Saturday, January 22, 2011

Top 25 Players: #19-#18

Back to the list this morning, and four real fan favorites are coming up starting today.

Following on the theme of Tulane’s regional independent era, the terrible death of that era gave Tulane the Tommy Bowden regime. Bowden circumvented Southern Mississippi’s power game as C-USA dominant style with the offensive circus we have today. He took C-USA’s surplus resources: smaller, yet still speedy skill players and distribution quarterbacks. He exploited C-USA’s great weakness: lack of DBs. And the League became a manic exercise in scoring the ball- overwhelming the defensive secondary with quality receiving options and very heady quarterback play. The rein of Shaun King and Dave Ragone was at hand.

This list is very insightful (pan down a bit)- the first all-decade team for C-USA (1995-2004). Note the defense- not a single defense back! Further, and not to pick on Israel Route- but the guy was an all C-USA corner. He wasn’t bad exactly- particularly in the context of C-USA. But he is living proof that there has simply not been a whole lot of viable defensive backs in this league for fifteen years.

Today’s two additions were explosive part and parcel of that trend.

19. Lynaris Elpheage, CB (2000-2002)

Along with Lester Ricard and Tony Converse, Elpheage was the great hope of Tulane athletics. A guy who, at first glance, screamed top 100 NFL pick- but due to a deficiency sort of blazed out.

Elpheage was a brilliant, blazing talent- absolutely tailored to the C-USA experiment (first team all C-USA 2002). It was hard for defenses to make routine stops versus the go-go offenses. Without a negative play from scrimmage, it was very hard to stop King and Ragone for three downs. So thye League's defenses became big defensive play seeking engines: interceptions, sacks, tackles for losses. Players who could create these things, generate the fear of these things, and score on defense, became the vogue defensive asset.

And that was Lynaris Elpheage. He generated big plays. He was capable of flipping a game at any time. He generated fear.

I think he is still the only player in NCAA history to score touchdowns off a rush (first play of his career), kickoff return, a punt return, a fumble return, and an interception return. He was a marvel with the ball in his hands- particularly in the broken field of any sort of return. His MVP of the Hawai'i Bowl was driven by a huge third quarter return.

He also was a ball hawk: interceptions (14 career, second all time for Tulane), passes defended (49-Tulane career record), tackles (a “very good for a corner” 68 tackles in 2002, 59 in 2001), fumbles (two forced in 2002- again, great for a cornerback).

Yet, I used to have enormous arguments with the denizens of back in 2002 when I would write that Elpheage would not be drafted. Elpheage brought all this great exciting stuff to the table- but he had one problem. He couldn’t really cover people.

Which, of course, is a real problem at the next level. He was small (listed at 5’ 9”), could be bullied, couldn’t play press coverages or any sort of physical play really (oddly though, he was a good tackler). All those passes defended were emblematic of a problem; teams were absolutely not afraid to throw at him- particularly slants and possession style routes. He couldn’t even project to a nickel corner in the NFL. Normally lacking raw speed, nickel guys absolutely have to cover slot receivers running possession routes. Lacking situational DB skills, there wasn’t enough to even get him a job on special teams.

But he was wild fun at Tulane

18. Roydell Williams, WR (2000-2004)

Roydell Williams is the triumph of the C-USA offense that Bowden bequeathed. You want cartoon numbers, we got cartoon numbers here. And some might be a little shocked to not find him higher (ed. note: but a lot of real good players to go).

Hard to imagine anyone better designed to prosper in the early 2000s C-USA than Roydell Williams. Tall and lanky, brilliant route runner, high IQ player, great hands. His two pro weaknesses – a hair slow and “functional” strength- were not issues facing slow, undersized C-USA corners and safeties.

Add in some luck- matched up with big number quarterbacks Ramsey, Losman and Ricard- and the numbers get scary.

He had no weaknesses as a college wide receiver. None. First, he was a big play machine (three 70+ yard catches). Second, he was an outstanding possession and red zone target: 35 career TD receptions. Those 35 TDs are the most in both Tulane and C-USA history. Think about the great WRs in this offense friendly League- quite an accomplishment. Third, Williams brought a staggering consistency: third all-time receptions, second all-time reception yardage, twelve 100-yard receiving games.

The end result? All C-USA all four years he played: 1st team in 2003, 2004, 2nd team 2001, and all-frosh in 2000.

Ultimately, this is a hard call on Roydell. He is sort of a Phil Neikro sort of evaluation. He was great because of multiple good years, rather than any specific greatness? Plus, his numbers are goosed by the League and the quarterbacks throwing to him. My evaluation is that is he was a really good player in a great situation, rather than vice versa.

This is somewhat borne out by his checkered pro-career. A fourth round pick of Titans in 2005, he is still in the League with Washington after a hiatus (broke a finger and waived in 2009). But his pro career is a question of, again, a hair slow and functional strength- stuff he could “hide” at Tulane.

But Williams maximized the heck out of his talents at Tulane, just like Elpheage.