NFL Nation: Erasmus James

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:00
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: history in that spot.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos’ top pick is No. 2 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: DT Ndamukong Suh (Lions)

2009: T Jason Smith (Rams)

2008: DE Chris Long (Rams)

2007: WR Calvin Johnson (Lions)

2006: RB Reggie Bush (Saints)

2005: RB Ronnie Brown (Dolphins)

2004: OL Robert Gallery (Raiders)

ANALYSIS: This is the Broncos’ first top-five pick since 1991 when they took linebacker Mike Croel at No. 4. The Broncos would love to have the success Detroit had last year with the pick. Suh looks like a unit changer and Denver needs a similarly dominant defender. Detroit is the only team to have great success at No. 2 in the past seven years. Along with Suh, Johnson is a fabulous player. There are some good players on this list, though, with no flat-out duds. The Rams hope to see progress in Smith and Long, who made strides in 2010.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers’ top pick is No. 18 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: C Maurkice Pouncey (Steelers)

2009: LB Robert Ayers (Broncos)

2008: QB Joe Flacco (Ravens)

2007: CB Leon Hall (Bengals)

2006: LB Bobby Carpenter (Cowboys)

2005: LB Erasmus James (Vikings)

2004: DE Will Smith (Saints)

ANALYSIS: This is an interesting group. It shows teams can find franchise players at No. 18, but they can also make a major mistake with the pick. Flacco was a tremendous value for Baltimore in 2008. Pouncey looks like he’ll be at center in Pittsburgh for the next decade. Smith has also had a terrific career and was a solid pick at No. 18. James was a terrible pick, Carpenter wasn’t worth it and the jury is still out on Ayers. The Chargers know they have to pick smart. They took linebacker Larry English at No. 16 in 2009 and are waiting for a payoff. It’s interesting that there are four defensive ends/linebackers on this list. That’s exactly the position the Chargers will be looking for with the No. 18 pick.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ top pick is No. 21 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: TE Jermaine Gresham (Bengals)

2009: C Alex Mack (Browns)

2008: T Sam Baker (Falcons)

2007: S Reggie Nelson (Jaguars)

2006: RB Laurence Maroney (Patriots)

2005: WR Matt Jones (Jaguars)

2004: DT Vince Wilfork (Patriots)

ANALYSIS: The Kansas City Chiefs are not used to drafting this low. Kansas City has picked in the top five the past three years. However, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli is plenty familiar with having the No. 21 pick. He was with New England when it had the choice in 2004 and 2006. Pioli has seen teams both score and whiff with the pick. Wilfork was a tremendous choice while taking Maroney was a blunder. However, the pick has paid solid dividends in recent years. This doesn’t appear to be a bad spot to be in.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders’ top pick is No. 48 overall. Here are the previous seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: QB Jimmy Clausen (Panthers)

2009: S Darcel McBath (Broncos)

2008: TE Fred Davis (Redskins)

2007: LB Justin Durant (Jagaurs)

2006: DB Cedric Griffin (Vikings)

2005: LB Odell Thurman (Bengals)

2004: LB Dontarrious Thomas (Vikings)

ANALYSIS: It’s interesting that a quarterback was taken at this spot in 2010. Clausen was the third quarterback taken last year. If a quarterback such as Washington’s Jake Locker or Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett takes a similar tumble, we could see a quarterback taken at No. 48 again. This pick has been hit-or-miss, so it could be worth taking a gamble. Oakland picked at No. 47 two years ago and is still waiting for safety Mike Mitchell to develop. Last year, Oakland took defensive lineman Lamarr Houston at No. 44 and he had a terrific rookie season. In 2007, Oakland took standout tight end Zach Miller at No. 38. The Raiders know they can find talent in the second round.

Draft grades get 'F' for futility

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
6:13
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Report cards immediately following the 2005 NFL draft -- this one and this one should suffice -- singled out the Vikings for their excellent work in landing Troy Williamson and Erasmus James.

Twenty of 32 team received lower grades for their 2005 draft classes when Scouts Inc. reevaluated the class in 2008.

I do enjoy reading postdraft report cards. ESPN Insider subscribers can check out a formula-based model listing Seattle and San Francisco as having the best drafts this year. But it's pretty much impossible to grade fairly without knowing whether, say, Sam Bradford will become a Hall of Famer, solid starter, journeyman or complete bust.

Mel Kiper and Todd McShay acknowledge the uncertainty up front in explaining their grades during a recent ESPN Radio appearance featuring thoughts on the Rams right away and Seattle later.

We're basically left to evaluate whether teams appeared to fill needs without making unexpected decisions. Some of those unexpected decisions wind up being right, of course. In that 2005 draft, the Patriots raised questions by selecting guard Logan Mankins in the first round. Mankins has become a Pro Bowl regular. Williamson has 87 career catches. James has been out of the league since 2008, finishing with 5.0 career sacks.

Things to keep in mind before ordering Hall of Fame busts for Russell Okung, Anthony Davis, Earl Thomas, Mike Iupati, Dan Williams or any of the other NFC West choices in 2010.

Every NFC West team filled its biggest need in this draft. The Rams drafted a franchise quarterback. The Seahawks drafted a franchise left tackle. The 49ers filled a big void at right tackle. The Cardinals landed a nose tackle. All four teams get high marks for those decisions at this point. Next we'll find out which ones can play.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
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NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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 week 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: History in that spot.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns hold the highest slot in the AFC North, the No. 7 overall pick. With the type of money that's involved, this pick has to be a franchise player or it could set back an offense or defense. For example, the Minnesota Vikings selected running back Adrian Peterson at No. 7 in 2007 and he put the entire franchise on his back. But recent busts such as receiver Troy Williamson (2005) and safety Michael Huff (2006) haven't done enough to warrant the high pick. Either way, Cleveland has to be prepared to dole out a large contract. Last year's No. 7 pick -- Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- received a five-year deal worth a maximum of $38.25 million. So expect the Browns to be paying this year's No. 7 pick upwards of $40 million this summer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has the No. 18 slot this year. The Steelers could take advantage of getting a very good player in what's considered a deep draft. In the past five years, this pick has been hit or miss. Quality players such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall (2007) were added to the AFC North from this spot. But there were also a pair of recent misses with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter (2006) and defensive end Erasmus James of Minnesota (2005). Last year the Denver Broncos selected Robert Ayers, who had a fairly uneventful rookie year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati has the No. 21 pick, where the last two years offensive linemen have done pretty well. The Browns took center Alex Mack in 2009 and the Atlanta Falcons selected offensive tackle Sam Baker in 2008. Both players fit right in with their respective teams. But the previous three years were all misses for first-rounders. The Jacksonville Jaguars missed twice with this pick with safety Reggie Nelson (2007) and receiver Matt Jones (2005), who was out of football last season and signed with Cincinnati in February. New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, who was taken in 2006, has been decent but not great.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens hold the No. 25 overall pick, where there has been plenty of recent success. The group includes a Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes), a starting quarterback (Jason Campbell), a one-time Pro Bowl linebacker (Jon Beason) and two good young cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins and Vontae Davis). If the Ravens have this type of success with the No. 25 pick this year, it will be a good draft day for Baltimore. The Ravens have thrived picking players late in the first round in the past. Great players such as Ed Reed (No. 24), Ray Lewis (No. 26), and most recently Michael Oher (No. 23) have all come toward the end of the opening round.

Draft Watch: NFC North

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:08
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

Chicago Bears

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.

Detroit Lions

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.

Minnesota Vikings

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

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