By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts designated driver
NFL draft weekend is a dizzying time of year. Most fans are drunk on their team's draft-day Kool-Aid spiked with plenty of bourbon and hyperbole.
It's easy to catch a buzz. Every high-round draft pick right now is an impact player. Every high-round draft pick is a difference maker. Every high-round draft pick will get your team one step closer to the Super Bowl. Your buzz is fed by the constant hype from the Usual Suspects in the Media.
Did you hear a single bad word from any of the “experts” about any of the players taken in the first three rounds? Of course not.
The reality is quite a bit different. The reality is that most of these guys are simply going to fail to live up to the hype. Sorry, folks. Hate to kill the buzz. But it’s no less true. There's a very good chance your team's top draft picks are going to wake up hungover in the gutter of gridiron history.
There are two issues here.
One, there’s a good chance that your team just blundered its top picks by ignoring its statistical weak links. Your team may suffer all the same problems next season that it suffered last season. Two, and more importantly, there is a deadly amount of attrition between the idyllic days of the draft and the actual on-field performance of an NFL career.
There’s a very high chance that your team’s biggest picks are simply not going to work out. Go see for yourself. Take a look at the first round – or any round – of any draft in NFL history. The impact players are ultimately few and far between.
For example, we just randomly opened to the first round of the 1998 draft to take look. Ten of those 30 picks ultimately proved to be Pro Bowl performers at least once. And there were a couple Hall of Famers in the mix, too: Peyton Manning, Alan Faneca are definites, and Charles Woodson will get a good long and deserved shot at Canton, too.
But every other team thought they landed a stud, too. Most landed only scuds. Take a look at the San Diego Chargers (QB Ryan Leaf), Arizona Cardinals (DE Andre Wadsworth), Chicago Bears (RB Curtis Enis), Carolina Panthers (DT Jason Peter), Oakland Raiders (OT Mo Collins) and Denver Broncos (WR Marcus Nash). Fans of those teams were all drunk on hype about this time in 1998, too.
And those are just some of the notable first-round picks in a single season chosen at random that failed to live up to the hype.
The reality is that nobody knows who’s going to fail and who’s going to succeed. ESPN, NFL Network, all the draft "experts" and NFL teams themselves. For all the time, energy and resources they devote to analyzing players and the draft, the reality is that they're going to blow the pick and probably blow a 0.34 on the Breathalyzer of post-draft drunkenness.
We don’t know who's going to work out, either. And we don’t pretend to know. But here’s what we CAN control. We can tell you which teams made smart picks based upon their statistical needs.
Teams that address their statistical weak links in the draft and free agency tend to improve the following season. Teams that fail to address those statistical weak links are doomed to suffer the same fate over and again. We often call this our “Fillability Index” – how successful teams are at filling their statistical weak links.
So here are our first-round grades based not on the likelihood that a particular player will succeed or fail – nobody knows, not even those who pretend to know. Instead, these grades are based on show smartly each pick addresses those pesky statistical weak links.
Each first-round pick is graded here. We’ll add grades for the second-round picks, too, and then finally grade each team’s entire draft after all is said and done.
Pick 1 – Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
The most pressure any draft pick has faced in a long time. He replaces a legend. The Colts are terrible on both sides of the ball (28 in both scoring O and scoring D). And six of Indy’s 16 games in 2012 are against teams that finished in the top nine in Defensive Passer Rating last year. But lifting a team out of the gutter begins at QB. And the people who say these things say Luck is the Next Big Thing. Of course, the Colts once thought George Shaw was the next big thing, too.
Pick 2 – Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Standards are not quite as high in Washington. The Redskins have finshed in the top 12 in scoring offense just twice in 20 years, the last time way back in 1999. RGIII could have a Cam Newton-like shock effect on Washington’s offense. Newton completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,854 yards, 30 TD and 7 INT in his 2010 Heisman season at Auburn. Griffin completed 72.4 percent for 4,293 yards, 37 TD and 6 INT in his 2011 Heisman season at Baylor.
Pick 3 – Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Richardson could be the second coming of Jim Brown. He’ll still prove a wildly overvalued pick. The Browns gave Minnesota four picks to move up one spot and grab a player who still would have been sitting there at No. 4 overall. Brown, by the way, is probably the greatest football player of all time and the most dominant ball carrier in history. He still won only one championship in nine years in a league in which QBs, not RBs, are the difference makers. Brown doesn’t believe in Richardson, either. “I think he’s ordinary,” the Hall of Famer now famously said Friday.
Pick 4 – Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, US
The Vikings surrendered a Negative Pass Play on 11.8 percent of dropbacks last year (28th) and then suffered attrition on the OL in the off-season. They picked up a classic potential blind-side left tackle in Kalil – along with more than half a draft from Cleveland. It puts the Vikings on the precipice of a monster draft.
Pick 5 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Jaguars did their best to drag pro football back to the Stone Age in 2011. They ranked dead last in passing yards (2,510), Offensive Passer Rating (62.2), Real Quarterback Rating (53.9) and Real Passing YPA (4.25). For a little perspective, 14 teams posted a higher average running
the ball than Jacksonville did passing. With that said, we all know QBs make WRs; WRs do not make QBs. So Blackmon will do little to change Jacksonville’s offensive fortunes if Blaine Gabbert doesn’t snow dramatic improvement from his rookie season.
Pick 6 – Dallas Cowboys – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Dallas ranked 25th last year in Defensive Passer Rating, surrendering over 4,000 yards through the air and 7.6 yards per attempt. So Claiborne is a perfect needs-pick. But we have plenty of reason to doubt Dallas’s ability to harvest and then teach secondary talent. Claiborne is the 16th cornerback the Cowboys have drafted since 2002 – no team has devoted more picks to any single position over that period.
Likelihood he’ll have an impact given Dallas’s track record: D-
Pick 7 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Bucs surrendered 349 points over their last 10 games of 2011; Barron was the best defender on a Crimson Tide defense that surrendered 106 points in 13 games last year. Tampa is obviously desperate for that kind of impact player.
Pick 8 – Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Dolphins, the team that hasn’t taken a QB No. 1 since Dan Marino in 1983, may have picked the wrong year to get desperate for a quarterback. It’s generally seen as a weak QB class and Tannehill was still playing wide receiver halfway through the 2010 season at Texas A&M and has started just 20 games. Reigning starter And as our Naughty Nurse noted, reigning starter Matt Moore went 6-3 over the final nine games of 2011 with 15 TD, 5 INT and an impressive 97.8 passer rating.
No. 9 – Carolina Panthers – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Kuechly’s 16 tackles per game last year for Boston College were an unofficial NCAA FBS record. Perfect needs-based pick. Carolina’s defense had more holes in it last year than the Albert Hall. They allowed 4.6 YPA on the ground and ranked No. 30 in Defensive Passer Rating (98.3).
No. 10 – Buffalo Bills – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
As we noted on SI.com
, the Bills last year were consistently awful in pass defense: No. 26 in Defensive Passing Yards Per Attempt, No. 26 in Defensive Quarterback Rating and No. 26. in Defensive Passer Rating (90.4). They need a game-cahnger.
No. 11 – Kansas City Chiefs – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The draft is all about, or should be all about, filling your statistical weak links. The Chiefs failed in that effort. Their problems last year were on offense (31st in scoring), not on defense (12th in scoring). Poe is a small-school guy whose stock rose off the field during workouts, not on the field against actual opponents.
No. 12 – Philadelphia Eagles – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Eagles did one thing very well last year. They were No. 8 on the Cold, Hard Football Facts Defensive Hog Index and best in the NFL at pressuring the passer: No. 1 in both sacks (50) and at forcing Negative Pass Play (11.4 percent of opponent dropbacks ended in sack or INT). Philly chose to accentuate a strength rather than fill a statistical weakness. He is stud talent, though: a big man with explosive speed.
No. 13 – Arizona Cardinals – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Another team blinded by a Shiny Hood Ornament
that it failed to see its true problem: a front unit that ranked No. 31 on our Offensive Hog Index and No. 31 at protecting the passer, allowing a Negative Pass Play on 12.75 percent of dropbacks. Floyd owns almost every Notre Dame receiving mark. But who cares? Kevin Kolb is not a legit No. 1 QB and even if he was, you can’t get the ball to your big-name receivers with DEs spitting in your grill all day. Classic wasted pick.
No. 14 – St. Louis Rams – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Rams enjoyed an enviable draft position: they’re so bad everywhere that any pick is sure to help. St. Louis was gashed for 4.8 yards per rush attempt last year (28th), but at No. 20 on our Defensive Hog Index, the D-line was actually this horrific team’s greatest strength. But St. Louis’s draft-day trade with Dallas, after the trade earlier this spring to give Washington the Rams’ No. 2 pick, left the team with plenty of room to maneuver in the second round.
No. 15 – Seattle Seahawks – Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia
Seattle makes it four of the last five teams who boasted their greatest strength on the D line last year and yet was compelled to draft another defensive lineman. The Seahawks were No. 4 last year on our Defensive Hog Index and No. 4 stopping the run (3.81). Irvin should give them some help rushing the passer. The Seahawks were a mere No. 13 at pressuring the passer, according to the DHI.
No. 16 – N.Y. Jets – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Rex Ryan’s defense took a colossal step backwards in 2011. They forced just 35 sacks last year and were in the bottom half of the league in scoring D (20th, surrendering 22.7 PPG). Coples, as we noted on SI.com
, has the tall, rangy appearance of another stand out North Carolina defensive end: Julius Peppers. There’s no truth to the rumor that Rex Ryan guaranteed a Super Bowl victory after drafting Coples.
No.17 – Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The top few rounds of the 2012 draft were littered with players from Alabama’s amazing defense and Cincy certainly needed help in the secondary. They were torched by good quarterbacks, went 0-8 vs. playoff teams and, overall, were just No. 17 in Defensive Passer Rating (85.0), despite great talent up front. Potential home run pick.
No. 18 – San Diego Chargers – Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Chargers have been desperate for playmakers on defense and Ingram could be one of them. He chalked up 10 sacks last year and scored three touchdowns for one of the nation’s toughest defenses. The Chargers need that kind of impact on D. Opponents last year converted 49.2 percent of third-down attempts (last in the NFL).
No. 19 – Chicago Bears – Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
The Monsters of the Midway were not very scary last year. The Bears forced just 33 sacks last year and were 28th in the NFL at creating Negative Pass Plays. McClellin racked up 26 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in his last two seasons for the Broncos.
No. 20 – Tennessee, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The worst decision of Round 1, as we noted in the immediate aftermath of the pick
. The Titans had one of the worst defensive fronts in football last year: No. 30 on the Defensive Hog Index and dead last at forcing Negative Pass Plays. Just 6.3 percent of opponent dropbacks ended in a sack or INT. So what do the Titans do? Draft a wide receiver for the 16th time in the last 11 drafts – they’ve devoted more Value Points to WRs than any team has to any position, and the results have been disastrous
. Tennessee's last 15 wide receivers have totaled in their entire collective careers 512 catches, 6,855 yards and 41 TDs.
Grade: F double-minus
No. 21 – New England Patriots – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
The Patriots left three Super Bowl titles sitting on the table thanks to defenses in 2006, 2007 and 2011 that couldn’t make stops late in big games. They finally did what the Cold, Hard Football Facts have demanded them to do for years: chase a pass rusher. But is Jones a game breaker? He rang up just 10 sacks in his college career and missed five games last year with a knee injury.
No. 22 – Cleveland Browns – Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
Yes, he’s old. Weeden will turn 29 during the 2012 season. But he was also extraordinarily productive with 9,004 passing yards , 8.4 YPA and 71 TD passes in his two years as the starter in Stillwater. Oh, he also outgunned No. 8 pick Ryan Tannehill, No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III and No. 1 pick Andrew Luck in victories last season over Texas A&M, Baylor and Stanford. The Browns need the help: 13.6 PPG in 2011.
No. 23 – Detroit Lions – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Lions have now drafted building-block offensive or defensive lineman No. 1 in four of the past drive drafts. The big problem here? Detroit needs help on its highly overrated defensive line. They were gashed for 5.0 YPA in 2011 and ranked just 23rd in scoring D. A classic case of misplaced priorities.
No. 24 – Pittsburgh Steelers – David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Steelers traditionally fielded one of the best offensive lines in football year after year with future Hall of Famer Alan Faneca chewing up defenders from his guard position. The OL has struggled, sometimes badly, since losing him after the 2007 season. DeCastro can help make Pittsburgh’s OL frightening again.
No. 25 – New England Patriots – Don’ta Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The Patriots grabbed another much-needed defender and traded up twice to do it – bucking years of tradition of chasing “value” picks lower in the draft. Hightower was the captain of the best defense in college football last year, an All-America performer, a starter as a freshman in 2008 and a key member of its 2009 national title team, too. Could give New England much-needed muscle.
No. 26 – Houston Texans – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Mercilus was a mega-playmaker for the Illini last year, with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. Houston nailed its defensive draft in 2011. The Super Bowl-caliber defense should be deadly again in 2012 if Mercilus pans out.
No. 27 – Cincinnati Bengals – Kevin Zeitler, guard, Wisconsin
The Badgers rushed for 3,298 yards and 48 TD last season and Zeitler was their best offensive lineman. Solid needs-based pick. The Bengals struggled badly to run the ball last year, averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt (27th).
No. 28 – Green Bay Packers – Nick Perry, DE, USC
Green Bay was No. 1 in the NFL at forcing Negative Pass Plays in its Super Bowl-winning season of 2010. That crew tumbled to No. 20 at pressuring the passer in 2011. That weakness was apparent in the playoff loss to the Giants. Perry led the Pac-12 last year with 9.5 sacks.
No. 29 – Minnesota Vikings – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame
The 2011 Vikings defense surrendered 34 TDs, grabbed just 8 INTs, and produced a 107.6 Defensive Passer Rating. In the entire history of football, only the 0-16 Lions of 2008 were worse on pass defense (110.9 Defensive Passer Rating). Minnesota made two near-perfect needs-based picks in the first round. Now they just need the guys to live up to the hype. Smith hauled in 7 INT in 2010, but none in 2011.
No. 30 – San Francisco 49ers – A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
You know the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law: first-round wide receivers are almost always a bad selection. But there is one exception: teams who are solid everywhere else and merely need a little help to open up the passing game should consider grabbing a Shiny Hood Ornament wideout. The 49ers were that team in 2011: great on defense, solid running game, and efficient but not-explosive passing game. Jenkins caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and 8 TD last year.
No. 31 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
The pathetic Bucs had plenty of problems last year. Running the ball was not one of them. The team averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per attempt on the ground (6th). Given the dysfunction of the defense, another pick on that side of the ball would have been advisable. But, with that said, the Bucs offense was pretty much an embarrassment, too.
No. 32 – N.Y. Giant – David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
The Giants had devoted just four draft picks to running backs in the previous 10 drafts, fewest in the NFL. Perhaps it’s no surprise that they averaged just 3.5 YPA on the ground last year, worst in the NFL. Wilson averaged at least 5.5 YPA in each of his three seasons at VA Tech, including 5.9 YPA last year. The Giants are already solid in so many areas – so a little boost to its greatest statistical weak link makes perfect sense.