Friday, April 28, 2006

NFL Draft Hodge Podge

Too short, too inconsistent, too slow, too stupid, too troubled. The same phrases are used every year to knock prospects and every year people are wrong on many players. Part of the reason is that too much emphasis is placed on the wrong combine numbers like the 40 and not enough attention is paid to film and actual production.

Take Alabama Quarterback Brodie Croyle. He has two negatives that scouts point out: durability and inconsistency. Durability is a legitimate concern for a quarterback. His inconsistency however deserves a closer look. As a freshman Croyle played in Dennis Franchione’s power running offense, then learned Mike Price’s spread offense before he was fired, and finally Mike Shula’s pro-style offense. Plenty of quarterbacks will struggle with inconsistency in that situation, and Croyle deserves credit for being a quick learner. Apparently his yearly improvement in an unstable program is worth ignoring.

Speed and size are two of the measurables that teams look for. When a player lacks one of the two, they usually drop in the draft. Michigan receiver Jason Avant isn’t an explosive so he’s not considered an elite prospect. While other receivers are faster, Avant is efficient, which is more valuable than straight line speed anyway.However he is considered the best route-runner in the draft, has good size and good hands (82 catches last year). Other Michigan receivers Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston might be considered gamebreakers, but Avant will be a solid NFL possession receiver for 5-10 years. At some point measurables must give way to actual production and football talent.

Every year someone will mention Mike Mamula and Tom Brady as the two extreme poles of the draft. One was impressive at the combine and shot up the charts resulting in a monumental first round bust, the other a solid college quarterback and 6th round pick that became a 3-time Super Bowl champ. Despite the two tales of draft bust and boom, the same dumb ideas still pollute the draft.

Croyle and Avant are two of several mid to late round players that range from potential starts, to solid starters, reserves and special teams players.

Eleven Other Intriguing Prospects
RB Jerome Harrison Washington State-He ran for 1,900 yards as a senior at Washington State. He is not big (5-9, 200) but there are plenty of running backs in the NFL at this size. He won’t take 25 carries a game, but properly used, might be a Brian Westbrook or a poor man’s Reggie Bush.

RB Rashon Powers-Neal Notre Dame-Not really a fullback, but is a good short yardage running back. He also is a decent receiver. He might fit well in a West Coast offense where he is not asked to be a lead blocker.

FB David Kirtman USC-Good Receiver out of the backfield and helped open holes for Bush and Lendale White.

WR Mike Hass Oregon State-He’s slow and white. Those are the knocks on the nation’s receiving yards leader. He has very good hands and made lots of plays despite being the Beavers’ only offensive weapon for two years. Think Ed McCaffery.

WR/KR Skyler Green LSU-He is 5’9” and fast. He won’t have 100 receptions or be a red zone target. He will be great on returns and be a change of pace from the slot. A stretch comparison is Dante Hall.

TE Tim Day Oregon-He is not a good blocker. Few receiving tight ends are. He is a potential starter in the mid rounds. He might get overlooked by the numerous tight ends in the draft, but will be a steal.

T Joe Toledo Washington-He outgrew his tight end position and moved to tackle as a senior. He’s obviously inexperienced as a lineman, but is a good blocker and his tight end agility is a big help. A project, but worth a late round pick.

DT Jesse Mahealona-A good pass rusher and very quick.

LB Clint Ingram Oklahoma-He’s fast, forces turnovers and can cover. He also played under a good defensive system.

LB AJ Nicholson-He had better stats than 1st round teammate Ernie Sims. Both Nicholson and Sims have off-field issues, but only Nicholson will apparently suffer in the draft. Some team might end up with a cheaper, equally productive player.

LB Will Derting Washington State- Think Zach Thomas. He’s small and injury prone. He also gets to the ball and makes big plays.

Five Players that might tank (or become Hall of Famers to spite me)
Vernon Davis-Teams always fall in love with someone based on the combine. Davis did have a good junior season, but whenever scouts claim a player will revolutionize their position it’s asking for a letdown.

Antonio Cromartie-Compared to Deion Sanders. He’s started 11 college games and missed all of 2005. Plenty of prospects have possessed “rare ability” with rare results to match.

Tye Hill-Defensive backs in the draft are hit and miss. Pac Man Jones or Antrell Rolle? Ahmad Carroll or Chris Gamble? Troy Polamalu or Andre Woolfork? Quentin Jammer or Roy Williams?Hill is fast, but small.

Matt Leinart-If Leinart didn’t play at USC, would he be as highly rated? Considering the amount of talent surrounding Leinart in college, he got away with some things.
Chad Greenway-No real reason other than his teammate Abdul Hodge is better, but Greenway has the ideal size. Greenway just doesn’t stick out as a great playmaker.

Team you don’t want to draft you (Besides Detroit):Cleveland. Recent high draft picks Kellen Winslow, Sean Jones, Braylon Edwards, all suffered season ending injuries in their rookie years.

Who’s the Crazy one here?
ESPN’s Merrell Hoge says he would never draft Vince Young as a quarterback and wouldn’t take Leinart until the third or fourth round. He says Jay Cutler and Brodie Croyle are the two quarterbacks with the arm strength for the NFL. It sounds crazy and Dan Patrick said as much. Considering how much film Hoge and Ron Jaworski watch, I value Hoge’s opinion more than most experts. He said he looked at all three first round quarterbacks consecutively and Cutler stood out the most. Hoge is in the extreme minority, but we’ll see in three years what happens.

The Wild Card
Excluding Young, the quarterback with the most talent might be Marcus Vick. Earlier this season he was seen as the number pick in the 2007 draft and considered a better quarterback than his brother Michael. He only started one year at Virginia Tech and his off field problems are serious. Right now he is projected near in seventh round/undrafted territory. Some team without an immediate quarterback need could take a chance on his talent. The first sign of trouble, he’s cut at a minimal loss. If he behaves, suddenly a coach or GM looks very smart.

Overall tomorrow’s draft will be exciting. In a sports season with NBA and NHL playoffs, plus a newborn baseball season, it is amazing that most anticipated sporting event isn’t even a game. And like every other rube, I’ll be tethered to the laptop, helmet phone at my side, waiting to see if my team takes the linebacker with good knee bend or the safety with fluid hips.