Friday, April 11, 2008

A look back at the 2006 NFL draft

This may be digging up history, but the 2006 NFL draft was one of the most criticized in recent memory. No one knew where the three prizes of the draft: DE Mario Williams, RB Reggie Bush and QB Vince Young were going to go. And when they finally did go, some front offices (*cough Houston cough*) were ripped for the decision.

After Williams was selected first by Houston, Bush second by New Orleans and Young third by Tennessee, the analysis came. Houston was blasted for not taking Bush - the "next Barry Sanders." The Saints came away with a smile on their face, thinking they had stolen a top pick at number two. The Titans were convinced that Young was their guy, fresh off his stunning Rose Bowl win against Bush and Matt Leinart's USC Trojans.

After two full seasons, it turns out most people were wrong.

After the 2006 season, it seemed as though critics were right in their remarks about Houston's poor choice in Williams. Bush was an important multi-talented back in the Saints playoff run and Young energized a bad Titans squad - running and gunning his way to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, Williams was struggling in Texas, logging only 4.5 sacks and toiling in the cellar.

It seemed as though Houston missed an opportunity to draft a hometown hero (Young) who would ride in on a white horse and bring football glory back to Houston again. The Texans also opted not to take the all-around best player in college (Bush), who was destined for the Hall of Fame before playing a game.

By the end of 2007, all was forgiven. Houston got it right.

Although it is difficult to compare players at different positions, if you ask the Texans front office if they would draft Williams again, I am sure they would say "absolutely." Let's look at Williams two seasons:

18.5 sacks/78 tackles/5 passes defended/3 forced fumbles/1 touchdown

Fourteen of those sacks came last season. The fact is, Williams has gotten better since his rookie campaign, something that cannot be said for Bush/Young.

Bush: 2533 all-purpose yards/15 touchdowns/10 fumbles (both lost and recovered)
Young: 4745 yards passing/947 yards rushing/31 touchdowns/22 fumbles/30 interceptions

In Young's Pro Bowl season he had 19 total TDs, 13 INTs and 12 FUM (lost and recovered). He also completed 51.5% of his passes for 2199 yards.

Vince Young stinks as a quarterback. He does. Don't give me the "he's a winner. He's a playmaker" nonsense. You know who else was? Mike Vick. And dog fighting aside, he was on his way to being a crappy WR for Atlanta - not the next Randall Cunningham. VY is a slower, weaker armed version of Vick. He will struggle to complete over 55% of his passes and his TD/INT ratio will always be about even (including rushing TDs).

Will he win a couple of games running around? Sure. Will he have games of 42 yards passing or 3 INTs? Yes, he has already. Do I want him running my offense? No way.

Young had four games out of 16 last season in which he threw for over 200 yards. Kerry freakin Collins played better than Young at QB for the Titans. And that running quarterback tag? He only rushed for over 50 yards twice. Young may be one of the most exciting college QBs ever, but two years in the NFL have shown he won't be able to translate that success to the pros.


Coming out of USC, Bush had all the tools to be the next big thing at running back. Speed, quick cuts, catching the ball out of the backfield, explosive return game and the ability to turn a two yard swing pass into an 80 yard TD.

But as New Orleans will soon figure out, Bush will never be a feature back in the NFL. First of all, he is not durable. Bush appeared in 12 games in 2007, starting in 10 of those. Carrying the load for the Saints, he crumbled. Bush averaged 83.6 total yards per game in 2007 and has averaged 82.3 yards per game in his young career.

Bush is a valuable back in today's NFL. Teams need two solid backs to compete and Bush can be the change of pace back - one who can catch the ball and make some big plays in the kicking game. There is no way he is the next Barry Sanders (who scored more rushing TDs in his rookie year than Bush has total TDs in his two seasons combined) or worthy of the number two pick.

That leaves us with Williams, the number one pick of 2006. Fan bases generally hate when teams draft defensive players or offensive linemen - they're boring and it doesn't seem like they will help as much as a QB or WR. Drafting one with the number one pick? Unforgivable. But Williams has done more good for the Houston franchise on the field than Bush or Young ever could have.

Let's look at another high drafted DE who turned out alright - Julius Peppers:
19 sacks in 28 games/9 passes defended/8 forced fumbles/68 tackles

Williams' line compares very favorably with Peppers':
18.5 sacks in 32 games/5 passes defended/3 forced fumbles/78 tackles

Similar sacks and tackles, with less PDs and FFs. Williams doesn't have the freakish athleticism Peppers does, but few players do. And Peppers is a 2-time first team all-pro, so he's pretty damn good - one of the best D-linemen in the league. If Williams is 3/4 as good as Peppers, taking him number one will be worth it.

The saying goes that it takes five years to analyze an NFL draft class. After two years, it's clear that Houston made the right decision to go with Williams. Young and Bush won't be busts, but they won't justify their draft positions as much as Williams will.

Mario Williams may have not been the popular pick, but he was the safe and correct one. I'll take the next Julius Peppers over the next Mike Vick or the next Ronnie Brown any day.

And Super Mario may be the greatest/geekiest nickname ever. That counts for something.

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