Looking back more important than looking forward
By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(May 9, 2006) -- The NFL draft has been over less than a month, and we are already hearing about the top 100 prospects for next year. By the time next April comes around, the list will change drastically, and at this point, it really doesn't mean a lot. What may have more meaning is a look back at a draft from the past, to see what we can learn from it. There are some valuable lessons waiting if we care to open our eyes to some history rather than some fortune telling.
When I was with the New York Jets, our owner, Leon Hess, stopped by my office about a week before the draft and asked me two questions. Firstly, what was the length of the contract I intended to structure with our first-round selection? And secondly, how many players actually played out that length of a contract in years past? To answer his questions, I went back and looked at the recent history of the first round, and it really reinforced a lesson that I continue to study to this day. The risk/reward of the first round is much more volatile than most draft observers care to remember.
William Green is one of several players who haven't quite panned out.
Giving a grade out to teams for how they drafted on the last weekend of April is close to absurd at this point. It is meaningless, and there's no reason to praise some teams and criticize others. I prefer to go back and look at the draft from four years ago to see how teams and players have done. A first-round player with four years under his belt can be evaluated. Today, a quick look back at the first round of the 2002 draft will tell us more than an editorial on the 2006 draft.
The 2002 first round averaged contracts close to $1.5 million a year in value, and the average contract length was just about six years per player. Interestingly, my owner would not have liked the answer to his second question with this class.
Joey Harrington (No. 3 overall) is on his way out in Detroit. Mike Williams (No. 4) was shown the door in Buffalo. Wendell Bryant (No. 12) is out of football. William Green (No. 16) can't break into the starting lineup in Cleveland. Philip Buchanon (No. 17) has been traded from Oakland to Houston. Ashley Lelie (No. 19) wants out in Denver, and the Broncos have traded for Javon Walker, who went a pick later in the same draft. Napoleon Harris (No. 23) has been traded from Oakland to Minnesota and no longer starts. Marc Columbo (No. 29) didn't play football in 2005 and his career is over. Robert Thomas (No. 31) is already on his third team and is described as a player who could add some depth. And finally, Pat Ramsey was traded from the Redskins to the Jets, because he was no longer in the Redskins' plans.
Sure there are some great players from the class of 2002 like Julius Peppers, Roy Williams, John Henderson, Levi Jones, Dwight Freeney, Albert Haynesworth, Jeremy Shockey and Lito Sheppard, but if nothing else, that just points out how volatile the draft can be.
It is safe to say, as we look back four years, that close to half of the players have failed, are failing, or are playing more like late-round picks than elite players. I wasn't surprised by the look back, but as one head coach said to me when I went over my quick scan of the 2002 first round, "That information isn't going to help me sleep any better." Back when this draft was completed, people said it was a strong draft for receivers, quarterbacks and cornerbacks. I wonder what those people think today?
1. David Carr -- Has yet to live up to the first pick, but did go to an expansion team. (B)
2. Julius Peppers -- A Pro Bowl player. (A+)
3. Joey Harrington -- On his way out in Detroit and will be a backup in '06. (D)
4. Mike Williams -- Short, uninspired career in Buffalo; trying to rebound in Jacksonville. (F)
5. Quentin Jammer -- A full-time starter, but just six career interceptions. (B-)
6. Ryan Sims -- In four years, he has generated 60 tackles and five sacks. ©
7. Bryant McKinnie -- 55 starts and a good player. (B)
8. Roy Williams -- Ronnie Lott told me Roy was his favorite player to watch on Sundays. (A)
9. John Henderson -- A 16-game star every season with over 200 tackles. (A+)
10. Levi Jones -- One of the best offensive tackles in football. (A)
11. Dwight Freeney -- An All-Pro pass rusher with double-digit sacks every year. (A+)
12. Wendell Bryant -- Out of football; had a suspension for substance abuse. (F)
13. Donte Stallworth -- A good receiver with 195 receptions and 23 touchdowns. (B)
14. Jeremy Shockey -- When healthy, an excellent player; hasn't played all 16 games yet. (A)
15. Albert Haynesworth -- Had his best year in '05, but had half the production of Henderson with 103 tackles and 7½ sacks. (A-)
16. William Green -- A backup running back in Cleveland with nine touchdowns in four years. (D)
17. Philip Buchanon -- Traded from Oakland to Houston; 11 picks in four years. (B)
18. T.J. Duckett -- A backup runner in Atlanta, and the Falcons drafted a first-day back in '06. (B-)
19. Ashley Lelie -- Wants to be traded or treated better; 23 career starts and 42 receptions per year is just average. (B)
20. Javon Walker -- Was on his way to being an elite receiver when injured; traded to Denver. (A)
21. Daniel Graham -- No 16-game seasons, 99 receptions; Pats took another tight end in the '06 draft. (B)
22. Bryan Thomas -- A backup who started due to injury; 6½ career sacks. (C-)
23. Napoleon Harris -- Traded from Oakland to Minnesota, now a backup. (D)
24. Ed Reed -- All-Pro safety and finally coming out of the shadow of Ray Lewis. (A+)
25. Charles Grant -- A good starter, but only 30 sacks. (B+)
26. Lito Sheppard -- Developed into an All-Pro corner. (A)
27. Mike Rumph -- Five starts in the last two years; 49ers traded for Sammie Davis at his position. (C+)
28. Jerramy Stevens -- Career finally got on track in 2005. (B)
29. Marc Colombo -- Out of football for medical reasons. (F)
30. Kendall Simmons -- Very good guard for the Steelers; missed '04 for medical reasons. (A-)
31. Robert Thomas -- On his third team in four years, considered a backup. (D-)
32. Patrick Ramsey -- Traded to the Jets for roster depth. (C-)
You can make your own decisions about a draft class that can actually be graded.
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