Monday, 28 April 2014 02:19

2011 NFL Draft Revisited - Part One: The NFC

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It’s April and forecasting rain isn’t the only popular pastime in this month. The 2014 NFL Draft is two weeks away along with the media storm that accompanies it. After the Super Bowl ends, the NFL media machine knows that there will be six months before preseason games start and they have to do their best to keep fans interested until then. Things that used to be ignored 10-15 years ago now have gained a tremendous amount of coverage. The NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and pro days have all become major events. However, they are nothing compared to the three day spectacle that is now the NFL Draft. Analysts begin to determine where teams are deficient and prognosticate as to what players they will pick within mere days after Super Bowl. Then, from March through May, countless hours of television programming and an exponential number of articles will thoroughly examine every aspect of how well these rookies will or will not potentially adjust to the speed and size that is the NFL. Finally, it will come time for teams to pick their first round at Radio City Music Hall and after the players are selected, analysts will scrutinize the pick to the Nth degree, fans will boo and/or cheer the selections and the three days will pass ever so quickly.

However, unlike the game of football, the draft has no score and that is a problem. How can you have all of this hype and no winner(s)? Since that answer was unsatisfying to fans, analysts decided to provide a score of sorts… draft grades. Every major sports network and magazine offers them now and in fact, many of the grades are given in real time during the draft. I understand that the casual fan wants to know if their team will be better, but all we can definitively conclude during and after the draft is what positions of need were enhanced. For example, if a team that had a poor offensive line took an offensive lineman in the early rounds of the draft, they should have better depth in that area and improve. That’s all we can discern since these grades have no basis on actual performance yet. So what we’re really given is “informed” but idle speculation because the players haven’t even gone to camp much less played a down in the NFL. What’s even more infuriating to me is the how wrong some of these grades can be. I grew up in Houston and one of my favorite examples of this is when the Houston Texans were given a ton of grief for not selecting Mario Williams as the #1 pick over Vince Young and Reggie Bush in 2006. Williams had two Pro-Bowl selections, one All Pro selection and was the 2007 NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year with the Texans. Even though he is no longer in Houston, he is still playing at an elite level for the Bills. Bush and Young had some accolades, but Bush is now with his third team and Young is out of the league. History has shown that the Texans made the right choice and that’s what drove me to write this article.

As the infamous saying goes, “hindsight is 20-20.” Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to give out grades for the 2011 draft using the facts – the performance of these players after three years. I believe that this is an appropriate timespan to provide grades since they players have had a reasonable amount of time to adjust to the game, overcome injuries and/or to win their starting spot. Rather than just arbitrarily giving grades, the grades are based upon a point system for each player that gives up to ten points using the following criteria:

 

Points

Criteria

Description

1

Still in NFL

The Player may not have been a fit for the team, but at least had the talent/drive to be in the NFL

2

Still on the team

Player provides some value to the team even if it’s just in position depth

3

Starter

Player started on the team for minimum of 8 games in one season during any of the three seasons between 2011-2013

4

Top Ranked

Made an NFL All Pro or Pro Bowl team during these three years; players of this caliber are worth much more value in both on the field play (as they often have to be double teamed) and in motivating fans to attend games and buy team merchandise

 

The team grade uses the total points from all the players they selected in the draft divided by the total number of players they selected. However, after reviewing the initial outcome I determined that this point scale heavily penalized teams who had many late round picks. Why? Players picked in the 6th and 7th rounds only made the team 56% of the time in 2011, so getting a zero points for these players skewed the results unfairly in my opinion. Since these late draft players were much less likely to make the teams, I decided to reduce their cost to the team in a corresponding fashion (e.g. they only count as .56 of a player). I made some additional minor refinements similar to the one above, but I won’t bore you any more of the details since most people really don’t care how “the sausage is made.” Here are the grades:

Team

Division

Grade

Dallas Cowboys

East

B+

New York Giants

East

C+

Philadelphia Eagles

East

C-

Washington Redskins

East

B-

Chicago Bears

North

B

Detroit Lions

North

C-

Green Bay Packers

North

D-

Minnesota Vikings

North

C-

Atlanta Falcons

South

A

Carolina Panthers

South

D

New Orleans Saints

South

C-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

South

C-

Arizona Cardinals

West

B+

San Francisco 49ers

West

B

Seattle Seahawks

West

A-

St. Louis Rams

West

D

If you’d like to know more details about the team grades above, they are available below. All of the teams are broken out by their Division and preceded by a chart that illustrates the following:

  • How many picks the team had in the 2011 draft
  • How many of the draft picks were 6th round draft picks
  • How many of the players from the draft are currently on that team
  • How many of the players from the draft are currently starters on that team

For those of you not interested in the details, Part Two of the article will provide an analysis of the AFC and be published later this week. Finally, Part Three will be published the week of the draft and conclude with a comparison of the grades of the experts versus my historical view. Thanks for reading.

 

NFC East

 

Dallas Cowboys (B+)

I think Jerry Jones is questionable at best as a GM for the Cowboys (and terrible more often than not), but he did well with his higher picks in this draft. His first round selection was Tyron Smith (G) who has grown into a stellar offensive lineman. Smith was ranked the fifth best tackle by Pro Football Focus in 2013, a Pro Bowl selectee and has done a great job protecting Romo’s blind side. Bruce Carter (LB – 2nd Rd) looked good in 2012 (70 combined tackles), but struggled with pass coverage in 2013. This weakness has caused some analysts to speculate as on whether he is good fit for the Cowboys going forward. DeMarco Murray (RB – 3rd Rd) looked like he might be a bust, but recovered admirably in 2013 w/over 1400+ combined yards and ten TD’s in 14 games after his sophomore slump. Of the remaining five players drafted, only Dwayne Harris (WR – 6 th Rd) is still on the team. Harris is a solid return specialist and occasionally plays as a WR in five receiver sets. Jerry got a Pro Bowl player with his four starters and 75% of the players not on the team are still in the NFL, so I’ll give Jerry a B+ for this draft

 

New York Giants (C+)

The Giants may have gone to the 2012 Super Bowl, but it wasn’t because of this draft. Prince Amukamara (CB – 1st Rd) has held the starting spot at corner since early 2012 (29 games started) which is what you want from a first round selection. Marvin Austin (DT -2nd Rd), on the other hand, was a terrible disappointment who only played eight games for the G-Men over two years prior to being released in 2013. Jerrel Jernigan (WR – 3rd Rd) really only began to get significant playing time in 2013 because of injuries at the WR position, but did produce when he was on the field (3 TD’s; 1 from rushing). We may see more of Jernigan going forward since Hakeem Nicks went to the Colts, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to capitalize on this opportunity. James Brewer (T – 3 rd Rd) also did not start until 2013, but he is expected to retain the starting right tackle job in 2014. The only remaining pick of note is Jacquian Williams (LB – 6 th Rd) who shows a great deal of potential. While he suffered from a PCL injury in 2012, he worked his way into the lineup in 2013 and is another player from this draft fighting to claim a starting spot in 2014. The Giants gained three starters from this class, but there is no pro-bowl talent and half of their picks didn’t pan out for them which leads to a just above average grade.

 

Philadelphia Eagles (C-)

I think it’s safe to say that it’s not a great draft when the highlights don’t start until fourth round. Their first two picks (D. Watkins (G) for MIA; J. Jarrett (CB) for NYJ) now play for other teams. Curtis Marsh (DB – 3 rd Rd) and Casey Matthews (LB - 4 th Rd) are still on the team, but not starters (though Matthews does contribute on special teams). The Eagles really didn’t hit their stride until late in the draft with the selection of Alex Henery (K) later in the fourth round. Henery set a new NFL record for field goal accuracy by a rookie kicker that year. The other nice selection for the Eagles in this draft was Jason Kelce (C – 6 th Rd). While Kelce tore his ACL in 2012, he must have spent his recovery time memorizing the playbook because he was dominant at the position in 2013. Kelce is now considered to be one of the best centers in the league and definitely was the best pick of this draft for the Eagles. The remaining draft picks are now spot starters with other teams. There were some highlights to their draft, but the Eagles failed to capitalize on over half of their eleven picks which lead to a below average grade.

 

Washington Redskins (B-)

Washington had twelve picks and while seven of these players are still on their roster, they only have gained two starters (their first two picks) from that haul. Ryan Kerrigan (LB) was their first pick, has been a starter since his selection and averages eight sacks per year. Jarvis Jenkins (DE – 2 nd rd) was out for all of 2011 w/torn ACL, but did recover and start for most of 2012. However, he was suspended for four games in 2013 for substance abuse, so there are still some questions about his value to the team. Leonard Hankerson (WR – 3 rd rd) was improving into a spot starter, but tore his ACL in week 11 of 2013 and will probably be relegated to 4-5 WR sets now that DeSean Jackson is on the team. The two RB’s that Washington drafted (Roy Helu – 4 th Rd; Evan Royster – 6 th Rd) are still on the team, but stuck behind Alfred Morris. This draft gave Washington good depth, but the few starters they gained are not elite caliber players which led to me giving them the grade of B-.

 

NFC North

 

Chicago Bears (B)

The Bears had five picks, so they could only do so much. They were trying to shore up the offensive line with their first round pick of Gabe Carimi (T) and while he did start for them in 2012, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 for a 6 th Rd pick in the 2014 draft. Clearly the Bears are better at picking defensive players as their second and third round picks of Stephen Paea (DT) and Chris Conte (CB) have both been contributing as starters the past few years. Their fifth round flyer on QB Nathan Enderle didn’t pan out (getting some play in the Canadian and/or Arena football) and JT Thomas (LB) is trying to hold on to a spot in Jacksonville. Three starters out of five players is pretty good, even if their first pick is now a trade casualty.

 

Detroit Lions (C-)

Picking Nick Fairley (DT) in the first round to pair him up w/ Ndamukong Suh was great idea in theory and has made a near impenetrable interior defensive line at times. Unfortunately, Fairley has struggled w/health and legal issues which have both decreased his playing time and value. Mikel Leshore (RB – 2 nd Rd) started off strong in 2012 w/over 200 carries and 9 TD’s, but has become irrelevant w/the duo of Bush and Bell in front of him. The Lions draft went downhill from here. Their other second round pick Titus Young (WR) is in jail for… it would probably be easier to list what he’s not been charged with. Doug Hogue (LB – 5 th Rd) received some playing time, but was eventually waived and now is a backup at Carolina. Johnny Culbreath (T – 7 th Rd) was a wasted pick (and by wasted I mean stoned). Health issues put him on IR for all 2011 and Culbreath was waived by the team in January of 2012 after being arrested with “two blunts”. Lions management should have known something was up when he asked if his team number could be 420. Since the Lions have an equal number of players in jail as on their roster, I think it’s fairly generous to give them a C-.

 

Green Bay Packers (D-)

The Packers are my team, so this was a rough one to grade. Ted Thompson (GM) is known for building through the draft and amassing picks, but clearly 2011 was not his year. The jury is still out on the first pick of Derek Sherrod (T). Sherrod broke his leg in late 2011 which left him inactive for all of 2012 and on the PUP list until Nov of 2013. Randall Cobb (WR – 2 nd Rd) was a very good, if not great pick. While Cobb struggled to get playing time as a rookie, in 2012 he had 950+ yards receiving and 8 TD’s. Unfortunately, he fractured his tibia in 2013 which limited his playing time, but he is expected to bounce back to 2012 form in this upcoming season. Alex Green (RB – 3 rd Rd) seemed like a steal this late in the draft, but this was another miss for Thompson. After an ACL tear in 2011, Green never showed the explosiveness that he did in college. The Packers drafted two RB’s in 2013 (one of which was Eddie Lacy – you may have heard of him since he was Rookie of the Year) and then cut Green before the regular season. Davon House (DB 4 th Rd) primarily plays in nickel and dime sets which give depth to the secondary. None of the six remaining picks have been notable in contributing to the Packers or the teams that they were traded and/or waived to. One starter out of ten picks does not make for a banner year. I should probably give them an F, but it’s my team so I can’t bring myself to do it.

 

Minnesota Vikings ( C-)

Christian Ponder (QB) was the first pick for the Vikings in 2011, but he has “not met expectations” and it appears his best decision making was done off the field by marrying Samantha Steele. Kyle Rudolph (TE) was their second round pick and has had flashes of brilliance. Rudolph went from 3 to 9 TD’s from 2011 to 2012 and doubled his targets and yardage over that time as well. While it’s unfortunate that he broke his foot in 2013, he should come back strong in 2014. Christian Ballard (DT) played in all of the games in 2011 and 2012 and was starting to show some promise, but then decided that he didn’t enjoy football and just upped and quit in 2013. Brandon Burton (CB – 5 th Rd) didn’t have much playing time and has moved on to the Bengals. Brandon Fusco (G – 6 th Rd) was a gem in the rough who struggled in his first year, but ended up starting all but one game between 2012 and 2013. The three remaining draft picks are no longer Vikings or starters in the NFL. Similar to the Packers, the Vikings horded picks with below average results. The Vikings have only half of the ten players drafted still on their team and failed in their quest to find a franchise QB, so they get a C- for this draft.

 

NFC South

 

Atlanta Falcons (A)

The Falcons were heavily criticized by some analysts for trading up for Julio Jones (WR) in the first round, but many teams in hindsight would have made that trade to get a WR of his skills. Jones has proven his elite value by averaging almost one thousand yards and nine TD’s per game in both his rookie and sophomore seasons. While Jones did get injured in his third season, nobody will be surprised if he becomes a perennial Pro Bowl pick going forward. Their next selection of Akeem Dent (LB – 3 rd Rd) has averaged over fifty tackles the past two seasons and given the Falcons another starter of respectable value. Jaquizz Rodgers (RB – 5 th Rd) wasn’t the replacement for Michael Turner that the Falcons had hoped for, but has been a capable backup and change of pace back. Matt Bosher (P – 6 th Rd) has been the starting punter since he was drafted, but Cliff Matthews (DE – 7 th Rd) hasn’t made much of an impact upon the team other than providing depth. Gaining three starters (one of which is a Pro Bowler) and two depth players out of six picks is what many teams strive for and led to the Falcons getting an A in my grading scale.

 

Carolina Panthers (D)

Carolina got their starting QB with their first pick of Cam Newton… and then it appears that they took the rest of the draft off. None of their remaining seven picks are on still the team. More importantly, players picked in or after the fourth round are all either on practice squads or out of the NFL altogether. The Panthers clearly did a terrible job of scouting which led to their almost failing grade.

 

New Orleans Saints (C-)

The Saints had two first, two third and two seventh round picks. Their first pick was Cameron Jordan (DE) who has not missed a game for the Saints since he was drafted. He has steadily developed into an impact player which culminated last year with 12.5 sacks and a selection as an All Pro. Mark Ingram (RB), their other first round pick, has not been as much of a success. Ingram has failed to separate himself from the backfield-by-committee approach of the Saints to justify such a high pick. The Saints third round picks of Martez Wilson (LB) and Johnny Patrick (CB) focused on defense, but did not pan out. While both players received a fair amount of playing time, neither was able to claim a job as a starter and they now play for other teams. None of their seventh round picks made it past the practice squad. Only one of the two first round picks was really successful for the Saints and their failure to develop any of the later round picks led to below average grade for them.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (C-)

The Buccaneers primarily selected defensive players in this draft. Adrian Clayborn (DE) yielded them a starter when he’s been healthy (missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL), but he’s only a middling player for a first round pick. The 2 nd Rd pick of Da'Quan Bowers (DE) looks like he’ll be a washout. Unfortunately for Bowers, a combination of off field issues (i.e. tried to walk through La Guardia security with a loaded pistol – really?!) and lingering injuries have prevented Bowers from being a starter over the past three years. More importantly, the acquisition of Michael Johnson (DE – CIN) means that they’ve pretty much given up on him. Mason Foster (MLB – 3 rd Rd) has started in all but one game since he was drafted, but is considered by analysts to be between mediocre to below-average at his position. Luke Stocker (TE – 4 th Rd) has also been a letdown with an average of only one catch per game in his first two years and an injury that forced him to spend the majority of 2013 on IR. Anthony Gaitor (CB - 7th Rd) is the only player of the four remaining players drafted still on the team and he has spent the bulk of 2012 and 2013 on IR. The multiple reoccurrences of words meaning “average” or “disappointing” in the player descriptions sums up the Bucs draft quite well, hence the C-.

 

NFC West

 

Arizon Cardinals (B+)

Patrick Peterson was an outstanding first round pick and is an exceptional cornerback (three Pro Bowls in three years). He has also been a good role model for Tyrann Mathieu and I expect them to be a very dangerous duo in the secondary next season once Mathieu regains his health. Ryan Williams (RB – 2 nd Rd) was a miscalculation by the Cardinal scouts and may struggle to maintain a roster spot in 2014. Rob Housler (TE – 3 rd Rd) was the primary starter in 2012 and 2013, but has not been impressive with an average of 435 yds in receiving each year and only one TD in two years. Housler needs to improve in all areas if he expects to have any impact on the Cardinals in 2014. Sam Acho (LB – 4 th Rd) also was starting to show some promise after playing his rookie year and getting some starts in 2012, but he broke his ankle in Week 3 of 2013 season and it remains to be seen if he is good fit for this team/defense. Most of their remaining picks are no longer with the team, but do still play in the NFL. Arizona receives a B+ since they were able to identify NFL talent in this draft (7 of 8 picks still active) and field three starters out of the four players remaining on the team.

 

San Francisco 49ers (B)

The 49ers first pick of LB Aldon Smith was the bomb. Smith was identified as one of the best defensive rookie players in 2011 (despite not starting the entire year) and has continued to be recognized as one of the best players at his position on the field since. Off the field, he is another story. His latest comment of “having a bomb” at the SFO airport will probably lead to a suspension for some of the 2014 season and definitely lead to some conduct clauses being tied to his next contract. Colin Kaepernick (QB – 2 nd Rd) was also a tremendous value. Forced into a starting after his predecessor was injured in 2012, he ended up not only keeping the starting role but led his team to being NFC Champions. Their next three picks (Chris Culliver – DB, Kendall Hunter – RB, Daniel Kilgore – G) are all still on the team, but have been unable to claim starting roles either due to the skill of the incumbent player or injuries. Of the remaining five players drafted, only Bruce Miller (7 th Rd) is still on the team, but he is their starting fullback. The 49ers received a B for getting three starters (one Pro Bowler) along with three depth players out of this draft.

 

Seattle Seahawks (A-)

James Carpenter (G – 1 st Rd) is a capable player and started for the Seahawks during the playoffs, but may not keep his starting spot according to some sources. Surprisingly, most of the Seahawks impact players came from picks at the fifth round or later. Specifically, Richard “Don’t you ever talk about me” Sherman (CB - 5 th Rd) who has made a name for himself as a Pro Bowl caliber shut-down corner that few WR’s can get free of. Malcolm Smith (LB – 7 th Rd) is another late pick that paid huge dividends for the Hawks. Smith proved himself during the Seahawks 2013 playoff run which culminated with him being chosen the 2014 Super Bowl MVP, primarily for an opportunistic “pick-6” vs. Peyton Manning. The two remaining players on the squad (K.J. Wright – LB and Byron Maxwell – DB) are not starters, but do provide depth at their positions. Five of the nine players the Seahawks drafted are still on the team, with three of them starting and two of them being recognized as excellent at their position, so the Seahawks get an A- .

 

St. Louis Rams (D)

The Rams did not fare well in this draft for the most part. Robert Quinn (DE) was a very good first pick and distinguished himself in 2013 with a consensus All Pro selection. Lance Kendricks (TE – 2 nd Rd) was chosen for his skills as a receiving TE, but has failed to win the starting spot and only averages 23 receiving yards/game. Austin Pettis (WR – 3 rd Rd) has earned a starting position, but has not had over 400 yards receiving per season in his three years with the Rams. The rest of this draft class was a fiasco. None of the Rams remaining picks are on the team and only one is still active in the NFL. Landing two starters out of eight picks (with four players no longer in the NFL) led to the below average grading of the Rams.

 

Sources:
www.BleacherReport.com
www.ESPN.com
www.NFL.com
www.rotoworld.com
www.wikipedia.com

Read 5604 times Last modified on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 22:35

Stephen Schulist has lived in many places (ten states) and held many jobs over the past 44 years: bookseller, dock worker, stand-up comedian, infantry soldier, software consultant and freelance writer. One thing that has remained constant over all of those years is his love of football and the Green Bay Packers. While the Packers are his favorite NFL team, he has seen games at 13 NFL stadiums and visiting the remaining stadiums is at the top of his bucket of list. He may be reached via email at TheSportsThinkTank@gmail.com or you may follow him on twitter @SoupSandwich97.

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