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NFL draft: Every team’s smartest pick in the past 5 years

Some teams have drafted better than others, but every team has at least one draft pick that panned out recently. Even the Browns.

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC Practice Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL draft is only two weeks away. Like every year, some teams will select players to fill a major need. Others will make questionable decisions that could possibly set their franchise back a few years.

Drafting the right player can be tricky at times, but every team in the NFL has managed to get it right at least once. Yes, even the Cleveland Browns.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this player is the best on his team, just that his team made the savvy choice drafting him when and where it did.

Here’s a look at the smartest pick every team has made since 2012:

Arizona Cardinals: Tyrann Mathieu, S

Mathieu had first-round caliber talent, but fell to the Cardinals in the third round in 2013 because of off-the-field concerns. Mathieu was named to the Pro Bowl and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2015 after finishing the season with five interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and 17 pass breakups. Injuries slowed him down a bit last year, but when he’s been healthy, he’s made a tremendous impact for Arizona’s defense.

Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman, RB

Freeman was a fourth-round draft pick by the Falcons back in 2014, and now he’s a household name and a fantasy football favorite. He only had 65 carries in his rookie season, but he exceeded 1,000 rushing yards and contributed 11 touchdowns in each of 2015 and 2016. He’s an accomplished receiver, too, with 578 yards and three touchdowns in 2015 and 462 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. It took just two seasons for Freeman to go from 103rd pick in the draft to the Pro Bowl.

Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Williams, DT

Williams was a third-round pick in 2013 and now plays a key part in the Ravens’ stout defense. In four seasons, he’s racked up 157 tackles, three forced fumbles, and 4.5 sacks and is considered one of the best run-stopping defensive tackles in the league.

Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR

Watkins was a can’t-miss wide receiver prospect coming out of Clemson. The position for the Bills has largely been a constant rotation of players over the past two decades, and despite a few injuries, Watkins has the makings to be a true No. 1 WR. Now it’s just a matter of staying healthy.

Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly, LB

A first-round pick in 2012, Kuechly has been a productive and reliable presence for Carolina at linebacker. In five seasons, the 25-year-old recorded 693 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 42 pass deflections. The four-time Pro Bowler also won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013.

Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard, RB

The Bears got Howard in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, and he was one bright spot in Chicago’s offense last season. Howard finished his rookie year with 1,313 rushing yards and six touchdowns, filling the void left by the team’s decision to let Matt Forte move on to the Jets in free agency last year.

Cincinnati Bengals: George Iloka, FS

One of the more underrated defensive backs in the NFL, Iloka has been a stalwart in Cincinnati’s playmaking secondary since he earned a starting job in his second year. Iloka, the Bengals’ third selection in the fifth round in 2012, has quietly emerged as one of the more reliable cover safeties in the league, tallying 27 pass defenses and eight interceptions in his four years as a starter.

Cleveland Browns: Joel Bitonio, G

Bitonio, a second-round pick in 2014, has been productive on the Browns’ offensive line when healthy. He’s a mauler who loves to finish blocks with a lot of force. Bitonio played well alongside stalwart left tackle Joe Thomas last season and improved in pass protection. The only knock against the 25-year-old is his durability — he’s played in 15 games over the last two seasons.

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott, QB

Ezekiel Elliott might be the better player, but the Cowboys got ahead of needing to solve the question of who would replace Tony Romo when they drafted Prescott. The switch came much sooner than expected, when Prescott filled in for an injured Romo and never gave the job back. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year led the team to a 12-4 record while completing nearly 68 percent of his passes and throwing for over 3,600 yards with 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions. That’s pretty good for a fourth-round selection.

Denver Broncos: Malik Jackson, DT

Even though Jackson is a now member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was the Broncos’ best draft pick in five years. Jackson was a fifth-round pick in 2012 and morphed into one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, which earned him nearly $90 million from the Jaguars last offseason.

Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah, DE

Ansah was a first-round pick in 2013 and became the anchor of Detroit’s front seven. The Pro Bowler, who has a high motor and the speed and athleticism to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, has 163 tackles, nine forced fumbles, and 32 sacks in his career.

Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB

Green Bay’s secondary has been the team’s weakness the past few seasons, but the one constant has been Clinton-Dix, who hasn’t just stayed healthy but has also excelled in his three seasons as a pro. While the jury’s still out on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, the Packers have a foundational piece playing center field when Clinton-Dix is in the lineup.

Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR

Hopkins has been the best player in Houston’s offense ever since the Texans used their first-round pick on him in 2013. No matter who's throwing Hopkins the ball — and it’s never anyone that good — he can come down with it, usually impressively. Hopkins has some of the best hands in the league and has caught 317 passes for 4,487 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB

Luck is an obvious, but correct, choice. He seamlessly replaced Peyton Manning as the face of the franchise, leading the Colts to three straight division titles and one AFC Championship appearance. He also has three Pro Bowl appearances to his name. While the Colts have struggled building a coherent team around Luck, he’s still the guy worth building around.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, DB

Yes, the Jaguars have been bad throughout the past five years, but there are actually a few good draft picks to choose from. Allen Robinson is one of the best young receivers in the NFL, Telvin Smith is a fast, exciting and explosive linebacker, and Yannick Ngakoue was only behind Joey Bosa in sacks by rookies in 2016. But that just underlines how good Jalen Ramsey was as a rookie, because he’s the clear choice for Jacksonville. He’s the type of talent that an entire secondary can be built around.

Kansas City Chiefs: Marcus Peters, CB

Kansas City spent its first-round pick on Peters in 2015, and he’s been a lockdown corner ever since. Peters has the size, speed, and athleticism to make plays on the ball. In fact, he already has 14 interceptions in his young career.

Los Angeles Chargers: Joey Bosa, DE

Last year, the Chargers surprised everyone with the selection of Bosa. Not a single one of the 115 mock drafts surveyed by SB Nation anticipated the Bolts’ selection of the defensive end, who many believed was the best overall player in the draft. While he earned headlines for his holdout last summer, Bosa quickly turned into a superstar defensive lineman. He tallied 10.5 sacks in just 12 games and earned the 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald, DT

The Rams haven’t hit on many draft picks since 2012, but they scored with Donald in 2014. Just imagine how bad the team would’ve been without him rag-dolling the centers and guards trying their best to block him. He’s arguably the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the NFL right now.

Miami Dolphins: Jarvis Landry, WR

The Dolphins have surrounded Ryan Tannehill with receiving talent in recent years, but their biggest hit came in the 2014 draft. Landry was a late second-round pick out of LSU who made an immediate impact in the big leagues. He’s been a Pro Bowl invitee the past two seasons after combining for 204 catches and nearly 2,300 yards. At 24 years old, he’s still growing into his role — and could soon be one of the NFL’s top wideouts.

Minnesota Vikings: Harrison Smith, FS

The Vikings had the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, which they used to select Matt Kalil. But when the Ravens were on the clock with the 29th selection, Minnesota took a gamble, trading its second and fourth-round selections to Baltimore to take Smith. The gamble paid off in a major way. Starting from day one, Smith has totaled 412 tackles, 28 pass defenses, 12 interceptions, 7.5 sacks, and four defensive touchdowns in five years.

New England Patriots: James White, RB

White was a fourth-round pick in 2014, a complementary tailback out of Wisconsin whose college career was overshadowed by teammates Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon. He hasn’t added much in the running game — just 70 carries in his three seasons in the NFL — but adds tremendous value as a receiver out of the backfield. This was never more evident than in Super Bowl 51, where his 14 receptions were a league record. He also scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas, WR

Two years after selecting Brandin Cooks in the first round, New Orleans took former Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas with a second-round selection. A good player in his own right, Cooks was quietly outproduced by the rookie in 2016. This deemed Cooks expendable, so the Saints traded him to the New England Patriots in exchange for first- and third-round picks in the upcoming draft. As the top receiving option in New Orleans, Thomas looks to build on a stellar rookie season in which he totaled 1,137 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR

With the 12th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Giants selected the most explosive playmaker in the league. Beckham’s receiving skills border on superhero -- and that was enough to beat out talented starters like Landon Collins and Justin Pugh for top honors.

New York Jets: Leonard Williams, DL

Since 2014, only six of New York’s 25 selections have turned in at least one season as a primary starter for the team. Williams may have been the No. 6 overall pick in 2015, but he still found a way to outproduce his draft slot through his first two seasons in the league. He had seven sacks and two forced fumbles last fall to earn Pro Bowl honors in an otherwise dire season for the Jets.

Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB

The Oakland Raiders (much like the Cleveland Browns) had been rotating journeymen at quarterback for years. Carr was selected in the second round, with Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater all taken off the board before him. He helped the Raiders reach the postseason for the first time since 2002, and though his season ended early due to an unfortunate injury, he looks like he’ll be around for quite some time.

Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT

The 12th pick in the 2012 draft, Cox has only missed one game for the Eagles and earned a new contract in 2016 worth $103 million, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league. He earned his new deal following the 2015 season, which included 71 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. He’s now just one year into his six-year deal, and continues to grow in his role as a leader both on and off the field.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, RB

While Bell has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries and suspensions — he’s played all 16 games just once in four years — when healthy he’s possibly the most important player in the Steelers’ offense. With incredible vision, patience, and pass-catching chops, Bell is a pure every-down back who can do it all out of the backfield. His presence on the ground frees up Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to do their thing in the air.

San Francisco 49ers: Eric Reid, S

The 49ers decided to use their 2013 first-round pick on LSU’s Eric Reid, a hard-hitting safety who thrives as a run-stopper. He has 252 tackles, eight interceptions, and 30 pass deflections in his career and is one of the best players on the 49ers’ defense.

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, QB

In five years with Wilson as the starter, the Seahawks have won at least 10 games all five times. Even when the team decided the best way to protect the quarterback who now plays on a four-year, nearly $90 million extension was to put him behind an offensive line that collectively made less than 10 percent of that amount in 2016, Wilson still carried the team to the playoffs. And how much did it cost to get this three-time Pro Bowler? The No. 75 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Jaguars took punter Bryan Anger at No. 70 and the Browns took quarterback Brandon Weeden all the way up at No. 22.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR

Tampa Bay used its first-round selection in 2014 on Evans, a big-bodied receiver who towers over most defensive backs. Evans is an excellent route-runner with solid hands and speed. Whenever quarterback Jameis Winston needs a big play, he always looks in Evans’ direction. Evans has put up 3,578 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns in his career so far.

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB

It turns out picking a franchise quarterback can be a really good idea. While he hasn’t quite put up numbers to earn accolades like a spot in the Pro Bowl, Mariota bumped his impressive 91.5 passer rating as a rookie up to 95.6 in year two with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Taking a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the draft is a risky proposition, but there’s no reason for the Titans to have buyer’s remorse. Mariota looks like the real deal.

Washington: Kirk Cousins, QB

Washington drafted Cousins in the fourth round in 2012, the same year the team traded up to select Robert Griffin III with the second pick. Griffin had an incredible rookie season, but his play declined sharply after that. In 2015, Cousins earned the starting job and ran with it. The 28-year-old led Washington to the playoffs in 2015 and threw for over 4,000 yards twice.