The King 500 (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday August 28, 2007 3:52PM; Updated: Wednesday August 29, 2007 11:29AM
Then, as I toured training camps this summer, I showed the list to G.M.'s and personnel men (six), coaches (four) and players (three). I asked each of them to list the most important positions, in order. Interestingly, Kansas City vice president Bill Kuharich was the only one to say he'd favor a franchise left tackle or pass rusher over a quarterback, unless that passer was Peyton Manning, or close to it. And Jets coach Eric Mangini picked quarterback, interior defensive lineman, left tackle, running back. "The game has changed," he said. "A disruptive tackle up the middle can collapse the pocket oftentimes quicker than the rusher coming around the edge."
As I crisscrossed America, getting input from those NFL sources, I kept reworking the list. Kuharich, for example, wanted me to move Seahawks tackle Walter Jones from 10 into the top five, thought I had Donovan McNabb way too low at 91 and felt I was too enamored of Drew Brees at 8. "But it's your list," he said. "The great thing about it is, it's not wrong." (I kept Jones at 10 and Brees at 8, but I moved McNabb up to 72 because a cacophony of voices told me he was too low.) I decided I wouldn't make a significant change unless at least two people whose judgment I trusted could make persuasive arguments. Most told me I was loony to have Rhodes ranked in the 20s and Bills tackle Jason Peters in the 30s. I believe Rhodes comes closest to Ed Reed (12), the best impact safety in the game, and I believe Peters, a converted tight end, will be an All-Pro within two years. So I wouldn't move them down even if Bill Belichick called and said, "Neither of those guys could make my team."
But I was swayed by the masses to make a few major shifts. Up: Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris (to 25), Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (to 81), Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (to 85). Down: oft-injured Colts safety Bob Sanders (to 196) and quarterback Michael Vick, who may next play football in 2010 (to 214).
Conclusions? I've got a few.
This is not a quarterback-rich league right now. Two thirds of the 32 teams aren't sure who their QB of the future is. Eighteen teams will start a passer who is in his first or second year in the lineup. The quality at the position -- consistent passers who've shown enough all-star ability to be considered franchise quarterbacks -- is frightfully low. Five years ago I'd have put 20 quarterbacks in the top 100. This year I have 12, and it was a stretch for Jay Cutler at 91 and Matt Leinart at 99, neither of whom has proved anything beyond being bright prospects. Is Matt Schaub the next Dan Pastorini or the next Cody Carlson? (Funny, though, how the final list is bookended by passers: Manning at 1 and Chris Simms at 500.)