Tuesday, April 26, 2005

NFL Draft Musings

Musings are back. Enjoy. You can leave comments on this site, or e-mail them to me directly.

--> For those who didn't keep track themselves (and why wouldn't you?), I correctly projected seven of the 32 first-round picks. There were four other teams that drafted a player from the position I projected. Not bad, especially when compared to some of the crap you may have seen elsewhere on the internet. This concludes the Barry Horowitz portion of this entry.

--> Some things will always amaze me in the draft, no matter how many times I see them. I don't begrudge San Francisco for taking Alex Smith first overall, even though I still feel Aaron Rodgers is a better player. I think the top five basically fell into form with few surprises, and I think everyone will be happy with their pick. Smith was the biggest reach in the top five, which has to worry the 49ers brass a little bit. He's everything you want a player to be off the field and in the film room, but is he everything you need him to be on the field? Only time will tell. I think Smith would benefit most from sitting behind Tim Rattay for at least half a season. Mike Nolan can't afford to get a somewhat skinny Smith killed behind an atrocious offensive line in his rookie year.

--> I have heard a lot of pros to the pick, but I still don't think I like what the Vikings did with the seventh pick. Troy Williamson, a very good athlete with loads of potential, caught 91 passes in his three-year career at South Carolina. Mike Williams caught 95 passes in 2003. Williamson has track-meet speed, which would be fine if NFL games were played on a track with players in shirts and shorts. Unfortunately for Williamson, NFL games are played on football fields, and Williamson, while showing flashes of brilliance, also made it clear during his college career that he is far from a polished product. The Vikings needed to pick a player who will make an impact as a rookie. Williamson might need a year or two before the light comes on (ala Javon Walker at division rival Green Bay, who emerged as a star in his third year). Williams was the far more polished product and the far safer pick. Considering how close many in the Minnesota organization feel they are to a Super Bowl run, it was puzzling to see them take a chance with the seventh pick. Super Bowl contenders don't often pick in the top half of the first round. When they do, they need to make it count. The Vikings had a golden opportunity to solidify their offense for a huge run in 2005, and it appears they may have passed on that chance.

--> The Vikings' main rival in the division, Green Bay, didn't fare much better in this draft. They caught a break in the first round, when Rodgers inexplicably fell into their laps with the 24th pick. No matter what pundits around the country want you to believe, Green Bay had no choice. Ted Thompson had to make Rodgers his first pick as the Packers' GM because they were never going to find a better prospect to eventually take the snaps in Green Bay once Brett Favre departs. But from that point, their draft fell apart. The Packers took eleven players, and many of them have the potential to be contributors on the team down the line. Thompson, though, didn't get enough immediate help for a soft, porous defense. Unless the Packers believe veteran free agents like Arturo Freeman, Earl Little, and Raynoch Thompson can help make the defense better, they're going to be in trouble unless new coordinator Jim Bates is a miracle worker.

--> S Brock Marion (Detroit) and DE Kenny Mixon (Minnesota) have both been cut by NFC North teams this week. If the Packers are smart, they move to sign at least one of these veteran players, preferably Marion, who could help steady the safety position and provide leadership for fourth-rounder Marviel Underwood, who is one of the only second-day Packer picks that I actually like. Among the other non-first rounders from the two teams, look out for Minnesota second-round OL Marcus Johnson and fourth-round RB Ciatrick Fason, and Green Bay fourth-round DE Brady Poppinga and sixth-round WR Craig Bragg. Of the five running backs now on Minnesota's roster, I think Fason has the best chance to become a reliable full-time back.

--> I think I made it clear in an entry last week. I don't like drafting kickers. I especially don't like the idea of drafting a kicker in the second round, and then cutting the veteran who could have pushed the rookie for a starting job. The New York Jets ignored needs on both sides of the ball to pick Ohio State K Mike Nugent 47th overall. On Sunday, they informed 11-year veteran Doug Brien that he wouldn't be invited back. I don't feel badly for Brien; he'll have a chance to win a job somewhere. I feel badly for Nugent. He now enters camp as the Jets' starting placekicker, and there is no viable competition for the job. In a stadium that's as tough to kick in as Giants Stadium is, it's nonsensical to draft a kicker that early. And now that Nugent won't be pushed for the job, one wonders what the Jets will do if he has a rough training camp or a bad preseason game. Kickers are a dime a dozen, and they're almost impossible to scout. Brien once missed two extra points in one half (indoors!) while playing for the Vikings. Last year, Brien was 11-of-13 from 40 yards and beyond. I don't like labeling players as busts before they ever suit up in the NFL, but Nugent will have to be a Pro Bowler as a rookie to make the New York faithful happy.

--> Why is everyone jumping all over Denver coach Mike Shanahan? Is it surprising that he would pick troubled RB Maurice Clarett in the third round? It was the 101st overall pick. There were at least three teams that were guilty of bigger reaches in that very round than Denver was with Clarett. Denver's system is very friendly to running backs, and Clarett's running style is a good fit for that system. While there were about 200 reasons not to draft Clarett, Shanahan is being unfairly criticized for the pick. If he can salvage a decent career out of Clarett, he'll have accomplished more with this pick than many teams will with third- and fourth-round selections. There's also this: It's the ultimate test for Shanahan's system. Can a running back who was slower in the 40 at the combine than Richie Incognito flourish for the Denver Broncos?

--> I'm not going to grade draft-day performances. Well, at least I'm not going to grade the teams on the job they did drafting players. Here are some thoughts on various people put on TV by ESPN to analyze the draft:

Chris Berman (A)--Solid, as always. Some good stories, another good cab driver anecdote, and commentary when appropriate. I thought he handled the Rodgers story very well.

Chris Mortensen (B+)--Downgraded a bit because of his gushing commentary on Matt Jones, but good information as always. Seems to be developing more of a rapport with...

Mel Kiper (A)--He'd get an A even if I thought he was bad. Anyone who takes the time to break down video on all these players and analyze their NFL prospects has my respect now and forever. I just wish he'd stop posting post-draft grades on ESPN.com when he knows full well that you can't fairly analyze a draft for at least two years.

Torry Holt (C)--Not real fluid, as expected. Not a whole lot of insight. Messed up more than his fair share of player names, including calling the Vikings' starting QB "Daunte Pepper". Looked uncomfortable at times, especially in the second and third rounds. Not a bad effort for a first-timer on that set.

Suzy Kolber (B)--Like Mort, you know what you're getting. Good insight, good questions during interviews, and it looked Alex Smith wanted to lean in for a kiss after going first overall.

Overall (B)--I would have liked more interviews with coaches and executives around the league, and less commentary from players. I respect Jon Jansen, Trent Green, and Mike Vrabel (along with Holt) for going on TV and giving honest opinions, but I really don't care that much about what they think. I'd rather see coaches and execs grilled about their picks. I think that kind of insight makes for high-quality TV.

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