For years, one of my general perceptions on the NFL draft has been that we have immensely improved scouting over the last thirty years. I mean, with the addition of game tape, scouting reports, television, combines, pro days, senior bowl and other postseason exhibition games, interviews, wonderlic tests, drug tests, outhouse, doghouse, and hen house, how could we not be better at scouting?
When I was watching 30 for 30 last night, an episode on the 1983 draft that involved John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Darrell Green (six Hall of Famers in the first round, the Seahawks took Curt Warner third overall) I was watching the grainy footage and was wondering when the horse-drawn carriage would bring the Dolphins pick up to the podium. Or how long it would take the Chiefs carrier pigeon to reach commissioner Pete Rozelle, and yet... six Hall of Fame players were taken in the first round. Only one, Richard Dent, slipped past every team over and over again.
"But Marino fell past all those teams and went behind quarterbacks Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, and Ken O'Brien!"
Aaron Rodgers? Russell Wilson? Players being undervalued is never going to stop. The only question is how Sports Science and Jon Gruden's QB Camp (which had Luke Joeckel on this year, at least, so I guess it's just a regular camp now with friendship bracelets and broken hearts) is changing anything. I don't want to disrespect the men and women that spend hours scouting college athletes to determine which are the best, some of you guys are my best internet friends!, but it will likely always be a guessing game and I'm not sure we are guessing any better than we used to.
My NFL draft charts now span the Super Bowl era, going back to 1966. The first pick in this era is Tommy Nobis, a linebacker that made five Pro Bowls with the Atlanta Falcons. The second is Hall of Fame guard Tom Mack. The fifth is six-time Pro Bowl guard John Niland (different era? The top six had three guards, a fullback, and a kicker!)
The top pick in 1967 was Bubba Smith. Bob Griese went fourth. Three-time All Pro George Webster was fifth. Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little was sixth. Hall of Famers Alan Page and Gene Upshaw went 15th and 17th, respectively. Or put it this way:
Eight of the first 24 number one picks in the Super Bowl are in the Hall of Fame. Not a single number one pick since 1990 is in the Hall, and few will enter.
The ones that likely will include Orlando Pace and Peyton Manning. But then you've got Jeff George, Russell Maryland, Steve Emtman, Dan Wilkinson, Ki-Jana Carter, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, David Carr, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell. The second tier of Drew Bledsoe, Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning (who could get into the Hall eventually), Mario Williams, Jake Long... is it that inspiring?
We are talking about two of the last 23 number one draft picks as guaranteed Hall of Fame players.
Before Troy Aikman in 1990, of course you had mistakes. Aundray Bruce, Kenneth Sims, Tom Cousineau. (You also had non-Hall of Famers like Billy Sims, and Bo Jackson, and Steve Bartkowski.) But now practically every pick is a quarterback (12 of the last 15 number one picks) and so it's a live or die game of trying to strike it rich. Does it work? Only the Manning brothers have been to Super Bowls, with the exception of Alex Smith as a backup.
What I did notice as I was running this experiment today, is that way more late round picks are making NFL teams than they used to. But is this a product of better scouting, or is it a product of having more teams and more concerns about money and staying under a salary cap? You could keep a veteran around for cheap before, and now we are talking about the possibility of cutting a player like Michael Robinson for a late round fullback because it will be more cost efficient. We can't attribute that to more scouting being better.
Richard Sherman was a fifth round pick? Richard Dent was an eighth round pick.
Are we better? I don't know. But we are trying harder, and that makes for interesting fodder during the doldrums of another offseason.
With that, I bring you an experiment of naming the absolute best players that have ever been picked with the draft selections that the Seahawks currently hold. They are working with a gun that's missing a bullet, but that's okay because historically the 25th pick hasn't been all that good. Only a handful of 25ers have ever made the Pro Bowl (Stanley Morgan, 1977, Ted Washington, 1991, Jermany Mayberry, 1996, Jon Beason, 2007, Mike Jenkins, 2008) and Seattle's usage of the 25th pick is already one of the best playmakers in the NFL!
They still have a bunch of other picks though. Can any of them become the best player ever at their numbered selection? (I don't expect Seattle to stand pat at all, but I'm not a soothsayer. I am, however, a smooth sailor!) They'd have to do better than these guys, some of whom would actually fit pretty well with us right now:
Pick 56 - Osi Umenyiora, 2003, Giants
Umenyiora went a couple of picks after Anquan Boldin back in 2003. One of the best players out of Troy (DeMarcus Ware also up there) he is also one of the few British-born football players. His name means "from today on things will be good" and they were. Getting someone of Osi's talent at 56 would be ridiculous, though I still expect Seattle to move down if possible.
Other notables - Todd Christensen, TE, 5 Pro Bowls, 2 All Pros, Cowboys
John Goodman, Mike Minter, Madieu Williams, Ladell Betts, Jason Hanson, Brian Brohm
Pick 87 - Mike McKenzie, 1999, Packers
McKenzie never made the Pro Bowl, but he was in the league for ten seasons and was pretty damn good. The Seahawks will probably draft a corner this weekend, and getting someone like McKenzie would not be too shabby. Though not known for their football, a lot of players have been drafted out of Memphis, including McKenzie. The highest of which was defensive back Keith Simpson, who went to Seattle with the ninth pick in 1978.
Other notables - Vic Washington, John Yarno, Eric Decker
Pick 123 - Kerry Rhodes, 2005, Jets
Rhodes was a fourth round pick in 2005, and while Kam Chancellor may have gotten an extension, the Hawks may still search for safety depth in this draft. Rhodes has been a very good starter for eight years.
Other notables - Leroy Harris, Domata Peko, Leon White, Milton Mack, Tandon Doss
Pick 138 - Robert Mathis, 2003, Colts
Mathis is one of the better fifth round picks you'll ever find. Not like "Sherman good" but definitely like "Chancellor good." Four Pro Bowl appearances for Mathis, he is one of 19 players drafted out of Alabama A&M in the Super Bowl era. The best of which includes Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth, but Mathis is arguably the second best. (Tackle Howard Ballard, 1987, is the other guy in the argument.)
Other notables - Al Beauchamp, John Friesz, Jacob Bell, Craig Wolfley
Pick 158 - Jay Novacek, Cardinals, 1985
If the Seahawks are looking for a tight end, and I believe they are, Novacek would be a good pick! He mad the Pro Bowl five times and the All Pro team once. He won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys, and whichever tight end is picked by the Seahawks this year at pick 158 will win at least that many.
Notables - Norman Hand, Dick Enderle, Curtis Jordan, Leroy Thomson, Howard Cross, Kurt Kittner, Kellen Davis
Pick 194 - Bruce Gradkowski, Buccaneers, 2006
Backup quarterback? (Kevin in Home Alone 2 on the Talkboy voice) You got it!
Notables - Brandon Gibson, Willie Green, Barron Wortham, Kenny Hill, Leonard Thompson, Cornell Brown, Mason Crosby
Pick 220 - Dave Hampton, Packers, 1969
Jump into the wayback machine and you'll find Hampton, a Swiss Arm knife of all trades that had real success with the Falcons from 1972-1975 as a running back that caught a fair amount of passes and returned kicks from time to time. Not a spectacular player but a very solid one at 220.
Notables - Rick DeMulling, Jamar Chaney
Pick 231 - Bruce Kozerski, Bengals, 1984
He made 138 starts, moving all along the offensive line.
Notables - Darryl Grant, Jerald Sowell, Hamza Abdullah
Pick 241 - Terry Allen, Vikings, 1990
Allen ran for 5,457 yards over his first five seasons with the Vikings and Redskins, scoring 21 touchdowns in 1996. Then he got older, as running backs annoyingly do, and that was mostly that.
Notables - Chad Eaton, Charles Jackson, Rob Meier, Ken Dorsey
Pick 242 - Brett Keisel, Steelers, 2002
He's that beard guy.
Notables - Malcolm Smith, Carlos Emmons
Hey I know that first guy!
So this would obviously be a pretty awesome draft. The Seahawks can't even keep this many players, so it's likely that they will trade into 2014 at least once and/or package picks in another deal. I think at best they're looking for one or two guys that compete for real playing time this year, a couple of guys on special teams and the like, and then the rest will do their best to fall on the practice squad. Though it is possible that the Seahawks have no players that contribute much this year.
If they find a few diamonds like above, they'll continue to prove that John Schneider's first few years weren't just a flash in the pan. But how could they be, now that we have all these extra tools!