Tuesday, April 24, 2007

No Offense in the First Round

I'm terrified that the Packers are going to use their first round draft pick on some offensive player who's just going to turn out to be fine, but not great, or, alternatively, just be a complete bust. And I find the idea that we'd use all of our first day draft picks on offensive players (as some mock drafts have us doing) totally horrifying. I'm quite certain that Thompson will not do that (some prognosticators are morons), but the idea is still frightening. Anyhow, I do not want the Packers to pick an offensive player in the first round. Here are my rationales.

First, at 16, were not going to get the top player at any offensive skill position, except maybe tight end. Other teams will have skimmed the obvious cream, like Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson. (These guys look like game-changers, players who could quickly add several wins to your total. Let us hope the Vikings don't draft one of them.)

Second, the Packers don't need more "good" offensive players. Greg Jennings looks like a good player. Driver is a good to very good player. When healthy, Morency has shown the potential to be a good player. Green was a good runner last year. On the downslide of his HOF career, Favre is now a pretty good quarterback. But even with several of these "good" players, our offense was poor last season. We couldn't run the ball in key situations, and couldn't get things done in the red zone. I believe that in order to get back to being a good offense, we need a player who will worry opposing defensive coordinators, who will force other teams into making strategic sacrifices that we can take advantage of. Favre used to be that player. But no longer. And so, we need a new dominant player, or at least someone who is dominant in a particular area of the game, like a great red zone receiver or a fantastic inside runner.

Third, I feel like the odds of us getting a dominant offensive player at 16 are about as good as getting a dominant offensive player at 40 or at 80. That is, not very good. As explained in my first point, the skill position players who clearly have the potential to be great will be off the board by then. What will remain are players with talent but obvious problems, players with potential that haven't yet developed, or players with lower ceilings.

So, fourth, if we spend the pick on offense, I believe we would likely end up drafting a project, like Ted Ginn, Jr., or someone who will be merely good, like Lynch. A project wouldn't improve the offense next season or help maximize Favre's remaining ability. In fact, he probably wouldn't wouldn't bear dividends for several seasons, if at all (wasn't Robert Ferguson a project?). A merely good player might help a bit in the short term, but won't dramatically upgrade the team, and wouldn't do much to compensate for the serious drop the offense will experience after Favre retires. To be blunt, a merely good back or wideout is not going to stop the offense from sucking, especially after Favre leaves.

Also, fifth, if we draft an offensive skill position player at 16, everyone's going to look at him as some sort of savior for the team's offense. This guy will be shouldering heavy expectations from day one, which likely won't help his development or his relationship with the fans when he almost certainly disappoints them. Ick.

And, sixth, since great offensive skill players are so valuable and so rare, I believe that most picks spent on those positions do not yield dominant players, even first round picks. In fact, I believe the rate of return is depressingly low. To test this out, lets consider wide receivers and running backs taken in the first round, starting, I don't know, in this millennium, excepting last year because it's a bit early to judge players after their rookie season.
Wide Receivers taken in the first round--
4th Peter Warrick (bust)
8th Plaxico Burress (pretty good, but not great)
10th Travis Taylor (uhh)
21th Sylvester Morris (who?)
29th R. Jay Soward (seriously, who is this?)

8th David Terrell (another Michigan bust)
9th Koren Robinson (we all know where he is--on electronic monitoring)
15th Rod Gardner (one good season)
16th Santana Moss (a very good player)
25th Freddie Mitchell (still in the league?)
30th Reggie Wayne (a good player)

13th Donte' Stallworth (best FA option was a one-year deal?)
19th Ashley Lelie (never produced consistently)
20th Javon Walker (crazy, but a great player)

2nd Charles Rogers (total bust--partly due to injuries)
3rd Andre Johnson (a very good player)
17th Bryant Johnson (team's third wide receiver)

3rd Larry Fitzgerald (a great player when healthy)
7th Roy Williams (a great player)
9th Reggie Williams (disappointing so far)
13th Lee Evans (a very good player, maybe on the verge)
15th Michael Clayton (a good player)
29th Michael Jenkins (fine, but not all that)
31th Rashaun Woods (still in the league?)

3rd Braylon Edwards (very good when healthy)
7th Troy Williamson (not good)
10th Mike Williams (terrible)
21st Matt Jones (pretty good when healthy, maybe still developing)
22nd Mark Clayton (good)

Of those 29 guys, I see three guys that are legitimately "great" players-- Javon Walker, Larry Fitzgerald, and Roy Williams. I think Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Braylon Edwards and Lee Evans are very good and have the potential to be great. I think the rest of the players are somewhere in the range of good, average, or total bust. (I may be being harsh by calling Reggie Wayne a merely "good" player, but I think he benefits tremendously from playing with Manning and Harrison.) So based on recent history, there's a 25 to 30% chance of a team not getting a serious impact from a first round draft pick on a wideout. And there's only about a 10% chance of getting a really "great" player. And consider where the top guys were drafted. Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Johnson and Edwards were all top ten picks. Only Walker and Santana Moss were drafted at 16 or lower. That's 2 guys out of 29 picks. And these two both had obvious warts. Moss was picked that low because he's small. Walker was picked that low because he only played one year at FSU, was older because he'd played minor league baseball, and nearly flunked the Wonderlic. Anyhow, recent history seems to prove my point--the chances of getting a great wide receiver at 16 or lower are not good. But how about with running backs?

Running Backs Taken in the First Round--
5th Jamal Lewis (was dominant, now pretty average)
7th Thomas Jones (good)
11th Ron Dayne (alas, poor Ronnie)
19th Shaun Alexander (was very good, but falling off a bit)
31st Trung Canidate (I remember this guy... at least his name)

5th LaDainian Tomlinson (dominant)
23rd Deuce McAllister (very good)
27th Michael Bennett (a few great years, but now a backup)

16th William Green (still in the league?)
18th T.J. Duckett (eh)

23rd Willis McGahee (a great player on a bad offensive team)
27th Larry Johnson (awesome)

24th Steven Jackson (very good, but not dominant)
26th Chris Perry (decent)
30th Kevin Jones (good when healthy, but oft-injured)

2nd Ronnie Brown (pretty good)
4th Cedric Benson (pretty good, but hard to tell)
5th Carnell Williams (good when healthy)

That's sixteen backs. I'd say three, right now, are legitimately great players--LT, Willis McGahee, and Larry Johnson. I think Shaun Alexander, Deuce McAllister, and Steven Jackson are very good players, but not great. I think Jamal Lewis was great for a few seasons, and that Michael Bennett was very good for a short time. The rest of these backs haven't shown enough (Brown, Benson), have had recurring injury problems (Kevin Jones, Cadillac), or are anywhere from merely good (Thomas Jones) to outright busts (William Green). So out of 16, three great players, and one that was great for a couple seasons. That's only a 25% rate, and half of the great players (LT & Lewis) were drafted in the top five, and three out of four were the first running backs taken. (There's no way the Pack gets Peterson on Saturday.) Now maybe we should have a glimmer of hope here since some of the very good or great backs were taken later in the first round. But still, in raw numbers, the chances of drafting a "great" running back are not good, especially when the number one back is already gone.

Now, when I advocate against picking offense, I'm not saying that defensive players aren't busts. I just believe that our offense is in such a state that adding one good player won't do much. We need a serious talent boost to change anything, and something like that is usually not available at 16. So I say let's excise the glaring weakness of our defense, the safety position, and try to make that side of the ball an elite unit. The offense may be hard to watch, but if our defense is as good as I think it can be, we'll at least be competitive, even after Favre leaves.


Sal said...

Amen, brother. I think we are only a few pieces away from a very good defensive unit. Also, I think the risk/benefit analysis is a good theory in general. With the exception of Walker, none of the Packers 1st round offensive players have panned out all that well. I think last year's draft does give us some hope that Thompson knows what he's doing...at least more than Sherman. (Except for the BJ Sander move which was super savvy. I guarantee that none of the other GMs ripped on him for that one.)

It would seem to be a better risk to draft a couple of potentially good/very good offensive players later in the draft. Perhaps a flyer on the RB from Louisville who is coming back from that injury at the beginning of last year.

I enjoyed the historical analysis, although I don't think Michael Bennett was any more than a 100m sprinter in shoulder pads, even at Wisconsin.

Mr.Man said...

I'm pretty sure Sherman, not Thompson drafted B.J. Sander. I believe that the upcoming draft will be Thompson's second.

What's weird about analyzing the performance of some of the running backs is trying to figure out how much they owe to where they were drafted. Specifically, Bennett was drafted lower in the first round, and thus joined a team with Culpepper and Randy Moss during their heydays, with those guys drawing lots of attention, he gained 1300 yards and average 5.1/rush one season. Alexander (taken 19th) wasn't great until he got to run behind a fantastic guard/tackle combo. Larry Johnson (taken 27th) was plugged into a fabulous system and ran behind one of the best O-lines in modern history. Steven Jackson (taken 24th) gets to play on a team with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce out wide and run behind Orlando Pace.

This makes me wonder how much of the "success" of these backs is due to them, or due to the situations they were placed in. I definitely believe you could argue that Jamal Lewis and McGahee's accomplishments have been more impressive, since they were both successful playing in the middle of relatively inept offenses.