NFL Nation: Tyrone Calico
» 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
» Draft class lists: Indianapolis | Jacksonville | Houston | Tennessee
Best get: Not everyone was sold on Brian Cushing coming out of USC, often because of his injury history at USC. He missed most of camp hurt and has missed a lot of practices, but none of it has gotten in the way of his being an impact player every Sunday. The Texans need more defenders and more players in his mold. He’s a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate.
Worst unaddressed spot: The Texans had plenty of reason to expect they had a feature back in Steve Slaton, but completely misread their situation after that. Interior line injuries and a second-year slump for Slaton have made a second back even more important, and Chris Brown, Ryan Moats and Arian Foster all have proved incapable of handling the pressures of the work. A second running back ranks as one of the team’s highest priorities in free agency or the 2010 draft.
Still uninvolved: Tight end James Casey came in as a versatile fifth-rounder who was going to be a unique weapon for head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to tinker with. He’s got six catches for 64 yards in 11 games. He needs to have more of an impact, given that the Texans lost top-flight tight end Owen Daniels to a season-ending knee injury.
Still to be determined: First-rounder Donald Brown has shown he will be a good NFL player. But he’s missed five games with injuries, including the last three. He’s more capable than Joseph Addai of breaking off a big run. The question: Does Brown understand that looking for the big gain isn’t worth risking a play resulting in second-and-12. If Brown is healthy, he could see a lot of touches in the last two games. The Colts are 14-0 with just 59 carries, 263 yards and two TDs from their top pick. (They haven’t gotten much out of second-round defensive tackle Fili Moala, either.)
A perfect fit: Fourth-round receiver Austin Collie, not Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, leads all rookie receivers in catches. Collie's nabbed 53 passes for 567 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a perfect fit for the Colts' system, and adopted the necessary work ethic to win over and work with Peyton Manning. Whether Anthony Gonzalez re-emerges for the post season push or not, Collie’s crucial to it.
Best special teams addition: The Colts had eight touchbacks in 2008. With rookie punter Pat McAfee taking over kickoffs from Adam Vinatieri, they have 18 with two games remaining. Better kickoffs are a big factor in coverage improvements under new special teams coach Ray Rychleski. McAfee’s also got a net punting average of 38.0 yards, less than a yard off former Colts' veteran Hunter Smith’s number from last season.
Long-term solutions: Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton were the top two picks and have played the bulk of the season at left and right tackle, respectively. They have not been consistent, but the team loves their skill sets and upside. And early work means they’ll get to the levels the team projected when spending such high picks on them sooner rather than later.
Eighth-rounders: First-year general manager Gene Smith needed additions beyond his draft class and found a couple: Cornerback William Middleton out of Furman and linebacker Russell Allen from San Diego State are undrafted free agents who made the team and have been contributors. In the nationally televised Week 15 Thursday night loss to the Colts, Allen led the team with 12 tackles. Smith is down a second and seventh rounder in 2010 because of trades, and he hopes to hit on some undrafteds again, and annually.
Three is key: Smith did great work in the third round, landing two small school players who’ve established themselves as productive starters with upside. Cornerback Derek Cox from William & Mary has not been intimidated by anything or anyone. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton from Temple has been a stout and reliable run stopper.
Biggest breakthrough: Since 1998, the Titans have spent draft picks in the top three rounds on Kevin Dyson, Tyrone Calico, Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones and Paul Williams. Dyson was involved in two of the franchise’s biggest plays in 1999 and did OK otherwise, but none of them solved the team's long-standing woes at receiver. First-rounder Kenny Britt is a great combination of size, power and speed who goes and gets the ball. Britt seems like he can be a consistently productive weapon.
Disappearing act: The Titans gave away a second-rounder to draft tight end Jared Cook in the third, and in camp he seemed like a great addition. Then he suffered an ankle injury, faded and never really re-emerged. Long-term he’s still very compelling. But the Titans sure could have used a jolt from him during their 0-6 start.
An heir: Gerald McRath seems comfortable and been effective as an outside linebacker when needed. He will start the rest of the way and, after bulking up in the offseason, stands to inherit the spot of either David Thornton (breaking down) or Keith Bulluck (free agent who tore an ACL in Week 15) next year. If both veterans are gone (a likely scenario), the second replacement needs to be a free agent or a draft pick.
NASHVILLE -- Kenny Britt's not going to face Matthew Stafford style scrutiny, don't get me wrong.
But this is a city where the last first-round receiver selected was when the team was still called the Tennessee Oilers -- Kevin Dyson in 1998. And this is a place where fans have asked for constant progress reports, hoping for something, anything, regarding prospects like Paul Williams and Courtney Roby and Tyrone Calico.
The expectations of Titans' fans for Britt may exceed the expectation of the Titans themselves, and based on what the Titans brass just told us, that's saying something.
Jeff Fisher, Mike Heimerdinger and Richard Shelton just talked about Britt, emphasizing his tough and physical qualities and praising his ability to beat bump and run coverage -- something they said is often the toughest thing for a receiver coming into the league to learn to handle.
"We're going to try to get him on the field as quick as we can and catch passes for us and make big plays for us," Fisher said. "We feel like he's what we've been missing in our passing game."
At 6-3, 215 pounds, Britt is a physical specimen who should boost the Titans prospects for passing touchdowns in the red zone.
Heimerdinger, in the second year of his second stint in the post, has now been given a first-round weapon in consecutive years -- running back Chris Johnson was a revelation last season and the Titans have similar hopes for Britt.
"It's different than the first time around," Heimerdinger said with a laugh of 2000-04, when the Titans took two offensive skill position players in nine picks in the first and second rounds.
They are easy matches for mock drafters.
Give the Colts the best defensive tackle you can find at 27. Insert the top remaining wide receiver next to the Titans' line at 30.
But presuming those picks is a mistake on both counts, unless you are banking on those teams breaking from their staunch recent histories.
Indianapolis looks to draft the best player available early on, and after a couple top interior linemen go early, team president Bill Polian said defensive tackle value doesn't usually re-emerge until the later rounds.
And the Titans, who once passed on Randy Moss, haven't touched a receiver in the first round since they took Kevin Dyson ahead of Moss in 1998, giving off a vibe since that it's just too unpredictable a position to value so highly.
|Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images|
|The Colts would be bucking a trend by picking Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry in the first round.|
Indianapolis suffered on the interior defensive line last season, not because it had planned poorly, but because of two surprises: Quinn Pitcock, a fourth rounder out of Ohio State in 2007, decided to quit football before training camp last year. Ed Johnson, who'd been an impact player as an undrafted free agent in 2007, was on a zero tolerance policy, got in some trouble after one game in 2008 and was let go.
The Colts will add multiple interior linemen between now and training camp, but they will likely come with a pick or two later in the draft, and inevitably, with a potential diamond in the rough they don't even need to spend a pick on. Besides Pitcock, Polian hasn't drafted a defensive tackle since 2002, when Larry Triplett was a second rounder and David Pugh a sixth rounder. In 11 years, Polian's drafted five players at the position, only Triplett higher than the fourth round.
"I've always approached the draft as take the best player no matter what the position is," Polian said. "Don't worry about filling a need, you can do that later in the draft. Take the best player in the first two rounds, whoever he is."
So it's fair to say through much of his tenure he hasn't seen a lot of defensive tackles of value available with his highest picks?
"Yeah, that's probably correct," he said. "They go in the first 15 usually, then you see them resurface in the latter rounds -- five, six, seven."