That’s when they say you can really begin to evaluate a draft class.
As this year’s draft approaches, we’ll turn a retrospective eye to how teams performed, but for now we’re looking at this bunch – a team we’ve assembled to represent the best of the 2008 draft class. Some stars have already emerged from that group and some others are still finding their way. We’ll highlight, position by position, the standouts.
So, 2008 draft class, it’s that time. Step up and let us have a look at what you’ve done in your all-important third year.
Matt Ryan, Quarterback (Atlanta Falcons)
He’s already made it into countless of our end of the year awards teams so how about one more? Ryan lived up to the Matty Ice nickname this year with seriously clutch play when it mattered. Tackling the post season is his next challenge.
Jamaal Charles, Running Back (Kansas City Chiefs)
What a talented year for running backs, which only goes to further highlight how good Charles has been. Our top ranked running back on the year didn’t just pick up 6.39 yards per carry, he picked up 3.1 of those yards after contact.
Martellus Bennett, Tight End (Dallas Cowboys)
In our two tight end set we’ll gratefully take Bennett’s excellent blocking. Only his Cowboy compadre Jason Witten finished with a higher blocking grade.
Jacob Tamme, Tight End (Indianapolis Colts)
If Bennett is our blocker, then surprise package Tamme is the guy we’re looking at to catch balls from the tight end spot. Even with Dallas Clark down, did anyone see Tamme catching 67 balls for 631 yards?
Desean Jackson, Wide Receiver (Philadelphia Eagles)
The flaw in our system? Jackson catches so few of the balls thrown his way 51.6% (with 11 drops) he may not grade well, but you can’t ignore his impact as the league’s premier deep threat.
Davone Bess, Wide Receiver (Miami Dolphins)
Bess is already near the top when it comes to gaining enough separation to move the chains. He was also among the five best receivers at forcing missed tackles (11.)
Jake Long, Left Tackle (Miami Dolphins)
His play tailed off toward the end of 2010 after suffering a shoulder injury, but he still had a season that earned him our All-Pro nod. Along with Joe Thomas, Long is in an exclusive club when it comes to left tackle play.
Carl Nicks, Left Guard (New Orleans Saints)
Was there a better guard this year than Nicks? The short answer is no. Nicks is an exceptional run blocker, adept at both sealing off defensive tackles and at doing damage at the next level.
Jeremy Zuttah, Center (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
It wasn’t a great year for centers. Zuttah came in when Jeff Faine went down and didn’t set the world on fire, but he did only surrender three QB disruptions.
Chilo Rachal, Right Guard (San Francisco 49ers)
Rachal was our top ranked right guard when it comes to run blocking this season. He could do with improving his pass protection.
Gosder Cherilus, Right Tackle (Detroit Lions)
As mentioned elsewhere, in a league short on offensive line talent, it’s not such a bad thing to be average … even if you’re a first round pick.
Chris Long, Defensive End (St Louis Rams)
Long finished the season with 78 QB disruptions but had enough struggles in the run game that Kroy Biermann almost warranted selection in this spot. One dimensional, but excellent at what he does best.
Jason Jones, Defensive Tackle (Tennessee Titans)
One of the best defensive tackles in the league in terms of upfield burst. The worry with Jones is his durability, and he’s yet to play a full season.
Kendall Langford, Defensive Tackle (Miami Dolphins)
Perhaps somewhat cheeky to put a 3-4 DE in this spot, but Langford is coming off the back of another good year. Gets to the QB and holds up against the run. Really good value for the Dolphins.
Cliff Avril, Defensive End (Detroit Lions)
After a disappointing 2009, Avril bounced back and showed a real ability to get to the quarterback. HE ended the season with 54 combined QB pressures.
Geno Hayes, Outside Linebacker (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
If you ignore three rough performances where he looked hurt (from week 13 to week 15), Hayes played as well as any outside linebacker in the league.
Jerod Mayo, Middle Linebacker (New England Patriots)
If you love the unofficial tackle count, you probably had Mayo as a Pro Bowler. He’s not that, but is still a very good tackler who only missed three all year.
David Hawthorne, Outside Linebacker (Seattle Seahawks)
Demoted to outside linebacker after impressive spell playing the middle in 2009. Response? Finished as our second ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2010.
Antoine Cason, Cornerback (San Diego Chargers)
Credit to my colleague Ben Stockwell for seeing something in Cason enough to predict him the break out player of the AFC West. He made plays and looked the best corner in San Diego by the end of the season.
Brandon Flowers, Cornerback (Kansas City Chiefs)
Earned our second highest coverage grade while establishing himself as one of the league’s top cornerbacks.
Kenny Phillips, Safety (New York Giants)
Came back from injury and looked the part. He’ll be looking to make more plays a year further removed from an injury some thought would end his career.
Thomas Decoud, Safety (Atlanta Falcons)
The Falcons’ free safety had some issues in run support, but was good enough in coverage to earn this award.
Dan Carpenter, Kicker (Miami Dolphins)
Finished third in our kicker rankings.
Brett Kern, Punter (Tennessee Titans)
Kern has certainly played better, but had a solid enough year.
Danny Amendola, Returner (St Louis Rams)
Amendola always manages to find extra yardage.
Kroy Biermann, Special Teamer (Atlanta Falcons)
Started at defensive end but was always one of the first Falcons to get down the field on kickoffs to make a play.