Column by RICK GOSSELIN / The Dallas Morning News | email@example.com
You can debate the best NFL draft well into the night. The 1964 draft produced a record 10 Hall of Famers, the 1974 draft paved the way for a Pittsburgh dynasty, and the 1983 draft gave the NFL an unprecedented class of quarterbacks.
But the worst draft ever? There's no need to debate that one. The 2009 draft is swiftly moving into a class of its own.
The NFL has played only 17 games since conducting the 2009 draft and already a third of that class has been waived, traded or retired. Of the 257 selections in 2009, 85 are already off the rosters of the drafting teams - a stunning 33.1 percent.Getty Images Highland Park's Matthew Stafford was the top pick in the NFL draft class of 2009. View largerMore photosPhoto store
The first three rounds are considered a draft's premium rounds. Those are the picks each team uses to build the core of its starting lineup. All 100 players selected in those first three rounds of the 2009 draft held onto their roster spots last season.
But 12 of those players (four second-rounders and eight thirds) didn't survive in 2010. Denver traded CB Alphonso Smith to Detroit, and Arizona (LB Cody) Brown), Cleveland (LB David Veikune), Miami (QB Pat White) all released second-rounders to account for those four departures.
The Chicago Bears cut both of their third-rounders (DT Jarron Gilbert and WR Juaguin Iglesius) and the New England Patriots waived a third-, fourth- and fifth-rounder. The Philadelphia Eagles released all three of their fifth-rounders and traded away a sixth.
The Eagles have already moved five of their eight 2009 draft picks off the roster, and the Steelers have released five of their nine. The Cincinnati Bengals also have released five of their 2009 draft picks.
Two safeties who were season-long starters as rookies - sixth-rounders Al Afalava of Chicago and Kevin Ellison of San Diego - were cut this summer. Sixth-rounder Keith Null started four games at quarterback for the St. Louis Rams last season. He also was released this summer. Third-round RB Glen Coffee of the San Francisco 49ers retired after one season.
NFL teams have released 19 fifth-rounders, 19 sixths and 27 seventh-rounders from the 2009 draft. Three other players from that draft opened the 2010 season under NFL suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs: LB Brian Cushing of Houston, L Gerald McRath of Tennessee and TE Shawn Nelson of Buffalo.
Two teams did beat the odds in 2009 and come away with superb drafts - the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions.
The Texans still have all eight of their 2009 draft picks on the 2010 roster, and the Lions still have eight of their 10 selections. Five of the eight were 2010 opening-day starters for Detroit. Three start for Houston.
If the Super Bowl were played tomorrow
My preseason picks - Dallas and Indy - both suffered opening losses. So let's go with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans this week. The Packers had the most impressive road victory of the weekend in Philadelphia, but the Texans had the most impressive victory of the weekend. For the last two years, the Texans could only go as far as Matt Schaub's Pro Bowl right arm could carry them. But Houston whipped the defending AFC champion Colts on Sunday with Schaub playing a bit part in support of Arian Foster, who rushed for 231 yards. The Texans have become multi-dimensional overnight and that makes them dangerous.
Looking back on my weekend in New Jersey
When the New Jersey taxpayers built Giants Stadium in 1976, they paid homage to the lone tenant - the NFL Giants. The stadium was all blue and red, the official colors of the Giants. But when the taxpayers were asked to spend $1 billion-plus to build the new Meadowlands in 2010, it was constructed with two tenants in mind - the Giants and Jets, who wear green and white. So the stadium colors are neutral - varying shades of grey for the 82,000 seats and interior trim. My friend Judy Batista of the New York Times says it looks like a battleship. And it does. But it's a huge step up from the old Meadowlands with all the frills that its $1.65 million price tag can buy.
Looking ahead at my weekend in Detroit
When I booked the Eagles-Lions game for the second week of the season, I anticipated seeing Matthew Stafford. Instead I may be seeing Michael Vick. Injuries claimed two starting quarterbacks on opening day - Stafford (shoulder) of the Lions and Kevin Kolb (concussion) of the Eagles. Vick finished up for Kolb and nearly rallied the Eagles from a 27-10 fourth quarter deficit against the Packers. Shaun Hill stepped in for the Lions and couldn't hold a 14-10 lead over the Bears in a loss at Chicago. It will be a football intensive weekend, because I'll also be attending the Michigan State-Notre Dame game in East Lansing on Saturday. Michigan State has one of the best linebackers in the nation in Greg Jones, a potential high pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Commish for a day
The NFL is a stickler about uniforms. The league fines players if their shirts aren't tucked in or if their white sanitary socks aren't pulled high enough up the calf. Nit-picky stuff. Why then doesn't the NFL do something about all the hair? Pittsburgh's Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu started the trend with locks flowing onto his shoulders. Now it seems there's a player or two in every NFL and college game with the hair down the back of his jersey. In some cases, the hair reaches almost to the belt. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd fine NFL players if their hair covers the names and numbers on the backs of their jerseys. It's fine to have hair - just keep it in your helmet. I'm surprised the television networks haven't complained about it. The names on the backs of jerseys are there for the TV cameras.
Kickers have become so accurate - and their coaches have become so much more trusting - that distance no longer seems to matter. Coaches sent kickers out to attempt 49 field goals last Sunday and league-wide they connected on 39 of them. Five of the misses were from 62, 62, 56, 55 and 53 yards. Five of the makes were from 54, 54, 52, 52 and 51 yards.
Draft watch: Tight Ends
Running with the football is a strength of Rob Housler. It's what makes him attractive to NFL scouts. He set a school record at Florida Atlantic with a 68-yard touchdown run as a sophomore in 2007 and also caught a 71-yard pass as a junior in 2008. Heading into this fall, the Converse Judson product is the top-rated tight end in the 2011 NFL draft.
Housler played two seasons as a backup at Florida Atlantic and then blossomed as a junior, catching 32 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns. But he redshirted as a true senior in 2009, gaining 23 pounds to go from 215 to 238. He also spent the 2009 season simulating quarterbacks in spread offenses for the Florida Atlantic scout team.
Housler can run - and he'll get the chance on Sundays in 2011. Here's a list of the top tight ends heading into the 2011 NFL draft:
The Prince Akumamara Derby
For the second consecutive year, the highest-rated defensive player in an NFL draft could be from Nebraska. Last year it was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Ndamukong Suh, who was selected by the Detroit Lions with the second overall pick. Heading into this fall, CB Prince Amukamara is the top-rated defensive player in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has size (6-0, 200 pounds), speed (the state of Arizona's 100-meter dash champion as a prepster), productivity (five interceptions in 2009) and intelligence (graduated last December with a degree in sociology). So who gets Amukamara next April? Based on opening-day performances, the guess is here is that the Oakland Raiders will have the first pick of the 2011 draft.
Lights, camera, action
Peyton Manning will see a friendly face Sunday when his brother Eli visits Indianapolis. But Manning's Indianapolis Colts will see some even friendlier faces - Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.Getty Images Peyton Manning and Eli Manning met on the field in 2006. View largerMore photosPhoto store
The Colts-Giants game will be broadcast Sunday night by NBC - and a national television audience is the exact tonic Indianapolis needs to snap out of its 0-1 season-opening funk. Give the Colts national TV cameras, and they give America their best.
The NFL has scheduled the Colts to play on national television 17 times in the regular season over the last four years. The Colts have won 15 of those games, including all five appearances in 2009. Indianapolis takes an eight-game national-television winning streak into Sunday night.
The Colts were 3-0 on national TV in 2006, 4-0 in 2007, 3-2 in 2008 and 5-0 in 2009. Colts GM Bill Polian isn't surprised by the team's national TV record.
“We play well most of the time, not just on television,” Polian said.
Indeed. The Colts won 51 of their 64 regular-season games from 2006-09. Manning thinks the success on national television may stem from the team's youth. The Colts annually field one of the NFL's 10 youngest rosters.
“For a lot of guys, it's the first time playing on Sunday or Monday night,” Manning said. “A more veteran team might say, 'What's the big deal?' But our young guys are pumped when a [John] Madden comes to town. You get the juices flowing. And Tony [former coach Dungy] used to talk all the time about putting on a good show for your peers.”
The two TV losses came to the Chicago Bears at home on opening night of the 2008 season and at Tennessee in Week 8 of that October.
The Chicago loss was explainable. Manning missed all of training camp that summer following knee surgery, so his first action came against the Bears. He was rusty that Sunday night, throwing the ball 49 times for only 257 yards and one touchdown in a 29-13 defeat as the Colts debuted Lucas Oil Stadium.
Seven weeks later, on a Monday night, the Tennessee Titans ran Chris Johnson and LenDale White to control the clock in a 31-21 victory. The Colts had the ball for less than 26 minutes, and Manning didn't help his cause with a pair of interceptions.
Overall during the last four seasons, the Colts are 8-1 on Sunday nights, 3-1 on Monday nights and 4-0 on Thursdays. Sunday night against the Giants is the first of five scheduled national-television appearances for the Colts in 2010. They play on three Sundays, a Monday and a Thursday.
Jordan Shipley, WR, Cincinnati: Carson Palmer is learning what Colt McCoy came to appreciate in his four years at Texas - Shipley is someone you can trust. The Cincinnati Bengals have the market cornered on drama with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens starting on the flank. Palmer will have his hands full this season trying to keep those two happy with their workloads. There will be no drama with the rookie Shipley, only production. Operating as the third receiver in the opener at New England, Shipley quietly turned in a better day than Owens with five catches for 82 yards. Shipley will succeed in the NFL. He is the state of Texas' all-time leading prep receiver with 264 career catches, and he left Austin as the No. 2 receiver in school history with 248 catches. The more Ochocinco and Owens act up this season, the more Palmer will appreciate Shipley.
Matt Dodge, P, NY Giants: It's a risky proposition carrying a rookie kicker when you fancy yourself a Super Bowl contender. That's what the Giants are doing this season with Dodge. Jeff Feagles retired after the 2009 season, so the Giants used a seventh-round draft pick on the East Carolina punter. Dodge labored in his NFL debut but didn't cost the Giants the game. He hit two line-drive punts and had a third attempt blocked out of the end zone for a safety. Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn returned one of Dodge's punts 28 yards to set up a Panthers field goal. The NFL wants its punters to average 45 yards per kick and 39 net yards. Dodge is averaging 28.7 yards with a net of 16. He needs to show some improvement if he aspires to join the Giants in a Super Bowl.
Around the Ranch
The Cowboys continue to struggle making plays on defense. Despite the presence of two Pro Bowl cornerbacks, the Cowboys have intercepted only 11 passes over the last 19 games. Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman and their cohorts in the defensive backfield failed to intercept Donovan McNabb in 32 passes in the season opener at Washington. But the Cowboys have a chance to heal thy play-less hands in the home opener Sunday when Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears visit. Cutler has been known to throw the ball without conscience. He led the NFL in interceptions last season and threw another one in Chicago's season opener against Detroit. Cutler has now thrown 27 interceptions in his last 17 games.
Former Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford became the 98th rookie to start an NFL game at quarterback since 1980 - but he became the first to throw 50 passes in his debut. The previous high was 47 by Vinny Testaverde, another former Heisman winner, in his debut start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987. Like Testaverde - and most rookie quarterbacks, for that matter - Bradford lost that first start for the St. Louis Rams. Those 98 rookies QBs are 31-66-1 in their debut starts. Bradford also became the 72nd of those 98 rookies to throw an interception (or two or, in Bradford's case, three) in his first start.
From the wallet
If I'm buying an NFL ticket this week, here's how I spend my money:
Luxury box $$$: New England at NY Jets. Patriots QB Tom Brady - the highest-paid player in the NFL - announced last month that he hates the Jets. And the Jets seem to hate everyone but themselves. New York reached the AFC title game last season, but the Patriots remain the defending AFC East champion. The two teams split the season series in 2009, with the Jets winning in New Jersey and the Patriots winning in Foxboro. If the Jets are serious about their Super Bowl aspirations, they must show they can handle the Patriots and win the division title. With Brady taking the snaps, we already know the Patriots are serious about the Super Bowl.
Lower bowl $$: Baltimore at Cincinnati. The Bengals are the defending AFC North champions but on shaky legs after a thrashing from the Patriots on opening day. The Ravens reached the AFC title game in 2008 and want to get back. A victory over the Bengals would give Baltimore a two-game lead over Cincinnati in the division even before the fall color arrives. Cincinnati used a two-game sweep of the Ravens in 2009 as thrust for that division championship. The Bengals signed Terrell Owens hoping he can make a difference in games of this magnitude. There will be smack talk on both sides in this one.
Upper deck $: NY Giants at Indianapolis. This will be the second time the two Manning brothers have squared off in their careers. Peyton prevailed in the first meeting in the 2006 season opener at the Meadowlands, passing for 276 yards and a touchdown in a 26-21 Indianapolis victory. Eli passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Since then both Mannings have won a Super Bowl. “You don't know how many times this is going to happen,” Eli said. “It's rare, and you appreciate the fact that when the national anthem is playing you can look over and see your big brother. That's pretty special. This might be the last time. You might get one more here or there.”
Stay in the parking lot and tailgate: Buffalo at Green Bay. If for no other reason than the best tailgating in the NFL takes place in Green Bay. So what if you miss the kickoff? The brats are sizzling. So what if you miss the first half? So what if you miss the whole game? The Bills are no match for a Green Bay team that is a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. You can have more fun in the parking lot than inside Lambeau Stadium on this day.
The game I've got circled on my calendar
New Orleans at Baltimore, Dec. 19: This is a potential Super Bowl preview. The Saints offense versus the Ravens defense would be worth the price of admission whether the game is played in December, January or February.
Brace for an onslaught of yellow flags this weekend. NFL officials have used the opening weekend in recent seasons to get comfortable with the speed of the game, then used the second week to exert their authority.
In each of the last three seasons, there have been more penalty yards assessed on the second weekend than any other weekend of the season. Also, in each of the last two years, there were more penalties assessed on the second weekend than any other weekend of the season.
For whatever reason, the crews seem to want to remind everyone on the second weekend that there are three teams on the field - home, visitor and officiating. That's sad. NFL games should be determined by the players, not the officials.
• Speaking of the officials, I'm still not buying the argument that the Gene Steratore crew made the correct call in wiping out a potential game-winning touchdown catch by Calvin Johnson in the final minute of last Sunday's game between the Bears and Lions. The side judge Mike Weatherford was standing on top of the play and signaled a touchdown - only to be overruled. If officials can award Lance Moore that two-point conversion in last February's Super Bowl, they must award Johnson the touchdown. Johnson had the ball longer and was in better control than Moore.
• Mark Clayton didn't waste any time learning the St. Louis playbook. Acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last Monday, Clayton went out and caught 10 passes for 119 yards in his debut with the Rams on Sunday against Arizona. He became the club's first 100-yard receiver since Sept. 28, 2008, snapping a streak of 28 consecutive games without one. It's hard to believe the Rams were once the Greatest Show on Turf.
• Who would have guessed that Eagles QB Michael Vick would outrush every NFC running back on the opening weekend, and that Bears RB Matt Forte would gain more receiving yards than every NFC wideout?
• The preliminary ballot is out for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2011. There are 46 offensive players, 33 defenders and 29 contributors on the ballot. Little wonder there are almost twice as many offensive players enshrined in Canton as defensive.
My guess is disgruntled Randy Moss ends up in Cincinnati next season for the trifecta…