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Drafting: Tell Me Why

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Regular readers will note I'm a pretty rabid partisan for the Saints (Falcon fans have been bitten). And in last year's draft, the Saints got tremendous value from fourth round guard Jahrri Evans (Division II Bloomsburg State) and better-known seventh-rounder Marques Colston (I-AA Hofstra), both unlikely starters from opening day to conference championship. So, with that success, after grabbing the obligatory first round shirtless stud from the SEC (Tennessee's Robert Meachem), the team went sorta small school crazy in the later rounds:

  • Third Round (66): CB Usama Young, Kent State
  • Third Round (88): OG Andy Alleman, Akron
  • Fourth Round (125): OT Jermon Bushrod, Towson
  • Fifth Round (145): CB David Jones, Wingate

Now, see Evans and Colston above for specific reasons I can't honestly complain about this. I haven't seen and don't know anything about any of these very obscure players to doubt their abilities, other than to question the transition in talent from lower college levels, but small school players succeed in the pros all the time. But then, there's also this long list of players, guys I'm pretty familiar with via their college success that the Saints not only passed up for their anonymous heroes, but who weren't drafted by any team, period:

Notable Players Passed Over in Draft
Juwan Simpson (Alabama) Tra Battle (Georgia) Larry Birdine (Oklahoma)
Terry Richardson (AZ State) Tony Taylor (Georgia) J.D. Nelson (Oregon)
Sam Olajabutu (Arkansas) Danny Ware (Georgia) Joe Newton (Oregon St.)
Marquies Gunn (Auburn) Kamichael Hall (Georgia Tech) Tyler Palko (Pittsburgh)
Jared Zabransky (Boise St.) Joe Anoai (Georgia Tech) Syvelle Newton (So. Car.)
Jonny Harline (BYU) Drew Tate (Iowa) Justin Warren (TX A&M)
Brian Daniels (Colorado) Brent Curvey (Iowa St.) Jarrett Hicks (Texas Tech)
John Talley (Duke) Jon Cornish (Kansas) Antonio Huffman (TxTech)
Earl Everett (Florida) Brandon Archer (Kansas St.) Justin Hickman (UCLA)
Chris Leak (Florida) Ameer Ismail (W. Mich.) Jon Abbatte (W. Forest)
Kyle Young (Fresno St.) Jesse Daniels (LSU) Mkristo Bruce (Wash. St.)
Darius Walker (N. Dame) Quinton Culberson (Miss. St.) Dan Mozes (W. Virginia)

Usama Young: Played against Penn State. Good enough for me.
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None of those guys strikes me as a certain pro stud or anything, but they are all players I've either watched play very well over the last couple years, seen at the top of national stat categories or seen consistently recognized among the top college players in the country. They're all all-conference type guys, in other words, consistent, productive guys who may not be first or second-rounders, but who would seem obviously to be worth a chance by some team out of several hundred choices. I even left off guys like Houston's Vincent Marshall and Rutgers' Ramel Meekins, very solid college players who are obviously too small or have some other physical liability that takes them out of the picture where the pros are concerned.

Five players on the above list were voted to one of last year's AP all-America teams, including first-team center Dan Mozes and both second team ends, Justin Hickman and Mkristo Bruce. These were elite Pac Ten pass rushers, passed over along with the national sack leader, Ameer Ismail, who College honors don't mean anything to NFL scouts, obviously, and shouldn't, but Hickman and Bruce both strike me as close enough to bigger versions of Dwight Freeney that at least one of them would warrant, say, a fifth or sixth-round pick. What it is about Usama Young, for example, a player voted second team all-conference by MAC coaches, that makes him so much more attractive as a prospect that he would be not only selected ahead of Tra Battle, who was first team all-SEC at the same position, but be selected at the start of the third round when Battle doesn't come off the board at all? Double that sentiment for the kid from Wingate, and for Alleman, snubbed by all vestiges of postseason recognition in the MAC, both of whom I hope are great but have to question. It's not wrong, but I don't get it.

Some of the other random decisions and snubs I found very bizarre and/or offensive to my collegiate sensibility:

Amobi Okoye picked 23 spots ahead of Alan Branch
At the risk of agreeing with Mark May, Branch is bigger (330 to an up-and-down 300, give or take), faced more attention from better offensive lines and anchored one of the best run-stuffing (and pass rushing, despite his own paucity of sacks) defensive fronts in recent memory, one that was obscenely good in third-and-short situations because of its immovable man mountain. What, hip movement? I trust Brian's analysis at least as much as I do Mel Kiper's, and everything he saw, and that I was able to corroborate, said Alan Branch is a black hole of a defensive tackle where offensive hope goes to die. I wanted the Saints to take him so bad. Amobi Okoye may still be growing into his bulk, but he never looked like this:

Alan Branch is almost literally the equivalent of having a grizzly bear in the middle of your defense, and every team but two (Philadelphia and Seattle, which didn't have a first round pick) passed on him.

Eh. Next.
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Quinton Culberson, Sam Olajabutu and Earl Everett Undrafted
All three werefirst team all-conference linebackers alongside Patrick Willis, according to SEC coaches. No takers. None for second-teamer Tony Taylor, either.

Lawrence Timmons in the First Round, Jon Abbate Undrafted
Again, the NFL doesn't care a whole lot about the all-ACC team, but Abbate was a consensus first team pick, and Timmons was honorable mention. It makes sense to take a far more promising athletic specimen over a 5-9 rat with an awful 40-time, but it was still the rat who outplayed the specimen and led the conference champions in tackles. This is not necessarily a knock on Timmons as a first-rounder, but Abbate was the better college player - as well as one who left with a year of eligibility remaining - and he's not worthy of being selected at all?

Chris Henry in the Second Round, DeShawn Wynn in the Seventh Round
And a lot of far more productive backs came after Henry (Antonio Pittman, Michael Bush, Tony Hunt, Dwayne Wright), but at least were in his general vicinity. Wynn had an up-and-down career, but started for three out of four years at Florida, to Henry's one at Arizona, and outrushed Henry in that one year (699 on 143 carries to 581 on 165). Henry had one monster game at Oregon, but was regularly stonewalled - his team finished 110th in rushing, and he averaged 3.5 per carry. They're the same size (Wynn is 5-11, 235; Henry is 6-0, 233), and Wynn was about as fast in workouts. Henry is a 100 percent combine creation, but even if you buy his speed as an advantage over Wynn's experience and production, how is Henry that much better?

Zak DeOssie in the Fourth Round, Earl Everett Undrafted
Mainly because DeOssie is from Brown, which gives Chris Berman reason to open his mouth, in general, but also because he's an Ivy League player decribed as "not instinctive or fundamentally sound." Whereas Everett is a leader from a dominant championship defense who "plays faster than his 40 time indicates" and will run down the Heisman Trophy winner with no helmet. Who could draft some pinoit-quaffing Brownie over that? The Giants. Figures.

It's not that the scouts are wrong in any of these cases - in fact, I said earlier they're more like to be right. Certainly more likely than me. It's just that I don't understand how such a seemingly gaping distance between some college performances is made up so dramatically, so thoroughly, by scouting combine stuff. A lot of those undrafted players above delivered the best college performances in the country, and will have no chance to reproduce them on the next level.