With John Carlson finally taking the field and turning heads initially at training camp, we can begin to ponder what the success or failure of Carlson will do to Ruskell's reputation as a talent evaluator. First a little review:
Ruskell inherited a strong offensive team when he took over. The core pieces were already in place for the offense (Jones, Strong, Hasselbeck, Jackson, Stevens, Alexander, Hutchinson, Locklear, Tobeck). The defense needed work so the next drafts and FA signings were focused on that side of the ball.
Here is a look at Key additions and busts from the Ruskell era. I am ignoring very late round picks and cheap FA signings, in other words, low risk propositions which did not involve significant resources and therefore do not weigh heavily in grading Ruskell.
Key additions (good or great moves):
FA - Kerney, Grant, Peterson
Draft - Tatupu, Hill, Jennings, Tapp, Mebane
FA - Burleson
Draft - Sims
FA - Russell
Draft - None
FA - Pollard, Branch (trade)
Draft - Willis, Spencer
FA - None
Draft - None
FA - None
Draft - David Greene
Not enough info yet:
FA - None
Draft - Wilson, Bryant, L. Jackson, Atkins
FA - Wahle, Jones, Duckett
Draft - Carlson, Wrotto
One of the first thing one notices is that Ruskell has only once used a high pick (4th or higher) or top-FA dollar on a true bust. That distinction goes to David Greene, who missed his window to convince the coaching staff he was a legitimate backup. Defensively, Ruskell has clearly been an ace, with almost all the defensive starters being recent Ruskell acquisitions. The only misfire Ruskell has had on defense was Russell, who still has the opportunity to get on the key additions list with a strong 2008 (unlikely though). Still, Russell was not a major signing and hasn't been a total bust. The offense has been a different story. The only bona fide hits Ruskell has had on offense have been Burleson and Sims. Even these two aren't perfect though and both could slip to the questionable list if they have a poor 2008. While there haven't been any other total busts other than Greene, the Branch trade is looking like more and more of a reach, as are linemen Spencer and Willis.
I am not considering 'non-moves' such as not resigning Hutch, or not resigning Hamlin. I am also ignoring re-signings such as Tatupu and Trufant. This is because deciding what to do with players on your team who your coaches already have extensive experience with is obviously a lot different from scouting the outside.
Unfortunately, I still do not think we will really know whether Ruskell can evaluate offensive talent for a while longer. Even in this past year's draft we took defensive players with two of our top three picks. Carlson is the x-factor here. It wasn't a huge gamble since he was a second rounder. He also fits the usual Ruskell mold of being very likely to contribute, but not likely to be confused with the league's best player at his position. Still, since he was the top TE drafted, expect criticism for Ruskell if he doesn't turn out to be the best TE in his class. He has the advantage of being #1 on the depth chart immediately and playing in a good pass offense. We should finally get an extended look at the young receivers, but none of them were drafted any higher than Taylor with a 6th round pick. Young OL projects Willis and Wrotto probably won't crack the lineup this year unless there are injuries. Wahle will be considered in a similar light to Carlson, a sub-blockbuster move that is likely to end up as another high-value contributor.
In conclusion, while Ruskell has been a genius on Defense, he has been able to ride the talent that was here when he arrived on offense. With a lot of defenders locked up for a while now, next years draft and FA period will probably be Ruskell's most offense-oriented to date and we'll have to wait and see for that. If Wahle and Carlson meet or exceed expectations and Spencer and Sims improve on a setback 2007, then Ruskell's 2008 will be less crucial to his offensive rep.