Receivers and cornerbacks dominate Round 1
Looking for a catchy tune to best capture the essence of the first round of the NFL draft?
Well, early in the proceedings, with three tailbacks selected among the initial five picks for the first time in lottery history, the choice of theme songs was the quintessential no-brainer. With tailbacks Ronnie Brown, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Cedric Benson dominating the opening hour, the easy pick was Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
But you ultimately assess first-round trends and themes through 32 selections, not just five, and so in the interminable hours that ensued following the early run on tailbacks, the landscape of the opening stanza changed.
And so did the selection of theme songs.
So, the most appropriate rock song, to serve as the first-round anthem, in our opinion? Well, Steven Tyler, phone all of your Aerosmith buddies and warm up those aging pipes for a lusty rendition of "Livin' on the Edge." Because that's certainly where the league did business, on the perimeter, for much of the round.
Think about this: Of the 32 first-round selections, 18 were chosen at what the league would consider pure "edge" positions -- wide receivers, cornerbacks, standup outside linebackers and pass-rush defensive ends. Toss in the three quarterbacks, one tight end and two offensive tackles who went off the board, and that totals a whopping 24 first-round prospects, three quarters of the picks, at key passing game-related positions.
Born to run? Forget about it. The first round quickly morphed into an exercise in getting players who can run deep, not run off-tackle, and defenders who might keep them from doing so.
"You still have to run the ball but, with where the emphasis has gone now, the passing game is just so big," said Detroit coach Steve Mariucci, whose team selected former Southern California star Mike Williams, the third consecutive year in which the Lions invested their first-round pick on a wide receiver. "You don't win without being able to throw the football. So those (outside) positions have become big priorities."
That was obvious, following the tailback fixation, in the way the first round developed.
After the tailback-needy Tampa Bay Bucs tabbed Cadillac Williams with the No. 5 pick, the focus changed dramatically, and turned to prospects who catch passes, knock down passes or knock down quarterbacks. Seven straight selections, 11 of 13 choices and 15 of 18 picks were then devoted to landing "edge" performers.
There were only two instances in the round in which consecutive selections were made at positions not considered to be passing game-related. And one of those stretches came at the very end of the stanza, when the Philadelphia Eagles opted for defensive tackle Mike Patterson and the New England Patriots grabbed guard Logan Mankins.
The first round featured six wide receivers, the most prospects chosen from any position. Not surprisingly, the position that checked in with the second-most picks was cornerback, with five players chosen. Picks Nos. 6 through 11 included three cornerbacks and two wide receivers. In the five-pick stretch that went from No. 21 to No. 25, there were two wideouts, a cornerback and two quarterbacks. Typical of the emphasis on the passing game was the strategy of the Washington Redskins, who took one player who intercepts passes (Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers) with their first of two choices in the round, and a guy who throws passes (Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell) with the latter.
Even some of the non-"edge" choices in the round could have passing game implications. The Miami Dolphins chose Ronnie Brown to fuel their running attack but the Auburn star is just as noted for the plays he makes with his hands as the ones he authors with his feet. Some scouts, and Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, felt Brown might possess the best hands of any player in the draft. Patterson was selected in part because he was arguably the best interior pass rusher in the talent pool.
Still, the spotlight, as it has been for the past few years, was on perimeter players. It used to be, and apparently still is, that NFL clubs can never have enough cornerbacks. Now, with the re-emphasis on the illegal contact rule, which helped expanding passing attacks leaguewide in 2004, wide receivers are back in vogue, as well. The six wideouts chosen in the first round on Saturday was only one fewer than the all-time record volume at the position, which was established just last year.
"Let's be honest, when you think 'big play' in the NFL, you're usually not thinking about, say, a 60-yard run," said Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards, chosen by the Cleveland Browns with the third overall pick. "I mean, long runs, they just don't happen that much at this level. Now long passes, hey, that's what the game is all about now, I feel. So I don't think it was so shocking to have so many (wide receivers) and cornerbacks going in the first round."
In fact, for a draft that was so unsettled at the top, and which most personnel directors acknowledged lacked the usual consensus on top-shelf players, the first round was all but devoid of suspense. Beyond the dramatic plummet of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who went from being a candidate for the first overall choice to being the 24th player chosen and the heir apparent to Brett Favre's throne in Green Bay, there was an absence of drama and of surprise.
|“||Let's be honest, when you think 'big play' in the NFL, you're usually not thinking about, say, a 60-yard run. I mean, long runs, they just don't happen that much at this level. Now long passes, hey, that's what the game is all about now, I feel. So I don't think it was so shocking to have so many (wide receivers) and cornerbacks going in the first round. ”|
|— Braylon Edwards, Browns WR|
For those interested in money matters, the slide from No. 1 in the draft to 24th likely cost Rodgers about $15 million in guaranteed dollars, based on 2004 rookie contracts.
Jacksonville's selection of former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones with the 21st pick -- when the draft's most intriguing athlete was projected to last until at least the last few choices in the round -- was mildly stunning. And the manner in which teams shied off Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson, who many pundits rated the position's top player, might have been confusing to some who didn't buy into our much-stated notion that he was perhaps the draft's most overrated prospect.
But the anticipated trading spree that was supposed to result from the disparate opinions on many of the prospects -- Seattle team president Tim Ruskell predicted a record volume of deals -- never materialized. There were, in fact, just two trades in the round.
Teams seemed more determined to not overreact and less anxious to try to shuffle the first-round deck. The overriding mindset that served as a hallmark for the round, the belief that sometimes it is better to stay put and just pick your board, served several teams very well. There are times, Saturday's first round demonstrated, when the best trades are the deals you don't make.
Prime example: The Dallas Cowboys, with two selections in the stanza, hoped to land two defensive front seven players from a trio that included Demarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman and Marcus Spears. After choosing Ware with the 11th overall pick, Dallas attempted to move up from the No. 20 spot, figuring neither Merriman nor Spears would slip down. The Cowboys' proposed trade-up maneuvers failed but, when the 20th pick rolled around, Spears was still on the board for them.
"From what I've heard," said Spears, who will help ease the Cowboys' transition to a 3-4 front, "you can out-think yourself sometimes in the draft. I'm thrilled to be (with the Cowboys), so I'm glad they didn't think too hard about trying to move up."
In the end, this was a first round that, indeed, was not about moving up. It was about moving out instead, out to the "edge," which is where it seems most of the action takes place anymore.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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