Friday, April 29, 2011

Football in April

What, would you really want to talk about the Twins right now?

Benster made fun of the NFL Draft in this space the other day and there's a lot that merits derision about it, but the whole spectacle is some kind of marketing genius. 'Round about now, the NFL poohbahs would rather talk about anything other than the butt-kicking they received in federal court this week. And since we follow the news about the NFC North here, we do need to make a few comments about it.

From what I can tell, the locals aren't too impressed with the pick of quarterback Christian Ponder. My first impression was "Gary Cuozzo for the new century." For those too young to remember Cuozzo, which is probably most people, he was the Vikings quarterback in the short period in between the departure of Joe Kapp and the return of Fran Tarkenton. Cuozzo was a serviceable quarterback and was exceptionally smart, but was the sort of guy who you would want to replace. Ponder strikes me in a similar way. He's apparently off-the-charts bright (graduated in 2 1/2 years, already has a Master's degree) and he's had significant problems staying healthy. Guys like that don't stay long in the NFL, because if he's smart enough to blow through college in 2 1/2 years and get a Master's, he'll figure out that he can make plenty of money in the rest of his life without getting thrown to the ground by Nick Fairley. I assume the Vikings saw all the quarterbacks coming off the board and thought they'd better secure a guy they like, but I have to assume they could have still found Ponder in the 2nd round. I would have drafted someone else, but Ponder isn't necessarily a bad pick.

Which brings us to the problem pick of the draft, the selection of the Lions. It's a problem for everyone else in the division. The aforementioned Fairley is a stud defensive lineman from Auburn and he will now line up next to Ndamakong Suh in the middle of the Detroit defense and wreak havoc. What Detroit now has is a much younger and more athletic version of the Williams Wall on their defense. Life in the division was much easier for the other teams when the Lions were stupid. They aren't any more. I thought this was the smartest move of the day.

Da Bearz took Gabe Carimi, the huge road grader offensive tackle from the Badgers. It's a totally logical pick and Carimi will do a fine job for the evil Bears for probably a decade. Smart guy, nasty and will be able to keep Jay Cutler upright long enough for Cutler to survey the field and then throw an interception.

My beloved Packers, picking last, chose Derek Sherrod, a big tackle from Mississippi State. From all reports this was also a highly sensible and logical pick. Job one in Green Bay is keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and Sherrod looks like an imminent replacement for Chad Clifton, who has been the left tackle for the Packers since the Carter administration, or so it seems.


Night Writer said...

I was surprised, to say the least, with the Ponder pick but not too depressed by it. Ponder didn't get the press - excuse me, HYYYYPPPE - of the other QBs, and in last week's Sports Illustrated was barely mentioned in the article about the inexact science of picking a winning QB. Re-reading that article today, though, I noticed one paragraph describing how an evaluator looked for quick feet and quick eyes - the key factors in making the right decision and getting your body in position to make an accurate throw; from what I saw and heard said about Ponder last night, it sounds as if he may be the best of this year's crop at that detail.

Let's also not overlook that he alone played in a pro-style offense in college. He doesn't have to re-learn the position or its mechanics.

Also, at this level everyone is an insanely gifted athlete; that's table stakes. If you get swayed too much by two-tenths of a second in the 40, or 2 more reps on the bench press - or the number of column inches of commentary a guy gets going into the draft - you are more apt to make an expensive mistake. The other day Spielman indicated they were interested in trading down, but clearly said they wouldn't trade back if there was a chance they'd lose their guy. I think most people assumed they were talking about Locker; now I'm not so sure. One of the analysts late last night (can't remember who) said the Vikings have liked Ponder since the Senior Bowl (where he was MVP) when they got to spend a lot of time watching and talking with him. I also have to believe they've spent maybe 100x as much time as I have reviewing the candidates, and I think they did a good job of disguising their interest.

I don't think he was a panic pick. The hype going into the draft was that 4 QBs would go in the first 10 picks; only 3 were gone by the 12th pick. I'd have liked it if they could have moved back to the low 20's but their information probably indicated that Ponder wouldn't make it past Washington and Jacksonville. Also, there's no way he would have lasted until the Vikes' second round pick - and with no 3rd round pick they had little leverage in trading up to improve their draft position.

My read is that Ponder was the guy they wanted, the one they thought gave them the best chance to succeed on the field, and they pulled the trigger. Gutsy call for a new coach and a rebuilding franchise. They may not be right, but I believer they were committed to this pick.

Mr. D said...

I don't really disagree with any of your analysis, NW. Clearly none of us study these matters as closely as the NFL people do.

I happen to have a copy of the 1991 NFL Draft Guide that Pro Football Weekly put out that year. 20 years later it's a pretty fascinating document. I looked at it a while back and it was striking how much ink was devoted back then to people who never did a thing in the NFL. As it turned out, the only guy who entered the league in 1991 who is a certain Hall of Famer is Brett Favre, who was drafted in the second round. Aeneas Williams, a first round pick, has a shot, but otherwise no one else will get a sniff. We really don't know a thing.

By the way, Favre was the third quarterback drafted that year. There were two quarterbacks who were drafted ahead of Favre, both in the first round: Dan McGwire and Todd Marinovich.

20 years from now, the Lord willing, we might be talking about this draft and realize that Christian Ponder was the guy who finally led the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Or we might have forgotten his name, just as nearly all Vikings fans would have forgotten the first player the Vikings drafted in 1991, the immortal Carlos Jenkins.

Mr. D said...

I goofed on one thing in that last post -- Aeneas Williams was drafted in the third round.

Night Writer said...

Yep, 90% of us have nothing to go on but what the Kipers and McShays write unless we were in a position to see a lot of a particular player.

Here's the thing: the McKipers get paid the same whether they're wrong or right and nobody really checks up on them after the fact. Spielman and Frazier know they are going to live or die with this pick, and this is the player they wanted.

Brad Carlson said...

With a H/T to Chad the Elder, we may see the following headline the day after the now vaunted Lions D-Line decimates the Vikings' offense:

Lions eat Christian

Gino said...

i'm glad to see The Bears finally address the o-line, which needed adressing two drafts ago.

Brad Carlson said...

When Gabe Carimi was drafted, he made the comment that he turned about 100 Packer fans into Bears fans.