Monday, May 07, 2007

Another NFL Draft

This year’s NFL draft wasn’t chock full of big names and dramatic trades. The buzz wasn’t as shrill as it had been in recent years for a number of reasons. But for those of us who thoroughly geek out on this stuff, it was still a wild weekend.

A number of lesser trades sufficed in the absence of blockbusters and a series of first-round head-scratching picks left the board wide open for a number of surprises.

Perhaps the biggest trade involved a lowly fourth round pick. The New England Patriots gave up that 4th rounder for the contract of perpetually disgruntled wide receiver, Randy Moss. A gamble to be sure as Moss’ attitude seems to be antithetical to the team mentality that has allowed the Pats to blossom into thee NFL dynasty of the era. But, when taking the rest of the Pats offseason movements into account, this move makes them a bedwettingly monstrous offense should Moss buy in to coach Belichik’s philosophy even just a little. And with several upgrades and smart draft picks the Pats defense can finally operate above skeleton crew capacity for the first time in nearly 3 whole seasons. It looks like, once again, New England can be penciled in as “the team to beat."

My hometown Chicago Bears have emerged from the drubbing they received in the Super Bowl a couple of months ago ready to pick right back up where they left off. Though they made no major moves, not even on disgruntled DB Lance Briggs, they did, however, draft smart.

Initially, I’d been left a little cold by the Bears’ draft day decisions, much like the past few seasons. But after reflecting on the amazing returns from last year’s draft, I took another look at this years haul, draftees, undrafted rookies and all. I gotta say that I like what I see.

With the 1st round pick the Bears somehow against all odds wound up with the best tight end in the draft, University of Miami’s Greg Olsen. A large presence with soft hands, he should be an immediate threat on offense, especially when combined with veteran Desmond Clark in two TE sets. From where they sat on the board, Greg Olsen was easily the best possible pick for the Bears.

In the second round, they went with a little-known DE from Central Michigan, Dan Bazuin. After watching tape of this guy on every local sports show for the last week and seeing him in action at this weekend’s mini-camp, I’ve become more impressed by the day. Dan has talent and has an even better attitude. Whether or not he ever winds up starting, he’ll be a great addition to the line and should play his heart out with every down he gets.

The third round saw a mild reach in selecting the undersized, but fast and record-breaking RB from NIU, Garrette Wolfe. Sure, a bit of a reach, but the Bears staff see something in this guy. And from the buzz around town, so does the rest of the city. We got to see a lot of Wolfe due to the NIU games getting plenty of airtime here. He’s got some great moves and a ton of upside. Will be ever be a feature back and uproot a Cedric Benson-type? No, probably not. But in this modern NFL it’s been proven that you absolutely must have a one-two punch at running back. Wolfe’s speed and juking ability could be the yin to Benson’s yang.

Other picks at Guard and the defensive backfield all look solid and should shore up any loose ends that might result from, say, a pissy pants, wanna be superstar, deciding to sit out all season just to prove a point.

There were also a big haul of undrafted free agent rookies. That the QB for national champs, the Florida Gators, Chris Leak went undrafted wasn’t particularly shocking—he’s been maligned as both too short and too soft to make any mark in pro ball. But the kid helmed a championship team fer chrissakes, that’s got to be good for something. And to get a chance to learn under fellow Gator Rex Grossman (also supposedly undersized and soft) makes him a perfect fit. Leak may not play a down this year, but his development will be most interesting to watch.

Another pick-up here that I’m particularly jazzed about is New Hampshire WR David Ball. Ball obliterated Jerry Rice’s Div I-AA receiving records and despite being labeled as a plodding dwarf. Indeed, he’s kinda short and pretty slow but the guy can grab a football and has plenty of moves for after the catch. UFA pick ups don’t get much smarter or better than this one. I’d love to see him get some playing time this year.

And finally, one more undrafted rookie to mention. DB Jay Skaggs from UNLV was a good player on a terrible, little-noticed team. But what endeared him to Bears management was his passion and tenacity.

The following is from an article on Skaggs from the Sun Times – nod to the Windy City Gridiron for their post:

The 6-1, 220-pound safety from UNLV was on a bad team that finished 2-10 in the Mountain West Conference, hardly on the radar of most scouts. So Staggs started by finding phone numbers for teams on Then he called front offices and relentlessly sought numbers for West Coast scouts. He kept a chart of all his calls.

''When I called a scout, if I didn't hear from him, I called twice the next day,'' Staggs said. ''If I still didn't hear from him, I called three times the day after that.''

He practically lived in the UNLV football office as he put together two DVDs of himself, one on defense and one on special teams. He mailed them to anyone he thought could help him, spending more than $4,000. At the small Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game in El Paso, he brought ''swag bags,'' including a profile of himself and the DVDs, and went around passing them out to scouts. He also had seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble and recovery during the game.

''With my work ethic and love for the game, who knows what can happen?'' Staggs said. ''This is my passion.''

He got in contact with Bears scout Marty Barrett and finally was hooked up with special-teams coordinator Dave Toub, who liked what he saw. When Staggs went undrafted, Toub acted fast to get him on board, and now he's in position to perhaps replace Cameron Worrell, who made the Bears as a tryout player in 2003 and left for Miami in free agency.

Now, how can you not root for a guy like that? I predict that by the next mini camp, the city of Chicago will be absolutely in love with this guy.

So, all in all, it was another fun draft even if a good bit of the fun happened from trading veterans and picking up some leftovers after ESPN had turned off the lights and headed back to Bristol. Now, we’re left to wait and plan our fantasy league draft plans, hit a training camp scrimmage or two and drool about the whats-his-name snoozefest that is the preseason. I can’t wait.

(For some great and funny draft coverage from one of the big boys, make sure to check out ESPN's Sports Guy, Bill Simmons column.)

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