Grading the 2010 first-round picks
If the 2010 NFL draft’s first round was conducted over again, St. Louis and Detroit wouldn’t change a thing.
Not every other team would feel the same way.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh won the league’s Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. That marked the first time the top two picks in the draft captured both honors since New Orleans running back George Rodgers and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor did it in 1981.
But while Bradford and Suh represented the best of their draft class, other first-round picks like Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller (No. 9 overall), San Diego’s Ryan Mathews (No. 12) and Tennessee’s Derrick Morgan (No. 16) didn’t make the impact expected because of injuries, disappointing play or both.
Here is a 1-to-32 ranking and analysis of last year’s first-round picks:
1. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford (first pick overall): So much for being brittle. Bradford took every snap in 2010 after having his final college season curtailed by shoulder injuries. Bradford’s completions (354) and attempts (590) were NFL records. He also set a rookie record by throwing 169 consecutive passes without an interception.
2. Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (2nd): Suh became the first Lion since Barry Sanders in 1989 to receive Rookie of the Year honors. They were well deserved. Suh registered 10 sacks as a disruptive interior force and still has room to improve.
3. Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey (18): If his rookie season is an indication of what’s to come, Pouncey will eventually join Dermontti Dawson, Ray Mansfield and Mike Webster on the list of great Steelers centers. Pouncey might already be the NFL’s best at his position. He anchored an injury-plagued offensive line on Pittsburgh’s run to Super Bowl XLV.
4. New England cornerback Devin McCourty (27th): The Patriots have found the difference-maker at cornerback sorely lacking since Asante Samuel left to Philadelphia in 2008. One of four rookies selected for the Pro Bowl, McCourty was second in the NFL last season with seven interceptions. He also proved a standout tackler with 71 of his 83 stops coming on solo efforts.
5. Kansas City safety Eric Berry (5th): The first defensive back chosen in last year’s draft proved worthy of the selection. Berry ranked third among all rookies in tackles with 92 and added four interceptions as Kansas City’s defense jumped from No. 30 to No. 14 in the NFL rankings.
6. Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga (23rd): His slide to No. 23 was one of the draft’s biggest first-round surprises. The Packers aren’t complaining. Bulaga did an outstanding job after replacing injured right tackle Mark Tauscher in Week 5 and won’t be coming out of the starting lineup for years to come.
7. Seattle safety Earl Thomas (14th): The youngest member of Seattle’s roster (21) was also one of its best defensive players. Thomas made an immediate impact with three interceptions in the first four games and is athletic enough to cover slot wide receivers.
8. Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden (7th): He was one of the few bright spots in another disappointing Browns season. After entering the starting lineup for the final six games, Haden notched three interceptions, eight defensed passes and 28 tackles. He finished with six picks for the season.
9. Jacksonville defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (10th): Considered a reach at No. 10 by some draft analysts, Alualu reaffirmed that Jaguars general manager Gene Smith has a shrewd eye for talent. Alualu notched 38 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 starts while forming a stout young defensive tackle tandem with Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton.
10. Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant (24th): When healthy, Bryant showed he could become the best big-play receiver and punt returner in the entire 2010 draft class. But the off-field concerns that caused a Top 10 talent to slip to No. 24 in last year’s draft have started to surface with a recent behavioral incident at a local mall and lawsuits alleging roughly $850,000 in unpaid bills (one lawsuit was already settled). The Cowboys are helpless to intervene or provide counseling as contact with players during the NFL lockout is prohibited.
11. Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain (8th): McClain proved a sound starter at middle linebacker with 85 tackles. The next step in his development: making more impact plays. McClain created just one turnover in 15 starts.
12 (tie). San Francisco tackle Anthony Davis/guard Mike Iupati (17th): These two belong together. Both started all 16 games — Davis at right tackle; Iupati at left guard — and will serve as cornerstone offensive linemen in San Francisco’s latest attempt to recapture its glory days under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.
14. Detroit running back Jahvid Best (30th): Hindered by turf toe for much of 2010, Best didn’t dispel the durability concerns that hounded him entering last year’s draft. Best, though, proved an explosive player when healthy. He would be even more effective if the Lions paired him with a complementary bruiser.
15. Washington tackle Trent Williams (4th): While still raw, Williams has displayed the earmarks of becoming a shut-down left tackle. The No. 4 overall pick started 13 games in 2010, missing three because of a sprained knee.
16. Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham (13th): Gresham became the first Bengals tight end in 15 seasons to catch more than 50 passes. Expect him to play an even bigger receiving role in the West Coast offense being installed by new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
17. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (3rd): Projected as Tampa Bay’s most dominant interior lineman since Warren Sapp, McCoy didn’t record his first sack until Week 11. He then missed the final three games after suffering a torn biceps. McCoy, though, did improve as the season unfolded and should receive a boost if the Buccaneers find an upgrade at defensive end.
18. Seattle left tackle Russell Okung (6th): Multiple ankle injuries limited Okung to 10 starts at left tackle. But like with Williams in Washington, Okung is still regarded as the long-term anchor to his team’s offensive line.
19. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow (25th): Despite being inexperienced in a pro-style system, the most heavily hyped prospect in last year’s draft started the final three games. But there are questions about whether Denver’s new John Elway-led regime regards Tebow as a franchise quarterback. The Broncos haven’t shied from bringing Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert to team headquarters for pre-draft interviews. Even if the Broncos pass on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick next week, Tebow will still have to battle veteran Kyle Orton for a starting spot.
20. New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (15th): The Giants got a taste of Pierre-Paul’s upside when he registered four sacks in a two-game span against Jacksonville and Washington in Weeks 12 and 13. He is expected to form a strong three-man rotation with fellow ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck in 2011.
21. Arizona defensive tackle Dan Williams (26th): After initially struggling with weight issues, Williams began to play better as the 2010 season unfolded. Cardinals general manager Rod Graves has said he expects Williams to man the nose tackle position in Arizona’s 3-4 defense.
22. Atlanta linebacker Sean Witherspoon (19th): An early season knee injury knocked Witherspoon from the starting lineup. He should regain that spot this season, especially with two other Falcons outside linebackers (Mike Peterson and Steven Nicholas) set to become unrestricted free agents. The Falcons need Witherspoon to help augment a spotty pass rush.
23. Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson (20th): Texans management made a poor decision by making Jackson an immediate first-teamer rather than bringing him along more slowly. Jackson started all 16 games but was frequently victimized on what finished as the NFL’s 32nd-ranked pass defense.
24. Philadelphia defensive end Brandon Graham (13th): Graham was enjoying a solid albeit unspectacular rookie season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in mid-December. Eagles head coach Andy Reid has already said he doesn’t expect Graham will be fully recovered by the projected start of the 2011 season in September.
25. New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson (32nd): The early season injuries that wracked New Orleans’ secondary pushed Robinson into the starting lineup for four games. Robinson was impressive enough that he may compete for the role on a full-time basis in 2011.
26. New York Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson (29th): After early season struggles in his first three NFL starts, Wilson assumed a situational role for the rest of the year. He could return to the first-team defense if pending free agent Antonio Cromartie isn’t re-signed.
27. San Diego running back Ryan Mathews (12th): The Chargers had hoped Mathews would instantly become the 300-carry back that the departed LaDainian Tomlinson once was. Instead, Mathews was hampered by an ankle injury suffered in Week 2 and finished with a modest 158 rushing attempts for 678 yards. Mathews, though, did end the season on a high note with 26 carries for 120 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Denver.
28. Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (22nd): He was injured entering last year’s draft and will come into the 2011 season the same way. Thomas tore his Achilles’ tendon in February during a workout, raising questions about his short- and long-term future in Denver. Thomas had eight receptions for 97 yards against Seattle in Week 2 but caught only 14 more passes the rest of the year.
29. Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller (9th): Considered one of the top breakaway threats entering last year’s draft, Spiller didn’t rush for more than 35 yards in any of the 14 games he played. He also failed to provide much of a boost on special teams. Spiller needs to become better in blitz pickup to assume a larger role in head coach Chan Gailey’s offense.
30. Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan (16th): A torn ACL ended Morgan’s rookie campaign after just four games. But Morgan should get plenty of opportunities in 2011 with three Titans ends (Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford) set to become unrestricted free agents.
31. Miami defensive end Jared Odrick (28th): Not only did he enter the NFL lacking experience in a 3-4 scheme, Odrick didn’t gain much in 2010 while missing all but one game because of a fractured leg. He is expected to play as a backup behind starters Kendall Langford and Randy Starks.
32. Indianapolis defensive end Jerry Hughes (31st): He wasn’t supposed to make an immediate impact while learning the pass-rush techniques used by Colts standout ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. But it didn’t speak well of Hughes when Colts president Bill Polian said the team should have spent its first-round pick on Rodger Saffold, who is now a bookend left tackle for St. Louis.