Sunday, April 18, 2004

Comparing draft philosophies
Only six days to go until the 2004 NFL draft. That said, there seems to be more uncertainty now surrounding who will go where than at any time in the last two months. Yesterday I posted an article about the Steelers draft strategy. In today's Charlotte Observer there is a story about how the Panthers developed a plan to build a winner through the draft and didn't deviate from that plan -- even when higher profile players were available when they selected DE Julius Peppers in 2002 and OL Jordan Gross in 2003 (they passed on QB Joey Harrington in '02 and Byron Leftwich in '03). O-coordinator Dan Henning makes the Panthers intentions very clear:
"First of all, the percentage of the population that is 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds and can dunk with both hands backwards (Peppers) is a lot lower than guys who can throw a football through a tire from 50 feet."

"And then, guys that can come in at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds that can move their feet (Gross) and block one of those son of a guns that are 6-6 and 290 and can dunk backwards, the percentage of them are a lot lower than quarterbacks who can throw the ball 50 yards accurately."
The Panthers also shy away from trying to land that 'franchise QB' because "Carolina's bosses believe that your highest draft picks must go to players with superb athletic ability. Quarterbacks, on the other hand, can be taken in later rounds or even found elsewhere, and developed."

And even though other teams look to answer their QB questions in the first round, Carolina has a system that seems to be working. QB Jake Delhomme was an undrafted free agent that was one bad kickoff away from winning the Super Bowl last February.

Which brings me to the Steelers. It's no secret they are in love with Philip Rivers, but if the draft philosophies of teams like the Panthers are any indication, the Steelers would be better served (especially in the near term) by drafting a CB or OT, but I've been nauseatingly clear about that.

Rivers' detractors have mentioned that he throws sidearmed, has trouble throwing the deep ball -- relying on mostly underneath routes, and has taken the majority of his snaps out of the shotgun. I decided to compare Rivers to a current NFL QB with similar physical tools and college numbers. Tim Couch is a QB who made his living throwing underneath routes in college and while he has experienced some success in the NFL, most would consider him a bust (especially given that he was the first player taken in 1999). Here's a look at his college numbers compared to Rivers' numbers, and they are eerily similar.
pass % yds/comp td/comp int/comp
Couch 69% 10.71 9.52 4.59
Rivers 64% 11.79 7.15 3.37

*Note: td/comp & int/comp are multiplied by 100 so for Couch for every 100 completions he threw 9.5 TDs
There isn't much difference in how both Couch and Rivers performed in college. Couch threw a few more TDs per completion and Rivers threw fewer INTs per completions, but all in all, these guys had careers that paralleled. Of course this doesn't mean that Rivers will have a spotty NFL career, but at the very least it's interesting to see how a player with similar physical skills and abilities performed as a professional. It also underlines how unpredictable drafting a QB can be. It's much easier to project how players like OL and CB's will perform at the next level, of course that's not a sure thing either -- but it does allow a team to start players that can have an immediate impact (whereas QBs usually take 2-3 years to learn the offense).