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"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
NFL DRAFT: No Rush To Judgment
There are two angles on assessing any draft: judging the talent, and judging how much teams fulfilled their needs. At this stage, assessing the talent requires guessing how well these players will become pros, and that's crystal ball stuff. On the other hand, congratulating a team on taking some zombie as a lineman when they needed a day one dominator doesn't add up either. From either perspective giving out a grade within 36 hours of the end of the draft is a conceit — I'll let the headline sports services do that. Right here, we're going to take a more considered approach over the whole week.
Pundits like to qualify their Day One conclusions by saying that the draft is won or lost on Day Two, but even that's a little bogus. Here, drafts are graded with consideration of trades during the preceding week, and the free agents signed in the days following the draft. For that reason, we let the dust settle before we applaud or stone the teams, but the grades we dish out Tuesday through Friday will be regraded by next Monday, taking into account the free agent signings ...there's little point slamming a team for not taking line or quarterback depth when, by the end of the following day, they've scooped exactly that without wasting any draft picks. Getting what you want by not drafting is as big a part of the draft strategy as the players that get picked.
So, appearing here over the next few days: not the fastest reaction, just considered analysis. Check the grade, then check back later. However, for first impressions, here's the headlines — and remember, grades can go up as well as down!
Philadelphia Eagles — The Eagles are contenders with their imperfect roster, and this draft maintains that status by adding smallish receiver Jeremy Maclin and versatile RB LeSean McCoy, who fit the Eagles mold. Maybe too well, if anything: with Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson aboard already, that's three small fast receivers. Both at receiver and running back, they might have looked for bigger bodies. Nonetheless the Eagles found value with these and LJ Smith replacement TE Cornelius Ingram, and with a couple of linemen in addition to Jason Peters signed in the lead–up to draft weekend, the Eagles found all the receiving and line help Donovan McNabb could have wished for.
Green Bay Packers — The Packers needed to add some terror to their defense and with BJ Raji at tackle and Clay Matthews at End/LB, they added that. They had to trade up into the first round to get Matthews, but I really like where he's going to be in a year or two, maybe earlier, becoming the best of this year's USC linebackers. Green Bay then added two highly regarded offensive linemen, each a round later than expected, and both fit the Packers' system. This draft allows Green Bay to go to war in the trenches.
Chicago Bears — If I'm being picky — and I am — I'd have liked an offensive tackle, but having scooped Jay Cutler, the Bears game him a short–yardage target in Juaquin Iglesias, who is chain–moving receiver, and added two later WRs. They needed a couple of defensive ends, so they took two defensive ends, Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton, both of whom have large upside. Both Iglesias and corner DJ Moore were underpriced, Moore qualifying as a steal. All this without a day one pick!
Detroit Lions — It's hard to give an A grade to a team that theoretically gets to go first in every round, even if Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew were the top QB and TE on many boards, while safety Louis Delmas was near the top at his position on others. WR Derrick Williams will be useful, and there are several players here that will help on special teams sooner than later, but beyond the those mentioned above there's a lot of players whose niche will need to be carved.
New England Patriots — Let's give it up: the Patriots have proven they know how to do this trading thing. Eventually they went home with 12 draft picks, including four from day one. I'm not sure they needed three DTs from the weekend, but after taking interior fighter Ron Brace on day one, they just couldn't resist 7th rounder Darryl Richard, a high–character, hard working bonus who could push 6th rounder Myron Pryor aside. Other highlights include deep cover man Darius Butler, sure starter safety Patrick Chung, and sometimes overlooked WR Brandon Tate, who would make a good returner and back–up slot man to Wes Welker. They also added offensive line depth. Needs at LB/DE remain unanswered, but the Patriots are a destination of choice for free agents.
New York Jets — They traded away some stuff they didn't need and a 2nd rounder, and landed themselves the no.5 pick. They exited the weekend with only three players, but a franchise QB (Mark Sanchez), a possible future starter at RB (Shonn Greene) and a offensive guard. It was a small haul, but it was a huge statement for the franchise, and a masterful trade to get ahead of the Sanchez–hunters.
New York Giants — The Giants set about infusing their offense with new names after the departures of the past two seasons. Hakeem Nicks looks like an NFL standard possession receiver, Ramses Barden is a rangey small school target, and while Giants would love to combine those qualities into a Plaxico Burress replacement, they certainly address the problem now, and potentially in the future, respectively. Travis Beckum upgrades Kevin Boss as receiving tight end, there's a new tackle, running back and developmental quarterback. They might have addressed LB more, but that's a small knock on a sound draft.
Arizona Cardinals — Chris 'Beanie' Wells fell into their laps at no.31, improving their running game, and two linemen including the massive Herman Johnson also arrived. 3rd round safety Rashad Johnson has the instincts to make an impact in season one, at least with interceptions, and defensive ends Cody Brown and Will Davis both bring pass rushing skills. Davis may be something of a find. Four of these selections represent tools that will help the Cardinals right now, and for a franchise with such a history of failure, maintaining their new–found role as Superbowl contenders was priority.
San Francisco 49ers — The 49ers did not land an outside linebacker, nor any linemen, yet the quality of the players selected is just too good to downgrade. WR Michael Crabtree was there for them at 10, they added a small head–down runner with Glen Coffee, a tackling machine with LB Scott McKillop, a legitimate starting contender with QB Nate Davis, another TE to keep Vernon Davis in his place. This draft felt a lot like coach Mike Singletary stamping his identity, and that's not a bad thing.
Cleveland Browns — Celebrating or slamming the Browns draft seems to rely on whether their high 1st round pick was worth a second rounder and three spare part players. On the face of it, no, but ex–Jets and new Browns coach Eric Mangini knows the three players involved a lot better than us hacks, so we'll let that slide. What the Browns did get was a top center in Alex Mack, two new receivers in Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, and four new defensive players including an exciting pass rushing DE in David Veikune, a linebacker who will immediately help the defense in Kaluka Maiava, and CB Coye Francies. Francies is the only player here who is really a risk (and his potential is worth it), making this a sure group of selections for a team that seems to be hitting 'restart'.
Houston Texans — The task: find the players to finally get the Texans past .500. That included the eternal need to add a lineman (Antoine Caldwell), and to turn a good defense into a frightener. This latter objective may have been accomplished with the addition of USC LB Brian Cushing and DE/LB Connor Barwin with their first two picks. I'm a little unsure why Houston needed to select twice at TE on day two, but fantasy football players might like to nab the Texans as their defense this coming season.
Tennessee Titans — Check the needs. WR: They selected possession stand–out Kenny Britt of Rutgers, plus a second late selection. MLB: Gerald McRath of Southern Miss. CB: Ryan Mouton of Hawaii. DT: Sen'Derrick Marks of Auburn. And some OLs: Troy Kropog and Ryan Durand. Now if the grade seems a little ambivalent for all those ticks, that’s because I feel they could have taken better players in each case except Britt, but that remains to be proved. TE Jared Cook and RB Javon Ringer were superb by–the–way acquisitions outside the wish list.
Atlanta Falcons — The Falcons have never made the playoffs two years in a row, so the challenge this year is to break that curse. They started a week before the draft by trading a second round pick for ageing yet awesome TE Tony Gonzalez, to deny Matt Ryan any chance of a sophomore slump. Then they attacked the draft with a desire for defense, making seven of eight selections on that side of the ball. With names like DT Peria Jerry and safety William Moore, I could be praising this draft to the skies, but there are more than a few health and level–of–competition reservations for both these and the lower picks... so Falcons fans better keep their January Sundays free just yet.
Kansas City Chiefs — Until we know what the Chiefs intend to do with last year's no.1 pick Glenn Dorsey, it is hard to grade their draft, but two DEs on the first day (Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee) suggest Dorsey has either dropped to a rotation role or is now trade bait. But KC's biggest problem was pass rush, and now they have that. They addressed five noteworthy needs in all.
St Louis Rams — They made some look–see selections later in the draft, all of which matched with need, but the soundness of the early thinking stands out. Jason Smith is a can't miss tackle, and while Laurinaitis may not be the most athletic MLB in the draft, he is a tackling leader who should become a definitive Ram. That allowed the Rams to take a small gamble on DB Bradley Fletcher, who has the measurables to help the Rams in some future year. The Rams matched six of their top seven needs. The extent to which they satisfied those needs remains unclear, and they didn't really do any better than might be expected from the second pick in each round.
Indianapolis Colts — For anybody else the players selected by the Colts would have been a C+, but they rate a little higher for fitting the Colts system. The Colts won't worry that DB Jerraud Powers is a little undersized, because their DBs usually are. Austin Collie would be a ho–hum WR selection, but he'll thrive with Manning. RB Donald Brown will share time nicely with Joseph Addai — don't be surprised if he takes over the greater share of carries mid–season — and Fili Moala seem a perfect Colts DT. Those who caught my Sideline 'Thinking The Unthinkable' a month ago, might note he acquisition of QB Curtis Painter, a long–tested Purdue passer who would have been considered a day one pick a year ago.
Jacksonville Jaguars — I like what the Jags did here. They simply said 'We have needs at tackle and receiver' and then drafted those positions obsessively. In rounds 1 and 2, they brought in Eugene Monroe (a bit of a steal at no.8) and Eben Britton, potentially setting up their line for the next decade. And while WRs Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood are not headliners, the effectively restock the depth of a corps that is being utterly replaced — and remember, this team already signed Torry Holt as one short–term answer as a starter. But I do wonder if they could have packaged some picks and moved up for slightly better in the mid–rounds.
Buffalo Bills — The Bills' draft class is already splitting opinion because, if Terrell Owens is looking for a team about to make a breakthrough, this draft doesn't work with that. This is an investment draft, a projection draft, a 'wait–until–TO–is–old' draft. But, in that context, its not a bad one. Jairus Byrd is spindly but as a CB or FS, he's a smooth ballhawk, Shawn Nelson could be an elite TE down the road, Andy Levitre is an adaptable lineman, and Nic Harris is the furthest along of the DBs trying to convert to LB. At the top, Eric Wood is a fine center, and Aaron Maybin is a top pass rusher. There are five future starters here, which is at least a solid draft.
Dallas Cowboys — They traded out of day one, but loaded up in day two. There's talent here — LB Jason Williams will be a fit — and positionally Dallas gave their defense a lot of help, but there's inevitably a lot of maybes with this late a set of selections. The coaches are going to have to work hard if this lot are going to put the Cowboys over the top in 2009.
Miami Dolphins — Over the past year, the Dolphins solved the riddle of their offensive line. Next, they needed to complete their receiving corps and find something resembling a secondary. They accomplished the latter, with the mercurial Vontae Davis and the big–bodied Sean Smith at corner, although both will be liabilities in year one. At receiver, Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline arrive. While some love Turner's size as an antidote for Ted Ginn, I find him a little wallowy in his routes. I'm convinced that the Dolphins also had their eye on DE Everette Brown in the second round, but the Panthers stole in one space ahead of them, and a pass rushing need went untouched. Just as the league starts to get familiar with the Wildcat formation, the Dolphins prepare to take it up a gear with Pat White, who, regardless of what anybody tries to tell you or him, remains a quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks — Resisting the temptation to be drawn into the QB sweepstakes too early, they selected top LB Aaron Curry at pick 4, before returning late on day two to add Rutgers passer Mike Teel. Another Rutgers player, DB Courtney Greene has the build and athleticism to turn into a great 7th round selection. Needing help on the line, round two yielded Max Unger, a smart, athletic, versatile lineman who will contribute quickly anywhere on the line. The early line on free agent signing suggests this grade is going to rise over the next couple of days (check back!)
Carolina Panthers — First the good stuff: They traded into round two and probably pipped Miami to DE Everette Brown, which matched a top need beautifully. Another second rounder, DB Sherrod Martin has the size, speed and talent to be useful across the secondary. Corvey Ivy matches a need at DT, and OG Duke Robinson was an undervalued pick in round 5. Now the bad: the Panthers seem to be ignoring Jake Delhomme's age, didn't find him any new receivers, and could have done with more depth at DT and OLB. These issues are still accomplishable in post–draft free agency, however.
Washington — It was a good day one, as the nation's capital landed DE Brian Orakpo and DB Kevin Barnes at lower positions than many expected. However, they waited to pick 158 before selecting the first of a brief series of unexceptional day additions. Line needs went unaddressed, and a developing problem at QB remains unresolved.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Some are sold on Josh Freeman as the second coming of Joe Flacco, but I believe he will take longer, and I wonder whether the Buccaneers really needed to trade ahead of the Broncos to get to him. Mid–round DLs included run–plugger Roy Miller and DE Kyle Moore, who has upside. The Bucs ticked off some but not all of their needs, and there's very little here that is going to make an immediate impact other than announcing the new regime.
Baltimore Ravens — A mixed bag. Offensive tackle Michael Oher was taken at about the right spot at pick 23 — he has all the physical talents to be outstanding, but could take a couple of years before he's a good pro. DE Paul Kruger matches need, but has such a dramatic history of injuries (missing kidney, was critically stabbed) that the second round seems a little early. That said, TE Davon Drew and RB Cedric Peerman were nice 5th and 6th round choices. Hampering the grade at the end of Sunday: no WR from a draft deep at the position. Post–draft free agent signings may yet raise this grade.
Cincinnati Bengals — There are those that want to dismiss the Bengals draft as another bunch of character issues on a team with enough of them. That response is valid, when you consider the weight problems of Andre Smith, and his suspension to end his college career, but that's still overstating the matter. Smith may have a shorter career than the rest of the first round tackles, but he is a viable NFL starting lineman nonetheless (yes, shame they didn't take Eugene Monroe instead). LB Rey Maualuga and DE Michael Johnson are two real physical specimens for the defense, both of whom are coming off good campaigns. With Chase Coffman and Jonathan Luigs likely future starters, that's potentially five starters from the first of 11 picks. But I'm a little less convinced about the later selections, dragging the grade down.
Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers could be headed for trouble. Last year, I overpraised the selections of RB Rashard Mendenhall and WR Limas Sweed, who didn't impress much during the Super Bowl run. Maybe I'm wrong again (the fickle prejudice of a Steelers fan), but this looks like it may be more of the same. DL Ziggy Hood is a player who sometimes vanishes, CB Keenan Lewis is big, but not as physical as he should be, and while OL Kraig Urbik and late–selected center AQ Shipley arrive, I'd have liked to have seen greater urgency for line talent. I'm not convinced this is the next generation of ring–wearer.
New Orleans Saints — The Saints only put in occasionally appearances at the draft, with their shortest haul since Ricky Williams came to town. Just four players, but amongst them were Malcolm Jenkins — for many the best DB in the draft — and Chip Vaughn, a big fast safety. That matched two of their highest needs. Unfortunately a need at OLB could not be countered with this brief a weekend, so it is all to do in free agency.
Minnesota Vikings — A short draft, with five players, there was rumor that they wanted Josh Freeman, but they didn't make a move up and watched him go to the Buccaneers. Instead they took Percy Harvin, a risky Florida receiver (and a Florida receiver is often considered risky in itself) who was used in such a utilitarian way at Florida that it might take a while to work him in. OL Phil Loadholt also needs to find his position as a pro, but he is a versatile line body for now. Surely this is one of those teams looking for the one final piece. Unless Harvin creates revelatory mismatches, it's hard to see that here.
San Diego Chargers — DE/OLB Larry English is a small–school proven player and clearly one who is still improving. Erm... it gets a bit flakey after that. They added two interior defensive linemen, which was a must, but there's no guarantees through the rest of the Chargers' draft class, with S/LB Kevin Ellison a conversion project, and WR Demetrius Byrd such a risk that he's hardly even worth a seventh round pick. It all looks like a wasted effort for a team that is slowly squandered the Ladainian Tomlinson years.
Denver Broncos — The Jay Cutler crisis wasn't labeled a debacle because the Broncos got a lot more for him than people expected, and there was an assumption that Denver would use the extra picks to rebuild a terrible defense. However, with a stable of runners already in place, the Broncos spent their first pick another (admittedly the best in the draft), may have overspent with their other first round pick, and traded away a first rounder next year in order to move up in the second and take an undersized cornerback. Their other two second rounders were also overpriced. Any draft that lands Knowshon Moreno is no waste of time, but Denver's draft–day tactics were highly questionable.
Oakland Raiders — This franchise is almost beyond description. Three overspends in three rounds, including the biggest of the first round and the biggest of the whole draft with their first two, and the usual obsession with speed over football. For anybody who suspects Al Davis of being certifiable, this wasn't a strong counter–argument.