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Sports Blog First Five Rundown

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No foolin' here, just my take on the first five picks by our fellow Sports Bloggers. When is it too early to take a need, and why has one game so dramatically changed our opinion of Jemarcus Russell? Has the game breaking receiver become the new workhorse back? Here are my opinions of the picks, the positions and the trades for the first five rounds.

  • 1. Jemarcus Russell QB: Russell is mobile, but not in a way that will be a huge threat in the NFL. He has a big arm, but so did Jeff George and Ryan Leaf. Heading into the Sugar Bowl, few would have thought Russell, Brady Quinn's equal, much less his superior, but here we are: with Saint previewing the assumed pick by madman Al Davis. How has one game so dramatically changed so many's opinions of the two quarterbacks, and why is it almost certainly madness?

    Does Quinn choke in big games, or does his team let him down? The only member of Quinn's offensive line to top 300 pounds was hefty freshman Chris Stewart (367), who didn't start. The Irish combined to allow 2.38 sacks a game, 85th in the league. Depending on what you think of Jeff Samardzija, the only NFL caliber skill player Quinn had to work with was Darius Walker, and he's a fringe talent athletically. When Quinn and Notre Dame squared off against LSU, LSU possessed the NCAA D-1's 3rd best defense and 3rd best passing defense.

    Russell was throwing to Chas Bowie and Craig Davis, both projected to go in the first two rounds. Every member of the Tiger's line is over 300 pounds, minus right tackle Carnall Stewart (6'4", 295). Guard Herman Johnson (6'7", 335) and tackle Ciron Black (6'5", 315) are both NFL prospects. They allowed 1.46 sacks a game, good for 24th in the league. Most importantly, though, Russell was facing the NCAA D-1's 65th ranked total defense and 90th ranked pass defense. While Russell was effectively playing catch, it would have taken a Herculean effort for Quinn to transcend the shortcomings of the rest of his team.

    Russell is a three year starter with a 60.4 completion percentage, both numbers portend good things. The Raiders quarterback rotation of Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter paired two of the league's worst quarterbacks in football, starter or otherwise. Unless he's a total bust, the Raiders can expect an immediate, significant improvement offensively, but Russell might be a bust. Russell didn't play in a pro-style offense and his most commonly noted negative is the ever foreboding "decision making".  This isn't likely to be a Ryan Leaf versus Peyton Manning, but I've yet to hear a single convincing argument for taking Russell over Quinn.

  • 2. Calvin Johnson WR: Johnson is no doubt a great receiver, and certainly the best talent in this year's draft, but you don't trade draft picks--especially not one's as valuable as the 32nd pick. Scrap your stupid "draft value charts" for a second and listen to a theory with a scrap of logic: Economists Cade Massey and Richard Thaler studied ten years of stats and discovered that late first round and all second round picks are the most valuable in the draft. Valuable in this case meaning best ratio between performance and cost. As Doug at Pro Football reference points out, this doesn't mean that JScott and Tampa should have traded the #4 pick for the #34 pick, but it does mean that trading the 64th pick to insure drafting a player that may have fallen to them anyway is a mistake. Like, but to a far lesser extent, the Saints who moved up to pick Ricky Williams, or the Minnesota Vikings who swapped eight draft picks to the Cowboys--who built a dynasty off that draft--for Herschel Walker, I think JScott has overvalued one player and overpaid to get him.

  • 3. Joe Thomas OT: I won't endlessly rehash how little I think of Thomas, but just for fun I decided to look at the tackles from the last three drafts who have succeeded in the NFL, and if they shared any features; I then looked at the biggest bust for the same factors. I'll limit it to players picked in the first two rounds. That gives us 16 players, a relatively small sample over a relatively small period of time, so forgive me if this is less than scientific, but here's what I found.

    The best tackle from the 2006 draft, at least after one year, is Marcus McNeill. The two things that stand out about McNeill are his size (6-7 5/8, 336 lbs) and, oddly, his vertical: 31 inches. His 135.01 as measured by my Thrust stat would be far and away the best recorded by any offensive lineman in this year's draft. McNeill did poorly in agility drills, but was fairly effective in protecting the quarterback in 2006, allowing only five sacks and not recording a single hold. That the stellar and balanced Chargers offense rarely put Philip Rivers into dangerous situations might have something to do with that. I'd be surprised if McNeill's pass protection doesn't regress over the next few years.

    2005's biggest stud was Jammal Brown. Brown's three sacks allowed was crucial to New Orleans' offensive success. Brown performed an excellent 4.67 in the shuttle, proving that he can effectively seal off the edge. Where Brown still lacks is in his run blocking, and his so-so 126.78 Thrust ranking matches that weakness.

    Now, a couple busts. Robert Gallery continues to disappoint after being touted as the Joe Thomas of his draft. Gallery had the size (6-7, 323) and agility (4.38 shuttle) that seems to indicate a sure thing. Yet he allowed 10.5 sacks last year, anchoring a historically bad line. His downfall may be his arm length. Gallery has short arms, 31", three inches shorter than Brown or McNeill. That's a significant impediment that forces him to fully extend his arms, leaving him in a compromised position against longer armed defenders who can play closer to their chests.

    Alex Barron's arms are 37 ¾ inches, no problem there. His Thrust: An awesome 142.35. He also recorded an excellent 4.56 in the shuttle. His one weakness was a glaring one, though, a paltry 19 reps on the bench. Still, it's tough to understand why Barron has played so poorly.

    The findings are more than a little muddy. The only two conclusions that seem somewhat clear is that an elite tackle must have no glaring weaknesses (like Galleries' arms or Barron's upper body strength) and that three years of experience is far too soon to tell. Thomas has short arms (32.5") and poor lateral agility. He lacks elite size or upper body strength. I have yet to figure a conclusive way to prove this, but I think Thomas is destined to be a bust.

  • 4. Gaines Adams DE: I don't have much to add about Adams, seeing as the Hawks have no pressing need at defensive end, I haven't done any research into what makes one end great versus another who's a bust. I will say that he's a little undersized, and if you are going to take an end with the 4, I prefer Jamaal Anderson.
  • 5. Levi Brown T: The first big reach, a gutsy move, but not one I agree with. Brown has short arms (33"), mediocre Burst (164.57) and poor Thrust (117.71). He's not very agile, and doesn't have an overly projectable frame. He's battled a few minor knee injuries, nothing too worrisome on face value, but we are talking about the knees, here. Arizona does need help on the offensive line, but with Chike Okeafor entering his presumed decline, they need just as much help rushing the passer. Reggie Wells has shown progress and did a decent job at protecting Matt Leinart's blind side, and Mr. Gollin admitted that he doesn't think Brown will take over at right tackle, meaning that the #5 pick is being spent on, essentially, a #2 tackle. That's too much value being placed in too trivial a position. To me, this pick would have better been spent on Jamaal Anderson, with the offensive line being addressed in the second and third rounds. I think this is an attempt to make a quick fix on a major problem, Arizona is an up and coming team that must work from a plan, reach picks are bad move for any team, but especially teams that are building for the future.

Ok, that's all I've got. Feel free to critique my analysis, or call me a doodie-head or whatever. I'll post my next piece after the next five picks are made, until then, I'm out.