Before the 2008 NFL draft, USA Today, also known as "The Hotel Times" if you've ever stayed in a hotel one time in your life, ran a preview of the incoming wide receiver class. Writer Frank Cooney notes that NFLDraftScout.com has as many as six receivers projected to go as high as the first round. Though writers, analysts, and experts are usually wrong about draft predictions, this one fell especially short. They were so 2000-and-late.
Not a single receiver was taken in the first round of the draft that year. It turned out to be considered a rather weak class, full of players that were flawed as prospects and could be good "if only."
The top ranked player was Michigan State's Devin Thomas. His college coach Mark Dantonio urged Thomas to return to school because he would "leave a lot of money on the table' if he didn't go in the first round. Thomas was selected with the second pick of the second round by the Redskins, and his career suggests that Dantonio was right.
But Thomas just barely missed being the top receiver taken in 2008, with the Rams selecting Donnie Avery with the first pick of the second round. USA Today only lists Avery 10th in the receiver class, but that he will contribute on kick and punt returns right away. In actuality, Avery had a promising start to his career (100 catches, 1,263 yards in his first two years) but has only returned two kicks and zero punts in the NFL. He missed all of 2010 with injury, but had 781 yards with the Colts last year. A high number of drops though is why Indianapolis didn't bring him back.
The 13 receivers that USA Today wrote about that year were, in order:
1. Devin Thomas, Michigan State
2. DeSean Jackson, California
3. Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma
4. Limas Sweed, Texas
5. James Hardy, Indiana
6. Early Doucet, LSU
7. Andre Caldwell, Florida
8. Mario Manningham, Michigan
9. Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt
10. Donnie Avery, Houston
11. Eddie Royal, Virginia Tech
12. Jordy Nelson, Kansas State
13. Will Franklin, Missouri
But the draft didn't quite fall like that. After Avery and Thomas, the Packers outsmarted everyone again by selecting Nelson 36th overall.
Next was Hardy to the Bills. Every time you see a receiver that has all the size and speed you could ask for in a player and think "Oh, Stephen Williams is going to be a beast!" remember that James Hardy was 6'6, 215, and ran the 40 in under 4.50 seconds. He was considered to be raw and a "project" and after 10 career NFL catches, Hardy is now trying to break into Hollywood as an actor and model, where he is considered to be raw and a "project."
The Broncos then selected Royal, the breakout rookie of the draft class that had 91 catches for 980 yards and some memorable highlights in 2008, but Royal has had just 1,361 yards in his career since then.
The Bengals then took Jerome Simpson, the first receiver taken that wasn't mentioned by USA Today, possibly because he went to Coastal Carolina. Simpson had some good games during his fourth year in the NFL, but has otherwise fallen way short of expectations.
Next, the Eagles got a pretty good deal when they picked DeSean Jackson. If he had been in the draft a year earlier, perhaps Jackson would have been a top 15 pick; He was getting talk of being a Heisman candidate at Cal, but the team as a whole disappointed in 2007 and his stock dropped. But even though he is kind of a "bonehead," he's still one of the most exciting receivers in the NFL and the Eagles got him with the 49th overall pick.
Next was Kelly to the Redskins, the team that double-dipped at receiver in the second round that year with Thomas and Kelly. Turned out to be kind of a shitty double dip, since Kelly had 365 career yards in two seasons, ending with a knee injury and a settlement.
Thomas had 7 catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a December, 2009 game against the Saints, and just 75 yards in his career after that.
The Steelers then took Sweed out of Texas, a player who had fallen because of a wrist injury at the end of his senior season. That injury must have lingered quite a bit then, since he had only seven career catches. He was last seen being suspended by the CFL for walking out on training camp.
Next, the Bucs took Dexter Jackson, who would go on to be the Super Bowl MVP for them in 2003. No wait, maybe they got confused because that Dexter Jackson is old and a safety. Actually they took a different Dexter Jackson, this one being a receiver for Appalachian State that ran the fastest 40 (4.27) at the combine. Those kind of times are what make NFL GMs drool, but also look like (sick burn coming up in 3, 2, 1) fools. Jackson has zero career catches.
The first receiver taken in the third round was Bennett, reunited with Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears. Bennett had 717 yards in his second season, but has fallen down the depth chart to just being the type of Ben Obomanu receiver that might stick for awhile because he seems like a nice guy and a cool dude.
So the top remaining players on the USA Today board now are:
Finally, the Cardinals end the long national nightmare and select Doucet 81st overall, though I bet he wished was taken a little... Earlier. What USA Today had to say about him before the draft:
6. Early Doucet, LSU, 6-0, 209, 1st-2nd: Doucet finally worked out for scouts at LSU's pro day March 26 after pulling a quadriceps at the Senior Bowl, where he looked like one of the best receivers on the field before the injury.
He is smooth, shows extraordinary lateral agility and plucks the ball out of the air cleanly. But in terms of sheer speed, he is not really explosive — he turned in 40 times of 4.59-4.69 at his pro day. Most NFL teams think he would be a nightmare for defenses as a flanker or slot receiver.
Although Doucet has short arms and smallish hands, his career stats include 160 catches for 1,943 yards. His 20 touchdown grabs are topped only by Dwayne Bowe (26) and Michael Clayton (21) in school history.
Whereas a player like Hardy or Jackson represent physical traits and talent that can't be taught, Doucet's measurables and 40-time aren't very exciting. He's not tall, he's not fast, and hell even his stats aren't that extraordinary, but as a slot receiver he's just right. There weren't many scenarios in which Doucet goes out and becomes a 1,200-yard receiver and that's why a team with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin would select a receiver in the third round.
He's only "supposed to" go out there and help move the chains and maybe in a good year, like 2011, he has 54 catches for 689 yards. That's about the most you should expect from Doucet, and it's plenty valuable if you can get it.
The problem with Doucet is that you don't get it very often.
In 2010, Doucet had 26 catches for 291 yards, but even more importantly he finished third-to-last in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) for receivers with at least 50 targets. Only Steve Smith (of the Panthers) and Laurent Robinson had fewer, and Smith was dealing with Jimmy Clausen that year. Of course, that only emphasizes the fact that having a terrible quarterback doesn't help the matter.
The Cardinals starting quarterbacks in 2010 were Derek Anderson, Max Hall, and John Skelton. Doucet caught only 44% of his 59 targets, finishing with -124 DYAR and a WR-worst -40.5% DVOA.
In 2011, with Skelton playing better and Kevin Kolb coming in, Doucet caught 56% of 97 targets for 12 DYAR (67th) and -11.1% DVOA. Perhaps with Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts, the Cardinals could build up a very nice wide receiver trio and maybe their 6-2 finish over the second half of 2011 wasn't just a mirage.
Last year, Doucet finished with -96 DYAR, third-worst among those with 50 targets, ahead of only Louis Murphy (again of the Panthers) and teammate Fitzgerald. The Cards QB situation was terrible again but this is still a player that has finished among the worst in the NFL in two of the last three years. One of his closest statistical comparisons is former Seahawks receiver Derrick Mayes, a player that had 829 yards for Seattle in 1999, but was out of the league by 2001. That could mean that Doucet has a better chance at starting his own agency after training camp this season than making the team.
At this point, there is very little evidence that Doucet is going to have much of an NFL career. If I gave it my patented silver lining spray at this point, it's this:
Weeks before the 2008 NFL draft, USA Today and NFLDraftScout were terribly wrong about where the NFL had been ranking the wide receiver prospects. They figured as many as six receivers could go in the first, rather than the more-accurate guess of zero.
Or that Avery would end up being the first taken. Or that Nelson and Jackson would end up being the best of the group. Or that based on the performances of Thomas, Hardy, Simpson, Kelly, Jackson, Sweed, and Doucet, that being the best of this group isn't saying much.
Manningham ended up going 95th, Caldwell 97th, and Franklin 105th. They couldn't accurately predict where those players would be drafted, nor could the NFL accurately predict that two of the five best receivers in the 2008 class were Pierre Garcon (6th round) and Steve Johnson (7th round.)
So maybe the five years of professional evidence and previous few years of experience at LSU and his smaller stature and lack of speed isn't enough to prove that Doucet is nothing more than camp filler that was once a very promising third round draft pick. Maybe the best is yet to come, and playing under Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell, and Russell Wilson will help revitalize him to become the slot receiver he was meant to be.
Maybe for Early, true success will only come... *sunglasses* Late.
(Yes, nailed it.)