Monday, April 25, 2005

There Was A Draft?

Hey, apparently this was the weekend of the NFL draft and I completely missed it. Just kidding. In fact, although I really didn't follow the draft that closely in the weeks leading up to it, I spent about 40 out of the 48 available hours this weekend either watching or reading about the 255 players taken in the seven rounds. I finally realized that I had a problem when I TiVoed rounds 4-7 just to see which players I'd never seen play in college ended up getting drafted. But the great thing about the draft is that everybody wins because no games are actually played.

Anyway, It's actually pretty exhausting work staring at a television for two straight days, while simultaneously stuffing your face with pizza and drinking beer.

I really thought I would find other ways to occupy myself this weekend, especially considering that the 2005 draft for the Steelers wouldn't be nearly as important as the 2004 one. I mean they had the 30th pick for chrissakes -- how exciting can that be? Well, exciting enough because five or so hours after the draft started I was staring at the TV waiting to pass judgement on the Steelers selection. Would they doom their season before it even started with a ludicriouly dopey pick (see Troy Edwards, 1999), or should they graduate immediately to the playoffs because they hit the jackpot (Roethlisberger)?

Well, it wasn't really surprising when Paul Tagliabue called TE Heath Miller's name. In fact, it was more of a relief. And even though I was pimping QB/TE/WR/Hot Dog Vendor Matt Jones last week, I basically liked him because he had tremendous upside (more on that later). But luckily no one in the Steelers organization asks me for personnel advice, and they took a tight end who some people believe have the best hands of any player in the draft. And I know some fans have been belly-aching about the fact that the Steelers prefer to use their tight ends as glorified linemen, Cowher was able to game-plan around a guy named Eric Green back in the mid-1990s, so it's not like it can't happen.

And given that the Steelers currently have three fourths of the Smurfs starting at WR (Hines, Antwaan and Cedrick Wilson), getting a 6'5" athletic pass-catching tight end to occupy the middle of the field is a great move.

Anyway, here are some thoughts I had during the weekend:

... First things first. ESPN has outdone itself yet again. Just when you thought they couldn't do anymore in the way of yelling and arm-waving, while maintaining the right level of inane commentary, the 2005 draft coverage comes along. On Saturday, Chris Berman, Chris Mortensen and Mel Kiper were joined by WR Torry Holt, the only guy who actually seemed to know what he was talking about without coming off sounding like an idiotic blowhard.

It's becoming clear to me that Chris Berman is pretty much useless when he's not hosting that Sunday night NFL show with Tom Jackson. He's atrocious as a play-by-play MLB guy and this weekend he added absolutely nothing to the telecast. And while that's not really news, I actually think I got dumber listening to his mindless quips.

To be fair, he really didn't have much to work with. At several points during the day I thought he was going to haul off and knock Mortensen out of his chair. Mortensen had the look of a kid who just had his lunch money stolen and I'm guessing that had a lot to do with the fact that Kiper was stepping on his toes with all of his pontificating about draft picks. Thank god Holt was there. He came off as a smart guy who asked some good questions about why certain teams drafted certain players. And unlike the three amigos, he didn't fawn over every name that was called simply for the sake of making noise. If he wasn't on the set I probably would've muted the TV 30 minutes earlier. Next year I'm hoping for the panel of Chris Berman, Stuart Scott, Screamin' A. Smith and Skip Bayless. And given the direction of ESPN, I'm guessing I'll get my wish.

... Braylon Edwards might be the best wide receiver in the draft, but all I can think about everytime I hear his name is something Michael Wilbon said Friday:
“Is it just me, or does this remind you just a little bit of another promising receiver drafted by the Redskins who thought a whole lot of himself, who had a $140,000 car before he had caught a touchdown pass in the NFL? Does the name Michael Westbrook ring a bell? Tell me again how that worked out for the Redskins?”
There's nothing like starting your career being compared to Michael Westbrook -- the guy I remember as 'that dude who caught Kordell's 80-yard pass when they were in college together at Colorado.'

... When the Lions took Mike Williams I was pretty sure that they may only draft WRs in the first round from here on out. At some point you have to wonder where they're going to play all these guys. On the upside however, they should dominate those NFL off-season made-for-television events where they drop balls out of hot air balloons and see which players can catch them. So kudos to Matt Millen for his foresight on that.

... The Jaguars took Matt Jones with the their 21st pick. They want him to play WR. This is the same Matt Jones who played QB in college and moved to WR about two months ago. I thought it would be a stretch for the Steelers to take him at #30, so it's definitely a head-scratcher at #21. Of course, this pick was actually a good thing for Pittsburgh because it meant that they wouldn't be tempted to take Jones if he was still on the board at #30.

... The Ravens got WR Mark Clayton in the first round, and by all accounts he's a great player. He's also short, which means that Kyle Boller will hang him out to dry twice as often as a receiver of average height. I wonder what excuse Billick will have if Boller busts out another 65.0 QB-rating.

... The Packers get my vote for the Humanitarian Award. They took mercy on QB Aaron Rodgers and selected him with the 24th pick and it couldn't come soon enough. Unfortunately for Rodgers, he was one of six players invited to sit at those comedy club tables just off the main stage at the draft. By the 8th pick, Rodgers was the only guy yet to hear his name called. So after each of the next 14 names were called ESPN was kind enough to give us a closeup of Rodgers as he looked like he was going to donkey punch his agent (sitting to his right) before killing himself.

... The Redskins have solidified themselves as the worst organization in professional football. Let me see if I got this straight -- they took CB Carlos Rogers with their #9 pick (which was a good one), but inexplicably took QB Jason Campbell at #25. The always lucid Joe Gibbs explained the Campbell selection as a "pick for the future...we expect Patrick Ramsey to take us to many playoff and championship games, but Campbell is the QB of the future..."

QB of the future? Isn't Ramsey 26 years old? And what kind of sense does it make to carry three QBs on your roster with all making ridiculous amounts of money (especially third-stringer Mark Brunell)? But the funny thing is, the Campbell pick wasn't even close to being the worst one of the weekend for the Redskins. It was clear to just about everyone (except those guys actually making the picks) that Washington needed to get a lot better on offense. There WRs were pretty bad and their offensive line was, well, offensive (that joke never gets old -- it has yet to be funny, but it never gets old). I guess Gibbs thinks 43-yr. old offensive tackle Ray Brown can still get it done because after Campbell the Skins drafted two linebackers and two fullbacks. Who the hell drafts two fullbacks? Especially when you have so many other needs. And on what planet does it make sense to take two defensive players when (a) you had one of the best defenses in the league in 2004, and (b) you have a lot more holes on offense? The good news for me is that I've never been a Redskins fan and I look forward to seeing them get another top-10 draft pick in 2006 -- whoops, they traded that pick to Denver for the right to draft Jason Campbell. Good thinking.

... The Patriots took G Logan Mankins with their first round pick. They followed that up with CB Ellis Hobbs in the second round, G Nick Kaczur in the third, and (in my Ed McMahon voice) THE NEXT TOM BRADY!!: QB Matt Cassel. I'm guessing if any of the other 31 teams had taken these guys, they would immediately get a failing grade on their draft report cards (which by the way are probably the most idiotic things this side of "Cold Pizza"). For a team that has a need at linebacker, these picks seem curious. Of course I also thought the Steelers should take Matt Jones, so it's not clear I know what the hell I'm talking about.

... If you're Jets kicker Dave Brien how psyched must you be that the Jets took a kicker with their second round pick? The last time a kicker was taken that high was when the Raiders grabbed heavyweight Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick in 2000.

... On paper, the Steelers addressed all of their needs heading into the draft. Of course we won't know for a few years whether this is a strong class, but I certainly feel better after this draft than I have in quite some time. After taking Heath Miller in the first round, the Steelers bolstered the secondary with CB Bryant McFadden. Now I don't watch a lot of college football so all I know about these guys are all the highlights they show in between picks. What I do know is that he's big, physical and fast -- three things that made the Steelers defense so successful last season. I'm guessing Dick LeBeau had a lot of input into this pick and if he feels good about it, that's enough for me.

In the third round the Steelers got the pick that evoked the 'ol "hey, who the hell is this guy?" when I saw his name crawl across the screen. Tackle Trai Essex is the guy in question and apparently he's a great athlete who also has a penchant for hamburgers. He's from Northwestern and he arrived on campus as a really good high school tight end. A steady diet of Twinkies and sticks of butter changed all that as he "ate his way out of the position" (according to one draft report). Again, I'll defer to the Steelers on this one, and Russ Grimm in particular.

In the fourth round the Steelers got Plax II -- Georgia WR Fred Gibson. Gibson is 6'4" 196 lbs. and apparently has a knack for making acrobatic catches while also taking the occasional play off. Sound familiar? This is actually a good pick, especially since Gibson was slated to go in the 2ne or 3rd round but slipped because of the dreaded, "off the field issues." He'll be the tallest person in the WR lines in minicamp and training camp by a good five or six inches, and hopefully he, Heath Miller and Roethlisberger can grow old together.

If Pittsburgh got "character guys" with their first three picks, then their next three picks should be nicknamed "Shawshank." Gibson's had some issues and their fifth round pick, LB Rian Wallace was suspended in college for punching a player in the face. Other than the fact that that's a crime was the little detail that the player just happened to be his teammate. Ironically, he'll be his teammate in Pittsburgh too because rumor has it that WR Zamir Cobb was the lucky recipient. Whatever happened, I like this pick because it sounds like Wallace is crazy. Which means that while he learns to play linebacker in the NFL he can go nuts on special teams. Rounding out the trifecta of nuttiness is the Steelers sixth round pick: G Chris Kemoeatu. He's been described as having "anger management issues," and as being a dirty player. When I hear this two things come to mind: Orlando Brown. You know, the big tackle for the Ravens who tried to punch a whole through an official a few years ago when the official accidentally launched a penalty flag into Brown's eye.

In the seventh round Pittsburgh got the next Chris Hoke when they drafted BYU DL Shaun Nua. They also got RB Noah Herron who could possibly move to fullback.

... So the Broncos took Maurice Clarett, huh? In the third round, no less. So now this team has every defensive linemen to play in Cleveland the last four seasons and now they have 12 running backs competing for four or five spots. Interesting.

... And last but not least: This year's Mr. Irrelevant? TE Andy Stokes from William Penn.

Good times. Now only four months until the season starts.