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17 Apr 2018

2012 NFL Draft: Six Years Later

by Tom Gower

It is an annual tradition at Football Outsiders to look back at the draft that was, in preparation for thinking about the draft that is upcoming. On most websites, that means looking back to last year's draft, and writing about how Sashi Brown might actually have gotten to use the bevy of picks he accumulated for the Cleveland Browns if only he had selected Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson instead of Myles Garrett with the first overall pick. Instead, we look back at the draft that was six years ago, when quarterbacks went with the first two picks and, as usual, one of them ended up not being very good.

Beyond the top two picks, there were other, lesser, but still highly regarded quarterbacks; a running back dubbed the best since Adrian Peterson, along with a plethora of his Nick Saban-school defensive teammates; a left tackle who kept one very athletic top-ten pick from 2011 glued to the right side; a shutdown corner from LSU who might have been as good as the one from the year before; and a middle linebacker designed to test just how high it made sense to take a middle linebacker.

For a reminder of who went where, Pro Football Reference is your source for all the picks in the draft and their basic statistics, while I find Wikipedia more useful for tracing draft pick transactions.

Quarterbacks

Conventional wisdom: Was Andrew Luck the best quarterback prospect since John Elway, or just since Peyton Manning, or not even the best quarterback prospect that year? Whichever way you went, the Stanford signal-caller had helped lead a transformation of the Cardinal program, was experienced in a "pro-style" (read: under-center) passing game, and had been schooled by Jim Harbaugh, who had since jumped to the NFL and taken the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. A three-year starter who likely would have been the first overall pick in 2011 had he come out early, approximately nobody thought he would struggle in the NFL.

Beyond Luck, things were more interesting. The favorite prospect of those who tired of the Luck hype was Robert Griffin. The Baylor superstar led the Bears to a number of high-profile wins, most notably a shootout victory over Oklahoma, and took home the Heisman Trophy. If you wanted to join the new NFL with a dual-threat quarterback, he might be your choice.

Like the first two, the third quarterback in the draft played his high school ball in Texas and did not end up in Austin. Ryan Tannehill started at Texas A&M as a wide receiver before shifting back to quarterback. His limited experience contributed to his perceived upside.

Two other quarterbacks some people liked had experience playing minor league baseball. Brandon Weeden had statistically minded-folk screaming in terror as a 28-year-old despite a very productive career at Oklahoma State. There was also Russell Wilson, the player Aaron Schatz dubbed "The Asterisk" in his column on LCF v.2.0 (the predecessor to the current QBASE projection system). Just 5-foot-10 in a league where quarterbacks under 6-foot-2 are disfavored, Wilson's production in his senior year at Wisconsin after transferring from North Carolina State was undeniable, but he clearly would not be to everyone's taste.

Here at Football Outsiders, LCF v.2.0 loved Wilson and Griffin, giving them the top two projections in its history, while also valuing Luck quite highly. It saw the class overall as pretty good, giving Nick Foles, Weeden, and Tannehill decent projections.

Highest pick: Luck, first overall to Indianapolis.

Best player: The Seahawks did not just use the 75th pick on Wilson and throw him in the lineup. Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had an offense that worked to Wilson's strengths, and were rewarded for it. He beat out free agent signee Matt Flynn even before the season began. He has finished in the top 15 in passing DVOA and DYAR every year of his career and also finished in the top five in rushing DYAR every year but one (2016, when he played through an ankle injury). It's not his fault the team decided that because of his improvising style they could economize by not building an offensive line, is it?

Biggest bust: Weeden went 22nd to the Browns and was unimpressive as a rookie starter, finishing 34th (of 39) in DYAR. He managed an impressive last-place finish by both DVOA and DYAR in just five starts in an injury-plagued 2013, and did not attempt a pass in 2016 or 2017, though the Texans did recently sign him to back up Deshaun Watson.

Washington traded a bounty to St. Louis for the ability to move up and select Griffin. He finished his rookie year as a sensation, but blew up in the maelstrom of Dan Snyder's franchise, feuding with initial head coach Mike Shanahan and struggling to stay healthy in the NFL with a body not built to take the punishment.

     

Best value: Wilson, really, but two other players are worth noting. Arizona's Nick Foles also went in the third round, 88th overall to Philadelphia. He had one great season under Chip Kelly and of course was the winning quarterback in the most recent Super Bowl.

Washington hedged its bet on Griffin by spending a fourth-round pick (102 overall) on Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. Cousins had a problem with throwing the ball to the people wearing the wrong jersey in East Lansing, but he eventually overcame that and became a winner at the business of football, leveraging solid play into a couple years of the franchise tag and now a fully guaranteed contract from the Minnesota Vikings.

Running Backs

Conventional wisdom: Alabama star Trent Richardson was, by some estimates, the best player in the class regardless of position and well worth a high pick. Nobody was that close to Richardson. Many outside scouts liked Washington's highly productive Chris Polk, though the NFL would not be nearly so enamored of him. Boise State's Doug Martin, a lesser version of Richardson, or Virginia Tech big-play threat David Wilson were the backs who might go in the late first or early second.

Here at Football Outsiders, Speed Score's favorite back was Bernard Pierce, who would go 84th overall to Baltimore. Second was Martin, while it suggested a bit of skepticism on Wilson, who was not that fast for his size. Richardson did not run at the Combine, but his pro day 40 would have put him atop the group.

Highest pick: Richardson, third overall to Cleveland.

Best player: By career rushing yards, Alfred Morris (Florida Atlantic, 173rd overall, to Washington), followed by Lamar Miller (Miami, 97th overall, to the Dolphins) and Martin (31st overall, to Tampa Bay), and no other back within 2,500 yards of the trio. Martin's two good years (he has two seasons of 1,400-odd yards and four of 400-odd) are the best seasons of the bunch. Miller, though somewhat of a free-agent disappointment for the Texans, may have the most years of productivity of the group and seems likely to be a 2017 starter. Overall, though, it was not a good year for great running backs.

Biggest bust: Richardson is actually fourth in rushing yards among running backs in the draft class, never you mind that he peaked at 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie and has not carried the ball since 2014. For reasons off the field and on, one of the biggest draft busts this side of JaMarcus Russell, though at least Cleveland's next regime was able to steal a first-round pick from Ryan Grigson for him (which Cleveland's next next regime would use to acquire Johnny Manziel).

Honorable mention to Wilson, who had just 115 carries before a career-ending neck injury.

Best value: Morris was the last (seemingly) in a long line of backs to come from obscurity and find great success in a Mike Shanahan offense, beginning with 1,613 yards as a rookie. Miller was also a Day 3 pick, though he went much earlier.

Wide Receivers

Conventional wisdom: There was no single prospect who matched 2011's top pair of A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but there were still plenty of quality players. The consensus top prospect was Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State, while Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and favorite RG3 target Kendall Wright were also likely first-round selections.

The most controversial receiver in the draft was probably South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery. He had good production as a contested catch receiver, and some people thought he would excel there in the NFL. Others were more concerned by his weight increase and thought he might struggle to separate in the NFL.

Here, 2012 saw the introduction of Playmaker Score 3.0. Unsurprisingly in the wake of Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas, its favorite prospect was the latest tall and fast deep threat from Georgia Tech, Stephen Hill. It was quite skeptical of Floyd and had muted things to say about eventual second-round picks Jeffery, Rueben Randle (LSU), and Brian Quick (Appalachian State).

Highest pick: Blackmon, fifth overall to Jacksonville.

Best player: The class leader in receptions and receiving yards (though not touchdowns after only four in 2017) is T.Y. Hilton. The Florida International product was the 13th receiver off the board to the Colts at pick 92 and quickly became one of the NFL's best deep threats. Jeffery is the only player within 2,900 yards and bests Hilton in touchdowns, 35 to 34.

Biggest bust: The story that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent a scout to Stillwater and had him sit in a bar every night for a week to see if Blackmon came in for a drink may be one of those that becomes exaggerated in the telling, but it is the sort of due diligence Jaguars general manager Gene Smith did not do (or did not heed the results of; the result was the same either way). A DUI a month after the draft put Blackmon in the NFL's substance abuse program. He was suspended for the first four games of his second season, then suspended indefinitely after a further violation in the 2013 season. He has yet to be reinstated to the NFL.

Also busting hard was A.J. Jenkins from Illinois, who went to the 49ers with the 30th pick. San Francisco traded him to Kansas City for Jon Baldwin after one season in a swap of unwanted players. Jenkins had no catches for the 49ers, then 17 catches in two years with the Chiefs, and has not played since.

Best value: Getting the best receiver in the draft in the third round is a fine value, but it was a very deep draft for receivers and Hilton was far from the last player to become a solid contributor. It took a couple seasons, but Travis Benjamin transformed from rarely used deep threat to a more productive receiver his fourth season in Cleveland, and has continued that with the Chargers. The Bengals stole Matt Waldman favorite Marvin Jones (California) with the 166th pick, and Rishard Matthews (Nevada, 227th, to Miami) has been outstanding for a seventh-round pick.

Tight Ends

Conventional wisdom: It was not close to 2010's amazing tight end class, with only three names appearing on Bob McGinn's list of the top 100 prospects. The consensus best player at the position and a borderline first-round pick was Coby Fleener. One of Luck's favorite targets at Stanford, he was one of the new hybrid breed of oversized wide receivers. Clemson's Dwayne Allen was a more traditional Y tight end and a better blocker and all-around player, though not the same receiving threat. A couple of receiving tight ends, Georgia's Orson Charles and Ladarius Green from Louisiana-Lafayette, were the consensus next tight ends.

Highest pick: Fleener, 34th overall to Indianapolis.

     

Best player: Fleener almost by default? By receiving yards, the class goes Fleener, 3,080; Allen (64th, also to Indianapolis), 1,537; Green (110th, to San Diego), 1,391; James Hanna (Oklahoma, 186th overall, to Miami), 374. Nobody else is close to a serious contributor. As frustrating as Fleener has been, it just was not a good year for tight ends.

Biggest bust: Miami's use of a third-round pick (78th overall) on Michael Egnew out of Missouri was one of those moves that seemed overly aggressive at the time and does not look any better in hindsight. Egnew has seven career catches, all of which came in his second (and, barring a surprising comeback, final) season.

Best value: Take your pick of Hanna, Fleener, Allen, or every team that took a tight end in 2010 instead.

Offensive Linemen

Conventional wisdom: USC's Matt Kalil was the all-world tackle who had kept Tyron Smith on the right side. Beyond him, Riley Reiff was the latest Iowa lineman, a solid player even if he might only be a right tackle in the NFL. Could Georgia's massive Cordy Glenn handle left tackle, was he a right tackle, or did you want to put him inside as a power guard? If you were skeptical of Reiff and Glenn, your second left tackle might be another Stanford prospect, Jonathan Martin.

The more highly regarded Cardinal lineman was David DeCastro, described as the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson in 2000 by at least one pre-draft publication. On the next level were Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler; small school standout Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State; and the top center in the draft, Zeitler's Madison teammate Peter Konz.

Highest pick: Kalil, fourth overall to Minnesota.

Best player: DeCastro fell to the Steelers with the 24th pick and has been excellent after a slow start to his career, making the last three Pro Bowls and twice being named All-Pro. Joining him in the Pro Bowl the last two seasons, and making the All-Pro team in 2016 when he did not, was Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State, 60th overall, to Baltimore), now entrenched at left guard in Oakland after starting his Charm City career at right tackle. The top tackle in the class has been Cal's Mitchell Schwartz, who went to Cleveland with the 37th pick … unless you go by Pro Bowls, in which case it is Kalil for the one he made after his rookie season.

Biggest bust: Kalil has become a whipping boy after a need to get a little stronger coming out turned into major anchor issues his second season in the league, and a hard-to-explain free-agent contract from the Panthers last offseason didn't help. But the real busts are the players like Konz (55th overall, Atlanta) who went pretty high in the draft, did not make it through the duration of their rookie contract, and are now out of the NFL. Also out of the league are Martin (42nd overall, to Miami), about whom I will say no more, and Mike Adams (Ohio State, 56th overall, to Pittsburgh).

Best value: Day 3 only produced a couple long-term starters, but one of them came in the seventh round. SMU's Kelvin Beachum fell to pick 248 before Pittsburgh selected him and he, not Adams, was their starting left tackle by Year 2.

Defensive Linemen

Conventional wisdom: As I discussed in last year's draft retrospective, by this point in the NFL we had started to see a real blurring of the lines between 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers, with position depending largely on destination and how a team chose to deploy its defenders. This conversation had started to reach into draft media, but edge rushers were mostly still listed as "DE," and the split into players the way I now think of them -- as defensive linemen, edge defenders, and off-ball linebackers -- was not yet evident. Now it is, though, and rather than have another split discussion of comparable players, I will instead try to group like players together. First up, defensive linemen.

The Tennessee chapter of Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 featured a look at the development of offensive players by college conference. The defensive version of that same study, likely to run in some form later this offseason, confirms research we did several years ago: that the SEC produces a lot of defensive linemen, and a lot of good ones. Two were towards the top of the list of prospects in 2012. Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox was an outstanding penetrator, ideally suited for a 3-tech job in an attacking front. Michael Brockers was undeveloped coming out of LSU as a redshirt sophomore, but looked like a fine run defender and could develop into a pass rusher with the right coaching. The top potential nose tackle in the draft was Dontari Poe, though he carried the inevitable criticism that he did not show his athletic gifts consistently against Memphis' Conference USA foes. If you wanted to take a risk on a Big Ten player, Penn State's Devon Still and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy showed enough flashes to be thought of as borderline first-round picks.

Highest pick: Poe, 11th overall to Kansas City.

Best player: Cox fell to the 12th pick and -- surprise! -- has been about as good as he was in Starkville. He has made three Pro Bowls and has 34.0 sacks. Per Sports Info Solutions charting (subscription required), he had 28.5 hurries in 2017, tied for sixth among non-edge defenders.

Biggest bust: Worthy and Still fell past the middle of the second round, going 51st to the Packers and 53rd to the Bengals, respectively. Though both played in the NFL in 2017 (Still three games with the Texans, Worthy five with the Bills), neither ever came close to developing into a starter or even major contributor with their drafting team or any other, or displayed the pass rush potential they flashed in college. They combined for 3.0 sacks, 2.5 by Worthy as a rookie.

Best value: The Packers may have missed on Worthy, but they struck gold two rounds later with Mike Daniels from Iowa with the 132nd pick. Daniels does not put up big sack numbers, with a high of 6.5 in his second season, but is consistently effective. Fifteen picks later, the Broncos had a hit of their own with Malik Jackson from Tennessee. He parlayed a fine Super Bowl into a payday with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and was a key part of last season's top-ranked defense.

Edge Rushers

Conventional wisdom: Quinton Coples was one of the biggest wild cards in the draft. He looked like a potential top pick entering the season, but had a down year for North Carolina. At 284 pounds, he might have been a 4-3 defensive end only, or was he an outside linebacker or a defensive end for a 3-4 team?

Beyond Coples, there was Melvin Ingram. A joker at South Carolina who lined up everywhere from nose tackle to off the ball, did he have to go to a scheme where he would be used as a joker pass-rusher, or could he win consistently from the same position? Was Nick Perry from USC more than just a one-trick pony speed rusher? Could Whitney Mercilus develop his technique to be a better player than he was at Illinois? "Late riser" Bruce Irvin was a fascinating evaluation after playing as a down lineman at West Virginia, while Syracuse's Chandler Jones was a player who went from off the radar to one of Mike Mayock's top prospects at the position right before the draft. Boise State's Shea McClellin had experience lining up everywhere, but might have been best lined up on the line of scrimmage.

We introduced SackSEER 2.0 in 2012. It was not a fan of Coples, giving him just the sixth-highest projected sack total and a lousy rating of 25.4 percent. The version of SackSEER that ran in FOA 2012 had McClellin second, passing Mercilus due to his selection in the first round. It was extremely skeptical of Irvin due to a low number of passes defensed in college and the junior college status that has signaled doom for most prospects not named Jason Pierre-Paul.

Highest pick: Irvin, 15th overall to the Seahawks.

Best player: By sacks, it is not close. Jones (21st overall to New England) has 64.0, 20 more than any other player in the class. Our numbers suggest he might have been a little fortunate to lead the NFL in sacks in 2017, as he finished outside the top 15 in hurries by SIS charting, but he also led the league in defeats.

Biggest bust: The Jets were rumored to be the team interested in Irvin, only to see Seattle snipe them the pick before. They settled for Coples, who never found a home at either outside linebacker or defensive end. Miami tried him as a 4-3 end for six games after New York waived him in 2015, and he did not impress there, or in Rams camp for 2016, or anywhere else since.

Best value: Coples busted and McClellin (19th to the Bears) never amounted to anything as a pass-rusher, but the other first-round picks worked out. Later picks, not so much. Beyond defensive linemen Daniels and Jackson, the leading sacker on the third day is Jack Crawford with 9.5. If you did not draft an edge rusher early, you did not get one in the 2012 draft.

Linebackers

Conventional wisdom: Luke Kuechly was a superstar at Boston College, and the only question was how early a team would take a middle linebacker. Going later in the first round would be Alabama's Dont'a Hightower, who had played various roles for the Crimson Tide. The most fun prospect might have been Nebraska tackling machine Lavonte David, though his size might have limited him to a run-and-chase weakside linebacker role. Cal's Mychal Kendricks and Utah State's Bobby Wagner from were the next tier of middle linebackers, while Zach Brown from North Carolina was more athletic than David if you could overlook flashes of an avoid-contact mentality that led Mayock to dub him "pillow hands."

Highest pick: Kuechly, ninth overall to Carolina.

Best player: Do I have to choose which of three superb players I like best? Our love for Lavonte David (58th, Tampa Bay) and his ability to rack up defeats has been well documented. He has only made one All-Pro team and one Pro Bowl, but it has not been for lack of playmaking. Kuechly and Wagner (47th overall, Seattle) have had better luck earning acclaim, making four and three All-Pro teams respectively. Split the hairs however you wish; I will just continue to enjoy watching all of them play.

Biggest bust: (Titans fan hat on.)

In need of a linebacker and holding the 52nd pick, the Titans passed on David to select Zach Brown because:

  • defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was an idiot.
  • they loved Brown's wrestling background.
  • David did badly on the whiteboard.
  • Ruston Webster couldn't draft in the second round.
  • well, some reason.

Brown was later benched:

  • because he was an idiot.
  • because Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams hated him.
  • because Gray and Williams were idiots.
  • because astrology said so.
  • because they wanted to bench somebody, and he was it.
  • well, some reason.

(Titans fan hat off.)

Brown ended up going to Buffalo as a free agent and made the Pro Bowl with Rex Ryan. In fact, every linebacker chosen in the first three rounds had at least something of a career and played in the NFL in 2017. The least productive was Sean Spence (Miami, 86th overall), who completely destroyed a knee in the preseason in 2012 and did not see the field again until 2014.

Best value: Wagner in the second round has been about as good as very high pick Kuechly, if you want to go that way. Two Day 3 picks have had very good careers for their draft position. Florida State's Nigel Bradham went to the Bills in the fourth round, 105th overall, and won a Super Bowl ring in February. Sixth-round pick from Kentucky Danny Trevathan got his with the Broncos two years ago before departing for the green of Chicago.

Defensive Backs

Conventional wisdom: Morris Claiborne may not have had the same return ability or quite the same size as former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson, but he was still an outstanding cover corner in his own right. Not far behind him in some people's eyes, though far behind him in others', was Stephon Gilmore from South Carolina. Gilmore had good size and toughness but would need to improve his technique and consistency. The third corner might have been Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick. More tantalizing than Kirkpatrick was Janoris Jenkins, who came out of North Alabama but started his career at Florida. Drafting him would require you to accept the character red flags and overlook his smaller stature.

The top safety was clearly Kirkpatrick's Tuscaloosa teammate Mark Barron. Like Kuechly, there were questions about how high another team would take a strong safety after the Chiefs had used the fifth pick on Eric Berry two years earlier. Next behind him was Harrison Smith from Notre Dame, an improving player who offered good versatility. The class fell off pretty quickly after those two, though.

Highest pick: Claiborne, sixth overall to Dallas.

Best player: Smith (29th to Minnesota) would be my choice and that of Pro Football Refence's CareerAV metric, but I will listen to arguments as this class produced a number of good players even beyond the names already mentioned. Jenkins is second by CareerAV, followed by Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt, 62nd overall to Green Bay) and Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina, 143rd overall to Carolina). A ten-year retrospective might actually settle on Gilmore (10th overall, Buffalo) or Trumaine Johnson (Montana, 65th overall to the Rams). Given that Barron is now a linebacker, the second-best safety is probably Boise State's George Iloka, who fell to Cincinnati with the 167th pick.

Biggest bust: Kirkpatrick (17th to Cincinnati) has probably been somewhat of a disappointment, and the Patriots probably wanted more than they got from using the 48th pick on Tavon Wilson from Illinois. Overall, though, you have to go to the third round and the next safeties off the board to find players who made no impact. Claiborne teammate Brandon Taylor went to the Chargers with the 73rd pick; started four games as a rookie; hurt his knee; was a healthy scratchy all of 2013; cut the next year; and never played again. Bears safety Brandon Hardin (Oregon State, 79th overall) could not stay any healthier in the NFL than he was in college, nor tackle well when he was on the field. He never played in a regular-season game.

Best value: Norman and Iloka have both had outstanding careers for players chosen in the fifth round.

Special Teams

Conventional wisdom: Cal's Bryan Anger was to punters what DeCastro was to guards, one of the best players at the position in years. The most popular kicker was Greg Zuerlein from Missouri Western.

Here at Football Outsiders, we still believed spending any draft pick on a kicker or punter was probably a mistake, though we might not yell at you too much if you really needed one and waited until the sixth or seventh round.

Highest pick: Anger, SEVENTIETH overall to the Jaguars. N.B.: The Jaguars needed a quarterback because it was clear that Blaine Gabbert was not the answer, and Russell Wilson went five picks later. In the past dozen years, the highest punters to be drafted have been Anger and Adam Podlesh, 101st overall in 2007. Both picks were made by then-Jaguars general manager Gene Smith.

In his defense, Anger did at least rank sixth in gross punting value as a rookie and was fifth in 2016 with Tampa Bay after he left as a free agent, so at least he beats out B.J. Sander for "best career by a punter picked in the third round this millennium."

Best player: Zuerlein went 171st to the Rams and has been one of the NFL's more fun kickers over the past six years. Minnesota relied a lot on Blair Walsh (Georgia, 175th overall), who led the league in made field goals in 2012 and 2015, until he got the yips.

Biggest bust: The Texans made Texas A&M's Randy Bullock the surprise first kicker off the board in the fifth round, 161st overall. He missed his rookie season with a groin injury, led the Texans to a 31st-place ranking in FG/XP value his first year kicking. Houston cut him after he missed a couple extra points and a field goal in the first three weeks of 2015.

Best value: The Ravens signed Justin Tucker, the best kicker in the league, as an undrafted free agent. The Rams signed Johnny Hekker, the best punter in the league, as an undrafted free agent. You can find great kickers and punters in undrafted free agency. Do not use third-round picks on them.

Team Performance

Our annual Report Card Report gave top honors to the Bengals, followed by the Steelers, Colts, Eagles, and Patriots. The pick-short Saints and Raiders drew low-man honors, followed by the Seahawks, Broncos, and Jets.

Readers of last year's version of this column (about 2011) may recall the experts roundly denigrated what John Schneider did that year as well, when he drafted James Carpenter, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and Malcolm Smith. In 2012, The Asterisk was a big risk, and it paid off. Wagner is really good, as noted. Irvin was not as bad as the critics feared. There was no Richard Sherman or Kam Chancellor in the late rounds, but J.R. Sweezy was pretty useful by the standards of seventh-round picks.

Though Kirkpatrick was disappointing, Kevin Zeitler was a good pick for Cincinnati, while Marvin Jones and George Iloka were among my best value picks at their position, and Mohamed Sanu was better than expected in the third round. The Bengals also hit on Vontaze Burfict as an undrafted free agent, though the post-draft grades ignore UDFAs. The Steelers benefited from the praise that went to Alameda Ta'amu, a highly regarded nose tackle from Washington who did little in the NFL after they chose him in the fourth round. DeCastro and Beachum were their only significant players from the draft.

The Falcons were down a first-round pick after the Julio Jones trade and got little, with first selection Peter Konz under-powered for an NFL lineman. Jacksonville lost with Blackmon and did not get much from the early second-round pick they used on Andre Branch, plus as much scorn as you can throw their way for taking a punter in the third round. McClellin was by far the Bears' second-best draft pick, as their four picks after Jeffery produced almost nothing. The Jets missed on Coples and Hill, with only Demario Davis to prevent them from a near-complete zero. Oakland was down their first-, second-, and third-round picks, and their draft value reflected it.

And San Francisco. Oh, the 49ers. Their best pick was Joe Looney, a fourth-round reserve offensive lineman who was cut before the end of his rookie deal. Yes, that really was their best selection. A.J. Jenkins busted out. Second-round pick LaMichael James finished his career with 44 carries. The other Day 3 picks did nothing of note in San Francisco. By far the best thing the 49ers did was come out of the draft with extra third- and fifth-round picks in 2013. At least the Jaguars gave us something to laugh about by selecting a punter in the third round.

Previous articles in this series:

Posted by: Tom Gower on 17 Apr 2018

44 comments, Last at 05 May 2018, 6:40pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by Bryan Knowles :: Tue, 04/17/2018 - 1:20pm

(49ers fan hat on)

They held a draft in 2012? Really? Are you sure? I don't remember a 2012 NFL draft. You may want to check your sources on that.

(49ers fan hat off)

2
by TomC :: Tue, 04/17/2018 - 1:53pm

Yeah, turns out whiffing on every pick significantly increases your chances of sucking six years later. Who knew?

My team, the Bears, have zero picks from that draft left on their roster, zero players or picks (or money or equipment bags) in return for losing any of those players, and the only guy they guessed correctly on wearing a Super Bowl ring for another team.

3
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 04/17/2018 - 2:45pm

Harder to find decent players when you have a winning team. 49ers had just #30 in 1st and #61 in 2nd and nothing in the 3rd.

First year of rookie wage scale, not sure teams understood how valuable it would become in filling out a roster cheaply and being able to resign their key veterans to huge contracts.

42
by Grendel13G :: Sat, 04/21/2018 - 9:32pm

Actually, the year previous (2011, with Cam Newton and Von Miller at the top) was the first year of the rookie wage scale.

4
by serutan :: Tue, 04/17/2018 - 3:08pm

So what *was* Wilson's 5 year DYAR vs. the "Asterisk" projection?
Or will there (hopefully) be a follow up on this?
______
Was wr

5
by jacksonmcg :: Tue, 04/17/2018 - 4:02pm

Years 3-5 it ended up being 2262 passing DYAR (503 in 2014, 1190 in 2015, 569 in 2016). So it's actually short of what LCF projected him as.

6
by serutan :: Tue, 04/17/2018 - 8:12pm

Thanks

7
by BJR :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 6:37am

So, the third and final year of Seattle's incredible drafting spree (note also that this draft included them trading their 5th(!) rounder to Buffalo for Marshawn Lynch).

One of the benefits of waiting six years to do this exercise is that we now have sufficient evidence from this regime's further drafts to conclude that this spree was mostly down to pure luck.

8
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 6:54am

Or Scot McCloughan. (Though he was with the team in 2013 too.)

9
by Will Allen :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 9:39am

Let it be noted again that hardly anybody has a large enough sample of draft picks for us to have strong confidence as to where they rank, relative to other people who get paid a lot of money to make picks for an NFL team.

14
by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 4:38pm

I mostly believe this, but McCloughan has had strong drafts wherever he went, on three different teams with different scouts &c. I suspect that guy is actually good.

15
by Will Allen :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 5:27pm

I might suspect something, but I don't strongly suspect something without a decent sample size. How many draft picks has McCloughan made? 70? 80? That just isn't enough, unless he has been so much obviously better than anyone else that 2nd place is barely visible.

17
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 11:45pm

This gets a bit murky because it's not always clear who was making final picks in each draft for each team, but for the sake of discussion here, let's give McCloughan the maximum benefit of the doubt. He was with San Francisco from 2005 to 2009 (Vice President of Player Personnel 2005-2007, GM 2008-2009), Senior Personnel Executive in Seattle from 2010 to 2013, and GM of Washington from 2015 to 2016. The totals for those team's drafts:

11 seasons
98 draft picks
5 All-Pros (5.1%)
17 Pro Bowlers (17.3%)
52 Starters for at least one season (53.1%)
31 starters for at least three seasons (31.6%)

That includes four Pro Bowl defensive backs (Dashon Goldson, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman), three Pro Bowl tackles (Russell Okung, Joe Staley, Brandon Scherff), and two franchise-quality quarterbacks (Russell Wilson and Alex Smith).

For comparison's sake, here are Bill Belichick's numbers since taking over as New England's de facto GM in 2000:

18 seasons
157 draft picks
11 All-Pros (7.0%)
17 Pro Bowlers (10.8%)
59 Starters for at least one season (37.6%)
36 starters for at least three seasons (22.9%)

Obviously, players drafted in 2016 and 2017 can't be 3-year starters yet, and there are a dozen other flaws in this study that I did in 20 minutes while watching The Voice on DVR. But at the surface level, McCloughan has had a much higher hit rate than the GM of the NFL's most successful franchise in the better part of two decades now. He could have two or three stinker drafts in a row and would probably still come out looking better than Belichick. Yeah, I'd say he's pretty good.

19
by Will Allen :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 4:00am

Except injury luck alone could easily swing those numbers by a large amount. Along with some other stuff. Look you would be very hesitant to say a qb was pretty good after 100 passes. Why on earth would you do it for something far more complex, like draft picks?

20
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 10:53am

I'm not sure why you'd think the variability in 100 passes would be the same as in 100 careers. A pass is a single event. A career is indeed a much more complicated thing built on a lot more data points and can be assessed with more reliability than a single pass. Its "complication" is what makes it more reliable, not less. Would you say it's harder to evaluate 100 games, or 100 seasons, than 100 passes because they're more "complex"?

25
by Will Allen :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 3:36pm

I would say that using a w-l record over 100 games has much more potential to mislead, than using the result of 100 passes, because what produces a win or loss is more multifactoral than what produced the outcome of 100 passes. Similarly, what produces the outcome of a player's career has gigantically more factors than what produces the outcome of a pass play. Thus, it becomes even more difficult to attribute the outcomes of 100 careers to identifiable draft prospect attributes, than it is to attribute the outcome of 100 pass plays to identifiable qb attributes. Thus it makes less sense to make strong conclusions about the quality of a draft picker, based on 100 picks, than it does to make strong conclusions about the quality of a qb, based on 100 passes.

28
by mrt1212 :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 6:50pm

While I agree with the multifactor aspect of your argument I think considering tenable sample size accrual is important here. 100 Passes is what, 3-4 games worth of passes, in a potential career many magnitudes larger. 100 Games is 6 seasons worth of games.

I just don't see how you'd have more confidence in 100 passes being more informative than 100 games even with the multifactor caveat because 100 games winds up being a sample of up to if not more than 50% of any given coaches tenure on average.

Edit:

Also I realized that the measures of games and passes are also related to what we're seeking to find in the information. If a coach has 100 games under their belt and 75 wins, is it necessarily wrong to assign some holistic 'know how' to that coach even if we can't necessarily describe the mechanisms that led to that outcome in great detail? With 100 passes, I can't even begin to tell you what I'd be looking for - foot mechanics, arm mechanics, rush perception, receiver windows and vision, catastrophic mistakes? And how to you evaluate a player with inconsistencies where 1 play was on the money and another was ridiculously off? Or even a seeming bi-polar proclivity to their play? Is there a measure of the magnitude in variance for qualitative mechanics?

29
by Will Allen :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 7:31pm

Well, my overarching view is that 100 data points is really inadequate to the task, whether we are ranking passers, coaches, or draft pickers, with anything approaching strong confidence. I mean, I'm willing to go out on a limb, and say McCloughan is superior to Matt Millen, but I'd be very hesitant to make strong assertions of confidence with the vast majority of cases. Just about any one of the people lauded as being very astute is about two or three injuries from being largely forgotten.

31
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 7:35pm

I guess I'd say that career success is not a single data point. It's a summary of many hundreds of data points.

Sheesh, we are meandering into metaphysics.

44
by LionInAZ :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 6:40pm

At roughly 7 picks per season, one would need 14+ years to accumulate 100 draft picks, not counting UDFAs. My guess is that anyone who drafted badly wouldn't last that long in the NFL unless they owned the team. I'm all for statistic rigor, but it's probably not productive to argue for a standard that's impossible to attain.

30
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 7:32pm

I would say that using a w-l record over 100 games has much more potential to mislead, than using the result of 100 passes, because what produces a win or loss is more multifactoral than what produced the outcome of 100 passes.

Guess we're going to have to disagree about that one. For one thing, I don't know why you're deciding w-l record is the way to evaluate games. Why not use DVOA or PFF scores or something? For another, 100 games simply is a larger data set than 100 passes by a factor of about 35. Multifactoral or not, the games are going to be a better data set. What if we reduce it to a single game vs. a single pass? Your argument would still apply, wouldn't it? A single pass would have more evaluative power than a game's worth of them? That doesn't make sense to me.

I'm sure it would be quite difficult to assign portions of a player's career success to specific draft measurements, but that's not what we're trying to do. All we have to do is evaluate that career success in total. If career success is largely determined by a player's ability, then it's not so difficult to tie to what happens in the draft.

The only way I can make sense of your argument is with this underlying assumption: a player's career success has little to do with a player's ability. I can't buy that.

32
by theslothook :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 9:29pm

I guess I'm on the side of Will. First, we don't even Know how much credit Scott deserves. Second, his time in Washington wasn't in the same stratosphere as Sea and SF, so it's really those two examples in front of us.

Is it a show of skill that he did well? Possibly, but the variation in the draft is pretty enormous that I don't think these two pieces of evidence can rule out luck.

33
by Will Allen :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 7:15am

Because DVOA only goes back a little more than 30 years.

34
by Will Allen :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 7:19am

A single game or single pass would both be about equally useless in my view. Yes, a game contains a lot of data, but a "w" or a "l" does not, and is not infrequently negatively correlated with that data.

36
by ChrisS :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 11:39am

If all you have is the wins and losses then I agree it may not be very illuminating. If you have all the stats and film from 100 games then yes one should be able to make a useful distinction.

21
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 10:56am

What's been obvious with McCloughan is how much better he's been at the organizations he's been with than his predecessors or successors with the same scouting staffs, same front offices, sometimes even the same coaches. The 49ers, the Seahawks, and the Redskins had some pretty awful drafts before he came along, and returned to that after he left. Maybe this is just an illusion, but it makes his relative success stick out.

And then you can also flip that on its head and say he's been successful at three different organizations with three quite different philosophies &c. He's the only talent evaluator who makes me wander into the realm of magical thinking.

26
by Will Allen :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 3:38pm

It's still small sample size theater, which has as much potential to obscure as to illuminate.

35
by SandyRiver :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 9:03am

From this discussion, one might conclude that no one in NFL history has sufficient sample size in drafting, except George Halas and maybe Don Shula, to conclude anything about draft skill.
(Separate topic - how much of McGloughan's less stellar Washington drafts were due to owner-taint?)

37
by Will Allen :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 12:19pm

Well, like I said, I'm quite willing to have some confidence that McCloughan is significantly better than Matt Millen. If we were to rank the top 25 draft pickers of all time, could we have much confidence that the person we stuck in the number one spot was actually more skilled at the task than the person we slotted at 25? I am extremely skeptical.

39
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 11:23pm

I call this a Jim Harbaugh situation.

40
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 11:23pm

I call this a Jim Harbaugh situation.

41
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 11:24pm

I call this a Jim Harbaugh situation.

Edit: I'm not changing this because it's epic

10
by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 3:36pm

2012 is such a legendarily awful draft at the top; picks 1-7 were:
Andrew Luck
Robert Griffin
Trent Richardson
Matt Kalil
Justin Blackmon
Morris Claiborne
Mark Barron

That is AMAZING. Luck's clearly the best player, but not having a shoulder makes things difficult. RG3 was magic for one pre-injury year. Barron or Claiborne are I guess the second-best players in that top seven, and that is not good.

Kuechly-Gilmore-Poe-Cox from 9-12 turned stuff around, but, man, that is a tragic draft at the top.

11
by Will Allen :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 3:45pm

I've railed against Kalil a lot, but a lot of the issue with him is simply that he was paid too much. If he was the same player, but drafted in the 2nd round, the complaints surrounding him would be a lot more muted. It's really weird how a guy overdrafted, and thus taken high in the first round, will get overpaid on his 2nd contract too, if he isn't a total bust. It is a phenomena worthy of further analysis.

12
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 4:12pm

I've noticed that too. Too high and too big a second contract were my main issues with AJ Hawk. He wasn't bad, but he was never the dynamic player he was at OSU. Had he been even a second round pick rather than #5 overall I don't think Packers fans would have hated him so much.

22
by serutan :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 1:31pm

Likely it's the same phenomenon that causes wine tasters to rank wines in
direct relationship to their cost.
______
Was wr

23
by jtr :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 1:38pm

O-line in particular gets their value heavily tied to their draft position. Seems like a lot of guys make the Pro Bowl just for getting drafted in the first round and then not being an obviously bad player. It does kind of make sense that the fans pick that way; it's a position that never makes the highlights and isn't covered by any conventional statistics. Unless Collinsworth calls somebody out for good plays on a national TV game, fans usually aren't going to notice the difference between a great lineman and merely a decent one. The really bad ones always catch attention from the local fanbases; besides that, it's pretty likely that the only thing the reasonably informed fan knows about a given lineman is that he was a first round pick a couple of years ago.

24
by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 2:00pm

Kalil, Claiborne, and Barron all share that; as second-round picks, they're decent enough players, but they don't do much based on draft position. Call it the Robert Gallery effect, where he was destined to be an all-time great tackle, but turned into a pretty good guard. A player you want around, but not what you expected.

I'm sure those second contracts probably result from a lot of what leads people to be highly drafted; "potential" or "athleticism". No doubt lots of coaches believe they're going to be able to unlock the ability of those highly-drafted guys, even if it didn't happen on the first contract. Also, the Kalil second contract was patently insane anyways.

13
by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 4:27pm

2011 had enough premier talent to make up for it (and for 2013, which was arguably worse than 2012)

You had:

Cam
Von Miller
Marcell Dareus
AJ Green
Patrick Peterson
Julio Jones
Aldon Smith
Jake Locker
Tyron Smith
Blaine Gabbert

All pro-bowl / all-pro (some HOF-to-be) types, except for two way overdrafted QBs.

16
by t.d. :: Wed, 04/18/2018 - 8:54pm

Justin Blackmon was great when he was allowed to play;. RG3's failings we're far from exclusively his fault too. Kalil was ok when fully healthy, as was Claiborne. Not a great draft at the end of the day, but the Fisher-Joeckle-Jordan draft was considerably worse

27
by mrt1212 :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 6:42pm

Best potential player who had the misfortune of going to a team that thought potential alone was enough.

38
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 04/20/2018 - 10:09pm

Edit: didn't read carefully

18
by armchair journe... :: Thu, 04/19/2018 - 12:27am

Hardly fair to put David Wilson in the bust category (dishonorable mention, or otherwise)... when that much talent and potential hits a fluke career ending injury right after establishing themselves as heir apparent, its not a bust, its tragic.

(NYG fan cap off)

Nope, still tragic.

//AJMQB

43
by Pat :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 11:53am

"Worthy and Still fell past the middle of the second round, going 51st to the Packers and 53rd to the Bengals, respectively. Though both played in the NFL in 2017 (Still three games with the Texans, Worthy five with the Bills), neither ever came close to developing into a starter or even major contributor with their drafting team or any other, or displayed the pass rush potential they flashed in college. They combined for 3.0 sacks, 2.5 by Worthy as a rookie."

This is pretty unfair to Still: in 2014, he was attempting to recover from a hamstring injury when his daughter got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. That pretty much sidelined his career entirely, and a marginal player taking a year off is almost certainly going to end their career. He actually didn't play in 2017 at all - those 3 games for the Texans were in 2016.

Then again, I prefer "bust" to be reserved for guys who self-destructed (Blackmon) or just clearly not good (Richardson). Injuries or circumstances killing a guy's career happen at all draft spots.