As soon as I saw the title of this post by Football Outsiders 2008 NFL Draft: Six Years Later I knew what was coming and it wasn't going to be pretty. First though the Panthers made a surprising pick at #12 in RB Jonathan Stewart. Stewart had a nice start to his career gaining almost 2,000 yards rushing and 20 TDs his first two seasons. Yet now after six seasons when you compare his career to his peers from that draft class you have to question whether that was a good pick. Injuries have derailed his production the past two seasons and Stewart now finds himself needing to prove he can still handle an NFL load. More on that at another time.
Don't get me wrong I love the guys' game, the way he runs the ball and the strength with which he runs. But look at the top 10 RBs drafted in 2008 and you see names like Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles. Now Stewart certainly panned out better than some of those guys like, for instance Felix Jones, Kevin Smith and Steve Slaton. You could argue he's better than Darin McFaddin at this point. But I think there is a lesson in the pick.
It was a surprise pick because the Panthers had recently spent a 1st round pick on a RB in DeAngelo Williams and though Williams had yet to 'break out' the jury was still out on him. Picking Stewart was a 'Best Player Available' type of pick that in the end soaked up too much resources in the form of cap space than the position ultimately needed. There was just no way Stewart was going to get enough touches to justify the salary when both he and Williams were healthy.
We find ourselves in this exact same situation yet again this season. It's a topic we have belabored a lot on CSR and my hope has always been that we would someday cherish having such skilled depth at RB. You have to admit it has worked out well when one or the other has gotten injured. But now both are aging even when you consider the lack of 'tread wear' due to their long-standing platoon situation.
The Stewart pick, for me anyway, justifies my 'focused BPA' draft strategy. That's what I'm calling it at the moment. Meaning that though I believe in the BPA philosophy you only apply it to positions of need in any particular draft. So for the 2014 draft that would mean OT, WR, CB, S, and LB. Any players available that do not fall within that grouping would not be one the 1st round board. Or even the 2nd and 3rd round for that matter. Specifically I these positions should not be drafted early if at all: QB, DT, RB, or C. The remaining positions I might consider if I thought there was real value in the pick, kind of like the 7th round Kenjon Barner pick last year. I'm referring to OG, TE and DE, though I might argue you always select a value pass rusher when presented.
Now we move to the ugliness.
In one of Marty Hurney's infamous draft day trades the Panthers gave up a future #1 pick to select OT Jeff Otah. It was a need pick for sure and honestly it still looked pretty good after his rookie season. From there it went south making Otah the easy 'OT bust' pick from the 2008 draft class.
Biggest bust: Otah (Pitt, Carolina Panthers, 19th) was a solid starter for a couple seasons before his knees decided he should no longer be an NFL player. The only other lineman drafted in the first three rounds not still in the league is guard Chilo Rachal (USC, 49ers, 39th). The two first-round left tackles chosen after Otah were widely viewed at the time as reaches, but Sam Baker (USC, Falcons, 21st) has been an intermittently acceptable starter, while Duane Brown (Virginia Tech, Texans, 26th) has become a much better player than most analysts expected. Living in the Chicago area, I feel obligated to note Chris Williams never developed into the left tackle the Bears wanted, needed, and expected from the 14th pick and was a guard for the Rams in 2013.
The author is being gracious to say it was Otah's knees that drove him out of the NFL. I think it was more his lack of desire to compete, that he just didn't want to play anymore once he got paid. But that is just my opinion from the cheap seats. I personally really wanted Chris Williams at the #12 which shows again why I am not a scout. In the SBN mock draft that year I got Ryan Clady at #12, how sweet would that have been if it happened? But I digress.
So the final lesson from this draft is an easy one. Don't trade future picks to address a need! It tends to facilitate bad decisions and make you see potential in players that is not there. I'm thinking our new GM already knows this lesson but its worth repeating...over and over!
Okay let's get our minds back to 2014 as 2008 is just too scary!