Monday, May 01, 2006

Monday's Docket: The Hardest Part

Tom Petty's Got Nothing on Three Michigan Draftees

Not a good weekend for U of M football. In Michigan's lowest rated draft class since 1989, it took until the 4th round of the draft for a single Michigan player to be drafted. All in all only three players were drafted, and a handful remain available as free agents. Gabe Watson, once projected as a top ten draft pick, fell all the way to the fourth round. With the 107th pick of the draft, the Arizona Cardinals picked up Watson to play along side fellow Michigan alumni John Navarre and Earnest Shazor. Two picks later, Jason Avant went to the Philadelphia Eagles it what I hope turns out to be the steal of the draft. Finally, Tim Massaquoi went to Tampa Bay with pick number 244.

Watson's tumble from the first round is well documented. In sum: 2 sacks, 40 tackles as a senior defensive lineman at a premier college program. His reputation for playing at half throttle and taking plays off cost him a lot of money, something that he acknowledged tacitly in his newspaper interviews. However, if Watson can ever concentrate long enough to harness his more than ample skill, he could turn out to be a great pick up for the Cardinals.

Jason Avant also had reason to fall, though not from the first round. Avant was pegged as a second or third round possession receiver out of Michigan. He did not dispel that notion when he ran a slower than average 40 at the draft combine this winter. Even so, raw speed when not matched with receiving ability rarely transforms into NFL success. Look at the wide receiver roster of the Chicago Bears as an example (Bernard Berrian, come on down!). Avant's precise routes, great hands, and brains may turn into the key receiver Donovan McNabb has been missing that last few years (I am not counting TO in this. TO is irreplaceable, no matter what you think of his character). He'll join Jon Runyan and Dhani Jones in Philly.

Finally, Timmay! Playing his senior year with a young QB throwing mistake after mistake hurt him the worst. 11 catches for 86 yards during your senior season will not help your draft status. What gets left out is Massaquoi was a two time All-Big Ten selection. He'll surprise people once he has an opportunity to catch some passes and run with them. Tampa will be a great fit. Chris Sims loves possession guys, and the big talented tight end may find a great niche in the sunshine state.

With only three players being drafted, and all of them in the 4th round or later, it truly speaks to what a horrible year Michigan had on the field. In some way it also softens the gut punch that the season was. If Michigan had players taken in the first or second round, in retrospect, it might have made the season that was look even worse. The draft was a clear indication of the cards dealt to Michigan this past year, and a further indication of why victories against key opponents were hard to come by. Look no further than Ohio State. The Buckeyes had 9 players drafted, including 5 in the first round. Notre Dame had three players taken in the second, third and sixth round. Wisconsin had five players taken. Even the Gophers had 1 more draft pick than Michigan (1 first, 1 fifth, 1 sixth, 1 seventh). Looking at it through this lens, it seems to make a little more sense out of the year.

The draft is one indication of what your top level talent was. Yes Henne, Hart, Grady, Manningham, et al. are good players. But if they were on this year's draft board, ask yourself where they'd go. According to the NFL, our best players were 3rd rounders drafted in the 4th round.

This is not an indictment of this year's team. For those left, if anything, it should provide a spark for the remaining and incoming Wolverines. Several players did not live up to expectations last year, and hopefully Watson will provide a cautionary tale. It should show them that if they are serious about playing for a living, you cannot get by on raw talent alone. For those players perhaps on the fringes of elite status, Avant's career should similarly provide a spark. It shows that even if you are perceived not to have a certain NFL quality, if you work hard enough you can play at the next level despite those perceptions. We'll have to wait and see how those players react to what happened to their former leaders. Will they make it an excuse or take it as an insult? We'll see.

Now the seniors' waiting game is done. Now ours begins. And that's the hardest part.

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