NFC North: Joey Harrington
» 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.
One note before we get into our weekend fun.
Sarcasm is and will be our default tone here on the NFC North blog. Some of you don’t like it, but many of you don’t seem to get it. (Maybe that’s a comment on my limited skills as a sarcasteur, but we’ll leave that debate for another day.)
When I wrote last week that Minnesota’s bye makes it “an awfully difficult chore for me to develop interesting blog items,” I figured most readers would recognize its absurdity and take it accordingly. But I got more than a few notes like this one from someone who claims to be named Johnny Appleseed: “Even if you truly think there is NOTHING to watch with Minnesota on a bye, keep that in your head and print the objective thoughts that filter through that homer head of yours.”
Sarcasm, people. Chill out. Sarcasm.
Ok, let’s get to some questions. Remember, you can reach me via Facebook, Twitter, or the good old-fashioned mailbag.
Steve of Madison, Wis. writes: I can't help but wonder what the difference was that made Garrett Wolfe appear more productive then Matt Forte in that last drive. He was gaining 4-5 yards a carry and was pushing the pile which is no easy feat at his size. Was it the fact that it was garbage time and perhaps the Browns quit on the game, or just that it was the Browns? There just appeared to be a significant difference in their runs. Do you have any logical explanation? And should the Bears look at mixing the run game up more to really provide a change of pace?
Kevin Seifert: I think you said it: Garbage time. There is almost nothing to discern from the point in a game where both sides are just trying to end it. Chicago was trying to run out the clock, and Cleveland was allowing it. It’s like getting excited about an NBA bench player who scores 16 points in the final 10 minutes of a 120-80 blowout. It’s mostly baseless excitement.
With that said, I don’t think you’re off-base in suggesting the Bears at least mix up their backfield rotation. Their original plan to play Kevin Jones behind Forte was scuttled by Jones’ preseason ankle injury, and I can understand their reluctance to put much faith on Wolfe’s shoulders. In three years, he has only 68 carries.
But I also think it’s a bit stubborn to keep pounding away with the same formula when it isn’t working. Forte, of course, should remain the Bears’ starting tailback. But if you’re averaging 58.3 yards per game, as Forte is, it shouldn’t be out of the question to mix it up with more regularity. If the Bears don’t trust Wolfe to run the ball at least sometimes, then he shouldn’t be on the roster.
Matt of Chicago writes: I am amazed at the people coming to Dominic Raiola's defense on his latest (not his first and likely not his last) run-in with fans. His defense -- that he was sticking up for his QB and won't let the fans run him out of town like we did with Joey Harrington -- is pure bunk. The fans were incredibly supportive and in fact it was his own teammates such as Dre Bly that hung him out to dry. The simple fact that there is anyone at all in the stands after what we have endured in the last decade proves our loyalty. Maybe if Raiola focused more on the field and less on the stands there wouldn't be so many disgruntled fans.
Kevin Seifert: You said it better than I could have, Matt. Joey Harrington ran himself out of town with poor play, a shaky attitude and a much-too-sensitive personality. Some might argue that Harrington’s promising career was ruined by Detroit’s losing culture, but I don’t buy that. He’s had multiple opportunities elsewhere to prove he can be a starting-caliber quarterback, and has failed each time.
I’m sure Raiola is just as frustrated as the most disgruntled fan. But after seeing the 25,000-plus empty seats Sunday at Ford Field, he should have been thanking those who did show up. The fact is that fans in every professional city can be unfair, uneducated, rude and even nasty. Absorbing their jeers and cheers is all part of being a professional athlete. Why Raiola thinks Lions players should be treated any differently is beyond me.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
1. Ted Thompson, Green Bay general manager: It wasn’t a good week to be the Packers' official ultimately responsible for sending quarterback Brett Favre on his way. Favre has led an NFC North rival to a 7-1 start, and in the process he has nearly eliminated the Packers from contention for a division title. Thompson’s own roster has proved dangerously thin at some positions, most notably offensive line and running back. The situation has prompted the midseason signings of veteran free agents Mark Tauscher and Ahman Green. For a personnel chief who prides himself on developing his own young depth, both were revealing moves. Thompson’s narrow philosophy of team-building is being tested.
1. Minnesota’s Triangle of Authority: The “TOA” was once a sarcastic description for the Vikings’ cumbersome leadership structure that included coach Brad Childress, vice president/football operations Rob Brzezinski and vice president/player personnel Fran Foley and later Rick Spielman. But with the support of owner Zygi Wilf, the TOA built a talent-studded team that has started 7-1 and is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. In Sunday’s victory over Green Bay, the Vikings got key contributions from three players -- quarterback Brett Favre, receiver/kick returner Percy Harvin and defensive end Jared Allen -- who were all either drafted, signed, or traded for in the past two years.
2. Chicago’s secondary: We’ve questioned the Bears’ defensive backs since training camp, but Sunday they fulfilled the mission of a Lovie Smith defense: Create havoc. Safety Danieal Manning forced two turnovers, including a diving interception and a strip/fumble recovery of Browns tight end Steve Heiden. Cornerback Charles Tillman also was in on two turnovers, recovering a fumble and returning an interception 21 yards for a touchdown. The Bears might continue to give up yards in the passing game this season, but they could certainly mitigate the damage by coming up with multiple turnovers in the secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji wants to play Sunday night against Chicago. We’ll see how good of a lobbyist he is.
Raji is trying to recover from a sprained ankle suffered in last Thursday’s preseason finale and didn’t perform well in a medical test Tuesday. But he returned to practice Thursday in a limited capacity and doesn’t think he would set himself back by appearing in the game, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“I’m definitely going to play,” Raji said, noting the Packers gave him the final call on whether to practice Thursday. (I should also point out that Raji said in June that he would not hold out.)
Raji is going to find out that the final decision isn’t his, at least not yet. Coach Mike McCarthy said he will take all factors into account, including the big picture of a 16-game season. But if Raji is healthy enough, he’ll provide important depth at both end and nose tackle for the Packers.
We’ll check back later with our weekly attempt to interpret the Friday injury report. For now, let’s take a morning spin around the NFC North:
- The Packers’ new defense has multiple ways to cover the tight end, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That should be an interesting twist for Bears tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark.
- Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press wonders whether new Lions coach Jim Schwartz knows what he’s getting into: “Before we kick a single ball in this 2009 Lions season, we should salute the greatest act of courage we are likely to see all year…. Jim Schwartz is about to coach his first official game for Detroit.”
- The Free Press’ Drew Sharp on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford: “The Lions already have a win. Their first victory is that Matthew Stafford isn't Joey Harrington.”
- Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News rightfully points out that people should move their focus away from Stafford and wonders whether the Lions' defense is going to be able to stop anyone this season.
- Plenty of questions remain about this Chicago team, writes Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher feels “confident in my body again,” notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago.
- Watch out for oddly aligned defensive linemen under the Bears’ new defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Minnesota’s midweek decision to cut receiver Bobby Wade was met with disappointment and anger in the Vikings' locker room, according Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Receiver Bernard Berrian was wearing Wade’s jersey during morning meetings.
- Benny Sapp has won the Vikings’ nickel job, writes Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Rookie Asher Allen will push for playing time.
Jeff of Minneapolis writes: If a rookie pay scale was implemented, do you think players would be more interested in staying in school instead of coming out early? It seems a lot of these players would be better off with another year of experience, rather than rushing into the NFL and maybe getting drafted later than they would if they stayed.
Kevin Seifert: I'm not sure if that's going to be a by-product. Under the current system, I think there is a lot of incentive for promising underclassmen to return to school in hopes of further improving their stock so they can take advantage of the insane money at the very top of the draft.
Say you're a junior who is being projected to go high in the second round or low in the first. Sure, you'd make pretty decent money if you jump in right away. But if you can light it up in your senior season, vaulting yourself into the top 10 of the draft, all of a sudden we're talking about another stratosphere. It could be a $10 million-plus decision.
Of course, the reverse could happen. Your stock could tumble into third- or fourth-round value. But the risk of falling from the second to the fourth round might be worth it when the reward is possibly jumping into the top 10.
But on to the meat of your question. Under a new system, players at the top of the draft would make less money. But it's still going to be a big payday, one that many college players won't be able to resist.
What I am pretty sure about is this: As speculation grows about cutting back rookie salaries, you're going to see more prominent underclassmen declare for 2010 so they can capitalize on the current system.
Robert of Columbus writes: I have been a die-hard Lions fan since birth, but I feel that many fellow Lions fans are not seeing the big picture in terms of where this team is headed. Many comments have been made comparing this draft to the drafts of the Matt Millen era, and I feel these are unjust. Millen failed to draft impact players at so many different positions. In all of Millen's drafts there was not one impact player drafted at QB, TE, OG, OC, DE, MLB, CB or S. On Saturday it appears that the Lions drafted impact players at three of those positions. While it is still early and they have not yet stepped on the field, the Lions appear to have drafted 3 players who should fit the bill. Stafford, Pettigrew and Delmas have the potential to be major players for the Lions for years to come. I think on a team with so many holes getting impact players, regardless of position, was necessary and the correct move.
Kevin Seifert: Robert, the key word is "if." None of us really have any idea if the three players you mentioned will pan out or not. Part of it will depend on whether the Lions' coaching staff can develop them into impact players, something that Martin Mayhew believes the team has fallen short on in recent years.
But in general, this is the danger of trying to judge a draft in its immediate aftermath. Sure, Charles Rogers didn't work out. Neither did Joey Harrington, nor Mike Williams. But in the days and weeks after they drafted, I don't think anyone knew for sure they would fail. If I remember right, people were pretty excited about Rogers and Harrington, at least, and were open-minded about Williams.
So I agree that some of your fellow Lions fans might be reacting a bit emotionally to the number of skill players and the dearth of linemen that were taken in this draft. But I also think it's too early to suggest anything definitive about the future of the players they did take.
Breana of Chicago writes: Kevin, who do you think will have the better passing game this year: The Vikings with their question marks at quarterback and Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Bobby Wade, and Sidney Rice -- OR the Bears with Jay Cutler and their question marks at receiver?
Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the question, Breana. I like it so much I'm going to use it as a the jumping-off point of a debate later this week.
It comes down to this: What situation is better in football: A good quarterback with suspect receivers? Or a suspect quarterback with a deep group of receivers? If anyone wants to get an early word into this discussion, hit the mailbag.
|James Lang/US Presswire|
|Lions fans do not seem to be thrilled with Detroit's decision to select Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- I watched in amazement Saturday afternoon as Matthew Stafford became the first player in recent memory to get booed as he walked onto the NFL draft stage as the No. 1 overall pick. I blinked a few times when I saw the photo of two Detroit fans with bags over the head -- AFTER they learned Stafford was the Lions' pick.
Maybe I shouldn't have been as surprised. Lions fans haven't held back on their preference for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. For weeks, I've been getting messages like this one from Adam of Iowa:
"I am a big Lions fan, and I have yet to understand, at any level, why the Lions would draft Stafford. And I'm also getting incredibly sick of listening to all of the experts talk about how Stafford is clearly the best choice for the Lions. These people are all clearly brain-dead. The last thing Detroit needs right now is an over-priced, backup QB who will have zero impact on the 2009 and possibly 2010 seasons. When there are much better players available, why would they consider rolling the dice with a young QB who has shown plenty of flaws throughout the draft process??? If Matt Millen were still in charge, he would be crucified for looking at taking another QB!!! I guess the apple doesn't fall that far from the tree...... Aren't you in Detroit right now? Can you sneak a peek into the draft room and see if Millen is still there??? Let me know."
I am in Detroit, Adam, but they won't let me anywhere near the draft room. One piece of evidence suggests that Millen is nowhere close to here: The Lions didn't draft a receiver.
Seriously, we've hashed through Stafford's perceived shortcomings quite thoroughly on this blog. And so the beauty of Saturday was that Lions officials finally got an opportunity to sell us on why they liked him. What makes Stafford so special?
Lions coach Jim Schwartz called Stafford's throwing motion "classic," which we've heard from many people. Schwartz noted Stafford's ability to step in as a freshman starter at an SEC school. General manager Martin Mayhew said Stafford convinced him by "the way he carried himself" and "how smart he was about the game."
But the most telling explanation I heard came when Schwartz related how Stafford performed during a spring film session. Here's how Schwartz put it:
"We said, 'Before we start watching this game and you start talking us through it, why don't you tell us a little about the game?' He started saying, 'Oh I remember this. The first play of the game we wanted to take a shot. We went 'Twins right demon' and threw an 18-yard pass over the right side.'
"And he started talking through the whole game extemporaneously. We didn't tell him we were going to watch that game. It reminded me of golfers who can tell you every shot they made in a game. We actually had high school film of him when he was here for his visit. He could tell me everything that was getting ready to happen in those games. That kind of recall, that kind of intelligence, was the thing that was most interesting."
You could make an argument that a successful NFL quarterback has three primary characteristics:
- The necessary physical tools, from a strong arm to at least nimble feet.
- A deep understanding of the game to facilitate sound decision-making.
- A personal makeup that makes both a natural leader and relatively impervious to adversity.
Most everyone agrees on No. 1 for Stafford. There have been questions about his 57.1 career completion percentage at Georgia, but Schwartz said a careful observer would discount his middling performance as a true freshman and note Stafford's annual improvement in that area over his three seasons (52.7-55.7-61.4). "We like the fact that we saw improvement from a year-to-year basis," Schwartz said.
Obviously, Schwartz is more than satisfied about No. 2. And as far as No. 3 goes, Schwartz related a story about walking to dinner with Stafford this spring near the Georgia campus.
"It was amazing," Schwartz said. "Every person that passed him on the street all did a double-take and looked and said, 'There goes Matt Stafford.' When grown men are following you around, following us into the restaurant.... He's used to that kind of scrutiny and that gave us a comfort level, too."
Nothing Stafford has experienced can compare to what he is about to step into. The Lions haven't had a Pro Bowl quarterback since Greg Landry in 1971. There have been countless attempts at finding another one, from Andre Ware to Rodney Peete to Joey Harrington. Even that abbreviated list is enough to understand why Lions fans are so skittish about the pick. But now you have at least a little bit of an idea why the Lions are not.
So the Lions are two games away from infamy. Exactly 120 minutes of football time separate them from a perfectly awful 0-16 season. It's one record no NFL team wants to reach, and we're here to help.
As part of ESPN.com's Thursday Hot Read on the topic, we hereby offer 16 suggestions for fixing the Lions:
1. Dispatch the denial. Stop counting the near-misses and lamenting the "few plays here and there." Admit you're broken in a fundamental way. With few exceptions, the NFL's competitive model puts most teams relatively close to one another. There's a reason you hear so much about "any given Sunday." For one team to start 0-14, and lose 21 of its past 22 games, indicates an overhaul -- not a tweak -- is necessary.
2. Start at the top. No one knows exactly how the Lions' ownership runs the team. But we got a glimpse this season when vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. publicly campaigned for the firing of president/general manager Matt Millen. Two days later, chairman William Clay Ford did the deed. All indications are that the elder Ford continues to wield final say, but it's time for Ford Jr. -- whose judgment on Millen far surpassed his father's -- to take over.
|Leon Halip/US Presswire|
|Rod Marinelli has a 10-36 record in his three seasons in Detroit.|
3. Put Rod Marinelli out of his misery. Marinelli might be a good football coach, but no one can lose so many games in a such a short period while maintaining credibility inside or outside the organization. I know, Marinelli hasn't been blessed with the NFL's best personnel. But it's hard to convince anyone you're moving forward with a coach who has lost 36 of 46 games over a three-year tenure.
4. Before hiring the next head coach, settle on a front-office structure that provides checks and balances to avoid a repeat of the unchallenged mistakes Millen routinely made. Most people assume that chief operating officer Tom Lewand will retain a prominent business role, which is fine. On the football side, however, the Lions need a general manager and coach tandem that understands each other's philosophies and will consider contradictory thoughts. The current model is in Atlanta, where general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith are said to work exceptionally well together.
5. Thank interim general manager Martin Mayhew for his eye-opening work after replacing Millen. And then send him on his way. This is in no way a comment on Mayhew, who in other circumstances would make a fine general manager for the Lions. But remember our general premise: This is not an organization that needs tweaking. It needs to be rebuilt in a big-picture sense. You can't convince your fan base, free agents or even coaching candidates that you're making fundamental changes if Millen's top assistant replaces him -- no matter who it is.
6. Throw a bone to fans -- not a gimmick or a marketing slogan, but something that genuinely invites their interest. A 10 percent cut in ticket prices might be a start. Or, perhaps, a real barnstorming tour that allows fans to ask unedited questions of the Lions' football decision-makers over the course of the season. Transparency and honesty during the rebuilding process, while not comfortable, will help re-connect to a fan base that has lost faith in the team's ability to operate effectively.