Monday, September 14, 2009

Future All-Pros: How Hard Is It?

In September 1989, Sports Illustrated published an article by Dr. Z predicting the 1995 NFL All-Pro team. So, what I'm doing is pretty simple: looking at how good his picks were, and seeing how hard it would have been to predict the actual 1995 All-Pros.

Predicted DEs: Bruce Smith, BUF; Reggie White, PHI
Actual DEs: Bruce Smith, BUF; Reggie White, GB
Pretty easy, apparently, at least if you judge him only by the defensive ends. Both White and Smith were NFL stars in 1989 and Z expected they'd have enough in the tank at 34 and 32 to still be on top, and they did.

Predicted DTs: Jerome Brown, PHI; Marc Spindler, jr. at Pitt
Actual DTs: Chester McGlockton, OAK; John Randle, MIN
RIP, Jerome Brown, who was an outstanding DT for the Eagles before losing his life in a car accident in 1992. Spindler, predicted by Z at the first DT taken in '91, ended up a 3rd round pick in the 1990 draft, and played 10 games, 4 starts, for the Jets in 1995.

In September 1989, John Randle was entering his final year at Texas A&M-Kingsville, but would go undrafted in 1990. The Vikings signed him as an undrafted free agent, he made the team, had 9.5 sacks in 1991, and spent the decade as a disruptive, though unsound pass rusher from the DT position. The college player he should have taken was Chester McGlockton, then at Clemson, who would be a first round draft pick by the Raiders and have 7.5 sacks in 1995.

Predicted OLBs: Tim Harris, GB; Cornelius Bennett, BUF
Actual OLBs: Bryce Paup, BUF; Greg Lloyd, PIT
Lame, 3-4 OLBs. Harris must have looked like a comer, with 13.5 sacks in 1988 and another 19.5 in 1989, but dropped off. He did have 17 for the 49ers in 1992, but left for the Eagles the next year before returning to the 49ers. He had 4 sacks in 10 games in 1995, his last year. Bennett had been an All-Pro in 1988, but, while he had a number of good years, would never again reach that honor.

In 1989, Paup was entering his final year at Northern Iowa, after which he would be a 6th round pick by the Packers. He joined the Bills as a free agent before 1995 and led the NFL in sacks with 17.5. Greg Lloyd was already in the NFL in 1989, entering his 3rd year with the Steelers and would have 7 sacks in his first year as a starter. 1995 would be his third straight year as an All-Pro and member of one of the league's best defenses.

Predicted MLB: Percy Snow, sr. at Michigan State
Actual MLB: Ken Norton, SF
Snow would be a first round pick by the Chiefs in 1990, but per Wiki, wrecked his knee riding a moped in training camp in 1991 and was out of the NFL after 1993.

In 1989, Ken Norton Jr. was entering his second year in the NFL and first year as a starter after being a second round pick of the Cowboys in 1988.

Predicted CBs: Rod Woodson, PIT; Eric Thomas, CIN
Actual CBs: Eric Davis, SF; Aeneas Williams, ARI
Woodson ended up tearing his ACL in the first game of the 1995 season and missed the rest of the regular season, though he did return for the Super Bowl. He'd been an All-Pro in each of 1992-94, so it's not unreasonable to give it Z credit for this pick. He'd never make an All-Pro again as a CB, though he would at FS as a Raider in 2002. Thomas had made the Pro Bowl after 1988 thanks to 7 interceptions, but would never earn any postseason honors again. He appeared in 14 games for the Broncos in 1995 in his final NFL season.

Eric Davis fits the profile of guys Z missed-guys still in college at small schools. In this case, it was Jacksonville State, after which he'd be a 2nd round pick of the 49ers in 1990. Similarly, Aeneas Williams was at Southern, and would be a 3rd round pick of the Cardinals in 1991.

Predicted Ss: Bennie Blades, DET (SS); Mark Carrier, sr. at USC (FS)
Actuals Ss: Darren Woodson, DAL (SS); Merton Hanks, SF (FS)
Bennie Blades would start 16 games for the Lions in 1995, but never quite lived up to the promise he'd showed that led the Lions to make him the 3rd overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft out of Miami, only making 1 Pro Bowl. Carrier would be an instant splash, leading the NFL with 10 interceptions after being the 6th overall pick by the Bears in 1990, but again never reached the elite level of excellence.

One of the issues with picking All-Pro members six years out is that many of the picks, particularly in the second, are younger players. For instance, Darren Woodson would spend three more years at Arizona State before the Cowboys took him in the second round of the 1992 NFL draft. Similarly, Merton Hanks had two more years at Iowa before he was a 5th round pick by the 49ers in 1991.

Predicted WRs: Michael Irvin, DAL; Andre Hastings, sr. in high school
Actual WRs: Herman Moore, DET; Jerry Rice, SF
Irvin would be an All-Pro just once in his career, after leading the NFL in yards in 1991. He had an excellent year in 1995, setting career highs with 111 receptions, 1603 yards, and 10 TDs, but didn't make All-Pro. Andre Hastings would attend Georgia and be a 3rd round pick by the Steelers in 1993. He stepped into Rod Woodson's shoes as a punt returner in '95, and also had 48 receptions despite not starting any games.

For those of you who don't remember, Jerry Rice was an All-Pro in 1988 and would be in 1989, as well as every other year from 1986 to 1996 except 1991. In the fall of 1989, Moore would be at the University of Virginia, out of which he was the 10th pick in the 1991 draft by the Lions. He set an NFL record with 123 receptions in 1995 in the Lions' run-and-shoot attack, in case you're wondering how he beat out Irvin for All-Pro honors.

Predicted TE: Derek Brown, soph. at Notre Dame
Actual TE: Ben Coates, NE
Brown would end up a first round draft pick by the Giants in 1992, but never started for them and missed the entire 1995 season with a preseason injury. His only year as a starter would be 1996 for the Jaguars, during which he would have 17 of his 43 career receptions.

As to Coates, see what I said about the safeties and small colleges. Bledsoe's favorite target was a 5th round draft pick out of Livingstone in 1991. There are, in fact, two other players out of Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC.

Predicted OTs: Bruce Armstrong, NE; Paul Gruber, TB
Actual OTs: Willie Roaf, NO; Lomas Brown, DET
Armstrong really wasn't a bad choice; he'd earn one of his six Pro Bowl berths in 1995 and be named 1st team all-conference by Pro Football Weekly. Gruber was the 4th overall selection in the 1988 draft and would go on to start 183 games for Tampa before retiring after 1999, but never earned any real post-season honors.

In 1989, Lomas Brown was entering his 5th straight year as the Lions' left tackle. 1995 was his only year as an All-Pro, but he did make 7 straight Pro Bowls from 1990-96 blocking for Barry Sanders. Willie Roaf wouldn't be drafted until 1993 out of Louisiana Tech by the local Saints, but would quickly be recognized as among the league's best and 1995 would be his second All-Pro nod.

Predicted OGs: Tom Newberry, LARM; Ed King, soph. at Auburn
Acutal OGs: Randall McDaniel, MIN; Nate Newton, DAL
Newberry was entering his fourth year and was coming off being an All-Pro. He'd start 15 games as a Steeler in 1995, but he was 33 and it was his final year in the NFL. Ed King was a 2nd round pick by the Browns in 1991 and started 15 games each of his first two years, but only 2 in 1993, didn't play in 1994, and appeared in only a single game for the Saints in 1995.

In 1989, Newton, a former undrafted free agent, was entering his 4th year with the Cowboys, but wouldn't earn any leaguewide recognition until 1992. In retrospect, McDaniel seems like an obvious choice. A 1988 first round draft choice who started 14 games as a rookie, he'd make his first Pro Bowl following the 1989 season and his first All-Pro team after the 1990 season, and regular appearances thereafter.

Predicted C: Bob Whitfield, fr. at Stanford
Actual C: Dermontti Dawson, PIT
In his description of Whitfield, Z refers to him as a "converted tackle." Well, that proved to be his NFL position, and he started 16 games for the Falcons in 1995 as their left tackle. His sole postseason recognition came in the form of a Pro Bowl nod after the Falcons went 14-2 in 1998.

In 1989, Dawson (who would have a great shot at making the Hall of Fame if he wasn't a center) was another guy who fit the McDaniel-style profile. He was a second round pick in 1988, and 1989 was his first season as a starter. It took a while to earn any nods, but he did end up making 7 Pro Bowls and 6 All-Pro teams.

Predicted QB: Randall Cunningham, PHI
Actual QB: Brett Favre, GB
Ah, Randall, Randall, Randall. The "Ultimate Weapon" who never quite highlighted his talent. I'll probably be writing more about him in a week or two, so I won't say too much, only that his sole All-Pro nod came after he led the 1998 Vikings in a return from NFL oblivion.

I don't want to say much about Favre, so I'll note that he was a junior at Southern Miss and would be drafted by the Falcons in 1991.

Predicted RBs: Barry Sanders, DET; Rodney Hampton, jr. at Georgia
Actual RBs: Barry Sanders, DET; Emmitt Smith, DAL
Yay on Sanders; on Hampton v Smith, wrong SEC back who'd be a #1 pick in 1990.

Predicted K/P: Chris Gardocki, soph. at Clemson
Actual K/P: Morten Andersen, ATL (K); Darren Bennett, SD (P)
Well, a year off on Gardocki, who would be All-Pro as a punter in 1996. Minus the brief period of Michael Koenen, nobody has really tried a combined K/P since the Saints wasted a first round pick on Russell Erxleben. Andersen had made All-Pro teams in 1986 and '87. Had he called it, Darren Bennett would have been Z's greatest success, seeing as how he was an Australian who made his NFL debut as a 30 year old in 1995.

I don't really have much to say about this-Z's methodology was for the most part fairly reasonable, with the exceptions noted above. It would be an interesting exercise to pick the 2015 NFL All-Pro team, and I'm sure I'd make many of the same errors Z made. It's one of those tasks you could spend an awful lot of time on, or just pump and dump from looking at lists of recent high draft picks, All-Pro teams, and highly-rated college prospects. I'll have to consider it, but until then, I hope you enjoyed this little comparative retrospective.

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