Monday, April 30, 2007

Winners and Losers from Draft Day

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

First, I give a huge round of applause to my colleagues Tim McManus and John McMullen, who orchestrated as in-depth, real-time Eagles draft coverage as anywhere on the Internet. Granted, there were plenty of questions to type once the name "Kevin Kolb" was uttered at the podium following a trade out of the first round, but still I give kudos to my colleagues.

The draft is the second biggest day in the NFL behind Super Bowl Sunday, and after 5 hours the Eagles trading picks within their division had to leave the Green and White faithful in a state of disappointment, especially considering fifth overall draft pick Levi Brown once said at Penn State that Purdue defensive end and Dallas draft choice Anthony Spencer was the best rush end he faced.

The draft took a shocking turn with the slide of Brady Quinn, Miami's selection of Ted Ginn, Jr. that subsequently triggered the plummet and other interesting second round steals.

The following is The Phanatic Magazine winners and losers from the 2007 Draft after plodding through scout views, GM spin and our own untrained eye:

Winners:

Oakland: The Raiders did what they had to do -- drafting JaMarcus Russell with the top overall selection. Scouts salivate over Russell's "tools" -- i.e. arm strength, physical makeup and mobility in the pocket. I'm not so sure Russell NFL's slope won't trend more toward Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but it's a roll of the dice Oakland had to take considering its current quarterback structure. The pick that really fascinates me is Louisville running Michael Bush in the fourth round. One has to wonder how healthy the leg is considering he fell to pick 100, but pre-injury Bush had the physical makeup and instinctive cutback ability of a sure fire first-rounder. If, and it's a big if, Bush regains full strength, the Raiders may have found a future rushing champion in the fourth round.

The draft smells risk with the distinct possibility of vast reward. Grade: A-

Arizona: Football is a man's game. It's won in the trenches, someplace all to foreign and yet such a big piece of the Cardinals' recent futility. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, both former Steelers assistants, took on the philosophy of their old team during the draft, suring up both lines in the first two rounds. I've seen Levi Brown on tape and in person, and more often than not I see a smart, technically sound player who has Pro Bowl written all over him. Also, when you have a franchise quarterback in toe, protecting him should be of the utmost importance. Here's saying Brown covers Matt Lienart's blind side for the next decade. Alan Branch was once seen as a Top 5 pick before a poor combine coupled with closer inspection of film found a player who really wasn't a playmaker. However, no one can argue Branch has the physical tools of a Casey Hampton, another Steeler connection. The Michigan product will likely play nose tackle in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme.

They improved both lines while taking some risks later in the draft. Grade: B+

Pittsburgh: Bravo to Mike Tomlin for his first draft in the Steel City. If it wasn't for a late trade, Kansas City was prepared to swap picks with Pittsburgh in the first round, likely giving the Steelers another second day selection. The deal didn't come to fruition and the Steelers spent their first two selections on gifted "tweeners." Pittsburgh has a history of turning three-point stance rush ends or pure, undersized athletes into part of a relentless blitzing defense. Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons fits the description of athletic, yet with some flexibility. He was comfortable in a 3-4 alignment at Florida State, yet has the size and versatility to play on the outside in a 4-3 defense.

Regardless of what others say, Tomlin plans to stick with a 3-4 this season, but won't rule out playing some hybrid defenses to confuse opposing offenses. How Lamar Woodley dropped into Pittsburgh's lap I'll never know. Well, actually I do know. Woodley is looked at as undersized for the edge without the stand-up speed of a linebacker. The same could have been said for Gregg Lloyd and Joey Porter. Woodley had one mentality at Michigan -- get to the quarterback, and he excelled to the second most sacks in Wolverine history. That mentality will sit well with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's attack.

The third round pick fits in with Bruce Arians' multiple TE scheme, and a source told me that Pittsburgh envisions using Heath Miller more like Dallas Clark in 2007. Still, there were other pressing needs (RB, offensive line, secondary) on the table when Matt Spaeth was taken in Round 3 and punter (Ray Guy award winner) Daniel Sepulveda was selected in the fourth round. The first two picks were among the best in the draft, the rest left something to be desired. Grade: B+

Cleveland: The Browns rolled the dice and won -- at least on Draft Day. I have always been in the Brady Quinn is overrated camp, but at 22 the value is unquestionably high. Now, the price tag -- this year's third and 2008's first rounder -- may be steep when looked back upon, but Cleveland had to inject its franchise with life. They got a possible franchise quarterback and the draft's best offensive lineman in the first 22 selections, a major coup for GM Phil Savage and company. The Browns also took a gamble on a corner with first-round talent in Eric Wright. The kid has off-field issues, but major upside on the field.

Joe Thomas is a stud with really quick feet for a man his size. Quinn is raw in my opinion and needs to get mentally tougher, but he will likely learn plenty on the job. Grade: A

Atlanta: So, it didn't jump up to take homeboy Calvin Johnson, but the Falcons while not flashy improved both lines and added some toughness to their secondary in the first three rounds. Jamaal Anderson is a coach's dream -- big, strong, instinctive and agile. He was the best defensive player in the draft. Period. Justin Blalock was once thought to be a sure fire first rounder until questions circulated about his muscle mass and toughness. The kid protected quarterbacks at one of college football's best programs --and my cardinal rule is big-program college success is a good indicator of continued success at the next level. Not always, but it's not as risky as a player with eye-popping numbers at a lower-level institution. The complexity of the game is entirely different as is the physical battle in the pros, but BCS conference football is the best preparation if there is any. Chris Houston is only 5-11, but excels near the line of scrimmage and the transition to a new life can only be easier with college teammate Anderson joining him in the Dirty, Dirty South.

The Falcons made good use of their two second-round choices and avoided the temptation of giving away those picks to land Johnson. Grade: A.

Losers:

Philadelphia: The Eagles traded out of the first round to take a quarterback who will be third or fourth on their depth chart. A team with solid starters but little depth in the secondary picked a quarterback with its first selection then a defensive end -- Victor Abiamiri -- from one of college football's most overrated defenses. Abiamiri is a good, smart football player but scouts compare him to the Giants' Justin Tuck. Again, intriguing mid-major corner Usama Young from Kent State and physically gifted corner Marcus McCauley were still on the board. The argument isn't as much Abiamiri's selection as it is a two-fold question without a logical answer. Abiamiri couldn't have been the "best available", could he? And why select a defensive end when you've spent free agent dollars and recent first round draft choices on upgrading the line?

The Kevin Kolb selection was more peculiar, because I think both John Beck and Drew Stanton are better pro prospects. Even so, I couldn't possibly justify picking any of the three ahead of tight end Greg Olsen or the corners listed above. It is possible -- and we can give Andy Reid et al the benefit of the doubt if we must -- that the Eagles were squarely targeting a safety before a rash of Reggie Nelson, Brandon Meriweather and Michael Griffin were selected from picks 19-24. But still, quarterback? Eric Weddle (SS, Utah) or Blalock (OT, Texas) would have been better choices. Grade: C-

New England: I must respectfully yet fervently disagree with my colleague Steve Lienert. One scout penned just before draft day that Brandon Meriweather was the most overrated player in the draft. He has the "U" name going for him, but also carries the Hurricanes baggage as troubled and always in trouble. So, since when have the character-sensitive Patriots turned into Foxboro Correctional Facility? Meriweather is a thug, plain and simple. He has decent range -- not as good as Michael Griffin -- and above average speed -- but not as fast as Florida's Reggie Nelson. He was the third best safety in the draft, and coupled with his off-field issues, may have been a risk in the early second round. Then there is Randy Moss. In my professional opinion, Moss has lost a step, and he wasn't very fast to begin with. He doesn't run geometrically fluid routes, only tries 60 percent of the time and is a square peg in the round hole of New England's short passing, clockwork offense. Moss doesn't excel underneath, and unless Tom Brady plans on heaving jump balls once a quarter -- the move does more harm in the locker room than good on the field. The Patriots won with coaching and team chemistry, coupled with a talent pool in the league's top 10 but nowhere near the top. Talent-wise the selection of Meriweather and the trade of a fourth-round pick for Moss are huge pluses. However, New England's core values were wiped clean -- instead selling its soul for a Super Bowl.

We say here that the soul is gone, but the Super Bowl doesn't follow. Grade: C+

Seattle: Deion Branch killed Seattle's draft before it started, showing on the field this past season that he wasn't worth the first-round pick surrendered to New England. The Seahawks needed help in the secondary and did address the issue by selecting Maryland corner Josh Wilson in the second round instead of taking McCauley -- the cover guy with more tools and a better upside. Wilson plays like a linebacker without the body, resulting in various nagging injuries while in College Park.

Branch needs to show more, or Seattle lost an opportunity to improve its secondary in Round 1. Grade: C.

Miami: I'm not a Quinn apologist, and Beck may turn out to be the better pro, but reports are surfacing that Ted Ginn, Jr. may not be fully healed by the start of training camp. That leaves some to wonder whether the Dolphins medical and personnel staff did its just homework, or plain overlooked the injury while enamored with Ginn's pure speed. I've seen Ted Ginn in person twice, and came away highly unimpressed both times. Teddy Ballgame was visibly frustrated with Penn State's shadow approach in two meetings, jamming him at the line to throw off timing and boxing him in with a linebacker underneath and a safety over the top. Ginn shies away from the middle of the field and doesn't run real crisp routes. He is fast, yes, but football isn't track.

The pass on Brady Quinn may not haunt them more than the selection of Ted Ginn. Grade: C.

Tennessee: I heard scouts in the days leading up to draft day question Griffin's ability to play in space. He can stop the run and play center field, sure, but was he truly worth a first-round draft choice? The Titans thought so, drafting the Texas safety No. 19 overall. He lacks the size to shed blockers in the box and sometimes over pursues, leaving a play susceptible to the cutback home run. Arizona running back Chris Henry shows all the physical tools (6-0, 228 pounds), a physical specimen with shifty hips and a strong upper body. However, he was seldom used in college, which brings questions about his drive and work ethic. Can he stay focused? Does he really want to excel at the next level? Unsure answers leave a lot to be desired for a team that lost Travis Henry to Denver.

Grade: C.
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Jared Trexler can be reached at jtrexler@phanaticmag.com
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