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Titans help prove draft grades are bogus

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Michael Silver will not have a Live Trippin' session Tuesday. Live Trippin' will return Dec. 30.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Of all the things about 21st century NFL coverage that drive me insane – reactionary proclamations of a team's demise or Super Bowl destiny that shift from week to week; an unnerving overemphasis on stats, down to a quarterback's per-quarter passer rating; the utter abuse of the word "ironic" – the most annoying trend of all is the pervasiveness of instant draft analysis.

Here's how it works: A few days after the Super Bowl, writers and talking heads who devote their autumns to watching pro football suddenly start fronting as experts on the college game. Based largely on the intentional misinformation being spread by team officials, as well as the confident cackling of draftniks like Mel Kiper Jr., the faux experts, via clever devices like the mock draft, form a consensus as to which players should go in what order.

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Johnson figures to get strong consideration for offensive rookie of the year.
(US Presswire/Fernando Medina)

Then the actual draft takes place, and the same faux experts assign grades to each team based on the selections it just made. If a team picks players that were rated highly by the writers and analysts going into the draft, it gets a good grade. If a team chooses players that didn't get as much collective attention, it gets a lousy grade.

To show you how ridiculous all of this is, I bring you the 2008 Titans. I'm not saying the Titans' haul from last spring's draft was definitively glorious – it takes three years, minimum, to do a proper evaluation. But at this point, I think we've seen enough to conclude that the people in their war room might not have spent that weekend playing Guitar Hero III and throwing darts at the draft board.

"Our draft grades were C-minuses and Ds," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said after Sunday's 31-14 victory over the Steelers at LP Field, which gave Tennessee (13-2) home-field advantage in the AFC. "It started with C.J. – they said he was a 'reach' – and continued from there."

C.J. is Chris Johnson, the ultra-swift East Carolina halfback that the Titans selected with the 24th overall pick. With 1,228 yards on 251 carries (4.9 average), he has been the NFL's second-most impressive rookie behind preternaturally proficient Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

Analysts were also skeptical of defensive linemen Jason Jones (second round) and William Hayes (fourth round), who drew the interest of reporters after Sunday's game because they helped key a relentless assault on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Jones, in particular, was a hot topic. Filling in for injured star Albert Haynesworth, Jones had 3½ sacks and forced three fumbles, numbers which most draft analysts probably would have wagered he wouldn't achieve this season.

An undersized (6-foot-5, 277 pounds) defensive tackle from Eastern Michigan, Jones was projected as an NFL defensive end. But the Titans decided in training camp they liked him better at tackle, and as he said after Sunday's game, "You could say I'm light, but it's all about heart."

In fairness, no scout, coach or front-office executive can ever be certain about a prospect's drive and other intangible qualities. However, the successful ones can tune out the noise and make their own evaluations and project how a player will perform in their team's system – and the best general managers are the ones with the guts and conviction to trust those judgments.

For the Titans, that means general manager Mike Reinfeldt and Fisher lean on the assessments of their scouts and assistant coaches, as well as their own instincts, and attempt to stay true to a philosophy. In this case, that philosophy is paying off in ways that few outsiders could have predicted.

"We know who we are," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, soon to be a hot head-coaching prospect, said after Sunday's game. "We have a system. You have to give Mike Reinfeldt a lot of credit. This team is not built to say, 'Hey, we'll be good as long as we don't get any injuries.' This team is built to say, 'When we get injuries, we'll still be good, because we have the depth to withstand them.'

"That's why we drafted [Jones and Hayes]. When we did, there were a lot of people that kind of looked at us sideways. But we knew what we were looking for."

That's a big reason you'll find the Titans, a team which has relied on its backup quarterback since the second half of the season opener, back atop our soon-to-be-shrinking list of very scary queries.

By the time you reach the bottom-feeders, your eyes are likely to be rolling back in your head. You know, the way mine do when I see a list of team-by-team grades a few hours after the draft.

1. Tennessee Titans: Has there been a bigger play this season than that ball-dislodging smash of Roethlisberger near the goal line by Jones and David Thornton on Sunday?

2. New York Giants: Is Eli Manning waiting to open a new electric razor for Christmas, or is he planning well in advance to be a Macy's Santa for 2009?

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: As payback for the Titans stomping on the Terrible Towel, will the Steelers celebrate their next victory over Tennessee by smashing Johnny Cash records?

4. Carolina Panthers: Other than Adrian Peterson, is there any back you'd rather have on your team heading into the playoffs than DeAngelo Williams?

5. Indianapolis Colts: How excruciatingly exhibition-like will their game with the Titans be on Sunday – and aren't you at least semi-interested in that impending Jim Sorgi-Vince Young duel?

6. Baltimore Ravens: When did Fabian Washington get so good – and might it have something to do with his leaving Oakland?

7. Dallas Cowboys: If these guys can't win in Philly, is Jason Garrett in greater danger of getting the boot than Wade Phillips?

8. Atlanta Falcons: Who's a more dependable retriever – fumble-snatching Justin Blalock or the late, great Ashley Whippet?

9. Miami Dolphins: Could Chad Pennington's guardian angel have set this up any better?

10. Minnesota Vikings: How convenient would it be for the Vikes if the Giants were coached by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich?

11. New England Patriots: Did the guy who jumped out of the stands to put a hit on Junior Seau add new meaning to the term "tackling dummy," or what?

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If Jake Plummer agreed to come out of retirement today, don't you get the feeling that Jon Gruden would start him Sunday?

13. Chicago Bears: Will Alex Brown ever buy a meal in the Windy City again?

14. Philadelphia Eagles: In pivotal situations like the end of Sunday's game against Washington, wouldn't it be nice if Donovan McNabb had a real go-to receiver?

15. Washington Redskins: Given that he told his players they needed some "emotional and attitudinal Viagra", does that make defensive coordinator Greg Blache a stand-up guy?

16. New York Jets: I know the guy's not perfect, but does Eric Mangini really deserve to be fired if this eminently flawed team falls just short of the playoffs (two years after guiding the Jets into the postseason)?

17. Arizona Cardinals: What's more unsightly in the snow – a Yeti camp after a chili cookout, or these guys?

18. San Diego Chargers: When Legedu Naanee starts making plays, is there any doubt that the playoffs are approaching?

19. Denver Broncos: Given the team's Spinal Tap drummer-like injury nightmare at halfback, does San Diego native Terrell Davis have one more game in him (before the Broncos spontaneously combust)?

20. New Orleans Saints: If they beat the Panthers on Sunday, will Falcons fans party like it's Mardi Gras?

21. Buffalo Bills: After ruining things for the Broncos, can they possibly spoil the Patriots' season too?

22. Houston Texans: Do they intentionally try to do the opposite of what we expect them to do?

23. San Francisco 49ers: In light of Mike Singletary's comment about what he wanted to do to Shaun Hill after the quarterback's third interception against the Rams, is there any way Latrell Sprewell could be coaxed out of retirement to feed his family as a high-priced Niners backup quarterback?

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: When Ray Lewis screams "Are my dogs in the house?" before Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium, how many of Jack Del Rio's players will start barking?

25. Green Bay Packers: After Monday night, have Vikings fans ever hated this team more?

26. Seattle Seahawks: Instead of serenading outgoing coach Mike Holmgren with "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" as he circled Qwest Field following Sunday's victory over the Jets, wouldn't this Green Day song have been more appropriate given the team's current state?

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Who stole the real Glenn Dorsey, and can the Chiefs find a way to bring him back for the 2009 season?

28. Oakland Raiders: How badly would Al Davis like to go to Tampa, watch his team eliminate Jon Gruden's Bucs from playoff contention and strut (or, more accurately, guide his walker) out of Raymond James Stadium?

29. Cincinnati Bengals: Might Cedric Benson really be a legitimate NFL back after all – and, with the possible exception of Marvin Lewis, did anyone see that coming a few months ago?

30. Cleveland Browns: How pathetic is your team when someone on the Bengals calls you quitters?

31. St. Louis Rams: Fired after 27 years with the Rams, will Jay Zygmunt ask the Vikings' owner to hire him based on name recognition?

32. Detroit Lions: Given defensive tackle Shaun Cody's proclamation that only the team's "true NFL players" will show up for Sunday's season finale at Green Bay, does that mean coach Rod Marinelli will be petitioning the league to allow the Lions to play eight-man football?

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