penn State (Undrafted Free Agent)
7(___) Danell Ellerbe, ILB (Undrafted Free Agent)
7(___) Will Johnson, DT (Undrafted Free Agent)
7(___) Tim Jamison, DE (Undrafted Free Agent)
* Chuck Longin' For You would like to note that he made homer picks in the end because he didn't know any other players.
The Detroit Lions signed Georgia Quarterback Matt Stafford last night to a contract with 41.7 million dollars guaranteed. The world ended shortly afterwards.
Saginaw resident Joe Wareowski's life was shattered into a billion tiny pieces following the announcement. "How could they do this to me?" Wareowski told the "Goodbye, Ladies" Draft Report. "I have lived through a lot. Andre Ware, getting blown out during the NFC Championship Game, one playoff appearance in 50 years, Matt Millen, four wide receivers drafted in the top 10 within six years, the game we lost because we missed a freakin' extra point, and the only season in major professional sports history where the Detroit Lions lost every single game."
"But drafting a quarterback with a high round pick? That's by far the worst thing that the Detroit Lions have ever done."
"It doesn't make any sense to me" said Royal Oak resident Deborah Long, "everybody knows that the best way to get a quarterback is to draft one in the seventh round and let him sit for twenty, thirty years--you know, give him time to develop. Isn't that what the Colts did with Peyton Manning?"
Reports have also surfaced that in the wake of the Stafford signing, the hit television show "The Office" has been cancelled, the U.S.S.R. has reformed and resumed their nuclear weapons program, alien life forms from the Andromeda System have decided to commence their invasion of Earth, and the boy band O-Town has reunited and will be touring this Summer.
Although you wouldn't guess it from listening to Mel Kiper (who insists that the Detroit Lions would be crazy to pass on quarterback Matthew Stafford) or most Detroit Lions fans (who insist that the Detroit Lions would be crazy to pass on linebacker Aaron Curry), I believe that there are only two picks that make sense for the Detroit Lions from a value standpoint: Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe.
First, here's why I believe that Aaron Curry would be the wrong pick for the Detroit Lions. It is important to distinguish between the more popular term, "best player available," and what I think is a more solid draft philosophy: "most valuable player available." The distinction is that the prospect with the highest chance of success is not necessarily the most valuable. Imagine that this year's NFL Draft contained the best punter prospect in the history of the draft. The punter would barely command a first round pick, if at all. Although one could get into superlatives such as a "punter who could pin the other team at the 1 yard line from any place on the field" if we're speaking realistically, a punter will never go particularly high in the draft simply because the position holds little value relative to the other positions on the team.
Although this is an extreme example, it gets at why Curry does not make sense with the number one overall pick: a true linebacker (i.e. not a rush linebacker) simply does not add the same value as a top flight quarterback, left tackle, defensive end, or cornerback. This, I think, is what people are really arguing when they say "you can't spend that much on a linebacker." The point is not that there is something inherently wrong with spending a lot of money on a linebacker, it is a recognition that the market for NFL players puts so much less value at the linebacker position than, say, offensive tackles. A great linebacker will be less valuable than just a "good" offensive tackle.
I understand why Aaron Curry is such a popular choice amongst Detroit Lions fans. Lions fans have been subject to terrible drafting where many highly touted players at the "glamour" positions have failed. Thus, it is only natural that many will gravitate towards a "lunch pail" type of player with very little downside. However, it is possible to be too risk averse. If that's the way you draft, you'll end up with a team full of linebackers, interior offensive linemen, and safeties, and you won't have anybody to pass, protect the passer, or rush the passer. These prospects are inherently more risky because they are so rare and the positions that they play are so difficult to master.
Aaron Curry has taken on a near mythic status. However, the simple truth is that he is not the greatest linebacker prospect in the last ten years. In his top 100, Rick Gosselin, who has as much access to NFL scouts as anybody, acknowledged that most scouts actually would prefer Jerod Mayo to Aaron Curry. Jerod Mayo is a nice player, but he is not quite ready for his Hall of Fame induction yet, and neither is Curry.
Matt Stafford, the choice of the Mel Kiper's and pundits of the world, holds a special initial appeal due to the position that he plays. Make no mistake, quarterback is the most valuable position on an NFL team. To win a championship with only an "average quarterback" requires a dominating defense in the mode of the 2000 Ravens or the 2002 Buccaneers. Although finding a great quarterback is difficult, it is much easier, and much faster, to find that single special quarterback than to assemble a defense with eleven special defenders.
However, although Matthew Stafford plays the most valuable position, in my opinion he is a below average quarterback prospect: he simply lacks the accuracy necessary to succeed at the next level. This is not to say that Stafford will be a bust, but simply that as a calculated risk, the smart play is probably to avoid him. Also, as David Lewin found in researching quarterbacks, draft position within the first round does not correlate to NFL success. In other words, on average, a quarterback drafted at #1 overall has no additional value than a quarterback drafted at #15. This is not true for other positions, such as defensive end and linebacker, where a player's draft position is a significant factor in projecting their likely success. Also, given the likely quality of next year's class, I believe that it would be best for the Lions to defer. Deferring comes with a cost: you set back your franchise at the most important position for a whole season. However, the cost is significantly less than drafting a quarterback high in the draft who ends up a bust.
Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe, however, in my estimation have passed both prongs of the "most valuable player" analysis. Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe play a premium position: left tackle. Moreover, left tackles taken in the top 5 picks more often than not play at a pro bowl level at some point in their careers. Both players are widely acknowledged as elite pass blockers. Jason Smith is recognized as raw, but is also recognized as exceptionally strong, as possessing great feet for the position, and as having a terrific work ethic.
I also strongly considered Eugene Monroe, who like Smith, has elite pass blocking skills but is only average in the running game. Eugene Monroe is perhaps more polished than Smith but he has a much more extensive history of injuries, especially knee problems. Staying healthy is a skill, and when offered the choice between two similar players, one with an injury history and one who has been relatively healthy, the choice is clear.
That's why I would draft Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
As a special bonus, I am also playing this particular contest against my brother, who has a standing invitation to post on this blog as "Chuck Longin' For You." Chuck Longin' For You selects Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Georgia.
Since I am at least slightly more reliable than a Detroit Lions first round draft pick, as promised, I am updating my Defensive End/3-4 Linebacker Projections with the release of Rick Gosselin's Top 100 list. Rick Gosselin's Top 100 list is the most historically accurate gauge of how highly NFL scouts value players.
Most changes to the projections are slight. However, teams seem to be trending slightly towards the model: Maybin is slightly up, Orakpo is slightly down, Ayers is slightly down, and Everette Brown is way down. Cody Brown, who ProFootballWeekly projected as a late second round pick, loses his projection entirely because Gosselin does not even rank him in the top 100 players. However, the biggest revelation is the entrance of two new pass rushing prospects, whose projections I list below. First, however, here are the updated projections:
Original Projection: 45.85 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 46.37 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 37.61 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 37.26 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 33.34 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 32.99 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 30.47 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 26.49 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 19.45 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 18.93 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 23.71 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 18.00 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 9.07 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: 8.90 Sacks by Year 7
Original Projection: 28.65 Sacks by Year 7
Updated Projection: No Projection
And now for the newcomers:
Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Cincinnati
Projection: 48.50 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #40 Overall
Vertical Leap: 40.5"
Short Shuttle: 4.18 Seconds
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 78.57%
The model projects Connor Barwin to be the best pass rusher in this draft. His projection is the strongest of any second round pick since 2001, with the exception of Aaron Schobel, who projected to have 49.99 sacks and who in fact had 67 sacks by his seventh year. Barwin has the ninth highest projection of any player in the data set, just edging out Terrell Suggs'. As an added bonus, Barwin is apparently also strong against the run. Connor Barwin was not originally included because ProFootballWeekly projected him as a third round pick. However, Gosselin has put him squarely in the second round, which seems to be more in line with the consensus on Barwin.
I have some reservations about whether Barwin will be able to meet his projection. Barwin has had only one year of playing defensive end. Barwin has less starting experience than any pass rusher in my data set. However, although there is some correlation between games played or started in college and NFL productivity, the correlation is not statistically significant. Barwin and Maybin will pose a great test case whether there is a "critical value" of playing time that a pass rusher needs in college to be successful. The fact that Barwin played for a smaller school may also make his projection more volatile.
Barwin's versatility may also preempt his projection. At the Football Outsiders forum, a Bengals fan and an Eagles fan, respectively, have noted that David Pollack and Chris Gocong were moved from the "pass rusher" position to linebackers in the 4-3, where their sack opportunities are obviously diminished, despite what would have been high projections by the model. Barwin has played defensive end, tight end, and various positions on special teams. Hopefully the team that drafts Barwin doesn't move him to kicker.
All in all, Barwin is a fascinating prospect and I am more eager to see how he turns out than any other pass rusher prospect in this draft.
Paul Kruger, DE, Utah
Projection: 20.38 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #36 Overall
Vertical Leap: 32.5" and 32"
Short Shuttle: 4.47 Seconds
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 57.69 Sacks by Game 7
I am puzzled as to why Kruger is considered a high second round pick, and moreover, why he is more highly rated than Barwin. Kruger is obviously less atheltic than Barwin and was less productive than Barwin in college--posting 0.5 a sack less than Barwin in twice the playing time.
Interestingly, Kruger was one of the few pass rushers who did the vertical leap drill at both the combine and his pro day and actually posted a worse number at his second go.
7/15 Edit: Fixed typos and original post incorrectly stated that Barwin went to a non-BCS school.
This is just a reminder that the "Goodbye, Ladies" Draft Report (in other words, me) will be blogging live during the NFL and making draft picks in real time against Martin Mayhew. The original concept was to make draft picks against Matt Millen, when this blog was called "Me vs. Millen" and it was so much fun, I'm going to do it again this year. And, hey, if Mayhew is going to be nearly as bad as Millen, I want to get in on the ground floor this time.
Also, rosters carry over, so for instance, the "Goodbye, Ladies" Detroit Lions have Peyton Hillis and the actual Detroit Lions have Jerome Felton.
The rules are here and a breakdown of where the draft-off stands is here.
Although the quarterback position receives most of the notoriety for producing first round busts, the 4-3 defensive end/3-4 rush linebacker ("pass rusher") position has had as many, if not more, highly touted players who ultimately disappoint. For example, of all of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2002, 28.5% have made the Pro Bowl, while only 25% of the pass rushers drafted in the first round within that time frame have earned the same distinction. However, with rushing the passer at a premium in the NFL, teams are still willing to roll the dice in the first round on a player who could just as easily be sitting on the bench as he could be sending the quarterback to the turf. Given the uncertainty surrounding the position, any metric that can shed light on the chances of success for pass rushing prospects in the NFL Draft would be welcome.
I combed through the college stats, combine, and pro day data for all of the 4-3 defensive ends/3-4 rush linebackers drafted in the first and second rounds since 2001. My ultimate result was a statistical regression that accounts for approximately 40% of the variation between first round prospects who end up terrorizing quarterbacks on Sundays and those who will end up doing their best Michael Haynes impressions. For instance, the model identified Dwight Freeney, DeMarcus Ware, Bryan Thomas, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Aaron Schobel, Shawne Merriman, Jason Babin, and Terrell Suggs as the most likely to become dominant pass rushers at the next level. Although Thomas and Babin have not produced as expected, in contrast, the most highly drafted players from the same time period are far less impressive: Mario Williams, Julius Peppers, Chris Long, Justin Smith, Gaines Adams, Vernon Gholston, Andre Carter, Jamaal Anderson, and Derrick Harvey.
The regression contains four independent variables. In order of importance, they are: the prospect's short shuttle time, the prospect's vertical leap, the prospect's draft position, and the prospect's per game sack production in college. I measured pro success by the total number of sacks that the player is projected to accumulate in his first seven pro seasons based on his production to date.
Although all of the factors in the regression are nearly of equal importance, the most important is the short shuttle. In my dataset, short shuttle seemed to function as a sort of gauge of "bust potential"--the top players often will have mediocre short shuttles, but the worst performers will have well below average short shuttles. Kenechi Udeze had great production in college and a good vertical leap, but he had the worst short shuttle of any first round pass rusher prospect with an absolutely molasses-like 4.73 seconds (as a little bonus for Lions fans, the second worst short shuttle recorded for pass rushers drafted in the first two rounds since 2002 is Ikaika Alama-Francis). As another example, Vernon Gholston, who after a sackless rookie year is widely believed to be a bust, had great workout numbers overall but posted a slightly below-average short shuttle at 4.4 seconds. The lesson from short shuttle seems to be that, no matter how productive a player is in college, no matter how much "vertical" explosion he can bring to bear on opposing offensive linemen, if he lacks the requisite level of agility to outmaneuver opposing offensive tackles after they "lock on," he will not be making Tom Brady or Peyton Manning's lives difficult anytime soon.
Nearly as important as short shuttle in the regression is the vertical leap. Of the top 5 first round pass rushers who have been drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft (Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney, Aaron Schobel, and Mario Williams), all achieved at least a 37" vertical leap at the NFL combine or at their pro day, which is well above average.
The final factor is a metric that I call "adjusted college sacks/game." Basically, it's calculated by dividing the prospect's sacks in college by games played without counting any sacks or games played during the prospect's freshman or redshirt freshman year. The adjustment is useful because some pass rushers early in their college careers receive a lot of token playing time and thus have their per game sack production in college unfairly reduced by a large "games played" denominator. Although straight college sacks/game also correlates to NFL success, the correlation of adjusted college sacks/game was much stronger, so I used that for my model. All in all, it's no surprise that the ability to sack the quarterback in college is a good indicator of ability to sack the quarterback in the NFL.
Anyway, enough with the boring stats stuff--on to the projections! I am currently using the ProFootballWeekly top 100 list for the "projected draft position" factor because it is the most accurate measure of player value that is currently and freely available. When Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News releases his top 100 list, which is based on numerous interviews with NFL scouting departments, I will update my projections.
Aaron Maybin, DE/OLB Penn State
Projection: 45.85 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #13 Overall
Vertical Leap: 38" and 40"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 92.3%
Short Shuttle: 4.38 Seconds
Make no mistake, Aaron Maybin has a monster projection, which puts him nearly at Terrell Suggs and LaMarr Woodley levels. Aaron Maybin's projection is all the more impressive considering that the model takes into account that an otherwise good looking prospect can possibly go all "Vernon Gholston" once he enters the NFL. Maybin's second vertical leap is particularly laudable, only Mario Williams and Shawne Merriman were able to match or exceed it. Maybin's vertical leaps corroborates the praise that he has received for being the most explosive pass rusher with the best first step in the 2009 NFL Draft. Maybin's agility drills, although actually just a hair below average based on historical levels, were among the tops in his position at the combine, with only Connor Barwin, Ian Campbell, and Michael Johnson scoring better.
There is also much that the model suggests about Maybin's chances to break the curse attached to pass rushers drafted out of Penn State: as Courtney Brown, Michael Haynes, and most recently, Tamba Hali have achieved various levels of busthood. Although I did not look at Courtney Brown, the projections for Michael Haynes or Tamba Hali give little cause for concern. Michael Haynes had a bad vertical leap at 30.5", mediocre college production, and no short shuttle time. Assuming an average short shuttle time, the model would have projected Michael Haynes to severely underperform his draft status with 26.71 sacks in his seventh year, which he underperformed by approximately 20 sacks by logging 5.5 sacks. Tamba Hali, on the other hand, was drafted late in the first round, had an even worse vertical leap, poor college production, and an average short shuttle. The model would have projected Tamba Hali as a bust, with a projection of 22.19 sacks in his seventh year, and although he was not especially good on a defense that absolutely could not pressure the quarterback last year, he has actually been a pretty useful player and is on pace to register 42.76 sacks by his seventh year. So basically, one Penn State pass rusher has overperformed, one has underperformed, and another pass rusher's career was derailed by a series of devastating injuries before it really got started. There is no intrinsic reason that Penn State pass rushers should not be able to make the transition to the NFL; it's not like Penn State faces teams without good offensive lines.
By far the greatest mainstream concern with Aaron Maybin is his lack of games played (26) which tends to create a "sample size" issue for him, where essentially his outstanding Sophomore season sack numbers become his "adjusted sacks/game" factor. Although there is no significant correlation between games played and success in the NFL, there is not a great historical analogue in any of my data for Maybin's relative inexperience, as the only two first round pass rushers who started less than the 30 games had poor projections notwithstanding their lack of college playing time. Still, Maybin's short college career is a legitimate concern.
On the other hand, how many first round pass rushers amassed as many as 12.0 sacks in their second season in college? Three: Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, and Mathias Kiwanuka. That is not a bad list.
And concerns about Maybin's size? DeMarcus Ware weighed in at 251 lbs. at his pro day, 1 lb. less than Maybin weighed in at his. How did that work out for DeMarcus Ware?
Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas
Projection: 37.61 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #12 Overall
Vertical Leap: 39.5"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 62.34%
Short Shuttle: 4.45 Seconds
Back in January, I offered the pithy, but apparently unoriginal phrase "say no to Orakpo", based on my belief that his lack of college productivity would doom him to NFL failure. Orakpo's projection is only slightly above that expected of a pass rusher drafted in the first two rounds, which suggests that he may be slightly overvalued as a high first round pick.
There are significant concerns in Orakpo's data that bear mentioning. Orakpo's short shuttle time of 4.45 seconds is below average. Given concerns that Orakpo has a limited array of pass rushing moves, he may not have the agility necessary to beat offensive tackles that he cannot simply run around or bull rush. Orakpo's college production is also a concern: the best pass rusher in the first round with less than a 65% adjusted college sacks/game is Will Smith, who has been good, but not great. However, Orakpo's 39.5" vertical leap suggests rare explosion that could translate into healthy sack production at the next level.
Larry English, DE/OLB, Northern Illinois
Projection: 33.34 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #43 Overall
Vertical Leap: 36"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 80.26%
Short Shuttle: 4.38 Seconds
Although projected to be drafted much later than Brian Orakpo, the model believes that he is a much better value, as Orakpo has only a nominally better projection. His projection is buoyed by his solid all around computer numbers and his excellent production in college.
Interestingly, the model tends to over and under project players from non-BCS schools moreso than their Bowl Championship counterparts. This is probably because NFL scouts have difficulty properly grading pass rushers who face-off against less than elite offensive tackles in college. Thus, as a "boom or bust" prospect, Larry English would probably be a bad choice for a team like the Detroit Lions, who need to hit on all of their picks, and probably be a great second round pick for a team like New England, who can afford to "gamble on greatness."
Michael Johnson, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech
Projection: 30.47 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #39 Overall
Vertical Leap: 38.5"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 43.24%
Short Shuttle: 4.37 Seconds
I was a bit worried before I ran the numbers that Michael Johnson's gaudy combine workout would inflate his projection, while his well-reported lack of desire and work ethic would lead him to become an NFL bust. However, Michael Johnson's dearth of competitiveness showed up on the field where, despite his tools, he garnered an unimpressive 43.24% sack per game rate in his final three seasons. Michael Johnson's upside is probably Kamerion Wimbley, a player who posted good combine numbers and achieved some success in the NFL despite his gross lack of sack production in college.
Cody Brown, DE/OLB, Connecticut
Projection: 28.65 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #60 Overall
Vertical Leap: 36.5"
Adjusted Sacks/Game: 71.88%
Short Shuttle: 4.4 Seconds
No Everette Brown or Robert Ayers, yet? Oh my! Cody Brown, who is projected to be taken at the tail end of the second round, has a stronger projection than either, much more highly touted player. Cody Brown could be a great "under the radar" prospect with high character to go along with his good college production and passable short shuttle time.
Clint Sintim, OLB, Virginia
Projection: 28.29 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #31 Overall
Vertical Leap: 34.5"
Adjusted Sacks/Game: 64.86%
Short Shuttle: 4.42 Seconds
To his credit, Clint Sintim is the only high-level pass rushing prospect who actually played in a 3-4 defense in college, and he has been linked to the New England Patriots as a potential second round pick. However, Sintim is a similar prospect to Larry English, and scores just a little bit lower than he did on all of the relevant metrics besides draft position. Similar players include DeWayne White and Matt Roth.
Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State
Projection: 23.71 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #20 Overall
Vertical Leap: 31.5" and 31"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 76.92%
Short Shuttle: 4.53 Seconds
Perhaps the most fun part of devising a system like this is predicting who is going to bust. Everette Brown was a productive pass rusher in college, but based on a poor short shuttle time and not one, but two very poor vertical leap scores, the model thinks that he will suck out loud in the pro's.
Certainly, there are pass rushers who were productive in college, had below average computer numbers, and succeeded. However, none of them quite fit Brown. Terrell Suggs had a poor vertical leap at 33", but Terrell Suggs also had a godlike adjusted college sacks/game rating of 136%, as well as an average short shuttle. There are other analogues as well, like Jared Allen with his 33" vertical leap or Mathias Kiwanuka with his 32" vertical leap. However, again, Jared Allen had better sack production in college and an average short shuttle time, and Mathias Kiwanuka also had better sack production in college and recorded a great short shuttle time. Thus, there is a clear road map for pass rushing prospects to succeed despite a poor vertical leap score: they have no problem with the short shuttle and they were great, not just good in college. Everette Brown simply just doesn't fit the bill.
In fact, there is not a lot of evidence that a pass rusher with a 31.5" vertical leap can be a better than an average sack artist. The best pass rushers with a vertical leap of 32" or less that I'm aware of are Mathias Kiwanuka, Tamba Hali, Charles Grant, Darren Howard, Clark Haggans, Patrick Kerney, and promising but young Tennessee Titan Jason Jones. Kerney is very good, and many of those players are very solid, but it is not a particularly impressive list of players considering that it represents Everette Brown's upside.
Even more damning is Everette Brown's short shuttle time. There is a short list of first and second round pass rushers who had a short shuttle time worse than 4.5 seconds: Jerome McDougle, Calvin Pace, Kenechi Udeze, Dan Cody, Ikaika Alama-Francis, and Dan Bazuin. That is a pretty sad group: these players have a total of only 37 career sacks among them.
Of course, Everette Brown could still beat the odds and set the NFL on fire with his "impressive array of pass rushing moves," but to do so, he has a lot of history to beat.
Lawrence Sidbury, DE/OLB, Richmond
Projection: 19.45 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #64 Overall
Vertical Leap: 35"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 48.57%
Short Shuttle: 4.43 Seconds
Regarding Sidbury, Mel Kiper, Jr. recently went on record as saying "who's to say that he won't be better than Brian Orakpo?" Well, I'll say it: barring something horrible happening to Orakpo, it is highly unlikely that Sidbury will out produce Orakpo. Sidbury is the classic prospect who gets overhyped as a "sleeper" and then "sleeps" through his NFL career. Sidbury was not productive at all until his senior season at college, despite a very low level of competition.
Robert Ayers, DE/OLB, Tennessee
Projection: 9.07 Sacks by Year 7
Projected Draft Position: #26 Overall
Vertical Leap: 29.5"
Adjusted College Sacks/Game: 20.51%
Short Shuttle: 4.49 Seconds
As anyone who knows me can attest, I love me some Mike Mayock, and 99% of the time his list of the top prospects in the NFL Draft is beyond reproach. However, the remaining 1% of the time he'll do something completely batty like putting Chris Houston as the number nine overall prospect in the Draft. Chris Houston over Patrick Willis? That didn't make a lick of sense at the time, and it makes even less sense now. There's a reason that that article isn't posted on NFL.com anymore and I have to link to it through archive.org.
In this tradition, the otherwise esteemed Mr. Mayock has anointed Robert Ayers as number 5 overall prospect in the NFL Draft. At the time he released this list, I was highly skeptical that a player who played 48 games in college and only recorded 9 sacks could merit a first round pick based on his pass rush ability. What was happening in those games? How can a defensive end with so few actual sacks grade out so well on tape? Did he just knock the opposing quarterback over fifteen times per game but just missed the sack all but nine times over the course of his career? Well, now that I have fired up my Excel Spreadsheet and given the web site NFL Draft Scout about a bagillion hits, I'm ready to call Mayock's bluff.
Where to start? Robert Ayers's college sack rate of 20.51% is the worst ever for a first-round pass rusher. The closest is Tyler Brayton at 32.43%. Moreover, his vertical leap is better than that of only one first round prospect: Derrick Harvey's 28.5". Robert Ayers's best data point is his short shuttle, but that doesn't mean that it is to his credit: Robert Ayers only beats out the luminaries that I listed in the Everette Brown analysis.
So how bad is Robert Ayers's projection? Of the 50 players that are included in the regression, only one player has a had a worse projection, which is impressive considering that players get a bump for being projected to go in the first round. The one player who projects worse is Detroit Lion Ikaika Alama-Francis, who projected to have 8.68 Sacks by Year 7. Ikaika Alama-Francis, so far in his young career, has a grand total of one sack, and as I have detailed more fully before, he has even had trouble staying on the active list.
Short shuttle, vertical leap, and college production also correlate to NFL success even in the later rounds of the draft. As a few examples, Giants star Justin Tuck scored well in all three metrics, Trent Cole had a good vertical leap score and shuttle, and Jared Allen and Shaun Phillips each posted great college production and good to great short shuttle times.
NFL teams would be well-served to pay much closer attention to each pass rushing prospect's short shuttle times, vertical leap scores, and per game production in college. Although this model is not perfect, and I fully expect at least one or two players discussed here to significantly over or under perform their projections, it can still be a useful tool in player evaluation. So the next year when you see one of the NFL's newest defensive ends sacking the quarterback, don't be surprised if his ability to move quickly in 10 yard bursts or his ability to jump very, very high had something to do with it.
The Goodbye Ladies Draft Report can now report that preeminent draft anlayst Mel Kiper, Jr. has dropped Alabama offensive tackle from his "big board" and has added him to his "really, really big board."
"Although Andre Smith looks great on tape, unfortunately, there just wasn't any room for him on the big board--literally." Kiper said. "With 337 pounder B.J. Raji has rising on my big board, Darius Heyward-Bey dropping off the board in favor of linebacker Rey Maualauga, and with Chris "Beanie" Wells ordering a double cheeseburger at lunch instead of a salad, there simply is no room for a 332 pound offenisve tackle with character issues, even if he did dominate in the SEC. Luckily, I had this really, really big board sitting around in my garage and it fits Andre perfectly."
"I haven't had to bring this thing out since Terrell Owens' ego entered the draft in 1996."
Kiper's ESPN colleague, Todd McShay, indicated that no such plans were in the works to remove Andre Smith from Scouts, Inc.'s top 32 lists: "Our top 32 list is large enough to accomodate even the larger NFL prospects, including Andre... I think. Actually, I don't really know--I just show up and talk." McShay said with a characteristically confused look on his face.
Kiper is not the only draft analyst who has had to make adjustments to Smith's girth. Just one week ago, Mike Mayock of NFL Network abandoned plans to feature Smith on his popular "Path to the Draft" feature, and indicated that Smith will appear on a new program: "On the Back of a Flatbed Truck on a Five Lane Expressway to the Draft."
Just in case there is any doubt in your minds, Lions Nation, I will be indeed making picks against the Detroit Lions in real time right here today and I'll be live blogging the NFL Draft in case any prospects start crying "Cedric Benson" style. Happy Draft Day, everyone!
This is the first post in a continuing series examining the worst draft picks made during the Matt Millen era.
It was the 2006 NFL Draft and the Detroit Lions were uncharacteristically avoiding wide receivers and drafting players that *gasp* actually filled needs on one of the most porous defenses in Lions history. A linebacker? A safety? Quelle horreur!
So when the Detroit Lions were on the clock in the 3rd round with the 74th overall pick in the NFL draft, I, misled by this brief spurt of possible Millen draft day competence, foolishly expected that the Lions would plug holes into the dutch dam that were their offensive and defensive lines. However, expecting Matt Millen to proceed in an intelligent fashion is kind of like walking onto a crowded subway car and expecting someone to offer you their seat: in the end, you just end up standing around looking stupid.
"With the 74th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select Brian Calhoun, running back from the University of Wisconsin."
The most amazing quality of that sentence is that 75% of its units should enflame angry passions in anyone who likes to see the blue and silver waive, and elicit boisterous laughter in everyone else. Sure, the sentence starts out okay with the whole "with the 74th overall pick in the NFL Draft" thing (after all, somebody has to make the 74th pick). But then you get to the "Detroit Lions select" part and you start to think "Uh oh, the Detroit Lions are making the pick, I'm not sure I like where this is going." Although the next part starts out innocently enough with "Brian Calhoun" (nothing offensive about the name), in short order you learn that he is a "running back" (dang nabbit, Millen, that's the one position that we don't need to fill this year!) and not only that, but a running back from Wisconsin no less (I wonder what Bobby Ross is doing these days?).
Yet, amazingly, the most appalling characteristic of Matt Millen's decision to select Brian Calhoun was not that the Detroit Lions needed help on the lines and drafted a skill position (that is kind of like having a craving for ice cream and eating a tomato) but that even a cursory examination of Brian Calhoun's background would have demonstrated that he was highly unlikely to ever be a player of any significance in the National Football League.
Brian Calhoun started his college career at the University of Colorado. His freshman year he was the third running back behind current mediocre NFL running back Chris Brown and Bobby "Who?" Purify. Brian Calhoun averaged a staggering two yards per carry less than Chris Brown and 1.5 yards per carry less than Bobby Purify, running behind the same offensive line in the same offense. During his sophmore year, Brian Calhoun's yards per carry average only went up from 4.1 to a measely 4.2, despite the departure of Chris Brown and despite vastly improved quarterback play that assuredly kept the safety out of the box. In case you're wondering, running backs who fall well short of the daunting "Chris Brown Standard of Performance" are generally not hot commodities in the NFL Draft.
Apparently, after two seasons of Brian Calhoun at running back, the University of Colorado Buffaloes had had enough (if only the Detroit Lions could have such vision) and demanded that Brian Calhoun switch his position to wide receiver. At this point Brian Calhoun made a shrewd business decision and transferred to the University of Wisconsin.
Now, the University of Wisconsin has a tradition of fielding highly effective running games that produce absolutely no highly effective NFL running backs. The most famous example is the humorously unaccomplished career of Ron Dayne, who broke numerous NCAA rushing records at the University of Wisconsin, but was one of the largest busts in NFL draft history for the New York Giants. True to form, the University of Wisconsin, in the years that preceded Brian Calhoun's arrival in 2005 (check out the statistics for 2002, 2003, 2004) had excellent running games with two running backs who never succeeded in the NFL (Dwayne Smith and Anthony Davis). The top running backs on those teams averaged 5.2, 5.2, and 4.8 yards per carry respectively.
Unlike other Wisconsin runners of the post-Dayne era, Brian Calhoun's coaches gave him the rock, and he ended up posting gaudy yardage and touchdown numbers. However, he posted an unimpressive 4.7 yards per carry which was the worst average yards per carry for a University of Wisconsin running back in the last four years (it could be longer, I could only find statistics that go back that far).
So just to summarize, entering the NFL Draft, Brian Calhoun had proved that he was markedly worse than a mediocre NFL running back, that he was indistinguishable from an obscure University of Colorado running back, and that his performance was at best commensurate with recent University of Wisconsin running backs who never had any impact at the NFL level. This is not the kind of player that you draft with a high third round pick: this is the kind of player that you bring in as an undrafted free agent.
Remember how the Detroit Lions had needs on the offensive line? With the very next pick, the 75th overall, the division rival Green Bay Packers drafted Jason Spitz, their starting offensive guard. I have gone on record about the Detroit Lions' need at right tackle: the New Orleans Saints drafted Jahri Evans, who has started for them at right tackle since he was a rookie, in the fourth round. Even if Matt Millen did have that itch for a skill position player that he just had to scratch, the next running back off the board was Jerious Norwood, who is a promising young player who has been twelve times more productive than Brian Calhoun.
In two seasons with the Detroit Lions, Brian Calhoun has amassed a mere 109 yards on offense, averaged less than 4 yards per carry, and has been placed on injured reserve twice. However, if you conducted even a superficial investigation into Brian Calhoun's college career, such struggles should not surprise you. Unless, of course, you happen to be Matt Millen.