Moala Mail

From the 18to88 inbox today:

I don’t know if you guys have addressed Fili Moala’s “absence” from the field last year, but what is the deal with this guy?  Conventional wisdom has the Colts drafting another DT but I thought Fili was the athletic DT that we were looking for so why draft another?  I would like to send Mr. Moala back to USC and get our money for this bum.  Your thoughts, if any, would be appreciated.  Thanks.

Bill

Thanks for the email, Bill.  This is a great topic both in specific (Moala) and in general (draft expectations).  There are several issues at work here that need to be discussed.

1.  Ignore “conventional wisdom” when it comes to who the Colts will draft.  Indy will take the best available player.  In this case, the conventional wisdom is based on outsiders opinions of the Colts DTs, not based on anything the team has indicated.  The Colts still don’t have a ‘Warren Sapp’ who can pressure the pocket from the middle of the field, so draftniks (desperate for something to write about) will keep guessing the Colts are looking for a DT.  You can’t take that seriously.  Most of it has to do with the Colts cutting Raheem Brock.  Draft guys just look at who left and assume the team needs to replace them.

2.  Even if the Colts are looking for a DT, it doesn’t mean that Moala is a bust.  You need at least four DTs to play in rotation, so it’s always a position teams are trying to stock with quality players.  Even if Moala had been a Pro Bowl player last year, the Colts could STILL be looking for a DT.

Now, let’s address the second part of the equation.   Is Moala a bust?

  • First, you brought up the issue of money.  Moala had a signing bonus of $1.14 million ($285K a year if he lasts 4 years), and makes a base number of $310 K.  His yearly cap number comes to $595 K last year and $680K this year.  That’s hardly a large investment.  Money is not an issue here.
  • Second, there is the investment of a second round pick.  Let’s look at the Colts 2nd round picks this decade to see how much they played in their rookie years:

2000 Marcus Washington LB-His rookie year he started 0 games, posting 7 tackles, 2 sacks and a pick.  He did play in all 16 games.  He went on to become a Pro Bowler later in his career with the Redskins.

2001 Idrees Bashir S-Played 15 games as a rookie, starting all of them.  He picked off one pass and had 53 tackles.  He lasted four years with the Colts.

2002 Larry Tripplett DT-He played in 13 games as a rookie starting 10.  He had 18 tackles.  He played four seasons for the Colts, never registering more than four sacks.

2003 Mike Doss S-Started 15 games as a rookie.  1 pick and 75 tackles.  He played four seasons with the Colts, posting 7 ints for his career.

2004 Bob Sanders S-Started 4 games as a rookie.  He posted 29 tackles.

2005 Kelvin Hayden-Had no starts and just 18 tackles as a rookie.

2006 Tim Jennings-No starts, 7 tackles, and just 11 games as a rookie.

2007 Tony Ugoh-Started 11 games, generally playing well (until the playoffs).  Ironically, he had maybe the best rookie season of anyone on this list, and is now viewed as the biggest bust.

2008 Mike Pollak-Started 13 games his rookie year, but lost his job in the second year.

2009 Fili Moala-Appeared in five games with four tackles.

I would say that by looking at this list, it’s hard to draw accurate conclusions (good or bad) about a second round pick after his rookie year.  Bob Sanders and Kelvin Hayden would have looked like serious busts after year one. Tony Ugoh looked like a potential fixture at left tackle.  The point is that it is foolish to apply a tag like “bust” on a player after just one season.  Moreover, we should all be realistic about what kind of player is available in the second round.  Most of these guys could be best described as ‘solid starters for a few years’ with the notable exception of Bob Sanders who only dropped to round two due to injury concerns.  The ceiling for Moala is probably reliable starter.  Franchise DTs just don’t fall to the second round very often.  Remember that people once considered Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney to be busts.  The biggest mistake a fan can make is to assume a guy is no good just because of a difficult rookie year.

  • Now, let’s look at the specific issue of Moala and why he didn’t play more in 2009.  First of all, everyone’s expectation that he would become an instant starter simply never jived with what was known of him before hand.  He was always likely to be a project for at least a year.  He has a prototypical DT body, but the Colts system was wholly different than what he was used to at USC.  Coming out of the draft he was considered ‘unpolished’. That’s a code word meaning, “will require a lot of coaching”.

In other words, it was never realistic to expect this guy to be a major force in 2009.  This was a case of fans getting over excited about a guy and then getting disappointed when he failed to meet their completely unrealistic expectations.

Now, might he be a bust?  Sure.  If he doesn’t make the team this year or fails to see significant playing time in 2010, then it’s fair to start asking the question.  The truth is that the Colts’ DTs played fairly well in 2009 and are no longer the trouble spot they were two seasons ago.  I’d say the fact that he couldn’t find a spot in the rotation is a testament to the Johnson boys and Foster.  The Colts have parted ways with Raheem Brock, so there is an open spot in the rotation.  Moala needs to step up and claim it.

In summary, Moala is a cautionary tale for every fan who hyperventilates during draft season.  Most guys are projects.  Outside of the first round, you are lucky if you draft a rookie starter, especially if you have a good team to begin with.  Let’s wait at least two years before we throw around words like ‘bust’ or ‘bum’ with a player.  I hope the Colts upgrade a position or two in draft next month, but for most guys it will take a couple of years before we know what we have.  Moala could be the next ‘Garcon’ for all we know.

If we have unfair expectations, we’ll draw inaccurate conclusions.

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