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Monday, 21 May 2012

The Other Pick 6

With the news that Kellen Winslow Jnr is now surplus to requirements in Tampa, I thought it might be a good time to look back over the last 15 years at the successes (and failures) of players drafted number 6 overall. It’s a selection that teams hope will provide them with a franchise players for years to come, but in many cases just gives them a headache and a load of cap space taken up by a bit-part player. It’s a bit early to cast aspersions on Dallas or Mo Claiborne, 2012s number 6 selection, so here’s the best, the worst and the rest from 1997-2011.

The Best

1997 – Walter Jones, OT, Florida State – Selected by Seattle Seahawks

Shock as we choose a lineman as the best #6 pick of the last 15 years, but Walter Jones really is the definition of a franchise player. After being taken 6th in ’97, Jones played his entire career in Seattle, starting 180 games for the Seahawks, earning NINE pro-bowl selections, SEVEN All-Pro selections, and a place in the NFL All-2000s Team of the Decade, as well as being proclaimed the best player in the NFL by John Madden in 2004. It was only a significant knee injury in 2008 that finally ended his stellar career, and despite his determination to play in 2009 and 2010, he never took the field again. His #71 jersey has already been retired by the Seahawks, and April 30th, the day after his retirement, declared Walter Jones Day in the state of Washington.
Walter Jones - top 5 OL of all time?

2001 – Richard Seymour, DE, Georgia – Selected by New England Patriots

As easily the most vocal support of Richard Seymour I have ever met, I figured it was only fair to let my co-writer Toby Durant talk about him in this piece. His musings were as follows:

Now with the Oakland Raiders Seymour is still playing at the highest of levels, earning a 2011 All-Pro place, the 6th of his career. His greatness really shone through as the right defensive end in Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense, collecting 39 sacks, 2 picks and a staggering 29 passes defensed (Please use correct English in your stats NFL), impressive numbers considering he missed 17 games through injury during his 8 years at Foxboro. He was a key part of all 3 Super Bowl winning sides in the early 2000's and the 1-minute-from-19-0 2007 team. Seymour was traded for a 1st round pick a few days before the start of the 2009 and for a while was the highest paid defensive player in the league (Mind you, he got that contract from the Raiders so it can't be a surprise). Former Journey-Man offensive lineman, now broadcaster Ross Tucker has gone on record as saying Seymour was the toughest block he ever had to make, if that's not a ringing endorsement I don't know what is!

1999 – Torry Holt, WR, North Carolina State – Selected by St Louis Rams

Torry always had the hands
A key member of the Greatest Show on Turf, a seven time Pro-Bowler, and a two time All-Pro, Holt finished his 11 year career with the 10th highest receiving yards of all time (13,382yds) and 74TDs. In his rookie season, Holt and the Rams went to Superbowl XXXIV, where he caught 7 passes for 109yds, both NFL rookie records for Superbowl stats. Despite joining the Jaguars in 2009, and being with the Patriots for the 2010 pre-season, Holt  finished his career as a Ram in 2012, signing a ceremonial 1 day contract. Holt still holds a number of receiving records, including most catches in a decade, most receiving yards in a decade, and most seasons in a row with 1300+ yds.

1998 – Grant Wistrom, DE, Nebraska – Selected by St Louis Rams

Another pick for the Rams, selected the year before Holt, and also part of the Superbowl XXXIV winning team, but on the other side of the ball. He came to the NFL with fantastic pedigree, winning the Lombardi Award and Bill Willis Award (best college lineman, and best college D-lineman respectively) in 1997 for his play with the Cornhuskers, and his success continued with the Rams. In their Superbowl year, Wistrom started all 16 regular season games and 3 post-season games on his way to being named to the 1999 All-Madden team. He finished this season with 60 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions (both returned for TDs, including one of 91 yards). Wistrom saw out his 6 year rookie contract with the Rams before joining the Seahawks in 2004, for whom he played for 3 seasons. He ended his career with 118 starts in 132 games, with 53 sacks, and 5 interceptions.

2006 – Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – Selected by San Francisco 49ers

Perhaps a slightly controversial choice at 5th in this list, but his 2011 post-season for the 9ers sealed it for me. Over his 6 year career, Davis has recorded 292 regular season receptions, with 35TDs. His career has been somewhat limited by being stuck on a 49ers squad that until 2011 was pretty poor, with Alex Smith (a former #1 overall pick) playing the perennial underachiever. His breakout year came in 2008, where he tied the (then) NFL record for TDs by a tight end with 13, and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl. But it was the 2011 Divisional round match vs the New Orleans Saints that Davis really showed his huge talent. In a game against one of the most prolific offences in the NFL, the 49ers were never expected to be able to win a shoot-out, but Davis was the difference, recording 7 receptions for 180 yards (most yards by a TE in a post-season game), and 2 TDs, including the match-winning, last-second TD catch now dubbed “The Grab”. Davis also contributed 112yds and 2 TDs in the NFC Championship game, but this time it wasn’t enough, and the Giants beat them 20-17 in OT to go on to their eventual Superbowl crown.

"The Grab"

2004 – Kellen Winslow, TE, Miami – Selected by Cleveland Browns

If there’s one player for whom injury instantly limited his career, K2 is it. Two games in to his rookie season he fractures his fibula and missed the rest of the year. In 2005 he crashed his motorcycle, tore his ACL, and missed the whole year. In 2006 he caught his first TD, and finished the year with 89 receptions – the most of any TE that year. He had further knee surgery in early 2007. After a decent 07 year, earning him a Pro-Bowl spot as an alternate, he caught a staph infection in 2008, and played in just 10 games. His performance in 06 and 07 was enough to impress the Bucs, who traded their 2nd and 5th round picks for him, and gave him a 6 year, $36million deal – the biggest contract for a tight end in NFL history. Over his 3 years with the Bucs, K2 led the team in receptions every season, with 77, 66 and 75 in ‘09, ‘10 and ‘11 respectively. This, however, was not enough to stop him being placed on the trading block today, with the Bucs actively seeking a suitor. In part, it is thought to be due to his decision to not attend OTAs, but perhaps is more indicative of the start of a new regime under Greg Schiano. With the TE position in the NFL evolving, Winslow will need to evolve with it to maintain his place in this “Best” section. At 28, his career is far from over, but to live up to his #6 selection, he will need to continue to perform wherever he ends up.

The Worst

2008 – Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio St – Selected by New York Jets

Well, no surprise here. Gholston fits right in there with the biggest busts of all time, perhaps only held off the top spot by the fact that JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf were taken #1 and #2 overall in other drafts. Gholston is the definition of a workout warrior – recording numbers at the NFL Combine and his Pro-Day that dazzled NFL scouts, including 37 reps of the 225lbs bench press, which led his class. The Jets drafted him to play as outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, hoping his speed would help him translate there for his previous DE spot. It never worked out. Gholston played mainly on special teams for his first two years, recording 30 tackles and 2 TFLs. In his 3rd year, with question marks already solidly next to his name, the Jets moved him back to DE, hoping this would unlock his potential. It didn’t, and after his 3rd years the Jets released him having never recorded an NFL sack.

2005 – Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, CB, West Virgina – Selected by Tennessee Titans

If only Pacman focused on having a ball in his hands...

Jones talent is not the thing that has held him back. It’s his off the field issues. Coming out of West Virginia, the Titans had problems with his temperament, and wrote into his rookie contract that if he were involved in a crime he’d forfeit any signing bonuses or guaranteed money. After his rookie year, he was arrested on felony and misdemeanour charges, and his personalised car was involved in a cocaine bust. Within the space of two months in 2006, Pacman was arrested twice for two separate incidents where he reported spat at women in nightclubs, and was banned for 1 game by the Titans. In early 2007, Jones was involved in a shooting at a Las Vegas nightclub, in which a security guard (who Jones had previously threatened to kill) was shot, and another man was paralyzed from the waist down. His behaviour earned him a 1 year ban from Roger Goodell under the NFLs conduct policy rules. In 2008, Jones was traded to the Cowboys, where his problems continued. He was suspended for a further 6 games after a fight with his own bodyguard in a Dallas hotel, and was subsequently cut after the season when police announced Jones was suspected of ordering the Las Vegas shooting in 2007. Jones spent 2009 out of football, and in 2010 signed with the Bengals, where, to date, he has managed to stay out of too much trouble. Injuries have hampered his time in Cincinnati, but it is clearly his off the field troubles that have ruined his huge potential.

2003 – Johnathan Sullivan, DT, Georgia – Selected by New Orleans Saints

Johnathan Sullivan quite simply couldn’t play as people hoped. In his rookie year for the Saints he started 12 of his 14 games, recorded 1 sack, and forced 1 fumble – not bad rookie numbers. However, over the next 2 years Sullivan managed only 4 more starts (in 22 games), with just 31 tackles and half a sack. Sullivan was traded to the Patriots after 3 years, in return for former second round receiver Bethel Johnson, but just 5 months later was released, having never taken the field in Patriots colours. He never took the field in the NFL again.

The Rest

For these guys, they either never quite made it, had injury or change of system hamper their career, or it’s just too early to tell.

2000 – Corey Simon, DT, Florida St – Selected by Philadelphia Eagles

Simon played as part of the Eagles squad that made four NFC Championship appearances between 2000 and 2005, as well as one unsuccessful Superbowl appearance. During these 5 years, Simon played well, starting 78 out of 80 possible regular season games, and recording 32 sacks. In 2003 he was voted to the Pro-Bowl. He was franchise tagged by the Eagles in 2005, but after refusing to sign the contract was released and subsequently picked up by the Colts. His career was never the same after that. He played through 2005, but missed the whole of 2006 due to injury, the year in which the Colts won the Superbowl. In 2007, after signing with the Titans, Simon announced his retirement. After such a fantastic start to his career, he tailed off too fast too soon.

Thin Corey                          Fat Corey

2002 – Ryan Sims, DT, North Carolina – Selected by Kansas City Chiefs

Sims played a large part of the Chiefs defence in his first 3 seasons, starting 31 games, recording 5 sacks, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble. He lost his starting spot in 2006, and was traded to the Buccaneers before the 07 season. He played in Tampa for 4 years, and in the words of fellow writer Gur Samuel, “As starting DT, he was a major factor why the Bucs finished 32nd in run defense.” He only avoids making the Worst list because his underachieving pales in comparison to Gholston, Jones and Sullivan!

2007 – LaRon Landry, S, LSU – Selected by Washington Redskins

Landry’s career started well, making an instant impact for the Redskins at Strong, and then Free Safety in 31 games over his first two years. He started his third year, 2010, in fine form, some calling him Pro-Bowl worthy, but an Achilles injury landed him on IR. Further injuries to his hamstring, groin, and reinjuring his Achilles hampered his entire 2011 campaign, playing in only 8 games, and the Redskins decided to release him. Now part of the New York Jets, Landry will need to play right the way through the season if he wants to avoid being labelled untouchable due to injuries.

The next three guys are still at the start of their career. Each has started well, but only time will tell if they make it on to the “Best” list.

2009 – Andre Smith, OT, Alabama – Selected by Cincinnati Bengals

Did himself no favours before the draft, disappearing midway through the Combine, and showing up to his Pro-Day very over weight and inexplicably choosing to run his 40 yard dash topless, truffle shuffling all the way. Since fighting his way on to the Bengals starting OL he has played well, and another decent year in 2012 could see him justify his #6 selection and propel him into the top level OTs in the NFL.

Any excuse to get this photo into the blog...!

2010 – Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma St – Selected by Seattle Seahawks

Okung’s rookie year in 2010 was excellent, but injuries plagued his sophomore campaign. Has all the skills to become a perennial Pro-bowler

2011 – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama – Selected by Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons gave up an arm and a leg to get Julio Jones, trading up with the Browns to draft him. After a decent rookie season, Jones has the ability to develop into a top WR, but only time will tell.

- Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
- The Pulling Linemen

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