NFL Nation: R. Jay Soward

If the NFL assures players that the big money that’s gone to first-round picks in the past will be redistributed to veterans, I don’t see where the players can object.

AP reported details of the league’s pitch for reducing rookie salaries.

For context, here’s a look at the money the Jacksonville Jaguars have paid first-round picks since 2000 -- $111,380,562 in guaranteed money before playing an NFL snap, an average of $10,125,506 per player.


Nelson, Jones, Williams and Soward were outright busts and Harvey could be off the roster by opening day. The Jaguars have suffered and will suffer depth-chart consequences for those picks. But they also shelled out nearly $26 million to those five guys.

Personnel failures are one thing, the financial penalty is something else and the only element involved in all of this that would object to a system change is members of the rookie pool who aren’t actually very good.

Five-year deals for first-rounders negotiated in this context, with less total money, seems sensible. Nothing would change for draft picks outside of the first round.

The change could help fix what’s broken in the draft.

As Eagles president Joe Banner told AP:
"The whole concept of the draft and ordering of the picks is to maintain competitive balance in the league. Now teams get top picks who have become so expensive and there's the risk you can miss, and it makes the ability to trade in and out of those spots almost impossible. It can become a disadvantage to be in one of the top spots."

But agent Ben Dogra makes a good counterargument.

"Five years and reduced pay is basically restricting players," said Dogra, whose clients include Patrick Willis and Sam Bradford. "Roughly 68 percent of the NFL is comprised of players with five years or less of NFL experience.

"Even players from essentially picks 11 to 32 in the first round are good financial deals for the teams. If a player becomes a starter or an integral part of the team under the current system, the NFL teams have the player under a rookie deal that is favorable to the team."

The league’s done well to get this issue out front. It’s time to tinker with it, get it right and count it as one element of the deal that's done.

Draft watch: AFC South

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:07
PM ET
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.

Houston Texans

The previous regime traded with division rival Tennessee to get Western Michigan linebacker Jason Babin with a second first-round pick in 2004 and he never became what they envisioned. The first-rounder from the next year, Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson, wasn’t good either. Johnson flashed some but wasn’t long-term help. Wide receiver David Anderson (seventh round from Colorado State in 2006) is a quality slot receiver, and probably the team’s best late-round pick.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts traded up in 2007 to take Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh 42nd overall. He was the man to replace Tarik Glenn when he surprised the team by retiring the same year. But Ugoh lost his starting job in 2009 and was often inactive. Two third-rounders from the same draft also faded: cornerback Dante Hughes from Cal didn’t make it out of camp in 2009 and Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock quit football in 2008. Late-round finds abound: Howard safety Antoine Bethea (sixth round) is a Pro Bowl talent; Mount Union receiver Pierre Garcon (sixth round, 2008) just had a breakout season; punter/kickoff man Pat McAfee from West Virginia (seventh round, 2009) is a consistent performer. And Indianapolis does consistently well with undrafted rookies, such as safety Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jacob Lacey.

Jacksonville Jaguars

First-round busts have been a major reason the Jaguars haven’t broken through as a consistent contender: receivers R. Jay Soward of USC in 2000, Reggie Williams from Washington in 2004 and Matt Jones from Arkansas in 2005 are gone and safety Reggie Nelson (Florida, 2007) and defensive end Derrick Harvey (Florida, 2008) rank as major underachievers. Late-round gems? Purdue guard Uche Nwaneri was a 2007 fifth-rounder and has started a lot of games and Florida’s Bobby McCray was a good defensive end for a seventh-rounder in 2004. James Harris was ousted as the personnel chief and the team seems on a better track under Gene Smith, who was named GM about a year ago.

Tennessee Titans

Any list of recent high-ranking failures has to start with first-round cornerback Pacman Jones, sixth overall from West Virginia in 2005. He was probably the best defensive football player there, but the Titans failed miserably in researching his personality. Other busts who hurt them: Ben Troupe (second-round tight end from Florida in 2004), Andre Woolfolk (first-round cornerback from Oklahoma in 2003) and Tyrone Calico (second-round receiver in 2003). Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was an All-Pro in 2008 and heads any list of recent late-round gems. He was a seventh-rounder from Samford in 2006. Tight end Bo Scaife was a sixth-rounder from Texas in 2005 and promising defensive end Jacob Ford from Central Arkansas was a sixth-rounder in 2007.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Team needs: Receiver, defensive tackle, offensive tackle, defensive back

 
  AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  It's unlikely that Boston College defensive lineman B.J. Raji will still be on the board at No 8, but if he is, expect the Jaguars to jump.
Dream scenario: It's possible the Jaguars could have the best player at two need positions on the board when they draft at No. 8. Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech could be around, and while Jacksonville may be wary of first-round receivers based on past failures -- R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones -- it would be hard to resist a prime weapon for David Garrard considering the team's top receivers now are Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker. Still, new general manager Gene Smith has talked a lot about starting to build by concentrating on the foundation, and Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji could do a lot to help the interior line. Paired with John Henderson, Raji could help return the team regain the identity it enjoyed with the Henderson-Marcus Stroud combo and help take attention away from second-year ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves.

Plan B: The Jaguars have lots of holes and if they can't address one directly with No. 8, the way Smith has talked of building through the draft, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't want to bump back to gather extra picks. Maybe the Jaguars are really interested in USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. But they struggled to sign Harvey last season. It would surely be harder to strike a deal with a top 10 quarterback who they don't expect to start this year. Perhaps they want someone else who's interested to come up and get Sanchez here. The Jaguars traded into this pick last year, so teams will have a good sense of what it would take to make a deal.

PollCenter: On the Clock
What is the Jacksonville Jaguars' biggest positional need? VOTE

Scouts Inc. take: "After signing Tra Thomas, the Jaguars are now able to draft a project offensive tackle later in the draft as opposed to reaching in the first round for Andre Smith or Michael Oher. But, the Jaguars are not deficient in terms of glaring needs and wide receiver ranks right at the very top of that list. Michael Crabtree would be the ideal selection and in my opinion, as getting the best player in the draft at number eight would be a complete steal. Still, chances are that Crabtree doesn't make it that far. Is Jeremy Maclin worth that pick for Jacksonville? He certainly could be considering the position he plays and his big play ability, but overall, he isn't polished enough to come in an immediately be a go-to option. Two defensive players to keep an eye on are B.J. Raji, who is also unlikely to still be available but would be a tremendous get for the Jags, and Malcolm Jenkins, who could be exactly what Jacksonville needs to sure up their ailing and thin secondary. Mark Sanchez has been mentioned here, but I just don't see that happening." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Jack Del Rio's desires will certainly be heard, but Smith made it clear when he took the post that he's got the final say on both draft picks and the roster.

On the Clock: Oakland Raiders, April 10.

Previous On the Clock: Green Bay Packers. The team-by-team series.

 
  Getty Images
  Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Williams: the Reggie that worked and the Reggie that didn't.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts have an all-time great at quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans do not.

No. of WRs Drafted Since 1997, By Team
Team No. of WRs drafted Avg. overall draft choice
Green Bay 19 144.5
Tennessee 17 121.1
Atlanta 16 143.6
Denver 16 127.6
Chicago 15 121.5
Cincinnati 15 125.0
Pittsburgh 15 111.4
Baltimore 14 123.9
Buffalo 14 141.3
N.Y. Giants 14 118.7
Kansas City 13 120.9
New Orleans 13 151.9
Tampa Bay 13 140.8
Minnesota 12 137.5
Oakland 12 166.6
Philadelphia 12 106.5
San Francisco 12 142.9
Seattle 12 153.7
St. Louis 12 119.7
Arizona 12 116.3
Cleveland 11 102.0
Jacksonville 11 137.9
Detroit 10 102.2
N.Y. Jets 10 135.6
Washington 10 113.7
Carolina 9 116.6
Dallas 9 153.3
Miami 9 109.1
New England 9 133.4
San Diego 8 107.1
Indianapolis 7 98.4
Houston 6 114.2
Source: Keith Hawkins of ESPN Research
The Colts drafted a Hall of Fame receiver in 1996. The Jaguars and Titans did not.

Look at the history of those three teams in the AFC South at wide receiver over the last dozen years, and Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have done a lot to skew the comparison.

Even so, just over a month before the 2009 draft, it's hard not to try to sort through the different approaches at receiver by the division's three receiver-needy teams.

Harrison was in Indy before Manning, but the Colts have made it a priority to provide weapons for their quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans, meanwhile, are run-based teams that have failed to find the downfield threats that would open things up.

Jacksonville and Tennessee have missed in different ways.

The Jaguars swung and missed three times when they spent first-round picks on receivers -- R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones all busted -- while the Titans spent high picks on other positions while managing to develop only one Pro Bowler, Derrick Mason, out of 17 drafted wideouts.

We're leaving the Texans mostly out of this conversation for two reasons -- they don't have as much of a draft history to examine and receiver doesn't rank as one of their big needs heading into this draft.

But Houston is included in these capsules, in order of the number of receivers drafted since 1997, for context:

Tennessee:
Receivers drafted: 17 (Second in NFL)
Average overall pick: 121.1 (15th)
Average round: 4.06
Average draft value pick: 86th
First-rounders: 1
Passing offense since 1997: 17th
Philosophical summation: The Titans haven't spent a first-rounder on a receiver since they passed on Randy Moss for Kevin Dyson in 1998. They've thrown a lot of mid- and late-round picks at the position and hope to make things work with willing blockers in a run-first offense that has not consistently stretched the field on the outside under Jeff Fisher. They won't usually play kids who don't know the entire offense early on and like to talk about how they don't need an All-Pro caliber No. 1 guy to succeed.

Jacksonville:
Receivers drafted: 11 (Tied for 21st)
Average overall pick: 137.9 (23rd)
Average round: 4.55
Average draft value pick: 62nd
First-rounders: 3
Passing offense since 1997: 14th
Philosophical summation: They've not been afraid to spend first-round picks on receivers and haven't found a star in three stabs with R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Indications are, however, they aren't afraid to swing again. They want a big-time weapon for David Garrard to be the quarterback they envision and may well grab Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin at No. 8 in the first round if one of them is available. Veteran Torry Holt, a free agent, is visiting the team Thursday.

Indianapolis:
Receivers drafted
: 7 (28th in the league)
Average overall pick: 98.4 (First)
Average round: 3.29
Average draft value pick: 60th
First rounders: 2
Passing offense since 1997: First
Philosophical summation: Surrounding Manning with weapons is always a priority. The Colts got an all-time great in 1996 with Marvin Harrison, and rather than thinking they could supplement him with bit players, they spent more resources to surround him -- with Reggie Wayne in round one of the 2001 draft, with free agent Brandon Stokley in 2003 and by drafting Anthony Gonzalez in round one in 2007. They could well grab another at No. 27 in this draft.

Houston:*
Receivers drafted
: 6 (32nd)
Average overall pick: 114.2 (Ninth)
Average round: 4.00
Average draft value pick: 39th
First rounders: 1
Passing offense since 2002: 28th
Philosophical summation: They hit a home run with Andre Johnson in the first round in 2003 and have worked to build an offense around an unassuming, hard-working talent. The Texans have done r
easonably well developing Johnson's supporting cast with free agent additions Kevin Walter and Andre Davis and 2006 seventh-rounder David Anderson. With an improved line and run game, if quarterback Matt Schaub stays healthy, Johnson will remain one of the league's most feared weapons.
*--Since 2002

In the graphic below, Aaron Schatz from footballoutsiders.com suggested I look at the differences in approach at wide receiver by using a "draft value chart." A general average of draft position assumes the difference between each draft spot is the same, while the sort of value chart teams use for trading picks takes into account just how different the value is between a first-rounder and a sixth-rounder.

Average Value of WRs Drafted Since 1997 By AFC South Teams
Team WRs drafted Total points value AVG Draft value of AVG
Houston 6 3079.65 513.3 39th pick
Indianapolis 7 2101.7 300.2 60th pick
Jacksonville 11 3095 281.4 62nd pick
Tennessee 17 2701.5 158.9 86th pick

Two assessments of what this all means:

Schatz of footballoutsiders.com:

"It's a different issue with each team. The Colts have hit on their first-round receivers, the Jaguars have not. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez. Honestly, what else have the Colts had to do to find receivers? Those three play so well that everything else they look for is slot guys and depth.

"On the other hand, the Jags have blown first-rounders on Reggie Williams, R. Jay Soward, and Matt Jones. Williams is sort of a good second guy, Soward sucked, and Jones is a mess who was totally overdrafted."

"I don't think the Titans have spent a first on a receiver since Kevin Dyson. They did a great job of drafting Derrick Mason, and have been stumbling along otherwise with lower picks that didn't work out and free agents. That's different from the Colts, though -- the Colts didn't have a chance to have lower picks not work out because their first-rounders are so good. And the starter before Wayne was drafted was [Jerome] Pathon, who was a second-rounder who had a career that was about equal to what you would expect from a guy taken with an early pick in the second round."

ESPN analyst Herm Edwards former coach of the Jets and Chiefs:

"It depends on what your philosophy is on offense, it has a lot to do with what you are trying to do. Receivers, it's always a tough deal when you draft those guys, especially high. Because the expectations on them are so enormous. It sometimes takes those guys two or three years to really get going into the system.

"If you look at Indy, they've got a system with a quarterback where all they have to do it fit the pieces they want, like the kid Gonzalez they drafted from Ohio State. You look at him now, they used him a lot in the slot, so they kind of brought him along. I think now with Marvin being gone Gonzalez will probably replace Marvin outside. When they moved him to the slot, they really took away Dallas Clark, because Clark is really their slot guy in three wideouts, they put him in the slot a lot. Now they've got a speed guy in Gonzalez, they can move him back outside and now what they'll probably do is look for another guy. They are always a year or two ahead of what they want to do.

"Tennessee, in my opinion, is more of a team that's going to try to run the ball and play physical on defense, do it that way. So their receivers are a little bit different than the guys in Indianapolis. Those guys have got to be able to block. If you look at Tennessee's receivers, they're pretty big. Jacksonville has the same kind of guys. They're more of a play-action team, they're going to try to hit the home runs. Those teams are going to pound you with their running games, try to get eight guys in the box, get one on one outside, and then from there try to hit you with the home run.

"Jacksonville, they've had some guy but none of them have really turned out. But that's a lot of teams, though. They are so hard to figure out. This year in this class is kind of unique. Five or six of the top guys are juniors. That's what makes the class so good... Now you're talking about bringing a young guy in that's going to take a little time to develop.

"The Colts, if they miss on a guy it's almost not on the radar screen, because when you think about it, he ain't going to play anyway, he's not pressed to play right now. It's been the same starters every year. Now they need one."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Whether Matt Jones is in more trouble or not -- and my feeling is he will face more league discipline for violating terms of a plea agreement -- the popular thinking now is that the Jaguars may be lining up for a receiver at No. 8 in the draft.

Michael Crabtree should be gone, but Jeremy Maclin could be there, and he could be intriguing for a team that needs a big-play threat.

In an extended conversation I had last week with GM Gene Smith -- before the Jones developments and the signing of veteran left tackle Tra Thomas -- I asked him whether the team's track record with first-round receivers would have a bearing on its considerations in his first draft at the helm.

The team has had trouble finding a big, consistent contributor when using first-round picks on receivers -- see R. Jay Soward (29th in 2000), Reggie Williams (ninth in 2004) and Jones (21st in 2005).

Here's what Smith had to say on the need for a receiver in response to a question that mentioned how both the Jaguars and the Titans are receiver needy:

"It's been challenging for us," Smith said. "Certainly we are an offense that uses multiple tight ends and we do throw to our backs. There are teams that primarily throw to their receivers. We throw to the whole skill group, the tight ends, receivers and the backs, so we spread the ball around. But it would certainly help us for a player or two to emerge on the outside that can consistently win when put in one-on-one situations. The Titans are a lot like us, they want to establish the run and I do believe that you win games up front. What was our strength two years ago, running the ball, was a little bit of our Achilles heel last year in the fact that we had those injuries early in the season.

"We do need to get someone on the outside that can consistently win and that's one area that to improve our football team that we do have to get better."

And here's Smith on the influence of the recent draft results at the position:

"History, to me, is the greatest predictor of future success for an individual," Smith said. "It certainly wouldn't hold us back from selecting a great player. I mean, regardless of what position it is. When you have an opportunity to get a great player, it's something you would not pass on, you just wouldn't do that. But certainly, is there a little bit of an alert based on prior history? Yes. Like I said, you hope the next time you are in position to make a decision like that, you make a better one. So any position, receiver is right in there with our thoughts to improve this football team."

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