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Notebook: Smart teams find their starters in the draft

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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NFL training camps don't begin until the end of July or, in the case of the New York Giants, who have the latest start in the league, Aug. 3. But with rookie symposium wrapped up this week and the offseason starting to wind down, it's important to note how successful teams stay successful. One way is by building with young talent taken in the draft.

My training camp schedule
Here's a list of teams I'll visit in August. I'll watch practice and talk with players and coaches to get a good idea of what teams should look like when the fall comes.

Aug. 1: New England Patriots
Aug. 3: New York Giants
Aug. 4: New York Jets
Aug. 5: Cleveland Browns
Aug. 6-7: Pittsburgh Steelers
Aug. 8: Hall of Fame enshrinement
Aug. 10: Carolina Panthers
Aug. 11: Atlanta Falcons
Aug. 12: Jacksonville Jaguars
Aug. 13: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Aug. 14: Miami Dolphins
Aug. 17: San Diego Chargers
Aug. 18: Arizona Cardinals
Aug. 19: Oakland Raiders
Aug. 20: San Francisco 49ers

Ask yourself this: How many current starters on your favorite team were drafted in April? Did you realize that the average number of home-grown draft picks scheduled to start in 2009 is 11 to 12 per team? That means about half of the starters on any given roster were drafted by the team with which they currently play.

Here are the top five and bottom five teams in terms of the number of home-grown players who will be starters in 2009.

Top five: Indianapolis Colts 17, Baltimore Ravens 16, Green Bay Packers 16, Pittsburgh Steelers 15, Buffalo Bills 15.

Bottom five: Washington Redskins 9, Denver Broncos 9, Cleveland Browns 9, Detroit Lions 10, Oakland Raiders 10.

When you draft your starters, they grow up in your system. As one Pittsburgh player told me, "We all know what it means to be a Steeler."

Bar set high for rookie quarterbacks ...

What happened last season -- when Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco took their respective teams to the playoffs -- doesn't happen very often. In fact, when I looked at the last 20 years, I discovered that two rookie starting quarterbacks had never before made the playoffs in the same season.

One rookie quarterback leading his team to the postseason? Sure, that has happened, but not as much as you might think. Ben Roethlisberger did it with the Steelers in 2004, and before that, in 1999, Shaun King did it with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But prior to King, you have to go all the way back to 1991, when Todd Marinovich was the then-Los Angeles Raiders' starting quarterback in the playoffs.

In 17 of the 20 seasons preceding the Ryan/Flacco run of 2008 -- which resulted in 59 completions in 115 attempts for 636 yards in four playoff games -- there were no rookie pass attempts in the postseason.

What does all that mean? Rookie quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (Lions), Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) and Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) are up against some mighty odds in their quests for the playoffs.

... and for rookie running backs

Last season, Houston's Steve Slaton, Chicago's Matt Forte and Tennessee's Chris Johnson each cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark, which was an impressive feat. In fact, it was a rare one. I had to go back to 2001 to find the last time that three rookie running backs went over 1,000 rushing yards (Chicago's Anthony Thomas, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Indianapolis' Dominic Rhodes did it that season).

In the five seasons after 2001, only one rookie per year broke the 1,000-yard mark, until Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch both did it in 2007. In the last two years, when teams supposedly have eschewed the one-back system for a two-back platoon, five rookies rushed for over 1,000 yards in their inaugural NFL seasons.

All eyes are on Knowshon Moreno (Broncos), Donald Brown (Colts), Chris "Beanie" Wells (Arizona Cardinals), LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles) and Shonn Greene (Jets) to live up to the Class of 2008, but history says just one or two players will rush for 1,000 yards or more. Which back will it be in 2009?

Interview of the week

Because of my daily Sirius radio show, I talk with players, coaches, front-office executives and, on occasion, even owners. This week, I have to say that I was very impressed with Eagles guard Shawn Andrews.

Andrews has struggled with depression, but he's well on his way to recovery. He talked with me about all the pressures he has dealt with since childhood, and, until recently, he tried to mask them. But after receiving a helping hand from Eagles coach Andy Reid and a few family members, Andrews said he feels ready to resume a healthy life -- and enjoy football.

As Andrews said, "Sometimes you don't miss the water until the well runs dry." The well was almost dry for Andrews. But now he's ready to play well next to his brother, recent Eagles addition Stacy Andrews, and college friend Jason Peters, who came to Philadelphia in a trade with Buffalo.

Shawn energized me when he talked about how positive he feels right now and how much he feels he can accomplish. Watch out for the Eagles this season.

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