Just over a month since the 2012 draft and football fans everywhere are chomping at the bit to see their new 1st (or 2nd) round prospects in camp. It’s at this time of year when every 1st round rookie is a future All Pro player and every second-year 1st round pick is on the verge of a huge break out year. Of course, history tells us that more than half of the guys taken in the 1st round of last month’s draft will fail to live up to their (lofty and unrealistic) expectations. Despite the years of hype in college, the hundreds of blog posts and articles, the thousands of hours of discussion both in the paid media and on the internet, many of the 2012 1st round picks will be forgotten just 5-7 years from now – unless your team is unlucky enough to have taken such a player.
While there are a few busts who will end up being remembered for a long time (Ryan Leaf for example), most 1st round flops – even top 10 picks- tend to be forgotten within a decade. Leaf is one of the few rare exceptions, due to his forever being linked to Peyton Manning. Even JaMarcus Russell is probably a guy who will be forgotten in time, outside of Oakland and the yearly pre-draft “Top-10 Bust” type articles.
The 2005 draft wasn’t even a decade ago, and already a number of its first round selections have been either forgotten entirely or, if they’re still around, provoke a “that guy was a 1st rounder?” type reaction. This particular draft class has a number of memorable (for now) 1st round busts and mediocrities: Alex Smith, Cedric Benson, Pacman Jones, Troy Williamson and Mike Williams were all top 10 picks and will probably all be forgotten by the end of the decade (other than Smith, the others might be forgotten much sooner). However, there was a stretch of 8 picks which produced a nearly unparalleled list of forgettable players:
Travis Johnson – DT – 16th overall – Houston Texans
He never really asserted himself as an interior lineman in Houston, and spent just 4 uneventful years in Houston before heading to San Diego for parts of 2 seasons and washing out of the league after 2010. Surprisingly, he was more productive than most of the 2005 DT class which was one of the worst in the last 20 years.
David Pollack – DE – 17th overall – Cincinnati Bengals
An injury bust, Pollack looked like he was headed for a nice career as a pass-rusher before a neck injury ended his career just 2 weeks into his second season.
Alex Barron – OT – 19th overall – St. Louis Rams
Barron wasn’t an especially bad player, being a near full time starter for 5 of his 6 seasons in the league. However, being a mediocre starter who took too many penalties on a mediocre (at best) line isn’t good enough for a top 20 pick. One has to wonder how long Barron would have survived on a deeper roster or one which had fewer qualms about dumping marginally productive and overpaid players regardless of draft status.
Marcus Spears – DL – 20th overall – Dallas Cowboys
Spears isn’t a bad player by any means, but being a productive run plugging 5-technique isn’t particularly flashy. He’s definitely a successful pick and has been a quality player but once his career is over, he will fade quickly from memory. Still, he will probably end up being in the top third of the 2005 1st rounders when everything is said and done.
Matt Jones – WR – 21st overall – Jacksonville Jaguars
Jones should serve as a cautionary tale and reminder that very raw guys with freaky size/speed and guys with position changes shouldn’t be overdrafted. While it was drugs that doomed his career, Jones’ on-field contributions wouldn’t have kept him around even had he stayed clean.
Mark Clayton – WR – 22nd overall – Baltimore Ravens
Like Spears, Clayton has enjoyed a decent but forgettable career. Other than a decent 2006 season (67 catches, 939 yards, 5 TD’s) he was underwhelming in Baltimore before moving onto St. Louis and tearing up his knee. Clayton is a good example of the “average” successful 1st rounder, especially outside of the top 10. Ravens fans probably consider him a disappointment, but given the very weak overall draft class, Clayton might actually end up in the top third of the 1st round in terms of success.
Fabian Washington – DB – 23rd overall – Oakland Raiders
A classic Al Davis pick, Washington was taken well before many draft prognosticators had him going and his 1st round selection seemed based solely on his 40 yard time. He played just 3 years in Oakland before heading to Baltimore for 3 years and ending up out of football last year after a brief stint on the Saints’ injured reserve.
Johnson, Pollack, Barron, Spears, Jones, Clayton, Washington – more than a fifth of the 1st round and all taken consecutively. Barring something very unexpected from Spears, this string of picks is already on their way to being long forgotten.
Of course, the next player selected, 24th overall, will be remembered for quite awhile – QB Aaron Rodgers.
The top of the 2011 draft has yielded a number of impact players. In fact, each of the top 7 picks – Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith – looks to be a star in the making. Conversely, the 2005 draft yielded perhaps the worst top 10 picks in any NFL draft in history. However, the 2011 San Francisco 49ers playoff run might provide some redemption for an otherwise putrid crop of players. Here’s a quick look at each of the members of the worst top 10 in history:
1. Alex Smith – QB – 49ers
The much maligned Smith is finally having a breakout year of sorts (which I touched on in October). He ended 2011 with the 9th best passer rating (90.7) – better than Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers (among others). His completion percentage (61.3) was good for 12th best – slightly better than both Eli Manning and Matt Schaub. His interception % (1.1) was best in the league – even better than Aaron Rodgers. Smith also led the league with 6 game winning 4th quarter come-from-behind drives. Not a bad year for a guy who many still regard as a flop. To be fair to Smith’s detractors, there was plenty to bash about the 49ers’ QB coming into this season. In his first 6 years, Smith had completed only 57% of his passes and had thrown more INT’s (53) than TD’s (51). However, with a quality offensive mind in Jim Harbaugh coaching the 49ers and an offensive scheme that minimizes Smith’s chances of making a mistake, Smith has blossomed into a quality NFL QB. Whether he can repeat his 2011 performance next year remains to be seen, but his heroics against the Saints have all but guaranteed another year (at least) in San Francisco.
2. Ronnie Brown – RB – Dolphins
Talented, but injury-prone, Ronnie Brown has had only one 1,000+ yard season – rushing for 1,008 in 2006. Only twice in 7 years has Brown managed to play in all 16 games and in 6 years with the Dolphins he averaged less than 12 games played per season. However, when he was healthy, he was pretty good – averaging 4.3 yards per carry and catching roughly 30 passes per season out of the backfield. Still, it’s tough to view him as a success as the #2 overall pick in the draft. Brown was disappointing as a backup in Philadelphia and was nearly traded to Detroit in-season (before Jerome Harrison’s brain tumor derailed the deal). It’s likely Brown will be playing elsewhere in 2012.
3. Braylon Edwards – WR – Browns
Like Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards only has one 1,000 yard season under his belt in an underwhelming 7 year career (2007). For his career, he’s averaged 48 receptions and 760 yards per year. Not terrible, but not particularly good for a guy selected this highly. In his defense, Edwards has often been saddled with terrible QB’s (Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Mark Sanchez) but his attitude, off-field issues and seemingly constant nagging injuries have also played a role in his mediocrity. Edwards is currently unemployed and recovering from an injury. He is likely to find work next season, and it’s possible he could re-establish himself as a quality receiver if he lands in the right spot.
4. Cedric Benson – RB – Bears
Sub-par both on and off the field, Benson has more arrests since entering the league than he does quality seasons. In 7 years in the league, Benson has three 1,000 yard season (2009-2011) but only once in the last 5 years has he exceeded 4.0 yards-per-carry. Since 2000, there have been 46 RB’s with 1,000+ rushing attempts. Only 3 – an ancient Emmitt Smith (3.77), the forgettable Anthony Thomas (3.73) and broken down Eddie George (3.37) have a worse yards per carry than Cedric Benson (3.77). In his three years with the Bears, Benson only managed 1,593 yards spread over 3 seasons. Benson will most likely be looking for a new team in 2012.
5. Cadillac Williams – RB – Buccaneers
The 2005 Offensive Rookie Of The Year, Williams’ career was altered by back to back seasons with knee injuries in 2007 and 2008. After starting his career pretty well (1,178 yards in his rookie season), he hasn’t topped 850 yards since. 2011 was the first time since his rookie season where Williams had better than 4.0 yards per carry (although only on 87 carries with the Rams). It’s unclear as to whether or not the Rams will want Williams back, and he might struggle to find a job next season.
6. Adam Jones – DB – Titans
“Pacman” Jones had character issues coming into the league in 2005, but his behavior in the NFL has been even worse than expected. Jones got off to an inauspicious start by holding out – refusing to sign a contract which had protections for the Titans in case Jones’ off-field issues manifested themselves in his professional career. Between being drafted in April of 2005 and playing his first game on September 11th of the same year, Jones was arrested (in July) and had another confrontation with police (in early September). By the time his second season rolled around, Jones had been arrested a couple more times in 2006 and then again before his 3rd season in early 2007 – after which he was suspended for a year. His 2006 season was quite impressive – he returned 3 punts for TD’s and picked off 4 passes including one returned for a TD. After being shipped off to Dallas in 2008, Jones was quickly suspended in his new city after a hotel altercation. Jones was out of the league in 2009 and has been mediocre since joining the Bengals in 2010. He’s probably not in Cincinnati’s long-term plans.
7. Troy Williamson – WR – Vikings
A bit of an odd pick at the time, Williamson had risen up draft boards a lot in the time between the scouting combine and draft due to his impressive speed (4.32 40 yard dash). While he was fast, he was bad at mostly everything else – running routes, catching passes, returning kicks and the Vikings gave up on him after three poor seasons. In his time with Minnesota, Williamson had just 79 receptions for 1,067 yards in 49 games in 3 seasons. They traded him to the Jaguars for a low draft pick and he had just 8 catches in Jacksonville over 2 seasons. He’s out of the league and likely finished.
8. Antrel Rolle – DB – Cardinals
Coming into 2011, Rolle was probably the most successful of the 2005 Top 10. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl safety, after moving over from CB in 2008. While he might not be worth the 5 year $37M contract he signed with the Giants in 2010, he’s one of the better safeties in the league – although his play is probably best categorized as “solid” as opposed to “superlative”. He will be patrolling the Giants secondary for a few more years unless New York decides that he isn’t worth the $20M or so remaining on his contract.
9. Carlos Rogers – DB – Redskins
Rogers, a current member of the 49ers and enjoying his best season ever as a pro, was not a particularly bad player for Washington. However, he wasn’t the type of impact player you hope to land in the top 10. An above average (but not spectacular) cover corner with little play making ability, Rogers only tallied 8 INT’s in 6 years with Washington. Coming into the 2011 season, there were 11 defensive backs from the 2005 draft who had more interceptions than Rogers. Compare that to the 6 he hauled in in 2011, and it’s no wonder that some Redskins fans are a bit annoyed with Rogers’ new found hands. He is a free agent at the end of the year and there could be a number of teams interested. However, one would think that he is likely to re-up with the 49ers based on his success with the team.
10. Mike Williams – WR – Lions
Most people who follow the NFL closely are familiar with Mike Williams’ story. The former USC standout, who sat out a year after being deemed ineligible for the 2004 draft, was the 3rd straight top 10 pick that the Lions spent on a WR. Despite the two previous WR’s (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams) not working out, Williams managed to top them in incompetence with his poor performance and worse work ethic. He was reportedly lazy, often late for team meetings and got out of shape to the point where he looked more like an underweight offensive tackle than an overweight WR. Williams spent just 2 years in Detroit, catching 37 passes for 449 yards before being dumped. He then fizzled out in Tennessee and Oakland and was out of the league for 2 years before enjoying a minor 1 year renaissance in Seattle under his former college coach Pete Carroll. Williams battled injuries and spotty performance this year and his future is in question. He will probably stick with the Seahawks for another year or two.
All in all, the 2005 Top 10 was littered with under-performers and bad character guys. Furthermore, it’s possible (likely?) that at least half of these guys will be out of the league for good after training camp cuts next summer. While a 49ers Super Bowl championship would bring some redemption for this group, it will most likely remain one of the worst and most underachieving top groups in NFL Draft history.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
“Suck For Luck!” has become the rallying cry emanating from Miami, Indianapolis and even St. Louis (where apparently Sam Bradford’s honeymoon is about over). Many fans of bad teams or teams with bad QB’s are hoping that their team will end up atop the 2012 draft, in position to draft uber-prospect Andrew Luck (or trade the “Luck pick” for a king’s ransom). With all the hype surrounding Luck, one can’t help but think back to other QB’s who have gone 1st overall in the draft. One of whom is currently playing for Luck’s former coach – 2005 1st overall pick Alex Smith
Coming into the 2011 season, Smith had put up numbers ranging from terrible to mediocre, but he seems to be blossoming this year under Jim Harbaugh and former Stanford assistant (now 49er’s Offensive Coordinator) Greg Roman:
The column all the way to the right is the one of the most interest: Rate+. If you’re unfamiliar with the “[stat]+” type metrics, it’s a way to compare a player’s stats (in this case, Passer Rating) to the league average for that particular year. It’s calculated as follows*:
In other words, a 110 Rate+ means a QB’s rating is 10% better than the league average. A Rate+ of 90 would be 10% worse than average. In 2007, Alex Smith’s Passer Rating was 57.2 and the league average was 80.9. So his Rate+ is [100*(57.2/80.9)]=71, or 29% worse than league average. This type of statistic is especially useful for things like Passer Rating which (like ERA in baseball) varies significantly from one era to the next. Look at the average QB Passer Rating in 10 year intervals:
So, Alex Smith’s career best 82.1 passer rating in 2010 was about league average. But had he played in 1980 and put up a 82.1 rating, he’d be considered an upper-echelon QB.
If Smith can maintain his pace, he will become the 124th QB since 1970 to post a 110+ Rate+ in a season where he threw at least 150 pass attempts. While that’s not particularly notable, the fact that he could do it for the first time in his 6th 150+ attempt season is unusual. Only 7 of the 123 QB’s who have already gotten to 110+ have taken longer to hit the milestone. Of the 123, 90 of them accomplished the feat before their 4th season (47 of them did it in their first 150 attempt season). Here are the other 33:
The middle column is the number of 150+ pass attempt seasons the QB had before his 110+ Rate+ season. The column to the right is the year in which he finally got to 110.
Notable in that list is former 1st overall pick Eli Manning and Smith’s current head coach, Harbaugh, both of whom also got to 110+ in his 6th 150+ pass attempt season. Playing for a guy who understands late-blooming QB’s can only help Smith’s career. He may never shed the “bust” label entirely, and will almost certainly never be the best QB to come out of the 2005 draft (Aaron Rodgers), but Alex Smith seems to be on the road to being a decent starting QB. At only 27 years old, he could be a solid starter in the league for the next 5-7 seasons.
*Note: Pro-Football-Reference.com (and perhaps other places) use a slightly more complex formula for coming up with [stat]+ for QB stats. My method is the “traditional” method first popularized a decade or so ago in baseball.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The 2012 NFL Draft looks to be absolutely loaded with quality receiving prospects. Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles, Jeff Fuller and Juron Criner are all 1st round possibilities at this point and a few other guys should earn Day One consideration by the time April rolls around. While it’s unlikely that all the top underclassmen will declare, there should be enough to make 2012 one of the deepest WR groups in history. With that in mind, it’s useful to look back at the last 10 years of 1st round WR’s to get an idea of what to expect from the Class of 2012.
Earlier this week, we looked at the 1st round WR’s drafted in the first half of last decade (2000-2004). Those five years produced 24 WR’s, most of whom have been disappointments to some degree. The five years which followed have resulted in (thus far) a stronger crop of players, including producing two of the top five receivers in the league (Calvin Johnson and Roddy White).
The big difference we see between the first half of the decade group and the second group is that the later receivers (2005-09) have been more productive in terms of both receptions per game as well as yards per game. The first group (2000-04) only included 4 WR’s (out of 24) who have averaged 4+ catches per year: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss. The second half of the decade has produced 6 such receivers (out of 19):
Even some of the guys at the bottom of the list have shown some signs of life. Meachem has turned into a 40-50 catch per year guy opposite Marques Colston in New Orleans. Mike Williams had a brief revival last year after being an epic flop for his first 3 seasons in the league and drifting out of the league for two years. He’s off to a slow and injury-hampered start to this season, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can capitalize on his fresh start with the Seahawks. Ted Ginn Jr.’s not utilized much as a receiver by the 49ers, but is a useful (and sometimes spectacular) return man. Heyward-Bey has shown flashes (albeit against poor pass defenses) and could be on the road to shedding his “bust” label. Anthony Gonzalez has been riddled with injuries (6 total games played since opening day 2009) and is in danger of washing out of the league. Williamson, Jones and Davis are out of the league.
Another, perhaps better, way to measure the impact of a receiver is by looking at the percentage of his team’s total pass offense that he accounts for. In that regard, Roddy White (aided by good health and a lack of other targets in Atlanta) has put up the most impressive numbers. In 2008, he accounted for over a third of the Falcons‘ total catches (the 21st best season since 1980) and 40% (19th best since 1980) of their yards. He’s also hauled in 24%+ of Atlanta’s passes in each of the last 4 seasons. Here are the 25 best performances thus far for the 2005-2009 1st round WR group:
Here are how the WR classes of the 2000’s stack up against each other:
One thing that is apparent from looking at these classes next to each other is that the 2009 1st round class could be historically good if Kenny Britt can rebound from his knee injury next year (and stay out of trouble) and Darrius Heyward-Bey continues to progress.
All that said, the 1st round is only a piece of the puzzle. Which year in the decade produced the best overall WR group from the 1st selection all the way through the 256th pick? Next week I’ll take a look at the best and worst of the non-1st round receivers of the 2000’s.