By Dan Rubin
So there it is – another year of NFL drafting in the books. From here, we head forward to negotiating so the players can be ready for rookie minicamps and training camp… oh wait a second.
The NFL Draft closed on Saturday with 254 players’ names being read. Some of those names will become household by the end of the year, some are already household, and some will pass through our lives like a light summer breeze. From here, the players now have to sit and wait for the labor situation to subside, so they can start making preparations and negotiations to be ready. The perfect sub story to the draft was when Andy Dalton toured the Cincinnati Bengals facility on Saturday afternoon. He was shown the locker room, the field, and the offices. Then he left, without a playbook, and without having met head coach Marvin Lewis. This is the new NFL.
Here’s a list of the unofficial draft winners and losers, as I see it, of 2011.
The Detroit Lions made history in the 2000s when they managed to turn several early first-round picks into wide receivers that helped them to a decade of futility and doormat status. This year, they were left with no picks in rounds 3, 4, or 6. But they used their final two picks, in the fifth and seventh rounds, to address some needs with some pretty shifty moves. Doug Hogue has good lateral movement at the outside linebacker position, and he should help the Lions in pass coverage. He could be a guy that, if they have the right coverage scheme, excels at the professional level. And Johnny Culbreath is an undersized project offensive lineman. For Detroit, those two picks are sleepers in the later rounds, and they could be breakout stars in the next few years. A team that historically threw away picks on bad players with no purpose might have won the lottery in the later rounds.
I said a couple of days ago that Atlanta couldn’t fowl the rest of their draft because if they did, Thomas Dimitrioff would put himself in the unemployment line. They had to make sure each pick the rest of the way was meticulous and perfect. With the gamble in the first round to move up from the 20s to the top 10, they absolutely couldn’t take flyers. They took Jacquizz Rodgers in the fifth round. Rodgers is a guy I was hoping would end up in New England because he has great vision, great balance, and he can be that Kevin Faulk-type running back. He also can develop nicely over time, worked in to spell Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. Over the course of this draft, that offense just became one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL.
Before anyone accuses me of being a homer, remember I’m the guy who’s been taking away from UConn’s trip to the Fiesta Bowl because they played in a crappy conference. So when I say San Diego struck sixth-round gold with Jordan Todman, I mean it. Todman can return kicks for the Chargers, and he gives them a slashing back for those mid-drive runs that can break open a game. I don’t think he’s good enough to be a feature back since he got pounded on in college and is bound to break down, but I can see him coming in on 2nd-and-8 in the middle of a drive and busting off a 38-yard run like it’s nobody’s business.
New England grabbed an undersized defensive end that will become a linebacker in their system (a.k.a. Tedy Bruschi) in Markell Carter. Carter had 19 tackles for a loss last year, and at 6-3, 240, he’s a big boy to be patrolling in the linebacker position. The Patriots are known for developing these guys very well, and he’ll be the latest in a long line of linebackers that Bill Belichick teaches the conversion too.
Kudos to Trey Wingo for the way ESPN handled the end of the NFL Draft. With the draft winding down, it became evident that Mark Herzlich would not be drafted. With the impending labor doom, any player not drafted cannot sign as an undrafted free agent because, well, we have no free agency. Herzlich was recognized on stage at the start of the draft for being a top prospect, a symbolic gesture given what he’s overcome. But Wingo went a step further to recap Herzlich’s journey and wish him the best, singling out a player who overcame a very real, very dangerous cancer diagnosis. By wishing him the best, he put aside the knocks against Herzlich as a player, which are that he can’t rush the passer and his mobility has been wildly affected by the steel rod in his leg (also, durability issues regarding the softness of his bones; that’s one of the vicious side effects of chemotherapy). And he stood above to recognize someone who’s been in the national spotlight for the past two years.
That leads me to what I didn’t like as much. First off, all picks aside, there are a number of players who weren’t chosen. In past years, the players down the end of the 7th round would be thrilled to not be picked, since it meant they’d have their pick of teams. Danny Woodhead said it best last year when he said he hoped he wouldn’t be picked in the 7th round. During his draft, Rex Ryan called him to say that they weren’t going to draft him, but they wanted him as an undrafted free agent. Woodhead then responded by saying that, if unselected, the Jets would have to make him a better offer than other teams. Woodhead was able to jack up the asking price on the Jets by about $15,000 in his signing bonus. That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s lightly regarded. Take Woodhead’s scenario and multiply that by about ten players per team, times 32 teams. That’s roughly 320 undrafted free agents who would have their choice of team and have that scenario.
This year, in 2011, that number sharply declines to a goose egg. That’s right, folks. There will be zero UFAs signed in the wake of the draft. Thanks to this stupid labor situation, teams looking at a guy like Herzlich, a guy like a Woodhead, or Derrick Locke (RB, Kentucky) can’t sign. Arian Foster was a UFA in 2009 who was the rushing champion last year. There will be zero UFAs until the labor situation is resolved. Therefore, there are roughly 300 losers in this draft thanks to the NFL.
In the draft, I can’t believe Baltimore drafted Tyrod Taylor (QB, Virginia Tech). Taylor was the next coming of Michael Vick for four years, except that he had neither the speed, throwing ability, nor talent. Taylor blew games for the Hokies almost every year, winning the conference because the conference endured some down years. Twice, he beat Boston College to win the ACC. Miami was in shambles, as was Florida State. UNC never made the jump, and it took a Georgia Tech triple option to knock the Hokies off the mantle. Now, he’s backing up Joe Flacco. Should Flacco ever be injured, the Ravens can insert a guy who has no experience running an NFL-style offense, has little to no throwing ability, and can’t really do a whole lot in the pocket. Maybe they’ll convert him to a wide receiver or something, but I honestly haven’t read anything.
New England blew their draft, even though I love the picks they did take. They didn’t address the major need from last year, which was the pass rush. The Patriots last year ranked 32nd against the pass, and that was with Devin McCourty playing lock-down corner and a secondary that notched 25 interceptions. The Pats allowed over 4,000 yards passing against them, and they amassed only 36 sacks on the season. Their defensive line was so screwed up last year that defensive end positions were played by Vince Wilfork and cornerback Kyle Arrington at times. Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, Kyle Love, and the high top fade of Brandon Deaderick (see also: Cameo’s Word Up) couldn’t get to the quarterback at all. The line-backing corps didn’t do a whole lot, and they’re still relying on Tully Banta-Cain as their best pass rusher. Yes, Jerod Mayo is a tackling beast, but he’s been exposed several times in coverage and on rushing plays. Maybe they’re hoping the returning Ty Warren and Mike Wright will make a difference. And maybe they’re thinking that Jermaine Cunningham will develop further along with Brandon Spikes. And Rob Ninkovich occasionally turns into Mike Vrabel and plays out of his mind. But you really can’t rely on that and Marcus Stroud for 16 games (maybe 18?). They need something more on that defensive end, and they didn’t get it.
ESPN didn’t do a great job wrapping up the day’s coverage. I know they were strapped for time to get to Sportscenter and other contractual commitments, but I would’ve liked a summary of the days’ events. I mean, this is what Mel Kiper and Todd McShay do all year. After this, they go back into their collective shell for another year. They could’ve summarized what each team did a little bit better. Even though they did talk about it over the course of the day, they didn’t do enough at the end.
Mr. Irrelevant is a little overrated. I know it’s a tongue-in-cheek thing, but celebrating a guy picked 254th in this labor climate was overstated and overblown. There are 300 people who want to be picked in that spot, so sitting there and celebrating a guy who won’t be on a roster in five years is a little bit too over-the-top right now. Maybe next year when things calm down I wouldn’t be as mad about it.
Another year, another draft in the books. A draft that was supposed to be a deflection from the labor talks became a lightning rod for them instead. And now we turn our heads to a summer of discontent, where the courtroom drama continues to play out in front of us. Rookies drafted now sit and continue to wait to wonder if they’ll even play in the NFL this year, or if the photo ops were just that. And undrafted players now start looking at their lives an wonder if pro football is even an option, or if they’re heading for the Arena League, the CFL, or the UFL. Somewhere, there is football to played and talked about. But for now, that isn’t within the NFL, regardless of what the draft, and their R. Kelly montage at the end wants to tell us.