As everyone knows, the NFL draft is step 1 on the path to the really important football event of the year, the fantasy draft. Oh, and said draft makes a big difference as I watch my beloved Broncos and Ravens all season long. Will they win? Lose? And how will this year’s crop of Trojans perform?
The Ravens got their big run-stuffer in Haloti Ngata in the first round, spent two selections beefing up their offensive line, which was just sad last year, and grabbed a couple of corners. They may have also picked up a tolerable backup RB; although, I guess, with Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson, they’re set there. Ngata should really open up things for their secondary, but the lack of any difference-making offensive players is a concern. Still, with the running game back on track and, hopefully, some passing game improvement, playoffs seem reachable.
The surprise here is Jay Cutler, of course; I agree with pundits who don’t fear for current QB Jake Plummer’s job, Shanahan just knows that he needs a selection at the game’s most pivotal position. Coach has the chance to develop Cutler for a year or two before having to make a decision on Plummer. Denver also picked up a good backup defensive and offensive lineman (I don’t think that Elvis Dumervil is consistent enough to start straight away, despite his great name), and a Jeb Putzier clone. Oh, and the big news was of course trading a pick for Green Bay WR Javon Walker. I’m surprised we don’t see moves like this more often: teams spend a lot of time scouting college players, trying to project college performance into pro performance, when many pro players are held back by being in the wrong system, under the wrong coach, or just shouldering too much of the load. I would think that a team that could do really well at scouting second-rank and unsatisfied first-rank pro players would be able to trade a lot of draft picks for existing pros and do very well, without having to spend, or take the risk, on college players.
Not a bad draft. Expect to see the Broncs in the AFC championship game next year!
Certainly it was a surprise that Reggie Bush didn’t go first and that Leinart dropped so far, but both ended up in good places. Bush will get a chance to immediately contriubte to a team that will win, while Leinart is on a team that will be good enough to give him time to develop and good enough that he can be competitive for years. Winston Justice also fell further than one might have expected but the other players on the Eagles should keep him straight, if there’s really any concern about that anymore. Character issues with LenDale are probably overstated — who wouldn’t take a little time off at his age — and the Titans got a real steal. Deuce Lutui should be happy in the desert with Leinart! I’m a bit surprised that NCAA-leading punter Tom Malone didn’t get drafted but he’s sure to catch on as a free agent. Not a great draft for the Trojans but, in 2-3 years, all of these players will be contributing meaningfully and players from ol’ Southern Cal will be in higher demand.
One thing we can be sure about is that the Titans, Jets, and Raiders will regret not grabbing Leinart, and the Ravens will regret not trading up for him. Vince Young will perform pretty well and be a good draw for the Titans if he’s given a year to develop behind Steve McNair, but he’ll drown if thrown right into the league.
h3. Other Notes
Of course, the rumor is that McNair is headed for the Ravens. The Young pick only makes sense if he’s got a year to sit and learn; otherwise, Leinart has big upside, knows Titans (and former USC) offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s offense, and is complete enough to go from day 1. Now, that said, McNair to Baltimore makes no sense; if Baltimore didn’t belive in incumbent QB Kyle Boller they would have moved into a position to take either Cutler, who went mid-first; Leinart, who fell unexpectedly far; or even Kellen Clemens. McNair is only good for one to two years, max, and yet bringing him in means relegating Boller to the position of permanent backup. The fact is, Boller isn’t that bad and, with a line that can actually block and a healthy Todd Heap, might be just fine. My bet is that Baltimore sticks with Boller a year and drafts for need next year.
The Raiders had a good first-round draft but the readiness to start falls off quickly after that. Especially with their weakness at QB — who, exactly, is ready to start? — they aren’t really a threat to start winning straight away. Still, their big offseason move was bringing back Art Shell, which will pay off big-time in the end (why hasn’t the man been coaching since he was fired from the Raiders so long ago?)
The Colts added Tony Dungy-style players who should help them get to the next level. Now all that’s holding them back is Peyton Manning, who’s won at every level except college and pro.
I realize the Cowboys are in “win now” mode but I don’t see that any of their picks after the first are going to get them up to the next level; same with the Redskins.
If you’ve caught the news: Pats backup QB Doug Flutie is set to retire at 42, leaving Matt Cassell as their #2 QB behind Tom Brady. The trick here is that Cassell was competing with Leinart for the starting job at SC three years ago, and the two took it neck-and-neck to the start of the season before Leinart was named starter. Cassell was a very low draft pick and could well turn out to be a real steal for the Pats, who have already shown their ability to identify top QBs in late rounds, as evidenced by their starting QB, Tom Brady, who was drafted in the sixth round.
Oh, and the big surprise? How much better “Fox Sport’s Draft Tracker”:http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/draftTracker is than everyone else’s.
Overall, this is not a draft that will give us a lot of first-year starters outside of the first round, but looking back in ten years, I do believe that we’ll be surprised about the number of people still in the league from the 2006 draft. And, if you buy all that, then you can give me a call back at my NFL team general manager’s office, where I go to work every day.