With the season winding down, the 2017 NFL Draft starts to come to focus and here we look at each team’s biggest draft bust in the last five years
For several teams the NFL season is already over. Sadly that means many fans are upset about their franchise missing out on the ultimate goal while a small percentage is still hopefully waiting to see if their team can hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
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Whoever does end up holding that trophy high while the confetti flies didn’t get there simply because of their work this season. Instead they got to the top of the mountain by scouting and drafting well. They built a solid foundation for their team which is centered on excellent drafting.
For those fans who saw their team’s season end already, they’re moving on to the next phase. They want to start thinking about who their team can add in the 2017 NFL Draft to enhance their chances at holding up that trophy eventually.
It can be fun to imagine who it will be that joins your team, and you hope the pick is a good one. Every team out there has a selection they made that they are ecstatic about. That one high-profile player who was the missing piece that turned their franchise around. Or maybe it was a later round selection that blossomed into an unexpected star.
Let’s take a look at every team in the NFL and see who the best player was they selected in the draft in the past five years.
Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (90) before the game against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Browns: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE — Oklahoma State (2016)
Looking back over the past five years worth of draft picks for the Cleveland Browns it’s easy to see how they’re the worst team in football. Players like cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel have been the norm for them in regards to first round picks. They really just continue to grab players with big names and checkered pasts. Then those players fade out.
That makes picking their biggest bust hard, considering they are all busts. It makes picking their best choice even harder…considering they’re all busts. However after one season, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah looks like he is the real deal.
Drafted early in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State, Ogbah proved to be a solid starter for the hapless Browns. In 16 starts the 275-pound defender had 53 tackles and six sacks. He was one of the few bright spots on a team that was simply unwatchable this season.
Moving forward the Browns have a ton of early picks. They can still also get a lot from players like 2016 first round pick Corey Coleman. The wide out from Baylor struggled due to injuries and the fact that the team employed Robert Griffin III. The good news is they at least have a guy who can pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Jan 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) and safety Eric Berry (29) during the first half in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Steelers won 18-16. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, RB — Michigan State (2013)
Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they have been a feared running team. Bell was considered one of the best rushing prospects coming out of Michigan State and quickly proved that the high praises were well warranted.
As a rookie Bell managed to rush for more than 800 yards and eight touchdowns. He followed that season up with 1,361 yards and eight more touchdowns in 2014. He also brought down 83 receptions for another 854 yards and three scores during his sophomore campaign.
His skill as both a runner and a receiver made him one of the most complete backs in the entire NFL. He has continued that success since then, with just one thing being able to slow him down. That one thing is himself.
Bell was suspended to start the 2015 season as well as the 2016. Despite his back-to-back substance abuse violations, Bell has managed to avoid any long term suspensions, which is weird because anyone else with as many issues as he has had has seen many more missed games due to suspension.
Still, as long as he isn’t smoking pot or being arrested for DUI’s, Bell should continue to be one of the best running backs in the NFL.
Nov 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) reacts after breaking up a pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals tight end Ryan Hewitt (89) in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like whenever a team drafts an Alabama player they can either be a huge bust, or a huge success. The Cleveland Browns took Alabama running back Trent Richardson incredibly high, and he was a huge let down. The Atlanta Falcons took Alabama receiver Julio Jones high as well and he has become one of the best wide outs the NFL has ever seen.
The Baltimore Ravens have also seen the ups and downs of drafting players from the Crimson Tide. They selected nose tackle Terrence Cody in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and he’s already out of the league.
They also hit a home run with a ‘Bama player. With their first round pick in 2014 they went with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. In his rookie season Mosley recorded 133 tackles with three sacks. He added another 117 tackles in his second season and 92 in 2016. He did miss two games this season, otherwise he would have had three straight 100-plus tackle seasons.
To make up for missing the century mark for the first time as a pro, Mosley did bring in four interceptions for the Ravens. While they aren’t the defensive powerhouse they once were, Mosley at least gives them a defensive field general that can make plays all over the field.
Nov 20, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bills won 16-12. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert, TE — Notre Dame (2013)
If he would have won them his lone playoff start following the 2015 NFL season, quarterback A.J. McCarron could have made this list. Perhaps thanks to his decent showing during his limited playing time he could still climb to the top eventually since some team is bound to overpay to pry him away from the Cincinnati Bengals.
It’s not often a team has as much success in recent years as the Bengals have (2016 aside) without hitting on a lot of picks. That’s the case here though. Cincinnati did well with quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green in 2011, but since then their success in the draft has been limited. They did find some solid players though.
The best player in the past five years they’ve gotten has to be tight end Tyler Eifert. The Notre Dame tight end has been an effective player, but injuries have kept him from being great. He had a decent rookie season where he caught 39 passes, but spent most his time in a two-tight end set with Jermaine Greshman being the lead dog.
In 2014 he was supposed to be primed to break out, but an elbow injury limited him to one game. In 2015 he was a touchdown machine, scoring 13 times for the Bengals. They believed he finally had arrived as the next big star in their offensive attack opposite Green. Then he was injured in the Pro Bowl and played in just eight games this season.
If Eifert can ever stay healthy he can be one of the best tight ends in the game. Until then at least he’s one of the best picks by Cincinnati recently.
Nov 13, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson (15) makes a catch in the second quarter against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Jacksonville Jaguars: Allen Robinson, WR — Penn State (2014)
In 2012 the Jacksonville Jaguars selected wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the fifth overall pick. In 2014 they used the first of their two second round picks (number 39 overall) on wide receiver Marqise Lee. Then with the 61st overall selection later in that round they took Penn State wide out Allen Robinson.
Robinson so far has been the best of the three receivers they’ve invested early round picks in. After a decent rookie season, Robinson exploded in 2015. The second-year wide receiver pulled in 80 passes for 1,400 and 14 touchdowns. He was the most consistent player on the entire team and routinely made acrobatic catches that were shown on highlight reels everywhere.
Expectations were big for Robinson and the Jaguars in 2016, and they fell flat. 2014 first round pick Blake Bortles took a step back as quarterback for Jacksonville. The same could be said for Robinson. His yards per reception dipped by five yards per catch and he ended up with just 883 yards on 73 receptions. His touchdowns declines as well as his final for the season was just six.
Perhaps the team, and Robinson can take their game to the next level now that they have moved on from head coach Gus Bradley. Considering they replaced him with a guy already on staff in Doug Marrone, they probably won’t get better.
Sep 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) dives across the goal line for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Another receiver makes the list here as the Houston Texans best pick in the last half-decade is DeAndre Hopkins. The wide receiver from Clemson was taken 27th overall by Houston and spent his first two seasons as the number two wide out opposite Andre Johnson.
Before the start of his third season Hopkins had earned enough trust from the coaching staff to move on from their all-time receptions leader in Johnson. With the spotlight huge on him following a 1,210 yard season, Hopkins delivered. Despite the team struggling through a revolving door of quarterbacks, Hopkins caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards. He also became the first Texans receiver to ever record double digit touchdown catches by hauling in 11 of them.
In 2016 expectations were higher than ever. Not only was Hopkins coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but the team thought they finally had their quarterback situation resolved. Their answer was former Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler. The team lured him to Houston by giving him $37 million guaranteed and the hope was he and Hopkins could form one of the more feared duos in the game.
That wasn’t the case as Osweiler was really bad at playing quarterback. Hopkins suffered because of that and finished with 954 yards and four touchdowns on 78 catches. He still is an explosive player, he just needs a better quarterback. Actually, after what he’s dealt with throughout the first four years of his career, he deserves it.
Dec 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) scrambles against the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Colts win 34-6. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB — Stanford (2012)
This one is an absolute no-brainer. You don’t get rid of one of the best to ever play the game unless you know the guy you’re about to draft is the real deal. The Indianapolis Colts did exactly that by releasing quarterback Peyton Manning before the 2012 season. Thanks to neck surgery, Manning missed the 2011 season and the team was a mess. They finished with the worst record in the NFL and as a reward they got the first overall pick in the next draft.
That pick was used to get Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Coming into the league Luck was widely regarded as the most complete prospect in years. There was talk about his incredible memory and how that would translate into him being one of the best players when his career was completed.
He impressed immediately after being drafted. The Colts went 11-5 in each of Luck’s first three seasons as starting quarterback. He threw for more than 4,000 yards in two of those three seasons, showing off his strong and accurate arm. Unfortunately for him and his team they took a step back the past two seasons. Luck missed nine games in 2015 and they struggled without him. This past season they also weren’t what they started out to be under Luck. He played in 15 games and the team went 8-7.
The fault is not all Luck’s though. Their head coach has been on the hot seat for years and they finally fired their general manager Ryan Grigson. If they can get some better people making the decisions they might surround Luck with enough talent to start winning regularly again.
Dec 18, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Titans won 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB — Oregon (2015)
The Tennessee Titans had an interesting choice with the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. They could have stayed put and selected Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, or they could have had the entire Philadelphia Eagles roster.
Ok, so maybe not the entire roster, but former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was so obsessed with being reunited with Mariota, his football soulmate, that he offered a crazy deal to the Titans according to Foxsports.com Pete Schrager, via The Oregonian:
“Last year the Eagles offered the Tennessee Titans a 2015 first-round pick, a 2015 second-round pick, a 2016 first-round pick,” Schrager said during an appearance on the Colin Cowherd radio show. “They said ‘take any of our quarterbacks’ – that’s (Sam) Bradford, that’s (Mark) Sanchez, that’s whoever – ‘and take anyone on our defense; we want that No. 2 pick.’ “
The Titans did the smart thing and took the quarterback. He was arguably the better choice than the guy taken ahead of him, the controversial Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. He also was considered a franchise quarterback, and when you have a shot at one of those, you take it.
So far Mariota has been pretty good for the Titans. He has 45 touchdown passes to just 19 interceptions and has also rushed for 601 yards and four more scores. He’s an incredible talent, but the team is still waiting for him to take that next step. He seems like a safe bet to do just that after seeing the team improve from going 3-9 with him starting as a rookie to 8-7 this season.
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
New York Jets: Leonard Williams, DT — USC (2015)
Despite already having a respected defense at the time, the New York Jets went with USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams with the sixth overall selection. It was a good pick as they got a player who was considered the top overall player in the draft by some of the experts that season.
Once it became widely known that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be taking quarterback Jameis Winston, Williams started being mocked as the second pick. Then people started to believe that Chip Kelly was going to outsmart the draft value charts and move up to the second overall pick and get quarterback Marcus Mariota. That made sense because Kelly had never been a personnel guy, but the NFL insiders all believed he could make the move simply because he ran a good offense in college. Yep, many really thought that.
From there the mocks started having Williams fall no further than Washington at number five. When they decided to take an offensive lineman, it would have made sense for the Jets to pass as well given their lack of talent on offense. Instead they decided to take the best player on the board.
At 6-5 and 302-pounds he’s one large man who entered the draft following a collegiate career that saw him earn First Team All-American and First Team All-Pac 12 honors twice. He hasn’t disappointed for the Jets either. In two seasons he has 131 tackles and ten sacks. Seven of those sacks came in 2016 when he was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Dec 11, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore, CB — South Carolina (2012)
The best move for the Buffalo Bills in recent years was firing head coach Rex Ryan. The second best move was firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. They will instantly improve in 2017 for doing those two things.
They can also look to the draft for some more improvement, and they need to hope they have better success in that area moving forward. Recently their top picks haven’t panned out as well as the team would have liked.
It’s not that they have necessarily been bad players, but health has really been an issue. They traded up for Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins in 2014 and so far he has been a lesser player than both Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr. who were picked after him. He has also struggled with injuries more. He missed three games in 2015 and another eight in 2016. This season they went with pass rusher Shaq Lawson. Another Clemson product, Lawson missed six games in his rookie season and finished with just two sacks on the season.
The last player to really live up to their draft expectations in Buffalo has been cornerback Stephon Gilmore, their first round pick from 2012. He has been a good cover guy who helped keep their defensive backfield looking solid. It will be interesting to see if he can become even better with new head coach Sean McDermott.
Dec 24, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) celebrates a touchdown during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Dolphins: Jay Ajayi, RB — Boise State (2015)
The Miami Dolphins got a steal when Boise State running back Jay Ajayi fell to them in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Despite his insane production for Boise State, the Dolphins seemed intent on never finding out what Ajayi had.
His rookie season he played in just nine games and had 49 carries. This was due to playing behind Lamar Miller, who is one of the better backs in the game. Then in the offseason they allowed Miller to leave in free agency, which seemed like a sign they were ready to turn things over to Ajayi.
Instead they signed a washed up Arian Foster, who was released by the Houston Texans and replaced with Miller. The move seemed like it was for depth purposes, but they actually played the often-injured Foster ahead of Ajayi. When he unsurprisingly got hurt, the Dolphins again passed over Ajayi in favor of rookie Kenyan Drake, who never was a starter in college.
Finally in Week 6 they handed the ball to Ajayi like a featured back. The result was back-to-back 200-yard rushing games. For good measure he added another game with more than two hundred yards in Week 16. For the year Ajayi ran for 1,272 yards with eight touchdowns. He led the Dolphins on a second half surge as they went from one of the worst teams to a playoff team. He also could have had a shot at the rushing title if Miami would have turned to him earlier in the year.
Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB — Eastern Illinois (2014)
The New England Patriots shocked a lot of people in 2014 when they selected Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with their second round pick. They still had Tom Brady at quarterback, and chances are by the time Garoppolo is due for a new deal, Brady won’t be ready to head off into the sunset just yet.
Still, the Pats decided to get someone to serve as his understudy. Garoppolo was a late riser on draft boards. He played for a small school, one that gets its notoriety for being the school where former undrafted quarterback Tony Romo came from. Garoppolo ended up beating a lot of Romo’s records and his play got some attention as the draft neared.
After seeing more film and watching him during workouts and interviews it became clear to many draft gurus that the quarterback was going to go much higher than originally thought, but no one expected it to be to New England. In 2016, Patriots fans were sure happy that the team selected him.
With Brady suspended for four games over the ridiculous Deflate Gate drama, the Patriots had to start Garoppolo. He would up being injured, and started just two of those games, but he was excellent in them. The Patriots won both games and went 3-1 in Brady’s absence. They now can try and lock Garoppolo up following this season or try and trade him to a quarterback starved team. One way or another, this pick will pay off big time.
Jan 1, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters (22) intercepts a pass intended for San Diego Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (15) as cornerback Steven Nelson (20) assists in defense during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs: Marcus Peters, CB — Washington (2015)
Coming into the NFL in 2015, Washington cornerback Marcus Peters had some questions. Coaches for his college team had a hard time dealing with his attitude and even suspended him for a sideline outburst. On a side note, the Seattle Seahawks all asked what the big deal is about a sideline outburst, they call that a Sunday afternoon.
Later Peters was dismissed by the team as coaches just didn’t know how to deal with him. Thanks to that dismissal, Peters dropped some to the 18th overall pick. That was actually good for him because rather than being stuck with a bad team, he went to the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that is a perennial playoff hopeful.
As a rookie Peters was sensational. He had 60 tackles, eight interceptions and two returns for touchdowns. His impressive season earned him the NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as a Pro Bowl berth. He also shared a lead for the interception title in the league.
2016 was just as good for Peters. NFL offenses shied away from him more, but he still had six interceptions while making his second straight Pro Bowl. He also hasn’t had any sideline issues and doesn’t seem to be a problem at all.
Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) during the national anthem before the game against the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
For a team that has been in two recent Super Bowls, and winning Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos haven’t really hit on a ton of picks in the past five years. They were scared to play 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch at quarterback, even though Trevor Siemian was flat awful at the position (but general manager John Elway wanted to prove he was right going with him so his BFF and head coach Gary Kubiak did his bidding). 2015 first-round pick, linebacker Shane Ray has done little as well for the team.
They also spent a high pick on receiver Cody Latimer and running back Montee Ball lately. They have been pretty bad and Ball is already out of the league. Really the team is carried by picks prior to 2012 like linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. They’ve also benefited from free agents like cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
They still have made a couple of decent picks though, the best being Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. A second-round pick in 2012 (just before they took quarterback Brock Osweiler), Wolfe has been a cog in the middle of their defensive line and is a huge reason they are so good on that side of the ball. Eventually their lackluster drafting will catch up. Just don’t expect many to admit it because most sports fans and media members have rose-colored glasses for Elway and the Broncos.
Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) signals at the line before the snap during the first quarter of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB — Fresno State (2014)
The 2014 NFL Draft was funny. The Houston Texans had the first overall pick and needed a quarterback. Instead they drafted defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He has suffered a ton of injuries and only recently started climbing towards his potential. The Oakland Raiders also needed a quarterback, and they too drafted a pass rusher in Khalil Mack. To this point, Mack has been the better player of the two. Clowney finished 2016 strong, but Mack has been great since day one.
Then these same two teams entered the second round needing a quarterback and again the Texans were up first. General manager Rick Smith proved his worth by ignoring both Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead he took UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, who is a starter on one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
The Patriots took Garoppolo in the second round and he played great in his limited starts. Before he went though, the Raiders took Derek Carr and he has been one of the best young passers in the league. He led the Raiders to their first winning season since 2002 this season. They could have made a huge run, except for a broken leg suffered by Carr at the end of the year. Still, he is way better than anything the Texans have. Even on just one leg.
Jan 1, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) reacts after a sack against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the game at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Chargers: Joey Bosa, DE — Ohio State (2016)
A lot of mock drafts in 2016 had Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa going either to the Dallas Cowboys at number four, or falling to the back half of the top 10. He was considered the best defensive lineman coming out of the NCAA, but no one expected him to go at No. 3 to the then San Diego Chargers.
That thought process made little sense. The Chargers were a solid offensive team, but their defense struggled a lot. They wound up picking Bosa third overall and they weren’t disappointed. A contract dispute ensued his selection, but after missing four games, the Chargers had forgotten all the animosity created from the business side of things.
In 12 games Bosa registered 41 tackles and 10.5 sacks. His great play earned him the honor of being named the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Bosa is a great player with some serious bloodlines. His father, John Bosa, had a short NFL career and his little brother, Nick Bosa, is starting his career at Ohio State with rave reviews. He also has a family member, his great-grandfather, who was a Chicago mob-boss that worked for Al Capone. Not too many people can claim that.
Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald, DT — Pittsburgh (2014)
A lot of times a player rises up the draft board based on some combine work. Sometimes that player gets drafted incredibly high and is able to live up to those standards. More often though those late-climbers were unheard of previously for a reason and they make their teams look foolish.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was one of the late climbers who really lived up to his last-minute hype. Originally seen as an undersized defensive lineman, Donald started to see his name creep up higher and higher in mock drafts. He wound up being taken 13th overall in the 2014 draft by the St. Louis Rams, who ended up becoming the Los Angeles Rams this season.
Since being selected, all Donald has done is earn the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and three consecutive Pro Bowls. He is a powerful player with a relentless motor. He is also arguably the best pass rusher from an interior position. He has 28 sacks in three seasons, and this past season was his career low when he recorded eight sacks. At just 25 years old, Donald should continue to reward the Rams for their faith in him for many more years.
Dec 24, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson, RB — Northern Iowa (2015)
He wasn’t the first running back taken in the 2015 NFL Draft, but after two seasons in the league it’s safe to say he was the best of that bunch. Northern Iowa product David Johnson was in a shared backfield as a rookie with veteran Chris Johnson, but turned heads with his excellent blend of size and speed. He also proved to be just as effective receiving the ball as he was rushing it.
He was so outstanding that he tied legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders with 15-straight games of recording 100 or more yards on offense. His teammate, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, had some great things to say about Johnson after accomplishing the feat, per Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:
“You run out of superlatives to describe him,” Fitzgerald said. “He does something special every single game we play. I was messing with [general manager] Steve [Keim] earlier. ‘It’s like we need to get his contract down right now because after every game it’s just getting more and more expensive. He’s going to be like 10 percent owner of the franchise by the time his deal is up.”
On New Year’s Day his team got a scare when Johnson suffered a knee injury and they were afraid he would need surgery. Fortunately for him and the team, he avoided a tear in his knee and no surgery was required. That means he should continue his assault on NFL defenses in 2017 with no problems.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, QB — Wisconsin (2012)
Remember when the Seattle Seahawks paid former Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn a ton of money to be their starter? And then remember when everyone thought head coach Pete Carroll was a lunatic for saying their third-round pick in 2012 could start as a rookie?
Carroll obviously was a lunatic, right? That quarterback was Russell Wilson, a player who was really good in college at both North Carolina State and Wisconsin. However, he was just 5-11. No way a quarterback could play under 6-0.
Then Carroll ended up starting Wilson, and the team moved on from Flynn (take notes Houston). Wilson played well as a rookie and has never looked back. By his second season he lead the team to a Super Bowl win. They were in the Super Bowl the following year as well thanks to Wilson’s guidance.
For his career he has completed 64.7 percent of his passes and has an amazing touchdown to interception ratio. He has thrown 127 touchdowns and just 45 interceptions while leading the ‘Hawks to five consecutive double-digit winning seasons. Proved to be the smart choice by Carroll in the end.
Dec 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) scores a first quarter touchdown past Los Angeles Rams defensive back Blake Countess at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde, RB — Ohio State (2014)
There’s really not much to chose from here. For a while it looked like quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a steal, but then he decided to forget how to play football. They then missed on several players as well. The biggest reason for that had to do with the inner turmoil as former head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke just couldn’t get along.
Those two kind of killed one another off and then they hired a Ron Jeremy look-a-like in Jim Tomsula. He was fired after a year and they replaced him with a Chris Farley look-a-like in Chip Kelly. He was also fired after a year. The lack of continuity is pretty dumb, which may be why there hasn’t been any success as of late.
Still, there has at least been one solid find for them in the past few years. The team picked Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the second round of the 2014 draft and he was the lone bright spot in a terrible season. Hyde had his best year nearly hitting 1,000 yards and rushing for six touchdowns.
If they could ever get some players around him to take off pressure, Hyde could become a real star. The good news is all they need is a quarterback, wide receiver, offensive linemen, tight ends, fullback, defensive linemen, linebackers, corner and safeties. Other than that, they’re solid.
Oct 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) makes a catch against Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery, WR — South Carolina (2012)
The Chicago Bears used a second round pick in 2012 on South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. The hope was they could pair him with fellow wide receiver Brandon Marshall in giving quarterback Jay Cutler some big weapons.
It succeeded for a while as both Marshall and Jeffery are amazing receivers. The younger of the two, Jeffery took the lead of Marshall in becoming a star in the NFL. By his second season he was pulling in more than 1,400 yards in receiving. The next year he was recording double digit touchdowns.
Then Marshall left town and Cutler forgot how to throw the ball. The team started to fall apart, and Jeffery suffered some injuries. He played in just nine games in 2015 and 12 in 2016. He still averaged around 15 yards per catch in both those seasons, meaning he was still an effective player when he was on the field.
Moving forward, the team should have another quarterback as Cutler looks to have finally worn out his welcome. Should they get a decent one, and if Jeffery can stay healthy (and will re-sign), he should get back on track. Even with the injuries, he is the best player they have picked in quite some time.
Oct 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) returns an interception against the New York Giants in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Vikings: Xavier Rhodes, CB — Florida State (2013)
A defensive-minded team led by a defensive minded head coach in Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings have made their best draft picks on that side of the ball. Some of their best picks include defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr and free safety Harrison Smith. Those players are some of the biggest reasons they win the games they do.
Those guys are all spectacular, but none make this list as the best player drafted by the Vikings in the past half-decade. That honor goes to cornerback Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State. A first-round pick in 2013, Rhodes has turned into one of the absolute best corners in the game today. He has the reputation of being a shut-down guy and matches up with the best wide receiver on the opposing team on a weekly basis.
While doing so he managed to have his best season in 2016 when he had 52 tackles, 11 pass deflections, five interceptions and one touchdown on an interception return. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl for his great outing and, at just 26 years old, there’s plenty of time left for him to get even better at what he does.
Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) walks off the field before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah, DE — BYU (2013)
The Detroit Lions used their fifth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on a player who may have caused concern to other teams. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was born in Ghana, and wasn’t familiar with football until later in his teenage years. He attended BYU on a scholarship and was incredibly raw.
His athleticism was amazing though. He had just ten total tackles his first two seasons for the Cougars but in his final season he showed that athletic ability. The 6-5, 270-pound Ansah had 62 tackles and 4.5 sacks. They were the only sacks of his collegiate career, but Detroit saw enough in him they felt they could develop him into a pass rushing stud.
His rookie season was excellent. Ansah recorded eight sacks and was a member of the All-Rookie Team. By 2015 he was a Pro Bowl defensive end, and had his first double-digit sack season. He finished that year with 47 tackles and 14.5 sacks.
However, in 2016 he had taken a step back. Ansah recorded just two sacks on the season, but an ankle injury may have bothered him more than he let on. He recorded two sacks in the team’s lone playoff game, which indicates that 2017 will see more of the player the Lions had from 2013-15.
Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during a NFL football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS — Alabama (2014)
Every year the Green Bay Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL. This even holds true on seasons in which they start with four wins and six losses, like they did in 2016. The reason they’ve been so consistent, and able to withstand rough starts, is because of their solid drafting.
On offense they feature stars like quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receivers Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. On defense their stars are players like linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
What all these players have in common is they were drafted by Green Bay, making them home grown talent. It’s rare they go to the free agency market, like they did with tight end Jared Cook or edge rusher Julius Peppers. They believe strongly in drafting and developing talent.
That’s exactly what they did with Clinton-Dix, who has turned into a valuable defender for the Packers. No matter who they pick on this side of the ball, this team is an offensive minded group. They’re explosive on offense, but defensively they have holes. For a team like that to succeed they need to have some guys on defense who can at least make some plays to help their offense on occasion.
Clinton-Dix fits that bill. The 21st pick in the 2014 Draft has been a solid playmaker, recording 272 tackles, eight interceptions and 4.5 sacks in just three seasons. He had five of those interceptions in 2016 and was named to his first Pro Bowl for his work.
Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) tackles Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) after his reception during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. The Vikings would beat the Panthers 22-10. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly, LB — Boston College (2012)
The best player on the Carolina Panthers is quarterback Cam Newton. He is the leader of their offense and won the MVP for his play during the 2015 NFL season. Of course this was all expected out of Newton when the Panthers spent the first-overall pick in the 2011 draft on his rights.
Even with Newton’s play, the Panthers remain a team that thrives on defense. The heart and soul of that defensive unit came to the team just one year after Newton. In 2012, Carolina used the ninth-overall pick on Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.
As a rookie he showed how important he could be. Kuechly had 163 tackles and two interceptions en route to winning the NFL Rookie of the Year Award. In 2013, he proved he was no fluke as he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
He’s also managed to make the Pro Bowl in every season since 2013 and was an All-Pro from 2013-15. These past two seasons we all saw the only thing that could slow Kuechly down was injuries. He missed three games in 2015 and another six in 2016. There are concerns about the latest injury, a concussion that prematurely finished his season.
Jan 14, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the third quarter in the NFC Divisional playoff at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman, RB — Florida State (2014)
The Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl this season. They have several players to thank including MVP-candidate quarterback Matt Ryan and stud wide receiver Julio Jones. Those two have been at it for several years together and deserve all the credit they get.
What helped put them over the top though was the fact that they are suddenly incredibly balanced. For years the Falcons were all about Ryan to Jones, and when that didn’t work, they struggled. That was until the 2015 season when running back Devonta Freeman burst onto the scene.
A fourth-round pick in 2014, Freeman spent his rookie season as a backup before taking the starting role the following year. He was an unexpected star that plowed through defenses with ease. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 73 receptions for 578 yards and three more touchdowns.
This season, he was just as effective for Atlanta. Again he topped the 1,000 yard mark and had 11 more touchdowns. His receptions were down, but that had more to do with the team using second-year running back Tevin Coleman frequently as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Even with Coleman coming on this year, Freeman is their best runner and was a steal in the fourth round.
Aug 26, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) calls a play against the Cleveland Browns during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB — Florida State (2015)
It seemed like Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would never “get it.” He was accused of some terrible things during his time in Tallahassee, and also of some really dumb stuff too.
The awful included claims of sexual assault, which was also said to have been covered up by Tallahassee police thanks to Winston’s popularity. The dumb included stealing stuff from fast food restaurants and grocery stores. Graham Watson of Yahoo! Sports summed up Winston’s time at FSU nicely in a piece that followed him shouting obscene phrases at the FSU Student Union.
It was just five months ago that Winston was cited for stealing crab legs from a local grocery store and six months before that he was the subject of a sexual assault case. He’s still at the center of an unresolved Title IX investigation involving the same alleged victim.
There also was a BB gun fight that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage to an apartment complex and Winston stealing soda at a Burger King.
No matter what his fans say, Winston has a problem. He may not be dumb (or he very well may be), but he surely lacks any self awareness. He was mercilessly mocked for stealing the crab legs, then posts a picture of himself in Tampa Bay gear with a bunch of crab legs after he was drafted.
Despite his lack of self awareness, he is a really good quarterback and has been one of the biggest reasons the team is finally competitive.
Dec 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) catches a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (13) in the fourth quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 48-41. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas, WR — Ohio State (2016)
This player may have only been in the league for one season, but it was a very impressive season. The New Orleans Saints took Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas in round two of the draft. The 6-3 receiver had the length teams love and posted a 40-yard dash time in the 4.5s at the NFL Combine.
He also showed a knack for making plays in the red zone, bringing in nine touchdowns in both 2014 and 2015 for the Buckeyes. His one knock was that he hadn’t gotten more than 56 receptions in a single season in college and also had less than 800 yards in each year he played.
That didn’t matter once he got to the Saints. After leaving a run-oriented college team, Thomas joined one of the more pass happy offenses in the NFL and he fit right in. Thomas had 92 receptions for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Saints have been looking for a true number one receiver for quite some time. They selected Bradnin Cooks in the first round of the 2014 draft. While he has been a great player, Thomas surpassed Cooks in his first season and has already recorded more receptions in a single season than Cooks ever has. He also tied Cooks high for receiving touchdowns in his first campaign.
Nov 6, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) catches a touchdown pass over Philadelphia Eagles corner back Leodis McKelvin (21) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
New York Giants: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR — LSU (2014)
This may have been one of the easiest choices on the list. The New York Giants hit a home run with the 12th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. They selected Odell Beckham, Jr. out of LSU and he quickly has become a household name.
His rookie season got off to a slow start as he missed time due to injury. However once he was unleashed, he showed what a talent he is. In 13 games Beckham had 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. His second season was even better as he had 1,450 yards on 96 catches while adding 13 more touchdowns.
2016 was the first year he topped the century mark for receptions. OBJ had 101 catches for 1,367 yards receiving. He did have his lowest output in terms of touchdowns this season, with ten. Yes, his lowest reception total is still in the double digits.
Beckham was the third receiver off the board in that draft, and has been the best choice of the three so far. The Buffalo Bills traded up for Sammy Watkins from Clemson, who has been a good player but struggles with inconsistencies and injuries. Mike Evans from Texas A&M was the next receiver, taken by Tampa Bay. He has been a great receiver as well, but has less receptions, yards and touchdowns than Beckham.
He may get some bad press for his emotional outbursts, but with the numbers he puts up, the Giants can live with that.
Dec 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) in action during the game against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott, QB — Mississippi State (2016)
There were rumors about the Dallas Cowboys making a move for one of the top quarterbacks this past offseason. They were linked to Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. Then Wentz went second overall to the Eagles, the Broncos moved up for Lynch and the Raiders moved up for Cook.
At first, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was mad about losing out on Lynch. The eccentric elder statesman went on and on about how mad he was that he didn’t pull the trigger on a deal for the quarterback from Memphis. Jones had this to say about the decision, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“When I look back on my life, I overpaid for my big successes every time,” Jones said. “And when I tried to get a bargain, get it a little cheaper or get a better deal on it, I ended up usually either getting it and not happy I got it. Or missing it. And I probably should have overpaid here.”
Fortunately for Dallas fans Jerry no longer calls the shots. Sure, ESPN says he does, but then again ESPN also thought Johnny Manziel was good. If Jones still called the shots, Dallas would either have that bum Manziel or they would have traded for Lynch.
Since Jones is just a talking head now, his son and personnel director Will McClay made the smart move and stayed patient. In the end they got Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. All the rookie did was become the first player not named Tom Brady to throw for 3,500 yards with 20 or more touchdowns and less than five picks.
Prescott led Dallas to a 13-3 record as a rookie, and they nearly won their first playoff game with him at the helm. The future is bright in Big D thanks to this quarterback that everyone can believe in.
Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) against the New York Giants during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT — Mississippi State (2012)
It wasn’t any of the picks made by former head coach Chip Kelly, that’s for sure. To find the best pick over the past five seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles we had to go to either the season following the arrogant coach’s departure, or the seasons that preceded his smoothie-toting arrival.
One candidate is surely the quarterback drafted this season, Carson Wentz. He came from a small school in North Dakota State, but was able to grow into a Week 1 starter. He had the team off to a hot start, but then they fizzled out. In time he will most likely grow to be the best pick over this five-year span, but as it sits right now, he isn’t there just yet.
As of now, the best player they picked in recent years has been Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. He was the 12th overall selection in 2012 and became a starter during his rookie season. That year he started nine games, but since then he has been active and starting for every single Philadelphia game.
Cox is the strength of the defense, and was recently rewarded for being such with a lucrative contract extension. He is a great run-stuffer, credited with 255 career tackles. He is also a player in the pass rushing game. Cox has recorded 28.5 career sacks with 16 of those coming over the past two seasons.
Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball as New York Giants defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (58) defends in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins, QB — Michigan State (2012)
The Washington Redskins first selection in the 2012 NFL Draft came at No. 2 overall. That pick was used on Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. RG3 took the league by storm in his rookie season and led the Redskins to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
All NFL fans surely know the rest of the story. Griffin then fell off and became one of the least effective quarterbacks in the game. Knee issues slowed him down and he never regained his form. He is now a member of the Cleveland Browns after losing his job to the second player the Redskins took in that same 2012 NFL Draft.
That pick didn’t come until the fourth round, after giving up their second and third in a package used to move up for RG3. With this pick, they took Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. The move was questioned since they gave up so much for a quarterback, but in the end the team had to be happy they got him.
Cousins was needed often as an injury fill-in in Washington, starting nine games in his first three NFL seasons. Once the team was finally done pretending Griffin would ever regain his rookie form, they handed the reins to Cousins. The past two seasons he has been under center and has thrown for 9,083 yards with 54 touchdown passes to 23 interceptions. They’ve also posted back-to-back winning seasons.
There have been some issues about a long term deal for Cousins in D.C. If the team still is against paying him for the long haul, someone will. Whether it’s in Washington, or somewhere else, Cousins will be a starter for a long time.