By Bill Barnwell
The Dolphins trade of Chris Chambers this week was both surprising and not surprising. On one hand, rumors pegged Chambers as potential trade bait going back to training camp, where he failed to impress new head coach Cam Cameron. Chambers was also plying his trade for a 0-6 team about to undergo a difficult rebuilding process, the other side of which Chambers wouldn’t be likely to see. On the other hand, Chambers had been an important part of the Dolphins offense this year, and was rebounding back to at least mediocrity following a dire 2006.
The other surprising thing is that the Dolphins would make this deal considering what else they have at wide receiver. Marty Booker, much like Chambers, is a veteran with little value left to the Dolphins. Derek Hagan is a lanky receiver who struggles with drops. Greg Camarillo is, ironically, a San Diego castoff who followed Cameron to Miami, but the elephant in the room is the one least likely to make an impact this year – Ted Ginn.
The Ohio State product was Miami’s surprise first-round pick in the NFL Draft following a high-profile career at OSU, highlighted by a kickoff return in the BCS Championship Game that left him injured for several months with a foot concern. Ginn’s performance at school wasn’t particularly special; he caught 135 passes in three seasons, and averaged only 14.4 yards per catch, not a particularly high number for a deep threat. The problem is, though, that we don’t know much, if anything, about what college statistics and performance mean with regards to wide receivers. I did hypothesize earlier in the year that Big 10 wideouts might be underrated versus those from other divisions because of the propensity of Big 10 teams to run the ball, but that still requires more research.
Besides, people weren’t picking Ginn based upon his college performance, they were picking him based upon the possibility that he might be Devin Hester 2.0. Ginn’s return skills were dynamite, and that was best measured by, well, his measurables. While Ginn did not run at the combine because of his foot injury, the numbers provided by his school were pretty amazing, highlighted by a blazing 4.28 40 time.
The thing is, standardized measurements are a lot like the standardized tests you’ll take while preparing to go to college; they’re a useful indicator of a person’s relative intelligence, but by no means are they exact. Some players actually play much slower than their 40 time, as taken without pads or opponents, while others run just as fast regardless of the conditions.
Much like how we don’t have any idea of the correlation between receiver performance in college and the pros, though, we’re still in the dark about what relevance a good or bad combine has to future success. We can probably infer that a good combine is a better indicator of a good player than a bad one, but what parts mean more? Is 40 time the most important metric, or is it vertical leap?
What gets lost in the whole mess is that Ted Ginn’s not a particularly fantastic prospect when it comes to his measurables. Granted, a 4.28 40 is a great time; that being said, he’s not particularly large and the only other figure we have for him, his vertical leap, is downright mediocre. At 5’11” and with a 34.5” vertical leap and a 9’9” jump, Ginn’s not going to be able to get to the ball in traffic, meaning that unless one of those things change, he’s going to have to run past guys to get the ball as opposed to running around them.
The other interesting thing I discovered when doing research on Ginn and his combine numbers is something I reported in this year’s Pro Football Prospectus; namely, that Ginn’s measurables match up very well to a current NFL player.
The similarities between Ginn and Texans receiver Jerome Mathis are pretty remarkable. Their height, weight, 40 time, and vertical leap are pretty much exact duplicates of one another. The big difference is in the jump, where Mathis has nearly a foot on Ginn. While Mathis has made no impact on the Texans passing game, he was a Pro Bowl returner in his rookie season before missing most of 2006 with an injury.
The other NFL receivers on this list also have superior numbers to Ginn. Chambers had 25 pounds of bulk on Ginn, and was a freak athlete outside of his blazing speed. Santana Moss had more than a half-foot of vertical on Ginn, and likely represents the best possible career path Ginn could hope for. Tim Carter’s found it impossible to stay healthy, while Troy Williamson remains a bust now into his third season.
Furthermore, there’s no real indication that even a great returner is easily findable in the draft. Take a look at the last ten years of Pro Bowlers at the return spots. Only Charles Woodson and Eric Metcalf were first-round picks; while 2006 selectees Justin Miller and Hester were both second-round picks, most of the others were either undrafted free agents or Day Two picks.
Ginn’s been virtually nonexistent this season. He’s been a decent return man, if not a great one, but his role in the Miami offense has been reserve receiver. While that puts him ahead of Robert Meachem in the scheme of things, that’s no great shakes. It’s entirely impossible that Ginn could turn out to be a great receiver, but based upon all the data we have up to this point, there’s not much evidence pointing in his favor.