The annual NFL draft never seems to go quite as expected, despite the abundance of mocks and pre-draft speculators. So often it winds up feeling like an anticlimactic experience that never quite satisfies. Nonetheless, it is over, behind us, history. Many have graded it, too—as if that were a fruitful and reasonable proposition.
That mistake won't be repeated here; but from such exercises have sprung some rather interesting factoids and such. A few of those will comprise the body of this weekly installment. Consider that forewarning.
Perhaps most surprising of all developments involved the Denver Broncos, surely one of the more active and puzzling organizations of this 2009 off-season. Not only have the Broncos dealt away a franchise QB still to achieve his prime and hired an extraordinarily young head coach, but they're converting from a 4-3 defensive alignment to a 3-4. The front seven, then, figured to receive the focus of their draft-day attention.
Yet only one of their ten picks—DE Robert Ayers, the only Tennessee Volunteer to be selected among the 256 chosen overall, by the way—was invested on assistance for their new scheme. Even more remarkable was the availability of two potential 3-4 pieces at the time Denver was shopping in Round Two, when a 2010 number-one was dealt to maneuver into slot 37, giving Denver three opportunities in the round.
But Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith became that choice at 37, chosen over Boston College NT candidate Ron Brace, who went 40 to NE following the acquisition of that selection by the Pats in yet another deal. Brace will not only provide depth behind Vince Wilfork, but is protection against an extended contract snafu with that player, who is heading into the final year of his existing contract.
When Denver chose again at 48, USC Fili Moala, one of the very few 3-4 DE possibilities in this year's draft class, was still on the board. The Broncos again went DB, nabbing Texas Tech safety Darcel McBath. McBath and Smith may very well develop into exceptional professionals, but hauling in Brace and Moala would've gone over very well in the Rocky Mountains region, as the club instead will feature a motley collection in its initial 3-4 configuration, further calling into question new head coach Josh McDaniels' decision-making.
On the subject of draft grading, the War Room's Russ Lande evaluated each team's performance for The Sporting News in that magazine's May 11 issue. The aforementioned Smith merited one of his very few A+ grades. In fact, there were only eight given so lofty a grade.
SD DE/OLB Larry English was the sole first-rounder so honored; he went 16th overall. The three second-rounders heralded were Detroit safety Louis Delmas (33), Cinn's Rey Maualuga (38) and Carolina's DE Everette Brown (43), who was also acquired for a next year's one.
NE received Lande's highest mark for its selection of UNC WR/KR Brandon Tate with at 83 in Round Three, while drafting Ball State QB Nate Davis at 171 of Round Five did as much for SF. Chicago grabbed the other top grade with Vandy CB DJ Moore at 119 of Round Four.
Lande was much more generous with his distribution of D's, as Oakland got four all by themselves, though none involved Darius Heyward-Bey. Buffalo's D was the only first-rounder, reserved for DE Aaron Maybin. Miami was given three, including one for Buckeye wideout Brian Hartline. Dallas got two, with KC, Hous, NYG, Wash, Minn, StL, Ariz, Chic, Det and NO having one each, at least according to this one-time Browns' executive.
Most auspicious for their starts were Detroit and Denver, as they were given A's for each of their first three picks; San Diego, Indy and Philadelphia did as well through their first two picks. The Eagles' selections of WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy may registering as the early favorite for most-impactful duo.
As for the Browns' picks, Lande liked Alex Mack and Coye Francies most, based upon the A's beside their names. Don Carey got a B+, with James Davis a B and Brian Robiskie, Mohammed Massaquoi and David Veikune each assigned B-.
So much for draft grades.
Interesting was how teams thought to be desperate for downfield pass-catchers came away without any, despite this reportedly having been an outstandingly rich class for such prospects. Foremost among these were Baltimore and the Jets, who just happen to have as their new head coach the Ravens' former defensive coordinator. Conversely, Oakland joined Denver in doing little to amend a needy run defense.
Atlanta ignored its vacancies at OLB (Derrick Brooks?). And Detroit's primary voids, at least according to beat reporter Tom Kowalski—ILB, DE, CB, DT—were left waiting in deference to another costly QB and a helpful TE. Consistent, however, was Bears' GM Jerry Angelo, who, for the fifth time in six years, ignored an OT in the first six rounds.
Meanwhile, just as Philadelphia projects to start with a pair of safeties with the first name Quinton, Dallas positioned itself to pair a set with the surname of Hamlin. The ‘Boys selected Clemson's Michael to potentially start next to vet Ken.
As for the balance of that particular magazine, NE Ohioans can find quite a bit with regional interest within. Cliff Lee is pictured on 73. Page 9 is shared between OSU QB Terrelle Pryor and Tribe catcher Victor Martinez, the latter discussing a childhood hero who now manages a divisional rival. Page 6 is worth inspecting because a panel consisting of 23 former NFL WRs answer pointed questions relative to today's premier targets. Among the alums are Gary Collins and Fair Hooker, whose Browns' careers slightly overlapped (1969-71).
In response to the question: "Which receiver (all-time) had the best hands?" one respondent identified Cleveland TE Milt Morin. Wonder which panelist felt that way.
When the panel was asked: "Who's the most over-rated WR in the game today?" Chad Johnson "won" with 3 votes, edging the tandem of Wes Welker and Roy Williams. Also receiving votes, however, were Braylon Edwards and Donte' Stallworth.
At the risk of seeming to shamelessly plug the mag—it is always a very good publication, by the way—TSN's May 25 issue is also rich with Cleveland material, as page 8 honors a trio of Cavs with post-season NBA distinctions. The Player of the Year is LeBron James. The Coach of the Year is Mike Brown. The Executive of the Year is Danny Ferry.
Moreover, three Indians appear among the magazine's list of 50 top MLB players, one of whom made the mythical starting nine.
Generally, however, the local clubs have not faired particularly well in the estimations of national pundits. Well publicized has been SI's Peter King for his rating the Browns 32nd among the NFL's 32 teams. The Tribe had been TSN's worst MLB team before rising all the way to 28 this week, though it is very hard to understand how exactly. ESPN's John Clayton also seems to have qualifiers when discussing the Browns, beginning with such statements as: "Say what you will about Eric Mangini, but…." King's assessment may have been at least partially made in jest, but otherwise one might surmise he too has his doubts about the former Jets head coach. But how could the OU-educated King suspect the club will be less well coached than under Romeo Crennel?
In case you missed it, former Browns OL Eric Young, who spent all of what might have been his rookie year on IR after signing as an undrafted free agent, was signed by the Rams, listed as a tackle.
Gerry Fraley, writing for USA Today, reported that the Rams allowed 71 plays last season of 20+ yards. Yeow! No wonder they hired the Giants' DC as their new head coach. Fraley went on to reveal only Cincinnati scored fewer points, which is to also say even the winless Lions scored more.
His research reminded that FB Madison Hedgecock was released by the Rams only to surface with the Giants and go on to start the Super Bowl for the eventual World Champions, an achievement somewhat repeated this year when Chagrin Falls' product Sean McHugh was cut by Detroit only to land with the Steelers.
At any rate, the Rams consequently engaged in a virtual game of fullback Musical Chairs. Mike Karney left NO to join StL, with Heath Evans migrating from NE to replace Karney with the Saints. Moran Norris left Detroit to rejoin the Niners, who missed his blocking for Frank Gore. Terrelle Smith, the one-time Brown, replaces Norris in Motown, leaving Arizona to replace Smith by signing former Steeler Dan Kreider.
As an aside, Baltimore rewarded graybeard Lorenzo Neal for his fine work for them last season by letting him loose to settle in Oakland, where he can again be expected to unleash a 1,000-yard rushing season, as has been his custom. Neal has blocked famously for such outstanding seasons as those had by Adrian Murrell (NYJ), Eddie George (Tenn) and LaDainian Tomlinson (SD), among others.
Before leaving the topic of outstanding NFL FBs, it is indeed mistaken for Lande to have omitted Cleveland's under-rated Lawrence Vickers from his list of the NFL's top 20. Vickers was injured much of last season, compromising his effectiveness, but he merits mention among the top half dozen. Browns players have regularly been dissed in previous listings, as well. For example, Jamal Lewis did not appear among the top 20 ball-carriers, either, though OSU rookie Chris Wells, now with Arizona, narrowly qualified.
Lastly, the Senior Bowl was understandably proud to announce its game again produced prolifically in the NFL draft. Of the 256 collegians drafted, 86 appeared in this January's extravaganza, 11 in Round One, which has been the average since 1999: English, Ayers, Mack, Brandon Pettigrew, BJ Raji, Clay Matthews, Peria Jerry, Brian Cushing, Ziggy Hood, Michael Oher and Eric Wood. Raji made it 12 straight years for someone among the top ten.
Furthermore, whereas 27 underclassmen went among the top 100, the Senior Bowl placed 43.
Which team selected the most 2009 Senior Bowl participants? None other than Cleveland's Browns, whose six selections were matched by both Jax and Cinn.