An NFL breakdown that heads in the opposite direction of your average pro football analysis.
1. Draft report cards are almost always backwards. Teams with the high picks get good grades, when they should all get C's, D's and E's. How could anyone congratulate the Lions for having to guarantee $41 million to an unproven player in Matthew Stafford? The dominant teams of the decade, New England and Pittsburgh, benefit tremendously from never having to make that kind of investment. The Steelers have been trapped in the top 10 once in the last 19 years (Plaxico Burress at No. 8 in 2000), and the Patriots have been there only twice this decade (Jerod Mayo at No. 10 last year and Richard Seymour at No. 6 in 2001). So even if I've never heard of some of the guys Pittsburgh and New England took, based on history and financial positioning I'm giving them strong A's.
2. The class of 2009 is going to be loaded with expensive busts. Along with 2005 (Alex Smith No. 1), it will go down in as one of the two worst of this decade.
3. Someone needs to go down to Norman, Okla., grab Sam Bradford and shake him really, really hard. How could he have not gone to the NFL this year? He would have been No. 1 and gotten that $40 million. Now he'll be picked apart for a year, like Brian Brohm or Matt Leinart who both stayed a year too long and fell in the draft. And he could come into an NFL with significantly less money for rookies.
4. I don't buy Pete Carroll's reversal of opinion on Mark Sanchez's future. At first Carroll said Sanchez wasn't ready. The QB claims his coach only said that so he'd stay at USC. I tend to believe the image-conscious Carroll was telling the truth. He didn't think Sanchez is ready. I wouldn't be surprised if Sanchez had some rough bumps his rookie year.
5. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco were able to transcend expectations as rookie quarterbacks because they had strong running games and defenses around them. The three first-round QBs in this year's draft (Stafford, Sanchez and Josh Freeman) don't have that luxury. Sanchez is the only one with even a slim chance of playing for a playoff team.
6. In Moneyball terms, it seems that “character issues” are another opportunity for the wise teams to get more value out of a pick. The Patriots are better at choosing personnel than anyone, and they seem to add a character risk every year now (Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Brandon Meriweather, etc.). This year they chose North Carolina WR Brandon Tate, who reportedly failed a marijuana test at the combine, in the third round. If a team has strong enough leadership, adding character issue players is clearly not a problem.
7. The Chargers' A.J. Smith scares me. He's like a cold-blooded shark. Taking DE/LB Larry English at No. 16 to send a message to Shawne Merriman shows once again that Smith doesn't care what a player has done. I'll bet it took half the organization to convince Smith to keep LaDainian Tomlinson.
8. The NFC West did a good job of solidifying its spot as one the worst two conferences in the NFL. Consider some of the bust potential in the first round …
Seahawks: Another linebacker? Just because Aaron Curry fell to No. 4 doesn't mean you have to take him.
Rams: How can anyone compare Jason Smith to Orlando Pace? Pace was a once-in-a-generation player. Did Smith really show that much in college, or did he just benefit from being decent in a weak draft?
49ers: Everyone says receiver Michael Crabtree has shown he can done it on tape. But can you trust what you see in Mike Leach's offense at Texas Tech? Crabtree seems a bit slower and shorter than some of the other elite WRs he's been compared to.
9. The other malfunctioning division, the AFC West, is right there for bust potential …
Raiders: Who would have ever thought Cliff Branch would be the NFL's hardest man to replace?
Broncos: New head coach Josh McDaniel ran arguably the best passing offense in NFL history. So he comes to Denver and jettisons the Pro Bowl QB and drafts a running back (Knowshon Moreno) too high in the first round. Huh? I do, however, like their second first-round pick, Robert Ayers, and here's why …
10 . For the time being, I'll believe anything NFL Network's Mike Mayock says. He was dead on about offensive and defensive rookies of the year Ryan and Mayo last year. His defensive player to watch in this draft is the Tennessee defensive end Ayers. If Mayock's wrong, I'll never believe him again.