On Tuesday, the Oakland Raiders, in a move which made few headlines across the NFL, waived linebacker Aaron Curry.
The 4th overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft, Curry was traded from the Seahawks in October last year for only a 7th round pick and conditional 5th round pick in 2013 but, after little more than 12 months in the Bay Area, was once again deemed surplus to requirements.
It marks a remarkable fall from grace for the former Wake Forest product, who was considered by many to be the ‘safest’ prospect available in the ’09 draft. In fact, there was even much petitioning by fans, draftniks and media members alike for the Lions to select Curry at no. 1 overall, especially after his breath-taking performance at the combine.
Before he had even played a single snap in the NFL, it seemed Curry had already been pegged as a future Pro Bowler, yet now, just three years later, he finds himself unwanted and, for the moment, out of football.
Clearly, there is a lesson here – that being no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves, there really is no such thing as a verifiably ‘safe’ prospect. Granted, we can be confident that the likes of Andrew Luck or Matt Ryan for example possess all the tools to succeed in the NFL but, until we see such prospects begin to translate those attributes across at the highest level, we’re playing a very dangerous game by anointing them as future hall of famers before they’ve even suited up.
Curry wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last highly touted prospect to fall well short of expectations, such is the difficulty of the evaluation process. Nevertheless, his plight is by far one of the more puzzling, given how solid a prospect he appeared to virtually all within the draft industry.
I myself was certainly one of those who believed that Curry was indeed all but certain to enjoy at least a successful career in the NFL. Seeing him at Wake Forest, he was a truly dominant player, who stood out as a special prospect, both physically and mentally.
For the Demon Deacons, Curry played at strongside linebacker, where he would make pivotal stops in the run game, played the nine-technique and ripped off tackle’s blocks with immense burst. What’s more, he would frequently cover tight ends drop into coverage, essentially assuming the role of a rover-type safety on occasions. He could do it all, and well.
Curry appeared to be the complete package at linebacker and, when he was eventually drafted 4th overall by the Seahawks, no one doubted the team were getting a bona fide stud, who would star on their defense for years to come. Charitable acts of kindness like bringing a 12-year-old leukaemia patient along to the draft also helped to win over the affection of both the fans and the NFL media. By all accounts, Curry was destined for success. Just watch this old highlights video from before his senior year at Wake Forest and then try to tell me straight-faced that you aren’t impressed.
For one reason or another however, things simply never panned out. After two years of distinct mediocrity, Curry eventually wore out his welcome in Seattle, losing his starting role in week 2 of the 2011 season and never reclaiming it. At this point, the Seahawks had grown weary of the linebacker’s lack of production and were more than happy to ship him off to the Raiders for relative peanuts, content simply to have freed themselves of his lofty salary. It says a great deal that the 12th Man were even relatively pleased with the haul their team got in return.
The chance of a fresh start was there for Curry but things were not much different in Oakland however, where he again flattered to deceive, falling out of favour with the coaching staff shortly before the start of the 2012 season. When he was eventually released, earlier this week, the move did not even come as much of a surprise.
Certainly, it did not help Curry’s job stability that, as a former top five pick before the new CBA rules came in place, his salary represented such a significant amount ($5.08M in 2011) on team’s with major cap issues, even after restructuring his deal with both. With a player earning so much and showing such little production, no matter what their reputation or potential, there’s only so long they can be kept around.
Indeed, perhaps if Curry was an UDFA who only made league minimum he would still be in Seattle – sometimes the status that comes with being such a highly touted pick can be a player’s death sentence.
Given the hype surrounding the Dick Butkus award-winner at the time, I don’t believe you can be too harsh on the Seahawks for their selection of Curry. Nevertheless, one does have to wonder how wise it is in the modern day NFL to use a top five pick, perhaps even a top ten, to address a position which can be filled relatively easily compared to others.
There is no denying that a linebacker simply does not hold as much value as say defensive end or cornerback these days and many teams with a need at the position are now more than content to look to the later rounds when it comes to the draft process. The same debate arose around Luke Kuechly this year and no doubt it will surface again in 2013, with Manti Te’o set to be one of the most sought after prospects. Walterfootball in fact wrote an in-depth piece on the very subject in the run up to the 2009 draft, which certainly makes for interesting reading now.
Is this therefore a warning to any team drafting early who may be considering Te’o with their selection? Perhaps, perhaps not. The Notre Dame product is somewhat of a different case study to Curry, playing exclusively in the middle since 2010, though the two do possess fairly similar skillsets. One thing’s for certain, Te’o’s stock will be one of the mostly hotly debated topics by the time draft season rolls around and it’ll be truly fascinating to follow the narrative which develops around him.
The question we now have to ask ourselves of Curry is were we simply expecting too much of him? As with all high draft picks, I would argue that is almost certainly the case. Curry has been far from awful during his three and a half years in the league but neither has he played anywhere near the desired playmaking-level you would expect from a top five pick. Then again, it’s far from his fault he was so horrendously overdrafted and in that sense it seems harsh to label him a ‘bust’. However, for all intents and purposes, it’s difficult to see the former college star as anything else.
I do though believe that Curry can still make an impact in the NFL. Bizarrely, one of his main issues in the pros has been his weakness in pass coverage, a trait which seemed to be one of his main strengths whilst at Wake Forest.
That issue could be somewhat rectified if he were to find himself on a team which deployed more of a traditional 3-4, a system I always believed Curry could thrive in more than those he was a part of in Seattle or Oakland. Use him in a role similar to that which James Farrior played with the Steelers or which Derrick Johnson is currently prospering in with the Chiefs (both players who to begin with struggled to adapt to the speed of the NFL) and you may just start to get the best out of Curry. After all, as that old saying goes, one man’s trash could well be another’s treasure.