NFC West: Derrick Hamilton

Larry Fitzgerald's arrival with the Arizona Cardinals via the 2004 NFL draft serves as the starting point for the latest item looking at recent NFC West choices.

Fitzgerald already has 613 receptions, far more than any other NFC West receiver over the last seven seasons.

In fact, the wide receivers with the most receptions for the Cardinals' division rivals during the same time period -- Torry Holt (St. Louis), Bobby Engram (Seattle) and Arnaz Battle (San Francisco) -- have long since moved on. I ran across Engram in the 49ers' main lobby Wednesday; he's a quality control coach with the team.

History tells us receivers carry more risk than some other positions. For every Fitzgerald, there seems to be a Koren Robinson, David Terrell or Troy Williamson -- high picks that never came close to realizing their potential. Mike Williams' revival with Seattle last season was an exception.

The charts break down every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2004. Will the St. Louis Rams add Julio Jones to their list of drafted wideouts?

As in the past, I'll preface each chart with thoughts from the teams' perspectives.

Immediate needs don't matter so much when front-line talent is available ...

Time to start finding replacements for veterans who might not fit into our plans (Terrell Owens for the 49ers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for the Rams) ...

These guys might not start, but every team needs secondary options in the passing game ...

We're getting late enough in the draft to consider grabbing a receiver while a few with decent potential remain on the board ...

Time to fill out the roster and hope we find depth for special teams ...

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rick from Charleston, West Virginia, writes: Hey Mike! As I'm seeing all these 2009 NFL Draft grades immediately hitting the presses, I'm reminded of what I heard a long time ago -- not sure who gets the credit -- you cannot judge a draft for 5 years. With that in mind, I went back and looked at each NFC West team's first 5 picks in the 2004 Draft.

Maybe you could post this and get some reader feedback. The numbers in parenthesis are the round, followed by overall pick:

Seattle

Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas (1,23)

Michael Boulware, SS, Florida St (2,53)

Sean Locklear, G, NC State (3,84)

Niko Koutouvides, LB, Purdue (4,116)

D.J. Hackett, WR, Colorado (5,157)

San Francisco

Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma St (1,31)

Justin Smiley, G, Alabama (2,46)

Shawntae Spencer, CB, Pitt (2,58)

Derrick Hamilton, WR, Clemson (3,77)

Isaac Sopoaga, DT, Hawaii (4,104)

St. Louis

Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon St (1,24)

Anthony Hargrove, DE, Ga Tech (3,91)

Brandon Chillar, LB, UCLA (4,130)

Jason Shivers, S, Arizona St (5,158)

Jeff Smoker, QB, Michigan St (6,201)

Arizona

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pitt (1,3)

Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn (2,33)

Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida St (3,64)

Alex Stepanovich, C, Ohio St (4,100)

Antonio Smith, DE, Oklahoma St (5,135)

My two initial impressions were that:

  1. The Cardinals had a GREAT draft. You could argue they hit a home run on 4 of their first five picks, and a grand slam on their #1 (Fitz.) Of course, they were picking high, and you would expect the #3 overall pick to be an impact player 5 years in. By all accounts, though, this would probably measure up quite well against ANY NFL team's draft over the last five years.
  2. The Rams seem to have done themselves a disservice by trading their 2nd, 4th, and 6th round picks (Chillar and Smoker were both compensatory selections.) They made a great first-round pick (Jackson) but by trading away a couple of picks, their 5th selection (201 overall) was a whopping 66 picks lower than the Cardinals (135).
Taking these two things into consideration, I'm wondering if your readers think there's any correlation between the 2004 draft and the Cardinals Super Bowl appearance (as well as the Rams 2-14 record.) Some bonus tidbits from the 2004 draft: The 49'ers drafted the only 6th round player to make a Pro Bowl (Andy Lee, P, Pitt.) Also, Pro Bowlers Wes Welker, Willie Parker, Jason Peters, and Mat McBriar were all undrafted.

Mike Sando: Good work, Rick. I was playing around with some related information over the weekend. I went through the Pro Football Reference database and collected 2008 starting information for every player in the league. I then singled out draft choices still playing for their original teams, adding up how many starts they made for their teams in 2008. The totals would not reflect players released since last season, but I thought that was a minor issue and something I could work around with a little more time.

The findings backed up what you are saying. Members of the Cardinals' 2004 draft class still with the team combined for 68 regular-season starts last season. The rest of the league averaged 16 combined starts for members of their 2004 draft classes still with their original teams. San Diego ranked second with 45. The Rams had zero.

Members of the Cardinals' 2003 draft class still with the team combined for 69 regular-season starts last season, another league high. The rest of the league averaged 15 combined starts.

In fact, the Cardinals' 2003 through 2008 draft classes averaged a league-high 42 regular-season starts for their original teams last season (again, not counting any players released since last season). The rest of the league averaged a combined 25 starts last season.

This is something I'll break out in greater detail once I have time to do some more tinkering.

(Read full post)

DraftRoundPickTeamRookie WRStartsRec.Yds. TD
2003254ARIAnquan Boldin161011,3778
200413ARILarry Fitzgerald 16587808
2003117ARIBryant Johnson8354381
20025149ARIJason McAddley8253621
20057226ARILeRon McCoy4181911
20034124SFBrandon Lloyd 1142122
20034106STLShaun McDonald110620
20075142ARISteve Breaston08920
2004131SFRashaun Woods071601
20076197SEACourtney Taylor05380
2003374STLKevin Curtis14130
2007376SFJason Hill0160
20055174SFRasheed Marshall01-10
20076210SEAJordan Kent0000
20077249STLDerek Stanley0000
2006384SFBrandon Williams0000
20065144STLMarques Hagans0000
20067218ARITodd Watkins0000
20067249SEABen Obomanu0000
20056192STLDante Ridgeway0000
20057223SFMarcus Maxwell0000
2004377SFDerrick Hamilton0000
20045157SEAD.J. Hackett0000
20036197SFArnaz Battle0000
20037224SEATaco Wallace0000
2002395STLEric Crouch0000

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

I put together this chart as a companion to the earlier entry on rookie receivers. This shows rookie stats for every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2002. Eighteen of the 26 started zero games as rookies. Only four reached 20 receptions as rookies. Arizona has been the only team to draft productive rookie receivers with any consistency.

A quick look at the NFC West's rookie receivers and their likely prospects for 2008:
  • Arizona: Injury problems prevented third-round choice Early Doucet from seriously challenging for the No. 3 job vacated by Bryant Johnson. Doucet should play in a reserve role. Undrafted free agent Lance Long appears headed for the practice squad if he doesn't earn one of the final roster spots. Long has impressed in camp.
  • San Francisco: Sixth-round choice Josh Morgan has been the surprise of camp. He could figure into the rotation if the 49ers continue to suffer from injuries. Undrafted free agent Cam Colvin appears headed for the practice squad.
  • St. Louis: Second-round choice Donnie Avery and fourth-rounder Keenan Burton should play more than most rookies at the position. Avery adds value as a return specialist. Undrafted free agent Matt Caddell has one catch for 5 yards during preseason.
  • Seattle: Undrafted free agent Michael Bumpus has played well enough to land on the practice squad if, as expected, he misses the cut.
The receiver position in general has confounded NFL teams. John Clayton explored some of the reasons in a previous column. As Clayton discovered, NFL teams have developed only six Pro Bowl receivers since 2001.

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