by Tom Gower
It is an annual tradition at Football Outsiders to look back at a draft that was, in preparation for thinking about the draft that is upcoming. For a lot of other websites, this would be a look at last year's draft; an Internet search will direct you to several 2015 re-drafts. But a question like Jameis Winston v. Marcus Mariota cannot be answered in one season, or at least not as confidently as we might be able to answer it in the future. Thus, we at FO take an annual look at the draft that was six years ago.
You might remember that the 2006 draft was dominated by the teams that had played in the most recent BCS championship game, Texas' thrilling defeat of USC. The 2010 draft was also dominated in some ways by a BCS championship game: not Alabama's recent defeat of Texas but instead the previous one, when Florida topped Oklahoma. Both of those teams had a surfeit of top prospects. Oklahoma had the top quarterback, a top offensive tackle, and a great defensive tackle atop its list. Florida had the draft's top corner, the top center, a quarterback of its own, and a deeper pool of prospects. Beyond them stood the most dominant defensive player college football had seen in years.
Conventional wisdom: Sam Bradford was a strong candidate for the first overall selection. In leading Oklahoma to the 2008 BCS Championship Game, the three-sport high school star displayed pinpoint accuracy on downfield throws that led our Doug Farrar to compare him to Tom Brady. Any selection of Bradford was in part a leap of faith; he had spent virtually his entire career in Norman playing in the shotgun, and his 2009 season was hamstrung by injuries to his throwing shoulder.
The consensus second-best prospect, also a likely first-round pick, was Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, though as the draft neared the doubts about him grew stronger.
Our Lewin Career Forecast (the precursor to QBASE) was fairly positive about Bradford but more skeptical of Clausen. It was intrigued by Tim Tebow, who had a completion percentage nearly as high as Bradford's and had made it through all three seasons as a starter and thus had more starts. The transition from Urban Meyer's Florida spread to the NFL seemed likely to be a challenging one, and was a test for the accuracy of LCF.
Highest pick: Bradford, first overall to St. Louis.
Best player: There have been three seasons by a quarterback drafted in 2010 with at least 200 attempts and an ANY/A+ (a Pro-Football-Reference stat I like; 100 is league-average for that year, and 85 is one standard deviation below it) of at least 90. Those seasons were put up by Bradford in 2012, Bradford in 2013, and Bradford in 2015. Bradford may be the most controversial player in the NFL, with strong debates and sharply diverging opinions about how good he has been and how good he is likely to be. But the only quarterback in this class to play out even a four-year rookie deal with his drafting team was Joe Webb (Alabama-Birmingham, 199th to Minnesota), and he was not even a quarterback by 2013.
Biggest bust: There is one NFL quarterback in the past ten seasons with at least 200 passing attempts and a career completion rate below 50 percent. Josh McDaniels chose him with the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Mr. Tebow is now out of the NFL.
Best value: Bradford? Webb? Clausen, 48th overall, for his -41.1% DVOA as a rookie starter that enabled the Panthers to select Cam Newton with the first pick in 2011? Do I really have to pick one? Last year when we did this article, Matthew Stafford seemed like a surprising choice as the best value despite being the first overall pick in 2009, but on reflection it made an awful lot of sense. Even as an admitted Bradford fan since his Oklahoma days, picking him as the best value seems like a whole other step, especially given that, unlike Detroit the year before, St. Louis had attractive non-quarterback options.
Conventional wisdom: C.J. Spiller was the best back in the draft, according to most everybody. The Clemson star was a home-run threat out of the backfield, catching the ball, or on kick returns. If you wanted a more conventional back, Fresno State's Ryan Mathews was more to your liking for his downhill running and ability to gain extra yards. Next on most people's boards was Cal's Jahvid Best, sort of a lesser Spiller, while the Bay Area also provided Stanford grinder Toby Gerhart.
Highest pick: Spiller, ninth overall, to Buffalo.
Best player: Back in 2008, there were a plethora of running backs picked in the first three rounds, and virtually all of them ended up good. 2010 was not that season. Just two running backs from this class have more than 2,400 yards rushing in their first six seasons. Spiller has 3,433 yards, and Ryan Mathews (Fresno State, 12th to San Diego) leads the class with 4,600 even despite an injury-plagued career that has caused him to miss 23 games.
Biggest bust: Spiller was a disappointment for a Bills team in search of a game-changer, but not a real bust. The earliest back to quickly flame out was Best, whom the Lions traded up to 30th to select. His collegiate injury history followed him into the pro game, and his career ended prematurely with concussions.
Best value: Green Bay found Buffalo's James Starks in the sixth round, 193rd overall, and in this class a rotation back late was the best anybody did. Honorable mention to Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer, selected five picks earlier, since he at least led the Steelers in carries in 2012.
Conventional wisdom: The receiver at the focus of everyone's attention was Oklahoma State star Dez Bryant. He had the size, speed, strength, and quickness to be a top-10 pick, but carried with him massive off-the-field question marks, ranging from a troubled family background (excessively rude inquiry into which got Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland in trouble) to an NCAA run-in arising from a connection with Deion Sanders that cost him part of his final season.
If size and speed were your things and you preferred a cleaner prospect off the field but could live with some transition cost, Demaryius Thomas averaged more than 25 yards per catch in Georgia Tech's triple-option offense. If you were willing to sacrifice size and speed in favor of polish and a more conventional background, Golden Tate was Jimmy Clausen's favorite target at Notre Dame.
2010 was the second year of Playmaker Score at Football Outsiders. Its favorite prospect, by a significant margin, was Bryant, for whom it forecast stardom. Tate came in a distant second. It was not high on any other prominent receiver, including Thomas. Preferred sleepers included The Citadel's Andre Roberts, Kansas' Dezmon Briscoe, and Mike Williams, formerly of Syracuse.
Highest pick: Thomas, 22nd overall to Denver.
Best player: If Antonio Brown (Central Michigan, 195th overall to Pittsburgh) was not currently the best receiver in the NFL, this would be a fascinating question. But he is, and he leads the class in receptions and receiving yards through six seasons. Bryant (Oklahoma State, 24th overall to Dallas) does have the most touchdowns of the group, though, with 59 to just 38 for Brown; Eric Decker (Minnesota, 87th overall to Denver) is second with 50.
Biggest bust: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Arrelious Benn out of Illinois with the 39th pick. He carved out a role on a thin depth chart his first two seasons, but was out of the league by his fourth.
Best value: Brown. The other day-three picks with production include Mike Williams (Syracuse, 101st to Tampa Bay), who took more advantage than Benn did of that depth chart, and Riley Cooper (Florida, 159th overall to Philadelphia).
Conventional wisdom: A potentially deep class with a number of interesting targets. The biggest name was one of Bradford's favorite targets, Jermaine Gresham. The biggest wild card was Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, a talented blocker and receiver who missed the entire 2009 college season with a back injury. Receiving tight ends included Oregon's Ed Dickson; Miami basketball player Jimmy Graham, who had a year of football experience with the 'Canes; and Florida's versatile Aaron Hernandez.
Highest pick: Gresham, 21st overall to Cincinnati.
Best player: With plenty of second-round picks, including two extras courtesy of Jacksonville and Tennessee after the AFC South squads traded into the third round the year before, the Patriots could afford to take injury risks. Sometimes, those injury risks completely bust out. And sometimes you get one of the best players at the position in NFL history like Mr. Gronkowski.
Biggest bust: None, really. Gresham was a disappointment, and Dickson (70th overall to Baltimore) was outplayed by teammate Dennis Pitta (BYU, 114th overall), at least before hip injuries ruined Pitta's career. But that was Dickson on the field in the Super Bowl. Tony Moeaki, (Iowa, 93rd) was a good player for Kansas City the rare times he was healthy, and found his way back into the NFL after the Chiefs cut him. The highest-drafted 2010 tight end not on an NFL roster in 2015 was Mr. Hernandez, about whom I will say no more.
Best value: Gronkowski. Honorable mention to Graham, who went 95th overall to New Orleans.
Conventional wisdom: There were two rock-solid left tackles from the Sooner State who seemed like locks to go very, very early in the draft, Trent Williams of Oklahoma and Russell Okung from Oklahoma State; and two right tackles, Bryan Bulaga from Iowa and Anthony Davis from Rutgers, who seemed like first-round picks. Below them were the second-tier left tackles. The biggest wild card was Bruce Campbell of Maryland, who had a meteoric late rise due to strong athletic testing (a 4.88 40-yard dash), earning a mention in Gil Brandt's ten hottest prospects and plenty of "Shop smart, shop S-mart" jokes (he ended up going in the fourth round).
At the interior line, there were two consensus standouts, both of whom seemed likely to go in the first round. Maurkice Pouncey was the man who snapped the ball to Tebow at Florida, while Idaho's Mike Iupati was a road-grading guard with All-Pro potential.
Highest pick: Williams, fourth overall to Washington.
Best player: Take your pick. I would choose Williams. PFR's AV metric prefers Iupati (17th to San Francisco), while Pouncey (21st overall, Pittsburgh), is the player in the group to twice be named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
Biggest bust: The only highly-drafted lineman not to play in 2015 was Davis (11th to San Francisco), and he voluntarily stepped away from the game. The earliest-drafted player not to have a significant career was Alabama guard Mike Johnson (98th overall to the Falcons). He only started one game, but he was in line to be a starter in 2013 before suffering a broken leg and dislocated ankle in training camp. A lisfranc injury cost him 2014, and he retired last July.
Best value: It was not really a great year for standout offensive linemen late (or early, beyond the top players). The most notable may have been J'Marcus Webb (West Texas A&M, 218th overall), who started his first three seasons for Chicago and then again for the Raiders in 2015.
Conventional wisdom: There were two awesome defensive tackles coming out of the Big 12. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh had a case for the Heisman Trophy due to his status as a one-man wrecking crew and destroyer of offensive linemen. Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy was probably "just" a penetrating three-technique tackle, but he was a sublime one at that. If you wanted a nose tackle, Tennessee product Dan Williams was probably your first choice.
There were a number of edge rushers who seemed likely to go in the first round. The most polished, though probably not the most explosive, was Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan. The most intriguing was South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul, a junior college player without many college starts, but who had great potential. Michigan's Brandon Graham, TCU's Jerry Hughes, and USC's Everson Griffen were also projected to go fairly high.
Here at Football Outsiders, 2010 saw the introduction of SackSEER. It liked Hughes the best of all the first-round edge rushing candidates, and absolutely hated Pierre-Paul. In fact, his projection was for just 3.8 sacks through Year 5.
Highest pick: Suh, second overall to Detroit.
Best player: A fascinating question, given how many of both the defensive ends and defensive tackles panned out. Let's address the ends first.
Last offseason, I was looking back at our live blog of Day One of the draft and noted this comment in particular:
9:15 Comment From SackSEER
Aaron, Bill if JPP leads this draft class in Sacks, I'm going to send you a singing telegram to apologize. (and yes, I am Nate, and not just some smart alec)
When I read that last spring, Pierre-Paul had 42.0 sacks, six more than any other player in the class. Then July happened. Pierre-Paul suffered a serious hand injury that cost him half the season, limited him to just one sack, and leaves him with an uncertain future going forward. Carlos Dunlap (Florida, 54th overall to Cincinnati) had a big season, hitting the double-digit marker for the first time with 13.5 sacks, and now leads the class by six sacks himself. Lurking behind him is Griffen, who fell to Minnesota at the top of the fourth round, 100th overall. He did not become a starter until his fifth season, but has 22.5 sacks in the last two years and 40.0 for his career.
The Lions were probably quite happy with Suh, and the Buccaneers have been similarly happy with McCoy as the third overall pick. The biggest difference between the two of them to date has probably been that Suh has missed two games while McCoy has missed 17. Which you would prefer going forward may be more a question of style or contract than anything else. Looking past the third pick, Geno Atkins (120th pick to Cincinnati out of Georgia) has been about as good as McCoy and Suh.
Biggest bust: All nine of the defensive linemen who went in the first round in 2010 are still active and contributors for their NFL teams, so there were no pure busts. It would be hard to argue, though, that the Indianapolis Colts felt they got proper value from Hughes. Bill Polian took him with the 31st pick to eventually replace Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis, but it took a trade to the Bills before the 2013 season for Hughes to find his way and break through with back-to-back 10.0-sack seasons.
The highly drafted player with the shortest career was Brian Price, whom the Buccaneers selected 35th out of UCLA. He tore his hamstring off the bone in rookie minicamp and was told he would probably never walk again. He returned to play 15 games at "40" in 2011, but did not appear in a regular-season game thereafter. A back injury leading to spinal fusion surgery ended the career of Bills tackle Torell Troup, picked 41st overall out of UCF.
Best value: Atkins over Griffen. I would be remiss, though, if I did not mention Greg Hardy. The Ole Miss product fell to the 175th pick over character concerns, and the Panthers got an extremely productive rusher who had 11.0 sacks in 2012 and 15.0 in 2013 before those concerns flared up in a very public way.
Conventional wisdom: Alabama run-stuffer Rolando McClain was the main man in the middle, with the instincts to make up for a lack of speed in coverage. The top run-and-chase player was Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon, perhaps followed by TCU's Daryl Washington. Penn State's Sean Lee was the consensus best middle linebacker behind McClain. On the whole, though, it was not believed to be a strong linebacker class.
Highest pick: McClain, eighth overall to Oakland.
Best player: NaVorro Bowman (Penn State, 91st overall to San Francisco). If he had stayed clean off the field, Washington (47th to Arizona) could have challenged him for the honor. Honorable mention to Bowman's collegiate teammate Lee, who went 55th to Dallas.
Biggest bust: McClain has found a second act to his career in Dallas on a series of one-year deals (2016 is his third in a row), but the Raiders got very little out of him for the eighth overall pick. Busting harder than McClain was Texas pass-rusher Sergio Kindle. The Ravens nabbed him with the 43rd pick, but a pre-training camp fall at his Texas home that resulted in a skull fracture virtually ended his NFL career before it began.
Best value: Bowman. Productive players drafted after him included Arthur Moats (James Madison, 178th to Buffalo), Dekoda Watson (Florida State, 217th to Tampa Bay), and Kavell Conner (Clemson, 240th to Indianapolis).
Conventional wisdom: There were three defensive backs everybody loved who seemed destined to go in the first round. Tennessee's Eric Berry and Earl Thomas of Texas were both safeties who might become corners in the NFL. Berry could do it all, with a great closing burst and lock-down coverage ability. Thomas was great in coverage, either as a corner or deep safety, but was not the tackler most people wanted. USC's Taylor Mays was not quite on their level, but was a phenomenal hitter and big-play machine for Pete Carroll's Trojans.
Florida's Joe Haden was the consensus best corner in the draft, and some people were not sure there was a close second. Boise State's Kyle Wilson was loved by many draftnik types; Kareem Jackson was a standout on Alabama's championship unit; and some people loved the gifts of Florida State corner Patrick Robinson.
Highest pick: Berry, fifth overall to Kansas City.
Best player: With all due respect to Berry and his recovery from lymphoma to make it back to the Pro Bowl, Earl Thomas (14th overall to Seattle).
Biggest bust: The Jets wanted more than they got out of Wilson with the 29th pick. Ditto the Saints and Robinson at the very end of the first round. Minnesota took Chris Cook 34th out of Virginia and got off-the-field headlines (a domestic violence arrest, though he was subsequently acquitted at trial) and inconsistent-at-best play, but he made it into a training camp last summer. The real busts came at the top of the third round: Jerome Murphy (South Florida, to St. Louis), Amari Spievey (Iowa, to Detroit), and Myron Lewis (Vanderbilt, to Tampa Bay) went with picks 65, 66, and 67; and none saw a fourth season with his drafting team. The major pre-playing injury parade found another victim later in the third round with LSU safety Chad Jones. The Giants' draftee, the 76th pick, never played an NFL game after a major car accident in June 2010 that nearly cost him his life, and a return to baseball has brought its own share of injuries.
Best value: The comments section of the 2010 draft retrospective ended up with a Seahawks-49ers debate, prompted by a comment that declared in part Earl Thomas would be the best player and best value. Well, half-right, and even more partial credit for getting the team with the best value on a defensive back pick. After taking Thomas in the first (with a pick acquired the previous season from the Broncos, who traded up for Alphonso Smith, and see the 2009 draft retrospective for all the details of what Denver did then), Seattle found their other standout starting safety when they nabbed Virginia Tech's Kam Chancellor with the 133rd pick. Honorable mention to Reshad Jones, who would have been a strong candidate for this honor in most seasons, with Miami selecting him 163rd out of Georgia.
Highest pick: Zoltan Mesko, punter, Michigan, 150th to New England.
Best player: Mesko, by default, since he got to kick after his rookie season.
Biggest bust: When you actually draft a punter and he does not win the punting job in training camp, that's a bad draft pick. Tampa Bay's selection of Virginia Tech punter Brent Bowden with the 172nd pick did not pan out.
Best value: Mesko. The third punter to be drafted was Matt Dodge out of East Carolina, who went 221st to the Giants. This happened in December 2010 (sorry, Giants fans), and Dodge and his punt value (estimated at -15.8 points, second-worst in 2010) have not found a second job. No kickers were drafted.
Fun with Trader McDaniels
Josh McDaniels was a punching bag in the 2009 draft retrospective article. His picks the second time around were better -- Thomas and Decker both became good players, and Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton were starting offensive linemen early in their careers. Their maneuvering around the draft was one of the big stories of the first round. Here's what happened even before draft day (all picks are actual slot):
- Aug. 28, 2008: Acquired pick 158 from the Cowboys for defensive tackle Montrae Holland.
- Apr. 3, 2009: Acquired pick 11 from the Bears as part of the Jay Cutler deal.
- Apr. 25, 2009: Sent pick 14 to the Seahawks for a 2009 second-round pick, used on corner Alphonso Smith.
- Apr. 26, 2009: Sent pick 146 to the Lions as part of a deal for a 2009 sixth-round pick used on quarterback Tom Brandstater.
- Aug. 17, 2009: Sent previously-acquired pick 158 to the Patriots for defensive lineman LeKevin Smith and pick 231.
- Apr. 14, 2010: Acquired pick 43 from the Dolphins as part of the Brandon Marshall deal.
- Apr. 19, 2010: Acquired pick 137 and gave up pick 220 as part of a three-way deal with the Lions and Eagles.
Then we got to the actual draft itself, and the maneuvering was not done:
- Trade No. 1: Sent pick 11 to the 49ers for picks 13 and 113.
- Trade No. 2: Sent pick 13 to the Eagles for picks 24, 70, and 87.
- Trade No. 3: Sent pick 24 and pick 113 to the Cowboys for pick 22.
- Trade No. 4: Sent picks 43, 70, and 114 to the Ravens for pick 25.
Netting all the draft-day trades out, they gave up picks 11, 43, and 114 for picks 22, 25, and 87. By players chosen, they gave up Anthony Davis, Sergio Kindle, and Dennis Pitta for Demaryius Thomas, Tim Tebow, and Eric Decker. But with all the maneuvering, Aaron Hernandez, Dez Bryant, Ed Dickson, and Brandon Graham all joined Earl Thomas as players drafted with selections the Broncos held at one point.
The 2010 Report Card Report gave its highest honor to the Seattle Seahawks, followed by the Ravens, 49ers, Raiders, and Patriots. Low honors went to Jacksonville, Chicago, Washington, Buffalo, and Indianapolis.
Looking back, Seattle obviously came out just fine with Thomas, Chancellor, Russell Okung with the sixth pick, and Golden Tate at the back of the second round. The high grade for Baltimore depended on a couple defensive steals in Terrence Cody (57th overall) and Kindle. The 49ers got two offensive linemen they needed, both of whom were stalwarts on the line that powered a Super Bowl appearance, while Bowman was one of the steals of the draft. Second- and third-round picks Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer were both good players for Oakland, but McClain busted out early and fourth-round pick Jacoby Ford flared early before fading away. New England got Gronkowski, Devin McCourty from Rutgers (27th overall), a couple years of production from second-rounder Brandon Spikes, and Hernandez.
Two solid drafts that did not draw mention were Green Bay's and, surprisingly, Miami's. Some teams found a couple of stars (Cincinnati had Gresham, Dunlap, and Atkins, but otherwise largely busted out), but both the Packers and Dolphins got a number of players. Ted Thompson found Bryan Bulaga in the first round and Morgan Burnett in the third, while Miami found five eventual starters in Reshad Jones plus Jared Odrick, Koa Misi, John Jerry, and Nolan Carroll.
Several of the worst-graded teams were unsurprising. Jacksonville entered the draft without their second-round pick and traded away their fourth-rounder during the draft, so they made just two of the first 140 selections. Similarly, Chicago did not have either their first- or second-round picks, after trading for Cutler and defensive end Gaines Adams. Washington likewise made few early picks -- Williams is a fine tackle, and Perry Riley was a good contributor, but those were their only picks in the first five rounds following trades for Donovan McNabb and Adam Carriker, and the selection of Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft. Buffalo and Indianapolis had their complement of picks, but were panned for passing on needs (the Bills) or mostly just being boring (the Colts).
The draft the critics should have singled out was Carolina's. The Panthers were without a first-round pick after trading up for Everette Brown the year before. Hardy was a value for them as a player if not as a person, but the only other player they found was Brandon LaFell in the third round. Clausen busted hard, and third-round collegiate quarterback-turned-receiver conversion project Armanti Edwards busted harder. Indianapolis did about as poorly as the instant reactions suggested, with Hughes the most notable failure. The Vikings also did poorly, with Cook the only player who started at all on his first contract (Griffen finally became a starter in his fifth season, after Minnesota signed him to a big extension). The Jets had just four picks, and it is hard to say any of them was worth the pick, even everybody's binky corner Kyle Wilson.
Previous articles in this series:
- 2009 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2008 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2007 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2006 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2005 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2004 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2003 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2002 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2001 Draft: Six Years Later
- 2000 Draft: Six Years Later
- 1999 Draft: Six Years Later
- 1998 Draft: Six Years Later