Could the Colts have done better than Tony Ugoh in '07?

With the news of 2007's 9th pick, DE Jamaal Anderson, in danger of missing the cut with the FalconsPro Football Talk noted that a significant portion of the class of 2007 has failed to measure up at the end of the customary 3-year (minimum) "wait to judge" period. Though PFT didn't dig past the first round, it's makes sense to ask, "could the Colts have done better?" before labeling Ugoh a bust, mistake or disappointment. 

To answer this we need to get a feel for what would be "better", and then examine both the picks following Ugoh in 2007 and who would have been available to the Colts if they had kept their 2008 first round pick.

Personally I believe that Ugoh's contributions in 2007 and 2008 were vital to the teams success. While Charlie Johnson has stepped in at LT surprisingly well this past year, CJ's performance in 2007 and 2008 is the reason it was surprising. CJ struggled at both tackle spots in spot start duty. The roles that increasing experience and settling down into a single position had relative to each other is debatable, but I doubt we'd have too much disagreement that the coaches choice to play Ugoh over CJ in 07/08 and the generally accepted to be superior performance of Ugoh in those seasons is solid evidence that Ugoh was the best the Colts had at LT for those years  (just look at Mike Pollak and Kyle DeVan for an example of how the Colts handled a starter getting outplayed by his backup).

So Ugoh contributed 2 years of LT play, that was, at worst the best the Colts could do with their roster, and in my mind usually acceptable. Throw in some passable work spot starting and the potential to contribute on the interior this year and/or beyond, and we can place Ugoh well clear of the bust territory inhabited by the JaMarcus Russel's and Vernon Gholston's from Ugoh's same draft class.

Ugoh put forward two starting seasons of work, and has future potential. So, what players available after him in 2007 have a similar or superior body of work? I'll use PFR's approximate value system, while anything as ambitious as summing up a player's contributions into a single number that is comparable across positions will have flaws (and plenty of them), it works plenty well enough to pick out players who have shown something this far in their career.

Ugoh's first 3 seasons were valued by the system at 16 points of AV. Abstract, yeah, so for comparison the class is currently led by Patrick Willis, with 45. JaMarcus Russel accumulated 8 points worth, and the 1st round bottoms out with Justin Harrell and Jarvis Moss both at 2. Other top 50 picks coming in between 15 and 17 AV from that class are Reggie Nelson, Ted Ginn Jr, Amobi Okoye, Ben Grubbs, Greg Olsen, Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Meriweather, Joe Staley, Eric Weddle, Justin Blalock, Chris Houston and Paul Posluszny I would characterize them as contributing disappointments, steady but unspectacular role players, or injury hampered high talents.

So Ugoh has plenty of peers as far as performance to date goes, but was there anyone clearly better available?

6 players taken after Ugoh have made a Pro Bowl. One as a kicker, another as a ST coverage player, so we'll discount them as unworthy of an early 2nd round pick. The 4 remaining:

 

  • Sidney Rice, Pick #44, basically just a big endzone target for 2 years (46 rec, 8 TDs) then broke out for 1,312 yards on 83 receptions with 8 TDs last year.
  • LaMarr Woodley, pick #46, 106 tackles, 29 sacks, 1 INT, 2 years as starter, 1 Pro Bowl
  • Ryan Kalil, pick #59, 2 years starting center for Carolina, Pro Bowl invite last year.
  • LeRon McClain, pick #137, FB/RB hybrid. 1,400 career yards, 14 career TDs.
In addition, AV rates Tanard Jackson, pick #106, a 3 year starter at Safety for Tampa, solidly above Ugoh at 24 AV.

While LaMarr Woodley would have be quite nice to have in recent years, there are few players with a strong case to have been taken over Ugoh once the Colts moved up into the early 2nd round of the 07 draft. How about before they moved up?

To be fair, this analysis is much more guilty of 20/20 hindsight, but if the Colts had stood pat, what could they have gotten with that pick (assuming they were able to cobble together good enough LT play from other sources)?

After the 29th pick (SF via Indy), two players were taken that have made a Pro Bowl already. WR DeSean Jackson was taken 49th, and RB Ray Rice was taken 55th. Also topping 20 AV in just 2 years is RB Matt Forte. Jackson seems a bit unnecessary given that Wayne was in his prime, Gonzalez was coming off an excellent year and even though Marvin's career was basically dead, no one knew it yet. Forte and Rice look quite attractive though.

So I think most of us, in a vacuum, would rather have Woodley, Forte or Rice than Ugoh, but the problem is, where do they get a LT? Unless you think that all CJ needed was to be installed as the full time starter, even back in 2007, to become a starting caliber LT (a position the organization clearly didn't buy), then any other move would have left the Colts with a gaping hole on Peyton's blindside.

No one, taken after pick #42 in 2007 or pick #29 in 2008 started over half a season at LT in 07 or 08 and just one has done it at all ('07 pick Jermon Bushrod started most last year, after playing just 3 games between 07 and 08). While you would want to get more out of a first round pick, trading up for Tony Ugoh seems like the only plausible way for the Colts to have gotten competent LT play in 07 and 08. A 1st round pick for a stopgap and maybe some starting caliber guard play is a steep price, but without sacrificing that 2008 1st rounder the Colts might not have been able to stay in contention.


While there were some players available who might have been preferable to have in a vacuum. Trading up for Ugoh seems to have been the only way for the Colts to get even passable LT play in 07 and 08 without giving more picks to trade up further, or massively overpaying a free agent LT.
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