Draft grades are inherently flawed, but we like them anyway. (I’m guilty, too. I did SI’s draft grades this year and found the process surprisingly fun.) The biggest gripe about draft grades is that nobody really knows how draft picks will develop, and so how can we grade them before we know what they’ve become?
That’s immensely fair, but it’s also just part of the issue. The 2014 draft—where we now do know what has become of the players—still has loads of unknowns that should factor into the team’s “grade.” For example:
• Do we grade a team down if a player has battled injuries?
• Do we grade a team up if, say, a sixth-round pick becomes a star? If the team knew that player would be a star, it would have picked him before the sixth.
• What if the player’s team lost guys at supporting positions? How do we grade the pick of a running back whose offensive line gets hurt or decimated by cap-saving moves in his second season?
If a player busts, how do we know it’s because he was a bad pick? What if he had bad coaching? What if someone else at his position overachieved and stole his practice reps? What if the coaching staff changed and the new staff’s scheme didn’t fit the player? What if the player all the sudden stopped working hard once he got rich—how much responsibility does the GM hold for that? Some, sure (the GM should have done his homework, right?). But certainly not all the responsibility. When a good player becomes a bad player, nine times out of 10 it’s the player’s fault, not the GM’s or head coach’s.
It’s impossible to consider all these factors and then assign a grade. So, what you see below is more an examination of how a draft turned out, as opposed to how it was conducted. With big moves in Rounds 1 and 2, we can play the woulda/coulda/shoulda game (demeriting the Bills for trading up to get Sammy Watkins in a draft that also had Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks, for example), but most of the woulda/coulda/shouldas will be left on the table, where they belong.
So, with those (many) caveats, here are grades on the 2014 NFL draft, thanks to some substantial help from hindsight.
Round 1 (27 overall). Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
2 (52). Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
3 (84). Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
3 (91). John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State
4 (120). Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
5 (160). Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
6 (196). Walt Powell, WR, Murray State
Deone Bucannon has been somewhat of a revolution, moving from safety to linebacker. “Smaller-but-faster” at that position can work in today’s NFL, where so many runs take place out of three-receiver sets, and where so many teams throw the ball on first and second down. Bucannon has not set the world on fire, but he’s had enough success to inspire the Rams to trade for Mark Barron, the Falcons to draft Deion Jones early in the second round and, most recently, the Steelers to take a big flyer on Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds late in the first round.
Troy Niklas battled injuries early on and never became a factor. Bruce Arians’ scheme wasn’t the most tight end-friendly, though if Niklas had been what they’d hoped, Arians would have found a role for him. Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson provided decent depth for a few years but never carved out distinct roles. John Brown did: deep threat. But after a tumultuous 2016 (health problems) and a quiet 2017, he’s now a Raven.
Round 1 (6 overall). Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
2 (37). Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
3 (68). Dezmen Southward, FS, Wisconsin
4 (103). Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
4 (139). Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame
5 (147). Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
5 (168). Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
7 (253). Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut
7 (255). Tyler Starr, LB, South Dakota
Three quality starters were found in this draft, though only one at the spot you’d expect: first-round pick Jake Matthews. His long-term contract after playing out this year’s fifth-year option will be an interesting one. Matthews is not consistent enough to be deemed elite, but he’s certainly reliable at what’s still a premium position. In many respects, he is a younger Nate Solder, who just signed with the Giants for $34.8 million guaranteed. The Falcons just spent $100 million guaranteed on Matt Ryan. Would they pay one-third of that on an insurance policy to protect him?
Devonta Freeman—one of the two surprising starters—recently had his own interesting contract situation, but it was solved with a five-year, $41.25 million deal, with $22 million guaranteed. Some would deem that a lot for a 26-year-old back, especially when some in the organization believe that his 25-year-old backup, Tevin Coleman, who has one year left on his cheap deal, is better. Freeman doesn’t quite have the size to be a true bellcow… would the Falcons invest another $20-plus million guaranteed to retain Coleman? Both bring valuable flexibility to the passing game, and, stylistically, they fit Atlanta’s outside zone scheme.
The third starter is Ricardo Allen, who was drafted as a cornerback and has become one of the league’s top dozen free safeties. That’s what Dezman Southward was supposed to be, but he never took, not even after moving to cornerback once head coach Dan Quinn came aboard. Ra’Shede Hageman also never quite took, despite outstanding size (including long arms) and flashes—but only flashes—of impressive initial quickness.
Prince Shembo came into the league with red flags after a highly publicized sexual assault accusation while at Notre Dame (Shembo was never charged; the school came under heavy criticism for its investigation of Shembo). He didn’t last after he was arrested for killing his girlfriend’s Yorkshire terrier in 2015. Shembo later, though not initially, asserted that it was a reaction to the small dog biting him; he also admitted to kicking the dog more than once. However it played out, the Falcons, you may recall, once had a player who was connected to dog abuse, and they weren’t going to let a lowly fourth-round backup drag them into that PR mess.
Overall, three really good starters, but not a lot else. And so you have a solid, but not spectacular, draft.
Round 1 (17 overall). C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
2 (48). Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
3 (79). Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
3 (99). Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State
4 (134). Brent Urban, DE, Virginia
4 (138). Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Coastal Carolina
5 (175). John Urschel, G, Penn State
6 (194). Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
7 (218). Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
Ozzie Newsome’s love for Alabama players paid off with C.J. Mosley. He’s not flawless, but he brings range and playmaking as a run defender and, perhaps more importantly, as a zone pass defender. He should be signed to a healthy second contract. Timmy Jernigan has also panned out, though more in Philly than Baltimore. The Ravens sent him to the Eagles last spring in exchange for advancing 25 spots in the third round. Overall, that’s not a great return, but one reason Jernigan became expendable is that some of Baltimore’s other defensive linemen, like Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, have overachieved. (When healthy, so has run-stopper Brent Urban, who was taken 86 spots behind Jernigan.) And it should be noted that none of the NFL’s defensive tackles taken after Pick 48 went on to become better than Jernigan.
Terrence Brooks did not overachieve—or even just “achieve.” He had chances to, given that 2013 first-rounder Matt Elam turned out a bust. Crockett Gillmore has teased at times, but there’s a reason the Ravens drafted a second-round tight end one year later (Maxx Williams) and, in 2018, took first- and third-round tight ends (Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews). Lorenzo Taliaferro and John Urschel had their moments and looked like value picks, but Taliaferro washed out of the league prior to the ’17 season, while Urschel retired to protect his health and study math at MIT.
Overall, this draft had a lot of good results, but those results were short-lived and never bore fruit at the same time.
Round 1 (4 overall). Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
2 (44). Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
3 (73). Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville
4 (109). Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
5 (153). Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
7 (221). Randell Johnson, LB, Florida Atlantic
7 (237). Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami (Fla.)
Sammy Watkins, at the time, was nearly the consensus best wideout in this draft, and Bills GM Doug Whaley, with a callow E.J. Manuel at QB, needed to buttress his 2013 second- and third-round picks—possession guy Robert Woods and speedster Marquise Goodwin—with a true No. 1. All three receivers have become quality starters… unfortunately, for other teams.
Whaley traded his 2015 first-and fourth-round picks to move up from No. 9 to draft Watkins at 4. That expensive package hurts even more considering that first-rounders taken after slot 9 include Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin (whom Buffalo acquired from Carolina last year for third- and seventh-round picks). Watkins showed promise in Years 1 and 2, registering around 1,000 yards in each, but foot problems hindered his lauded speed and change-of-direction suddenness and, with turnover at quarterback, he never carved out a defined role.
Cyrus Kouandjio was a gamble that didn’t pan out. Buffalo hoped he’d be Erik Pears’ replacement at right tackle, but Kouandjio played just 25 games for Buffalo, starting eight. The Bills didn’t have many options; the next true offensive tackle drafted was Billy Turner, by Miami at pick 67. (After a few years, the Dolphins would have gladly traded Turner for Kouandjio… or, Turner for a few old tackling dummies.) Seantrel Henderson actually started 27 of 34 games at Kouandjio’s right tackle position but was mostly underwhelming (still, not bad for a seventh rounder). Henderson is now a fringe starter on an iffy Texans O-line, while Kouandjio is fighting for a roster spot in Denver.
Preston Brown became a starter, though a wildly average one. The Bills needed a Mike backer with more coverage versatility than run-thumper Brandon Spikes offered. Brown delivered, but not well enough to warrant a second contract. He recently signed a one-year deal with the Bengals in free agency.
The one big swing for Watkins missed, and so did the two smaller swings after it. Which is why Whaley is unemployed.
Round 1 (28 overall). Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
2 (60). Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
3 (92). Trai Turner, G, LSU
4 (128). Tre Boston, SS, North Carolina
5 (148). Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State
6 (204). Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
The logic behind the Kelvin Benjamin pick was excellent: Cam Newton is not a precision passer, and when he misses, it tends to be high. So they got him a long-armed, 6′ 5″, 245-pound target. Benjamin’s career wound up being up and down, and he was traded to Buffalo by interim GM Marty Hurney three months after GM Dave Gettleman was fired. In exchange, the Panthers received third- and seventh-round picks in 2018.
Kony Ealy had both his coming out and going away party in Super Bowl 50, where he recorded three sacks and an interception. Instead of turning into Carolina’s newest D-line star, he was off the roster after 2016. He’s now a rotational player in Dallas after spending last year with the Jets.
Trai Turner is not the stud most people think—he sometimes struggles against powerful pass rushers and his mobility is only slightly above average. Still, overall, he’s a quality guard in an offense that values them.
Tre Boston was too finesse and never fully caught on here. The belief was he had a stellar season for the Chargers last year, but the fact that he remains unsigned in free agency suggests it was really just a case of fans seeing a guy with a catchy name and five interceptions (which can sometimes be circumstantial with a free safety).
Bene Benwikere was a rising slot corner but then broke his leg in 2015 and in 2016 Julio Jones revealed to the world that Benwikere could only play the slot. Jones’ 300 yards in Week 4 against Benwikere and Carolina is one of history’s biggest receiver-on-corner beatdowns on record.
So what you have: five players who were good for a minute (and longer, in Turner’s case), but not at the same time. Just another example of how the draft is a crapshoot.
Round 1 (14 overall). Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
2 (51). Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
3 (82). Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
4 (117). Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
4 (131). Brock Vereen, SS, Minnesota
6 (183). David Fales, QB, San Jose State
6 (191). Pat O’Donnell, P, Miami (Fla.)
7 (246). Charles Leno, T, Boise State
This turned out to be the last draft in GM Phil Emery’s three-year tenure. It was a sandwich with great bread and bad meat. The first and last picks have become long-term starters at key positions. Everyone else spoiled, some quickly, others gradually. The Bears learned how much they value Kyle Fuller when their division rival Packers tried to sign him in free agency. Thought to be content letting Fuller walk after a great rookie season, two underwhelming seasons and then a very solid 2017 contract year, the Bears instead inked him for four years, $56 million. Fuller is a stellar zone defender who can convert into man coverage.
Charles Leno is just one of four current starting left tackles who was acquired in the seventh round or later (the others: Donald Penn, Alejandro Villanueva and Kelvin Beachum). At 6′ 4″, 303 pounds, he was believed to be a better fit at guard. His lack of size shows once in a while (he had some lowlights against bull-rushers last season), but the Bears were comfortable extending him for four years, $21.6 million guaranteed last year.
Few would have guessed following the 2014 season that Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton would be out of football by now. Both teased of promise as rookies. That’s more than can be said for Ka’Deem Carey and Brock Vereen, who never carved roles.
Round 1 (24 overall). Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
2 (55). Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
3 (88). Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
4 (111). Russell Bodine, G, North Carolina
5 (164). AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
6 (212). Marquis Flowers, LB, Arizona
7 (239). James Wright, WR, LSU
7 (252). Lavelle Westbrooks, DB, Georgia Southern
Few zone-oriented defensive teams draft corners in the first round, let alone develop them from the bench their first two years. That’s precisely what the Bengals did with Darqueze Dennard. And, notably, with Dre Kirkpatrick two years before him and William Jackson two years after him. All three men remain on the roster, with Dennard the nickel slot. That’s an ancillary cornerback role, but by only a slim margin. Dennard is an important player in Marvin Lewis’s defense.
Jeremy Hill looked like a wonder as a rookie, but then all the sudden forgot how to run. He stutter-stepped his way to the bench and was allowed to walk in free agency, where he signed with the Patriots. (Given New England’s first-round selection of running back Sony Michel, don’t be shocked if Hill signs with another team sometime around Labor Day.)
After drafting corners in the early rounds, the Bengals often look for talented pass rushers in the middle rounds. Will Clarke has had the type of career that makes a team have to keep looking. He never found a role and now currently disappoints for the Buccaneers. Russell Bodine has been part of an inept interior O-line the past two years, but overall he’s been an adequate starter, which is good value for Pick 111. Having a solid backup QB is good value for Pick 164. Some might feel AJ McCarron never fully got a chance—and maybe they’re right. He started three regular-season games, plus a Wild Card bout against Pittsburgh.
Overall, this wasn’t an awful draft, but for a team with a stable coaching staff and, consequently, a well-defined scheme and identity, you’d like to see more value in the high-middle rounds.
Round 1 (8 overall). Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
1 (22). Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
2 (35). Joel Bitonio, T, Nevada
3 (71). Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa
3 (94). Terrance West, RB, Towson
4 (127). Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
This was the first year of the short-lived Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine Era. Despite finding an upper-tier starting guard in Round 2 (Joel Bitonio), a quality three-down linebacker with speed in Round 3 (Christian Kirksey) and what, for a few years anyway, was a solid running back later in Round 3 (Terrance West), this is one of the worst drafts in recent memory, thanks to is the worst first-round in history.
Here’s what’s so damning about the blown Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel picks: both players flamed out of the league before ever igniting, due largely to the same immaturity they displayed in college. Gilbert’s, and especially Manziel’s, unprofessional behavior was sometimes shocking, but never surprising. And with Manziel, it’s not like he was a transcendent talent. In college, yes. But as a pro prospect? A less famous QB with his diminutive size, so-so arm, unrefined mechanics and lack of discipline would never have been considered. Alas, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam fell in love.
Round 1 (16 overall) Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame
2 (34). Demarcus Lawrence, LB, Boise State
4 (119). Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Iowa
5 (146). Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
7 (231). Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
7 (238). Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech
7 (248). Ahmad Dixon, DB, Baylor
7 (251). Ken Bishop, DT, Northern Illinois
7 (254). Terrance Mitchell, DB, Oregon
The Zack Martin pick was made by Jerry Jones’ son Stephen—Jerry later lectured him about choosing the guard over Rockstar quarterback Johnny Manziel. The exact quote: “Son, I hope you’re happy. But let me tell you something: You don’t get to own the Cowboys, you don’t get to do special things in life, by making major decisions going right down the middle. And that was right down the middle.”
It was right down the middle like a bowling ball on a strike—an analogy that’s extra ripe considering how Manziel’s career wound up in the gutter. Martin has become arguably the game’s best guard, and arguably the best player on what is inarguably football’s best offensive line.
The Cowboys knocked down all 10 pins on the Demarcus Lawrence pick, too. Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks last year, took a little longer than Martin to reach stardom, so let’s call it a spare instead of a strike. Nevertheless, he was franchise-tagged this offseason and, as an elite run-defender and dozen-plus sack guy, should get a lucrative long-term deal in 2019.
The Cowboys had to trade the 47th and 78th overall picks to move up and get Lawrence at 34 in the second round. It was worth it, but their diminished draft capital carried a small price, as no other players in this class amounted to much. Anthony Hitchens received $25 million guaranteed from the Chiefs as a free agent this past offseason, but he did not quite become a true every-down player in Dallas. If the Cowboys truly valued Hitchens, they would have re-signed him, rather than spending this year’s first-round pick at his position (Leighton Vander Esch at 19).
Getting stars at Picks 1 and 2 is enough to make most drafts an A. But the rest of this draft—which, granted, had five seventh-round picks—amounted to nothing long-term.
Round 1 (31 overall). Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
2 (56). Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
3 (95). Michael Schofield, T, Michigan
5 (156). Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
6 (207). Matt Paradis, C, Boise State
7 (242). Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma
Bradley Roby became an instant contributor and was integral to Denver’s 2015 Super Bowl run. (And that Super Bowl itself. A huge tactical factor in that game was defensive coordinator Wade Phillips subbing Roby in for a safety. Roby and fellow corners Chris Harris and Aqib Talib all played solo coverage from there, giving Denver enough bodies to eliminate Carolina’s running game out of three-receiver sets.) Presumably, one reason GM John Elway traded Aqib Talib to the Rams this offseason is Elway believes Roby can thrive as an every-down corner.
Offensively, this draft was disappointing, save for Matt Paradis, whose mobility and initial quickness off the snap perfectly fits Denver’s zone running game. The lanky Cody Latimer had an enviable body but did nothing with it. Even worse, he was taken five spots ahead of Allen Robinson, selected by Jacksonville. Latimer’s spot has now been filled by rookie Courtland Sutton—another lanky second-round receiver. Michael Schofield started for two years at right tackle, much to the delight of AFC West defensive ends. Khalil Mack once had four sacks against him. On Christmas night in 2015, Justin Houston ate him alive. (Schofield was moonlighting at right tackle that night after having been moved inside to guard.) Schofield is now a backup with the Chargers.
Round 1 (10 overall). Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
2 (40). Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young
3 (76). Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
4 (133). Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State
4 (136). Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg
5 (158). Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
6 (189). T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame
7 (229). Nate Freese, K, Boston College
Then-GM Martin Mayhew’s second of four drafts had some hits and foul balls. Eric Ebron’s route running mechanics and flexibility improved two years ago, and he finally brought to Detroit’s passing game the dimension that was expected. That never quite offset his shoddy blocking, unfortunately, which cost him playing time last season. The Lions didn’t want to keep him at the fifth-year option price of $8.25 million.
Kyle Van Noy, whom the Lions traded up to get, never quite fit in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s scheme. In 2016, Van Noy was traded to New England, where he has become a versatile nickel and dime sub-package player. Travis Swanson started 42 games in four years, but he’ll be a utility backup with the Jets, whom he just joined in free agency. Nevin Lawson has started 40 of 47 games—a great return for a fourth-rounder at a position usually dominated by more athletic first-and second-rounders. He is signed for the next two years; what he gets in 2020 (he’ll be 29) might depend on whether he gets more snaps covering the slot. That job currently belongs to Quandre Diggs, though Diggs shined at safety down the stretch last season and may ultimately end up there.
T.J. Jones had an expanded role last season but registered only 30 catches and 399 yards. Those numbers will likely dip in 2018, as the blindingly bright future of last year’s third-round pick, Kenny Golladay, pushes Jones squarely into the No. 4 spot.
Green Bay Packers
Round 1 (21 overall). Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
2 (53). Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
3 (85). Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Mississippi
3 (98). Richard Rodgers, TE, California
4 (121). Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
5 (161). Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State
5 (176). Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
6 (197). Demetri Goodson, DB, Baylor
7 (236). Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s length, speed and stalking movement jump off on the screen on film. Many believed this would make him one of the game’s premier safeties. He hasn’t been quite that, but he is, without question, a quality starter. One of the few ways that new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine differs from predecessor Dom Capers is he’s more aggressive and diverse in how safeties are deployed. (And Capers was already in the plus column here.) This is a crucial season for the 25-year-old Clinton-Dix, who is scheduled for free agency in 2019.
Davante Adams was on track to bust until suddenly figuring things out in Year 3 and gradually supplanting a now-departed Jordy Nelson as Option No. 1. Adams can align in multiple places and win on slants, back-shoulders and fades—defining routes in Green Bay’s passing game. He was taken a few picks ahead of Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry, which few will take umbrage with.
The only other man in this draft to become a long-term starter is Corey Linsley, who grabbed the job in August 2014 when J.C. Tretter got hurt and never let go. Richard Rodgers, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis all had their moments… but really, they were Aaron Rodgers’ moments that they happened to be a part of.
Round 1 (1 overall). Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
2 (33). Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
3 (65). C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
3 (83). Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
4 (135). Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
6 (177). Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama
6 (181). Alfred Blue, RB, LSU
6 (211). Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn
7 (216). Andre Hal, DB, Vanderbilt
7 (256). Lonnie Ballentine, DB, Memphis
For his first two years Clowney looked like an injury-prone bust, but he’s since stayed healthy and will soon be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player. He’s not a pliable edge-bender who will notch 12 sacks a year, but his straight-line burst and violent strength can shape an entire run defense and still demand double-teams in pass protections. Even those who believe Khalil Mack is better than Clowney (and most do) would say the Texans have gotten a good return on that No. 1 overall pick.
They did not get a good return on Xavier Su’a-Filo—especially when you consider that they needed a QB in 2014 and this pick came three spots before Derek Carr. Before the Deshaun Watson discovery, many would have docked Houston’s draft an entire letter grade just for that. And maybe we still should given that this team’s playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, with its outstanding defense, would have been more fruitful with a QB like Carr. Su’a-Filo is no longer here, by the way; too finesse to be a starter, he’s angling for a backup role in Tennessee.
Concussions have truncated C.J. Fiedorowicz’s career, but even when healthy, one thing we always said about this offense is it could sure use a good tight end. Fiedorowicz never quite fulfilled his pass-catching potential.
Alfred Blue and Jay Prosch have given the Texans some good clock-burning snaps late in games (where Bill O’Brien loves to go heavy personnel and pound the rock). But both are lower-tier role players, meaning the only other pick after Fiedorowicz who truly panned out was Andre Hal, who converted from cornerback to safety a few years ago, bringing valuable flexibility to Houston’s foundational matchup zone coverages.
Round 2 (59 overall). Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State
3 (90). Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
5 (166). Jonathan Newsome, DE, Ball State
6 (203). Andrew Jackson, LB, Western Kentucky
7 (232). Ulrick John, T, Georgia State
Their 2014 first-round pick went to Cleveland in exchange for running back Trent Richardson, who had shown nothing as a pro but everything as a prospect out of Alabama. Richardson lasted two years with the Colts and then disappeared, becoming the first player in history to be a first-round bust for two teams. It’s easy to say in hindsight that this is where GM Ryan Grigson most screwed the pooch, but much of the NFL was smitten with Richardson when he entered the league in 2012. Grigson, whose Colts were arguably just a tailback away from Super Bowl contention, bet that a change of scenery and a backfield shared with Andrew Luck would flip Richardson’s switch. It didn’t.
Aside from decent-but-inconsistent left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort has represented the greatest stability along Indy’s offensive line. That’s saying something, given that Mewhort has missed 17 games over the last two years and has played multiple positions.
Within the building, expectations of Donte Moncrief were what you’d typically find of a mid-second rounder, not a late third-rounder. Either way, he disappointed. The Colts gladly let him sign with division rival Jacksonville this offseason.
How you grade this draft depends on whether you include the Richardson trade. For the sake of sensationalism, let’s include it.
Round 1 (3 overall). Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
2 (39). Marqise Lee, WR, USC
2 (61). Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
3 (93). Brandon Linder, G, Miami (Fla.)
4 (114). Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
5 (144). Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State
5 (159). Chris Smith, LB, Arkansas
6 (205). Luke Bowanko, C, Virginia
7 (222). Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida
Meet one of the trickiest drafts you’ll ever grade. Let’s start at the top. What to do with Blake Bortles? He clearly hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a No. 3 overall pick. But he certainly hasn’t floundered, either. And his highs and lows feel too extreme to say he’s somewhere near the middle.
Something to keep in mind: In 2014 the Jags needed a QB (theirs were Chad Henne and Ricky Stanzi). The next two taken in this draft were Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, neither of whom have anything close to Bortles’ arm talent. Yes, Derek Carr was available, but almost the entire NFL passed once on Carr. It’s unrealistic to think he was in serious consideration at No. 3. (Maybe the Jags could have traded down and gotten him later. But that’s the assumptive woulda/coulda/shoulda game that we’ve agreed is too frivolous to play.)
Bortles has become an erratic passer, due largely to his slow, elongated throwing motion (which, notably, is capped off with a low release point). The longer it takes you to throw, the greater chance of something glitching mechanically. But the Jaguars know this about Bortles, and they accommodate it with a heavy emphasis on play-action passing (a naturally slower throwing play). Accommodating such an important weakness is not ideal, certainly, but stylistically, a play-action passing game aligns naturally with the smashmouth type of offense they’ve built around Bortles.
This draft’s mid-round picks have contributed to building a smashmouth team around Bortles. Brandon Linder is a solid NFL center, while Aaron Colvin and especially Telvin Smith were cogs in a defense that carried this team to the AFC championship last year. (Colvin signed with Houston for $34 million in free agency this offseason.)
The wide receivers taken in the second round re-complicate the discussion, though. Marqise Lee is a shifty, underneath type of receiver. That works in a quick-strike spread scheme but not quite as well in the deeper-dropback play-action game that Jacksonville should have known it would need with Bortles. Allen Robinson, a perimeter vertical threat, is perfect for a deeper-dropping play-action scheme, which is why he had 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. An underwhelming 2016 campaign, however, plus a torn ACL in Week 2 last year, made him too risky to re-sign. He’s now a Bear.
From a wide shot, this draft deserves a high grade. The first six picks became starters. That’s rare. Zoom in, though, and you see this draft’s warts.
Kansas City Chiefs
Round 1 (23 overall). Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
3 (87). Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
4 (124). De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
5 (163). Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
6 (193). Zach Fulton, G, Tennessee
6 (200). Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T, McGill (Canada)
This draft looked a lot better last spring, when Dee Ford was coming off a 10-sack season and had dominated offensive tackles in November and December with his incredible quickness. But a 2017 lost to back injuries puts his future in doubt. The Chiefs have positioned themselves to move on from him and an aging Justin Houston after drafting Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks in the 2017 and ’18 second rounds.
The Chiefs brought in cornerback Kendall Fuller as part of the Alex Smith trade this offseason. That wouldn’t have happened if Phillip Gaines had fulfilled the promise he showed as a slot defender early in his career. Like Ford, Gaines has battled injuries.
De’Anthony Thomas was a trendy utility weapon for a few years, but then the Chiefs hit on Tyreek Hill in the fifth round of 2016 and Thomas was forgotten. So was Aaron Murray after the 2015 season, which was his last in football. (Granted, there are worse things than a franchise missing on a fifth-round quarterback.). Zach Fulton developed into a respectable starter. The reason he’s no longer here is the man taken seven spots behind him, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, has blossomed into a high-level starter. As the native French speaker Duvernay-Tardif’s English improved, so did his performance. His tremendous raw strength led to a five-year, $42.4 million contract ($20 million guaranteed) last year.
Los Angeles (then San Diego) Chargers
Round 1 (25 overall). Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian
2 (50). Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
3 (89). Chris Watt, G, Notre Dame
5 (165). Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas State
6 (201). Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
7 (240). Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
In his second year on the job, GM Tom Telesco drafted two defenders in the first 50 picks who looked like can’t-miss products. Jason Verrett had the shiftiness and poised body control to cover any wide receiver. Jerry Attaochu, whom the Chargers dealt a fourth-rounder to move up seven spots and get, was long, thick and limber. Both fielded man-crushes from film-watchers worldwide.
That was after 2015. In 2016, Verrett tore his ACL and Attaochu remained stuck as a No. 3 edge rusher—a role suddenly cemented by the selection of Joey Bosa. Attaochu has turned out to be like a movie with a star-studded cast, high CGI budget and absolutely no plot. You love it at first and then, halfway through, realize its hollow.
Verrett, sadly, missed all of 2017 with that same injury. That’s enough to earn a red flag, though his first two seasons were so intriguing that it’s appropriate to hold out hope. Maybe he can’t be as special as originally thought, but he’s gifted enough to still have a fruitful career. (An NFL version of Grant Hill, if you will.)
As for the rest of this draft… nothing much. You might think Chris Watt was a bust. And sure, you’d hope a third-round pick would last more than two years in the league. But would it help you to know that Chris is not related to J.J.? (You’re thinking of Chargers fullback Derek Watt.)
Los Angeles (then St. Louis) Rams
Round 1 (2 overall). Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
1 (13). Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
2 (41). Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
3 (75). Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
4 (110). Maurice Alexander, SS, Utah State
6 (188). E.J. Gaines, DB, Missouri
6 (214). Garrett Gilbert, QB, Southern Methodist
7 (226). Mitchell Van Dyk, T, Portland State
7 (241). Christian Bryant, DB, Ohio State
7 (249). Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
7 (250). Demetrius Rhaney, C, Tennessee State
Greg Robinson’s career was like one big heavy plop onto a whoopy cushion. He struggled at multiple positions, for multiple coaches and in multiple schemes. At 25, he’s currently an unsigned free agent.
Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is whatever you’d call the opposite of Greg Robinson.
Tre Mason had off-field problems that his family attributed to head injuries, ending his career.
File this Lamarcus Joyner pick in the back of your mind. Joyner began his career as a nickel slot, but in 2017 he moved to free safety, where he played well enough to warrant a 2018 franchise tag. His 5′ 8″, 184-pound frame wouldn’t suggest it, but Joyner is a ferocious hitter. He’s also very rangy.
Joyner starts ahead of Maurice Alexander, who has been an adequate backup but is too limited in coverage to start. Also in that secondary was E.J. Gaines, who turned out to be a steal and went to Buffalo in 2017 as part of the Sammy Watkins trade.
The players who were selected after Gaines combined to play 13 NFL games, mainly on special teams. If not for that, and much, much more so for the Robinson pick, this draft would have been a solid A, maybe even an A+ if Joyner keeps ascending. But a giant whiff on the No. 2 overall selection and a disappointing third-round running back can’t be ignored.
Round 1 (19 overall). Ja’Wuan James, T, Tennessee
2 (63). Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
3 (67). Billy Turner, T, North Dakota State
4 (125). Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
5 (155). Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
5 (171). Jordie Tripp, LB, Montana
6 (190). Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
7 (234). Terrence Fede, DE, Marist
Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry became four-year starters, but neither’s more expensive second contract will be with Miami. James, who has been wildly up and down, but a little steadier lately, is playing on his fifth-year rookie option, which the league seems to think makes him overpriced, given that Miami’s efforts to trade him this spring were unsuccessful.
Landry wasn’t hard to trade. After 4,038 yards over four years, he was shipped to Cleveland for a 2018 fourth-rounder and a 2019 seventh-rounder. Landry’s talent shined through, but once Adam Gase arrived and route running precision became more emphasized, he wasn’t trusted enough to warrant $15.1 million a year.
Billy Turner had just one weakness. Unfortunately, it was blocking. He was drafted to play guard (the Dolphins were horrendously weak there in 2014, particularly on the left side with Nate Garner). He wound up playing turnstile.
Of the later round picks, Walt Aikens has become a special teamer and decent source of secondary depth, and Terrence Fede pleasantly flashes two or three times a year off the bench. The other three guys never stuck.
How you grade this draft is a matter of philosophy: Are early-round picks who started for four years (and mostly played well) deemed a success? Or, to be successful, must an early rounder warrant a second contract? Two things complicate this question. One is that Landry and James would be gladly welcomed long-term, just not at higher-end prices. Two is the fact that the men deciding on their second deals—Football Ops VP Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier—are not the ones who drafted them. Of course, if these picks were truly great, the man who did make them (Dennis Hickey) might still be here.
Round 1 (9 overall). Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
1 (32). Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
3 (72). Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
3 (96). Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
5 (145). David Yankey, G, Stanford
6 (182). Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech
6 (184). Kendall James, DB, Maine
7 (220). Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut
7 (223). Brandon Watts, LB, Georgia Tech
7 (225). Jabari Price, DB, North Carolina
Some viewed Anthony Barr as a 3-4 outside linebacker who would rush the passer. Mike Zimmer, who had just taken over as head coach, saw him as a stack linebacker and interior blitzer in his double-A-gap scheme. It has worked out well. If the Vikings don’t eventually sign Barr to a lucrative long-term deal, someone else will.
We’ll never know what could have become of Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota, but an educated guess would say “not as much as Vikings fans think.” Bridgewater, whom the Vikings dealt the 40th and 108th picks to move up and get at No. 32, was beloved for simply bringing a hint of stability to a position that had been wobbling since the 2011 first-round selection of Christian Ponder. That made it easier for fans—and even people within the organization—to overlook how his unfulfilling arm strength placed limits on the offense.
Scott Crichton battled injuries and never got off the ground. If it makes you feel any better, none of the edge players drafted after him amounted to much. Jerick McKinnon, now a 49er, will be remembered more favorably than he was actually viewed while here because Kyle Shanahan fell in love with his receiving skill set and paid him more than expected to join the Niners. In Shanahan’s flex scheme, McKinnon is worth it. In Minnesota, where he would have been a clear backup behind Dalvin Cook, he wasn’t.
None of Minnesota’s other selections became notable contributors save for Shamar Stephen in a backup role.
New England Patriots
Round 1 (29 overall). Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
2 (62). Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
4 (105). Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
4 (130). James White, RB, Wisconsin
4 (140). Cameron Fleming, T, Stanford
6 (179). Jon Halapio, G, Florida
6 (206). Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech
7 (244). Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan
Here’s a great illustration of why grading drafts is futile. Dominique Easley was a bust for the Patriots (an ACL injury factored), but he’s turned out to be a decent (though still somewhat underachieving) player with the Rams. Jimmy Garoppolo appears to be a franchise QB, but not with this franchise. Not because the Patriots didn’t realize what they had, but because, according to reports, their GOAT quarterback didn’t like having an heir apparent over his shoulder and so the owner made Bill Belichick trade him. With their backs almost against the wall, the Patriots got fleeced by the Niners in that midseason blockbuster. Still, Garoppolo was the 62nd overall pick, and he was dealt for what became the 43rd pick, and that was after helping the Patriots survive the absence of a suspended Tom Brady for a few weeks in what turned out to be another Super Bowl season. So…you try and put a grade on all that. (Anything from A+ to F can be justified.)
Out of principle and respect for the absurd complexity, we’re copping out and giving the Patriots a C for the Easley bust and Garoppolo saga. Then, we’re adding a reward for finding Super Bowl hero James White (an important cog in New England’s flex scheme) and another for sturdy, steadily-improved right tackle Cameron Fleming, who is now a Cowboy but started 20 games for the club when it was in a bind.
New Orleans Saints
Round 1 (20 overall). Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
2 (58). Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
4 (126). Khairi Fortt, OLB, California
5 (167). Vinnie Sunseri, DB, Alabama
5 (169). Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
6 (202). Tavon Rooks, T, Kansas State
How do you grade a draft that yielded a star who you didn’t keep after three years? Cooks was traded for the 32nd pick of the 2017 draft, which was supposed to be linebacker Reuben Foster but turned into right tackle Ryan Ramczyk after the 49ers traded back up to take Foster at 31. Go ahead and figure a grade for this entire transaction and then subtract, say, a letter-grade-and-a-half to account for the fact that none of the players taken after Cooks got on the field aside from special teams.
New York Giants
Round 1 (12 overall). Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
2 (43). Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
3 (74). Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
4 (113). Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
5 (152). Nat Berhe, DB, San Diego State
5 (174). Devon Kennard, LB, USC
6 (187). Bennett Jackson, DB, Notre Dame
They could have taken Brandin Cooks in the first round and still connected, but Cooks isn’t a generation-defining talent. Odell Beckham Jr. makes the Giants one of the few franchises who can build around a non-quarterback superstar.
Weston Richburg developed into a top-third center, but instead of signing him long-term this offseason, the Giants chose to sign a more expensive left tackle in Nate Solder. Richburg got $28.5 million guaranteed from the 49ers, where he’ll bring north/south mobility and an aptitude for angles in the screen game.
Devon Kennard also got away in this past free agent period (Lions, three years, $17.25 million). Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who left in the coaching regime change this offseason, built some of his first and second-down scheme around Kennard’s ability to jam tight ends up on the line of scrimmage. He’ll be missed.
The rest of this draft produced fringe backups. At one point there was hope Andre Williams could become a workhorse, but his lack of elusiveness was too much to overcome.
New York Jets
Round 1 (18 overall). Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
2 (49). Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
3 (80). Dexter McDougle, CB, Maryland
4 (104). Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
4 (115). Shaq Evans, WR, UCLA
4 (137). Dakota Dozier, T, Furman
5 (154). Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa State
6 (195). Brandon Dixon, DB, Northwest Missouri State
6 (209). Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska
6 (210). IK Enemkpali, DE, Louisiana Tech
6 (213). Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
7 (233). Trevor Reilly, LB, Utah
If you’re a “quantity over quality” believer, feast your eyes on this: twelve picks, one starter (Quincy Enunwa, the eighth pick). And, overall, just two players (the other is Dakota Dozier). That’s right, everyone else is gone. Calvin Pryor was dealt to Cleveland for pennies on the dollar, where he lasted only a few months. Jace Amaro, a flex tight end, got hurt, did little upon return and was soon waived. (Saying he failed would wrongly imply that he did anything at all.) IK Enemkpali became famous for breaking Geno Smith’s face. That help accelerate the downfall of Smith and led to a weird, short-lived rise for Enemkpali after he was traded to Buffalo in the fallout. We’d say more here and try to make football-sense of this draft, but it’s simply too soul-crushing.
Round 1 (5 overall). Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
2 (36). Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
3 (81). Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
4 (107). Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
4 (116). Keith McGill, CB, Utah
7 (219). Travis Carrie, DB, Ohio
7 (235). Shelby Harris, DE, Illinois State
7 (247). Jonathan Dowling, DB, Western Kentucky
A Defensive Player of the Year, a franchise QB, a Pro Bowl caliber guard, a fan-favorite nose tackle and some decent depth at cornerback. Not too shabby.
A cynic might say that it was easier for GM Reggie McKenzie because the Raiders had such obvious needs. Their best edge guy was a disintegrating Lamarr Woodley. Their quarterbacks were the popgun-armed Matt Schaub and unrefined Terrelle Pryor, who turned out to be better at catching passes than throwing them. Their interior O-line—guards Tony Bergstrom, Kevin Boothe and Mike Brisiel, center Stefen Wisniewski—was remarkably average. But here’s what NFL teams will never fully admit: Drafting for need is the right approach. And finding the right guys to fill those needs is what the draft is about.
The Mack pick at No. 5, O.K., that one was easy. With Jadeveon Clowney gone at No. 1, there were no elite edge guys to choose from. The Raiders had major needs at wide receiver, which might explain why the Bills traded up one spot ahead of them for Sammy Watkins. After that Bills trade, chances are McKenzie would have taken Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. at that spot.
The Carr pick is what made this draft great. Rather than trading back and then reaching for a QB in the first round (if it hadn’t been Carr, it would have been the meek-armed Teddy Bridgewater or—gulp—Johnny Manziel) McKenzie let things shake out and took the last one standing. It’d be interesting to find out what McKenzie would have done if he thought Carr would not be available at 36; no other QB came off the board until 62 (Carr’s fellow Bay Area franchise guy, Jimmy Garoppolo).
But now we’ve drifted into that fruitless woulda/coulda/shoulda territory—probably because there was nothing to say after this blurb’s first sentence: A Defensive Player of the Year, a franchise QB, a Pro Bowl caliber guard, a fan-favorite nose tackle and some decent depth at cornerback.
Round 1 (26 Overall). Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
2 (42). Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
3 (86). Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
4 (101). Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
5 (141). Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
5 (162). Ed Reynolds, DB, Stanford
7 (224). Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin
Well, now we know that a bad draft won’t derail your Super Bowl chances four years down the road. This was Year 2 of 3 in what turned out to be, from a roster-building standpoint, the calamitous Chip Kelly Era. Marcus Smith never took. Worse yet, the next edge player taken was Demarcus Lawrence, eight picks later by the division rival Cowboys. Smith is now in Seattle, which has become a Mecca for first-round pass rushing busts (he will compete with Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan for snaps). Jordan Matthews’ lack of speed has become a bigger problem each year. He averaged 75 catches and 891 yards over his first three seasons, but last year was dealt to Buffalo, where he never caught on. Now he’s hoping to catch on in New England, which is the wrong fit. (Matthews belongs on a team that needs a sizeable slot receiver, not one whose offense is built for Julian Edelman.)
Immaturity stymied the diminutive Josh Huff’s career. Mediocrity stymied Jaylen Watkins’. Taylor Hart and Beau Allen created interior D-line depth for a few years, though neither is on the roster now.
Round 1 (15 overall). Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
2 (46). Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
3 (97). Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
4 (118). Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
5 (157). Shaquille Richardson, DB, Arizona
5 (173). Wesley Johnson, C, Vanderbilt
6 (192). Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
6 (215). Dan McCullers, DT, Tennessee
7 (230). Rob Blanchflower, TE, Massachusetts
Ryan Shazier was not necessarily the game’s best linebacker at the time of his injury, but he was certainly its most dynamic. With such speed and explosiveness, he was on his way to redefining his position. (Here’s another example, by the way, of draft grading’s futility. Shazier had fulfilled all of his promise and then some, but his career has come to a halt—perhaps permanently—with an injury suffered on the type of reckless tackle that helped get him drafted in the first round. How do you grade a draft that he headlined?)
After a slow start, Stephon Tuitt developed into the exact type of multidimensional interior defensive lineman Pittsburgh loves. He’s a lot more agile than he appears. Dri Archer was a swing and a miss, but Martavis Bryant was a home run. That is, when he wasn’t striking out with failed drug tests. There’s another example of draft grading’s difficulty. Bryant had some special, electrifying moments that you’d hope for, but never expect, from a mid-round pick. But ultimately, he was traded to Oakland because the same problems that dropped him to the fourth round followed him in the NFL. How would we grade this gamble?
The only other contributor from this draft is Daniel McCullers, who has become a solid backup nose tackle. A grade on this one is little more than an arbitrary guess.
San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 (30 overall). Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
2 (57). Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
3 (70). Marcus Martin, C, USC
3 (77). Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
3 (100). Brandon Thomas, G, Clemson
4 (106). Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
4 (129). Dontae Johnson, CB, North Carolina State
5 (150). Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
5 (170). Keith Reaser, DB, Florida Atlantic
6 (180). Kenneth Acker, DB, Southern Methodist
7 (243). Kaleb Ramsey, DT, Boston College
7 (245). Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
It’s hard to believe Jimmie Ward is entering his fifth season. His first four years have been spent at various positions, flashing various degrees of potential. That convinced the Niners to use the $8.5 million fifth-year option on him… 2018 could make or break Ward’s long-term earning power. He hasn’t fully caught on at his latest position, which is free safety in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Seahawks/Jaguars style Cover 3 zone scheme.
Carlos Hyde, one of the league’s most underrated traditional runners, more than lived up to his draft status. But, being average in the passing game, he wasn’t an ideal fit for new head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Hyde signed with Cleveland in free agency.
Marcus Martin never quite took at center and is now a backup in Dallas. Chris Borland took—big time—but became the first marquee player of his era to proactively retire before 25 due to concussion concerns. (At the time, people worried if that would set a trend. So far, no.)
Remarkably, San Francisco’s six picks after Borland turned into notable contributors. However, none ever became difference-makers, and some disappointed after showing early signs of overachievement. Most importantly, none are still on the roster.
Round 2 (45 overall). Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
2 (64). Justin Britt, T, Missouri
4 (108). Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA
4 (123). Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
4 (132). Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB, Boston College
5 (172). Jimmy Staten, DT, Middle Tennessee State
6 (199). Garrett Scott, T, Marshall
6 (208). Eric Pinkins, DB, San Diego State
7 (227). Kiero Small, FB, Arkansas
GM John Schneider traded their first-rounder (pick 32) to Minnesota (Teddy Bridgewater) and picked up an extra second-rounder in the process. After a second trade (the Lions moving up to get linebacker Kyle Van Noy at 40), that second-rounder eventually became Paul Richardson. If Richardson delivers on the intrigue he has teased as a vertical threat, it will be in Washington, where he just signed for $16.5 million guaranteed as a free agent. (The Seahawks are hoping that recently acquired ex-Cardinal Jaron Brown can fill Richardson’s perimeter deep threat role.)
Justin Britt took a few years to get going but found his traction once he moved to center in 2016. His skill set clearly fits best there, though in 2017 he didn’t quite build on the upside he showed at first blush. Still, there’s reason for optimism.
Cassius Marsh turned out to be a pass-rushing specialist who doesn’t get sacks, which is why he has bounced around the league. Nothing became of Kevin Norwood. A rotational backup is what became of Kevin Pierre-Louis (in Kansas City last year, now with the Jets).
Jimmy Staten, Garrett Scott, Eric Pinkins and Kiero Smith might one day be answers to an obscure question in a Seattle coffeehouse trivia night… or they might just be forgotten.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Round 1 (7 overall). Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
2 (38). Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
3 (69). Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
5 (143). Kadeem Edwards, G, Tennessee State
5 (149). Kevin Pamphile, T, Purdue
6 (185). Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
How many times has a team invested its entire draft on one side of the ball? From that perspective, the 30,000-foot view of this draft isn’t so hot. The Bucs ranked 29th in scoring in 2014, 20th in 2015 and 18th each of the past two years. Of this group, only Mike Evans panned out. He’s a bona fide No. 1 receiver who influences coverages snap after snap and, lately, can align in multiple positions. (He’s best outside but proficient in the slot.)
Such versatility was supposed to describe Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but he was erratic and is now with the Jaguars, who hope his two or three tantalizing outings each year can turn into… four, maybe five?
Despite some receiving flexibility, Charles Sims drew little interest in free agency and so he’s back on a small one-year prove-it deal. It’ll be hard to prove anything with second-round rookie Ronald Jones and undrafted 2016 breakout contributor Peyton Barber getting most of his reps.
The rest of this draft was nondescript, though Kevin Pamphile has toggled between the top of the bench and bottom of the starting lineup.
Round 1 (11 overall). Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
2 (54). Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
4 (112). DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
4 (122). Marqueston Huff, DB, Wyoming
5 (151). Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky
6 (178). Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Hit. Miss. Hit. Miss. Hit. Miss. That’s how this draft went. Taylor Lewan is one of the league’s more nimble pass-blockers and also happens to play with a mean streak. Bishop Sankey became nothing of a pass-blocker, which is why coaches stopped caring about his agile running. DaQuan Jones is the type of player who looks better on film than on TV—a compliment in the football world. Marqueston Huff is someone you have to Google and then still might not remember. Avery Williamson plays with speed and, most of the time, discipline. He does it so well, in fact, that the Jets guaranteed him $16 million in free agency, which is why the Titans had to draft Rashaan Evans in this year’s first round. Zach Mettenberger got a better chance than most sixth-round quarterbacks get. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt made him the starter in Weeks 8-14 in 2014. Mettenberger also started four games in 2015. In the end, he validated the suspicion that arm strength alone can’t make a QB.
Round 2 (47 overall). Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
3 (66). Morgan Moses, T, Virginia
3 (78). Spencer Long, G, Nebraska
4 (102). Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
5 (142). Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane
6 (186). Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
7 (217). Ted Bolser, TE, Indiana
7 (228). Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas
Washington would have had the No. 2 overall pick but it went to St. Louis as part of the Robert Griffin III trade from two years earlier. The Rams wound up taking offensive tackle Greg Robinson here, who was large and a tremendous athlete but, it turns out, a horrendous football player. (As one coach put it years later: “He could do backflips, which was incredible for such a big man, but in this game we don’t do backflips.”) Still, don’t laugh at the Rams. Other players they got in the Griffin mega deal included DT Michael Brockers, LB Aleg Ogltree and CB Janoris Jenkins, who all became high-level starters. If Washington had still owned this pick and gone defensive end with their first choice, like they did on what turned out to be the very average Trent Murphy (now in Buffalo), they would have had Khalil Mack.
The next few picks after Murphy were solid. Morgan Moses has evolved into a premier right tackle, particularly in pass protection. Spencer Long’s athleticism was great for Jay Gruden’s zone running game. Long recently joined the Jets in free agency. Bashaud Breeland and Ryan Grant became regular contributors, though never difference-makers. Washington’s first five picks, aside from Moses, bring us back to the philosophical question: How do you grade a draft that yielded decent players who join other teams five years later? Plus, there’s the same question we had with the Colts draft: Do we penalize a team that traded its first round pick prior to the draft?
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