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2015 NFL Draft: Six Years Later

Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Every April at Football Outsiders, we look back on the drafts of yesteryear in preparation for the draft that's coming up. And as we approach the 2021 draft, it's interesting to look back at the parallels to the 2015 draft, with top quarterback prospects sitting high atop the draft board.

Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in this year's draft, barring an act of absolute insanity from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lawrence is considered a generational talent, far and away the best prospect in this year's draft. That's true both in analytical formulas such as like QBASE 2.0, which has Lawrence leaps and bounds ahead of everyone, and from scouting services such as Scouts Inc., which gives Lawrence a 97 on their 99-point scale. In 2015, however, things were a little less clear.

Lawrence is Scouts Inc.'s highest-rated quarterback prospect since 2015, when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston also hit a 97—Winston was called "one of the best prospects we have evaluated the last 10 years," while Lawrence is referred to as "a once-in-a-decade type quarterback prospect." Winston wasn't the favorite of the analytical crowd, however, as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota topped the table of the inaugural QBASE rankings, much as Lawrence is the highest-rated player in QBASE 2.0. The two Heisman winners seemed destined to be picked one-two in the draft, but the order was in question.

The fact that neither Winston nor Mariota made it to a second contract with their respective teams is both a stark reminder of the difficulty in projecting college talent in the NFL and a bit of an indictment of the 2015 class as a whole. In fact, over one-third of the 32 first-round picks were gone before their rookie contracts expired, cut or traded away before completing their fourth season in the league. Only one of the top 10 picks—Washington lineman Brandon Scherff—is still with the team that drafted him. Teams with a high draft pick in 2021 are counting on their selection anchoring them for years to come. 2015 is a stark reminder that there are no guarantees with prospects.

That's not to say 2015 was a particularly poor class, mind you. While the top of the first round left something to be desired, 2015 has still produced 26 Pro Bowlers, making it essentially a bang-on average collection of talent. Sixteen of those 26 came from outside the first round, compared to just 10 from 2014. What this draft lacked at the top it made up for in depth, including a comparative gold mine at the end of the fourth round and beginning of the fifth. There was still plenty of good talent available for those who knew what they were doing.

Look away now, Mike Brown fans.

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 Pro Sports Transactions is a great way to trace draft pick trades.


Quarterbacks

Conventional Wisdom: As alluded to above, this was a two-man class at the top. Florida State's Jameis Winston had won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman in 2013, the youngest player ever to win the award. Oregon's Marcus Mariota won the Heisman the next year, one of only four players to receive more than 90% of the points possible in a given season. We have seen multiple Heisman winners drafted in the same year before, but Winston and Mariota remain the only pair to go one-two in a draft.

Winston was the scouting favorite. He only lost one game in his college career, and his ability to scan the field and work through his progressions was considered second to none—a true "pro style" quarterback, as scouts praised his pocket presence and football IQ. He had a "natural feel for throwing windows" and a willingness to make throws and take chances that other passers would pass up. Yes, he occasionally tried to do too much—18 interceptions as a redshirt sophomore, often missing defenders lurking underneath—but he bounced back from his mistakes and was able to perform in the clutch. The biggest questions surrounding Winston were off-field incidents—allegations of sexual assault in 2012; multiple shoplifting incidents, a college suspension for obscene language. His maturity and focus were called into question, though he reportedly did a good job of assuring NFL personnel people that he was growing and learning.

Here at Football Outsiders, QBASE did not particularly like Winston, giving him a 61.3% chance of busting. He "simply [did] not look good like a first pick should," with a low adjusted yards per attempt, relatively subpar stats in his final college season, and only two years of starting experience under his belt. QBASE significantly preferred Mariota, pointing out his significantly superior statistical production. Mariota's higher completion percentage and nearly unparalleled adjusted yards per attempt had him standing head-and-shoulders above Winston. And that model didn't account for Mariota's mobility; this year's QBASE 2.0 retroactively gives Mariota the best projection of any prospect from 2004 to 2021. Mariota's athleticism was what separated him from the pack. He ran a 4.52s 40-yard dash, a time no quarterback has matched since.

Mariota won not only the Heisman, but also the Maxwell Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, and the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. He had a cannon for an arm with accuracy to hit all levels of the field, either in the pocket or on the move. He was mostly dinged for being a project and not ready to play in an NFL style right off the bat. A product of Chip Kelly's high-tempo Oregon offense, Mariota didn't have experience playing under center or taking three- and five-step drops; instead, Oregon's system used speed and misdirection to get matchups in space, and Mariota would throw to the spot. Fears that Mariota was a one-read-and-run player without the ability to really break down a defense made him a potential bust candidate, but no one else in the class could match his physical tools. Given the right situation and a coach willing to tailor his offense to the quarterback's skills, Mariota might well have had the best potential of the entire class.

After Winston and Mariota, the class was a wasteland. QBASE had UCLA's Brett Hundley as the only other passer with a positive projection, with Baylor's Bryce Petty catching some scouts' eyes against notably subpar competition.

Highest Pick: Jameis Winston, first overall to Tampa Bay.

Best Player: The conventional wisdom was right on the identity of the top two quarterbacks, and we'll take Jameis Winston as the winner of that particular horse race. Winston is currently sitting on 2,422 career DYAR to Mariota's 1,229, and he's the one who has a chance to be a starting quarterback in 2021, although Sean Payton's continued infatuation with Taysom Hill is not to be overlooked.

The fact that the best quarterback of the class might end up backing up Hill kind of tells the story—both passers were disappointments, if not outright busts, for their teams. Winston never did fix his interception bug, and Mariota has never been able to really turn all his tools into consistent NFL success. Still, at worst, both are among the best backup quarterbacks in the league at the moment, placing them several rungs above other recent high-profile busts.

Biggest Bust: Garrett Grayson. Colorado State's Grayson was the third quarterback off the board, taken by the Saints with the 75th pick in the draft. Grayson ended up active for just one game in his NFL career and had zero professional snaps. Some of that comes from being behind Drew Brees, certainly, but Grayson also ended up on the Falcons and Broncos practice squads, meaning he couldn't beat out Matt Schaub or Chad Kelly for roster slots. You could make an argument for Sean Mannion here, but Mannion has at least started two games; Grayson can't say that much.

Best Value: Trevor Siemian. Picked by Denver in the seventh round out of Northwestern, Siemian was a below average quarterback. But he was a below average starting quarterback for several years, beating out Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch to replace Peyton Manning under center. He was even named an alternate for the Pro Bowl in 2016. A poor 2017 put him into the negatives for his career DYAR, but again, Siemian was the 250th pick out of 256; getting anything out of a player drafted that late is a surprise. His 25 starts are tied for seventh all time among seventh-round passers, and he was still on multiple rosters last year. A lot of players picked before him can't say that.


Running Backs

Conventional Wisdom: After a multi-year drought, first-round running backs were back on the menu! Both Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon were considered first-round-caliber selections. Gurley's durability was under question, as he was coming off an ACL tear that cut his last season short, but that was about the only concern anyone had. With a fantastic combination of power and speed, solid receiving skills, and returner ability, experts struggled to find enough superlative players to compare him to. He's Marshawn Lynch! No, he's Shaun Alexander with Eddie George's elusiveness! No, he's Herschel Walker mixed with Bo Jackson! There were quiet whispers about his vision, and the pedants among us noted that Nick Chubb put up similar results to Gurley in his absence, but Gurley was going to run through people.

With Gurley sidelined during the pre-draft process, however, Gordon quickly rose through the ranks. Gordon had demolished Big Ten competition—a shifty, speedy back who also happened to be 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. An expert outside runner, Gordon was a little shakier when asked to run between the tackles. But with an NCAA record 7.79 yards per carry and over 2,500 yards as a senior, a little bit of shakiness could be ignored.

And unlike at quarterback, the quality didn't stop after the first-rounders. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah was a matchup nightmare in the receiving game. Indiana's Tevin Coleman was the fastest back on paper, running for over 2,000 yards on a broken foot. Duke Johnson broke Miami's all-time rushing records as he transformed from scatback to three-down force. If you were looking for a rusher, the 2015 draft was a far, far more promising class than we had seen in years.

BackCAST didn't exist until 2016, but retroactively had Gurley as the clear leader of the class. In terms of Speed Score, Gordon was fourth, behind Florida State's Karlos Williams, Northern Iowa's David Johnson, and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford. Those top three were considered Day 3 prospects, however, so Gordon was the top of the intriguing crowd.

Highest Pick: Todd Gurley, 10th overall to St. Louis.

Best Player: None of the 22 drafted running backs and fullbacks remain with their original team, as all of them have had their struggles at one point or another. Still, for a couple of years there, Todd Gurley was the best running back in football. He led the league in both DYAR and DVOA in 2018 and wasn't far behind in 2017 either, as Sean McVay's system proved slightly more offensively advantageous than that of Rob Boras and Jeff Fisher. Gurley's success in those years has been somewhat forgotten thanks to some injuries and an ill-advised massive extension, and he's now an unsigned free agent. Even with that, he still leads the entire 2015 class with 8,336 yards from scrimmage, more than a thousand clear of Melvin Gordon in second place, and his 79 touchdowns lead the class as well. Gordon looks better positioned to improve his numbers going forward, so this book isn't fully written yet. Until he does, however, Gurley's our man.

Biggest Bust: Although every single drafted running back has moved on, there aren't really a ton of massive draft busts to speak of here. Of players drafted on the first two days, the closest we get is Ameer Abdullah. The Lions' second-round pick struggled to put up consistent numbers in Detroit. A Lisfranc injury in 2016 cost him valuable time, but even when he was on the field, he never really produced. He was miscast as an every-down back, but even his lauded receiving skills never came to much; he's sitting on 146 career DYAR. He's still in the league, but strictly as a special teams player in Minnesota; he had just 17 touches last season to go along with 31 kick returns. At least he's still in the league, mind you. Some players picked after him had worse careers—Day 3 picks David Cobb and Josh Robinson spring to mind. But it's hard to call a Day 3 pick an out-and-out bust, so Abdullah takes the crown.

Biggest Value: David Johnson. Honestly, even with the massive extension, you could make an argument for Gurley here, as two-time All-Pros don't grow on trees. But Johnson, who went 86th overall to Arizona, was a first-team All-Pro himself. His first two seasons, before he injured his wrist, still have the two best rushing DYAR totals in Cardinals history. Johnson finished in the top 10 in both rushing and receiving DYAR in 2015 and 2016. While he was never the same player after that point, those two seasons at least place him in the conversation. And then the Cardinals traded him for DeAndre Hopkins, and it's hard to get more value out of a player than that. Another possibility was Raheem Mostert, who has become the Kyle Shanahan running back du jour after going undrafted out of Purdue, but we'll stick with actual drafted players for the purposes of this award.


Wide Receivers

Conventional Wisdom: While the 2014 class of wide receivers was praised as the best the league had seen in years, the 2015 class wasn't that far behind them. You could make an argument for eight or 10 different wideouts as first-round picks, were you so inclined, and an octet went off the board in the first 40 picks.

The big question atop the draft was whether you were behind Alabama's Amari Cooper or West Virginia's Kevin White. Cooper was the more polished of the two and your best bet if you were looking for an instant impact player. He wasn't on the Sammy Watkins/Mike Evans/Odell Beckham tier from the year before, but his route-running skills lapped the field, and he could play on the boundaries or in the slot with equal panache. White, though, was the player with the potential to become a superduperstar, if teams were patient with him. Players of White's athletic caliber—6-foot-3 and 216 pounds with 4.35s speed—just don't come around all that often. He was the better prospect, though as a one-year star without a lot of polish, he had a higher risk than Cooper did.

My personal draft crush was Louisville's DeVante Parker, a polished red zone threat. If Parker didn't have the best hands in the class, it was USC's Nelson Agholor; the two gobbled up everything thrown their way. Arizona State's Jaelen Strong may not have known how to run a route other than "go deep," but you couldn't jam or outjump him on those deep shots. He joined Ohio State's Devin Smith and Miami's Phillip Dorsett as the premier deep threats in the class, though Dorsett's 4.33s 40 left the others in the dust. Michigan's David Funchess was a receiver/tight end hybrid with fantastic size and questionable hands. No matter what your ideal receiver type was, there was something for everyone.

And then there was Dorial Green-Beckham, the most polarizing receiver in the draft, and arguably the most polarizing prospect in general. Green-Beckham starred at Missouri, freakishly big and fast, with sure hands and great vision with the ball in his hands. He was rawer than raw could be, mind you—he literally ran three routes in college, and only two of them well—but on talent alone, many scouts considered him a top-of-the-first-round pick, possibly up in the single digits. But talent alone was never the full story with Green-Beckham. He was twice arrested on marijuana charges, resulting in suspensions, and then he was dismissed from the team after allegedly breaking into an apartment and pushing a woman down a flight of stairs. Green-Beckham sat out the entire 2014 season after transferring to Oklahoma and entered the draft with a massive satchel full of question marks.

Here at Football Outsiders, Playmaker Score was down on the class as a whole. It considered the polished Cooper to be the top player available by a wide margin, but there was a massive drop-off from there. White was going to be drafted too high thanks to his 40-yard time, Parker never topped 1,000 yards in college, Green-Beckham didn't have the track record to match his stock, and so on and so forth. It quite liked Kansas State's Tyler Lockett as a Day 2 prospect and highlighted Maryland's Stefon Diggs as a sleeper, but in general, it thought 2015's class was likely to be overdrafted.

Highest Pick: Amari Cooper, fourth overall to Oakland.

Best Player: All those names up top, and only Cooper has come close to living up to his pre-draft billing. He's in a three-way fight with Tyler Lockett (69th to Seattle) and Stefon Diggs (146th to Minnesota) for best of his class, and all three have valid arguments. Lockett is the DYAR leader with 1,519. Cooper is the yardage leader at 6,211. But if I could have just one of the three for my team, I'd take Stefon Diggs. Diggs' connection with Josh Allen last season in Buffalo was a significant part of Allen's sudden third-year jump, and there may not be a crisper route-runner in the league. You can't complain about any of the three, but Diggs is my guy.

Biggest Bust: Kevin White went seventh overall to Chicago, making him the biggest bust of the entire 2015 draft class. You can blame most of that on injuries. White suffered a stress fracture in his shin a few months after the draft, requiring the insertion of a steel rod and causing him to miss his entire rookie season. He managed four games in 2016 before fracturing the fibula in the same leg, missing the rest of that year. And then in 2017, he fractured his shoulder blade in the season opener and missed the rest of that season. Even with all the talent in the world, that's a nightmare of a situation to try to overcome, and White is sitting on just 25 career receptions. He is still in the NFL, on a futures contract with the 49ers, but he is beyond an afterthought at this point. Even when San Francisco had to basically drag people off the street this year when their receiver corps was decimated by COVID against the Packers, White managed just seven offensive snaps, sitting behind guys such as River Cracraft.

Biggest Value: Stefon Diggs. If you're a fifth-round pick and the best at your position, you're the best value as well. Diggs may well be the best value of the entire draft.


Tight Ends

Conventional Wisdom: No tight end really was really in the running for a first-round pick, unless you counted Michigan's Devin Funchess as a tight end instead of a receiver. Sparing him, the top prospect was Minnesota's Maxx Williams, your typical all-athleticism, no-blocking move tight end candidate. A great athlete, Williams had a big catch radius that had him projected as a red zone threat, though he was also criticized for his route-running, softness, and lack of blocking chops. Still, he was clearly the top guy available, with Miami's Clive Walford and Rutgers' Tyler Kroft being a clear two or three tiers behind.

Highest Pick: Maxx Williams, 55th overall to Baltimore. The Ravens traded second- and fifth-round picks to jump over the Steelers, who were rumored to be coveting Williams themselves to replace the aging Heath Miller; those picks ultimately became Markus Golden and Shaquille Riddick.

Best Player: Do you count Darren Waller? Baltimore tripled down on tight ends in the 2015 draft, adding Williams, Nick Boyle, and Waller. The question with Waller is what position he should count as. Waller was a wide receiver at Georgia Tech, and when the Ravens picked him in the sixth round, they listed him as a receiver; they didn't move him to tight end until 2016. He's easily the best player from the 2015 class who is currently a tight end, finishing third in DYAR in 2020. The best player drafted as a tight end is Penn State's Jesse James, whom the Steelers drafted in the fifth round after losing out on Williams.

Biggest Bust: Maxx Williams. Four tight ends went on Day 2, and none of them have exactly covered themselves with glory. As Williams went first, however, he gets the crown over the Jeff Heuermans and Clive Walfords of the world. Williams did manage to qualify for the tight end tables as a rookie, though he finished just 39th in both DYAR and DVOA. For the rest of his Baltimore career, he never got past third on the depth chart, and knee and ankle injuries put a serious crimp in his development. He was given another chance at a starting job with Arizona in 2019, but tight ends in a Kliff Kingsbury offense are more theoretical than anything else.

Best Value: Again, it's Darren Waller if you count his post-draft position change. If not, then it might well be Texas' Geoff Swaim, whom the Cowboys took at the end of the seventh round. Swaim has turned into a reliable, if not stellar, inline blocker and a replacement-level pass catcher. Getting anything out of the 246th pick in the draft is value in my book.


Offensive Line

Conventional Wisdom: For the offensive line, there was the drama before the draft, and the drama during the draft.

Before the draft, the big question was which of the top-tier tackles would be tackles, and which would have to kick inside to guard. Iowa's Brandon Scherff and LSU's La'el Collins both starred at tackle in college, but questions about their athleticism and quickness had some draftniks suggest that they move inside, where their run-blocking and power would feel more at home. By draft day, the closest we had to a consensus was keeping Collins at tackle and moving Scherff to guard, but both were first-round-caliber picks, wherever you left them.

Then, on draft day itself, it was announced that Collins was scheduled to talk to Louisiana State police about the shooting death of a woman who he had been previously involved with. He was not a suspect and wasn't involved at all in the case, but with all the uncertainty on draft day itself, Collins eventually went entirely undrafted—probably the best prospect to go undrafted in the 21st century.

Outside the Collins drama, the 2015 class was considered strong at offensive tackle, and somewhat weaker inside. Florida's D.J. Humphries was considered the best option for a Day 1 starter on the blind side, but perhaps not as good a prospect as the raw Andrus Peat out of Stanford. Humphries had the athleticism, Peat the strength, and there was plenty of debate about which should go first. After them, you had prospects such as Oregon's Jake Fishe (versatile and safe, Fisher could slot anywhere on the line apart from center) and Miami's Ereck Flowers (a developmental prospect with ideal size and speed, but not the technique). Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi and Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings had their supporters as well.

The pickings were slimmer inside, assuming you viewed Scherff and Collins as tackles. Duke's Laken Tomlinson and South Carolina's A.J. Cann looked to be the best guards available, but neither were considered first-day-caliber picks. Center Cameron Erving of Florida State, on the other hand, was an intriguing prospect. Having switched from defensive line to offensive tackle to center, Erving didn't have much experience at the position, but what little teams saw of him at center raised significant interest. If he could fully learn the position, his athleticism would be a massive asset.

Highest Pick: Brandon Scherff, fifth overall to Washington. And yes, they moved him inside to guard. The Giants surprised some by taking Ereck Flowers as the top tackle, ninth overall, while Cameron Erving lasted to Cleveland with the 19th pick.

Best Player: Brandon Scherff earned his first All-Pro nod this year, and a well-deserved one. You could make an argument for Andrus Peat (13th overall to New Orleans), a three-time Pro Bowler at a more valuable position, and a number of other players have become reliable starters—Penn State's Donovan Smith (34th to Tampa Bay), Wisconsin's Rob Havenstein (57th to St. Louis), Hobart's Ali Marpet (61st to Tampa Bay), and Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason (131st to New England) among them. But none have reached the heights of Scherff.

Biggest Bust: Giants fans want to say Ereck Flowers here, and he struggled mightily in his time in New York. He somewhat rehabilitated his career in Washington, and Miami has him on a $10-million-a-year contract—playing guard, mind you, not tackle, and overpaid at that. Still, Flowers is in the league and playing, which is more than can be said for Jake Fisher, who slipped to Cincinnati with the 53rd pick. Fisher's career is perhaps most notable for his semi-regular use as a sixth lineman and blocking tight end; the Bengals actually had him change numbers as a rookie so he wouldn't have to keep checking in as an eligible receiver. Struggles with his weight and injuries kept him from doing much, and he eventually washed out of the league after trying to convert to tight end full time. And if Giants fans still have a problem, just know that Cincinnati signed Bobby Hart to ensure Fisher did not have to start.

Honorable mention goes to Utah's Jeremiah Poutasi, who went in the third round to Tennessee. Poutasi has since been cut by the Titans, Jaguars, Rams, Broncos, the AAF's Salt Lake Stallions, the Cardinals and the Spring League's Jousters.

Best Value: Trent Brown. The Brobdingnagian Florida tackle went to the 49ers in the seventh round, mostly under the theory that you can teach someone to play tackle, but you can't teach them to be 6-foot-8 and 370 pounds with 11-inch hands. Brown has been basically trending upwards throughout his career. He won a starting job in San Francisco by Year 2, was traded to New England and won a Super Bowl, and briefly became the highest-paid offensive lineman with Oakland, finally making the Pro Bowl in 2019. Not too shabby for the 244th overall pick; if Stefon Diggs isn't the best value of the draft, Brown is. Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason (131st overall to New England) is worth an honorable mention as well.


Defensive Line

Conventional Wisdom: USC's Leonard Williams was the best defensive prospect in the draft, and a few went ahead and called him the best player in the draft, period. No one seriously suggested the Buccaneers should pass on Jameis Winston to take Williams, but there were some calls for the Titans to stick with Zach Mettenberger and take Williams at No. 2 (2015 seems like so long ago, doesn't it?). At the very least, Williams was seen as a safe pick; the best run-stopping player in the draft, ideal for either a 3-4 end or a 4-3 3-technique slot.

While Williams was the gem of the position, there was almost an embarrassment of riches to be had in the interior line. Washington's Danny Shelton was the best nose tackle available, the kind of two-gapping defender you can build a defense around. Oregon's Arik Armstead was a riskier pick, but his raw size and athleticism made him an intriguing 5-technique prospect. Texas' Malcom Brown and Florida State's Eddie Goldman rounded out your top five interior linemen, while Iowa's Carl Davis, Ohio State's Michael Bennett, Clemson's Grady Jarrett, Florida State's Mario Edwards, and Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips all had supporters of their own. It was a great year to need help inside.

Highest Pick: Leonard Williams, sixth overall to the New York Jets.

Best Player: Leonard Williams. While maybe not the all-encompassing force some draftniks had him pegged as, he just had 11.5 sacks and earned a major new contract from the Giants. They got the rankings right, at the very least. Honorable mentions go to Malcolm Brown (32nd to New England) and Grady Jarrett (137th to Atlanta); we'll get back to them.

Biggest Bust: Xavier Cooper. Really, the position was nearly as safe as the experts made it out to be. Eight of the 10 linemen picked in the first three rounds have double-digit approximate value, and while Mario Edwards and Angelo Blackson have bounced around, they're still decent enough rotational players. That leaves us with Carl Davis (90th overall to Baltimore) or Washington State's Cooper (96th overall to Cleveland), and I'm siding with Cooper. Cooper basically ran his way into a Day 2 selection after putting up a 4.86s 40-yard dash at the combine, but it turns out that defensive linemen are rarely asked to run 40 yards downfield in one go. Cooper was regularly a healthy inactive for the Browns and hasn't seen the field since 2017.

Best Value: Grady Jarrett. The Falcons took the Clemson product in the fifth round, and while it took a few years for him to ramp up to speed, he has become one of the best interior linemen in the game. He has now made back-to-back Pro Bowls and was in the top 10 in both ESPN's run stop and pass rush win rate.


Edge Rushers

Conventional Wisdom: If 2014 was the year of the receiver, then 2015 was going to be the year of the edge rusher; the class was absolutely loaded, said pundits. Five different players—Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Florida's Dante Fowler, Missouri's Shane Ray, Kentucky's Alvin "Bud" Dupree, and Clemson's Vic Beasley—all could have conceivably been the first off the draft board. Gregory essentially took himself out of contention by failing a drug test at the combine, but the other four were hotly contested up until draft day itself.

Fowler may have been coasting on burst and athleticism, but what burst and athleticism! Florida moved him all around the defense, so his potential as a nightmare matchup, able to line up anywhere and wreak havoc, was tempting. Ray (slightly undersized with a killer first step) and Dupree (ultra-fast but with a general stiffness about him) were all athletic potential, but not quite finished products. Beasley had the production on his side, with 12 sacks as a redshirt senior and the all-time Clemson leader in sacks. Any of them could have gone first to a team with the right mindset. Behind them, the class was deep, with Virginia's Eli Harold, UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa, and Mississippi State's Preston Smith all considered solid Day 2 picks.

Here at Football Outsiders, SackSEER didn't see the top four or five as quite as interchangeable. Instead, it had Beasley, Gregory, and Dupree (in that order) high atop it's rankings. It panned Fowler for having just 14.5 career sacks and poor combine numbers in the vertical jump, broad jump, and three-cone drills, and really hated Ray, giving him just an 18.5% rating.

Highest Pick: Dante Fowler, third overall to Jacksonville.

Best Player: There was tons of depth here. I'm going to take the easy way out and pick LSU's Danielle Hunter (88th overall to Minnesota), as he's the class leader with 54.5 sacks. That yelling you hear are fans of Vic Beasley (eighth overall to Atlanta), Michigan's Frank Clark (63rd overall to Seattle), and Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith (122nd overall to Baltimore). You can tell from those draft positions that the edge rushers got all mixed up, but the talent certainly was there.

Biggest Bust: Well, that's a tough one. Randy Gregory essentially took himself out of contention, tumbling down to the 60th pick after his drug failures. He has been effective when he has played, but he has missed multiple seasons due to suspensions. Gregory is the choice, but not the only possible one. Dante Fowler hasn't really lived up to the billing of the third overall pick; he never saw more than 53.0% of the snaps in Jacksonville and flopped in Atlanta in 2020. Overdrafted, for sure, but a bust might be harsh. Shane Ray (23rd overall to Denver) is out of the league, trying to catch on with the Toronto Argonauts. And then you have the never-wases such as Hau'oli Kikaha (44th overall to New Orleans, eight career sacks) or Owa Odighizuwa (74th overall to the Giants, zero career sacks). Any would make a fine pick here.

Best Value: I'm going with Za'Darius Smith over a very strong field; he fell to 122nd and has been a force ever since. You could easily take Hunter, Clark, Preston Smith (38th overall to Washington), or Arkansas' Trey Flowers (101st overall to New England); all should have been drafted significantly higher, but Smith went the lowest and gets the nod. Teams may have been better just picking defensive prospects' names out of hats in 2015.


Linebackers

Conventional Wisdom: Undersized tweener, or versatile hybrid? That was the question facing Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. In college, Thompson lined up at safety, linebacker, and even running back and produced at all three positions. To some, that meant that Thompson was a jack-of-all trades; a player who could move up on running downs and still participate on passing downs. Others were concerned he'd end up an undersized linebacker—he clocked in at 219 pounds in college, though he bulked up a bit for the combine—or a safety without satisfactory cover ability. The questions were enough for some scouts to drop him to Day 2 on the boards, focusing instead on UCLA's Eric Kendricks. Kendricks wasn't as agile as Thompson and had a poor combine. Instead, he made his plays with quality technique and a sharp football mind, allowing him to find himself around the play more often than not.

Both Kendricks and Thompson were somewhat undersized, so people looking for a wrecking ball gravitated towards Miami's Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney. Both were considered below-average to borderline unplayable in coverage, but if you were looking for a two-down linebacker to blow plays up, they looked to be the better options.

Highest Pick: Shaq Thompson, 25th overall to Carolina.

Best Player: Eric Kendricks. Kendricks fell to Minnesota in the second round, two picks after the Texans drafted Benardrick McKinney. They're the two linebackers from this draft with Pro Bowl nods to their name, so they're your top two picks from the class. McKinney is more solid than spectacular, however, while Kendricks has an All-Pro nod to his name and is on the shortlist of best coverage linebacker in football. He gets the nod.

Biggest Bust: Take your pick between TCU's Paul Dawson (99th overall to Cincinnati) and Clemson's Stephone Anthony (31st overall to New Orleans). Anthony was, at least, named to the PFWA All-Rookie team, starting all 16 games … and then just four since then, including failing to make a roster last season. At least Anthony looked like he'd be a thing ever so briefly; Dawson played bits and pieces of three seasons and ended with 16 career tackles and 34 defensive snaps. That's bad, even for a third-round pick.

Best Value: Eric Kendricks, because getting the best player at a position in the second round is a pretty good day at the office. McKinney also warrants a mention, as do Texas' Jordan Hicks (84th overall to Philadelphia) and LSU's Kwon Alexander (124th overall to Tampa Bay).


Defensive Backs

Conventional Wisdom: If you needed a starter-caliber cornerback, you were in luck! If you needed a coverage safety, well, better luck next year.

Experts predicted five or six corners would go off the board in the first round—big ones, too, as a fleet of six-footers was about to enter the league. Most experts had, in some order, Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, Connecticut's Byron Jones, Washington's Marcus Peters, and Michigan State's Trae Waynes atop their draft boards. Peters may have been the most talented, but he also brought with him the most baggage—he was dismissed from his team as a junior for arguing with assistant coaches and a "sideline tantrum." With that in mind, a press-coverage maven such as Waynes, an explosive athlete such as Jones, or a smooth technician such as Johnson might be the better choice.

But even if you missed out on the big four, there were as many as a dozen cornerbacks out there who were considered potential future starters, meaning Day 2 was going to be filled with them. There were plenty of players with limited starting experience but tons of potential—Florida State's Ronald Darby, LSU's Jalen Collins, and Miami (OH)'s Quinten Rollins led that category. Then there were smaller corners who went against the Legion of Boom type that was all the rage at the time—players like Florida State's P.J. Williams and Texas' Quandre Diggs looked to be potential hidden gems for teams willing to zig while others zagged.

The pickings were slimmer at safety, though not nonexistent. Alabama's Landon Collins and Arizona State's Damarious Randall were your top available options, with Collins looking better as your in-box bully and Randall the playmaking deep man with surprising cover skills. Give Collins a few more tenths in the 40 or Randall a few more inches at weigh-in and they might have been talked about as first-round picks; instead, they were considered on the bubble between the first and second rounds. If all you cared about was clobbering people and didn't mind so much a lack of coverage skills, then Samford's Jaquiski Tartt and Louisville's James Sample might intrigue you as well. Virginia's Anthony Harris was listed on enough "overlooked prospect" lists to perhaps make his underratedness overrated, if that makes any sense.

Highest Pick: Trae Waynes, 11th overall to Minnesota. Damarious Randall was the first safety off the board, going to the Packers with the 30th pick.

Best Player: Marcus Peters, and it's not particularly close. Peters slipped to the Chiefs with the 18th pick, as his "emotional issues" (to quote one unnamed personnel director) scared teams away from him. Peters has occasionally let his emotions get the better of him as a pro, and it's part of the reason he's already on his third team. He has also been one of the top 10 cornerbacks in the league since his arrival—the 2015 defensive rookie of the year, a two-time All Pro and three-time Pro Bowler. He has 31 interceptions, more than the next two players in the draft class combined. 2015's corner class has been fine, but not enough have developed into top starters to justify the pre-draft hype. Peters is an exception; he may well be the best player from this draft class.

Among safeties, Landon Collins (33rd to the Giants) gets the nod here, though Penn State's Adrian Amos has made more than his fair share of noise as well.

Biggest Bust: Kevin Johnson. The Texans took Johnson 16th overall, the other corner taken before Peters. Injuries have cost Johnson a pair of seasons since then, but even when healthy, he has wobbled somewhere between useful rotational piece and overmatched starter. While Johnson has occasionally flashed some of the speed and footwork that made him a desired prospect, he has never been able to put it all together for an extended stretch of time. At least Johnson still has a career, however; plenty of those Day 2 flyers are long gone. A list of the lowlights includes Jalen Collins (42nd overall to Atlanta), Mississippi's Senquez Golson (56th to Pittsburgh, never played a game), Florida Atlantic's D'Joun Smith (65th to Indianapolis), and Stanford's Alex Carter (80th to Detroit).

Best Value: Marcus Peters. If you prefer someone a little later in the draft, or just want a safety rather than a corner, Adrian Amos went 142nd overall to Chicago and has been a consistently solid player ever since.


Special Teams

Conventional Wisdom: Do not draft specialists.

If you must draft a specialist, Portland State's Kyle Loomis and Concordia-St. Paul's Tom Obarski showed off at the Senior Bowl, showing that you don't need to play at a big-time school to be an NFL special teams prospect. Perhaps more excitingly, with no one really thrilling the assembled masses, there was a real chance we'd see a draft with zero special teams players picked, which hadn't happened since 1998. This possibility pleased analytics nerds around the world!

Do not draft specialists.

Highest Pick: Bradley Pinion. The Clemson punter went 165th overall to San Francisco. Pinion was immediately followed up by the Patriots taking Navy long snapper Joe Cardona, and that ended the special teams portion of the 2015 draft.

Best Player: Both specialists picked have Super Bowl rings, Cardona earning a pair with the Patriots and Pinion picking one up with the Buccaneers this last year. Of the two, Cardona is the one who earned an extension from his original team, so I suppose he wins?

Biggest Bust: If Cardona is the better player, than Pinion has to be the bust by default. Plus, Pinion went one pick higher, and thus wasted one higher of a draft slot.

Best Value: Old Dominion's Rick Levato went undrafted; he made the 2019 Pro Bowl with the Eagles. Texas A&M's Josh Lambo also went undrafted; he has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league since he escaped the cursed Chargers franchise. Don't draft specialists.


Team Performance

Per our annual Report Card Report, four teams stood head-and-shoulders above the rest in the immediate aftermath of draft day.

The Jacksonville Jaguars were the only teams in the survey to earn A+ draft grades, with both SB Nation's Dan Kadar and Rotoworld's Evan Silva giving David Caldwell and Gus Bradley the full monty. The quartet of Dante Fowler, T.J. Yeldon, A.J. Cann, and James Sample atop the draft were all going to be immediate-impact opening-day starters. They were going to be a tough out in 2015, per Silva, with a "nasty defense, playmakers in the passing game and a formidable rushing attack." Jacksonville was not, in fact, a tough out in 2015, though they did see their DVOA jump from -31.3% to -16.7%. Sample washed out of the league in short order, but five of the eight Jaguars picks were on the roster during the #Sacksonville run in 2017. Cann was the only starter, but Fowler had eight sacks, so it wasn't like Jacksonville got nothing out of the class. But now, six years later, Cann is the only player from this draft still on the roster, and the Jags are still trying to rebuild. It's not a terrible class or anything, with all three of their first three picks at least making some noise in the league, but it's below average.

The Baltimore Ravens were near-universally praised for the midpart of their draft, as Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh worked their usual magic to find value wherever they looked. Evan Silva said the Ravens drafted first-round-caliber players in each of the first three rounds, going Breshad Perriman-Maxx Williams-Carl Davis early, and Za'Darius Smith in the fourth round was hailed as the steal of the draft by some. In actual fact, Williams and Davis ended up not working out, and the biggest success stories—Za'Darius Smith and sixth-round pick Darren Waller—ended up breaking out elsewhere; even Breshad Perriman has had more success away from Baltimore than with them. The best Baltimore draft pick for the Ravens was fourth-rounder Buck Allen. This was still an above average draft, for sure, but the Ravens did not exactly get the full fruits of their efforts.

The Atlanta Falcons opened up with SackSEER's best pass rusher, Vic Beasley—a surefire steal at the eighth pick, and one that filled their biggest need to boot. That's the kind of pick that will get draft graders salivating. Paring him with fifth-round pick Grady Jarrett gave Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff the ammo they needed to start rebuilding that defense, while mid-round picks Tevin Coleman and Justin Hardy were intriguing pieces for Kyle Shanahan's offense. Well, Hardy not so much, but Beasley, Jarrett, and Coleman were all hits, even if Jarrett's the only one remaining in a Falcons uniform. All three played a significant role in Atlanta's 2016 Super Bowl run, and even if none of the other picks ended up working out, three quality starters in one draft is pretty good. It falls just short of the best drafts of the year because only Jarrett remains with the team, but if they could have drafted like this every year, Quinn and Dimitroff would still be in Atlanta.

The Minnesota Vikings were the fourth of the praised four, as Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer did an excellent job finding first-round-quality talent at positions of need—Trae Waynes would start opposite Xavier Rhodes, Eric Kendricks would replace Chad Greenway, and T.J. Clemmings could eventually take over from Matt Khalil if his medical concerns checked out. Football Outsiders alum Doug Farrar also made time to praise third-rounder Danielle Hunter ("freakishly athletic and raw like sushi"), and fifth-rounders MyCole Pruitt ("my favorite small-school guy") and Stefon Diggs ("can line up all over the place"). Well, Pruitt went bust, but Diggs, Kendricks, and Hunter have all been phenomenal finds, and Waynes and Clemmings have at least found their way onto the field. This is the only one of the big four to really live up to the hype; the Vikings still have two All-Pro-caliber players from the draft, and turned the third into another great rookie receiver. Was it the best draft of the year? Hold that thought for one moment.

On the other side of the ledger, the analysts hated the Buffalo Bills' draft class. They didn't have a first-round pick, having sent that to Cleveland the previous year to draft Sammy Watkins, and the graders hit Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan hard for it. They also didn't like that Buffalo used their first pick on cornerback Ronald Darby. Surely, they had more pressing needs—quarterback Bryce Petty was mentioned multiple times as a replacement for EJ Manuel, for instance, and a tackle such as Jake Fisher or T.J. Clemmings to replace Seantrel Henderson would have made more logical sense. In retrospect, a six-pick class was never going to produce tons of raw value, but the Bills opened with Darby and John Miller, both of whom are still starting players today. The graders hit the Bills too hard for just not having a first-round pick; Sammy Watkins was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015. Considering the value of the picks they actually had to work with, the Bills did alright.

The other team the draftniks dunked on was the San Francisco 49ers—this was just after Trent Baalke had won the power struggle with Jim Harbaugh, so going after Baalke and Jim Tomsula was in fashion at the time. The top two picks, Arik Armstead and Jaquiski Tartt, simply weren't going to see playtime—Tartt and Mike Davis, especially, were blocked by the previous year's picks of Jimmie Ward and Carlos Hyde. It was a draft with "more potential than polish"—no receiver to replace Michael Crabtree, no linebacker to replace Patrick Willis or Chris Borland. In actuality, the draft was … fine. Both Armstead and Tartt are still starting for the 49ers; seventh-round pick Trent Brown was a starter for several years and ended up one of the highest-paid players in the game. Mike Davis and Eli Harold had their moments, too. It's not a draft to write home about or anything, but Baalke had done significantly worse before.

So, if the 49ers and Bills ended up OK, who did have the worst draft?

We have to give runner-up awards to the Browns and Titans. Cleveland had an extra first-round pick due to the Watkins trade the year before, so they had 12 picks to work with in total. As they were in their "shuffle front office personnel around every year" phase, however, almost none of them ended up working out in Cleveland—Duke Johnson's the only exception. Their first-round picks, Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving, did very little in Cleveland and had better luck once they left—not the worst job of talent identification by Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine, but the Browns had nothing to show from it. As for the Titans, everyone not named Marcus Mariota washed out immediately, and Mariota's gone now, too—as are, for that matter, Ruston Webster and Ken Whisenhunt.

But no, the worst draft has to go to Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis, and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were going to secure their future by going with Cedric Ogbuehei and Jake Fisher with their first two picks in the draft. They were going to replace first Andre Smith and later Andrew Whitworth, giving Andy Dalton a pair of bookend tackles for years to come. It became apparent fairly quickly, however, that this was not going to become a thing; while the two did combine for 37 starts, they were both healthy scratches by 2018. And there's nothing else in the class to offset missing on picks one and two, with tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah coming the closest to being anything of value.

When it comes to successful drafts, even with Jameis Winston not fully working out, the Buccaneers deserve some note. It's rare we get to praise Jason Licht, but the 2015 draft provided two starting offensive linemen for this year's Super Bowl-winning team in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Both Winston and fourth-round pick Kwon Alexander made Pro Bowls with Tampa as well. That's what the Titans needed to do—even with their top quarterback not living fully up to expectations, the Buccaneers found valuable players.

But no, there's only one team that can rival the Vikings' haul for best of the 2015 class, and that's John Dorsey, Andy Reid, and the Kansas City Chiefs. Marcus Peters has arguably been the most valuable player in the draft, and the Chiefs got several good seasons out of him before they he wore out his welcome. And after Peters came multi-year starters in Mitch Morse, Chris Conley, and Steven Nelson. Even third-day picks such as Ramik Wilson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches have found solid roles around the league. Push comes to shove, I'd say the Vikings did a little better job finding talent, while the Chiefs did a little better job finding value. Take your pick; either class is one that teams in 2021 should be trying to emulate.

Comments

65 comments, Last at 05 May 2021, 3:30pm

1 Really?

“Collins eventually went entirely undrafted—probably the best prospect to go undrafted in the 21st century.”

I guess the key here is “prospect”, since Romo was a UFA.

3 Yeah, I was going by pre…

In reply to by Raiderfan

Yeah, I was going by pre-draft reputation.  If JaMarcus Russell had gone undrafted, he'd be the best undrafted prospect and whatnot.

Collins was pegged as a possible top-10 pick, and at least a first-rounder, before everything happened; Romo didn't even get an invite to the combine.

2 "If Parker didn't have the…

"If Parker didn't have the best hands in the class, it was USC's Nelson Agholor"

This sounds so, so strange given the current reputation of Agholor's hands.

As usual, great article.  "Six Years After" is one of my favorite FO features.

4 You have NO idea how many…

You have NO idea how many draft capsules I read praising his "natural hands".  This, of course, ended up being true -- Agholor did not have his hands replaced by those of a robot before draft day.

8 hmm

Parker's hands are okay, but his legs have held him back. He's just never healthy. I'm not sure a GM can predict future health most of the time, though. 

5 "everyone not named Marcus Mariota washed out immediately"

It's crazy how quickly this happened, obviously accelerated by the hiring of Jon Robinson as new general manager after the 2015 season.

-Dorial Green-Beckham was the #2, he was traded in 2016 training camp
-Jeremiah Poutasi, the #3, didn't make the 53 in 2016
-David Cobb, the #5, didn't make the 53 in 2016
-Deiontrez Mount, the #6, didn't make the 53 in 2016
-Andy Gallik, one of the #7s (the other, Tre McBride, didn't make the 53 as a rookie), was on IR and released once he got healthy

By Week 1 of 2016, the Titans had Mariota and their fourth-round picks, rotational DL Angelo Blackson and pure fullback Jalston Fowler. Blackson would be cut after after 2016, while Fowler would make it through 2017.

In summary:
2015 draft: 9 picks
2015 roster: 8 players
2016 roster: 3 players
2017 roster: 2 players
2018 roster: 1 player

And they were picking at the top of every round! That's bad.

6 I think Winston's DYAR is…

I think Winston's DYAR is inflated by the fact that he threw a lot and that his receivers were awesome. The biggest bust is between him and Marcus given where those two have gone career wise.

Tanny's flourishing has been a thoroughly damning condemnation of Marcus the qb, even though Marcus is a playoff winning quarterback. 

That said, I will always appreciate Jameis' bravura when declaring he's the GOAT if only he could eliminate those pesky ints. 

12 Winston's DYAR is inflated…

Winston's DYAR is inflated by the fact that he threw a lot

True, but even so...

Winston 2019: 4,695 yd, 92 DYAR. Just a mind-boggling split.

Dak 2019 for comparison: 4,734 yd, 1,541 DYAR on 43 less attempts.

26 My football watching the…

My football watching the last few years has been pretty minimal; I just couldn't stand to look at Winston anymore, mostly for non-football reasons, shall we say.  I will say he was at least entertainingly terrible when I watched, and was always the most interesting QB in the league, capable of doing something incredible and memorable, and sometimes even to his team's benefit.

31 Like A Hilarious, Suffocating Nightmare

I can talk about this since It's All Better Now. 

At the time I felt the Bucs should choose Winston over Mariota. Jameis' first pro game, he took a lap of the field waving to the fans like the hotdog he is, then threw a pick-six on his very first play, completely not seeing the coverage underneath. "Well," I thought, "that's going to humble and focus him. I hope."

Ha Ha. The closest I can compare the Jameis Winston Experience to is watching a bad Brett Favre year. But even at his most Vicodin-and-Old Crow-fueled gunslingery worst, Favre probably saw most of the coverages he was trying to throw into. Jameis does not, will not, cannot reliably detect defenses sitting on routes or defensive help coming over the top. He also believes to his soul he has the escapability of Russell Wilson. That combination gives him an Achilles heel on each foot. For every idiot savant undefendable Zen bullseye through coverage forty yards down the field, there is an equal and opposite pick six. He is Ying and Yang in one self-annihilating package.

Let's not forget his butterfingers too. In his infamous 30 pick 2019 season, he fumbled twelve times, losing five. That's 42 offensive plays completely broken by one player. That's 35 turnovers total--more than two per game. You could set your watch.

Being a Bucs fan is to be a connoisseur of unusually wretched football, an encyclopaediast of the art of losing (present company excepted). But I have never seen the like. Jameis is the rare player where you really have to get your nose out of the spreadsheet and smell what he's cooking--usually it's tear gas.

If you want to prevent a playoff team from making the playoffs, Famous J is your man. If you want your practice squad dudes to get the full experience of catching 40 yard laser rocket bombs on the practice field, Jaboo can add value to your team. I fervently hope the Saints start him for the next three seasons, because it will be far more entertaining to watch the Loki of the Football Gods when he is wearing the colors of another team.

32 This was a great post…

This was a great post.

Andrew Luck was a turnover prone player, but for every mistake, you usually expected him to pull some heroics to save the day anyways. Much like Favre. Unless of course it was New England and you knew your run defense was about to give up 200 yards to dude's off the street. 

I personally have always preferred the Jameis type of bad QB to the David Carr captain checkdown, take a sack bad QB. One looks terrible on the stat sheet, the other looks respectable from a passer rating perspective while en route to 13 points on offense.

Another issue,  too often, coaches prefer the "never had a chance, but we lost respectably" approach rather than the "let's try for a win, even if it mostly means we will get humiliated" approach. For all of his many many faults, at least Jameis was willing to put his ass out there even as his int numbers climbed into the jaw dropping range. 

9 Damarious Randall was a…

Damarious Randall was a safety in college, but the Packers drafted him to play CB. The results were uneven and he went on to have a decent season or two as a safety in Cleveland. They probably should have just played him at safety in the first place, but he got yeeted off the team for being a locker room headache.

Quinten Rollins probably deserves mention in the list of day-2 CB busts. He was either bad or hurt over the length of his rookie contract.

36 Randall

Eh, there was the time Randall (allegedly) left the stadium at halftime after a sideline dispute. But then he came back the next week and made a pick-six... 10 INTs in 30 starts for GB was decent but he also messed up a lot. Like, sure he was a rookie, but he blew a big play in the AZ playoff game that year.

Packers got off pretty light in this article considering their 2015 draft was awful. Aside from Randall the only other contributors were Jake Ryan (mediocre LB but okay pick for the 4th round) and the over-drafted Ty Montgomery in the 3rd round, who scored 10 TDs in 3.5 seasons but was traded to Baltimore after returning (and fumbling) a kick versus the undefeated Rams, against coaches' instructions.

So three "meh" players and the other five picks didn't do anything at all.

40 Never heard of that

In reply to by Robopunter

Seems fishy. Either way sounds like a character assassination over minor things I don't want to take part in. Just say disgruntled imo as he was probably just frustrated with his usage. 

Jake Ryan was decent. Injury sucked though. 

Ty Mont was fine, he was a WR. Props for him switching quickly. 

10 This draft was the first one…

This draft was the first one where someone actually paid me to cover it live (the saps!), as I was the Panthers correspondent over at Bleacher Report.

Looking back on it, I'm mostly glad I've improved as a writer since then!

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2452096-carolina-panthers-complete-2015-nfl-draft-wrap-up-and-analysis

I was really down on the David Mayo pick, so of course he's still in the league now.  The lesson, as always, is I'm an idiot.

11 I know you're being…

I know you're being hyperbolic but the lesson here is twofold.

 

First it takes a lot of courage to make a prediction and sign your name to it. Most of us prefer after the fact platitudes about how we were right all along.

 

Second, unless my livelihood depends on making correct predictions, I find it very valuable to revisit my predictions and to understand what it was with the information available at the time that made me make such a prediction. You quickly become humbled by how much uncertainty there is in the world.

13 Maybe it's just me as a…

Maybe it's just me as a Vikings fan, but isn't Danielle Hunter clearly the most valuable player from this draft?

He has 55 sacks, despite missing a year, and he's still only 26. He's basically a more productive version of Bosa or Garrett, or where Mack was before the trade.

17 The argument is certainly…

The argument is certainly there.

In terms of AV, he's tied for 18th, but that's more because he's only had three seasons as a starter, whereas someone like Gurley or Peters has been producing since Day 1.  I'd bet on Hunter providing more value over the next five years than quite a few of the people ahead of him.

18 Do you know offhand how much…

Do you know offhand how much Hunter's being penalized for only starting 3 years? That's sort of misleading. His second year, sure, he didn't technically start any games, but he played 60% of the snaps, and led the team with 12 sacks. Griffen and Robison played 80% of the snaps, because they were moving inside on passing downs. Joseph played 60%, and Hunter was 4th in snap counts among defensive linemen, with Shamar Stephen at 53%. Seems kind of like an issue, or possibly even an outright error with AV, if they're penalizing a year like Hunter's 2016? He's actually listed as zero AV for that year, which seems absurd.

Even his rookie year, he played 40% of defensive snaps and had 6 sacks. That's not an insignificant contribution. For some reason that year got him 3 AV. But after two years, Hunter had played about half his team's defensive snaps, had accumulated 18 sacks, and only had a total of 3 AV.

Seems off.

Diggs is 4th in AV, and Kendricks is 5th, and I think pretty much every single Vikings fan will vouch for Hunter being the most valuable of the three over the last 5 years.

19 You're right that that '0'…

You're right that that '0' in 2016 has to be an error; it was originally listed as 4 at the time and was still showing ay 4 as recently as January, per the internet archive.  Wonder if there's a backend error there.  Swap that 0 to a 4, and Hunter's Career AV would rise to 42, which ties him in 13th (it only goes up by 3 and not 4 because Career AV is weighted so more productive years count more). 

You may still think 4 is too low, and you're probably right, but because AV is meant to cover the entire modern NFL (1960s on), and snap counts aren't available that far back, AV uses games started as a way to help distinguish starters from backups and assigns points accordingly.  That, combined with all the various Pro Bowlers the Vikings had in the front seven that year (Joseph, Griffin and Barr), means there were only so many points to go around.  Four points is a hell of a lot for someone with no starts; the post-individual-sack record looks to be five.  But that's why Hunter's 2016 ranks relatively low in AV, even if '0' is some sort of bug!

20 Is there anybody from this…

Is there anybody from this draft who is on a HOF trajectory? Obviously there are some good players, with enough time left in their careers to push on and make a case, but I don't see any names that jump out.

21 Probably not

Gurley had the best initial trajectory, but is clearly not going to regain his early career form. At this point, I'd probably peg Diggs as the most likely HoF candidate in the class. He's probably the only player with a legitimate argument to be the best at his position and is now in a pass-heavy offense with a QB and OC who want to feed him the ball. 

28 Not to beat the Hunter drum…

In reply to by muscle417

Not to beat the Hunter drum more, but he was the youngest player to 50 sacks in NFL history, and is only 26. I think he's got a chance if his career's long enough. He's only 15 sacks behind Mack, and he's four years younger. He's 5 sacks behind Von Miller's pace, and that's with Hunter missing all of last year.

I think there is an argument that he was the best pure DE in the league in 2018 and 2019, and he's just entering his prime.

57 Feels like he's not celebrated enough (yet)

The people who are really into football know him, but he doesn't seem to have the notoriety I would expect of a hall of fame player. He obviously still has time to be come known as a leader on a fearsome defense, but I don't think he's there yet. If the Minnesota defense returns to prominence, maybe.

This is not a dig on Hunter--the media selection of stars is not logical--but the HoF process is not entierely logical either, and it doesn't seem like he's on that track, yet.

61 Yes Hunter appears the most…

Yes Hunter appears the most likely given his trajectory and young age. Strange that he isn't more prominent. I guess  he initially joined a good Vikings group and had to compete for airtime with other established 'stars'. And more recently the Vikings defense has kind of sucked, and he has been injured. Plenty of time left for him though. 

24 Punter yes, kicker no

Lukewarm take:

Never draft kickers, as, for some reason, there's no link between draft position and career success, and the list of most-accurate FG kickers in college history is littered with names nobody remembers, or remembers as "Oh, yeah, that was a dumb pick".  Never, ever draft a kicker, under any circumstances.

Punters, on the other hand, seem to vaguely at least follow "draft them, probably better", and a reasonable number of the good punters in the NFL were drafted, and offer at least some value based on that pick.  Sure, Bryan Anger was over-drafted and ha ha insert Russell Wilson joke here, but he's currently 9th in career punt yards average in NFL history, and guys like Andy Lee, Thomas Morstead, and Pat MacAfee are on there as well as drafted punters who did well. Sure, that's a by and large arbitrary stat to choose, but it at least gives you some idea that maybe if I draft a punter with a low-round pick, I get some value there.  Kickers, not vaguely, as 8 of the top 10 most-accurate kickers in NFL history weren't drafted.

This long, pointless post regarding drafting specialists has been brought to you by somebody who years ago was bound and determined to explain to Bucs fans why drafting Roberto Aguayo was a terrible, terrible idea the moment the Bucs picked him, regardless of his, *sigh*, "mortar kicks".

27 There's certainly some…

There's certainly some evidence to back that up.  The top six punters in terms of yards per punt over the last decade were all drafted (Fields, Lechler, Lee, Dickson, Kaser, McAfree), and you get similar results if you go by our punting value.

I believe I'd still argue that the gap between a fifth-round punter and a UDFA punter is smaller than that of most other positions, and that the benefit of hitting on a fifth-round pick at a non-punter position is significantly more valuable, but a punter pick does seem to be better than a kicker pick.

...Don't draft specialists.

30 Because I am avoiding work…

Because I am avoiding work and have spent so much time looking at @#$!! kicking stats . . . you do only get one punter, however, so that has to increase the marginal value of hitting on that 5th round pick at that position as opposed to, say, some depth LB that can contribute on special teams.  Sure, there's a much greater ceiling for potential value, as maybe you wind up with Richard Sherman, Terrell Davis, or OMG TOM BRADY with that late-round pick, but, if I have a more consistent chance at filling what represents a single player at that position on my entire team, there's just inherently some bonus value there.

As to comparing to a UDFA punter, well, I thought about doing excessive analysis based on AV and draft position over the course of the last year, but found a few other hobbies so not happening, but I would be curious about the Drafted Punter Theory.  I can't imagine getting enough value out of a third-round Bryan Anger with or without the potential of Russell Wilson, but the later rounds?  Sure, I think there's a reasonable argument to be made that you've got a more consistent chance of value out of those picks at punter rather than other positions, even granting the potential ceiling of that value is admittedly somewhat low.

Warning:  Does not apply to drafting kickers.  If your GM thinks about drafting a kicker, move them away from the draft board immediately and scream "ROBERTO AGUAYO" in his ear very loudly.

33 Counterpoint:

We can all agree kickers are more valuable than punters though (and both more valuable than long snappers)? 

So although the hit rate for punters may be a little better, they're still not worth it. The hit rate might just higher be because they're easier to scout. 

With that said, let's look at a punter absolutely hitting. And not just hitting but being the GOAT P! Let's look at Shane Lechler! Thankfully for our experiment he was drafted. And in the 5th (142nd overall). The first and only P drafted in the 2000 class. So the Raiders were right! He was the best of his class! He produced a whopping...CarAV of 44. The most for any P in the football history! If Ray Guy is in w/32, Lechler will be in too!

That 44 though...is lot higher than many drafted after him. Even many before him. But what did the Raiders pass up on at that spot with hindsight? Well, 7 picks later, Packers legend KGB also had 44 CarAV....in 9 less years. Hmmm. Well that's one guy.

Marc Bulger went on to have 57 CarAV...in 8 less years. Ok that's a couple now.

Dhani Jones (who?) had 55 CarAV...in 7 less years. Ok...a few now. 

Adalius Thomas had 64 CarAV...8 less years. Uh....

Oh...Tom Brady...well that's 5 so far. 

Mark Tauscher 64 CarAV...in 7 less years. And that's 6! And that's all that had a higher CarAV in that draft and that's not counting whatever undrafted guys. Nor the guys that had a higher CarAV per year.

But is having a gold jacket P worth it over having a starting DE for 5 years and being a pro bowler in one of them? Or a starting QB for 8 years and 2x pro bowler? A starting LB for 9 years? A starting LB for 8 years and 2x pro bowler and 1x 1st team AP All Pro? A...well...GOAT QB? Or even a starting OT for 9 years? I'd say no. And that's with a P absolutely HITTING. We're not even talking run of the mill, average punters. And none of these guys are even HOFrs (sans Brady of course) but I don't think of their teams would've done differently when the alternative is a position they never want to see on the field anyway.

So although they're safer and easier to scout, is it worth it when even the highest end isn't even more valuable (per year as well) than a random solid LB, DE, etc? Even if it's just for depth/a future hole made by an injury or player leaving. I'd take shot at adding to that room and getting the 2nd or 3rd or whatever best P in UDFA. Probably not that much of material difference anyway. Other positions though...oh boy can there be difference. 

43 I guess you're new around…

I guess you're new around here :-)  ROBO-PUNTER doesn't refer to any actual player.  We had a discussion on the FO message boards some time ago (five years?  ten years?  Maybe more like fifteen?)  on this very topic--whether you should ever draft a special teams specialist, and if so, how highly.  ROBO-PUNTER was a fictional construct invented by the various FO posters to highlight their arguments.  He was a platonic ideal of the limiting case of the most value a punter could ever offer your team.

ROBO-PUNTER was a cyborg that could punt the ball so far, so high, and so well aimed and controlled that he would always pin the other team at their 1 yard line with 100% certainty, regardless of where he was punting from.

The question was--if such a player existed, how high would you be willing to draft him?  This is obviously the top end of where any real punter should be drafted.  I don't think you would ever draft him, say, first overall, because punters only add so much value to your team.  But you probably would spend draft capital to draft him somewhere.  

Then, of course, he took on a life of his own and started showing up in other arguments and discussions.  

45 I think the fictional robo…

I think the fictional robo punter would probably go first overall given two things beyond the value of pinning a team permanently at the 1 yard line

1) Certainty. You are effictively guaranteed the quality of the pick 

2) Longevity - Punters can last a long time

I think I would seriously consider taking that player first overall. Also I do think pinning a team perpetually at the 1 yard line is seriously valuable. I don't remember the stats, but team's scoring having to go the distance is practically nill. Its like drafting a good defense along with your punter. 

47 One of the strategies…

One of the strategies proposed was drafting RoboPunter, paying out the nose for every top defender you can find, a great punt returner, and then basically only a goal-line offense -- no need for an expensive quarterback if you're not going to have to march down the field!  Generate enough pressure with your opponent pinned all the way back.  Get safeties, fumbles, interceptions.  And if you fail to get a turnover or excellent field position, you can just punt it right back and try again, 1920s-style.

I think the discussion may have even been old enough to predate the 2004 illegal contact rule clarifications, though, so maybe that swings some people's thoughts there.

52 Of course, that would only…

Of course, that would only work while RoboPunter was on a rookie contract. That's your window of opportunity. After that he's going to want to be paid like the top QBs in the league and make it harder to build around him.

53 This is true, though I…

This is true, though I imagine some of that would be offset by requiring fewer starting-caliber offensive players on your roster in this sort of situation.  No need to pay for a deep-threat receiver if you don't run any plays outside of the red zone.

55 I think you're being too…

I think you're being too optimistic. Even if the opponent punts from the endzone every time we're still going to have to drive some 40 yards for a TD, and some drives they'll move the ball and maybe even score points and have us start from the 25. My point is we can't depend on a strictly red-zone offense. The offense will have to be competent, which means a decent QB -and even more money spent.

I don't know, this getting too complex for me. I think I'll leave the roster building to you and I'll just focus on a smaller role, like punting team coordinator.

46 Newer than 15 yes

I think there's an actual user named that here though.

But such a P wont exist. Even if it is the ideal punter. But even then you never want to see him on the field because that means your offense failed lol that's the nature of the punter and his position, hence no drafting even robo ones (not that they exist, but Lechler was awesome)

37 "We can all agree kickers…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

"We can all agree kickers are more valuable than punters though (and both more valuable than long snappers)? "

Why do you say that? Or more specifically, what makes you think that the difference between the best and worst kickers is bigger than the difference between the best and worst punters?

I didn't know, so I looked up the data. We have 38 years of special teams analyzed now. 

The best punt team (which includes the punter and his coverage teams) has been more valuable than the top placekicking team 26 times; the top placekicking team has had more value than the top punting team 12 times.

The WORST punt team has been less valuable than the worst placekicking team 27 times; the worst placekicking team has been less valuable than the worst punt team 11 times. 

The gap between the best and worst punting teams has been bigger than the gap between the best and worst placekicking teams 29 times; the gap between the best and worst placekicking teams has been bigger nine times. 

This took me 10 minutes to look up and is hardly definitive, but it suggest that if anything punters are more important than placekickers. 

(I do agree that 99% of long snappers are interchangeable, and the other 1% don't last long enough to make any real impact.) 

39 Really?

You think the individual drop kicking is more valuable than the one getting points?

Since you're lumping coverage teams in there as well it's a different question it seems. 10 other variables there that the P or K are really not in control of, even in indirect ways. Seems like there's a lot more going on there that isn't inherent to their specific job (kinda like blaming them for poor tackling, especially if they arent even attempting one themselves).

But the individual specialist K has 3 players higher in PFRs HOFm than the highest P (Lechler). And 10 (!) higher in CarAV (again Lechler). And 4 tied with him at 44.

Either way I'm not drafting any of the 3 because I dont want to see them on the field regardless, but I do know that you need them. But you just don't need the best as that costs $. So I'll just find the best cheap one later.

41 The kicker scores points…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

The kicker scores points. The punter prevents points from being scored against you, which is also important.

42 I mean

in a very indirect way I guess? But that requires the defense to fail after a "failed" punt (0 yards? but that depends on from where)

It's like an assist vs a turnover in basketball. An assist (or field goal) inherently implies points are scored meanwhile a turnover (on downs/a failed punt) doesn't automatically mean the other team is getting points, even if it means you didn't score (but if maybe teams would've spent that pick on WR5 they'd wouldn't need a punter, or maybe it'd at least put them in FG range since it's not reasonable to expect TDs every possession). 

44 There's likely an…

There's likely an interesting convolving effect related to the fact that coaches are too conservative on 4th down decisions.  If a punter is terrible, a coach is more likley to go for it on fourth down, which in many cases is a more optimal strategy.  If you trust your punter to pin the other team at the 1, you might be more likely to punt, even if going for it is a better decision.  So, perversely, having a good punter might actually reduce your win percentage (or at least dampen the full realizable benefit of that good punting), and vice versa.

48 When Agauyo was drafted and…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

When Agauyo was drafted and I launched into a kicking stats obsession, I wrote some article for Bucs Nation about the effect of what drafting the greatest FG kicker in history would be, and used as my example Dan Bailey, who, at the time, was far and away the best FG kicker by FG% in history at 90.566%; he was about 2.7% higher than Justin Tucker at that point, which is pretty significant.  The prior year in 2015, NFL teams had averaged 84.5% or so, basically meaning that, on average, teams had attempted 30.84 field goals, and made 26.06 of them.  If you then used Bailey's much-higher career FG%, instead of 26.06 kicks made over the season, a team would instead have made . . . 27.93 field goals.  So, basically, taking who was the best kicker by a fair margin ever over the league average kicker was going to equate to 5.61 points over the course of a season, or about 0.3 points per game.

This is clearly not really hardcore research, but, realistically speaking, the difference between a great kicker and an average kicker is pretty minimal.  Sure, if your kicker misses a kick at the wrong time it's devastating, but you can't exactly plan for that, and it's not like college kicking performance is exactly predictive, as the only four names on the top ten list for college FG % are Alex Henery, Roberto Aguayo, Nate Freese, and Matt Gay, none of whom exactly excelled in the NFL.

There's a whole host of reasons to never draft a kicker, the two big ones being college performance doesn't seem to translate to pro performance in any meaningful way, and your odds of getting a quality kicker are just as good doing tryouts as spending any picks.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but drafting kickers is just a bad idea, always and forever.

49 538

had a great article. Kickers are just finicky. My take away is to just grab a bunch cheap ones in (UD)FA and test game situations to the best of your abilities with blockers and defenders, making a bunch of noise, etc. and roll with the best. 

So I agree! But due to the nature of the P position being less valuable I think punters are in the same boat, even though they're easier to scout. And the NFL believes as such in their value based on their average pay (if even though that may not bear out with other positions as the game has evolved, but kicking has stayed the same over the years, relatively at least rules wise). 

35 I don't disagree, but it's me so I'll say a lot anyway!

I may have the exception that proves the rule. No argument that anything earlier than a 5th rounder is still a big NO for me on any specialist. I'm OK with 6th and 7th round flyers which are basically locking up first chance to sign for specialists, including Kickers.

The Packers have drafted two Punters and one Kicker in the 2000's.  Crosby (6th round 2007) and his 32 career AV has been the 5th best (out of 65 picks) overall 6th or 7th rounder taken by the Packers since 2000. It's arguably that he was the 3rd best 6th or 7th rounder too. It's not an illustrious list but it does at least have more than 10 players that generated 10 Career AV or more, though not always with the Packers.

  1. Mark Tauscher, T (2000, 7th - 224); 64 CarAV
  2. Scott Wells, G (2004, 7th - 251); 63 CarAV (47 with GB)
  3. Lawrence Guy, DT (2011, 7th -233); 48 CarAV (none with GB though and I was so excited about this pick at the time too, I knew he was a project but his upside was huge)
  4. Corey Williams, DT (2004, 6th - 179); 33 CarAV (13 with GB)
  5. Mason Crosby, K (2007, 6th - 193); 32 CarAV
  6. James Stark, RB (2010, 6th -193); 27 CarAV
  7. Johnny Jolly, DT (2006, 6th - 183); 23 CarAV
  8. Desmond Bishop, LB (2007, 6th -192); 21 CarAV
  9. Brad Jones, LB (2009, 7th - 218); 18 CarAV
  10. CJ Wilson, DE (2010, 7th - 230); 14 CarAV

Crosby had one stinker of a season in 2012 (though driven in part by 2 of 9 from 50+) and another bad streak more recently. He is the franchise leader in scoring (and while kickers have an advantage when it comes to that, this is a franchise that has some prolific scorers). He's also got the FG% overall and from pretty much every distance. His 81.8% career just nips out Longwells 81.6% as a Packer. Longwell is 83.2 for his career because finishing your career in the Metrodome instead of in Lambeau helps. The one range he doesn't lead is 50+ he's third behind Chris Jacke's 17 of 26 (65.4%) and Longwells 13 of 22 for 59%; Crosby is only 39 of 70 for 55.7% (that 2 for 9 year hurts there too). They try from 50+ about twice as much with Crosby though at about 5 times a year vs 2.5 for Jacke and Longwell.

A 14 year career and a Franchise record holder out of a 6th rounder is worth it. I think AV covers the positional value decently here too and only on Tauscher and Wells generated more AV for the Packers, but both had shorter careers.

It's not as good as the flyers they took on Wells (8 seasons 100 starts for GB) and Tauscher (11 seasons and 132 starts). But it's better than what they got out of Guy who was released after training camp and picked up by IND a year later in 2012, but didn't really start doing much till 2015 with BAL.  Williams was an OK back-up his first 2 years in GB, and then had 20 starts and 14 sacks in his last 2 years with the team. They didn't resign him, which for a team under Ted Thompson who was all about draft and develop says something. Starks was a starting running back for a brief moment and had a good postseason and got a Super Bowl ring for it, but he was often injured and always split carries with another back.

The got a decent value of 1989 6th round kicker Chris Jacke too (27 AV over his 8 seasons as a Packer), who was 2nd in Franchise FG% when he left and still has the 50+ FG% record (10 or more attempts). 

So for GB I'm fine with what they've done with 6th round or later Kickers. The 3rd rounder on Brett Conway in 97 was a mistake, but again any specialist in the 3rd round is a mistake.

But I'm tainted by 22 seasons of Franchise best kicking out 6th round draft picks. I'm also well aware that while they are Franchise best kickers, they are not NFL great. I think Crosby is middle of the league for active career FG%, though he is NFL top 50 career wise at least. I think Jacke was kinda middle of the league for active players as well while active, though I didn't really track NFL career ranking for kicking in the 90's.

Of course FG% has risen CRAZILY, it's potentially a faster inflation than passing stats. I mean 7 of the top 10 all time FG% kickers started playing after 2010. Gould (05) and Gostkowski (06) started in the mid 2000's and then you've got Vanderjagt who was 98-06. That's as far back as you can go for the top 10. You have to drop down to 23rd and Phil Dawson (99 - 18) to find the next player who started before 2000. That's a little bit nuts.

At least with QB's for both comp% and passer rating you've got guys in the top 10 who started their careers in the 80's or 90's for both stats, heck Montana entered the league in 79 and he's 23rd on career passing comp % and 16th on passer rating. So yeah the passing game has changed a lot recently but it's nothing like what happened to FG kicking.

The punters are another story.
The 3rd round BJ Sander pick in 2004 was horrendous (didn't even make a full season)
The 5th round pick of JK Scott in 2018 wasn't as bad as he has stuck around for 3 years and garnered 6 AV, but they are looking to replace him all the time and I'm sure he's gone when his rookie contract ends regardless.
There were other punters in the 90's (Bidwell a 4th round mistake though he lasted 10 years in the league only 4 with GB but 4th round is always a mistake. Fite and Maggio didn't even make the team but at least were 5th and 12th rounders)

So yeah I really don't want to GB draft another punter. But if they use a 6th or 7th on a kicker and they get another Jacke or Crosby type player I'm fine with it. In the last 20 years they haven't done much better with a 6th rounder than a kicker anyway.

50 Ah, the 2015 draft, when we…

Ah, the 2015 draft, when we were in the heyday of doing draft analysis over at Zone Reads. As a Saints fan I remember I wanted Eric Kendricks and Preston Smith, both of whom we had top-20 grades on. Instead they drafted Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha.

58 I remember this draft well

My team, the Bears, had a new GM, which brought that all-too-familiar mix of hope and dread. I was very skeptical of Pace, but of course wanted him to do well.

There were rumors throughout that the Bears were going to take a WR, which seemed very dumb to me. While Brandon Marshall had moved on, Alshon Jeffery was still in Chicago, and there were a lot of holes on the roster besides #2 WR. And, having read Playmaker, I thought Cooper would have been worth that pick, but it was pretty clear that he wasn't going to get to 7; and again, Playmaker convinced me that Kevin White was a bad investment. But of course, the new guy did it anyway, which was another tickmark against Pace in my book (I've been down on him for awhile).

Not that i had a better idea; my ideal plan was to trade down and take Bud Dupree. But of course, "trade down and still get my guy" is always easier to say than to make happen, and anyway Dupree hasn't been that good (though better than White, for sure). So, while I was able to identify bad ideas, I sure as heck can't come up with good ideas, which is why I'm not a GM.

Anyway, super unexcited for the next 2 or 3 Bears seasons already. :(

62 WRs in that draft, clearly the best offensive skill group

"Best Player: All those names up top, and only Cooper has come close to living up to his pre-draft billing. He's in a three-way fight with Tyler Lockett (69th to Seattle) and Stefon Diggs (146th to Minnesota) for best of his class,"

 

I think Lockett needs a special shout out here.   Lockett basically played 1.25 seasons of his first 3 year contract, with the remaining time on IR... and still ended up as the DYAR leader.  Lockett has also had the best QB, by far, of the three, but Cooper and Diggs have played with some pretty good QBs too.