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Draft Day Bloopers and Practical Jokes: The Brian Calhoun Pick


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.


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