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5 Year Study of Top 10 NFL Draft Picks

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NFL: Super Bowl LIV City Views Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I thought it might be interesting to chart the top 10 draft picks from 2014-2018 to see if it can tell us something about which positions are the safest to address.

#1 Picks:

2014—Jadaveon Clowney, DE (HOU); 2015—-Jameis Winston, QB (TB); 2016—-Jared Goff, QB (LAR); 2017—-Myles Garrett, DE (CLE); 2018—-Baker Mayfield, QB (CLE).

Grades to date—-(my opinion):

Clowney: B+; Winston: C; Goff: B; Garrett: B+; Mayfield: C

#2 Picks:

2014—Greg Robinson, T (LAR); 2015—-Marcus Mariota, QB (TEN); 2016—-Carson Wentz (PHI); 2017—-Mitchell Trubisky, QB (CHI); 2018—Saquan Barkley, RB (NYG).

Grades to date:

Robinson: C+; Mariota: B-; Wentz: B-; Trubisky: C; Barkley: A-

#3 Picks:

2014—Blake Bortles, QB (JAX); 2015—-Dante Fowler, Edge (JAX); 2016—Joey Bosa, Edge (LAC); 2017—-Solomon Thomas, DT (SF); 2018—-Sam Darnold, QB (NYJ).

Grades to date:

Bortles: C-; Fowler: B; Bosa: A-; Thomas: C; Darnold: B-

#4 Picks:

2014—Sammy Watkins, WR (BUF); 2015—-Amari Cooper, WR (OAK); 2016—Ezekiel Elliott, RB (DAL); 2017—Leonard Fournette, RB (JAX-); 2018—-Denzel Ward, CB (CLE).

Grades to date:

Watkins: B-; Cooper: B+; Elliott: A-; Fournette: B-; Ward: A-

#5 Picks:

2014—Khalil Mack, Edge (OAK); 2015—-Brandon Scherff, G, (WAS); 2016—Jalen Ramsey, CB (JAX); 2017—-Corey Davis, WR (TEN); 2018—-Bradley Chubb, Edge (DEN).

Grades to date:

Mack: A; Scherff: B; Ramsey: A-; Davis: B-; Chubb: B

#6 Picks:

2014—Jake Matthews, T (ATL); 2015—-Leonard Williams, DT (NYJ); 2016—Ronnie Stanley, T (BAL); 2017—-Jamal Adams, S (NYJ); 2018—Quentin Nelson, G (IND).

Grades to date:

Matthews: B; Williams: C; Stanley: A-; Adams: B+; Nelson: A

#7 Picks:

2014—Mike Evans, WR (TB); 2015—-Kevin White, WR (CHI); 2016—DeForest Buckner (SF); 2017—-Mike Williams, WR (LAC); 2018—-Josh Allen, QB (BUF).

Grades to date:

Evans: A-; White: F; Buckner: A-; Williams: B; Allen: B

#8 Picks:

2014—Justin Gilbert, CB, (CLE); 2015—-Vic Beasley (ATL); 2016—Jack Conklin, T (TEN); 2017—-Christian McCaffrey, RB (CAR); 2018—-Roquan Smith, LB (CHI).

Grades to date:

Gilbert: F; Beasley: B-; Conklin: B+; McCaffrey: A; Smith: B+

#9 Picks:

2014—Anthony Barr, LB (MIN); 2015—-Ereck Flowers, T, (NYG); 2016—Leonard Floyd, Edge, (CHI); 2017—-John Ross, WR, (CIN); 2018—-Mike McGlinchey, T (SF).

Grades to date:

Barr: B; Flowers: C; Floyd: B; Ross; F; McGlinchey: B

#10 Picks:

2014—Eric Ebron, TE (DET); 2015—-Todd Gurley, RB (LAR); 2016—Eli Apple, CB (NYG); 2017—-Patrick Mahomes, QB (KC); 2018—-Josh Rosen, QB (ARI).

Grades to date:

Ebron: B-; Gurley: B+; Apple: C+; Mahomes: A: Rosen: D

A Grades:

Mack, Nelson, McCaffrey, Mahomes

A- Grades:

Barkley, Bosa, Elliott, Ward, Ramsey, Stanley, Buckner

B+ Grades:

Clowney, Garrett, Conklin, Cooper, Adams, R. Smith, Gurley

B Grades:

Goff, Fournette, Scherff, Matthews, Barr, Fowler, Floyd, M/ Williams, Chubb, Allen, McGlinchey

B- Grades;

Wentz, Darnold, Watkins, Fournette, Mariota, C. Davis, Beasley, Ebron

C+ Grades:

G. Robinson, Apple,

C Grades:

Winston, Mayfield, L. Williams, Flowers, S. Thomas, Trubisky

C- Grades:

Bortles

D Grades:

Rosen

F Grades:

White, J. Gilbert, Ross

Observations By Position:

QB:

The only clear home run QB pick over these 5 years, to date, is Patrick Mahomes (#10—-2017).

QBs taken outside of the top 10 who appear to be better picks than the others (except Mahomes): Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott.

However, Mahomes, Jackson, Watson and Prescott (and Wentz) were drafted by teams that already had a playoff caliber nucleus.

It is more difficult and challenging for young QBs to lead struggling teams back into playoff contention, as Jared Goff did and Josh Allen have done.

It feels especially good that the Cardinals made the move to draft Kyler Murray. He is the only top 10 QB drafted over the past seven years to win the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

RB:

While the prevailing belief is that very good RBs can be found outside of Round 1 altogether (which is true), the RBs taken in these 5 years have the highest average grades of any position. There is a host of stud RBs here—-most especially the quartet of Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey and Saquan Barkley.

WR:

This group has the lowest average grade of all the positions, because it is big-time hit or miss. One could argue that of all of the WRs taken in the top 10 over these five years only Mike Evans and Amari Cooper (who had to be traded to the Cowboys before he broke out) are the only sure-hits. The others range from slightly above average to players already out of the league.

TE:

Eric Ebron was the only TE taken in the top 10 over this 5 year span and like Amari Cooper, it took getting traded to another team for him to start finding his game. Ebron was a major reach for the Lions at #10 in 2014.

T:

Ronnie Stanley is the best of the bunch at LT and thanks to Jack Conklin’s best season as a pro in 2019, he is the best RT, with Mike McGlinchey close behind. It used to be that LTs were the most highly coveted early in the draft, but over these five years, Stanley is the only All Pro (2019) LT and the only other LT Pro Bowl invitee is Jake Matthews.

Clearly, teams are drafting right tackles earlier than ever before.

The highest tackle taken over these 5 years was Greg Robinson (#2 in 2014 by the Rams). But he is now a free agent after spending short stints with 3 teams (Rams, Lions and Browns).

G:

The two guards that were taken over these five years (Brandon Scherff and Quenton Nelson) were both commendable picks. Nelson has been named 1st Team All Pro in both his first two seasons.

Typically teams are loath to take guards this early in the draft, but Scherff and Nelson are giving teams reasons to think twice about that philosophy.

Note: both Scherff and Nelson played guard in college—-they weren’t converted tackles. I think that’s a pretty good recipe for success—-playing top 10 draft picks at their most natural and accustomed position.

DT:

Only 2 DTs taken in this span of 5 years: Solomon Thomas and Leonard Williams—-and as teams are realizing, hitting a home run with defensive tackles this early in the draft is a crap shoot, particularly when top prospects like Thomas and Williams have been slow to develop.

Edge:

On the other hand, look at the home run top 10 edge defenders over these 5 years: Clowney, Mack, Beasly, Bosa, Floyd, Fowler, Garrett and Chubb—-all of them have been able to translate their talents very well into the NFL.

LB:

Anthony Barr hasn’t been the pass rusher the Vikings were perhaps hoping for, but he is an efficient modern day LB who can force the run, blow up screens and be an asset in pass coverage. Roquan Smith has put up 100+ tackle seasons in his first two seasons.

CB:

Justin Gilbert was a reach pick that few pundits understood at the time. While Eli Apple has settled into a slightly above average NFL CB (another pick considered a reach ay the time), the two CB studs from these drafts are, without a doubt, Jalen Ramsey and Denzel Ward.

S:

Jamal Adams at #6 for the Jets in 2017 was an excellent pick, not only in terms of Adams’ high end performance, but in terms of his leadership. Adams is a tone setter.

Conclusion:

Based on these 5 years, the safest picks (biggest hit rate) in the Top 10 of the draft were edge rushers, guards and running backs.

At offensive tackle and cornerback it was pretty much a mixed bag.

The riskiest picks were at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive tackle.

Considerations for the Cardinals in the 2020 NFL Draft:

  1. Edge—-obviously Chase Young is going to be a top 3 pick in the draft and will be out of the Cardinals’ range. However, a strong case can be made for K’Lavon Chaisson of LSU. At 6-4, 249, Chaisson has good length and rare speed off the edge. The medical flag on Chaisson was his torn ACL early in the 2018 season. It took Chaisson a little over a year to get his knee back to full strength. Thus, if you looks at his last 5 games (when the stakes were highest for LSU with the SEC-CG, The Peach Bowl semi-final and the CFP-NCG vs, Clemson), he kicked into full gear to the tune of 18 tackles, 12 solo, 4.5 sacks and 26 QB pressures. if you saw the win over Clemson, Chaisson dd not have a sack in the game, but his constant pressure on Trevor Lawrence was a huge factor in LSU’s 42-25 win. Chaison said, “Don’t let sacks fool you. Every game you watch, I’m making production. My impact is being felt. I’m not just a pass rusher. I can affect games in any other way...even if I’m not getting sacks, (consider) my pressures and hurries. I’m always in the quarterback’s face. Any offensive linemen I’ve gone against will tell you they’ve felt my presence.”
  2. Tackle—-because the top 10 tackles have been hit or miss in recent years, the wisest choice would seem be to stay put at #8 and take their highest graded tackle, rather than risk trading down and losing that player. The two most talked about tackles are Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs—-Wills has an outstanding command of run and pass blocking techniques, while Wirfs has tremendous athleticism and bounce for a player his size.
  3. Wide receiver—-same thing. If the Cardinals are going to take a WR and it’s quite possible that at #8 they could have their pick of the top 3 (Lamb, Jeudy or Diggs), the safest bet is to stay put and draft the one with the highest grade. The fact that Kyler Murray has been hoping for CeeDee Lamb is enough for everyone associated with the Cardinals to feel confident in the pick. Of course, watching Lamb on tape, especially with Murray throwing to him, is just icing on the cake kind of confidence.
  4. Defensive tackle—-the recent history suggests a high risk factor in taking a DT in the top 10. But, if Derrick Brown has the team’s highest grade of the players still available, go and get him. Brown has enormous size and strength and could be an immediate asset to the team.
  5. CB/Safety—-if Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio St. or Isaiah Simmons, S/LB, Clemson somehow make it to pick #8, then the Cardinals would be in a position to select the 2nd or 3rd highest rated defensive player in the draft. The recent top 10 draft history suggests that Okudah and Simmons will be potential Pro Bowlers early in their careers, like Denzel Ward and Jamal Adams.
  6. Trade Down—-makes the most sense, only if the Cardinals have an equal grade on a player whom they are pretty sure will be on the board at the new spot in the 1st round. Then, by all means, they might as well get their 1st round favorite and pick up an extra pick or two. Who might that favorite be? Some guesses:

Tackle—-Ezra Cleveland, Boise St.

Wide receiver—-John Jefferson, LSU or Denzel Mims, Baylor

Defensive tackle—-Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

Wild Card?—-C.J. Jefferson, CB, Florida

If there is one thing I hoped this study proved is—-the draft pundits’ big boards (player rankings) are not always accurate.