The Calvin Johnson draft? Maybe not
They said outside of Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, there wasn’t one can’t-miss player or cornerstone to build your franchise around.
They said that it was one of the worst years to be drafting in the top 10 because the first overall selection may not be any better than the tenth.
If Week 9 in the NFL was any indication of what’s to come from the 2007 draft class, it’s obvious that “they” were wrong. “They,” of course, being every draft pundit and know-it-all who said this was going to be a down year in terms of elite prospects.
Exhibit A: Adrian Peterson, 7th overall pick, Minnesota Vikings
Why he wasn’t elite: Peterson was too fragile to take the pounding in the NFL. He also ran too upright, which led to shoulder and ankle injuries suffered in college. Teams at the top of the draft should stay away from him.
Week 9 stat line: 30 carries, 296 yards, 3 touchdowns. Just nine weeks into his first season and Peterson has already set the NFL single-game rushing record. Durability issues? On top of being Minnesota’s feature back, he’s also returning kickoffs, proving thus far that he can take a pounding. The NFL’s leading rusher is well on his way to capturing Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and an invitation to the Pro Bowl.
It’s amazing to think that six teams passed on Peterson, although I can honestly say that I don’t blame any of them. At the time, he had that lingering collarbone injury and RB wasn’t exactly a priority for those teams drafting ahead of the Vikings.
- The Raiders needed a quarterback and it’s unfair to criticize them for passing on Peterson when JaMarcus Russell hasn’t even attempted one pass yet
- Peterson would have probably been a waste in Mike Martz’s system in Detroit
- Tampa already had a young back in Cadillac Williams
- The Cardinals paid Edgerrin James $30.5 million last offseason to be their feature back
- Washington already had Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts
The only team in the top six that could have feasibly used Peterson was the Cleveland Browns. However, we should never criticize a team attempting to build a winner by first constructing the offensive line. Joe Thomas looks like a cornerstone left tackle (a commodity that is very hard to come by) and Jamal Lewis has been solid outside of a foot injury that caused him to miss two games.
Exhibit B: Patrick Willis, 11th overall pick, San Francisco 49ers
Why he wasn’t elite: Although Willis was easily regarded as the top linebacker prospect coming out of Mississippi, more than a handful of pundits thought his lack of size was going to give him issues in the NFL. Experts also noted that he would struggle disengaging blockers at the line of scrimmage and would likely have issues in pass coverage.
Week 9 stat line: 10 tackles, 1 sack. Willis leads the 49ers in tackles this season with 83. The second leading tackler, Derek Smith, has 26 fewer than Willis. He isn’t just contributing as a rookie; he’s killing the competition and might even be the best player on the 49er defense. Like Peterson, Willis is absolutely running away with (Defensive) Rookie of the Year honors.
Exhibit C: Marshawn Lynch, 12th over pick, Buffalo Bills
Why he wasn’t elite: Lynch was also regarded as a top prospect, but pundits were quick to note that he was the product of a terrible running back class. They also said he wasn’t patient enough while choosing holes and often tried to make things happen on his own. Due to nagging hand and arm injuries, he was also fumble prone.
Week 9 stat line: 29 carries, 153 yards, 1 touchdown. On the season, Lynch has a 3.9-yard per carry average and hasn’t fumbled once. He’s rejuvenated Buffalo’s dreadful offense and barring injury, he’s on pace for a 1,380-yard season.
Exhibit D: LaRon Landry, 6th overall pick, Washington Redskins
Why he wasn’t elite: Granted, Landry was one of the prospects the so-called experts were right about. Many gushed that he would quickly join the ranks of Ed Reed, Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu in terms of elite safeties. However, they were quick to note that he couldn’t cover worth a lick and he was too small.
Week 9 stat line: 7 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 sack. Landry is without a doubt on his way to becoming an elite safety. He’s third on the team in tackles and seemingly comes up with a huge play for the Skins’ defense every week.
Here are 10 more rookies who may not be in the elite class of Peterson, Willis, Lynch and Landry but are nevertheless key contributors from the ’07 draft class:
Calvin Johnson (WR) has shown flashes of why some scouts thought he was the best player in the draft, hauling in 18 receptions for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
Joe Thomas (OT) has started every game at the vaunted left tackle position for the surprising Browns.
Amobi Okoye (DT) already has five sacks as a rookie, which is incredible considering he’s an interior defensive lineman (most DT’s struggle to get sacks because they’re usually double-teamed).
Leon Hall (CB) has been a bright spot on a dismal Bengals defense.
Reggie Nelson (S) has started every game for the Jags since the second week of the season.
Aaron Ross (CB) has picked up the game incredibly well and has finally brought some stability to the Giants’ secondary.
Dwayne Bowe (WR) is one of the big surprises of the first round; already has 29 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns.
Greg Olsen (TE) is quickly becoming one of Brian Griese’s favorite targets in Chicago.
Eric Weddle (S) might have been the most underrated defensive back in the entire draft.
Tony Ugoh (OT) has already become entrenched on the Colts offensive line.
It should be noted that it’s extremely early to be judging whether or not the 2007 draft class lacked elite prospects. In fact, pundits have it right when they suggest waiting at least three seasons before handing out grades for a particular draft. Plus, to be fair, it's impossible to accurately rank and project every prospect from every draft before they've ever stepped foot onto an NFL field.
However, who said that this class lacked elite prospects? We’re only nine weeks into the season and the ’07 class has already produced the NFL’s single game rushing leader, a linebacker who’s just 17 tackles away from 100 on the season, a back who could eclipse 1,400 yards in his first year, and the league’s next elite safety.
All of the aforementioned players have not only contributed to their respective teams as rookies, but also are quickly becoming outstanding young players. Plus, I didn’t even list any names past the second round. There are plenty of prospects in rounds 3 through 7 who may one day become elite, a la Tom Brady (6th round, 199th pick overall) seven years ago.
Peterson is going to be the one that pundits and experts will look back on and say, “Why did we think Calvin Johnson was the only elite prospect in 2007?” Nagging injuries aside, AP was fantastic at Oklahoma and has the size and frame that most NFL scouts drool over.
This is an easy statement to make after he just rushed for nearly 300 yards in one game, but Peterson isn’t just becoming a good player – he’s becoming a great player. He’s already eclipsed the 100-yard mark five times in eight games, and he’s topped 200 yards twice. He’s on pace for a 316-carry, 2,072-yard season – that’s an astonishing 6.56-yards per carry average.
Calvin Johnson is an outstanding prospect and may one day turn out to be the best player taken from this draft class. Yet the people who claimed this draft lacked elite prospects have clearly been proven wrong midway through the 2007 season.
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