National Football Authority

Seventh round draft picks seldom carve long careers in the NFL. They are dice rolls, fliers and high-variance prospects by design. Teams are incentivized to take risks, to think big because they’re not expected to glean any real value from that late-draft position anyway.

Safety Eric Hagg was supposed to be different—perhaps not at first, but definitely, as he inched closer towards his second year.

Selected with the 248th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Cleveland Browns, Hagg quickly stood out relative to the rest of the team’s secondary early on. It was surprising on many levels, but it also wasn’t out of nowhere.

His college career hinted that he might be able to stick at the NFL level. He spent four years at Nebraska, where he amassed a reputation as one of their most versatile and reliable defenders. In his senior season alone, he racked up 41 solo tackles and five interceptions through 14 games.

Though he never really made a name for himself as an interception threat through his first three years at Nebraska, his solo playmaking was almost always present. He combined for 59 solo tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons. His freshman year was a wash, as it can be for many collegiate players. He racked up five assisted tackles while playing minimal downs across seven appearances.

Given his consistency in the secondary when actually granted playing time, though, it came as little surprise to people at Nebraska when, in 2012, Hagg became the favorite to start in Cleveland. Injuries opened the door for him to become part of the defense’s regular rotation, but he was routinely outplaying then-No. 1 safety Usama Young, who had struggled with both his performance and injuries the year before.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances, and it led to Hagg getting real run during his second NFL season—a serious accomplishment for someone selected so late in the draft. He recorded 12 appearances that year, including four starts, through which he amassed 20 solo tackles and one QB hit.

The groundwork for an every-week player was there, even if he wasn’t necessarily starter’s material. Unfortunately, injuries began to derail his availability from there. He didn’t play in the 2013 NFL season, and though he latched onto the Denver Broncos in 2014, he never made it past their practice squad. Hagg retired from the NFL, officially, in July 2014.

None of which makes his story a cautionary tale. Again, for where Hagg was drafted, his track record is not unique. His career arc is more so evidence of just how hard it is for seventh-round draft picks to stick beyond their second season. They are guaranteed nothing entering the NFL.

Most, in fact, are guaranteed to see even less time than Hagg ultimately did.

June 20th, 2012

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The Seattle Seahawks have a lot of work to do over the offseason. They’re set on offense so long as Russell Wilson is under center, but they need to address needs at every imaginable level on the defensive end.

Though they’re not bone-thin in the secondary, that is where they figure to have the most territorial battles, both on the left and right side of the field. None of their main guys are free agents, and they’re expected to make a play for corners both in the draft and free agency.

Seattle’s right side cornerback rotation is headlined by Tre Flowers and Neiko Thorpe. Their left side rotation is topped by Shaquill Griffin and Akeem King. Of those four, Griffin is probably the safest after making a Pro Bowl for his work in the 2019 season. But that still leaves three spots in which they could stand to make upgrades. 

Flowers may be the most at risk. The Seahawks moved him from safety to corner after drafting him, and he’s kind of faded into the backdrop since. King and Thorpe are flight risks by default. They will be entering free agency, though they’re not considered primetime targets for teams around the league.

>Names to watch in the draft include Trevon Diggs, Jaylon Johnson or A.J. Terrell. The Seahawks don’t traditionally burn earlier draft picks on corners—they picked up Richard Sherman in the fifth round—and those are guys that could still be available when Seattle uses one of its three selections in the fourth and fifth rounds. 

As far as free agency goes, the Seahawks have a lot of options. They have a boatload of cap space entering the offseason; their spending power could rise near the $60 million markers. They can have their pick of the litter.

Depending on how much cash they’re willing to burn, they could take a look at Chris Harris Jr., a four-time Pro Bowler from the Denver Broncos. Bradley Roby from the Houston Texans and Bradley Jones from the Dallas Cowboys are also options, though both could be in the market for deals that run longer than Harris’s next contract.

If the Seahawks can pair Griffin in the secondary with another impact corner—Logan Ryan from the Tennessee Titans and James Bradberry from the Carolina Panthers are also in play—they’ll be in a position to field a much better defense next year. 

Dare we say, it might even be Super Bowl-caliber with such an addition.

June 20th, 2012

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The Green Bay Packers took a swing in 2012 NFL free agency, signing 30-year-old running back Cedric Benson to a fairly substantial contract ($825,000) with the hope that he could add a punch out of their backfield.

Investing in ball-carriers with seven years of experience is typically considered taboo. Running backs have some of the shortest shelf lives in the NFL, and Benson arrived in Green Bay with more than 1,500 career carries. The Packers were rolling the dice on his age-29 season with the Cincinnati Bengals, wherein he cleared 1,100 yards from scrimmage, including 1,067 on the ground, and racked up six touchdowns. 

Even in the context of this gamble, it was a borderline no-brainer move. The Packers employed a hodgepodge of talent in the backfield, most notably James Starks and Alex Green. Benson afforded them certain optionality they could use to leverage the play option around franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But the move never worked out. Benson suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his foot five games into the season and was deemed out for the year. He would never suit up in the NFL regular season again.

It’s a wonder that the Packers team finished 11-5 and won a playoff game at all. Injuries ripped through their backfield, hitting just about everyone. Green led the team in carries, with just 135. Three running backs, including Benson, churned through 70 carries and five finished with more than 30. 

Lesser issues have doomed better teams. The Packers just so happened to have one of the greatest playmakers in NFL history under center to get them by. They finished fifth in points per game despite all the instability in the backfield.

Knowing what we know now, some might be inclined to call the Benson signing a mistake. It doesn’t make sense to go that far. Serious injuries are both parts of the game and unpredictable. Benson wasn’t ineffective because he was older or run down; he was averaging an adequate 3.5 yards per carrying before his injury. He still had football left in the tank.

Signing him to help diversify the backfield was a winning decision. Had he stayed healthy, the Packers would’ve had another sturdy red zone option. Maybe they’re even more dangerous in the playoffs. We can’t be sure. 

We can, however, be certain of one thing: His tenure in Green Bay is one of the potential lost to injury, not a fundamental failure.

June 13th, 2012

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D.J. Williams is not a name many have heard of or thought about in a while. Chances are most didn’t pay him much attention even when he was in the NFL.

And that’s a shame.

Superstars are the players who receive the most shine. Part of being a superstar is getting recognition, though. That puts non-skill position players at an inherent disadvantage. Teams and the media always drum up quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends. On the defensive side, they’re more likely to highlight cornerbacks, safeties or defensive ends and linemen who rack up a ton of sacks.

In fact, other than offensive linemen, linebackers might be the NFL’s most underappreciated players in general. They don’t always have the interception, sack and tackle numbers to match other defensive positions, yet they arguably often have the toughest jobs.

Indeed, players in the secondary are tasked with covering lightning-quick receivers. And teams can also fall apart if they don’t have a strong pass rush on the defensive line. But linebackers, in most instances, are the quarterback of the defense. They set the tone by making calls at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, by calling audibles and by filling various responsibilities across the plane. They blitz, stop the run, break up passes and even sometimes venture out into the secondary.

This is not an easy job to master, particularly over a long period of time. But Williams did it well throughout his career, especially during his time with the Denver Broncos.

In his first eight years with the team, he only missed a total of eight games—and those absences came in two separate seasons. He also tallied an absurd 619 tackles, in addition to another 193 assisted tackles.

Denver has always had a reputation as a team that runs out gritty defenses. This held true for most of Williams’ tenure. He was a billboard for good health until he reached his age-30 season, and he vacillated between each of the three linebacker spots.

Despite placing in the top 10 of total tackles twice during his prime, Williams never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. Don’t bother trying to explain that. It is inexplicable—and further illustration of just how underappreciated he was, even at the height of his powers, when he was spearheading a top-shelf defense for what was a semi-consistent playoff team.

June 9th, 2012

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The Las Vegas Raiders have a lot of work to do before next season if they want to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2003. Nothing, though, is more important than figuring out the quarterback position.

It has become clear that Derek Carr will not develop into a superstar prospect. He has been too erratic over the past few years. Injuries could be at fault, but inconsistency at the quarterback is too damning.

All of which has the Raiders looking in another direction—specifically in NFL free agency. They have been linked to veterans Tom Brady and Andy Dalton, and some have even suggested they take a flier on a trade for Jacksonville Jaguars QB Nick Foles.

None of these options are super appealing. Brady is a big name, but he’s very clear on the downside. The same goes for Dalton and Foles. They are recognizable names, but their production no longer matches up with their reputation.

Holding onto Carr will be cheaper. He hasn’t been paid like a star quarterback, a la Jason Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. The Raiders can float him under center without breaking the bank.

Perhaps if there were a stellar QB in his prime on the open market, the team could go in a different direction. Even then, though, adding a big name who produces will be costly. Throwing the bag at someone doesn’t make much sense when the Raiders aren’t sure they have the ancillary pieces on offense to make the most out of whoever is under center for them.

Besides, Carr might be good enough. His arm strength is in question, but he just completed more than 70 percent of his passes while posting an interception rate comfortably below two. If the Raiders can put some more competent wide receivers around him, he’ll have a chance at piloting a league-average offense.

This isn’t to say the Raiders have to view Carr as their future. Again: He hasn’t built up the goodwill on the field to deserving the benefit of the doubt. But rather than spending big money on a free-agent quarterback who doesn’t really shift their outlook, they should be open to taking one in the upcoming NFL draft.

Most of the flashiest prospects will be gone by the time the Raiders get on the clock at No. 12. They also don’t have picks in the second or third round. But they do have two first-rounders. If someone doesn’t tickle their fancy at No. 12, they should be prepared to roll the dice on a QB prospect at No. 19.

June 3rd, 2012

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Running back Darren McFadden turned in a more than admirable NFL career. He played nearly 10 seasons, rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and was, at one time, billed as a future superstar. There is no shame in that resume.

And yet, McFadden once seemed like he’d become so much more.

Rewind it all the way back to the 2010 NFL regular season. The Oakland Raiders weren’t very good; they were more mediocre. That year ended with an 8-8 record. But McFadden developed into a major bright spot, the kind that would shift their fortunes. In just his third season, he carried the ball more than 213 times and racked up 1,1157 rushing yards to go with seven touchdowns. He also added another 500-plus yards and three touchdowns as a pass-catcher.

That type of offensive versatility was more uncommon back in 2010 than it is now. McFadden wasn’t quite an anomaly, but he was pretty damn close. He sported this combination of power and finesse; he was someone the Raiders could run through a brick wall once inside the red zone but also torch defenses when catching passes and juking in space.

Superstardom wasn’t just the hope at this time. It was McFadden’s consensus trajectory. But then the 2011 regular season rolled around, and everything changed.

McFadden suffered a Lisfranc foot injury during the Raiders’ seventh game of the year and missed the rest of the campaign. Though he entered 2012 training camp talking about how he was ready to regain his previous form, he never truly did.

That year, McFadden mustered just 707 yards on 216 attempts. Then, in 2013, he ran for just 379 yards on 114 attempts while appearing in just 10 games. While he played in all 16 games the following season, including 10 as a starter, he was not afforded serious volume. He finished with over 534 yards on a mere 155 rushing attempts.

Leaving the Raiders that summer proved to be the best thing for him. He landed with the Dallas Cowboys and went onto top 1,000 rushing yards for the second time in his career during the 2015 season. But the good vibes lasted only so long. Injuries limited him to just four appearances over the next four years. He’d play his last NFL down in the 2017 season.

Injuries are fickle in this way. One early-career setback ended up costing McFadden a world of momentum. He was never the same superstar prospect, and the Raiders never recovered from losing such a promising outlook.

June 3rd, 2012

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