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Revisiting the 2013 NFL Draft shows us no pick is ever safe

The 2013 NFL Draft may be one of the worst of the modern era. Let's take a look back at the first-round picks and see what lessons can be learned from this.

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The 2013 NFL Draft was an unusual one at the time, and it looks even weirder in hindsight. Not only were there a high number of offensive linemen selected at the top of the draft, but it was a subpar class for quarterbacks, leaving needy teams in the lurch. Three years later, it's safe to say that the 2013 draft is one of the worst ones of the modern era.

This is not to say it was all bad. There was some great talent that emerged, and a lot of Day 2 gems -- Le'Veon Bell, Kawann Short, Jamie Collins, Travis Kelce, Tyrann Mathieu and Eddie Lacy all went in the second or third round. But for the most part, the draft class is full of disappointments and busts, particularly in the early going. Not many teams came out of the first round unscathed.

The general consensus seems to be that three years is the right time to properly judge a draft class. By then, teams have plenty of data and game tape, and players have had time to hone their skills and carve out a role on the roster. The current collective bargaining agreement includes a fifth-year option for first-round picks, so NFL teams must determine after Year 3 whether their first-rounder is worth keeping for a fifth year, rewarding them with a bigger contract or simply letting them walk after their rookie contract expires.

As teams start picking up or declining options, it's time to re-evaluate the 2013 class. Which players have developed into top-level starters, which ones have already washed out and which ones are still an incomplete? Furthermore, what lessons from the 2013 class can teams learn as they prepare for the 2016 draft? Let's take a look.

1. Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs

Fisher has a unique place in draft history, becoming the first-ever MAC player selected No. 1 overall. The Central Michigan prospect was well-thought of before the draft process, but he shot up boards after a dominant Senior Bowl performance. He later solidified his spot as the top left tackle with a big showing at the Combine, making him the obvious pick for the Chiefs that year.

Fisher's NFL road has been more rocky. He played right tackle in his rookie year due to the presence of Branden Albert, and when Albert departed for free agency in 2014, Fisher shifted over to the left side. Fisher struggled at left tackle, but he appeared to make some strides in 2015, and the Chiefs will undoubtedly be patient as they try to rebuild their offensive line once again. Fisher isn't a bust, but he has yet to live up to his pre-draft hype.

Grade: C

2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars

Here's another high draft pick who played right tackle in his first year before switching to the left side. Joeckel's position is much more unstable than Fisher's, though -- he had a poor year in 2015 and has proven to be a major downgrade from Eugene Monroe, who got traded to Baltimore. This offseason, the Jags signed Kelvin Beachum, signaling a possible position battle even though Beachum is still recovering from a torn ACL. Joeckel still might have a future if he moves to guard, but he's been a big disappointment at tackle so far.

Grade: D

3. Dion Jordan, DE/LB, Miami Dolphins

In a year full of first-round busts, Jordan might be the biggest of them all. A man without a position in Miami, Jordan struggled to see the field even before a long drug suspensions kicked in. He was banned from the first four games in 2014 for violating the substance abuse policy, then got suspended an additional two games on top of that before being forced to sit out the entire 2015 season. Still not officially reinstated, Jordan's NFL career is hanging by a thread. There are zero indications that he's in the Dolphins' plans going forward.

Grade: F

4. Lane Johnson, OT, Philadelphia Eagles

Boy, teams sure loved their linemen in this year's draft. Johnson was the third offensive tackle taken in the top five, and he's easily the best of the lot. After three years of quality play at right tackle, the Eagles wasted no time locking him up, signing Johnson to a five-year extension worth up to $63 million. Johnson is in Philly for the long haul, and all signs point to him eventually succeeding Jason Peters on the blind side.

Grade: A

5. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

"Ziggy" is an easy guy to root for given his background (he didn't even start playing organized football until he went to BYU), and he got drafted high based on his athletic upside. After two years of promising play (eight sacks in 2013 and 7.5 in 2014), Ansah blew up in 2015 with 14.5 sacks, third in the league. On a defense that's still searching for an identity post-Ndamukong Suh, Ansah is an excellent piece to build around.

Grade: A+

6. Barkevious Mingo, DE, Cleveland Browns

Mingo played defensive end at LSU, but shifted to linebacker in defensive coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme with the Browns. He had a decent rookie year with five sacks and 42 tackles on 634 snaps, but it's been steadily downhill since then. Mingo saw just 256 defensive snaps in 2015, recording zero sacks and mostly contributing on special teams. There may be hope yet for Mingo -- Horton is back after a brief stint with the Tennessee Titans, and Mingo is bulking up to 260 pounds as he tries to gain more strength. But at this point, his production leaves a lot to be desired.

Grade: C-

7. Jonathan Cooper, OG, Arizona Cardinals

Cooper is one of the bigger "what could've been" cases of this draft. He was universally regarded as a top-shelf guard prospect when Arizona drafted him, but his career got derailed before it started. Cooper suffered a broken leg in preseason that cost him his entire rookie year, and he really hasn't been the same since, drifting in and out of the Cardinals' starting lineup. He got traded to the New England Patriots this offseason, where he will attempt to revive his career.

Grade: F for the pick, A for flipping him for Chandler Jones

8. Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams 

In hindsight, it's ludicrous that Austin went 19 spots ahead of DeAndre Hopkins, but the Rams thought so highly of him that they traded up from the No. 16 spot to get him. Three years later, we have a pretty good idea who Austin is: a small gadget player who can make big plays in the open field but doesn't offer much as a traditional wideout. He did have his best season in 2015 with nine total touchdowns, but it's starting to look like Austin already hit his ceiling. For the Rams, who are talent-barren at receiver, that's just good enough.

Grade: B-

9. Dee Milliner, CB, New York Jets

Ooh, this one hurts. The Jets traded Darrelle Revis to Tampa shortly before the draft, getting the No. 13 draft pick that they would use on a much better player (more on him in a moment). In the meantime, Milliner was expected to be Revis' replacement in spirit, if not in production. Jets fans know how this ends -- Milliner was downright terrible in 2013, even by the generous standards of rookie cornerbacks. He barely got a chance to improve in 2014, appearing in just three games before tearing his Achilles. By this point the Jets have seen enough, bringing back Revis and signing Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, leaving Milliner buried on the depth chart in 2015.

Grade: F

10. Chance Warmack, OG, Tennessee Titans

That makes five offensive linemen taken in the top ten this year. Warmack ran neck-and-neck with Cooper in 2013's guard rankings, with some people preferring the Alabama lineman. Though he hasn't really lived up to his "next Steve Hutchinson" hype, Warmack is a decent starter on a shaky Titans offensive line.

Grade: B

11. D.J. Fluker, OL, San Diego Chargers

Fluker is a big guy at 6'5, 339 pounds. However, he has the technique and footwork of a llama on ice skates, so left tackle wasn't an option for him at the NFL level. On the bright side, he's been really good at right tackle and guard, where he can just push fools around all day. That is, when he's healthy -- Fluker already has four diagnosed concussions in three seasons, which raises obvious long-term concerns about his playing career. But when he's on the field, Fluker is a solid player.

Grade: B

12. D.J. Hayden, CB, Oakland Raiders

Hayden came into the league with well-documented injury concerns, including a scary and near-fatal accident that happened in his last year at Houston. The Raiders bet on Hayden's upside, making him the second cornerback off the board, but he just couldn't stay healthy, missing eight games in 2013 and six in 2014. When Hayden did play, he's been inconsistent at best, recording just one interception in 2015. Hayden is still in the Raiders' plans right now, but cornerback remains a problem spot for them.

Grade: D+

13. Sheldon Richardson, DT, New York Jets

After badly whiffing on Milliner, the Jets hit a home run with Richardson, who instantly became one of the best defensive tackles in the league and won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. He's extremely versatile, capable of playing any position on the defensive line. The biggest blips on his career are off-field stuff -- he served a four-game substance abuse suspension in 2015 and got arrested for traffic violations, which ultimately led to probation.

Despite those concerns, the Jets appear ready to give Richardson a massive payday soon -- they're shopping Muhammad Wilkerson and have consistently played hardball with Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency, indicating that they want some cap space to accommodate Richardson. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it -- right now, Richardson is great.

Grade: A

14. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

Lotulelei doesn't have the gaudy sack numbers of Richardson, but he's still one of the top defensive tackles in the league, pairing with Kawann Short to form a lethal duo on Carolina's defensive line. The Panthers picked up Lotulelei's fifth-year option, nailing him down for 2017.

Grade: A

15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, New Orleans Saints

The first safety off the board. Vaccaro was enjoying an outstanding rookie year before suffering a fractured ankle late in the season. He had a pretty bad sophomore slump as he tried playing through various injuries, but bounced back in 2015 with 104 tackles and three sacks. One of the few stable pieces on a miserable defense, picking up his fifth-year option was a no-brainer for New Orleans.

Grade: A-

16. EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills

Manuel was the only quarterback taken in the first round, and it was an insane reach. The consensus on Manuel at the time was that he was an intriguing project, but probably shouldn't go any higher than, say, the second round. Instead, the Bills took him 16th overall and named him the Week 1 starter. You probably know how that worked out. Manuel started 10 games in 2013, completing just 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, losing three fumbles and throwing for just 6.4 yards per attempt. The next year, the Bills went out of their way to not play Manuel, luring Kyle Orton out of retirement to be the starter.

The Bills are lucky Tyrod Taylor emerged in 2015, because otherwise they would still have no quarterback. This was a disastrous pick on multiple levels and a black mark on GM Doug Whaley's record.

Grade: F

17. Jarvis Jones, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Jones is another player who can't stay on the field and doesn't play well when he's healthy. He has played in just 36 of 48 games since being drafted, and he has only five career sacks, all while competing for playing time with an ancient James Harrison. Not exactly what the Steelers were hoping for when they took him 17th.

Grade: D

18. Eric Reid, S, San Francisco 49ers

This hard-hitting safety shot out of the gate, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Unfortunately, as with Fluker, head trauma is a mounting concern. Reid has three documented concussions in his three NFL seasons, and given his style of play, he could have more that went un-diagnosed. Reid had some struggles in 2015 as he tried to adjust his aggressive style, but for now he remains a quality starter, a rare asset on a decayed 49ers defense.

Grade: B

19. Justin Pugh, OL, New York Giants

The Giants' offensive line has been in shambles for years, but drafting Pugh went a long way toward improving it. Pugh played right tackle for two years before moving to guard in 2015, where he excelled. He's one of the more promising players on New York's offense.

Grade: A-

20. Kyle Long, OG, Chicago Bears

Speaking of rookies coming in and instantly upgrading awful offensive lines, Long has made the Pro Bowl in all three of his seasons in the league. He played at right tackle in 2015, but will be moving back to his natural guard position after the Bears signed Bobby Massie in free agency. In a draft where Cooper and Warmack were talked up as the best guard prospects, Long has surpassed them both.

Grade: A+

21. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals

Eifert has the honor of being the first tight end drafted in 2013. He took a while to really get going, playing a minor role in his rookie year and missing most of 2014 with an elbow injury. Eifert had his big coming-out party in 2015, racking up 13 touchdowns on just 52 receptions. He's formed an excellent connection with Andy Dalton and is one of Cincy's most potent red zone weapons. The injuries remain a concern, but Eifert has asserted himself as one of the league's top tight ends.

Grade: A

22. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons

Trufant is the third cornerback who was drafted this year, and he fared much better than Milliner and Hayden. Earning a starting job right out of the gate, Trufant had a solid rookie year with two interceptions and 17 passes defended. He would build on that production over the next two years, not missing a single game and emerging as one of the league's better cornerbacks. Trufant got his first Pro Bowl invitation in 2015, and he figures to get many more in the future. The Falcons' defense has a lot of problems right now, but Trufant isn't one of them.

Grade: A+

23. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Minnesota Vikings

Floyd didn't immediately become an impact player, but by the end of 2014 he developed into a regular starter and upper-tier run stuffer. He missed three games in 2015 with various injuries, but when healthy Floyd is a solid rock in the middle of Minnesota's defensive line. He's also capable of getting to the quarterback, recording 9.5 sacks in three years as an interior lineman.

Grade: A-

24. Bjoern Werner, LB, Indianapolis Colts

What makes a draft pick bust? Is it a lack of talent, a poor roster fit or some combination of the two? With Werner, it seemed to be both. He was a highly rated 4-3 end at Florida State, but a middling Combine performance made his draft stock dip. The Colts took him No. 24 and attempted to convert him to a 3-4 linebacker, which did not pan out. Like, at all. After three seasons of poor play, the Colts straight-up cut Werner, who is still a free agent at this time.

Grade: F

25. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings got the No. 25 pick from the Seattle Seahawks, who traded it away to acquire Percy Harvin. That trade didn't quite work out for Seattle -- Harvin suffered a chronic hip injury that kept him out for most of 2013, reportedly fought with teammates, got shipped to the Jets in the middle of the 2014 season and has now retired.

As for the Vikings? Well, this one worked out pretty well. Rhodes still struggles with frequent penalties, but he's grown into a worthy No. 1 cornerback, forming a solid tandem with Captain Munnerlyn in 2015.

Grade: B+ for the pick, A+ for selling high on Harvin

26. Datone Jones, DE, Green Bay Packers

Jones is a decent rotational piece on Green Bay's line, but at this point that's all he's been. Through three seasons, he has eight sacks while averaging just 310 snaps per year. If Jones was a second- or third-rounder this would be a much more agreeable pick, but for a first-round pick you'd like a little more production (and preferably a regular starter).

Grade: C+

27. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

Sammy Watkins may have been the more celebrated Clemson wide receiver at the time, but his teammate Hopkins entered the draft as a polished, pro-ready prospect. Hopkins had two solid years before exploding as a truly elite talent in 2015, with 111 catches, 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. His combination of skilled route-running, good hands and big catch radius make Hopkins nearly impossible to cover, even if he doesn't have top-level speed. The Texans have seamlessly transitioned from Andre Johnson to Hopkins as the focal point of their passing game.

Grade: A+

28. Sylvester Williams, DT, Denver Broncos

Broncos GM John Elway did a brilliant job building the league's most fearsome defensive line, from Von Miller to Malik Jackson to Derek Wolfe, but Sylvester Williams always felt like the odd man out. He didn't really have a place in the lineup until 2015, when Terrance Knighton left in free agency and Williams got the starting nose tackle job in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Williams ended up playing 535 snaps on the Broncos' historically great defense in 2015, and though he didn't have to shoulder too much of the load with all the big names around him, he hasn't done much to stand out thus far in his NFL career.

Grade: C

29. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings were busy in the late stages of the first round -- this was their third pick in just seven spots. This time, they traded spots with the Patriots, who moved out of the first round and down to No. 52. New England used that pick on linebacker Jamie Collins, which is working out pretty well. The Vikings, on the other hand, might wish they had this one back.

Patterson was already an incredible kick/punt returner and seemed destined for greatness after nine all-purpose touchdowns in his rookie year. Surely with a bigger role on offense, he would emerge as a lethal receiving weapon, right? Well, that never happened. Patterson was always a raw prospect entering the league, but his route-running or catching abilities never improved, and the Vikings eventually phased him out of the offense. Despite still being an elite return man, Patterson saw a paltry two receptions in 2015.

Grade: D

30. Alec Ogletree, LB, St. Louis Rams

Sometimes, it's nice when a draft pick works out the way everybody wanted. Ogletree came in, won a starting job in Week 1 and has been one of the league's more consistent playmakers on a feisty Rams defense, raking up over 110 tackles in his first two years. His 2015 season ended early with a broken leg, but Ogletree should be healthy in time for OTAs. He'll be moving to middle linebacker after James Laurinaitis was released, and Ogletree is well-positioned to become the new face of the Rams' defense.

Grade: A

31. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

This pick was certainly a head-scratcher at the time. It's not often that centers go in the first round, Frederick wasn't a consensus first-round talent and many felt the Cowboys had more pressing needs to address. Well, sometimes these things just work out for everybody. Frederick immediately stabilized the Cowboys' center position, which had been a turnstile for years. He (and Zack Martin the following year) were the final pieces needed to complete the best offensive line in football, paving the way for DeMarco Murray's career year in 2014. The line took a step backwards in 2015, but Frederick remains a rock in the middle of it. He's now made the Pro Bowl two years running.

Grade: A+

32. Matt Elam, S, Baltimore Ravens

Ozzie Newsome rarely misses on his first-round picks, but for whatever reason, when he misses he misses big -- Kyle Boller in 2003, Mark Clayton in 2005 and now Matt Elam in 2013. To Newsome's credit, this looked like a sensible choice at the time. Ed Reed left in free agency and Bernard Pollard got released, so the defending Super Bowl champs needed new blood in the secondary.

Unfortunately, Elam was a thorough bust, getting benched in the middle of the 2014 season after being one of the worst safeties in football. He then missed all of 2015 with a torn bicep, losing a year of potential development. Elam is now buried on the depth chart after the Ravens moved Lardarius Webb from cornerback to safety and signed Eric Weddle. They didn't waste much time moving on from this mistake.


* * *

After looking at these 2013 first-rounders, what are some valuable lessons we can take away as we gear up for the 2016 draft?

OL isn't always the "safe pick." 2013 was the year of the offensive lineman, with eight going in the first round and three in the top five alone. At the time, most of those selections were praised as safe picks, but as we've seen, that often doesn't turn out to be the case -- Fisher and Joeckel have struggled, while Cooper got derailed by injuries. Meanwhile, the Giants and Bears got much better value out of Pugh and Long at 19 and 20, respectively.

Offensive linemen are a bigger crapshoot than teams and fans might realize, and drafting the first one doesn't mean you'll get the best one, so don't automatically assume that that top-five LT will anchor your quarterback's blind side for a decade.

If the QB talent isn't there, don't reach for one. This is, bar none, the worst quarterback class of the 2010s. On the bright side, it seems like people did learn from the 2011 draft, when Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder (remember those guys?) all went within the top 12. With 2013, there wasn't much rush to grab a quarterback. The Jets waited until the second round to take Geno Smith (who didn't work out, but the restraint is admirable), while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Mike Glennon in the third round.

Speaking of which, Glennon might be the best quarterback of this draft class. That's not even hyperbole or a hot take, it's just ... look at this.

That's a depressing list. Good thing the Bills didn't panic, reach for an obvious project and throw him to the wolves when he wasn't ready. That would've been a disaster!

To be fair, this year's quarterback class is much better, with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz at the top and Paxton Lynch looking like a potential Day 2 steal . However, teams must resist the urge to take a quarterback early just so they can say they have one, because the results can be as bad as simply not having a franchise guy. In other words, don't take Christian Hackenberg in the first round just because he's tall.

Even smart teams make mistakes, but sometimes that's OK. The Ravens struck out on Elam. The Seahawks badly misfired on the Harvin trade. What do those teams have in common? They were the Super Bowl champions in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Nobody wants to miss on a first-round pick, but the good front offices know that they can weather one if they hit on their later-round picks. This is how John Schneider built the Legion of Boom in Seattle, while teams like the Patriots, Steelers and Packers stay in perennial contention through smart drafting.

Not every team is going to nail their first-round pick. Even teams that do can get stuck in neutral through poor roster management. And the teams picking high every year? There's probably a reason they keep doing that.

The NFL Draft may be a crapshoot, but knowing how to stack the odds in your favor separates the good teams from the bad. That might be the most important lesson of all: we simply won't know how these things pan out until years down the line.

It's not as much fun as yelling at Mel Kiper for giving your team a B- grade when it clearly deserved a B+, but being patient and letting NFL development play out on its own terms is probably better for your health. Who knows, maybe your B+ grade will be a D in three years.