/sets Wayback Machine to April 2006
1 --- #1 Mario Williams DE NC State
2 --- #33 DeMeco Ryans LB Alabama
3 --- #65 Charles Spencer OG Pittsburgh
3 --- #66 Eric Winston OT Miami (FL)
4 --- #98 Owen Daniels TE Wisconsin
6 --- #170 Wali Lundy RB Virginia
7 --- #251 David Anderson WR Colorado St.
Depending on who in the mainstream sports media you asked, the Texans' 2006 draft was either terrible or merely bad at the top, but saved by some later picks. Either way, the conventional "wisdom" was that taking Mario Williams first overall, rather than Reggie Bush or Vince Young was THE WORST DRAFT DECISION IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD OMGWTFBBQ!!!!!one!!1! (I may be underselling that a tad. I apologize.)
Buy the ticket, take the jump, and allow me to pedantically explain where I am going with this.
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone other than Mario, his mama, and me who thought he was the right pick. You'd also find a lot of people who thought that getting Charles Spencer that late was the steal of the draft, that Wali Lundy had the size/speed/talent to be a very good NFL running back, and that David Anderson was unlikely to actually make the team.
You certainly would not have found anyone telling you that Reggie Bush was destined to be a glorified punt returner with a penchant for big butts and nagging injuries. Nor would you have found anyone saying that Vince Young was going to be a tequila-swilling headcase with a habit of shirtless dancing and crying on the sidelines.
Now, I get it: there's a natural human tendency to want to say that certain teams did better than others on draft day. Such is the nature of competitive sports that even something as wildly speculative as how a bunch of college kids will perform in the pros is turned into a competition unto itself. Sports journalists, many of whom are lazy and/or unoriginal, exploit this public desire and create extensive team-by-team draft grade cards, complete with explanations for why their grades make sense.
Except they rarely do. Any grade that is based on how some kid is going to perform at the next level is an exercise is futility, as bfd's string of draft successes and draft failures has shown time and time again. Any grade that is based on what that writer perceives to be a steal of a pick or (worse) a reach of a pick are similar dumb except in the most extreme cases (read: Kareem Jackson).
In fact, about the only aspect of a team's draft that I can see lending itself to a grade is the overall draft strategy. For instance, if the Texans had taken Dan Williams in the first last year because they were banking on Kareem Jackson being there in the second, and had they subsequently gotten Jackson, that would have been a very smart strategic play. Conversely, taking Kareem Jackson where they did because
Richard Smith Frank Bush had a mancrush on him? Not so much.
I realize that I am not breaking new ground here. On some level, anyone who cares enough about a team to frequent a blog and discuss minutiae in the comments knows that you can't grade a draft until you see how the players perform for a couple years, and you certainly cannot grade a specific draft pick beyond something amorphous like "I would have taken X instead because _____." So, come tonight, whether it is Robert Quinn (swoon!), Prince Amukamara, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, or Mike Kerns that gets drafted, the fact is any of those picks (other than Kerns) could wind up being an A+. Any of those picks (especially Mike Kerns) could wind up being an F-.
In fact, I'll take it one step further; if a team has a coherent draft strategy to address certain needs and they couple it with a coherent plan of attack for free agency, then as long as they stick with the draft strategy and get the kind of players they were targeting, it's hard to give them anything other than a good grade. Unless there are a lot of TEs involved, because, in that case, the strategy itself is asinine.
[Author's note: I don't mean to suggest that I am immune to this draft-grading disease. After all, I'm the guy who blamed Jesus for what I thought was a terrible selection in 2009. Even though many or most of my concerns about Cushing have not yet abated, I would be a fool to suggest that, in retrospect, I wasn't overreacting. That said, I am not a journalist, nor do I pretend to be one. I am a fan who happens to (occasionally) write things about his favorite team.]