Thursday, March 17, 2011
Draft Watch: AFC South
By Paul Kuharsky
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.
Best choice: The Texans got crushed by just about everyone when they tabbed defensive end Mario Williams as the No. 1 overall selection in 2006. Though he’s dealt with some nagging injuries, time has proved him a more dangerous and valuable player than Reggie Bush or Vince Young, the two players people wanted them to take instead. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thinks Williams will be like Bruce Smith in the team’s new 3-4.
Worst choice: Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye shows flashes and maybe he somehow works better in the new 3-4 front. But after four seasons, the No. 10 overall pick from 2007 has hardly been the sort of impact player you hope for from such a big investment. He’s still got a giant chance, but the Texans should have hit a home run in the spot and did not.
On the bubble: Indications are the Texans would like to re-sign receiver/returner Jacoby Jones, a third-rounder from 2007. But he’s hard to figure out. He can be the sort of dynamic player who’s a real bonus for an offense with Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. Or he can disappear and drop the ball when he gets chances.
Best choice: Antoine Bethea came in with little fanfare as a sixth-round defensive back out of Howard in 2006. But he’s grown into a steady and reliable fixture for the Colts at free safety. He’s a great model of the sort of late-round success that is a key part of how Indianapolis builds. Last season, with defensive backs falling all around him, Bethea held a patchwork secondary together.
Worst choice: The Colts traded up to get offensive tackle Tony Ugoh in the second round in 2007. But he never won the team over as the permanent answer at left tackle, and he was done before last season. It’s a spot the franchise is still looking to fill. Had Ugoh been the guy, Peyton Manning would be working with more time and it would be easier to get the tough yard on the ground.
On the bubble: Anthony Gonzalez can be a very effective receiver in the Colts’ scheme and has done a lot of work to earn Manning’s trust. But he’s appeared in just three games over the past two seasons because of injury. Bad fortune is not in his control, but we still aren’t sure he’s a long-term piece of the puzzle and they could really use him.
Best choice: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew remains well aware that everyone passed on him and he knows all the pundits who said he wouldn’t make it. The Jaguars didn’t pass on him twice, and their second-round pick from 2006 is the centerpiece of their offense, a player they rely on for a very large percentage of their touches on offense.
Worst choice: Defensive end Quentin Groves just didn’t fit the Jaguars' defense. He was even part of the reason they experimented with a 3-4 front for part of 2009. But no matter where the 2007 second-rounder was plugged in, he didn’t produce and didn’t bring much fire to the job. He was traded to Oakland after just two seasons.
On the bubble: Tight end Zach Miller is a versatile talent who played quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha and was supposed to be a wild-card piece of the Jaguars’ offense. But the 2009 sixth-rounder has only 41 catches in 29 games through two seasons and has not forced his way into the plan the way the team had hoped. It would be great for the team if he could still be an X factor.
Best choice: Running back Chris Johnson looked like a third-down specialist, a track guy who was a reach at No. 24 in the 2008 draft. He’s proved to be much more than that, posting a rare 2,000-yard rushing season in 2009 and posing a matchup nightmare even when he’s not made the best choices about where to go.
Worst choice: The Titans completely fell for Chris Henry’s combine work, allowing it to overshadow an unimpressive college career. The second-round running back from 2007 was a physical specimen. Unfortunately he lacked the sort of instincts needed in a runner. He actually stuck around three seasons as Tennessee hoped he’d emerge. It was a wasted roster spot.
On the bubble: William Hayes came in as a raw talent in 2008, and the fourth-round defensive end figures to have his best chance to be a consistent impact player going forward as the Titans look to be bigger up front. But his primary backer, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, has moved on and Hayes has to step forward to prove he can be a force.