NFC North: Erasmus James
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.
Gems: The Bears took a chance on an unknown with elite speed in the fifth round last year and came up with receiver Johnny Knox, a Division II college player. Knox caught 45 passes, including five touchdowns, as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner. Cornerback Zack Bowman, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has seven interceptions in 17 career games. He appears to have the makeup to be a long-term starter. Busts: Running back Cedric Benson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2005, was released after three years. Defensive end Dan Bazuin, a second-round pick in 2007, never played for the Bears.
Gems: Running back Aaron Brown, a sixth-round pick last year, proved to be an explosive and exciting playmaker. He'll get more playing time as he limits mental errors, but his speed and open-field running ability give him the capacity to be a difference-maker. Linebacker Zack Follett, a seventh-round pick in 2009, is a strong special teams player. Busts: The Lions' mid-decade mistakes, from quarterback Joey Harrington to receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, have been well-chronicled. The Lions have only one player remaining from the 2006 draft, linebacker Ernie Sims, and receiver Calvin Johnson is the only 2007 draftee expected to make a significant impact in 2010.
Green Bay Packers
Gems: Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, a sixth-round pick in 2006, has proved to be a solid starter at both tackle and now end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. His immediate future is threatened by a looming trial for felony drug possession in Houston, but from a football perspective, he has been a hit. Guard Josh Sitton, a fourth-round pick in 2008, might have been the Packers' most consistent offensive lineman last season. Busts: Quarterback Brian Brohm, the No. 56 overall pick of the 2008 draft, stumbled from the start and didn't make it through his second year with the team. Among other things, Brohm struggled with his downfield accuracy. He is now on Buffalo's roster. Defensive lineman Justin Harrell, the No. 16 overall pick in 2007, has been plagued by what could ultimately be a career-ending back injury and has made minimal impact.
Gems: Center John Sullivan started 16 games in 2009, a year after Minnesota made him the No. 187 overall pick of the 2008 draft. Although he wasn't perfect, Sullivan has already given the Vikings more starts than many sixth-round picks provide. A fourth-rounder in 2006, defensive end Ray Edwards has been a full-time starter for the past three years. Over that span, he has 18.5 regular-season sacks plus another four in the playoffs. Some have expected even more from him, but that's pretty good production for a second-day pick. Edwards was part of a draft that has helped make up for a disastrous 2005 affair. Busts: In that 2005 draft, the Vikings had three picks in the top 49, but none made an impact. Receiver Troy Williamson couldn't catch the ball, defensive end Erasmus James tore the same anterior cruciate ligament twice and offensive lineman Marcus Johnson couldn't hold a starting job.
Turning the dial Thursday night brought me to one of the coolest shows on the NFL Network: “Greatest 4th QTS.” Maybe you saw it, too: This edition commemorated Chicago’s wild 2006 comeback at Arizona.
The NFL world remembers it as the game that spurred Cardinals coach Dennis Green to declare the Bears “are who we thought they were!” The Bears, of course, recall it as the game in which they overcame a 20-point deficit in the second half during their march to the Super Bowl.
As they prepare to host the Cardinals this Sunday, more than a few players have recalled that game, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago.
"It was a long time ago," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "It was one of those defining moments. That, to me, will always be one of the best games I ever played in."
It was definitely one of the most dramatic.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The public knows nothing of substance about Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, writes Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Nate Vasher is learning to like playing free safety in the nickel, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee profiles the surprising rise of Green Bay tight end Spencer Havner, who has three touchdowns in the Packers’ past two games.
- Packers rookie B.J. Raji is starting to feel his power and explosion return after a sprained ankle limited him earlier this season, writes Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Backup quarterback Matt Flynn has received all the first-team quarterback repetitions during the past two days, notes Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- John Niyo of the Detroit News revisits the trade that brought linebacker Julian Peterson from Seattle for defensive lineman Cory Redding.
- Detroit running back Kevin Smith is on another mission to “quiet the critics that Detroit doesn’t have a running game,” according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Former Minnesota defensive end Erasmus James, a first-round draft pick in 2005, was arrested early Thursday after punching a friend at a bar in Madison, Wis. Here’s the Associated Press report.
It didn't take long for some of you to dig up the answer to Wednesday's trivia question, which asked you to name the four players from the 2005 draft who still remain on their original NFC North roster.
In fact, bmhess06 posted the correct answer exactly 12 minutes after we hit the "publish" button:
- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (1st round, No. 24 overall)
- Green Bay safety Nick Collins (2nd round, No. 51 overall)
- Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton (4th round, No. 106 overall)
- Green Bay linebacker Brady Poppinga (4th round, No. 125 overall)
The other 26 players have either moved on or are free agents. (For you math majors, that translates to a 13 percent success rate.) The failure list includes a stunning four first-round picks and an eight of the first 58 players taken in the draft. The first-round picks:
- Chicago running back Cedric Benson (No. 4 overall)
- Minnesota receiver Troy Williamson (No. 7 overall)
- Detroit receiver Mike Williams (No. 10 overall)
- Minnesota defensive end Erasmus James (No. 18 overall)
Black and Blue teams weren't the only ones who swung and missed in the 2005 draft. San Francisco hasn't gotten much out of the No. 1 overall pick, Alex Smith. Tennessee slightly misjudged the character of cornerback Pacman Jones.
But when you consider the state of play last season in the NFC North -- its .390 winning percentage was the third-lowest among all divisions -- you have to attribute at least part of it to the 2005 draft.
He's not in the NFC North anymore, but some of you Minnesota Vikings fans might be interested in the progress of oft-injured defensive end Erasmus James -- a first-round draft pick in 2005 who was traded to the Washington Redskins this summer for a conditional draft pick.
James is working alone with the Redskins' athletic trainers and seems to be a couple weeks away from being cleared to practice. According to Jason La Canfora's Redskins Insider blog, the best-case scenario would have James playing in the final preseason game.
Based on the difficulties James had getting on the field in Minnesota, that timetable is about as optimistic as one could imagine. The Vikings thought James' career was pretty much over when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time last winter, and they were prepared to release him outright until the Redskins expressed interest in a trade.