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FR: May-June cuts

This post compares cuts NFL teams made during the month of May. For previous cuts, start at the April cuts post and work your way back.

10 – Raiders (cut QB JaMarcus Russell) – The Raiders finally admitted that Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, that he has become one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Russell has a big arm, and he went through a couple of offensive systems under Lane Kiffin and then Tom Cable. But Russell also showed an inadequate work ethic, and his noticeable belly became a tell about that. Russell’s failure became obvious last year, when journeyman Bruce Gradkowski took over the offense and got much better results. This offseason, the Raiders finally moved on from Russell, chalking up the $39 million they paid him as a sunk cost and trading for Jason Campbell as a replacement. Campbell, a QB who’s at least league average, if not a tick better, represents a huge upgrade over the underachieving and undermotivated Russell. Now Russell must show he wants to resurrect his career by getting in good shape and playing as a backup somewhere. But given Russell’s track record, a team would have to be completely desperate at quarterback to give him a shot, and aside from Buffalo, few teams are that needy. So Russell’s next shot won’t come easily.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – Patriots (cut CB Shawn Springs) – Springs was released after he reportedly failed a physical, although the Patriots indicated they may bring him back later in the offseason. Springs has been a good corner in the league for a lot of years, but his time as a starter is waning. He’s better as a No. 3 corner or even a veteran backup who gets a lot of time off during the regular season but who is available when it counts. Of course, all that assumes he can get healthy, which is no given for someone with 13 seasons of tread already on the tires.

6 – Seahawks (cut RB LenDale White, S Quinton Teal, QB Mike Teel, and WR Reggie Williams) – White had two good years out of four in Tennessee, but the Titans tired of his weight problems and attitude issues and dealt him to Seattle during the draft to move up a few spots in the fourth and sixth rounds. That light price in itself was a sign, but it appeared that White would be able to live up to his potential with his former college coach Pete Carroll. But when White was flagged for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, which will shelve him for the first four games of the season, the Seahawks decided White wasn’t worth the hassle and released him. White has talent, but if Carroll, under whom White thrived at USC, doesn’t see White as worth a roster spot, then it’s possible that no one else will either. White now faces a huge crossroads, and if he doesn’t dedicate himself to performing on the field, he could end up in the UFL instead of the NFL this fall. Teal came over to Seattle from Carolina earlier this offseason, but after Seattle re-signed Lawyer Milloy and drafted Earl Thomas, Teal become redundant there. Teel, a sixth-round pick last season, got caught up in the Seahawks’ regime change after Seattle brought in Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman to back up Matt Hasselbeck. Teel still may have some developmental potential, but the Patriots cut him after taking a quick look via waivers. Williams, a former first-round pick in Jacksonville, got a second chance in Seattle but wasn’t able to even make it last until training camp.

5 – Saints (cut DE Bobby McCray) – After adding Alex Brown this offseason, the Saints decided McCray was expendable in a move that saved the team over a million dollars. McCray had six sacks as he started eight games and played all 16 for the Saints in 2008 but slipped to just one start and 1.5 sacks in 16 games last year. At this point, he’s not going to provide a ton of pass rush, but he’d be a good minimum-salary gamble for a team looking for a third end who could start in a pinch.

4 – Dolphins (cut LB Reggie Torbor) – Torbor, a six-year vet, has never been a full-time starter in the NFL, and the Dolphins decided to move toward a younger (and cheaper) option at their backup inside ‘backer position. Torbor landed in Buffalo to help the Bills install their new 3-4 defense.

4 (con’t) – Chargers (cut DT Ian Scott and S Kevin Ellison) – Scott played as a backup defensive tackle for the Chargers last year, but he’s been passed on the depth chart and is just a replacement-level player. Ellison started nine games as a rookie for the Chargers last year, but he fell out of favor. Still, Ellison is young enough to be a prospect elsewhere, and that elsewhere is Seattle.

3 – Texans (cut RB Ryan Moats) – Moats had one monster game for the Texans last year, but fumble problems cut his playing time short, and with the addition of rookie Ben Tate and the emergence of Arian Foster, plus Steve Slaton in place, Moats faced a fight for a roster spot. Moats is good enough that the Vikings claimed him off waivers to take a look, but he’s not a starting-quality NFL back.

3 (con’t) – Cowboys (cut C Cory Procter) – Procter, who backed up for the Cowboys at guard and center, was released in what appeared to be a cost-cutting move. Instead of paying Procter more than a million bucks, the ‘Pokes can use a first- or second-year guy in a backup role at about a third of the cost. Despite that, though, Procter is good enough that the Dolphins are giving him a look.

2 – Buccaneers (cut LB Angelo Crowell) – Crowell was once a productive linebacker in Buffalo, but he missed the last two years with injury. At this point, it’s uncertain whether Crowell is anywhere close health-wise to a starting-caliber player.

2 (con’t) – Titans (cut WR Mark Jones) – Jones had a couple of good years as a return specialist, but injuries shelved him last season and continue to be a problem.

1 – Browns (cut PK Shaun Suisham) – Cleveland signed Suisham to put pressure on kicker Phil Dawson, who’s a free agent. But Suisham isn’t a long-term option, and Dawson has apparently called Cleveland’s bluff. The contract issue lingers, but Suisham won’t.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (cut QB Tom Brandstater and OT Maurice Williams) – Brandstater, who last year looked like a quarterback prospect, lost his roster spot after the Broncos added Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn in the offseason. He was claimed on waivers by the Colts and will get a shot to make the roster there. Williams, an offseason signee, wasn’t able to provide the OT depth Denver had hoped.

1 (con’t) – Chiefs (cut RB Kolby Smith and QB Matt Gutierrez) – Smith showed some flashes in Kansas City, but he fell behind Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones and became too expensive to be a third-stringer. He landed in Denver via waiver claim. Gutierrez knows the Patriot-ish system the Chiefs run but has never proved he’s better than a No. 3 quarterback.

1 (con’t) – Bengals (cut CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Ratliff has bounced around in recent years after starting his career with the Bengals, but he’s out of a job – likely because Adam Jones pac-manned up the last CB spot on the roster.

1 (con’t) – Redskins (cut TE Sean Ryan) – Ryan is a block-first tight end who has bounced around but who wasn’t going to pass Chris Cooley or Fred Davis.

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FR: April pre-draft signings

In this post, we’re comparing signings between the beginning of April and the NFL draft. For previous signings in free agency, go to the March signings post and work your way back. We’re using a comparison in which 10 marks the team with the most noteworthy moves and 1 indicates the team with barely noteworthy moves.

10 – Jets (added UFA OLB Jason Taylor) – Taylor is a specialty player at this point as a 3-4 outside pass rusher, but he had seven sacks in that role last year and should be able to shine in Rex Ryan’s attacking scheme. He got a two-year deal nominally worth $13 million, but in reality it’s a one-year deal worth up to $3.75 million with a bunch of funny money in the second year. Taylor will help the Jets continue to gear up for a major run at a championship this year. And his Dancing with the Stars-inspired acting career won’t suffer from a year in the Big Apple, either.

9 – none

8 – Saints (added DE Alex Brown and UFA DT Jimmy Wilkerson) – Brown was cut in Chicago after Julius Peppers landed there, and now he makes his way to New Orleans. There, he’ll take the spot of former first-round disappointment Charles Grant. Brown is a pretty good (but not great) defensive end who can rush the passer and stop the run, and he’s better than any other defensive end on the market in April – by a lot. For the Saints to get him was a coup that came at a reasonable two-year, $5.5 million price. That’s fair but not excessive starter money. Wilkerson got a one-year, $2 million deal even though he’s recovering from an ACL injury. If he gets healthy, he’ll be a fine second or third tackle who can help stabilize the interior of the Saints’ defense.

7 – Vikings (added CB Lito Sheppard) – Sheppard has bounced around the last couple of years, after being dissatisfied in Philly and falling out of favor with the Jets. But he’s still a pretty good player who will help a Vikings secondary that’s probably the weak link on an otherwise stacked team. Sheppard can’t play man-on-man coverage all day long, but he can be a dependable cog in a strong defense, and that’s exactly what the Vikings have. So getting Sheppard for $2 million over one year is a coup for the Vikes.

6 – Patriots (added WR Torry Holt, DT Damione Lewis and P David King) – Holt had an OK but not spectacular season in Jacksonville last year, and he’s definitely falling off from his Greatest Show on Turf days. Holt will get up to $1.7 million this year, which is a fair price for a veteran receiver, but you have to wonder if the Holt signing will repeat the failed Joey Galloway experiment of last year. Lewis had plenty of good moments as a rotation tackle for the Panthers, showing that he can get into the backfield on occasion. But the Panthers, in a youth movement, let Lewis walk. Now he goes to New England, where the Pats need a backup who can bring the pass-rush skills that Jarvis Green used to bring. Lewis is a decent bet to fill that role well, and that makes him worth a low-cost shot for the Pats. King is another of the Australian Rules Football players trying to make the move into the NFL punting fraternity.

5 – Giants (added S Deon Grant, kept UFA P Jeff Feagles) – Grant has started every game for the last nine seasons for Seattle, Jacksonville, and Carolina, and his presence at free safety will help protect the Giants against Kenny Phillips’ major 2009 injury. With Grant and Antrel Rolle, the Giants now have a solid safety duo in a spot that was troublesome last year. Feagles returns for a 23rd season, and he remains one of the best directional kickers in the league. Feagles isn’t the boomer he once was, but he gets the job done.

5 (con’t) – Bengals (kept UFA OG Bobbie Williams) – Williams was perhaps the best guard on the market, but the Bengals were able to get a deal to keep him around. He’s been a starter for the last three years, and his physical blocking is one of the reasons the Bengals have strengthened their run game the last two years.

4 – Redskins (added UFA RB Willie Parker, UFA DT Howard Green, WR Roydell Williams, and RB Ryan Torain) – Parker becomes the latest import into the Redskins’ aged backfield, as the Redskins are paying him up to $3.1 million on a one-year deal. This is an uncapped-year special by Washington, which is giving Parker a chance to vie for carries against fellow vets Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker doesn’t have the speed he did in his Fast Willie days, but he probably still has more pop than Portis or Johnson does at this point. Perhaps a five- to eight-carry role will allow Parker to showcase what speed he has left. But our suspicion is that the Redskins just wasted a couple million dollars on a bet that won’t come in. Green is a sturdy 3-4 nose tackle who should probably be a backup but who can fit the role as the Redskins move to that defensive system. Williams once was a prospect for the Titans, but he hasn’t played an NFL game since 2007. Torain was a Shanahan favorite two seasons ago in Denver before injuries shortened his rookie campaign. It’s hard to see him getting a shot behind Parker, Portis, and Johnson, but Torain probably landed with the coach most likely to give him a fair shot.

4 (con’t) – Rams (added LB Na’il Diggs) – Diggs, part of the Panthers’ purge of experienced players this year, lands in St. Louis, where his former LB coach Ken Flajole is the defensive coordinator. Diggs can take over the veteran role Will Witherspoon had in St. Louis before being traded last year. Diggs is consistent, but he doesn’t make many plays from the outside linebacker spot.

4 (con’t) – Seahawks (added OG Ben Hamilton and WRs Mike Williams and Reggie Williams) – The Seahawks’ receiving corps is pretty sorry, and so Pete Carroll is taking a shot on a couple of reclamation projects. Mike Williams, who played for Carroll at USC, hasn’t panned out anywhere as a top-10 draft pick. Reggie Williams showed some flashes of ability in Jacksonville, most recently in 2008, but he sat out last year after repeated legal problems. Reggie is more likely than Mike to make the 2010 roster, but both of these guys look like longshots at this point. Hamilton started eight games for the Broncos last year, but as a holdover from Alex Gibbs’ days as the line guru in Denver, he no longer fit the Broncos. But Gibbs is now in Seattle, and Hamilton’s knowledge of and fit in the system makes him a natural to replace the traded Rob Sims at left guard, at least in the short term.

3 – Lions (kept DE Jared DeVries) – DeVries, who Detroit had released in the offseason, returns to the only team he has played for on a one-year, $1.7 million deal. He’s probably better off as a backup at this point in his career, but DeVries is a veteran who can still be an asset.

3 (con’t) – Jaguars (kept UFA DE Reggie Hayward) – Hayward returns for his sixth season in Jacksonville after coming off an injury that limited him to a single game in ’09. He’s little more than a rotation pass-rusher at this point, but he could provide depth behind youngsters Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey and offseason acquisition Aaron Kampman.

2 – Cardinals (added UFA PK Jay Feely) – Feely, whom the Jets didn’t make a big push to retain, moves to Arizona, where he’ll replace Neil Rackers. Feely has been a reliable kicker in past years, and moving out of the Meadowlands into the Arizona dome at age 34 could help prolong his effectiveness.

2 (con’t) – Texans (added UFA Neil Rackers) – Rackers lost his gig to Feely in Arizona, and so he moves to Houston to compete with Kris Brown. Neither Rackers nor Brown was at his best last year, and the Texans’ prolific offense needs a consistent kicker to produce maximum points. If Rackers makes good and wins the job from Brown, he’ll earn $4.1 million over two years. But with only $350,000 guaranteed, Rackers will have to go out and take the job from Brown.

2 (con’t) – 49ers (added UFA OLB Travis LaBoy) – LaBoy missed the entire 2009 season with torn tendons in his foot, but before that injury he had 23.5 sacks in five years with the Cardinals and Titans. At age 28, he’s worth a one-year, $1.6 million risk to see if he can recapture his pass-rush skills.

2 (con’t) – Bears (kept UFA LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – The linebacker we affectionately call The Tower missed most of his first Chicago season with injury, but he knows Lovie Smith’s defense well from St. Louis days and can be an effective fill-in starter.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (kept UFA DE Nick Eason) – Eason started five games last year, but he’s best as a fourth defensive end who can hold up in the 3-4 defense. He’s also one of the all-time good guys and the subject of one of the most telling stories I picked up covering Clemson football back in 2001. Just for personal reasons, I’m glad to see Eason stay in the league as long as possible.

1 – Browns (added C Eric Ghiaciuc) – Ghiaciuc started at center for the Bengals for several years, but he bounced around last year. Now he lands in Cleveland as Alex Mack’s backup.

1 (con’t) – Titans (added QB Chris Simms) – The Titans brought back Simms, who spent last year with Denver, to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind Vince Young and Kerry Collins.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (added QB Kyle Boller) – Boller, who started a few games as the Rams’ backup last year, moves to Oakland to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski’s offseason pectoral muscle injury makes having Boller, a veteran who knows new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a nice insurance policy.

1 (con’t) – Panthers (added PK Todd Carter and S Aaron Francisco; claimed DB Brian Witherspoon on waivers) – Carter, a small-school kicker, comes in to serve as the kickoff guy in Carolina. The Panthers had Rhys Lloyd in that role last year, but finding a first-year player to fill that role saves them $800,000. And right now, every penny seems to count in Carolina. Francisco is a special-teams ace who has played on the last two Super Bowl losers. He won’t make much of a defensive impact, but he could help replace the departed Dante Wesley. Witherspoon brings some kick return skills.

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FR: 2009 Suspensions

As the season approaches, we thought it would be worth a look at the various suspensions players face to begin the 2009 system. So we’re using Football Relativity to compare the impact of these suspensions on their various teams. Note that this comparison doesn’t attempt to contrast the reasons behind suspensions; the only factor we’re considering in this comparison is how each player’s absence will affect his team or his own career. 10 is the most significant suspension; 1 is the least significant.

Note: The suspensions of Vikings DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, Saints DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith, and Lions DT Grady Jackson are still pending. This “StarCaps” case is going through the court system, and there’s enough delay that all parties involved will be eligible to play in Week One.

10 – WR Plaxico Burress (2 years for violating personal conduct policy) – Burress’ biggest problem is obviously the jail term he is serving for criminal possession of a weapon, but he is ineligible to play in the NFL until after he serves his two-year sentence. That will knock him out of the NFL for the ’09 and ’10 seasons, and it could mark the end of his career given his age and the layoff he’s facing.

9 – Browns WR Donte Stallworth (1 year for violating personal conduct policy) – Stallworth was sentenced to less than a month in jail, but commissioner Goodell ruled that he would have to sit out the entire 2009 season. He is still under contract with the Browns, at least for now, which makes a move to the UFL for the season impossible. So Stallworth will have to sit. He’s still an NFL-caliber receiver, and even a starting-caliber guy, so his return in 2010 will bring some fanfare. But for now, Stallworth continues to pay for his huge mistake.

8 – Jets LB Calvin Pace (4 games for use of banned substance) – Pace, one of the Jets’ high-dollar acquisitions in 2008, said he accidentally took a tainted supplement that caused him to test positive for a performance-enhancer. Regardless of the unoriginality (or truthfulness) of his alibi, Pace’s absence will hurt the Jets. Pace has 13.5 sacks over the past two years in Arizona and New York, and he was a good fit as a pass-rushing OLB in the Jets’ 3-4 last year. As the Jets move to Rex Ryan’s system this year, the aggressiveness of the defense will be dialed up, which will play to Pace’s strengths once he hits the field. In his absence, the Jets are going to need pass rush to come from somewhere. Former first-round pick Vernon Gholston is the most likely candidate, but he just didn’t get it as a rookie. It’ll be interesting to see if the Jets’ D can thrive without Pace, because this looks like a pretty significant loss.

7 – Buccaneers S Tanard Jackson (4 games for violating substance abuse policy) – Jackson isn’t a household name, but he has started every game in both of his first two seasons in Tampa, and he’s becoming the type of playmaking safety that teams covet. So losing Jackson – especially on a defense that has already lost so many veterans – will make the Bucs’ defensive transition even more difficult. This is a huge blow to the Bucs’ hopes of getting off to a good start.

7 (con’t) – Bills RB Marshawn Lynch (3 games for violating personal conduct policy) – Lynch’s litany of off-field issues got him noticed by Roger Goodell, and he’s now serving a three-game suspension for that collection of misdeeds and mistakes. Lynch is a solid if unspectacular back who has more than 1,000 rushing yards in both of his first two seasons. But the Bills have Fred Jackson, another good back, in reserve, and Jackson’s good enough to carry most of the load through September. The real question for Buffalo is whether import Dominic Rhodes can be the kind of backup to Jackson that Jackson normally is to Lynch. I doubt that will happen, but the net effect won’t cost the Bills all that much because of Jackson’s ability.

6 – QB Michael Vick, Eagles (2 games for violating personal conduct policy) – We now know that Vick will be able to return to the NFL field after two games in 2009. The question is whether this penalty is enough to make sure that Vick is no more than a specialty player in the NFL in 2009. The Eagles have ideas on how to use him, but they don’t want to build their offense around a player who has missed two years before missing two games more in ’09. It’ll be interesting to see how Vick adjusts once he returns to the field.

5 – DE Shaun Ellis, Jets (1 game for violating substances and abuse policy) – Ellis, who was benched by the league and fined $100,000 as a result of a 2008 arrest for marijuana possession, will only miss one game, but it’s a significant one for the Jets. That’s because Pace, another member of the Jets’ front seven, is also sidelined for the game. That makes two big chunks out of the Jets’ defense, which will make beating the offensively prolific Texans on the road an even taller task.

4 — PK Garrett Hartley, Saints (4 games for use of banned substance) – Hartley admitted taking Adderall to try to stay awake, saying he wasn’t aware it was forbidden by the NFL. The Saints signed John Carney to fill in for Hartley, and that could be trouble for him, because Carney filled in for Lawrence Tynes with the Giants to begin last year, never gave up the job, and ended up making the Pro Bowl. So Hartley’s job is now in jeopardy because of this suspension.

4 (con’t) – DT Shaun Smith (4 games for use of banned substance) – Smith says he used a water pill, which is banned under the league’s anabolic steroids policy because it can be used as a masking agent. He was with Cleveland last year and with Detroit in training camp, but the Lions cut him just before the season. Smith will hook on elsewhere, because he can be a quality backup defensive tackle or even an average starter, but this suspension will seriously inhibit his market value and keep him from finding a new home quickly.

3 – LB Michael Boley, Giants (1 game for violating personal conduct policy) – Boley, whom the Giants signed from the Falcons in the offseason, will miss a single game. The Giants (and every other team) knew that a suspension was in the offing for Boley when he hit the free agent market, so the fact that this isn’t a surprise should limit its impact. Boley will be a starter, but he’s not so dominant that his absence will upset the Giants’ plans in the opener against the Redskins.

3 (con’t) – Colts DT Ed Johnson (1 game for violating substance-abuse policy) – The Colts cut Johnson last year after he was arrested for drug possession. They re-signed him this offseason because of their glaring need for massive defensive tackles, but Johnson still must sit out for one game with a league suspension. Johnson didn’t play at all in ’08, but he started every game for the Colts in ’07 and should be a contributor to the team’s DT rotation this year. Missing him in the opener against the Jaguars will hurt.

2 – Cardinals TE Ben Patrick (4 games for use of banned substance) – Patrick said he took Adderall to stay awake on a long drive. He wasn’t slated to start in Arizona, but with Steven Spach likely out part of the year after a postseason knee injury, Patrick still had a chance to establish a role as the Cardinals’ primary blocking tight end.

1 – WR Reggie Williams (2 games for violating substances and abuse policy) – Williams, a former first-round pick by the Jaguars who was the team’s best receiver in ’07 and was a contributor in ’08, was arrested earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance. That has severely limited his free-agent value, which wasn’t strong to begin with. While unsigned, he’ll be serving a two-game suspension, and he’ll have to be reinstated by the commissioner before he can return to the field.

1 (con’t) – DE Erasmus James (1 year for violation of substance-abuse policy) – James, a former Vikings’ first-round pick, has been out of the league since playing for the Redskins in 2007. His career was near its end anyway, and this suspension completely closes the door.

1 (con’t) – S Jimmy Williams (1 year for repeat violation of substance-abuse policy) – Williams, who was once a second-round pick in Atlanta, busted out there and then was cut by the 49ers after the 2008 season. This suspension could be the final nail in the coffin for his career, despite the potential he once showed.

1 (con’t) – LB Vince Redd, 4 games – Redd, who played for New England last year, was cut just before reports of his four-game suspension began to emerge. The Chiefs decided that such a bubble player wasn’t worth the wait and cut him.

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RP: Draft boom and bust by position – Offense

As we approach the NFL draft and listen to coverage, I’ve heard constantly that drafting a quarterback at the top of the draft was a 50-50 proposition. But is that really true? And what about other positions — what are the chances of picking a lemon at those spots? As I wondered what positions have been the safest in the draft recently and what positions have been the riskiest, I decided to undertake  a research project to see exactly that.

Here’s the methodology: We looked at the top 16 picks of every draft this decade. We categorized each player as a positive, a negative, or a neutral. We only allowed neutrals for the past three drafts so that we didn’t straddle the fence over and over. We ranked offensive linemen as a group because at this level in the draft, it’s mostly offensive tackles anyway.

We then counted the positives as completions and negatives as incompletions to create a percentage of sorts. Neutrals did not count as attempts so that they don’t skew the rankings.

So here are the results. Feel free to quibble with the positive/negative/neutral ratings, because that would obviously change percentages. I’ve tried to be fair, and if there is a debate, I leaned toward the positive. (That’s the kind of guy I am.) Even with that, there are some pretty clear distinctions by position. Hopefully you’ll find the results are pretty insightful.

And if you want to check out the defensive results, check out this post (online Friday).

Quarterbacks: 8 of 11 positives (73 percent)
Positives: Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Michael Vick
Negatives: Alex Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington
Neutrals: JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart
Thoughts: This percentage was higher than I expected, but that’s because I held the jury out on Young and Leinart. Were I forced to assign a mark, both would be misses. Russell likewise needs to have a good year to move up. Smith could still turn his rating around, but because I forced a mark on him, it has to be a minus because he compiled only one quality season. Leftwich had four pretty good years in Jacksonville, and could still start in the league, so he’s a positive. Vick had six mostly good years in Atlanta, so his on-field performance was a plus too. It’s remarkable to see Ryan in the plus category so soon, because most QBs take 2-3 years to really start to shine. The strong QB class of ’04 (Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger) pushes this completion percentage up, but the class of ’05 (Young and Leinart along with Cutler) could yank the percentage right back down.
This year’s candidates: Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez

Running backs: 9 of 12 positives (75 percent)
Positives: Jonathan Stewart, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, LaDanian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones
Neutrals: Darren McFadden
Negatives: Cedric Benson, William Green, Ron Dayne
Thoughts: This is a pretty safe position at the top of the draft. If a running back fits into the top 16, he’ll most likely have some good years as a pro. And most of the time, backs can make an instant impact, which is another plus. We saw that with Stewart this year and Peterson and Lynch the year before. Williams has been hurt a lot, but when he’s played he’s been really good. McFadden is a neutral because he was so banged up as a rookie, but he still averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Dayne had some decent years, but he never notched 800 yards in a season, and so he has to receive a minus. Benson’s in the same boat, but he has a chance (like Thomas Jones) to reinvigorate his career in his second stop this year as a Bengal.
This year’s candidates: Knoshown Moreno, Beanie Wells

Wide receivers: 12 of 20 positives (60 percent)
Positives: Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr., Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Andre Johnson, Donte Stallworth, Santana Moss, Plaxico Burress
Negatives: Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Peter Warrick, Travis Taylor
Thoughts: There are some legitimate superstars (Calvin and Andre Johnson, Fitzgerald) in this category, but the overall batting average isn’t wonderful. Some of the busts – Williamson, Mike Williams, Rogers, Terrell – have been completely useless as pros. (They almost make me want to have a double-negative category.) Ginn has shown enough potential to be a positive, and while Clayton has only had one dynamic season, the fact that Tampa re-signed him moved him onto the plus side as well. Reggie Williams is another marginal plus. Roy Williams hasn’t lived up to his hype, but he had good years in Detroit. I remember covering Gardner’s Pro Day; he tore it up, especially on his vertical jump, and thus moved from a late first-round pick up to No. 15 overall. A similar workout-phenom jump happened to Williamson. Such overdrafting mistakes based on workouts can kill a team. All in all, this is a position that plays out as more of a risk than others.
This year’s candidates: Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Derrius Heyward-Bey

Tight ends: 3 of 3 positives (100 percent)
Positives: Kellen Winslow II, Jeremy Shockey, Bubba Franks
Neutrals: Vernon Davis
Negatives: None
Thoughts: It’s a little weird to look at this list, because none of the guys on the list has been lights-out dominant. But Winslow, Shockey, and Franks have all been productive (if a little tempermental, in the cases of Winslow and Shockey). Still, in our simple plus/minus grading, each of the three gets a plus. Davis would get a minus, but there’s still hope, and he actually started to come around at the end of the season after Mike Singletary went beyond benching and banished him off the sideline in a midseason game. Because there’s still hope for Davis, we’ll leave him neutral for now.
This year’s candidates: Brandon Pettigrew

Offensive line: 14 of 16 positives (88 percent)
Positives: Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Branden Albert, Joe Thomas, Levi Brown, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jamaal Brown, Shawn Andrews, Jordan Gross, Bryant McKinnie, Levi Jones, Leonard Davis, Kenyatta Walker, Chris Samuels
Neutrals: Chris Williams
Negatives: Robert Gallery, Mike Williams
Thoughts: This position was one where the history is striking. If you want a safe pick at the top of the draft, take the offensive tackle. While there are a couple of notable busts, most of the time you get good value out of it. Some of these tackles are superstars, including recent top picks Long, Clady, and Thomas. But even the tackles who haven’t been started for a while, either at tackle or inside at guard. For example, Leonard Davis was not a great tackle, but he’s become a roadgrader at guard. Gallery moved to guard from tackle as well, but he’s a starter who hasn’t proven to be dominant. The numbers here surprised me in this research project, and they make me lean even more to this year’s crop of quality offensive tackles.
This year’s candidates: Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, Michael Oher, Eben Britton

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Filed under NFL draft, research project

Draft OP: The Michael Crabtree conundrum

To me, the most interesting player at the top of the first round this year is Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree. He’s a physical freak who had ridiculous numbers in the two collegiate seasons he played. (231 catches, 3,127 yards, 41 TDs)

But Crabtree’s draft stock has slipped a bit since the season ended because he needs foot surgery that will knock him out of some offseason workouts both before the draft and after he is selected. That has caused his stock to fall out of the top three or four into the back half of the top 10. (This mock draft from PFW this week slotted Crabtree 10th.)

But should that happen? Will the team in the top 10 that takes Crabtree rue Draft Day ’09 because he doesn’t pan out? Or will the teams who pass on Crabtree live to regret it? An outlandish prediction is coming, but first some history…

This decade, there have been six receivers taken in the top 5. Four have lived up to the hype and become true No. 1 receivers who are in the league’s top echelon– Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards (see 2007 if you don’t believe me), Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson. Two busted out — Peter Warrick and Charles Rogers.

Nine more receivers were drafted between six and 10. Only one is an unqualified success — Plaxico Burress, who, despite his 2008 problems, has been very good for a long time now. Roy Williams had some success, and Ted Ginn Jr. showed some promise last year. Reggie Williams, Travis Taylor, and Koren Robinson each had at least a moment or two, while Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, and David Terrell just didn’t have any moments.

So history says that top five receivers are a good bet, but that often receivers who go between 6 and 10 were reaches who weren’t worth it. I beileve that Crabtree belongs in the former group, not the latter. He’s a top five talent, but his lingering postseason injury might knock him below the fifth pick. If that happens, he will be a steal.

The fact is that to get a truly elite receiver, you have to invest a top-5 pick. (Look at this relativity comparison; 3 of the top 4 receivers were top-5 picks, while the other – Steve Smith – was a third-round pick because of his diminutive size.) Crabtree can reach close to that level, and there is no one else in this draft – not speedsters like Percy Harvin or Jeremy Maclin or big guns Darrius Heyward-Bey or Hakeem Nicks – who come close in comparison.

Crabtree is the prize. He’s going to be an elite receiver a la Calvin or Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. He’s a true No. 1 receiver. And recent history says that if you want a guy like that, you probably have to invest a top-five pick.

 So any team starting with the Rams at No. 2 should consider him strongly. The Rams can take an offensive tackle because there’s value and need there, and the Chiefs (Dwayne Bowe) and Lions (Calvin Johnson) have No. 1s. But if Seattle thinks adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh (turning 32 in September) means they don’t need Crabtree, they’re wrong. Crabtree would be great there. If the Browns at 5 trade Edwards (and that’s the chatter), Crabtree would be an ideal replacement. And I don’t believe the Bengals at 6 can afford to let Crabtree by, especially considering the limited career span Chad Ocho Cinco has left in Cincy.

The bottom line is that whichever team drafts Crabtree – even if he goes as high as 2nd overall – will get its money worth. Were I drafting, he would be the No. 1 player on my board. The injury conundrum may be confusing, but the conclusion should be this: Take Crabtree and reap the rewards.

Top 10 drafted receivers this decade:
2008 – none
2007 – Calvin Johnson (2nd to Detroit), Ted Ginn Jr. (9th to Miami)
2006 – none
2005 – Braylon Edwards (3rd to Cleveland), Troy Williamson (7th to Minnesota), Mike Williams (10th to Detroit)
2004 – Larry Fitzgerald (3rd to Arizona), Roy Williams (7th to Detroit), Reggie Williams (9th to Jacksonville)
2003 – Charles Rogers (2nd to Detroit), Andre Johnson (3rd to Houston)2002 – none
2001 – David Terrell (8th to Chicago), Koren Robinson (9th to Seattle)
2000 – Peter Warrick (4th to Cincinnati), Plaxico Burress (8th to Pittsburgh), Travis Taylor (10th to Baltimore)

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Filed under NFL draft, outlandish prediction