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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Ghosts of Draft Days Past

The NFL draft wrapped up Saturday with two Bulldogs taken in the seventh round, giving Georgia a total of five players selected in 2010. Rennie Curran was the first player taken from Georgia, and he want in Round 3, making it hardly the most star-studded group to enter the NFL from Athens.

Of course, that leads to the next question: Who was the best group of former Bulldogs to enter The League in one year?

I took a look back through the Mark Richt era (2002-2009 drafts) and reviewed the NFL careers of each. The results? Not too good, really. Judge for yourself...

2002 Draft (8)

Charles Grant (DE), Round 1 to the Saints
Will Witherspoon (LB), Round 3 to the Panthers
Randy McMichael (TE), Round 4 to the Dolphins
Terreal Bierria (S), Round 4 to the Seahawks
Jermaine Phillips (S), Round 5 to the Buccaneers
Verron Haynes (RB), Round 5 to the Steelers
Josh Mallard (DE), Round 7 to the Colts
Tim Wansley (CB), Round 7 to the Buccaneers

Results: Grant proved a worthy pick, making 38.5 sacks in his Saints career and winning a Super Bowl before being released this offseason. Witherspoon has made the rounds with the Panthers, Rams, Eagles and now the Titans, making 741 tackles and 20 sacks. McMichael is now with the Rams but had a successful stint with the Dolphins -- leading the team in receiving in 2004 with 791 yards. He started 80 straight games for Miami at one point and is the team's all time leading tight end in receptions and receiving yards. Bierria played three years in the NFL to little success. Haynes had a successful run as a back-up with the Steelers and played parts of last season with the Falcons. Mallard's career had few high points, but he did manage to stick in the league with six different teams through the 2008 season. Wansley played two seasons in Tampa, starting six games before being released. He bounced around practice squads and the CFL through 2005.

Highlight: Probably McMichael, who was among the top three or four tight ends in the league during his first five seasons in the league. Grant's success is also worth noting, as he ranks among the Saints' career sack leaders.

The biggest asterisk on what was a strong draft class belongs off the field. Grant was suspended by the NFL for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy. McMichael and Phillips both ran afoul of the law on charges of assaulting women, while Bierria was arrested in 2009 on murder charges.

Final Grade: The largest draft class under Richt was also its most successful at the next level. Still, the class was completely recruited by Jim Donnan, and the off-field problems mar what was a talented group... B+

2003 Draft (7)

Johnathan Sullivan (DT), Round 1 to the Saints
George Foster (OL), Round 1 to the Broncos
Boss Bailey (LB), Round 2 to the Lions
Jon Stinchcomb (OL), Round 2 to the Saints
Musa Smith (RB), Round 3 to the Ravens
Tony Gilbert (LB), Round 6 to the Cardinals
JT Wall (FB), Round 7 to the Steelers

Results: Sullivan played three seasons with the Saints with minimal success before begin dealt to New England. The Pats released him midseason. Foster's career started well with Denver. He started all 16 games his first two seasons before being dealt to Detroit in 2007. He played sparingly there and was released after the 2008 season. Bailey didn't live up to the legacy of his brother, Champ, but has enjoyed a solid NFL career, making 88 tackles as a rookie and playing five years in Detroit before signing with Denver. He was released by the Broncos before last season. Stinchcomb has been an anchor of the Saints' line since being drafted and helped them win a Super Bowl in 2010. Smith was a solid backup in Baltimore for five seasons before signing with the Jets, who released him prior to the 2008 season. Gilbert never played for the Cards but spent five seasons in Jacksonville and has played the last two seasons with the Falcons. Wall never played a down in the NFL.

Highlight: No question it's Stinchcomb, who has been a cornerstone of the Saints' revitalization and the lone Pro Bowler of the group. As a sixth-rounder, Gilbert has outperformed his draft status as well.

Lowlight: The first-rounders flamed out in ugly fashion. Neither Sullivan, who was also arrested in June 2006 on marijuana charges, nor Foster developed into a consistent talent and both are out of the league now.

Final Grade: Stinchcomb's consistency, Gilbert's contribution and Bailey's early career provide this class with some highlights, but there's no ignoring how poorly the top end performed… B-

2004 Draft (4)

Ben Watson (TE), Round 1 to the Patriots
Sean Jones (S), Round 2 to the Browns
Robert Geathers (DE), Round 4 to the Bengals
Bruce Thornton (CB), Round 4 to the Cowboys

Results: After spending much of his rookie year injured, Watson was a consistent performer for the Patriots for the next five seasons, helping to win a Super Bowl and was part of the New England team that finished the regular season undefeated. He signed a three-year contract with Cleveland this offseason. Jones was hurt for much of his rookie season, too, but by Year 3 he was the starter, making 111 tackles and five INTs and followed that with a similar performance in 2007. In 2009 he signed with the Eagles and then signed with the Bucs this offseason. Geathers has been a consistent contributor for the Bengals since being drafted, including making a career high 10.5 sacks in 2006. Thornton bounced around the NFL and CFL, starting 11 games for San Francisco in 2005, but is currently out of football.

Highlight: Watson has a Super Bowl title to his credit and was a steal as the final pick in the first round for the Pats.

Lowlight: I suppose Thornton, who never truly developed, but fourth-round picks aren't exactly projected as Pro Bowlers either.

Final Grade: This ties for the smallest draft class of the Richt era, but there was plenty of talent. None of the four went on to become superstars, but the first three have enjoyed solid careers and Thornton at least hung around the league for a few years… B

2005 Draft (6)

Thomas Davis (S), Round 1 to the Panthers
David Pollack (DE), Round 1 to the Bengals
Reggie Brown (WR), Round 2 to the Eagles
Odell Thurman (LB), Round 2 to the Bengals
David Greene (QB), Round 3 to the Seahawks
Fred Gibson (WR), Round 4 to the Steelers

Results: Davis hasn't reached star status in the NFL, but after moving to linebacker with Carolina, he's shown flashes of brilliance. He has 390 career tackles -- including 113 in 2008 -- and after a strong start to the 2009 season was hurt and missed the final 8 games of the year. Pollack's career was cut short by a terrifying neck injury after a little more than a year in the league. Brown's first three years in the NFL were promising, as he caught 43 passes for 571 yards, 46 for 816 in 2006 and 61 for 780 in 2007. In 2008, he took a major step back, however, and after catching just nine passes last year, he was dealt to Tampa Bay. Thurman's career began with immense promise in Cincinnati. He made 98 tackles as a rookie and was in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year honors. Things quickly went awry for the troubled Thurman, however. He was suspended for four games for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy in 2006, then was arrested on DUI charges and suspended for the remainder of the season. Allegations of assault were levied against Thurman a year later, though he wasn't charged, and when he was reinstated by the NFL, Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis was displeased with Thurman's efforts and he was released. In 2008, Thurman was indicted on assault charges and is currently serving an indefinite suspension by the league. Greene never threw a pass in the NFL and retired following the 2008 season after spending time with four teams in four years. Gibson went to camp with three teams before calling it quits and later played in the NBA's developmental league.

Highlight: Davis has the most upside of the group and could still develop into a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker. To date, Brown's exceptional first three seasons probably rank as the highlight, however.

Lowlight: Hard to pick one. For such a talented class -- probably the best of any year under Richt -- there has been little in the way of accomplishments for a myriad of reasons. No player did less with his talent than Thurman, who threw away a promising career because of off-field problems. Greene certainly had the potential to develop into a solid QB but wasn't interested in waiting around for his shot with yet another team. But the true lowlight is no doubt Pollack, whose neck injury was among the most frightening and unfortunate in recent NFL history, leaving Georgia fans to only wonder what might have been for him.

Final Grade: It's hard to know what to make of this class. Certainly they didn't live up to their potential, but while Thurman's troubles were of his own making and Brown's career went into free fall, Greene's career was cut short as much by his own choice as the lack of ability and Pollack's was ended through injury. But the bottom line is this was probably the most talented class of the Richt years and there's nothing close to a Pro Bowl bid to show for it… D+

2006 Draft (7)

Tim Jennings (CB), Round 2 to the Colts
Leonard Pope (TE), Round 3 to the Cardinals
Max Jean-Gilles (OL), Round 4 to the Eagles
Greg Blue (S), Round 5 to the Vikings
DeMario Minter (CB), Round 5 to the Browns
Kedric Golston (DT), Round 6 to the Redskins
DJ Shockley (QB), Round 7 to the Falcons

Results: Jennings appeared in 53 games -- starting 21 -- for the Colts in four seasons, making 161 tackles and four INTs before signing with the Bears this offseason. Pope was full of promise and had his moments during a three-year career in Arizona, catching five TDs in 2007. His work ethic and occasional mental lapses left the Cardinals frustrated, however, and he was waived in September. He signed with Kansas City for the 2009 season and caught 20 passes -- the second most of his career -- for 174 yards and a TD. Jean-Gilles has spent the past four seasons with the Eagles, appearing in 29 games with 16 starts, including the final six last season. Blue started two games for the Vikings as a rookie but was released after the season. He played the 2007 season with Detroit, but was again released at year's end. He is currently in the CFL. A knee injury cost Minter his rookie season and the Browns released him in 2007 before he played a game. He spent time in camp with Kansas City and Arizona during the next three years and is currently a free agent. Golston has played in 60 games with Washington, including 30 starts. He finished 2009 with 34 tackles and two sacks. Shockley has been a reserve and scout-teamer with Atlanta since being drafted, and a knee injury likely cost him his best shot at a regular job in 2007.

Highlight: Golston has never developed into a star, but for a sixth-round pick, he's been a consistent contributor for the Redskins. Jean-Gilles has also continued to develop and appears to be a more integral part of the Eagles' future.

Lowlight: Pope had an NFL skill set from the day he arrived in Athens, but his inconsistency in Arizona prevented him from developing into a star. He may still have a chance to blossom, but the luster has worn off of a once promising career.

Final Grade: Solid if unspectacular probably is the best way to describe this class. Jennings, Pope, Jean-Gilles and Golston have all had their moments of success in the NFL, and Shockley has at the very least helped to mentor future star Matt Ryan in Atlanta. There are no stars here -- not even close really -- but there are at least a handful of players who have survived in the NFL… C

2007 Draft (5)

Quentin Moses (DE), Round 3 to the Raiders
Charles Johnson (DE), Round 3 to the Panthers
Martrez Milner (TE), Round 4 to the Falcons
Ken Shackleford (OL), Round 6 to the Rams
Paul Oliver (CB), Supplemental to the Chargers

Results: The Raiders released Moses before training camp had ended, although it's hard to make much sense of what the Raiders were doing during those years. He then went to Arizona but was released again a few months later. He finally landed with Miami, where he has earned occasional playing time. Johnson emerged in his second season as a solid pass rusher for Carolina, and has 50 tackles and 10 sacks in the past two seasons. Milner bounced around the league with the Giants, Jets and Saints after being released by Atlanta in September 2008 and has nine catches for his career. Shackleford spent 2007 in St. Louis before being released and playing part of 2008 with Kansas City. He's currently playing indoor football. Grades forced Oliver out a year early, where San Diego took him in the supplemental draft. He came on strong in 2009, making 49 tackles and one interception.

Highlight: Probably Johnson, who should see more playing time this year with the departure of Julius Peppers. Still, there's not much from this class to be excited about yet.

Lowlight: Easily Moses, who had he left after his junior season might have been a first-round selection. Instead, he was cut twice by September of his rookie year.

Final Grade: The future still has promise for Johnson and Oliver, but the rest of the class looks like a bust, which is problematic considering the potential for Milner and Moses to develop… D

2008 Draft (4)

Marcus Howard (DE), Round 5 to the Colts
Thomas Brown (RB), Round 6 to the Falcons
Chester Adams (OL), Round 7 to the Bears
Brandon Coutu (K), Round 7 to the Seahawks

Results: Howard had just 14 tackles for Indy in 2008 and didn't play at all in 2009. He signed a deal with Tennessee in January. Brown has yet to see action in an NFL game after an injury cost him his rookie campaign. He was released by Atlanta prior to the 2009 season and inked a deal with Cleveland last November. Adams and Coutu have never seen action in an NFL game and both have been released by their original teams. Coutu had a try-out with Atlanta last season but is currently a free agent.

There really isn't one other than to say that the low number of departures from Georgia's 2007 team set the stage for the Bulldogs' No. 1 ranking to open the 2008 season. Of course, that didn't work out so well either.

Lowlight: Four players drafted, only one has seen action, and that was minimal. It's all been lowlights so far.

Final Grade: Nothing good to say about this group, although Coutu could still catch on somewhere, and Brown could develop into a solid special teams performer. So while there's still some time for these guys to resurrect their careers, hard to say anything but... F

2009 Draft (6)

Matthew Stafford (QB), Round 1 to the Lions
Knowshon Moreno (RB), Round 1 to the Broncos
Mohamed Massaquoi (WR), Round 2 to the Browns
Asher Allen (CB), Round 3 to the Vikings
Corvey Irvin (DT), Round 3 to the Panthers
Jarius Wynn (DE), Round 6 to the Packers

Results: Obviously the jury is still out on each of these guys, but Stafford endeared himself to his teammates with a gritty performance as a rookie, Moreno topped 900 yards rushing on a mediocre team, and Massaquoi proved to be a consistent weapon for a bad Browns team. Irvin was on IR for much of his rookie campaign while Allen saw occasional playing time in Minnesota.

Highlight: Perhaps the biggest Year 1 success story comes from a guy who wasn't even drafted. Dannell Ellerbe went without a phone call on draft weekend, but he signed a free agent deal with Baltimore and by year's end was in the Ravens' starting lineup alongside Ray Lewis, making 41 tackles and intercepting one pass for a team that made the playoffs. Stafford, Moreno and Massaquoi all had highlights throughout the year, too.

Lowlight: Hard to pick on anyone at this point, but given Irvin's surprisingly high draft status, it was unfortunate to see him miss the season with injury.

Final Grade: It's hard to put a grade on a class that has just one year of experience, but given Stafford's upside, Moreno's potential, Massaquoi's development and Ellerbe's surprise efforts, odds are this class could have a pretty solid grade by the time it's all over -- perhaps among the best of the Richt years.


Final thoughts:

Looking back, it's definitely a bit unsettling how many more busts there were than success stories. Of the 47 players selected during Richt's time at Georgia (not counting this year's draft) I count just one Pro Bowl appearance* -- Jon Stinchcomb's this year.

(* - my research was hardly thorough, so I could be wrong on this. Feel free to point out anyone I might have missed.)

In addition, while the 2009 draft class still looks like it could be a particularly good one, you'd have to go back to 2004 to find another class that has shown any significant success at the next level. While several players like Pollack and Thurman had a chance to be very good NFL players, their careers were cut short (albeit for very different reasons) and while some late-round fliers like Ellerbe, Golston and Jean-Gilles have shown some potential, none have blossomed into stars.

In nine drafts, Richt has helped 52 players get selected by NFL teams, and that's a solid recruiting tool. But of those 52, there isn't a future Hall-of-Famer among them -- not even close actually. Worse yet, the best classes were primarily recruited by Donnan and played during Richt's early years.

So what I think the most important thing to take from this exercise is that Richt probably benefits quite a bit from the continued development of the 2009 class. If Stafford, Moreno and Massaquoi can become Pro Bowl performers, all is probably forgiven -- both from fans and on the recruiting trail. But if two of those three flame out, it's far from the most attractive track record in recent years.

UPDATE: Courtesy of our pal Jim F., here's an intersting article from the Shreveport Times on how LSU players have fared of late in the NFL.


Anonymous said...

Don't really get why a guy as money as Coutu can't get an NFL nod when there's so, so, so many lousy kickers out there. What gives?

j.leonardjr said...

It would be interesting to see how the other SEC teams compare to UGA in this analysis. Off the top of my head I would wager UF stacks up about the same as Georgia if you were to do the same analysis of Gator Draftees. Basically if I think of the stars of the NFL I hardly start rattling off names of Gators or LSU Tigers, Bama players, or Vols either for that matter.

I wonder what the All-Pro rosters of the last few years look like as far as where they went to college?

David Hale said...

Good questions. I'm not sure the answers either.

I'd guess that UT and LSU have had a bit more success than UGA. Not sure about Florida. Perhaps I'll put this on my list of potential blog posts down the line as it might make for some decent offseason fodder.

Carter said...

What really stands out are the 3 linebackers: Pollack, Thurman, and Bailey.

If a guy like Elvis Dumervil can get close to 20 sacks as a 3-4 OLB, I don't see any reason why Pollack couldn't have developed into a Pro-Bowler if not for that tragic injury. Bo Jackson and Pollack are 1 and 2 on my, "That's a damn shame list."

I have never seen a rookie ILB play as well as Thurman did. He had an uncanny knack for snagging interceptions and returning them. The entire face of the Bengals would be a lot different if Pollack and Thurman had made it. With those 2 guys, they wouldn't have had to spend a 1 on Keith Rivers and a high 2 on Maualuga.

I always wonder what could have been with Boss. He was the most physically gifted player I've ever seen at UGA. It sucks that he had to play for Matt Millen when he was in his Joey Harrington and drafting a WR first every year phase. Chronic injuries caused him to retire last season.

Now that the Patriots are UF North, I would say they are the most hatable franchise in all of sports, but I think they already were before. I feel very conflicted about Denver now, though. I've got knothin but love for Champ, and I like Knowshon a great deal. But, this whole Tebow thing....

On a side note, if Champ or Boss have any kids, I suggest we go ahead and offer them know, Kiffin-style.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your conclusion that the most talented classes were recruited by Donnan, with the exception of the Moreno / Stafford / Massaquoi class. I dont think that this year (2010) or next year's class (2011) is going to change that. I wouldn't put too much stock in the pro bowl as the benchmark of NFL success that a graduating class should be measured by.... So few players make it to the pro-bowl. Plus, as you noted, multiple players have had the potential to make the pro-bowl but injuries and off the field problems are so common and unpredictable. I do think that a productive career (starting) for more than 5 years is a successful NFL career. So many things have to go well for a NFL player to last.

Anonymous said...

Carter...I don't believe Champ and Boss made it to Athens before having kids. As a matter of fact, if Brett Favre doesn't become the first grandfather to play in the NFL, I think there's a chance it could be Champ since I believe he has a 13-14 year old out there...

Andy said...

Good info, David. While there are some disappointing numbers out there, I think they are comparable with most programs, with the exception of USC, Miami, Texas, and LSU. However, I think you overstate how this will hurt Richt with recruits. More UGA players have been drafted in the last 10 years than any other SEC school. I think that number will be the most important to a 17 year old kid. They want to go to a school that will give them the best opportunity to be drafted. Their success after the draft depends on a lot of factors, and their college is only one of them.

Anonymous said...

For the record .. Favre is already a grandfather.

What the analysis really shows us five things:

1. There is a small margin of error between being a good to great college player and a journeyman in the NFL.

2. Injuries have derailed so many NFL careers. Take Jermaine Phillips, he appeared to be on track to be Pro Bowl safety but he has broken his forearm something like 3 times in the last five years. One of the reasons Pope fell out of favor in AZ was his slow recovery from a gruesome leg injury. Pollack never really had a chance to develop. Haynes blew out his knee when he had a chance to be the starting RB in Pittsburgh. Heck you could throw

3. Scheme matters in the NFL. Ellerbe was a good player at UGA (limited due to injuries etc.) but became an impact rookie in Baltimore largely because of the scheme (and injuries to those ahead of him on the depth chart.) The reverse could be said for Pope and even Watson who are considered underachievers at the TE position. But when you look at those teams passing schemes, they rarely throw to the TE due to the talent in the receiving corps.

4. Team position value/salary cap means something. Some teams place a higher emphasis on certain positions. Sean Jones went from being a borderline Pro Bowl safety to journeyman in 2 seasons because Cleveland did not place a high emphasis on safety, he took a one year deal in Philly and is now with the Bucs (probably replacing Flip.) The fact is if you read the reviews of Jones last season with Browns he was probably one of their top 2 defenders and the media thought for certain that Browns would re-sign him. But Mangini came in with a new scheme and new philosphy and off to Philly went Jones.

Anonymous said...


I think one thing to point out is that the NFL draft is a crap shoot. Every pick...Every position. Players drafted high hang on to rosters because of the $$ commitment and they might not be any better than the last man cut. In fact, if you have two players that are even in talent and one is going to cost you $5M to cut and one will cost you nothing to cut...well, how far does the talent swing have to move in order for you to cut the $5M player. point, because there wasn't one in that paragraph, is that you have to measure success against reality. The reality is that an average NFL career is 3 years. So when throwing a grade out to a class of X number of players(out of 400+ players drafted) have to start measuring their careers against the have to think about the pressure/leeway they would have received from being a 1st rounder compared to a 7th rounder...and you start seeing the guys that flamed out around them...

I'm not sure what it means, but the ability of guys to hang around on rosters for 3, 4, 5 years after being a 4th or later round pick is a great testament to those players. There are a lot of 5th rounders that get cut before seeing any games. Does it reflect the coaching? I have no idea. But the odds are incredibly stacked against it.

These guys made at least $10M in the NFL..and most was on their second contract... Witherspoon, McMichael, Phllips, Stinchcomb, Geathers, Watson, and R. Brown. Throw in the 1st round picks (sans Watson whose rookie contract was probably south of $10M based on his draft slot) and you've got a lot of UGA guys who have been paid in the NFL from the Richt era. Are these guys filling the All Pro team roster? No...but really besides Miami and Michigan, who is getting more than 1 or 2 a year?

I guess I have an issue with saying there are more busts than success stories just because the 2002 and 2003 SEC champs aren't the starting pro bowl team. Guys like Chris Clemons playing 4 years in the NFL, getting into the NFLPA benefits program, and earning over $3M despite not being drafted should be an A+.

hinesacl said...

I think if you did an extensive study from most schools you would find a similar "hit rate". The LSU article was a good example. A lot of folks here had them as one of the "sure things", but as you can see....they don't do any better.

I mean...there are as many Orangemen on the Pro-Bowl as Dawgs. Does the mean the success of the programs has been the same?

All coming to UGA does over some other schools (not all but some) is give MORE kids the OPPORTUNITY to play in the league.

I don't think going to Monmouth prepared Miles Austin ready for the NFL more than him going to UGA would've.

If that makes me crazy....then koo-ku!