clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The NFL can't let go of the 2010 draft

New, comments

Danny Kelly explains why 2010 was the most important draft in recent NFL history.

The 2010 NFL Draft is now a pretty distant memory, but the dominoes that fell in late April that year -- the league's first three-day draft -- played a major part in shaping the current landscape of the NFL. Among the biggest winners that weekend were reigning the Super Bowl champion Patriots and last year's champs, the Seahawks, along with the Steelers, 49ers, Packers and Broncos.

Some of the success stories from that draft weekend created a ripple effect across the league -- core players were added and today's dominant teams were forged. Conversely, some poor decisions that weekend helped set franchises back years, and several crucial picks from 2010 had major ramifications for this year's free agency class -- namely first overall pick Sam Bradford and second overall pick Ndamukong Suh -- both of whom ended up in new locales for 2015, and the fallout from those moves will surely be felt this fall.

Succeeding in the draft is essential to long-term the health of a franchise. At the same time, it's an exceedingly difficult venture to master. Teams are involved in a highly complex, dynamic and unpredictable battle that features 32 generals. As a GM, winning the day involves determining stock of the players you like, predicting markets for the different position groups in order to know when you need to grab a position of need, and knowing when to put your chips out on the table and "get your guys." All the while, you're working the phones for trades, concentrated on getting the most value out of your capital, evaluating opportunity costs against any pressing needs on the fly.

Initial optimism quickly fades away as two, three, four or more players in a given class wash out of the league and attrition takes hold. The teams that hit on three, four or even five players in any given year quickly see the fruits of their labor reflected in their roster's overall talent, its depth and a healthy salary cap.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at how the 2010 NFL Draft had major implications for the seasons that followed, and it's no coincidence that the teams listed below have all been among the league's best over the past five years.

Winners

Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 -- PITTSBURGH STEELERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 18 Maurkice Pouncey C Florida
2 52 Jason Worilds LB Virginia Tech
3 82 Emmanuel Sanders WR Southern Methodist
4 116 Thaddeus Gibson LB Ohio State
5 151 Chris Scott T Tennessee
5 164 Crezdon Butler DB Clemson
5 166 Stevenson Sylvester LB Utah
6 188 Jonathan Dwyer RB Georgia Tech
6 195 Antonio Brown WR Central Michigan
7 242 Doug Worthington DE Ohio State

Kevin Colbert and Pittsburgh's scouting staff put together a gem of a draft in 2010, landing three future stars, a couple starters and a role player with their 10 picks. Not too shabby.

Now, in the interest of fairness to the evaluations, I'm counting a player as a "hit" even if they're not currently playing for the team that picked them. Bottom line, even if they're succeeding in a different system and for another club at this point, just for the sake of this exercise, we'll give the drafting team some credit for at least seeing the potential, even if they couldn't cultivate it long-term.

So, big props to Pittsburgh for picking Maurkice Pouncey, who has, in five seasons, been All-Pro four times and is generally considered to be one of the best at his position in the NFL.

In the second round, the Steelers picked up linebacker Jason Worilds, who we'd probably be talking about as one of the winners in free agency right about now if he hadn't picked up and left the game abruptly after the year. Worilds was a player on the rise, who notched 7.5 sacks last season and 8.0 in 2013, but he decided to pursue another vocation. Regardless, good pass rushers are hard to find, and the Steelers had found a good one in Worilds, so you have to credit them there.

In the third round, they found Emmanuel Sanders out of Southern Methodist and developed him into a dangerous weapon. He caught 161 passes for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns in his four seasons in Pittsburgh. After his 67-catch season in 2013, he left in free agency and settled in Denver, where he broke out officially in 2014 with 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns.

Of course, one of the reasons that Pittsburgh was able to let Sanders go in free agency was because the Steelers found a gem in the sixth round out of small school Central Michigan, a receiver named Antonio Brown. Turns out the Steelers' brass knows how to scout that position.

Brown is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, and has developed into one of the best receivers in the game. He had an absurd, just plain stupid 129 catches last year for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns, and is the cherry on top of a great 2010 class.

Having just one of Pouncey, Worilds, Sanders or Brown emerge from a draft class could be considered a win, but getting four very good to downright great players in one sitting was a coup. Even Jonathan Dwyer, whom they drafted in the sixth along with Brown, become a serviceable role player for them, which is a success that late in the draft.

San Francisco 49ers
2010 -- SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 11 Anthony Davis T Rutgers
1 17 Mike Iupati G Idaho
2 49 Taylor Mays SS USC
3 91 NaVorro Bowman LB Penn State
6 173 Anthony Dixon RB Mississippi State
6 182 Nate Byham TE Pittsburgh
6 206 Kyle Williams WR Arizona State
7 224 Phillip Adams DB South Carolina State

Trent Baalke and Tom Gamble, along with head coach Mike Singletary, put together a very strong group in the 2010 draft. Of course, a portion of the credit should go to Scot McCloughan, who parted ways with the Niners a month before the draft after doing a ton of the offseason preparation. McCloughan went to Seattle, things didn't work out there, and is now of course in charge in Washington.

Regardless, taking two offensive linemen with their duo of first-rounders that year -- Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati -- sent a message to the league about what kind of team the Niners wanted to be, and those investments paid off down the line. San Francisco would eventually put together an elite offensive line for which to build their run game around, and Davis and Iupati were big parts of that. Iupati is a three-time Pro Bowler and was All-Pro in 2012, and Davis has started all 70 games he's appeared in for San Francisco.

NaVorro Bowman in the third round was highway robbery and he quickly emerged as one of the best inside linebackers in the league. He's a three-time, first-team All-Pro.

Anthony Dixon became a backup running back and special teams regular -- a necessary role in this league, and Kyle Williams saw the field as a receiver and returner in his four years with the Niners. Taylor Mays never panned out in San Francisco but is still in the league and has developed as a role player. Phillip Adams is still in the league as well, has logged eight starts, and recently signed with the Falcons. All in all, an extremely solid group of picks.

Bottom line, the decisions made in the 2010 draft helped pave the way, and create a culture of toughness, for San Francisco's run of three straight NFC Championship appearances from 2011-2013.

Seattle Seahawks
2010 -- SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 6 Russell Okung T Oklahoma State
1 14 Earl Thomas FS Texas
2 60 Golden Tate WR Notre Dame
4 111 Walter Thurmond CB Oregon
4 127 E.J. Wilson DE North Carolina
5 133 Kam Chancellor DB Virginia Tech
6 185 Anthony McCoy TE USC
7 236 Dexter Davis DE Arizona State
7 245 Jameson Konz TE Kent State

John Schneider and Pete Carroll's first draft was an enormous success, helping set the tone for a team that's become renowned for solid drafting and development of their players. This draft, this is where it all began, where the Legion of Boom was born.

They got things started with a solid pair of first-round picks in Russell Okung and Earl Thomas. Okung hasn't lit the world on fire but is a solid left tackle with 59 starts under his belt, and Earl Thomas is probably the best free safety in the game. Thomas, who is only 25 after five seasons in the NFL, is a four-time All-Pro, the machine that makes the Seahawks' elite defense go and a core member of Seattle's nucleus.

Seattle grabbed Golden Tate in the second round. Tate took a little while to get going, but developed as an excellent starter at wideout and become one of the more dangerous punt returners in the game in 2013. He left in free agency for Detroit after the Seahawks determined they had bigger priorities at other positions of need, and he promptly put up 99 catches for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns in Detroit's pass-happy offense.

Walter Thurmond, when healthy and not suspended, developed into a solid nickelback role player for Seattle and recently signed in Philly with his college coach, Chip Kelly.

The Seahawks nabbed a physical freak of nature in the fifth round, one Kam Chancellor out of Virginia Tech, and he's developed into a two-time All-Pro strong safety and core piece of Seattle's defense.

As a bonus, the Hawks grabbed tight end Anthony McCoy in the sixth, and he recently signed on with the team for his sixth season after missing the last two to injury.

Schneider and Carroll's first draft helped lay the foundation for building what many believe to be today's best roster. Hitting on two All-Pro players in the secondary, grabbing a left tackle, a game-changing receiver, and a couple solid role players in one class alone helped Seattle on several fronts down the line a few years -- with that homegrown talent filling major spots, they were able to spend more money in free agency on key acquisitions like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Zach Miller -- and it helped them win Super Bowl XLVIII.

SB Nation presents: NFC West team needs for the 2015 NFL Draft

New England Patriots
2010 -- NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 27 Devin McCourty CB Rutgers
2 42 Rob Gronkowski TE Arizona
2 53 Jermaine Cunningham OLB Florida
2 62 Brandon Spikes ILB Florida
3 90 Taylor Price WR Ohio U.
4 113 Aaron Hernandez TE Florida
5 150 Zoltan Mesko P Michigan
6 205 Ted Larsen G North Carolina State
7 208 Thomas Welch OT Vanderbilt
7 247 Brandon Deaderick DE Alabama
7 248 Kade Weston DT Georgia
7 250 Zac Robinson QB Oklahoma State

Bill Belichick is well known for his talent evaluation and the 2010 Draft is a good representation of that.

Devin McCourty has played at corner for the Patriots as well, but has developed into one of the game's elite free safeties, and the two-time All-Pro was a key piece to New England's 2014 defense.

Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the game, in addition to being one of the most lovable characters in the NFL. Gronk is a three-time All-Pro with 54 career touchdowns. I don't need to add a whole lot to that. He's unguardable and a monster in the run game to boot.

Brandon Spikes has had a solid career playing for the Patriots and Bills, as has Ted Larson (albeit with different teams -- the Bucs and Cardinals) and Zolton Mesko. Of course, prior to his murder trial, it had appeared that Aaron Hernandez would become one of the elites at the tight end position as well. Thomas Welch and Brandon Deaderick are still in the league.

Even throwing out everything after the second round, grabbing two future All-Pros is a huge haul for the Patriots, and those two players had enormous impact on New England's Super Bowl XLIX run. Even with Tom Brady already running the show, the Patriots would have been a different team without one of their most valuable defensive players in McCourty, and top touchdown maker and mismatch in Gronk.

A few more ...

Green Bay Packers
2010 -- GREEN BAY PACKERS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 23 Bryan Bulaga T Iowa
2 56 Mike Neal DE Purdue
3 71 Morgan Burnett SS Georgia Tech
5 154 Andrew Quarless TE Penn State
5 169 Marshall Newhouse T Texas Christian
6 193 James Starks RB Buffalo
7 230 C.J. Wilson DE East Carolina

This is just an excellent illustration of the Packers' "in-house" M.O. of building around the draft and retaining their core players. The Packers recently re-signed Bryan Bulaga to a second deal and signed Morgan Burnett to a five-year extension in 2013. Mike Neal, Andrew Quarless and James Starks all signed their second contracts last year, and were key members of the team in 2014.

Marshall Newhouse is still in the league -- now with the Giants, as is C.J. Wilson, who just re-signed with the Raiders. This was an excellent class and the Packers retained five out of their seven picks into their second deals. That's rare.

It's why Ted Thompson is so well-respected for his roster building strategies, and why the Packers are so consistently among the league's best teams.

Denver Broncos
2010 -- DENVER BRONCOS
RD SEL # PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL
1 22 Demaryius Thomas WR Georgia Tech
1 25 Tim Tebow QB Florida
2 45 Zane Beadles G Utah
3 80 J.D. Walton C Baylor
3 87 Eric Decker WR Minnesota
5 137 Perrish Cox CB Oklahoma State
6 183 Eric Olsen G Notre Dame
7 225 Syd'Quan Thompson DB California
7 232 Jammie Kirlew DE Indiana

Look, the whole Tim Tebow in the first round thing aside, this was an excellent draft class by Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders. Demaryius Thomas is one of the best receivers in the game, Eric Decker went on to catch a bunch of balls and get a big-time deal with the Jets, Zane Beadles has started every game the past four seasons for Denver and Jacksonville, J.D. Walton started 16 games for the Giants last year, and Perrish Cox just signed a three-year, $15 million contract in Tennessee.

The 2010 draft helped build a foundation for Denver and when John Elway took over, and eventually nabbed Peyton Manning, there was enough talent around the legendary quarterback to get them to run the AFC and go on to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Bradford and Suh

The buzz around the 2010 NFL Draft centered around the top two picks in Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh, and the results and ramifications of those two picks can still be felt today, both for their teams and for the whole league.

Bradford started strong in this league as he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award with 3,512 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and the Rams won seven games his first year after winning just one without him in 2009. But, instead of blossoming into the elite franchise quarterback that would lead St. Louis to NFC West Championships and potential Super Bowl berths, he's produced middling stats and has missed 31 games in four seasons with the team, including all of 2014 and most of 2013. St. Louis still hasn't had a winning season.

Cutting bait on the investment in a first-round pick, especially under the old rookie salary schedule, after five seasons is never an easy decision, especially at the quarterback position where you can get into a vicious cycle of hoping "potential" becomes actual production. This is the so-called "quarterback purgatory" and the Rams seems to have found themselves in that situation over the last four years. It's obviously a very tough place to be -- quarterbacks don't grow on trees, and St. Louis was paying Bradford a lot of money to rehab his shoulder and knees along the way, as he played out his old CBA first-round contract. They had no answer at the quarterback position, and their seasons in 2013 and 2014 suffered greatly for it.

Even Bradford's hot start in 2013, prior to his season-ending ACL tear, was not enough for St. Louis to stay committed. They reportedly tried to restructure his deal prior to this upcoming season and after getting pushback on that from Bradford's camp, they decided to go in another direction, trading him to the Eagles for Nick Foles. It's a bold move for St. Louis, who apparently got offers of a first-round pick for Bradford but preferred to go with a guy they've been high on for some time in Foles. In one fell swoop, the futures of two teams changed drastically. It's inarguable that quarterback is the most important position the football field, and the Rams and Eagles are two teams to watch in 2015 because of this trade.

The Rams get cap-relief in Foles, who is due to make just $1.5 million this year instead of the $13 million due to Bradford. That gives St. Louis some great options in free agency -- and they went out and signed Nick Fairley and Akeem Ayers to help out on the defense. And most importantly, it gets them out of the quarterback purgatory they faced by having Sam Bradford's huge contract, injury history and potential extension hanging over their heads. They get something for him instead of just seeing him walk after next year. Perhaps Foles is the long-term answer, and they've just made a trade that will change their franchise forever. Or, perhaps Foles flounders. Either way, St. Louis showed the intestinal fortitude to walk away from what they perceived to be a failed investment.

For the departed Bradford, it gives him a new locale, a new system and a chance at new life. Will he finally break out? It's something to watch.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the impact of the Ndamukong Suh pick. Suh instantly became one of the best defenders in the game of football and helped turn the Lions from perennial cellar dwellers into yearly competitors in the NFC North. Suh has been an All-Pro in all five of his seasons and the Lions were one of the elite groups on defense in 2014. He's added toughness and physicality, and he makes players around him better. It's easy to say that he was a great success as the No. 2 overall pick, and the Lions benefitted greatly for it.

Strangely, they were unable to come to an agreement for a long-term extension and Suh took his talents to South Beach and the Dolphins. He becomes the highest-paid defensive player in the game, by a long shot -- he's essentially getting quarterback money -- and it remains to be seen how he'll change the trajectory of the Dolphins organization. Suh is part of the arms race that is going on in the AFC East right now as the Bills, Jets and Dolphins try to keep pace with the Patriots and knock them off their throne.

Similarly, how will the Lions adapt without the anchor in the middle that Suh provided for them for four years? The Lions have become a force in the NFC North but the identity of their team in 2014 was in their run-stuffing, stifling defense. Can they maintain that level of play or does the result of losing Suh to free agency mean they'll regress once again?

The results and fallout from the 2010 draft still playing huge roles in the power structures of the NFC West, NFC North and AFC East for 2015 as teams are getting shaken up.

★★★

With the 2015 NFL Draft about a month away, keep in mind that the fallout from each individual pick may be felt three, four or five years down the line, and each will have a major effect on how the NFL looks in 2019 or 2020. That may feel like a long time from now, but it's not wild to say that the big winners at the end of this month just may be the major players competing for the Lombardi Trophy three or four years from now.

General managers are gearing up to spend valuable capital, in the form of picks, in building their teams for the long term.