The pro draft is an annual mystery to college fans. It's not that we really know the players better than the scouts - most Saints fans with any clue about the SEC probably groaned when the Saints traded up to pick Jonathan Sullivan in 2002, but I guessed Alan Branch would instantly dominate the league after inexplicably falling to the second round last year, and he finished with nine tackles as a backup. Predictably, the real scouts are better than their armchair counterparts.
If I'm forced to concede to their wisdom, though, I still don't understand it sometimes. Take these two quarterbacks, both multi-year starters, in non-yardage or attempt-based passing categories:
|2006 Comp. %
|2006 Oppts. Eff.*
|2007 Comp. %
|2007 Oppts. Eff.*
|Team PPG as Starter
- - -
Add one more line to "Advantage," this time in favor of Quarterback A: salary. It's not that Matt Ryan (QB A) was drafted ahead of André Woodson (QB B) despite being ostensibly outplayed by his physical equal according to every possible measure against comparable competition two years in a row. It's not really even that Ryan went 195 spots ahead of Woodson, along with two I-AA players, Joe Flacco and Josh Johnson, and a conference rival, Erik Ainge, who failed with better surrounding talent to match Woodson's stats or estimation in the eyes of league coaches (it was Woodson, not Ainge, who was second team all-SEC the last two years, behind JaMarcus Russell in 2006 and Tim Tebow last year). Flacco was a late riser, but Ryan, Johnson, Ainge and every other quarterback drafted fell more or less (within a round, at worst) where he was expected to fall.
Yo, war rooms: read between the lines.
- - -
The only explanation seems to be momentum and groupthink - once a couple teams soured, nobody else wanted to be the sucker. Think about it this way: if Woodson had been hyped as a first round stud the way Ryan was through the entire process and been picked in the top 20, would you, college fan, have blinked once? If Ryan had fallen to the fourth round because of questions about his deep ball and unusually high interception total? Whatever separated them was not evident on the field in any way that mattered.
The same thing happened to Dan Connor, a sturdy, consistent linebacker projected in the top ten in January who wasn't actually selected until the third round. At least in Connor's case, there were only two middle linebackers picked in front of him, suggesting teams just weren't in the market for middle linebackers. At least he wasn't passed over for the likes of Timothy Hightower, Xavier Omon and Furman fullback Jerome Felton at his position, like Mike Hart, who finally fell to the Colts in the sixth (too small? Too slow? Jacob Hester went in the third).
At least both of them were picked:
Some of those also-rans are understandable for obvious size/speed reasons (see Dorien Bryant, Andre Callender and Marcus Griffin), and all-conference teams should be taken with a lot of skepticism to begin with. But a couple snubs (Adarius Bowman, D.J. Hall, J Lemen, Vince Hall, D.J. Wolfe) should make no sense at all to the people who have been watching them play throughout their careers. I'm pretty certain Bowman and Vince Hall at some point were "sure things" destined for early round stardom. The coaches and media around them in college obviously didn't see any difference while the games were still going on. But the scouts are probably right.