NFL Draft "Don'ts"
by Robert Ferringo - 4/20/2010
“Don’t do it man.”
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s advising your hammered homeboy not to rail some sloppy sweat-dumpster at the end of some dank townie bar or trying to talk your college roommate out of doubling down on a Norv Turner team in the playoffs, we’ve all uttered the same desperate, but sage, advice: “Don’t do it man.”
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Well how many times have you wished that you could be in your favorite NFL team’s draft war room so that when the head honchos decided, “Yeah, Alex Smith is our quarterback of the future” or “Yeah, we should pass on Randy Moss because he rocked the ganja in college,” or “Hey, Troy Williamson is solid as the No. 7 overall pick” you could be there as the voice or reason to say, “don’t do it man.”
The 2010 NFL Draft begins at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 22 with the first round broadcast in its entirety in prime time. There has been months of speculation and everyone is, essentially, focused on the same thing: what everyone is going to do.
In fact, I’m getting kind of sick of it. “What’s my team gonna do?” “What’s your team gonna do?” It’s the same thing every year. But you know what, how about talking about what teams SHOULDN’T do in the opening round of the NFL Draft? What DON’T you do in the first round of the draft? What mistake do you not want to make?
I mean, everyone is focused on “addressing needs” and “filling holes” and “looking for value”. But in reality everyone is just trying to avoid a big, fat, car crash, mock-the-front office bust that could set the franchise back a half-decade. And in trying to avoid The Bust teams are focused a bit too much on what they should do, who they should pick, and what they need. I say screw that. I think that history has provided us with a pretty solid road map of what you just don’t do with your top pick on draft night.
With that in mind, I think I have devised a draft strategy in which you can avoid future disappointment by simply NOT doing certain things. My scheme is not fool proof. And it’s kind of untested. And I will be looking to add to it for next year. But I’ll let you determine its merit. And when we look back five years from now on the 2010 draft we’ll see how the teams that either followed or ignored my list of NFL Draft Don’ts made out.
So without further ado, here is my list of NFL Draft Don’ts:
1. Don’t take a quarterback in the first round.
Last week I discussed what a terrible decision it is to take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. Here I can expand that to say that it hasn’t been a great idea to take a quarterback anywhere in Round 1.
Over the last 20 years there have been 44 quarterbacks taken in the first round. I think that the jury is still out on the nine guys taken in the last four years. But of the other 35 first rounders I think that eight of them have been elite (Drew Bledsoe, Steve McNair, Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Phil Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger). There are two others that I think have been very good (Chad Pennington and Aaron Rodgers). So that is 10 of 35 guys that I think paid off as first round picks (28.6 percent).
Four others (Jeff George, Tommy Maddox, Daunte Culpepper, Trent Dilfer) had their moments but, overall, I don’t think they lived up their billing as No. 1 picks. The other 21 first round quarterbacks – guys like Andre Ware, Todd Marinovich, Heath Shuler, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Kyle Boller, and Alex Smith – were complete and total busts and wasted selections.
So if you look at it from a numbers standpoint you have a one-in-four chance of your first round quarterback actually being successful and worthy of the pick. I haven’t crunched the numbers to create a “bust rate” for the other positions. Maybe that’s in line with everything else. But that’s kind of the point: quarterback is the most important position in the sport. So teams can’t afford to miss that often on their top selections.
There is just so much that goes into grooming a first round quarterback. The time and emotional investment from everyone from scouts, to coaches, to front office people, to fans, to teammates is enormous. So I don’t think that one-in-four shot at getting something in return is even close to being a good investment. So with that in mind, the first DON’T of the NFL draft is DON’T take a quarterback in the first round.
I’m looking at you St. Louis. Avoid the Noid and don’t take Sam Bradford.
2. Don’t take a quarterback from Notre Dame (or Florida) in the first round.
(Maybe this shouldn’t be No. 2 since it is more of a 1-A. Or a 1-B if you take DON’T take a quarterback No. 1 overall as part of the equation.)
Hey, I get that the Irish have given us Joe Montana and Joe Theismann. But let’s stroll down memory lane and look at the last five Notre Dame quarterbacks to play in the NFL: Kent Graham, Steve Beuerlein, Jarious Jackson, Rick Mirer and Brady Quinn.
OK, so now let’s revisit that whole Jimmy Clausen In The First Round Thing. You sure about that? You really, really, really want him?
Notre Dame has been the most overhyped, overrated program in college football for the last 20 years. So it’s an obvious connection that their quarterbacks will be overvalued and overrated as well.
In fact, there have been 110 players from Notre Dame drafted since 1990. About one in four of them went on to have what I consider a solid NFL career. (That’s a guy like Hunter Smith, Mike Gandy, Allen Rossum, Bertrand Berry, etc.) The rest were washouts.
I will admit that Clausen has a big arm and has some natural talent. He was also a consensus Top 10 talent coming out of high school. So the upside is there. But I will also admit that I never really watched him and got the impression that he was some dominant force on the field. I just didn’t. And he certainly never proved to me that he was good enough to carry a team against top-level college competition. And I know that I wouldn’t invest a Top 10 or Top 15 pick and really pin the future of my franchise on a guy that hasn’t proven that. I mean, is there anything that Jimmy Clausen has that you won’t be able to find in the 2011 draft class’s quarterbacks? Or the 2012’s? I don’t see it.
Notre Dame quarterbacks have been nothing but busts. Much like Florida quarterbacks, who also have a long, distinguished history as consistent underachievers in the NFL (another hurdle for Tim Tebow). I just don’t know if you can ignore that. So the No. 2 DON’T in the NFL Draft is DON’T take a quarterback from Notre Dame (or Florida).
Sorry Jimmy. And Timmy.
3. Don’t take a tight end in Round 1.
By far the most overrated position – outside of quarterback – in the first round of the NFL Draft is tight end. Every year there are one or two guys that are tabbed as “must have” players or “potential game breakers” or “weapons” that should be taken in the opening round. And every year I think it’s ridiculous.
In general, having an elite tight end is a luxury. And there are probably about five or six of those guys in the league right now. The rest of the teams – successful teams – make due with quality role players in what is not exactly a premium position. So, I mean, why would you really waste a first round pick on a tight end?
Just look at Detroit last year. They ignored one of the major draft don’ts and only took a quarterback in the first round but No. 1 overall. OK. Fine. But then they pulled the double whammy by taking TE Brandon Pettigrew – who will never be a game-changer – over offensive tackles Michael Oher and Eben Britten, wide receivers like Percy Harvin or Hakeem Nicks, or linebackers like Clay Matthews, James Laurenitis or Rey Maualuga. Matthews was a Pro Bowler, Oher will end up in several Pro Bowls before his career is over, and the rest of that group were instant impact players on their respective teams.
But the Lions took a tight end. And that’s why they are the Lions. Pettigrew (who is already 25 years old by the way) had 30 catches, around 10 drops, and then tore his ACL. Good call.
But this issue is much bigger than Pettigrew. In 2002 there were three tight ends taken in the first round (Jeremy Shockey, Daniel Graham and Jerramy Stevens). I wouldn’t exactly call them all “busts” (they’ve had their moments) but none of them are still with their original teams and none of them has really done much to justify being a top pick, in my book. Including that year there have been 12 tight ends gone in the first round in the last seven drafts: Pettigrew, Dustin Keller, Greg Olsen, Vernon Davis, Mercedes Lewis, Heath Miller, Kellen Winslow, Ben Watson, Dallas Clark, Shockey, Graham, and Stevens.
Winslow has had his moments, but I don’t think he’s done enough to justify going No. 6 overall. Davis finally had a good season last year. Clark is a stud. And Miller has been solid but unspectacular. The rest? Busts. And going back to 1990 there were 12 more tight ends taken. And other than Todd Heap and Tony Gonzalez it’s fair to say that the other 10 guys were picks their teams wish they had back.
So by my count that’s 24 tight ends since 1990. I’d say that maybe five of them turned out to be top-level players at one time in their career or another. The rest were guys whose production could have been replaced by cheaper, higher-value players taken later in the draft (Owen Daniels, Chris Cooley, Jason Witten, etc.). So if you are going to gamble on a guy that doesn’t play a premium position why not gamble later in the draft?
And this year’s overrated tight end? That would be Jermaine Gresham. Forget the fact that he’s already blown out each of his knees (the left in high school and the right last fall). And let’s ignore the fact that nothing about his stature or his college production is beyond the realm of what is a pretty deep talent pool currently in the NFL. Wait, actually, let’s not ignore either of those facts. What team is that set at every other position that they can take what I think is a major risk on a guy at a “luxury” position?
The bottom line: teams can find a good tight end later in the draft. And beyond that teams can be successful (see: win league, conference and division titles) without an elite tight end. So NFL Draft DON’T No. 3 is DON’T draft a tight end in the first round.
4. Don’t listen to Al Davis or emulate him in any way.
After a trio of detailed DON’TS I thought I would keep this simple. Whatever Al Davis is doing, don’t do it. You don’t draft “projects” or “workout warriors” in the first round. It’s easy to get excited about a physical specimen. And I’m not saying that combine metrics aren’t important. But Draft DON’T No. 4 is DON’T follow the Al Davis Method and reach for guys with some flashy numbers – 40-yard-dash times, bench presses, etc. – from the combine or their individual workouts.
5. Don’t reach for a running back.
I’m not saying that you should never draft a running back in the first round. But I am saying that those instances should be much, much fewer and far between than they are right now. Because of the short shelf life of an NFL running back (the average career lasts 2.6 years) and because of the exceptional depth at the position over the last decade I just don’t see why teams would reach for a running back.
There have been 32 running backs taken in the first round since the 2000 draft. Twice (2000, 2008) there have been five running backs taken in the first round. And there have clearly been some studs that have gone in that overall group. Guys like Jamal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Adrian Peterson were all top picks. And it’s tough to argue that their clubs shouldn’t have drafted them. Conversely, there have also been major busts, like Ron Dayne, T.J. Duckett, Chris Perry and Cedric Benson.
But that’s not the issue. It’s not a question of talent, it’s a question of value.
Last year Knowshon Moreno (12), Donald Brown (27) and Beanie Wells (31) each went in the first round. And they all showed some flashes. However, can you really say that those three are going to be that much better than LeSean McCoy (52), Shonn Green (65) or Javon Ringer (173)?
You can do that in just about every draft over the last decade. In 2008, would you rather have Jonathan Stewart at No. 13 or Ray Rice at No. 55? How about Darren McFadden (4) and Felix Jones (22) or Matt Forte (44) and Tim Hightower (149)? In 2007 you could have had Marshawn Lynch at No. 12 or Ahmad Bradshaw at No. 250. You tell me which was the better value.
Let’s keep going. In 2006 it’s Reggie Bush (2) or Laurence Maroney (21) vs. LenDale White (45) or Maurice Jones-Drew (60). I think 2005 is the best example of this phenomenon. That year Ronnie Brown (2), Cedric Benson (4) and Cadillac Williams (5) all went in the Top 5. Frank Gore (65), Marion Barber (109), Brandon Jacobs (110) and Darren Sproles (130) all went much later and have produced much more. And when you consider the money invested in the top three compared to the other four this discussion is over.
The only year in which this wasn’t the case was 2003, when Willis McGahee (23) and Larry Johnson (27) were head and shoulders above the rest of the field. But even those two – who have each had very good careers – went late in that first round, making them solid value picks. But in the other years teams could have had guys like Clinton Portis (51), Michael Turner (154), Brian Westbrook (91), Mike Anderson (189), or Chester Taylor (207) much later in the draft as opposed to equal or lesser picks in Round 1.
So this year why would a team reach for a guy like Ryan Matthews in the middle of Round 1 when they could grab guys with equal upside like Dexter McCluster, Jonathan Dwyer, Joe McKnight, LeGarrette Blount, Charles Scott or Toney Baker much, much later in the draft?
NFL Draft DON’T No. 4 may not be as clear-cut as some of the other DON’TS. But I think reasonable minds can understand the foundation: DON’T reach for a running back in Round 1. And Matthews would be a reach. And I’m not all that sure I would grab C.J. Spiller in the Top 15 when I may be able to grab Jahvid Best (or one of the others) in Round 2 or later.
6. Don’t worry about (most) character issues.
You hear draft bobbleheads talk all the time about “character issues” for certain prospects and the result is falling draft stock for some otherwise quality players. But who was the last first round that you can think of that was pegged as a guy with “character issues” or a “problem guy” that actually lived down to the hype and flamed out due to his off-field issues? Pac-Man Jones and Chris Henry (RIP), admittedly, were two guys that teams shied away from because of their off-field issues. But Henry was a third round pick and was never really considered a first round option. (Though I grant you Pac Man.)
But in the meantime there have been a ton of guys – Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, etc. – that have had off-field issues despite having never really been tagged as a potential problem before the draft. I mean, most football players are sociopaths. So why shy away from an otherwise talented guy because of some past indiscretions?
This year talents like Dez Bryant and Sergio Kindle have been a bit undersold because of “character issues”. I think it would be a mistake for teams with needs at their respective positions to pass over these talents because of off-field perceptions. The odds are that neither will melt down as pros. And, in fact, the odds are that someone that they (possibly) were passed over for will end up being suspended for some of-field incident over Bryant or Kindle.
So the next NFL Draft DON’T is DON’T worry about most character issues. They are generally overblown. I mean, if a guy has done prison time before entering the draft you may want to pass. But short of that the concerns are rarely supported.
7. Don’t think you’re going to get starters to fill holes.
Heading into last year New Orleans had an enormous, four-years-running void in the secondary. They didn’t draft a safety, they went out and signed the best veteran they could find, Darren Sharper, and voila, their defense was transformed.
This is just one example but I think that the reasoning is sound: with the exception of maybe rush linebacker and corner don’t draft a guy thinking that you are going to get a starter for the upcoming year. Yes, you need your first round picks to develop into good, productive starters for your team in order for your draft to be successful. But too often I think teams say, “We need A” so let’s draft a guy at A and the problem is solved. However, when these college kids hit camp in the fall (assuming they don’t hold out) they are still young doe-eyed rookies. A majority of them aren’t ready to step in and contribute. And the ones that are rushed into action – be it at quarterback, defensive line, etc. – and given the instant pressure of performance are generally the ones that flame out.
On the flip side, a team like the Colts or the Eagles has been so successful with its draft strategy over the last few years because they have drafted for the following year or drafted a guy not intended to contribute right away, but to be a starter a year or two after being picked. I think this is the right attitude to have. If you have an immediate hole at left tackle, or safety, or wide receiver, teams need to look to try to bring in a veteran and let their draft picks learn a bit.
Look at the Washington Redskins over the last few years. They have had a tremendous hole at wide receiver. But instead of competing for the top free agents or being active in the trade market to get a proven player like a Brandon Marshall or an Anquan Boldin they have wasted pick after pick on young wide receiver. Not only have they not filled that hole but also their offense has gotten worse and worse because they were relying on these young pups.
Also, I think some teams pass over much more talented players because they are trying to immediately address a need with a rookie. If you are in the Top 10, OK, you kind of have your hands tied because of the money involved. But as you get into the middle and the end of Round 1 I am more of a fan of being proactive or trying to take the best player available than by tricking yourself into thinking that every year the No. 21 pick is going to be a starter right away.
So my next Draft DON’T is that you don’t go into each first round thinking you’re going to plug a hole right away. Because more times than not your team is worse off at that position the following year than it was before you brought in your top pick. Try to draft this year’s players for next season. Occasionally you will grab a guy that comes right in and is too good to keep off the field. But those guys are more rare than you think. Any young player is going to be better with some seasoning. And when they get thrown into the fire is when, like with the quarterbacks, the “bust rate” increases. So DON’T think you’re getting next fall’s starters, get next year’s. Draft for depth, and use free agency to try to fill immediate needs.
8. Unless you’re talking offensive linemen or corners, don’t take someone from the Big Ten.
You didn’t think I would write a draft story and miss out on an opportunity to rag on the Big Ten, did you?
Over the last 15 years there have been 83 players from the Big Ten drafted in the first round. Now, if you’re looking for offensive linemen and you have one from the Big Ten in your sights draft him and don’t even think twice. The Big Ten has produced a group of studs (Orlando Pace, Steve Hutchinson, Nick Mangold, Jake Long), a group of solid, reliable players (Jeff Hartings, Jeff Backus, Ross Verba, Robert Gallery and Levi Brown), and just two busts (Chris McIntosh, Aaron Gibson).
They have also been able to produce a plethora of exceptional cornerbacks (Ty Law, Shawn Springs, Charles Woodson, Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements) and some very good ones (Chris Gamble, Leon Hall) with just one bust (Ahmed Plummer) and one up-and-comer (Vontae Davis).
So if you need an offensive lineman or a corner, you should feel pretty confident going with the Big Ten. Anything else, stay as far away from these guys as you can.
If we kick out last year’s crop (too early to tell) that leaves 79 players in 14 years. Those initial two positions (OL, CB) make up a quarter of the draftees. And 16 of the 19 guys at those positions were either very solid (seven) or elite (nine). That’s a damn fine success ratio.
But the other 60 dudes, not so much.
Of the other 60 players at all other positions there were 31 just flat-out busts (think Ron Dayne, Andy Katzenmoyer, Charles Rogers, Curtis Enis, etc.). After that there were 20 other just solid, nondescript pros (Kyle Brady, Michael Bennett, Kevin Hardy, etc.). That leaves just nine other players (Kerry Collins, Larry Johnson, Terry Glenn, Lavar Arrington, Julian Peterson, Dallas Clark, Will Smith, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes) from the Big Ten that could be considered elite. In my opinion that’s just not a good enough ratio to make it worth taking a risk on someone from Middle Earth.
And recently it seems like there has been a disproportionate amount of busts or weak returns from this conference. Vernon Gholston, Anthony Spencer, Ted Ginn Jr., Bobby Carpenter and Tamba Hali have been weak out of the draft from 2006-2008. Rashard Mendenhall, Donte Whitner and Dustin Keller haven’t exactly overwhelmed. And if we’re talking about non-OL and non-CB picks we’re looking at well over half (eight of 12) of the picks in that three-year frame that have been either worthless or at least not up to the level you would expect from a first rounder.
So our final – and admittedly maybe our one of our weaker – NFL Draft DON’T is that unless you’re looking for a stud lineman or a starting corner you probably DON’T want to mess with guys from the Big Ten.
So if your team lands Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga you are allowed to fist bump. If they end up with Jared Odrick or Brandon Graham well, um, my advice to you if you wanted to run out and get a jersey would be simple:
“Don’t do it man.”
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