Thursday, February 03, 2011

Building for Success

Super Bowl XLV was set up to be the most monumental of them all. The venue is a stadium so colossal and luxurious it should’ve been constructed in Dubai. But, it’s not in Dubai rather in Texas where everything is bigger and better including the football team. Not just North Texas’ team, but America’s Team, the Cowboys. With all the build up since the city was awarded Super Bowl XLV, the icing on the cake was ready to be applied.

The most recognizable NFL franchise, playing in the biggest stadium, on the biggest stage- the perfect dream scenario. The Cowboys were supposed to become the first team to play a Super Bowl on their home turf. All the pieces had been put into place on and off the field to ensure this would happen. They hoped the puzzle was complete.

Instead, it is the Packers and Steelers have played their way into the battle for world champion. The two historically rich franchises will meet in Jerry’s stadium to determine the world champion. Like the mammoth football stadium these teams will play in, neither was built over night. It took years of careful planning and coordinating to create this opportunity for both franchises. Numerous drafts and off season acquisitions have shaped the core of the Packer, Steeler, and Cowboy rosters over the years.

If you look at the top 30 players on each team, based on number of meaningful snaps played, you will get the core of the team. The ways of acquiring these players are draft, free agent, or trade. The draft is typically the cheapest way to acquire talent whereas free agents and trades come at higher prices to get what you need.


TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersAaron RodgersQB272005Packers124
SteelersBen RoethlisbergerQB282004Steelers111
CowboysTony RomoQB302003CowboysUFA-
CowboysJon KitnaQB381998SeahawksUFA-

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Packer Analysis: Their masterful plan of selecting Aaron Rodgers in 2005 with their 1st Round pick was highly criticized at first. Now it’s genius and the absolute way to go for a franchise looking to stabilize their QB position. They seem to be set with Rodgers for years to come and have a solid back up in Matt Flynn. The Packers have done well in stabilizing this position.

Steeler Analysis: They hit with their selection of Big Ben. He’s only 28, already with two Super Bowl rings, and playing for a third. His stats wont show everything he does on the field, but if you watch you will see a proven winner in the 4th quarter. As long as he can stay out of trouble in the off season (motorcycle crashes and women), he should keep that roster spot solidified for years to come.

Cowboy Analysis: The Cowboys and their fans are blessed Tony Romo emerged from UFA obscurity to super stardom. Since the Troy Aikman draft (1989), the Cowboys have spent THREE draft picks on a QB in a 20 year span- Bill Musgrave (1991), Quincy Carter (2001), and Stephen McGee (2009). Without any QB prospects in the stable, it’s no wonder they struggled atQB between Aikman and Romo. However, they seem to be set at the QB position with Kitna playing so well in Romo’s absence. Even McGee looks promising and like an Aaron Rodgers starter kit to develop for the future.

Offensive Line
TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersChad CliftonOT342000Packers244
PackersBryan BulagaOT212010Packers123
PackersDaryn ColledgeG282006Packers247
PackersJosh SittonG242008Packers4135
PackersScott WellsC302004Packers7251
SteelersFlozell AdamsOT351998Cowboys238
SteelersJonathon ScottOT282006Lions5141
SteelersRamon FosterG252009SteelersUFA-
SteelersChris KemoeatuG282005Steelers6204
SteelersMaurkice PounceyC212010Steelers118
SteelersTrai EssexG282005Steelers393
SteelersMax StarksOT292004Steelers375
CowboysDoug FreeOT272007Cowboys4122
CowboysMarc ColomboOT322002Bears129
CowboysLeonard DavisG322001Cardinals12
CowboysKyle KosierG32200249ers7249
CowboysAndre GurodeC322002Cowboys237

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Packer Analysis: The Packers grabbed the falling Bulaga in the 2010 draft and he filled a huge void coming out of the 2009 season. Now, their offensive line seems to be set for the next couple of years. However, with Clifton getting up there in age, it might not be a bad idea to look for OT’s to groom in the draft, if not this year then next.

Steeler Analysis: The Steelers hit a homerun in the 2010 draft with Maurkice Pouncey, the rookie Pro Bowler. However, this team is thin at the tackle position and needs to make that priority number one in the 2011 NFL Draft. The pass protection and run blocking on the edge was sketchy at times this season. Even without any injuries to the position this should be a top priority for the club in the offseason.

Cowboy Analysis: This aging offensive line was the Cowboys number one weakness in 2010, and it showed. Injuries plagued the starters and the backups were atrocious. The Cowboys have not drafted a Guard since 2004 which is a huge need to replace declining incumbents. Outside of Doug Free, any kind of depth at the tackle position has been nothing but misses. This is not considered to be a deep draft class as far as top end talent goes, but the Cowboys will be in position to add some great talent and depth to the line in the 2011 draft.

Running Back
TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersBrandon JacksonRB252007Packers263
PackersJames StarksRB242010Packers6193
PackersJohn Kuhn RB/FB282005SteelersUFA-
SteelersRashard MendenhallRB232008Steelers123
SteelersIsaac RedmanRB262009SteelersUFA-
SteelersMewelde MooreRB282004Vikings4119
CowboysFelix JonesRB232008Cowboys122
CowboysMarion BarberRB272005Cowboys4109
CowboysTashard ChoiceRB262008Cowboys4122

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Packer Analysis: The ineptitude in the Packers running game this season is a little misleading. Ryan Grant was lost for the year in the first game of the season and was sorely missed. However, even with him in the line up the running game still has room for improvement. Brandon Jackson is a FA, who has been less than impressive, and should be gone. Starks looked nice at times late in the 2010 season and Kuhn had some fun moments, but neither projects as a long term solution just yet. They Packers have whiffed on RB draft picks (Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn) in recent drafts. With the value of RB’s being lesser than years past, the Packers should look to grab a prospect in the 2011 draft somewhere in Round 2-4.

Steeler Analysis: Using their 1st Round pick in the 2008 draft to select Mendenhall has paid dividends for the Steelers. Mendenhall is a tough runner who has had a less than stellar line in front of him all season. Redman, acquired by Pittsburgh as a UFA, has served as a promising young back to contribute in the future. Mewelde Moore has come in as a steady and solid vet for this RB group. For the immediate future the Steelers seem to be set at RB as a need. Better blocking will help this group emerge.

Cowboy Analysis: The Cowboys trio has shown flashes of excellence, just not all at one time or consistently. The Cowboys drafted Felix Jones (2008-1st Rd) to come in and compliment the physical running style of Barber. Jones has had his moments but he has been slowed by constant injury. He came into the 2010 season almost 15 pounds heavier than his normal playing weight and it seemed to affect his blazing speed once he hit the 2nd level. It is unclear whether Barber will return in 2011 given the overpayment in his last contract. The Cowboys could have an effective running attack with a Jones-Choice combo, but it might not hurt to seek insurance in the 2011 draft somewhere in Round 4 or beyond if Barber is let go.

Wide Receiver
TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersGreg JenningsWR272006Packers252
PackersJames JonesWR262007Packers378
PackersJordy NelsonWR252008Packers236
PackersDonald DriverWR351999Packers7213
SteelersMike WallaceWR242009Steelers384
SteelersHines WardWR341998Steelers393
SteelersEmmanuel SandersWR/KR232010Steelers382
SteelersAntwaan Randle ElWR312002Steelers263
CowboysMile AustinWR262006CowboysUFA-
CowboysDez BryantWR222010Cowboys124
CowboysRoy WilliamsWR292004Lions17

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Packer Analysis: The Packers have used the draft to fill WR holes while not over valuing the position. In 2006 they traded Javon Walker to the Broncos for a 2nd Rounder (’06) coming off a season of contract disputes and an ACL injury. They then select his eventual replacement in the 2nd Round of the 2006 draft in Greg Jennings. After re-upping with the 36 year old driver in 2010, the Packers seem to be set at the position for the next few years.

Steeler Analysis: Like the Packers, the Steelers opt to draft WR’s instead of overpaying them. They chose to let the highly coveted free agents (at certain points of their career) Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El walk instead of shelling out the big contracts. With Hines Ward anchoring the WR group since 1998, the Steelers have been able to add effective talent with mid round draft picks like Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. With the success of the recent WR’s drafted, the Steelers seem to be set in that position.

Cowboy Analysis: The Roy Williams deal strapped the Cowboys in the 2009 draft as well as financially. More importantly it hindered their ability to address other more significant positions of need throughout the team. The past two drafts (2009 & 2010) the Cowboys have spent both first round selections on WR’s. This seems odd considering they have the poster boy for disputing the need to do so in Miles Austin. Don’t get me wrong, the Cowboy’s WR group is one of the best in the game and has some exciting top end talent. But, using premium picks and money for a position that can be interchangeable, in consecutive years, will not get you far. Just ask the Detroit Lions.

Tight End

TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersJermichael FinleyTE232008Packers391
PackersAndrew QuarlessTE222010Packers5154
SteelersHeath MillerTE282005Steelers130
CowboysJason WittenTE282003Cowboys369
CowboysMartellus BennettTE232008Cowboys261

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Packer Analysis: Assuming Jermichael Finley can recover from his unlucky ACL injury, the Packers are set at TE. Quarless did a good job as a rookie filling in for Finley and shouldn't have any problem being a nice backup. Finley has star potential at 23, so if he remains healthy the Packers will be set for a very long time at Tight End.

Steeler Analysis: Heath Miller is one of those guys who is underrated and doesnt fill the stat sheet every week. He does what he needs to do within the Steelers offense and does it well. The Steelers also have a more than serviceable back up in Spaeth . They should be set for the next few years at the position.

Cowboy Analysis: Jason Witten has been an all world Pro Bowl TE for Dallas and can do anything asked of him. He is a team leader and the perfect mold for a NFL Tight End. Back up Martellus Bennett has been average in his limited action as a Dallas Cowboy, which is fine for a back up tight end. Unfortunately, he has not delivered on the added dynamic he was supposed to bring to the Cowboys offense as a “Antonio Gates” type TE. Bennett is young, so if he can find his way in the league soon the Cowboys should be set at TE.

Defensive Lineman
TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersB.J. RajiDT242009Packers19
PackersCullen JenkinsDE292003PackersUFA-
PackersRyan PickettDT312001Rams129
PackersC.J. WilsonDE232010Packers7230
SteelersZiggy HoodDE232009Steelers132
SteelersCasey HamptonDT332001Steelers119
SteelersBrett KeiselDE322002Steelers7242
CowboysStephen BowenDE262006CowboysUFA-
CowboysJay RatliffDT292005Cowboys7224
CowboysIgor OlshanskyDE282004Chargers235

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Packer Analysis: The Packers got a big boost in their defensive line when they drafted Raji #9 overall in 2009. Justin Harrell on the other hand has been one of the Packers few 1st Round draft disappointments. That being said, they could use an upgrade at the 3-4 end position even though it is not a critical need at this point.

Steeler Analysis: One of the best defensive lines in the game, when healthy, even though they are getting a little Grey in beard. Hampton and Keisel have done a good job anchoring the unit the past four years. They do need to add some depth and eventual starters through the draft in the offseason to secure longevityin the position.

Cowboy Analysis: Jay Ratliff has become the man to build around on the defensive front. Other than Stephen Bowen, the rest of the unit was uninspiring throughout 2010. Olshansky and Spears have both been the front runners for guys you wish could play up to their potential. The Cowboys have done a solid job drafting the postion overall recently but have yet to keep talented players on the roster. This year’s draft class is deep for defensive lineman in the 3-4, so the Cowboys should use a 1st or 2nd round pick to obtain a game changer for years to come.

TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersA.J. HawkILB272006Packers15
PackersDesmond BishopILB262007Packers6192
PackersClay MatthewsOLB242009Packers126
PackersErik WaldenOLB252008Cowboys6167
PackersFrank ZomboOLB232010PackersUFA-
PackersNick Barnett OLB292003Packers129
SteelersLaMarr WoodleyOLB262007Steelers246
SteelersJames HarrisonOLB322002SteelersUFA-
SteelersLawrence TimmonsILB242007Steelers115
SteelersJames FarriorILB361997Jets18
SteelersLarry FooteILB302002Steelers4128
CowboysDeMarcus WareOLB282005Cowboys111
CowboysAnthony SpencerOLB262007Cowboys126
CowboysVictor ButlerOLB232009Cowboys4110
CowboysBradie JamesILB302003Cowboys4103
CowboysKeith BrookingILB351998Falcons112
CowboysSean LeeILB242010Cowboys255

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Packer Analysis: The Packers bold move in trading up to go get Matthews in 2009 certainly paid off. Not to mention other 1st rounders AJ Hawk and Nick Barnett have cashed in on expectations. Also, the success of Zombo and Walden coming out of nowhere mid season to help this group through injury has been key. The Packers have done a great job acquiring starters and depth at this position that fit their system.

Steeler Analysis: The Steelers did a good job in drafting Timmons and Woodley in 2007. More importantly they did a great job by bringing players back to the organization they once let go in Harrison and Foote. Adding Farrior in free agency in 2002 was a great move by the organization. Lots of pieces came together to make one of the best groups in the game.

Cowboy Analysis: DeMarcus Ware might be the best draft pick the Cowboys have made since Troy Aikman or Emmitt Smith. It’s a good thing Bill Parcells didn’t get his way on draft day because Ware has been a monster. Anthony Spencer has been good, but he regressed in the 2010 season leaving the status of the 1st rounder boom or bust tag still up in the air. Keith Brooking was a nice addition in free agency and hopefully his heir, Sean Lee, will become a permanent fixture at the position. Lee had a decent rookie season but didn’t have any true moment of wowness. Luckily, he didn’t have any Bobby Carpenter moments either.


TeamPlayerPositionAgeDraft YearDraft TeamRoundPick
PackersSam ShieldsCB/KR232010PackersUFA-
PackersTramon WilliamsCB272006TexansUFA-
PackersCharles WoodsonCB341998Raiders14
PackersNick CollinsS272005Packers251
PackersCharlie PeprahS272006Giants5158
SteelersIke TaylorCB302003Steelers4125
SteelersBryant McFaddenCB292005Steelers262
SteelersWilliam GayCB262007Steelers5170
SteelersRyan ClarkS312002GiantsUFA-
SteelersTroy PolamaluS292003Steelers116
SteelersRyan MundyS252008Steelers6194
CowboysTerence NewmanCB322003Cowboys15
CowboysMike JenkinsCB252008Cowboys125
CowboysOrlando ScandrickCB232008Cowboys5143
CowboysGerald SensabaughS272005Jaguars5157
CowboysAlan BallS252007Cowboys7237
CowboysBrian McCannS/KR232010CowboysUFA-

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Packer Analysis: The Packers signed Charles Woodson as a FA prior to the 2006 season, one of their few big free agent signings in recent years. What a homerun that was, huh? With the emergence of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields from the scrap heaps, the Packers have been very lucky to score UFA’s that are having such an impact. The secondary is no longer an issue for the Packers compared to the past few years.

Steeler Analysis: The success of the Steelers secondary lives and dies by the health of Troy Polamalu, who was drafted in the 1st Round in 2003. Key free agent (re)acquisitions, Clark and McFadden, have rounded out the secondary in which is the weak spot on this Steelers team. Overall, other than Polamalu, it’s a very average unit that could use top end talent from the 2011 NFL draft to improve for the long haul.

Cowboy Analysis: Terence Newman, drafted #5 overall in 2003, has been good at times but not played to the dominating level his draft status and contracts say he should. The other 1st Round talent, Mike Jenkins, took a huge step back in the 2010 season and the Cowboys need him to turn it around in 2011 as he will most likely be the centerpiece of the secondary going forward. Sensabaugh and Ball are both projected to be replaced after lackluster performances in 2010. Dallas has really struggled to draft top end players for their system over the years. There are a lot of holes to fill in this unit in the off season.

Building through the draft has been the common mantra of this year’s Super Bowl contenders. Percentage of top 30 players (2010 season) drafted by each team is as follows: Steelers (83.33%), Packers (80%, which could’ve been 90% without injuries), and Cowboys (73.33%). These all seem fairly close and respectable, especially with the league average being in the mid 60th percentile. This leaves the rest of the players to be acquired by free agency or trade.

The real trick to being a successful organization is acquiring players for the right price and having them perform at similar levels to that value on the field (For Example, a 1st Rounder should play like a Pro Bowler). If you briefly compare draft acquisitions, it would seem that the Packer and Steelers picks are out performing the Cowboys based on the value of where they were selected. In comparison to the Steelers and Packers, the Cowboys also are strapped to numerous key players they acquired that are performing under their monetary value.

The top 5 franchises from 2000-2010 based on W-L records were the Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, and Packers respectively. These fives teams have represented 45% of the teams playing in the Super Bowl the past decade. Rarely, if ever, will you see ownership in these organizations overpay for players with money or draft picks. The mantra of all five of these franchises-build through the draft and it seems to be a proven winner if you do it right.

Adam Rosen

1 comment:

K5 said...

Nice article, did an excellent job creating some insight. Glad to see also that we don't do as bad on drafts as my perception was.

Thank you for your time putting this together