Mailbag: Cardinals' draft classes stepped up

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rick from Charleston, West Virginia, writes: Hey Mike! As I'm seeing all these 2009 NFL Draft grades immediately hitting the presses, I'm reminded of what I heard a long time ago -- not sure who gets the credit -- you cannot judge a draft for 5 years. With that in mind, I went back and looked at each NFC West team's first 5 picks in the 2004 Draft.

Maybe you could post this and get some reader feedback. The numbers in parenthesis are the round, followed by overall pick:


Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas (1,23)

Michael Boulware, SS, Florida St (2,53)

Sean Locklear, G, NC State (3,84)

Niko Koutouvides, LB, Purdue (4,116)

D.J. Hackett, WR, Colorado (5,157)

San Francisco

Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma St (1,31)

Justin Smiley, G, Alabama (2,46)

Shawntae Spencer, CB, Pitt (2,58)

Derrick Hamilton, WR, Clemson (3,77)

Isaac Sopoaga, DT, Hawaii (4,104)

St. Louis

Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon St (1,24)

Anthony Hargrove, DE, Ga Tech (3,91)

Brandon Chillar, LB, UCLA (4,130)

Jason Shivers, S, Arizona St (5,158)

Jeff Smoker, QB, Michigan St (6,201)


Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pitt (1,3)

Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn (2,33)

Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida St (3,64)

Alex Stepanovich, C, Ohio St (4,100)

Antonio Smith, DE, Oklahoma St (5,135)

My two initial impressions were that:

  1. The Cardinals had a GREAT draft. You could argue they hit a home run on 4 of their first five picks, and a grand slam on their #1 (Fitz.) Of course, they were picking high, and you would expect the #3 overall pick to be an impact player 5 years in. By all accounts, though, this would probably measure up quite well against ANY NFL team's draft over the last five years.

  2. The Rams seem to have done themselves a disservice by trading their 2nd, 4th, and 6th round picks (Chillar and Smoker were both compensatory selections.) They made a great first-round pick (Jackson) but by trading away a couple of picks, their 5th selection (201 overall) was a whopping 66 picks lower than the Cardinals (135).

Taking these two things into consideration, I'm wondering if your readers think there's any correlation between the 2004 draft and the Cardinals Super Bowl appearance (as well as the Rams 2-14 record.) Some bonus tidbits from the 2004 draft: The 49'ers drafted the only 6th round player to make a Pro Bowl (Andy Lee, P, Pitt.) Also, Pro Bowlers Wes Welker, Willie Parker, Jason Peters, and Mat McBriar were all undrafted.
Mike Sando: Good work, Rick. I was playing around with some related information over the weekend. I went through the Pro Football Reference database and collected 2008 starting information for every player in the league. I then singled out draft choices still playing for their original teams, adding up how many starts they made for their teams in 2008. The totals would not reflect players released since last season, but I thought that was a minor issue and something I could work around with a little more time.

The findings backed up what you are saying. Members of the Cardinals' 2004 draft class still with the team combined for 68 regular-season starts last season. The rest of the league averaged 16 combined starts for members of their 2004 draft classes still with their original teams. San Diego ranked second with 45. The Rams had zero.

Members of the Cardinals' 2003 draft class still with the team combined for 69 regular-season starts last season, another league high. The rest of the league averaged 15 combined starts.

In fact, the Cardinals' 2003 through 2008 draft classes averaged a league-high 42 regular-season starts for their original teams last season (again, not counting any players released since last season). The rest of the league averaged a combined 25 starts last season.

This is something I'll break out in greater detail once I have time to do some more tinkering.

Andy from Bellingham, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, 1st off, great job covering the draft and keeping us up on roster changes so consistently ...

With Seattle drafting Aaron Curry and re-signing Leroy Hill to a long term deal, there is a lot of opinion out there (professional and amateur) that they will have arguably the best linebacking group in the NFL. I feel like we HAVE had one of the best LB groups in the league with Lofa Tatupu, Leroy and Julian Peterson. But due to struggles at other defensive positions, they haven't really been able to perform to their capability.

Seattle made a lot of moves to get some size and a pass rush on the D-Line, and help in the secondary this offseason, and the new coaching staff is promising to be more aggressive on defense.

Now, i'm not looking for a Bill Simmons-esque bold statement or prediction, but it's the start of a new year, everyone is healthy, the draft is done, rosters are full. Do you think Seattle did what it will take to turn it around and become a top or dare I say "elite" defense in the NFL?

I'm not a professional by any means, but I feel like I know
a think or two about a thing or two. So I'll go ahead and say it now that they will be no worse than a top 10 defense. Right or wrong, you can remember that and blow me up at the end of the year if you want. Thanks.

Mike Sando: Experience has taught me to be skeptical on any talk about the Seahawks fielding an elite defense. Seattle has finished among the top 10 in yards allowed once in the last 16 years and not since 1997.

Two factors work in the Seahawks' favor this season:

  • The new defensive staff is requiring greater awareness and attention to detail from all players, not just Tatupu and select others. We're talking about little things here, such as a greater emphasis on each player knowing situations (instead of relying upon Tatupu or one of the safeties to call out down-and-distances, for example). The emphasis is on becoming smarter and more aware. If it works, the staff should have more options, allowing for greater creativity.

  • The Seahawks are bigger. Cory Redding and Colin Cole give Seattle bulk on the defensive line. Brandon Mebane was already a stout defender, but he needed help. A healthy Red Bryant gives the defense another big body as an option. Curry is quite a bit bigger than the prototypical Seattle linebacker has been in recent seasons. At cornerback, Ken Lucas offers more size than Seattle has enjoyed at the position.

These are relevant themes, but it's all talk this far out. As a fan, you should be optimistic about this defense improving greatly from last season. A healthier and more productive offense will also help this defense by putting it in more favorable situations. But if you've followed this team long enough, you realize offseason optimism hasn't translated to in-season effectiveness on defense. Seeing will be believing for me.

Leo from New York writes: I was recently at a party with some bitter JETS fans and was privy to some real Favre bashing. Amongst the bashing I made the mistake of saying that, regardless, Farve will still go down as one of the greatest up there with Marino and Montana. I was subsequently screamed at for the rest of the night. As the night went on, the debate ended up deteriorating to a Farve vs and where i drew the line was John Elway, everyone in the room was of the mindset that Elway was greater that Farve. Being in NY I can't find anyone to disagree. I guess what I'm looking for is some help from an objective point of view. Thanks

Mike Sando: Favre was eighth, two spots lower than Elway, on our list of 10 greatest quarterbacks. The panelists I consulted seemed to agree that Favre deserved a spot in the top 10, but none of them was adamant in support of him. There's a feeling Favre was great, but he made too many horrible decisions, sometimes in key situations.

PaulieP from Scottsdale writes: Hey Mike! I'm guessing that it's just a minicamp thing, but I saw that Courtney Green is wearing 37 in Hawks camp? Seems a little soon, doesn't it? 37 should be retired, so why let another player wear it, when other numbers were available?

Mike Sando: Steve Largent's No. 80 is the only jersey number off-limits to Seahawks players. Largent is also the only long-time Seahawks player in the Hall of Fame. The team generally hasn't withheld jersey numbers after prominent players have left the organization. Carl Stewart, a fullback practicing on a trying basis, wore Mack Strong's old No. 38 over the weekend. Roger Craig wore No. 33 for the 49ers. Running back Thomas Clayton wears it now.

Brad from San Jose writes: I wanted to correct you on your comment about the fair catch. You are allowed to fair catch a kickoff, but it is not used much (I have never seen it done, but was told to do it if needed when playing in High School). I think it would be done primarily in a "pooch" kick situation where the kickoff team is attempting to create a high kick in order to prevent a return. I think the 49ers used to do a similar setup with Ray Wersching.

Mike Sando: I was imprecise in my language there. Thanks for pointing it out. The fair catch is not a viable option on kickoff returns, most of the time.