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1980’s Forgotten 1st Rounders: QB’s

July 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The 1980’s produced a number of good QB’s, many of which were found in the opening round of the draft. The 10 drafts from 1980-1989 produced 2 of the best QB’s in the history of the game – Dan Marino (27th overall, 1983, Miami Dolphins) and John Elway (1st overall, 1983, Baltimore Colts), as well as two guys who have strong arguments for being in the top 10-15 all time: Jim Kelly (14th overall, 1983, Buffalo Bills) and Troy Aikman (1st overall, 1989, Dallas Cowboys). These 4 combined for a record of 490-305-1, with 29 Pro Bowl Appearances and 13 trips to the Super Bowl. The other 14 QB’s drafted in the 1980’s weren’t nearly as successful, though Ken O’Brien (24th overall, 1983, New York Jets), Vinny Testaverde (1st overall, 1987, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Jim Everett (3rd overall, 1986, Houston Oilers) had their share of success over careers of varying length.

As with any series of drafters, there were plenty of duds to go along with the Canton bound signal callers. Kelly Stouffer (6th overall, 1987, St. Louis Cardinals) was perhaps the biggest huge flop. While 1987 was one of the weaker 1st rounds in history, nothing can put a good spin on Stouffer’s level of failure. First he held out and forced his way out of St. Louis, then was traded to the Seattle Seahawks and then (after one brief moment of glory in his first ever NFL game) played about as poorly as any QB can in the NFL. His career ended with a 5-11 record, 7 TD, 19 INT and a QB Rating of 54.5. Stouffer’s ineptness was rivaled or, perhaps, surpassed by that of Chuck Long (1986, 12th overall, Detroit Lions), Art Schlichter (1982, 4th overall, Baltimore Colts), Todd Blackledge (7th overall, 1983, Kansas City Chiefs) and Rich Campbell (6th overall, Green Bay Packers, 1981).

However, those guys were mostly remembered either for their huge success or huge failure on the biggest possible stage. While Ken O’Brien and Jim Everett might not be familiar names for younger NFL fans, chances are anyone who followed football in the 1980’s and early 1990’s remembers them as guys who were (at the time) regarded as decent-to-good (though inconsistent) starting QB’s who you never really wanted calling signals for your team despite their moderate success (see: Pennington, Chad for a more modern example). While O’Brien and Everett (best remembered for blowing up in an interview with Jim Rome on TV) are somewhat memorable players, even in a “you had to be there” way, the following guys you might not remember at all unless they played for your team (from most to least memorable):

Jim Harbaugh (26th overall, 1987, Chicago Bears) – Harbaugh might be a guy you know, or have heard of (depending on when you started following football). After all, he played 14 seasons and was a starter for 10 of those years. However, his pedestrian numbers and career mediocrity might have led you to forget that he was a fairly hyped 1st round pick once upon a time ago. His brilliant season in 1995 with the Indianapolis Colts (coming just inches away from a trip to a Super Bowl) was one of the top passing seasons of that decade. However, the rest of his career was totally forgettable. Only 3 times in his career did he lead his team to a winning record in his starts (1990,1991,1995).

Jim McMahon (26th overall, 1982, Chicago Bears)
– The guy whom Harbaugh was drafted to replace, Jim McMahon is probably best remembered for his sweatband and babysitting the offense that played alongside one of the greatest defenses in modern football history. Like Harbaugh, McMahon played for a deceptively long time – all the way until 1996. He appeared in 120 games in a 15 year, 6 team career. However, he only played in more than 10 games in 5 seasons. Injuries, mental mistakes and bouts of wildness made McMahon a guy who always found himself a starting job but never holding it for a full season. In 15 years, his highest single season passing total was just 2392 yards (his Super Bowl winning 1985 season). His longevity and the success of the Bears’ defense in the mid 80’s saved McMahon from total irrelevancy.

Chris Miller (13th overall, 1987, Atlanta Falcons)
– He had a brief period of success in the Falcons 1991 playoff run and his injury shortened 1992 season (in which he was leading the league in QB rating before getting hurt). Other than that, Chris Miller is one of the most forgettable QB’s of the late 1980’s/early 90’s. He played for 10 years, started 92 games but won only 34. A career 54.6 completion % and 74.9 rating.

Tony Eason (15th overall, 1983, New England Patriots) – The 1983 draft produced 3 of the very best QB’s ever (Elway, Marino and Kelly). Tony Eason was drafted one spot after Kelly and 12 before Marino (with Ken O’Brien in between). At first, he looked like he was going to follow in his class of 83’s footsteps. In his first year as a full time starter, 1984, he put up a very impressive 93.4 QB Rating. Only Marino and Joe Montana were better. Unfortunately, 1985 wasn’t kind to Eason – he put up a very poor 67.5 QBR despite leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl. His performance in the Super Bowl, even considering the quality of the Bears’ defense, was nothing short of appalling (so bad that he was benched early on in the game). He rebounded in 1986, going 10-4 as a starter with a QBR of 89.2 (4th best int he NFL). The Patriots era of bad luck, putrid play and sheer incompetence began in Eason’s lost 1987 season. Their franchise QB separated his shoulder, then suffered nerve damage in his elbow as a result of wearing his sling too tightly. He would go on to miss almost all of 1987 and 1988 and was traded to the Jets in 1989. He started just 10 games after his successful 1986 campaign.

Marc Wilson (15th overall, 1980, Oakland Raiders) – Even in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Oakland Raiders were known to be poor at their early round draft selections (Marcus Allen aside) on the occasions when they actually used them (even then, they liked to trade their 1st round picks away). Marc Wilson was drafted to be the long term replacement for the aging Ken Stabler. Seeing how you’ve probably forgotten (or never heard of) Wilson, it follows that he never became the franchise guy that Al Davis had hoped. Somehow, he managed to stick around with the Raiders for 8 years – far longer than most 1st round flops. He only started 8+ games in 4 seasons and in every one of those 4, he threw more INT’s than TD’s. He had a brief tour with the Patriots in 1989-1990, easy to forget given how terrible those teams were, before retiring in anonymity in 1991.

Mark Malone (28th overall, 1980, Pittsburgh Steelers)
– If you watched ESPN for football coverage in the 1990’s, you might remember Malone. Otherwise, you might have forgotten all about him, even if you were a die hard football fan in the 1980’s. Like many mid-late 1st round QB flops, Malone kicked around the league for longer than he should have. Somehow, he ended up playing in 73 games over 9 seasons. His career 50.9 completion %, 60 TDs to 81 INT and 61.9 QBR
tell you everything you need to know about Malone if you had forgotten him like just about everyone outside of Pittsburgh.

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Make Or Break: Early 2009 Draftees On The Bubble

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Training camp is less than a month away and for the draft class of 2009, it’s now or never. The general wisdom is that draft picks get 3 years to establish themselves (though many picks get far less time, if they’re taken outside of the top 2 rounds or happen to get drafted by a team who doesn’t mind cutting high picks early). After 3 years, if a 1st or 2nd rounder hasn’t panned out, they become a training camp casualty. Sometimes a team can find a trade partner who is willing to take on a former high pick for the cost of a very low or conditional draft pick. Such was the case with 2009 4th overall pick Aaron Curry. The former “safest pick in the draft” was unloaded by Seattle after just 35 games and less than 3 full seasons.

Curry isn’t alone in being cast aside as an early 2009 draft pick. Here are some other high picks who have already been dumped:

11th overall – LB Aaron Maybin (Buffalo Bills)
36th overall – WR Brian Robiskie (Cleveland Browns)
37th overall – CB Alphonso Smith (Denver Broncos)
41st overall – CB Darius Butler (New England Patriots)
43rd overall – DE Everette Brown (Carolina Panthers)
44th overall – QB Pat White (Miami Dolphins)
48th overall – DB Darcel McBath (Denver Broncos)
52nd overall – LB David Veikune (Cleveland Browns)
63rd overall – LB Cody Brown (Arizona Cardinals)
64th overall – TE Richard Quinn (Denver Broncos)

11 of the top 64 players have already exited the league or changed teams, and chances are good that there will be at least 10 more guys in that category by the time 53 man rosters are set in early September. Here are some guys who could be joining the list:

2nd overall – OT Jason Smith (St. Louis Rams) – He hasn’t locked down a starting spot on either side of the line and has been inconsistent at best. It would be a mild surprise to see him let go, but Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have no connection to the drafting of Smith and might decide to move on.

12th overall – RB Knowshon Moreno (Denver Broncos)
– The Broncos have already jettisoned 3 Top 64 picks from 2009 and Moreno should make 4. While he has some redeeming qualities, notably his above average blitz blocking, he has shown that he’s a total dud as a feature back. At best, he’s a 3rd down back and rotational guy and one would think his time in Denver is short.

16th overall – OLB Larry English (San Diego Chargers)
– Drafted as a pass rushing specialist, he has just 7 sacks in 3 seasons. With the addition of 2012 first round pick Melvin Ingram, the Chargers are likely ready to move on from English barring a superb training camp.

23rd overall – OT Michael Oher (Baltimore Ravens) – While he is the only 2009 1st rounder to have a Hollywood feature film made about him, Oher has been a big disappointment. At times he flashes the type of talent that made him a 1st round pick. At other times, he looks either disinterested or totally lost. It’s likely he will stick in Baltimore for another year, but he might not be around much longer than that.

24th overall – DT Peria Jerry (Atlanta Falcons) – 6 games started and just 2 sacks in 3 seasons with the Falcons, Jerry faces an uphill battle to make the Atlanta roster. New Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan hasn’t committed (publicly) to either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, but a 3-4 would almost certainly seal Jerry’s fate in Atlanta. Regardless of scheme, it’s a good possibility that Jerry will be playing elsewhere in 2012.

39th overall – OT Eben Britton (Jacksonville Jaguars) – He’s been hurt a lot early in his career, plying in just 10 games over the last 2 years. When he’s on the field he isn’t anything special. The Jaguars don’t have a ton of depth at the position, so it’s possible that he could stick even with a poor camp. However, he will need to get healthy and show some progress if he wants to stick in the league.

40th overall – DT Ron Brace (New England Patriots) – Brace has been hurt off and on with a number of small injuries and has found himself in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse at several different points (including being inactive for this year’s Super Bowl). When he’s on the field, he has shown flashes of being a quality 5-technique DE but his inconsistencies and lack of durability have led to him getting passed on the depth chart. Belichick doesn’t keep guys around who don’t produce, and has already pulled the plug on Darius Butler (taken one pick after Brace). It would be a mild surprise if Brace breaks camp with the Patriots.

45th overall – LB Clint Sintim (New York Giants) – Sintim is coming off a torn ACL and has yet to establish himself in New York’s LB corps. He was almost totally nonexistent his first two seasons before tearing his knee up last summer. Some Giants fans remain high on him, but like Britton and Brace, he will need to prove he is both healthy and taking a step forward in order to secure a roster spot.

50th overall – WR Mohamed Massaquoi (Cleveland Browns) -The best thing to happen to Mohammed Massaquoi’s young career is the Browns passing on a WR in the first (or a top WR in free agency) and waiting until the 4th round to address the position. The Cleveland WR depth chart is thin enough for the underwhelming Massaquoi to have plenty of reps and get a long look in camp. While he isn’t terrible, he’s also not lived up to his status as a mid 2nd round pick. He will probably hang on for another year in Cleveland, though he might not have survived this long with a different team.

Forgotten First Rounders: 2005

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Beyond The Rookie Contract: The 2007 2nd Round Draftees

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

What does the average draft follower expect from his/her favorite team’s 2nd round draft pick? For most fans, 2nd round picks represent long-term starters and franchise cornerstones. The building blocks of a successful team. After all, they are the 33rd-64th best college players available. You’d think you’d get a guy who could be a high level contributor for years to come. Or even just a guy who can contribute for a reasonable period of time. However, that’s not usually the case.

Most 2nd rounders these days sign 4 year contracts. Therefore, a 2007 draftee would have been signed for the 2007-2010 seasons and eligible for free agency last summer. A look back at the 2007 2nd round gives some much needed (this time of year, especially) perspective on 2nd rounders. Take a look at how the 2007 class looked in their first year after their rookie contracts expired:

1. Of the 32 draftees, only 7 were on their original drafting team’s roster: Eric Weddle (37th, San Diego), Justin Blalock (39th, Atlanta), Drew Stanton (43rd, Detroit), Lamarr Woodley (46th, Pittsburgh), David Harris (47th, New York Jets), Victor Abiamiri (Philadelphia, 57th) and Ryan Kalil (59th, Carolina).  Those 7 accounted for 73 games started in 2011. Neither Stanton (backup QB) nor Abiamiri (on Injured Reserve) got into a regular season game. So only 5 guys were still contributing to their original team

2. 5 of the 2nd rounders failed to make a roster in 2011: Arron Sears (35th, Tampa Bay), Dwayne Jarrett (45th, Carolina) Kenny Irons (49th, Cincinnati), Chris J. Henry (Tennessee, 50th), Dan Bazuin (62nd, Chicago). Neither Irons not Bazuin ever played a regular season game in the NFL

3. 15 of the 2007 2nd rounders started more than 8 games in 2011. 12 started 0 games. 5 others started between 1-3 games. Only Paul Posluszny (34th, Buffalo), Blalock, Harris, Eric Wright (53rd, Cleveland), Josh Wilson (55th, Seattle) and Kalil started all 16 games for his team last year.

4. Only 1, Weddle, has been named to an All Pro team. Only Kalil has been named to multiple Pro Bowl teams (3). 5 other players have made the Pro Bowl once: Weddle, Zach Miller (38th, Oakland), Sidney Rice (44th, Minnesota), Woodley and Steve Smith (51st, New York Giants).

It’s safe to say that if you are expecting your team to come up with a long term starter or an impact player in the 2nd round you are setting your expectations too high. While every draft class is different (and 2007 was a weak crop), the results are pretty similar most years: 2nd round picks do not produce long-term starters and high-end players. There are plenty of quality players who are 2nd round picks – Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Rob Gronkowski immediately come to mind. But there are also tons of 2nd rounders you quickly forget if they were not your team’s selection. Guys like James Hardy (2008), Cody Brown (2009), Joe Klopfenstein (2006).

In the 2 months between now and the draft, many hours on TV/radio and thousands of words on the internet will be spent discussing the fringe 1st round players and the “solid crop of guys” in the 2nd round. Just remember: in 5 years, you probably won’t remember that a third of these guys were drafted as highly as they were – despite being “borderline 1st rounders” and “high floor” prospects. Guys who would at least “be great special teamers” or “contribute on 3rd down”.

Categories: Draft Tags: , ,

1st Round Bust No More? Alex Smith’s Improvement

October 27, 2011 2 comments

(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*:

[100*(PlayerRating/LgAvgRating)]

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.

Categories: Stats Tags: , , , , ,

1st Round WR’s 2000-2004: A Real Horror Story

October 18, 2011 1 comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

 

In just a couple of weeks, the streets will be filled with witches, goblins, ghosts and other nightmarish creatures as they roam door to door demanding candy. But if you really want to scare your friends this Halloween, you should dress up as one myriad 1st round WR busts who entered the NFL between 2000 and 2004. Just hearing the name “Rashaun Woods” or “R.Jay Soward” is enough to send a chill up any general manager’s spine. Drafting WR’s is exceptionally difficult, but the early part of last decade produced some real nightmares.

When you draft any player in the 1st round, you are hoping for a cornerstone of your franchise. A player who will not only be a game-changing talent, but someone who can bring longevity and long-term stability to his position. Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. Consider these haunting facts:

Between 2000-2004 there were 24 WR’s drafted in the 1st round. Of those, only Reggie Wayne (2001, Colts), Andre Johnson (2003, Texans) and Larry Fitzgerald (2004, Cardinals) are still with their original team. Less than half (11) are still active in the league.

The 24 WR’s have cumulatively averaged just 3 catches and 42 yards per game over the course of their careers. Only 4 of the receivers (Fitzgerald, A.Johnson, Wayne and Santana Moss) have averaged 4+ catches per game. Only 7 have averaged 50+ receiving yards per game:

2000-04_wr_1_medium

But that’s not all. Of the 24 1st round WR’s in this time period, only a quarter of them (Wayne, Fitzgerald, A.Johnson, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton and Michael Jenkins) played more than 5 seasons with their drafting team. So much for “long term stability”. This is what it looks like in graphical form:

1st_round_service_time_medium

Three 1st rounders (Rashaun Woods, R.Jay Soward and Sylvester Morris) only played one season in the league. The majority of the others played out their rookie contracts (typically 4 or 5 year deals) and bolted for greener pastures – or the unemployment line.

The 2000-2004 1st round WR’s have compiled 154 seasons played and 90 of those (58%) have resulted in fewer than 50 receptions:

Number_receptions_medium

Not scared yet? Take out the three superstars (Wayne, Fitzgerald, A.Johnson) and the other 21 WR’s have averaged a paltry 13% of their team’s catches throughout their career. Hardly what one hopes for when selecting a receiver early in the draft.

So when the spring rolls around and your favorite team is considering a WR on Day 1 of the draft, don’t get your hopes up too high. As exciting as it is to imagine Alshon Jeffery, Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd as the next Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson, the WR class of 2012 is likely to produce more tricks than treats.

Categories: Draft Tags: , , ,
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