Friday, April 30, 2004

What if Roethlisberger starts in '04?
The chances of Ben Roethlisberger starting at QB this season are at best remote, especially when compared to two of his first round counterparts, Manning and Rivers, who will be the go-to guys from day one. But in the last 14 years there has been a number of rookie QBs that have stepped immediately into the starting role -- with varying degrees of success.

Remember Jeff George? He was taken first by the Colts in 1990 and started immediately and he didn't have an awful first season -- he threw for 2,152 yards, 16 TDs and 13 INTs in 13 games. But there was the whole Health Shuler debacle in Washington, too. His first year totals were: 11 games, 45.3% completion percentage, 1,658 passing yards, 10 TDs and 12 INTs.

So obviously there is some variation among players and I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the kind of offense they ran in college, the quality of their opponents, coaching, and their 'football smarts' (however you choose measure it -- and I'm not convinced that the Wonderlic is the right way). Anyway, here is a partial list of QBs who played in at least 4 games as rookies (with the notable exception of Dan McGwire and Todd Marinivich -- they each started 1 game -- but I included them for nostalgic reasons).
name g comp att pct yd td ints
george 13 181 334 54.2 2152 16 13
ware 4 13 30 43.3 164 1 2
mcgwire 1 3 7 42.9 27 0 1
marinivich 1 23 40 57.5 243 3 0
hollas 8 32 55 58.2 310 1 4
klingler 4 47 98 48 530 3 2
maddox 13 66 121 54.5 757 5 9
erickson 6 15 26 57.7 121 0 0
graham 6 42 97 43.3 470 1 4
bledsoe 13 214 429 49.9 2494 15 15
mirer 16 274 486 56.4 2833 12 17
shuler 11 120 265 45.3 1658 10 12
dilfer 5 38 82 46.3 433 1 6
collins 15 214 432 49.5 2717 14 19
zeier 7 82 161 50.9 864 4 9
banks 14 192 368 52.2 2544 15 15
kanell 4 23 60 38.3 227 1 1
plummer 10 157 296 53 2203 15 15
wuerffel 7 42 91 46.2 518 4 8
manning 16 326 575 56.7 3739 26 28
leaf 10 111 245 45.3 1289 2 15
batch 12 173 303 57.1 2178 11 6
couch 15 223 399 55.9 2447 15 13
mcnabb 12 106 216 49.1 948 8 7
smith 7 80 153 52.3 805 2 6
mcnown 15 127 235 54 1465 8 10
king 6 89 146 61 875 7 4
vick 8 50 113 44.2 785 2 3
brees 7 15 27 55.6 221 1 0
carr 16 233 444 52.5 2592 9 15
harrington 14 215 430 50 2294 12 16
ramsey 10 117 228 51.3 1539 9 8
So, back to the point. How would Roethlisberger (or maybe more importantly, Rivers or Manning since they'll actually be playing) do if he started in '04? Well, I took the above list and looked at how these players performed their first year in the league and compared it to their subsequent year peformances and here's what I found:
yrs in nfl pct yds/g td/g int/g td_diff/g
1 52.2 118.6 0.67 0.78 -0.11
2 53.8 135.6 0.70 0.78 -0.08
3 50.2 124.4 0.65 0.78 -0.13
4 51.2 129.3 0.68 0.76 -0.07
5 55.4 126.9 0.67 0.62 0.05
6 60.3 150.2 0.76 0.72 0.05
7+ 55.2 172.7 0.92 0.75 0.16

*td_diff/g: touchdowns minus interceptions per game.
Surprisingly, there's little difference in completion percentage based on experience (52% as a rookie, 55% for 7+ experience, with a high of 60% for 6 years experience). There is also little difference in interceptions per game based on experience (0.78 per game for rookies, 0.75 per game for 7+ years of experience).

A couple of things stick out however. First, yards per game increase as QBs gain more experience (and some of this is a result of more experienced QBs playing the entire game, instead of maybe playing part of the game as rookies). Maybe more interesting though, is that while interceptions per game remain constant across experience, touchdowns per game increase by 37% from the first year to the seventh year of experience. This indicates that QBs are getting a better grasp of what they are trying to do offensively while at the same time better recognizing what the defense is doing in trying to create confusion. As a result, QBs are completing more passes for TDs that might otherwise fall incomplete, result in sacks, or even interceptions.

I have no way of knowing, but I'm guessing that interceptions thrown by rookies are a lot different than those thrown by veterans. Rookies probably throw more interceptions because they incorrectly read a coverage as opposed to veterans who might throw more downfield interceptions or have more tipped passes that result in interceptions.

Also, a really big part of a QBs success is the program they're going into in the NFL. A lot of these guys will be playing for really bad teams (see David Carr and Joey Harrington) and they would be expected to struggle more than a player going to an average team. Knowing that, which players from the first table above had more touchdowns that interceptions their rookie season? Seven. Four had one more TD than INT, while Couch had 2 more, Jeff George had 3 more and Charlie Batch had 5 more. George is out of the league (he was drafted 14 years ago) and both Couch and Batch are backups, even though Batch has a lot less luggage (perceived or otherwise) than Couch. To really get an idea of how good or bad the rookie QBs performed, it's probably best to compare their performances to all QBs who sat and learned the system for a year or two before being thrown to the lions (I'll put that on my to-do list).

But what does this mean for the QBs of 2004? Well, on average, they should complete about 50% of their passes, throw for roughly 120 yards per game throw 2 TDs every 3 games and throw 3 INTs in every 4 games. Of course these are averages and doesn't account for the players surrounding the rookie QB. Even though San Diego plays in the same division as Kansas City and Denver, I wouldn't be surprised to see them win more games with Rivers than New York does with Manning (of course, being in a division with Philly and Washington doesn't help either). The good news is that both of these players have a lot of experience -- Rivers started 50 games in a row in college and Manning is well, a Manning.

If Roethlisberger did end up starting in 2004, I'm guessing his ride might be a little bumpier on the field, but he would certainly be embraced by the fans and the media -- and I'm pretty sure the same case can't be made for Manning.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

It's important to remain calm -- especially when you have no leverage
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that Tommy Maddox has calmed down long enough to realize that this might be his last shot as an NFL quarterback, and he has voiced his desire to stay with the Steelers. Of course this all started when the Steelers promised Maddox that if they didn't take QB Philip Rivers with the first pick they were drafting an offensive tackle. Well, QB of the future, Ben Roethlisberger fell to the Steelers with the 11th pick and if they didn't take him, Cowher may have been out of a job before the NY Jets made their selection with the 12th pick.

I think it's important that Maddox is around for the next few years. This year as the starter, and based on Roethlisberger's progress, maybe next year too. Not only that, but no one has had a rougher NFL ride than Maddox and he would certainly serve as a good mentor to Roethlisberger.

One more thing. The Steelers finally wised up and will give Maddox a 'bump' in his salary -- but what exactly that bump entails may not be decided for a couple of months. Either way, I think it's good to get Maddox back -- especially with the prospects of an improved offensive line and a much more capable running game.

The ACC just got more competitive
UNC fans are used to the talk about which, if any of it's underclassmen will declare for the draft. And in the past few weeks they have had to endure similar speculation about some members of the incoming class. And while it looks like the Tarheels may come out of this virtually unscathed (all but one of the potential four or five players have committed to be in Chapel Hill in the fall), Duke may lose one of their best high school recruits (PG Shaun Livingston) and the best player currently on their roster, G/F Luol Deng.

The Charlotte Observer reports that Deng has made himself eligible for the draft, but he has yet to sign with an agent, just in case he chooses to return to Duke if he's drafted late. But there looks like little chance of that, especially given that the Charlotte Bobcats have the fourth pick and might look to take a hometown guy (if playing at Duke by way of England and Senegal is hometown).

My friend made a good point about Deng leaving early -- it will allow him to have a chance to be a really good player in the NBA before he's completely indoctrinated into the "Duke way." By that I mean you'll be a great college 'system' player but will be nothing more than a mediocre pro. That, and it also means that UNC should be the favorite to win the ACC for the first time in what seems like decades. If Duke's prized recruit Livingston also opts to enter the draft, the Blue Devils will be spectacularly average next season and that is always fun to watch -- at least if you're a jealous Tarheels fan.

Maybe it's the beer
There is definitely a correlation between MLB team payroll and winning percentage, but that doesn't seem to be working for the Yankees in 2004. Maybe the answer lies in beer prices. If there is indeed a relationship between how much fans pay for beer at the ballpark and how well the home team performs, then the answer to the all the Yankees problems might be literally "at the bottom of that beer can."

Using Page 2's very unscientific ratings of all the MLB parks (including beer prices), I took a look at the relationship between how much fans paid to have a cold one and how the home team performed on the field.

Before I started this little mini-project I was guessing that teams with the bigger payrolls would in most cases also have the highest beer prices, and also win more baseball games. But that didn't turn out to be the case. Granted, you can pay as much $8 for a premium beer in Los Angeles and as little as $4.75 for a beer in Chicago (AL), but other than these two instances, beer prices showed little variation across teams. In fact, there is virtually no correlation between beer prices and winning percentage (see the table below -- it's -0.06), while as you might expect, the correlation between team payroll and winning percentage is pretty high (0.45).

Unfortunately this doesn't bode well for the Yankees. For a team that's currently struggling and looking for a quick fix, I thought this might be it (and even though they won last night, it took the late inning heroics of Ruben Sierra -- and I don't think that's something you want to come to rely on if you're a Yankee fan). As a conscientious Red Sox fan, I felt it was important to keep the AL East as competitive as possible because the last thing I would want is for the Red Sox to actually win the division and for the Yankees to go into a tailspin and finish below .500.
Team Beer $ Win Pct. Payroll
Detroit $6.00 27% $59,006,941
Tampa Bay $7.00 39% $31,660,602
San Diego $7.50 40% $57,871,722
New York Mets $6.25 41% $116,253,927
Cleveland $6.00 42% $58,108,824
Milwaukee $6.00 42% $47,294,226
Cincinnati $6.25 43% $65,083,196
Texas $5.25 44% $106,277,880
Baltimore $6.00 44% $75,502,154
Colorado $6.00 46% $78,738,492
Pittsburgh $5.25 46% $62,314,723
Anaheim $6.75 48% $83,235,098
Kansas City $5.25 51% $48,475,322
Montreal $6.00 51% $45,853,889
Arizona $5.75 52% $92,665,040
Los Angeles $8.00 52% $109,248,680
St. Louis $5.75 52% $101,825,848
Philadelphia $5.75 53% $95,338,704
Chicago White Sox $4.75 53% $71,336,029
Toronto $5.50 53% $61,175,638
Houston $6.00 54% $79,946,964
Chicago Cubs $5.00 54% $86,576,763
Minnesota $5.00 56% $65,318,977
Florida $5.75 56% $63,281,152
Seattle $6.63 57% $92,268,063
Boston $5.60 59% $104,873,607
Oakland $7.50 59% $56,596,691
San Francisco $7.13 62% $100,061,211
New York Yankees $6.50 62% $180,322,403
Atlanta $5.50 62% $103,912,011
correlation: -0.06 0.45

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The pre, pre-negotiations begin...sort of
This is from today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
"The Steelers told Burress' agent that they will wait until minicamp ends before they decide whether to enter into negotiations to extend any of their players contracts. Burress is signed through 2004 and would become an unrestricted free agent after that. "We'll all find out what they want to do, whether they want me here or not," Burress said. "I think the situation I'm in speaks volumes about me and says a lot about them, so we'll find out. I'll just go out and play and play hard. Whether I'm here or not, that's up to them." Said agent Eugene Mato, "It's really in Pittsburgh's hands; Plax wants to retire a Steeler.""
I'd be surprised if the Steelers didn't make a real effort to keep Plax. They want to make the Roethlisberger transisition as smooth as possible, and being able to see the receivers you are throwing to is a start (nothing against Hines and Antwaan, but stack them longways and they're still shorter than Plax) -- of course, Burress has to show up for every game. And given this is his contract year, he might just do it.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Amazingly, the Pittsburgh media was wrong again
Way back on March 16 I had a post (rightly) criticizing the Pittsburgh media for prematurely jumping all over the Steelers for being slow on the draw to sign high-profile free agents (see also here and here). Well, it looks like the chickens are coming home to roost.

At the time the media was clamoring that the Pittsburgh front office was a day late and a dollar short when it came to the big-time free agency game. Going into free agency they had definite needs at cornerback, offensive tackle, linebacker and running back.

A bevy of free agents made Pittsburgh their stopover as they ultimately negotiated better deals with other teams. A partial list of free agents lost included linebacker Marcus Washington and cornerbacks Fernando Bryant, Reggie Howard and David Barrett. The Steelers didn't even seriously consider any offensive lineman through free agency because for many players the asking price was too steep. Pittsburgh did pull off one blockbuster acquisition that brought running back Duce Staley to western Pennsylvania, and although not obvious at the time, it proved to be an important move when the Steelers were on the clock with the 11th pick in last weekend's draft. Despite some questions about the Steelers guarded approach to free agency, their conservative strategy made it possible for them to take the quarterback of the future in Ben Roethlisberger.

Consider this: What if Pittsburgh didn't sign Duce Staley? They would have had to deal with their other needs through free agency -- and probably would have been forced to overpay in a decidedly sellers market. Or they could have chosen to do nothing, and used the draft to address all of their personnel questions. Either way, the Steelers might have missed out on one of their best drafts in recent years. In addition to getting arguably the best quarterback in the draft, they also got a big-time cornerback in Ricardo Colclough and just a big offensive tackle in Max Starks -- and this was all on the first day.

Without Staley, Pittsburgh would have also needed a running back, and as a result, the whole landscape of the draft may have been altered. The Steelers might have been compelled to trade down, giving up their 11th pick, in order to get a running back later in the first round while also attending to other needs. And even if they were lucky enough to get running back Steven Jackson or Kevin Jones, a cornerback and an offensive tackle, there would still be the small question of who would be the quarterback in 2005 and beyond.

For all the myopic opinions articulated by critics earlier this year, Pittsburgh kept the long-range picture in full view by not breaking the bank during free agency. Instead they had a plan for the players they would target in free agency -- at the right price -- and still were able to draft the players that not only make them AFC North contenders in 2004, but also sets the table for a playoff run for the next decade.

Take that Madden and Smizik!

From out of nowhere
Bob Smizik, the curmudgeonly sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has some sound advice for the Steelers that doesn't involve disparaging commentary, a rush to judgment or any of the myriad other tools Smizik has been known to use to alienate, annoy, anger, irritate or insult. Here's his solution the the new "Tommy Maddox Saga" that has unfolded since Pittsburgh took QB Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick in last weekend's NFL draft.

Maddox claimed that the Steelers promised him (through is agent) that they wouldn't take a QB if Philip Rivers was off the board and would instead fortify the OT position. Well it didn't work out that way (and in truth, everyone in the world would have taken Roethlisberger with the pick because, quite literally, there were no other players left on the board worthy of being chosen 11th) and Maddox will be in Pittsburgh today to talk to the Rooneys and Cowher about his future. More specifically, he'll probably want to discuss why he's still slated to make $750,000 going into his second full year as the starter.

Enter Smizik, who solves the problem in a few short paragraphs:
"A fair salary for Maddox in 2004 would be $2 million, an increase of $1.25 million over what he is scheduled to make. The way to handle that is to rip up the old contract, give him a new one that includes the same base pay but with a $1.25 million signing bonus. That would give Maddox $2 million for 2004 and would count only an additional $416,667 against the salary cap for the next three years.

Maddox is more than the starting quarterback. He's a mentor to Roethlisberger. The bulk of developing Roethlisberger will fall to quarterback coach Mark Whipple and offensive coordinator Pete Whisenhunt. But it's only natural that a young quarterback would gravitate to a veteran teammate who plays the same position for advice and tutoring. Again, that's an important function, and it's in the best interest of the Steelers that Maddox be team-friendly while serving in such a role.

The Steelers have set an encouraging course for the future with Roethlisberger. They shouldn't forget about the present with Maddox."
That is exactly the point the Steelers should consider when talking to Maddox today. Of course they could choose to let him go and start the season with Batch, but that may create more questions than it answers (like who would be the backup?). I have to admit it, I'm with Smizik on this one.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

A look at the second day of the draft
5th Round (145 pick): DE Nathaniel Adibi, 6'3" 255 lbs.
Adibi may be moved to outside linebacker as the Steelers like to convert college DE to the OLB position (see Gildon, Porter, Haggans and Jackson). With more consistency could be a beast as a linebacker. At the very least, he'll add some much needed depth to the linebacker position.

An outstanding defensive end who has experience at both defensive end positions...A hard worker in the weight room and on the practice field who has shown steady progress during his time at Tech...He combines size with excellent strength and speed and is both intelligent and physical...In 48 games, he started 44 contests, recording 186 tackles (107 solos) with 20.5 sacks for minus-143 yards, 33 stops for losses of 171 yards, 55 quarterback pressures, a pair of fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, 10 pass deflections and two blocked kicks.

Shows the quickness needed to gain instant advantage off the line (see negatives below)...Instinctive recognizing the cut block, showing good knee bend to avoid and protect himself vs. the low blocks...Has a good burst and acceleration to close on the quarterback...Also plays on most of the special-team units (right wing on the field goal/extra point block unit, left wing on the punting unit and the L-4 on the punt blocking squad).

Consistency has been his major problem...Could be a difference-maker, if only he went hard on every play (has an inconsistent motor)

4.55 in the 40-yard dash (indoor track)...4.63 in the 40-yard dash (outdoors)...410-pound bench press.

6th Round (177 pick): OT/OG Bo Lacy, 6'4" 303 lbs.
The Steelers add more depth at a position that is sorely in need of it. He was a big part of the successful Razorback running game and even though he played primarily tackle in college, he can also play the guard position.

Has a tireless work ethic and shows the ability to be very capable of filling in at several offensive line slots...His lateral agility and foot speed could see him shift to guard at the pro level.

Has a big frame with good linear speed, long arms and thick legs...Shows the foot speed to defeat defenders working the edge coming off the snap...Has the frame to add more bulk with no loss of quickness...Ambidextrous athlete.

Needs to develop better lower body power in order to maintain balance...Shows explosion to cave the defensive line, but still learning how to locate targets moving in the second level.

Bench presses 225 pounds 22 times.

6th Round (194 pick): TE Matt Kranchick, 6'6" 258 lbs.
Pittsburgh uses the 194th pick to bolster the tight end position. Add him to a list that includes Jay Reimersma, Jerame Tuman and Matt Cushing (who also doubles as a FB). Kranchick is a beast and surprisingly fast for his size. It will be interesting to see where he fits in on this team -- I'm guessing if he makes the squad he'll be a special teams guy early on, but at some point, a tight end will have to be let go -- unless the Steelers are comfortable carrying four TEs on the roster.

Late bloomer who saw limited action during his first four seasons before emerging as a clutch short-area target for the passing game as a senior. He added 45lbs. while at Penn State after arriving on campus as a WR his freshman year.

Has rare size for this position...Makes good body adjustments getting to the ball in traffic...Has the vision needed to come back for the off-target passes and is flexible enough to make the over-the-shoulder grabs...Adequate, but an improving in-line blocker who constantly moves his feet to gain further leverage.

Despite his acceleration and quickness, he needs to show better foot agility, as he tends to trip over himself when trying to get into deep routes...Needs to show more aggression and utilize his size better blocking in the second level, as he does not always search out and neutralize the linebackers (better blocking in a stationary position than on the move, as he keeps his leg base too narrow, negating his anchor ability).

4.63 in the 40-yard dash (indoor rubber track)...4.88 in the 40-yard dash (outdoor grass field)...Bench presses 225 pounds 19 times.

6th Round (197 pick): C/DE/LS Drew Caylor, 6'5" 288 lbs.
This is a great pick late in the draft because of Caylor's versatility. As Cowher learned a few years ago, you can never underestimate the importance of having a good long snapper, and not only that Caylor can be an emergency backup center and also plays defensive end. It's not certain what the Steelers have in mind in terms of Caylors long-term position with the team.

Intriguing prospect who has yet to tap his impressive athletic potential...Spent three seasons as a defensive lineman before moving to the opposite side of the ball as a senior...Split time between center and offensive tackle the first four games of the 2003 campaign before taking over starting chores in the middle of the line for the team's final seven contests...Also performed well as the team's deep snapper for his final three seasons...Possesses great speed for a down lineman.

Shows a quick kick slide in pass protection and is very fluid redirecting down the line...Showed good improvement later in the 2003 season in using his hands to gain inside position...Two-handed, right-hand snapper who displays good velocity on his snaps and consistency in his location...Shows good body control and quickness on the coverage unit...Averaged snap time is 0.75 seconds (14 yards).

Will pay immediate dividends as a long snapper, but still learning techniques needed to perform as an offensive lineman...Showed steady improvement over the course of his senior year, but still needs foot work refinement, as he must learn how to adjust and mirror defenders in order to gain position.

4.82 in the 40-yard dash...31-inch vertical jump...370-pound bench press.

7th Round (212 pick): DT Eric Taylor 6'2" 302 lbs.
This is a solid 7th round pick because it's basically a no-risk selection. Taylor impressed a lot of people with his play his senior season and could provide much needed depth on the defensive line.

Rising star who came into his own as a senior...Collegiate defensive end, whose size, power and run-stuffing skills could see him shift to defensive tackle at the pro level. Started 24 of 39 games for the Tigers, recording 150 tackles (89 solos) with six sacks for minus-45 yards, 21 stops for losses of 85 yards, five quarterback pressures, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown and 12 pass deflections.

Physical and aggressive, showing balance, tenacity and urgency in his back side pursuit...Shows good urgency in his drive to get to the quarterback inside the box.

Needs to be more consistent with his hand usage, as he gets bumped out and washed down the line in run defense...Bites on misdirection and can be pulled offside by a hard count … Not always quick to read and react quickly as the play is developing...Has a quick burst, but will sometimes overrun the plays due to marginal stop-and-go action (gets a little sloppy with his feet).

5.35 40-yard dash (outdoors)...5.27 40-yard dash (indoor rubber track)...Bench presses 225 pounds 26 times.

*Here's a look at yesterday's picks:

Round 1. Ben Roethlisberger

Round 2. Ricardo Colclough

Round 3. Max Starks

Going into day 2

By most accounts the Steelers did everything by the book yesterday when they drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, CB Ricardo Colclough in the second round and OT Max Starks in the third round.

Some people thought Colclough wasn't worth giving up an additional fourth round pick to move up six spots in the second round, but for the most part, the Steelers had a very successful day yesterday.

With these three picks the Steelers addressed both immediate (CB, OT) and long-term needs (QB), even though it is likely that Colclough's playing time in 2004 might mirror that of Ike Taylor's last season (and that's not necessarily a bad thing). Russ Grimm, Pittsburgh's O-line coach will be in charge of whipping Max Starks into a playing shape and he should come in and challenge for a starting spot (although he's not guaranteed to start). Roethlisberger may either be on the Steve McNair plan (sit for a few years) or the Carson Palmer plan (sit for one year -- at least for now), but he certainly will not be on the Peyton Manning plan (start immediately).

Most of the Pittsburgh media had nothing but glowing commentary on draft day 1 -- see here and here.

But of course there's always one in every crowd. Mike Prisuta doesn't disappoint with his article on how the Steelers blew an opportunity to improve immediately by taking OT Shawn Andrews with the 11th pick instead of building for the future with QB Roethlisberger (silly Steelers!). He claims they are basically giving up on the 2004 season because they drafted 'hobble' OT Max Starks in the third round and he'll join the likes of Josh Burr, Morgan Pears, Todd Fordham, Barrett Brooks, Marvel Smith and Oliver Ross as being largely ineffective up front.

Prisuta even went so far as to say that the Bengals and Browns had a better day 1 draft than the Steelers (and I am sure, unequivocally, that he is the only person on the planet who feels that way). The Browns had to give up their 2nd round pick to move up one spot. The Bengals passed on RB Kevin Jones -- considered the best by some analysts going into the draft -- to take RB Chris Perry -- considered solid, but not spectacular by all analysts. The Steelers, on the other hand, had the nerve to take a franchise quarterback as well as address needs at the CB and OT positions.

They had no choice but to take Roethlisberger at 11. They initially wanted QB Philip Rivers (gone by the 4th pick), CB DeAngelo Hall (gone with the 8th pick) or CB Dunta Robinson (gone by the 10th pick). I guess they could have taken OT Shawn Andrews with the 11th pick, as Prisuta suggests, but this is such a monumental stretch with this pick that it doesn't make sense on a lot of levels. First, after Robert Gallery, there was a big dropoff in OT talent -- with most of the remaining players on the board pretty similar in ability. If you don't think so, after Andrews was taken 16th by the Eagles (which a lot of people still think is high), only one other OT was taken before the Steelers drafted Starks with the 75th pick. This is why NFL front offices get paid to scout these players and why Prisuta doesn't.

Prisuta finished up by saying:
"Recent history suggests Roethlisberger is as likely to turn into the next Tim Couch as he is the next Bledsoe, but the Steelers decided to swing for the fences, anyway, rather than to continue simply moving the runners.

Now that they have, the momentum of the offseason has been broken. Duce Staley was a significant signing that made the Steelers better now. Re-signing Clark Haggans made them better now if only because it got Jason Gildon off the field. And re-signing Mike Logan made them better now because it contributed to the release of Brent Alexander.

Rather than building on all of that, the Steelers looked ahead.

Well beyond 2004."
My first thoughts are, I wonder what Prisuta would have written if the Steelers passed on Roethlisberger and took OT Andrews? I'm guessing it would be exactly the same with the names changed.

Look, the New England Patriots, 2-time Super Bowl champs in the last 3 years, have manipulated the draft to their advantage the last few seasons that it almost seems like a science. One of their big beliefs is that they are willing to trade down this year to accumulate picks next year -- and in so doing position themselves for the future -- Belichick realizes he's in it for the long haul. Unlike Prisuta, who apparently would be content winning 9 games next season and then struggling for the next three or four doesn't buy into that philosophy -- and that's why he's a writer.

If you missed my commentary on yesterday's first three picks, see it here:

Round 1. Ben Roethlisberger

Round 2. Ricardo Colclough

Round 3. Max Starks

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Steelers take Max Starks in the 3rd
Round 3
With the 75th pick the Steelers selected University of Florida offensive tackle Max Starks and by doing so concluded what seems to be at least on paper one of the most solid Steeler drafts in recent years. Starks is 6'7" 350 lbs. and played left tackle with the Gators. It's not clear whether this means that Marvel Smith will move back to right tackle or not (of course all of this is contingent on Starks winning a starting job), but at the very least the Steelers now have options along the offensive line (that don't include Todd Fordham).

Starks has quick feet, is a good athlete and a great pass-blocker. Some think he needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage and work on his run-blocking. In some early mock drafts he was projected to be a late first rounder, but slipped due in part to weight problems and he struggled against speed rushers (but then who doesn't).

What's interesting is that only one other OT was taken between the Steelers 2nd and 3rd round picks (from pick 38 to pick 75) and that was Jacob Rogers (Dallas took him at 54).

Overall, the Steelers had a very successful day -- at least from a player personnel standpoint. They may have originally wanted Rivers but I'm guessing they were elated to have Roethlisberger fall in their lap at 11. Some might believe that Coclough would have been available with the 44th pick (the Steelers had to give up a 4th round pick to move up to 38), but it was a prudent move if they felt like he wouldn't last six more picks. Plus, any attempt by the front office to shore up the defensive backfield should be met with cheers.

Finally, Starks will provide some much needed depth along the offensive line after the departure of LT Wayne Gandy two seasons ago. Again, perhaps due to good fortune, Pittsburgh was able to land the OT they wanted with the 75th pick and have answered almost all of their 'big' question marks on the first day.

They still have to address some needs at linebacker (both inside and outside as they continue to try and get rid of Jason Gildon) and there has been speculation that they may take another CB tomorrow. Also don't be surprised if they get a WR before the end of the weekend.

After having some doubts about the 'Steeler war room,' I must say that Cowher and Colbert, all things considered, had a pretty good day. It seems the Steelers had a draft strategy going in and didn't deviate or panic when some of their top prospects were gone early. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow unfolds.

Check back tomorrow as I'll have commentary on rounds 5 - 7. Also, if you missed my commentary on the first two picks, check them out:

Round 1. Ben Roethlisberger

Round 2. Ricardo Cloclough

And with the 2nd pick: cornerback Ricardo Colclough
Round 2
The Steelers moved up six picks to take Division II standout Ricardo Colclough (pronounced coke-lee) and it looks like the right move. They gave up their 44th pick (2nd round) and their 107th pick (4th round) to move up to 38 to get Coclough (they traded with Indianapolis). The Steelers had nine picks coming into the draft and giving up a 4th rounder may be worth it if Coclough can do anything to shore up a defensive backfield that has struggled since midway through the 2001 season.

Although raw, Coclough had 11 INTs, 24 pass breakups, 29.1 yds/kickoff return (2 TDs) and was named SAC Player of the Year last season. With a definite need in the defensive backfield and plenty of offensive linemen still on the board, Pittsburgh filled a need at CB. He's listed at 5'10" 195 lbs. but needs to add some upper-body strength to be effective with the new contact rules coming into effect next season in the NFL. Still, Colclough is very quick, pretty fast (4.53 - 40), physical with good ball skills and (perhaps this is overkill) he's a really good return man (at last count the Steelers now have Antwaan Randle El, Lee Mays and Ike Taylor returning either punts or kickoffs -- I guess we can add Coclough to the list).

As I mentioned, he'll need to refine his technique coming from Division II where he dominated, but this guy has all the tools you look for in an aggressive, physical cornerback. The Steelers still have to address the offensive tackle position and so far (through the 38th pick) only two (three if you consider tackle Vernon Carey, taken 19th overall by the Dolphins, even though he's projected to be a guard in the NFL) tackles are off the board (Robert Gallery - 2nd overall; Shawn Andrews - 16th overall). It's been widely reported that after Gallery there was a large dropoff in talent at the tackle position so not jumping on one in the 2nd round might be the right move. That said, Nat Dorsey, Kelly Butler, Jacob Rogers, Travelle Wharton, Tony Pape and Max Starks are all still on the board and are competent choices. Also look for Shawn Andrews' brother, Stacy Andrews to be a late round sleeper.

Check back later for my third round commentary and if you missed the first round take on Ben Roethlisberger, check it out here.

San Diego outfoxes the fox
Eli Manning, with assistance from his father, declared his unwillingness to play in San Diego primarily because the organization was not making strides towards returning to the playoffs anytime in the foreseeable future. Despite the warnings that Manning would be willing to sit out the season, the Chargers drafted him with the first pick anyway. This immediately raised questions about San Diego's motivation -- especially given that the Giants were more than willing to make a deal over the last few days. Well, it all became clear when New York drafted quarterback Philip Rivers with the fourth pick and then promptly consummated a trade with San Diego to swap quarterback picks.

The Mannings had every right to question the Chargers competence in putting together a winner, but this trade should erase many doubts, at least in the minds of San Diego fans. In addition to getting the quarterback they wanted all along, Philip Rivers, they also acquired the Giants 3rd round pick in 2004 as well as next year's 1st round and 5th round picks.

Many people in the know in the NFL describe New England Patriot coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Scott Pioli as very progressive and forward-thinking in their approach to how the draft works. They have been known to trade down one year only to stock up on picks the following year (which is exactly what they did for 2004). While no one would mistake the Chargers for the Patriots, trading Manning to the Giants was a very shrewd move for several reasons. As I mentioned above, they get the quarterback they wanted all along without having to actually take him first. They also get three additional draft picks to restock a team that has struggled for the better part of a decade. But perhaps the most important part of this trade is the 2005 first round pick they get from the Giants. This pick allows the Chargers to pursue wide receiver Mike Williams in the supplemental draft if he is available. This will give Rivers a much needed target on the outside and perhaps more importantly for a team that is rebuilding, they will still have a first round pick in the 2005 draft.

For all the confusion and posturing going on the last few days with the Chargers, this was easily the most astute move of the draft so far -- especially when you consider that Manning did not want to come here because of a history of bad front office decisions.

Roethlisberger is the future
Round 1
The Steelers did exactly what they had to do when they took QB Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick in today's NFL draft. The QB they supposedly coveted, Philip Rivers, was gone by the fourth pick, as were standout cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson. Unless the Steelers were willing to trade down and either get OT Shawn Andrews or another CB, this was without a doubt the right pick.

In the past few months I have been a vocal proponent of getting a CB and also very anti-drafting a QB with this pick. But given how things played out, the Steelers, in my opinion did exactly the right thing -- they took the best available player who hopefully will take a year or two to develop, will not be hindered by only playing the position for five years and by playing in a second-tier conference and will be a mainstay in Pittsburgh for years to come. Roethlisberger is a gamble, but who isn't outside of Robert Gallery?

Of course this does nothing to address the CB and OT needs, but the Steelers still have eight picks to go. If nothing else, this creates some excitement in Pittsburgh as fans look forward to the 2004 season. Check back later for the 2nd round commentary.

Friday, April 23, 2004

The Eli Manning effect
So now that Eli Manning, through his father Archie, has proclaimed his unwillingness to be a Charger, what does this all mean for tomorrow's draft -- especially if you're a Steelers fan? There is already speculation that the Steelers might try to trade up to ensure they get Rivers. The only problem is they will have to really trade up to get him. Let's make a few assumptions and then move forward with what the Steelers view as possibilities.

First, let's assume that San Diego swaps picks with the Giants. Now the Giants will have the first overall pick and the Chargers will pick fourth. Now if this happens, we're pretty much assured that the Giants will take Manning with the first pick. Barring any other deals, the following players will probably be drafted with the next nine picks (in random order here): Gallery, Fitzgerald, R. Williams, P. Rivers, K. Winslow, S. Taylor, D. Hall, K. Udeze and B. Roethlisberger.

This is a blessing (not even in disguise -- I think it's obvious to everyone) for the Chargers. They'll be able to take Rivers with the 4th pick, collect some much needed draft picks -- and maybe even Ike Hilliard -- and still get the quarterback they wanted in the first place, Philip Rivers.

The problem for the Steelers, who have (not so) secretly coveted Rivers is that now they may have to: (a) trade up to get Rivers, (b) draft a CB or, (c) trade down and get an O-lineman. Actually, I don't really consider this much of a problem. It will be too expensive for them to trade up so that is probably not likely and depending on what happens, Roethlisberger may be around when Pittsburgh selects (although I still think I'm in favor of getting a CB). But if Roethlisberger's gone, then the teams ahead of them have made Pittsburgh's job easy. Fate has intervened and even though a QB may not be in the Steelers first round future, that ain't necessarily a bad thing. The Steelers still need desperate help on the defensive side of the ball and they may even take two CBs in tomorrow's draft.

And as along as I'm talking about CBs, it's amazing how Chad Scott has escaped ridicule as one of the most ineffective CBs in the league (he certainly rivaled D. Washington on the Steelers) while it's theorized that Tommy Maddox is so far removed from his 2002 season that he will be selling insurance by October.

After O-line, CB is the most important position need on this team -- well ahead of any QB needs -- and solidifying that position will take a lot of pressure off of the D-line (to get sacks), as well as an offense that hopefully will revitalize the running game. Look, I haven't watched one second of tape on any of the QB prospects, but I do know this. QBs are often overvalued -- especially as first round picks -- and what's more important is getting someone who is not necessarily spectacular, but instead is both capable and consistent.

Let's hope all three QBs are gone by the time the Steelers pick and that D. Hall or D. Robinson are still on the board. In my mind, that would be a good start to the 2004 season.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Pittsburgh draft news
With the draft only two days away, people are coming out of the woodwork to offer their opinions, insight and advice. Here are a couple of articles from the Pittsburgh papers that caught my eye.

Take the best available athlete
If that means not taking Philip Rivers then that's my mantra too. Actually, Guy Junker writes that while enticing because of their potential, players with questionable mecnanics (Rivers) or questionable work ethic (OT Shawn Andrews) should be overlooked in the first round because it's such an important pick. He is effectively advocating that the Steelers should take either cornerback DeAngelo Hall or Dunta Robinson because they are both fast, athletic and have strong cover skills.

Of course the argument can be made that if the Steelers are drafting based on output, Rivers might still be the best available players -- and I can't really dispute that. Especially when you consider that if Rivers had the mechanics of Kerry Collins he might be the highest rated (or at least neck-and-neck with Eli Manning) QB in the draft. But his mecahnics are more than just cosmetic. If you're in the pocket and need to dump the ball off to your third or fourth receiver it becomes very difficult when a defensive line that averages 6'5" is matched up against a QB who is now effectively 6'0".

And that's the point Junker is making -- and one I tend to agree with.

Mark Madden: "Start Rivers!"
Mark Madden, with sage-like advice from Chris Mortensen, thinks that if the Steelers draft Rivers they should start him immediately for the following silly reasons:
Rivers started 51 games for the Wolfpack, a college football record. Considering his stellar performance there, it would be folly to break that kind of momentum...

The Ryan Leaf exception duly noted, quarterbacks drafted in the first round usually have intelligence and leadership abilities to match their athleticism...

Maddox, ironically, was a first-round washout. He had one great, adrenaline-driven season in 2002 when he beat out Stewart. (By the way, what took Maddox so long?) But last year, when the adrenaline dissipated and his line collapsed, Maddox often played like a once and future insurance salesman...

That doesn't mean Maddox is terrible. But it does mean his upside is minimal. To bench Rivers -- to break the momentum Rivers built up at N.C. State by starting 51 games -- for the sake of starting Maddox one more year would be ludicrous.
Let's see, where to start. Since when do you start someone so as not to break their streak of consecutive games played? Are we drafting Cal Ripken? If Rivers sits for a year, will he be a worse player? Even if the Steelers draft Rivers and are still able to adequately address the CB and OT positions, they should be very competitve next season. And if they are competitive it makes little sense to start Rivers immediately -- that effectively negates any improvements made in other areas because you're now having a QB going through growing pains while the rest of the team is running on all cylinders (or as close as this team can get).

Now, concerning the "...quarterbacks drafted in the first round usually have intelligence and leadership..." comment, might I direct you to the following first round QBs (courtesy of Akili Smith, Jim Druckenmiller, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer, David Klingler, Todd Marinovich and Andre Ware. Some of these guys are probably intelligent but none of them were leaders on the football field and they were all first round picks, so that argument doesn't work here. Now if he had said, "...quarterbacks drafted in the first round usually get arrested (Druckenmiller, Marinovich), are really overrated (Klingler, Ware) or just stink (Smith, Shuler, Mirer)..." then it might have worked. Of course I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.

Madden seems to think that Maddox has already enjoyed his 15 minutes and will only get worse (or at least get no better). He knows as well as everyone else that if the Steelers get a competent RT to go with newly acquired Duce Staley, this team will more closely resemble the '02 team than the '03 team -- and that includes the play of Maddox. But of course if Madden doesn't make disparaging remarks then he's not being Madden.

Draft Odds
ProFootballWeekly has some odds on what will happen in the first round of Saturday's NFL draft. It's pretty funny, although they don't offer any insight into who the Steelers might take:
Will the Steelers take a QB in the first round?
Yes -- 2:1
No -- 2:1
Thanks -- that clears up everything. Here's my favorite, though:
Odds that the Chargers "pass" on their first pick (a la the Vikings last year) -- 25:1
Odds that the Vikings "pass" on their first pick -- 7:1
Odds that any other team "passes" on their first pick -- 15:1

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

What J.R. Smith has to look forward to
Just a few months ago, high school All-American J.R. Smith was pretty sure he'd be a UNC Tarheel in the fall. After several awesome performances at all-star high school basketball games, now he's not so sure. In fact, if Smith is assured of being a lottery pick, consider him gone. The Charlotte Observer reported yesterday that:
Two NBA scouts who spoke to the Observer on Monday said it was no given that Smith would be among those first 14 picks on June 24.

One scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Smith would have been a second-round pick a month ago, but his performances in the prep all-star games now make him mid- to late first round.

"You've got to think about him" in the second half of the first round, the scout said. "He moves and jumps with such purpose."

A scout from another team said he could count 22 players who might go ahead of Smith in this draft.
This is good and bad. It's good if you're a UNC fan -- because it sounds like J.R. Smith won't be a lottery pick, and will probably end up in Chapel Hill. It's bad in that scouts have considered this guy a much better talent based on four all-star games than on 25 high school games. Anything can happen in four games. Remember Mark Lemke -- in seven games he hit .444 during the 1996 NLCS. He was a lifetime .246 hitter. My point is that it just seems silly to christen anyone the next anything based on four games.

Either way, here's what J.R. Smith can look forward to if he goes straight to the NBA. I took a look at all the players drafted out of high school since 1995 and how they performed their first three years in the league (the tradeoff then becomes a three year NBA education vs. three years of game experience in college). I looked at both results for all players and results for players 6'8" and under (J.R. Smith is 6'6") and here's what the numbers look like (one other thing -- I only looked at first round picks because Smith has made it known that he won't come out if he's not taken in the lottery):
Under 6'8"
yrs in nba mpg ppg rpg apg spg to
1 11.4 4.9 1.3 0.9 0.5 1.1
2 21.5 10.2 2.6 2.1 0.7 1.5
3 25.2 12.3 3.4 2.3 0.9 2.0
Total 19.4 9.1 2.4 1.8 0.7 1.5
All players
yrs in nba mpg ppg rpg apg spg to
1 15.0 5.5 3.2 0.8 0.4 1.0
2 20.3 8.2 4.3 1.4 0.6 1.4
3 26.7 10.9 5.6 1.9 0.8 1.8
Total 20.5 8.1 4.3 1.3 0.6 1.4

*Players include: Garnett, Bryant, McGrady, L. Smith, J. Bender, Stevenson, Miles, K. Brown, Harrington, E. Curry, T. Chandler and Diop
I should note that there aren't a lot of people to compare Smith to -- and hopefully that isn't lost on Smith -- so the results are only based on the performance of a few players.

Overall, first year players average 15 minutes per game and score 5.5 points per game. If you're under 6'8" you get roughly 11 minutes a game and average only 5 points a contest. By your second year however, you get almost 22 minutes a game, and average 10 points per game -- both of which are solid numbers. The thing is, I don't think any scouts would confuse J.R. Smith with Kobe Bryant or McGrady -- two guys who are perennial all-stars now, but also had to learn from the bench early in their careers. Smith can shoot, but he'll have to play a lot of 2-guard in the NBA and his ball-handling skills need a lot of work. If nothing else, he might be better served going to college for one year, work on his ball-handling and compete against some of the best college basketball players in the country. While sitting on the bench might in some regards be beneficial to a rookie, more times than not, actually being in the game makes players better -- especially when they're 18 and used to playing every game.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A-Rod's struggles continue -- for now
After a lousy series with the Red Sox I started to wonder if A-Rod could really play this poorly for the entire season. I know everyone goes through slumps, gets off to slow starts and generally struggles at times during the season. And usually, the really good players always rebound, putting up huge numbers that make you all but forget the 0 for 18 stretch they had in early May. But this is a little different because now A-Rod is playing in New York and I'm guessing he has never experienced the pressure or scrutiny he now faces on a daily basis.

I decided to take a look at how other 'impact' players, coming from small market teams to play in either New York or Boston faired their first year under the microscope. I only went back ten years and the term 'impact' is loosely defined at best (in fact, there really is no definition; instead I looked at the rosters of both teams and chose the high-profile acquisitions). I decided to go back ten years because both teams have been playoff-competitive over that time and I suspect newly acquired players would feel much more pressure to perform under those circumstances than playing on a New York team that won 70 games in 1994, for example.

Anyway, I looked at the following players: Danny Tartabull, Chuck Knoblauch, Cecil Fielder, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Wil Cordero, Carl Everett and Tony Clark. I feel like all of these players were brought in to have an immediate impact on their team's performance, but how do you quantify impact (that's another can of worms -- something I'll have to give more thought to)? Either way, this is nothing more than a cursory look at how these players did their first year under the microscope and maybe shed some light on what A-Rod can expect as the season progresses.

I simply looked at the OPS of all these players before and after they joined either New York or Boston and as a Red Sox fan the results are unsettling (at least as it applies to Yankee players).
player OPS b/f ny/bos OPS 1st yr in ny/bos
Giambi 0.938 1.033
Knoblauch 0.809 0.766
Fielder 0.811 0.837
Tartabull 0.903 0.898
M. Ramirez 0.939 1.014
Damon 0.767 0.799
Cordero 0.765 0.734
Everett 0.689 0.960
T. Clark 0.836 0.556
All players 0.844 0.830

*OPS is on-base percentage + slugging percentage -- which correlates highly with offensive production
I ran a t-test and there is no statistical difference between how players perform prior to coming to the big cities and how they perform during their first season in the pressure cooker. In fact, most players actually improved -- Giambi, Fielder, Manny, Damon, and Everett (by a lot) -- and Knoblauch's, Tartabull's and Cordero's decline was minimal. So the good news for A-Rod and Yankee fans is that this slump shouldn't last long -- and in fact, if history is any guide, A-Rod's likely to have an average year (for him) -- which is an all-star year for anybody else. But as a Red Sox fan I'll keep my fingers crossed just in case.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Are fewer blacks turning to baseball?
The NY Times has a story in today's paper about how the numbers of black players in MLB has decreased from 19 percent in 1995 to 9 percent last season. This season 24 percent of players are Latino. One reason given for the decline is that black athletes experience more immediate gratification in other sports like basketball, where high school phenoms can go straight to the NBA without having to toil in the minor leagues making llittle money while they hone their skills.

Another reason baseball may be less popular with black athletes is because programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) haven't received the attention they once did in the 1990s. Baseball could also be suffering from what soccer in this country has experienced since it's inception -- losing athletes to other, more glamorous sports.

Of course, it could simply be the case that the demographics of this country are ever-changing and MLB reflects those changes. As of the last census, Latinos accounted for 13 percent of the population and blacks made up roughly 12 percent. As it stands, there are a few more Latinos in baseball than the national average, but black representation in baseball mirrors the national average. Does that mean there isn't a problem? Not neccesarily, but I guess it depends on who you ask. Asians are sorely underrepresented in professional sports (but oddly enough, not in baseball), but there doesn't seem to be a big push to get more Asians on NFL rosters.

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).

Saturday, April 17, 2004

A couple of things
Leyritz in NY?
When did the Yankees re-sign #13 Jim Leyritz? Oh wait, that was A-Rod. Is it bad when Leyritz batted higher (.254) during his stint with the Yankees than A-Rod is currently (.189)?


One down, one to go
The Charlotte Observer reports today that high school All-American, Marvin Williams has chosen UNC over the NBA. Williams said he never seriously considered the NBA as an option. One down, one to go -- now Roy Williams has to convince swingman J.R. Smith.

Steeler draft strategy
Here's a story taken from soon after last year's draft. It gives some insight into how the whole process works from the coaches perspectives.
PITTSBURGH - To compare the process to a football game, the fourth quarter is about to begin. And everyone knows that in the NFL, it's the good teams that find ways to win in the fourth quarter.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are completely focused on the NFL Draft, and the next three weeks will be critical in getting ready for the decisions they'll be facing over seven rounds on April 26-27.

"We're in the final stages of the draft preparation," said Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert. "We are in the process of having our (individual position) meetings. Right now, we're just trying to sort through all of the information. We have all the information, and now is when we try to make sense of it all.

"All the coaches and all of the scouts have their information gathered, and now is when we hear it all out so that we can come up with some kind of rating. I will orchestrate the meetings. We'll listen to various reports by up to three scouts and up to three coaches. We'll watch a short video to get a picture of what we've been hearing. And then we'll rate the players."

The position meetings began on April 2, and the people in the room are the scouts, the position coach, the respective coordinator, Colbert and Coach Bill Cowher.

The purpose of the meetings is to grade each individual within the position while also comparing those guys to guys at other positions. When it's all over, the Steelers will have assigned a grade to each player, and that grade determines whether the team sees him as a No. 1 pick, No. 2 pick, down to a free agent.

The tricky part is ranking the players graded within the same round. For instance, is the first-round talent at linebacker a better player than the first-round talent at safety? Is the second-round cornerback better than the second-round offensive tackle?

"Usually we have to rely on the scouts for that, because most of the time the coaches are looking at just one position; the coordinators are looking at just one side of the ball," said Colbert. "I can ask a coordinator about players at different positions on his side of the ball, but when you get on different sides of the ball, I have to rely heavily on the scouts and the head coach."

Such situations might seem conducive for arguments, where coaches might become territorial, where scouts might fall in love with raw ability over the team's specific needs and wants. But Colbert promises that testosterone rarely becomes a problem in the room.

"Everybody is respectful of everyone else's opinion, and what you have to do is understand that someone might be able to point out something you didn't see," said Colbert. "That's why we try to get different looks at different times of the year, so we can get a balanced, crossover point of view.
It's my job, along with the head coach, to condense what everyone is saying into one opinion that we can agree upon. Then, come up with a rating."

Once all the players at all of the positions are rated, the Steelers also will conduct their own mock draft.

"We do that the week before the draft," said Colbert. "With a mock draft, it's like going through the game plan, or having a practice for a game. You practice a certain play against a certain defense, you're going to expect a certain result. What we prepare ourselves for is: what happens if this player gets taken and these guys are available?

"You go through different scenarios, so that if it does happen during the draft when you're on the clock, you don't panic. You want to prepare yourself for the eventuality, so you can make a timely decision. You practice it."

The Steelers' mock draft will encompass just two rounds, because Colbert said anything beyond that is impossible to predict. One of the things they won't practice is trading, because there's no way of knowing which team might be interested in being a partner in a given situation. But Colbert said the Steelers know what it would cost them to move up in a round, and they also have an idea of what they would deserve to move back.

"You do have an idea of what it will cost, an idea of what you should get," said Colbert. "You have to go on history. Some teams use these extravagant formulas, but I've never been a big disciple of that because it varies from year to year, and player to player. To lock yourself into a formula, I don't like to do that."

While the meetings continue, the Steelers also will bring various draft-eligible players to the UPMC Sports Performance Complex for day-long visits. Teams are allowed to bring in college players until April 18.

"The main purpose of the visits is to have him meet with our trainer to make sure there is nothing that's come up since the last time we visited him," said Colbert. "There are kids who have workouts after the combine and pull a hamstring, or whatever. We also get another chance to visit with the person, just to reassure yourself. Other times you might get 15 minutes; with a visit, you get more time."

The Steelers have the time over the next three weeks to get ready for a weekend that will be defined by their ability to make decisions under pressure. Just like the fourth quarter of a game.
Out of last year's draft class CB Ike Taylor (4th round pick) probably had the biggest impact followed by first round pick SS Troy Polamalu. Second round pick Alonzo Jackson didn't see the field at all as a LB. I certainly hope this year's class makes more contributions on the field than the class of 2003.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Steelers to draft a cornerback
Or so thinks the Post Gazette's Ed Bouchette. He reasons that since the Steelers have had six CBs in town over the last three days (19 players have visited in total), they'll probably take one of them in the first round. I hope he's right, but it could very easily be the case that the Steelers are still primed to take Rivers in the first round and take one of the six CBs in the second. Of course it has also been rumored (or at least sugggested) that the Chargers (who are apparently in love with Rivers) should trade down, stock up some draft picks and pick up Rivers. I'm all for anything that precludes the Steelers from having to make a bad decision -- especially in the first round.

It's amazing how big a deal the draft becomes when your team stinks -- the last two drafts weren't noteworthy if for no other reason than the Steelers didn't have a lot of holes to fill (or at least it seemed that way at the time). For Bengals (at least up until this season) and Chargers fans this may be more exciting than the actual season -- at least you can feign hope in April that your team will actually be good come September. Anyway, I digress -- and I hope Bouchette is right.

Oh yeah, CB Dunta Robinson, of South Carolina and Ricardo Colclough of Tusculum, a Division II school, were the two CBs in Pittsburgh yesterday.

Jerry DiPaola also writes today that the Steelers are looking for depth on the defensive line. And while NT Casey Hampton is one of the best in the NFL, there is a need (although not an immediate one) for backups up front. DiPaola takes a look at some of the draft prospects and who might be of interest to the Steelers.

Welcome A-Rod!
Today's NY Times has two good articles marginally related to the Red Sox; one about what A-Rod can expect on his first visit to Fenway as the Yankees and Red Sox open their series tonight, and another story about how teams are finding ways to create revenue given their current physical (ballparks) and financial constraints.

A-Rod: public enemy #2
A-Rod is quoted in the NYT story as saying, "I always felt that it was a compliment to get booed on opposing ground..." but I suspect being booed in Seattle and being booed in Boston will be two totally different experiences for him. And even though A-Rod left Seattle for greener wallets in Texas, Red Sox fans feel like they were left at the altar only to have the groom run off with the bridesmaid. A-Rod is still likeable, but that may be hard to tell this weekend. Lucky for him, the most hated person in Boston plays about 40 feet away from him on defense.
"Derek is the most hated man in Boston," catcher Jorge Posada said. "It's him and Bucky Dent. I think they hate Derek more than Bucky. Aaron Boone was one game. It's all the time with Derek."

Jeter is the Yankee strolling around Fenway Park with what seems like a "Boo Me Forever" label above the No. 2 on his back. Jeter doubted that he would serve as an umbrella for Rodriguez, guessing there would be enough healthy lungs in the house to bury one more villain.

"They've been on me for years," Jeter said.
So there is good news if you're A-Rod. The fans won't really start busting his chops until the 4th or 5th inning -- after they're done with Jeter and have had the requisite 7 beer minimum to officially start the series.

How to squeeze every nickel out of your facility and your fans
I don't know what's more amazing, the fact that the Red Sox find new and more interesting places to stick seats around Fenway, or that fans pay up to $250 for a single ticket. It's understandable that teams need to raise revenues -- especially when the Red Sox have a payroll of $124 million -- but what's more intriguing is that the Red Sox continue to sell out games, season after season, even as prices have seemingly doubled every three or four years (a quick aside: when I lived in Boston in the mid-1990s you could sit in the bleachers for $8. Today it's $20 -- that's only an increase of 150% -- not bad). So I guess the real story here is that because Fenway is so small, and has such a large following, there are enough people willing to fork over the extra cash to see the Sox play -- and they're possibly having to give up other activities (vacations, for example) as a result. I'm sure Henry and Lucchino realize this, so barring a new stadium, I'll be interested to see how high prices will go before fans start voting with their feet.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

McCants, May & Felton are all returning
"I'm back. I already sat down and talked to coach Williams and my parents, and I'm just going to come back strong next year and make things happen."

"We can be a Final Four, a national championship team...That's what we're shooting for, that's what we're going for. We're not settling for anything less."

--Ray Felton, who earlier this season said he would turn pro if he thought he would be a top-10 pick.
That pretty much says it all it terms of reasons not to leave early -- that and Felton was probably not guaranteed to be a high draft pick. Either way, it bodes well for Roy Williams specifically and Tarheel fans generally. The only matters left unresolved are the future plans of All-Americans J.R. Smith and Marvin Williams.

In other news that came as a shock to no one, Dwight Howard opted not to attend college (UNC) and instead enter the NBA draft.