Winners and Losers?
Philosophically, I believe that the team which drafts the BEST player in the draft must always be listed among the winners. The strange psychology of the NFL draft and its salary structure is such that an elite super star player may not be drafted first simply based on the position he plays. This year, the consensus pick for best player in the draft is Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. (Watch how he plays this reverse and beats two blockers in a tight game…2:35)
Curry was selected 4th by the Seattle Seahawks. I like the Max Unger (T, Oregon) pick. The ‘Hawks got value out of that pick. Some people had Unger going in the first round.
New York Jets. I like Mark Sanchez a great deal more than I like Matthew Stafford. Stafford had seven 300-yard games this season. He had none in 2007. He didn’t even throw for 250 yards in an offense that was stacked with wide receivers, running backs and a Mark Richt playbook. Georgia lost some big games in which the offense was routinely shut down. When the running game was bottled up, Stafford rarely used his arm to open up the field and ease the burden on the team. It was usually the other way around.
Sanchez might be a system quarterback. That’s not the worst thing for a USC player. Even the guys who can’t get playing time have turned out to be very good (Matt Cassel).
Baltimore Ravens. I always like the way the Ravens draft. Like the Steelers, they know who they are. They draft players that fit the make-up of their team. They don’t waste time drafting players who will be eaten up and spit out by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. The Ravens can safely expect big things from Michael Oher. Well done.
Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are like the Ravens in that their offensive philosophy is all about having size in the trenches. Two years ago, when that size was healthy, the Jaguars won 10 games and won twice on the road in Pittsburgh late in the season. That’s unprecedented. Last year, when that size was injured, they struggled out of the gate. The Jags were lucky that Roger Goodell has situational ethics and didn’t suspend Matt “Where’s the Cocaine?” Jones until the season was over. The Jags picked a tackle from UVa who has one of the highest draft grades of any player (Eugene Monroe). They went large again in the 2nd round. This could be a foundation draft for the Jags that changes the fortunes of the team. If this team begins to win out in the AFC South, it may because of these two picks.
St. Louis Rams. The Rams did work in the trenches. Jason Smith has big shoes to fill. Orlando Pace was one of the best left tackles in the history of the NFL. He was a powerhouse who played with great technique. He was also extremely fast.
Oakland Raiders. I get it. I really do. I understand that the Raiders have a QB with a big arm; that they have big running backs and speed to keep DBs honest; and that they have an accomplished wide out in Javon Walker. I also understand that Darrious Heyward-Bey can flat out fly. I just don’t get him with the 7th pick. It’s the same way I didn’t get Ted Ginn with the 9th pick. I saw Ginn play several times at Ohio State. I wouldn’t have gone down that road. Next year is his year to show and prove. We’ll see. I never saw Maryland play this season…because they sucked and I didn’t have the time. If Heyward-Bey was all that, I would have seen him the same way I saw Hakeem Nicks. In my book, Willie Gault and Renaldo Nehemiah forever ended the discussion on the value of speed at the WR position in the NFL. It’s overrated, period. Quickness, precision and strength (of hands) are the hall marks of the elite players at this position. The Raiders would have been better off inviting Usain Bolt to mini-camp.
I don’t know that anyone on this team knows exactly what they’re doing. The conventional wisdom is that teams simply aren’t able to protect the passer long enough for receivers to consistently get deep; that effective offense requires more plays and more effort to work the ball down the field. The Raiders are not to change. Perhaps they believe the liberal passing rules (enforcement of 5yd. chuck rule, etc.) will create time where there was none. Al may just be 15 years ahead of the curve.
Detroit Lions. I wouldn’t have done it. No way. If you’ve seen Stafford against teams like Florida, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee, you know he’s not the second coming of a franchise saving QB. He might be the second coming of Scott Mitchell, but that’s not going to help the Lions. If the Lions have learned nothing from the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan, it should be that the key to his success in 2008 was three-fold: Michael Turner provided a rock solid running game; Roddy White provided a go-to-guy in the passing game that required double coverage. The Lions, with Kevin Smith and Calvin Johnson should have that covered.
Calvin Johnson makes the game look easy. Matthew Stafford makes the game look hard. The Lions make the game look hard.
Cincinnati Bengals. Why do they put their fans through this every single season? Why do their fans put up with this every single season? After next season, I suspect that Marvin Lewis will be looking for work; Chad Johnson will be have found a new team; and Carson Palmer will be looking for a psychologist. Sometimes, when I go to one of my favorite watering holes, I can see Bengal fans murmuring to themselves, “Is it me? Is it something I said?”
What else can they say when management is committed to signing players that can be had on a Discipline Discount. The Bengals do not want players who are rock solid on and off the field. They want drama. In 2009, they got it. If the players that the Bengals drafted had discipline commensurate with their talent, each one could have been a Top 10 pick. I knew they’d take Andre Smith. I hope, for all the world, that he gets it together.
The fundamental problem with the Bengals is that they lack integrity. It’s not that they’re cheap. The Steelers are cheap. The Giants and Bears pinch pennies. There are many franchises that will not break the bank, but the most successful of those teams have a vision for who they are and what they want to do. In previous years, if the Bengals wanted to be Team Rehab and draft players with tremendous talent and limited will, they needed to go all the way — and build a culture of family and community that supports authentic player development. As it stands, they’ve done little of that. It’s why they are a perennial loser and everyone with real talent wants out. This year, they have players who may not have rap sheets, but they’re not rock solid, no brainers. There are question marks. Cincinnati needs to grow up.