We're just over two weeks away from the 2015 NFL Draft and it's as good of a time as any to bring up that sore subject that you probably don't want to talk about -- that colossal failure of a draft pick that your team made with so and so back in such and such year.
It's always fascinating to me that first-round picks -- supposedly the cream of the crop for any class -- have such a high bust rate. These are players that are chosen only after extensive research is done, hundreds of hours of tape are consumed, former coaches and teammates are consulted, and the latest scientific measures are utilized, all in order to help predict future performance.
Teams pick a player in the first round with the expectation that he'll be a starter, a good starter. When that player doesn't pan out, it has a ripple effect that can leave franchises digging their way out for years.
With the draft just two weeks away, it's worth a trip through past drafts to see who became stars, who played well, and, conversely, who washed out of the league, and washed out quickly ... and which teams are still paying the price for those terrible picks.
I limited this to the 2008-2012 draft classes, leaving the 2013 and 2014 draft classes for later years since the jury's still out those picks. I've also tried to exclude players whose major reason for being a bust was due to injuries.
2008 - Year of the Gholston
The 2008 draft was actually pretty good when it comes to hitting on first-round picks, relatively. That class produced offensive tackles in Jake Long, Branden Albert, Ryan Clady, Duane Brown and Gosder Cherilus, quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, corners in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aqib Talib, running backs in Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden and Rashad Mendenhall, and a defensive end in Chris Long.
A few of the swings and misses, for comparison:
The six-eight-nine stretch in 2008 did not go as planned. Gholston started five games total and didn't get a sack. Harvey played four seasons, in which time he racked up 8.0 sacks. Keith Rivers is still in the league, but has only started 15 games in the last three years and is more of a rotational role player at this point.
No. 22 Dallas Cowboys - Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
Jones never become a feature back for the Cowboys, ending his career with the Steelers after five seasons in a rotational role in Dallas.
The Seahawks traded Lawrence Jackson to the Lions after two years and he was out of the league after 2012. Kentwan Balmer went AWOL from two separate training camps with two different teams during points of his four-year career, which saw just 11 starts.
2009 - Worst draft ever?
The 2009 class produced stud players like Matthew Stafford, Alex Mack, Vontae Davis, Brian Cushing, Jeremy Maclin and Clay Matthews.
Down the list a little further, Tyson Jackson, Andre Smith, Brian Orakpo, Percy Harvin, Malcolm Jenkins, Hakeem Nicks, Eric Wood, B.J. Raji, Michael Crabtree, Knowshon Moreno, Brandon Pettigrew and Eugene Monroe have been solid contributors at times as well.
That said, there were some definite busts.
No. 2 - St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
No. 4 - Seattle Seahawks - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
No. 5 - New York Jets - Mark Sanchez, QB, USC
Smith started just 26 games in four seasons before washing out of the league after the 2012 season. Curry, considered by many to be the safest pick in that year's draft, ultimately played for five years in the league but came nowhere near his pre-draft billing as an impact player. Mark Sanchez wasn't the worst pick of all time -- but with the Jets, he couldn't get his YPA over 6.7 or his completion rate over 57 percent. He played better in 2014 with the Eagles but was not the player many envisioned in 2009.
No. 7 - Oakland Raiders - Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Unfortunately, Heyward-Bey is attached to Al Davis' legacy, and the speedster out of Maryland couldn't fully translate his physical tools to the football field. He had a couple of decent seasons in 2011-2012, but caught three balls last year for the Steelers.
No. 11 - Buffalo Bills - Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
Started one game in his career, racked up six sacks in four seasons.
English has started just 10 games in six seasons and has 12.0 career sacks. Freeman had that one really awesome year in 2010.
Brown is most well known for getting yelled at by Peyton Manning, and never managed to grab a hold of a feature role as a running back (but at least he wasn't Trent Richardson). Britt has looked promising and exciting at times but his career-high for catches in a season happened in 2014 with the Rams, when he caught 48 balls for 748 yards. Perhaps he's not the worst bust of all time, but he thus far has failed to live up to his potential, partially due to injuries and his inability to stay out of trouble off the field.
2010 - Rebound draft
Believe it or not, 2010 was a remarkably good year for draft evaluators, and really only one player -- Tim Tebow -- is out of the league for performance-based reasons (joined only by Jahvid Best, who retired due to concussions).
That leaves 30 of 32 first-round picks still in the league (!!), and the class included Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Eric Berry, Joe Haden, Earl Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mike Iupati, Maurkice Pouncey, Kareem Jackson, Demaryius Thomas, Brian Bulaga, Dez Bryant, Devin McCourtey, Jared Odrick and Jerry Hughes, just to name a few. Holy crap, what'd they put in the water that year?
2011 - All the bad quarterbacks
The 2011 class produced Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, Tyron Smith, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Nate Solder, Corey Luiget, Cameron Jordan, Mo Wilkerson and Cameron Heyward, not to mention Anthony Costanzo, Prince Amukamara, Jimmy Smith, Phil Taylor, Nick Fairley, James Carpenter and Mark Ingram. Whew! That ain't shabby.
No. 8 - Tennessee Titans - Jake Locker, QB, Washington
No. 10 - Jacksonville Jaguars - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
No. 12 - Minnesota Vikings - Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
... it was really rough when it came to quarterbacks not named Cam, and three teams wasted first-rounders trying desperately to grab the most important position in football. You gotta swing, I guess.
No. 23 - Philadelphia Eagles - Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
No. 26 - Kansas City Chiefs - Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
No. 29 - Chicago Bears - Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin
No. 32 - Green Bay Packers - Derek Sherrod, T, Mississippi State
The 2011 draft was also tough for offensive linemen. Watkins, Carimi and Sherrod all busted, as did receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
2012 - Go Browns!
The 2012 first-round class featured Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Luke Kuechly, Stephon Gilmore, Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox, Michael Floyd, Bruce Irvin, Kendall Wright, Chandler Jones, Riley Reiff, David DeCastro, Dont'a Hightower and Harrison Smith, among others, so at first glance it's a fairly strong group.
Of course, to be clear, we're now getting into the area where it's not completely fair nor smart to really judge a class or individual career. But there are a few players, it's safe to say, that didn't live up to their billing (yet, anyway).
No. 3 - Cleveland Browns - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
I don't really have to tell you much about this one.
No. 5 - Jacksonville Jaguars - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
No. 6 - Dallas Cowboys - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
No. 7 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mark Barron, DB, Alabama
Blackmon showed some promise his rookie season, but hasn't been able to stay on the field due to substance-abuse related suspensions. There doesn't seem to be a timeline for if or when he'll return. Claiborne never developed into the shutdown corner of which he was envisioned, and Barron was recently offloaded to the Rams for what amounted to chump change.
No. 22 - Cleveland Browns - Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
No. 30 - San Francisco 49ers - A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
This was not a good draft for Cleveland. Weeden threw 14 touchdowns to 17 interceptions his rookie year, then failed to hold on to the starting job in his second season. He was released after two years with the team and is now a backup. Jenkins did not catch a pass for the Niners and had 17 total in two years with the Chiefs.
The gift that keeps on giving
First-round picks are valuable. I know this is the most obvious statement ever, but it's still worth noting that first-round picks are, and should be considered, exponentially more valuable than the others. Peeking in at the traditional Jimmy Johnson trade value chart (which almost all teams still follow as a reference guide) can give you an idea of the type of opportunity cost you're giving up when you miss in the first round. As stated above, first-round picks are supposed to be, at best, "a special player that will impact a game and dominate at his position," or more conservatively, "a potential Pro Bowler and a guy that you win games with." At least, at the very least, first-round picks should be "a solid rank and file starter you could win with."
So, imagine erasing one of your team's elite players -- take his entire career out of your record books. Take away one key starter for four or more seasons. Missing on those picks can be devastating long-term for the health of a franchise. In reaction to missed first-round picks, teams can overspend on free agents or have to go back to the well the next year to grab the same position.
It's no wonder that teams that show up on here multiple times -- the Jets, Jaguars, Rams and Browns come to mind -- are mired in mediocrity or worse. The Browns missed on Weeden and Richardson, they may have missed on Johnny Manziel, and now there are reports they may draft a quarterback or running back in the first round again this year. Those picks should be spent on playmaking receivers or big-time defensive studs, not players at positions they've already drafted in the last five years. Missing on key positions in the first round can set a franchise back years.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some teams strike gold in the mid-rounds or hit on key free agent acquisitions that help make up for those losses. But the odds of doing that with consistency are long. The league, as Seahawks GM John Schneider noted recently, "constantly pushes you back to 8-8." It's a parity driven league with extreme competitiveness on every level.
It's still too early to look at the 2013 and 2014 drafts without jumping to too many conclusions, but there are certainly players in each class that appear to have been severely misjudged. These picks, along with the first rounders we'll see in two weeks, could play havoc with the outlook for their teams for years to come.
It's what makes the draft so compelling. As it turns out, it's hard to figure out what human beings are going to do with their talent and ability.
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