Duckett is Here
By: Stephen Zorio 
Posted: 2006-08-24
Category: Washington Redskins News
In sports, every trade comes with questions, but only one really matters: did the team improve?

For the Washington Redskins, who sent draft picks to the Denver Broncos in a three-way trade for running back TJ Duckett, the answer is yes.

At first glance, his numbers are less than impressive. Last year, Duckett rushed for a paltry 380 yards on 121 attempts, below his career average of a little over 540 yards a season.

His best season, in terms of yards gained, came in 2003 when he rushed for 779 yards. Those are not exactly gaudy numbers.

So why trade away draft picks? First, Duckett’s yardage numbers were depressed as he largely played the role of backup/change-of-pace for Falcons starter Warrick Dunn.

Ideally, he will play a similar role for the Redskins but may start should the preseason injury suffered by Clinton Portis force him to the sidelines.

So in one move the Redskins have added quality depth at a position that is crucial to their success on offense.

But Duckett provides more than just depth. His 6 foot 254 pound frame provides the bruising goal line/short yardage threat the Redskins have lacked in recent years.

Duckett had eight rushing touchdowns last season and 100% of those came from within the opponent’s 20-yard line. Additionally, Duckett has fumbled only twice in each of the past two seasons.

Duckett’s commitment to blocking has been questioned and he’ll need to demonstrate an ability to do just that when called on. To his benefit, Duckett is inheriting the finest coaching staff in the NFL.

Additionally, Duckett’s character has been lauded across-the-board and character is something Coach Gibbs emphasizes. The plaudits mean the Redskins add yet another positive locker room presence.

What does this mean for Ladell Betts? That remains to be seen; Gibbs reaffirmed the team’s commitment to both Betts and Rock Cartwright in his press conference today.

But clearly, there are a finite number of players who can touch the ball so it will be up to Betts to prove he can stay healthy and be productive.

There is probably still some consternation over the Redskins seemingly annual sacrifice of draft picks. That’s not totally unjustified: fans rightly see a value in the draft and in draft picks.

However, in order for something to have value, we must have a method of assessing that value. It would be foolish to assume the Redskins considered this trade without assigning a weight to each of the components.

Among fans, there is a tendency to overvalue draft picks, especially those in the later rounds. Go back and look at the players drafted in the third and fourth rounds in 2003 and 2004.

For our purposes, look at the running backs taken in those rounds … 2003 features such notable names as Musa Smith, Chris Brown and Justin Fargas.

Additionally, outside of those backs, look at the other players on the list. How many of them have had careers of note relative to Duckett? Yes, there are a number of diamonds in the rough (including Chris Cooley) but of the nearly 70 players selected, it’s mostly rough.

It’s important to understand that not only do the Redskins know who went at these spots; they know the value of those spots. They know the odds that they will find a Duckett-like player drop dramatically for every pick outside the first and second round.
The likelihood that a team will find a caliber of back such as Duckett in the later rounds is minimal. The complaint is often one of “well, the draft provides depth” but if in trading for Duckett, the Redskins did just that, then the point is moot. To put it more succinctly, the chances of finding even decent backups (especially at the skill positions) in the later rounds is minimal.

To be clear, this is not intended to be dismissive of the draft as a whole so much as it is to say the draft is, inherently, uncertain. When you can opt for certainty and track record (plus youth and character) over an unknown draft pick, that’s a comfort most teams will (or at least should) opt for.

If the draft were such a constant wellspring of youthful talent, wouldn’t teams dump aging players year after year in order to restock on cheaper labor?

Duckett was available now and the Redskins are trying to win now. His presence may not guarantee a winning season but it makes it that much more likely.

-Stephen Zorio
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