Back in April of 2008, I sat in the Indio desert trying to locate an internet connection to find out what was going on as the NFL draft took place. Pro Football Focus was very much a work in progress, and the entire draft class were just prospects.
Now they’re all talents with substantial experience, and Pro Football Focus? Well, we’ve evaluated every single one of their snaps. The good, the bad and the – at times – ugly. So what better thing to do than have ourselves a good old-fashioned re-draft armed with the knowledge everyone wishes they had that day – a vision of three years down the road.
For picks 1-32 I’m going to grade each and tell you how the draft should have gone down if the NFL owners were wise enough to let me do all their drafting. Let’s start at the top:
1. Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins
Key Stat: From 2008 to 2010 was our second-ranked left tackle in the entire league. There’s proof here.
Notes: Consider me a fan of Miami’s franchise left tackle, which has made this year all the harder to take. Clearly not at 100%, Long has given up five sacks through seven games after averaging just four per year since entering the league. If you’re going to take a tackle at No. 1, they need to play as well as Long has.
Re-Draft: Miami as much as admitted they needed a QB for the future by selecting Chad Henne in the second round. So the question is how do you pass on a franchise QB? You take Matt Ryan here every day of the week.
2. Chris Long, DE, St Louis Rams
Key Stat: Had 78 combined sacks, hits and hurries last year. Of all defensive ends, only Charles Johnson had more.
Notes: Looked like a waste of a draft pick until 2010 where he seemed to realize selling out to get the passer was probably his best bet of success. So it has proved as he currently sits second in our 4-3 pass rusher rankings after finishing fifth last year. May never be a great run defender, but you can overlook that.
Re-Draft: It’s hard to argue with the pick of Chris Long. Pass rushers are always at a premium and no pass rusher gets more pressure than the Rams defensive left end.
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Key Stat: Had more positively-graded plays on third down (88) than any other quarterback in 2010.
Notes: Ryan divides some people, but he shouldn’t. His rookie year is often overlooked, but it was the one that increased expectations on quarterbacks coming out of college to perform straight away. Since then, he had the shaky 2009, and a frankly superb 2010 (even if nobody was all that comfortable giving him credit for it). A true franchise QB.
Re-Draft: In this alternate reality, the Dolphins have taken Matt Ryan off the board so the Falcons fill their biggest need at the time. Jake Long come on down.
4. Darren McFadden, HB, Oakland Raiders
Key Stat: No running back picked up a bigger percentage of his yards on runs that went over 15 yards in 2010 than McFadden. He’s third this year. True home run threat.
Notes: The rookie year? Not so great. The sophomore year, not much better. The third year? Well that’s where McFadden hit his stride. One of these runners who is likely to do a lot on a given play, or do nothing, but he’s always a threat with the ball in his hands. Outside the top echelon of backs, but not by much.
Re-Draft: You’d never say McFadden was a bust, but in a class that produced this many running backs would you say that he was the best to come from it? I wouldn’t, and I’d take Jamaal Charles (before the injury) given what he is able to do every time he touches the ball.
5. Glenn Dorsey, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Key Stat: Has 50 combined sacks, hits, and hurries since entering the league. By comparison, Ndamukong Suh has 63 in two less seasons.
Notes: Dorsey was meant to be the most surefire thing about the early round picks. Unfortunately, all the Chiefs have got is a solid player who doesn’t get much penetration as a pass rusher but can hold firm in the run game. Not what was advertised. Maybe he’s a square peg in a round hole in the Chiefs’ defense, but they got him rushing from a 3-technique position plenty in 2010 and he produced little. Disappointment.
Re-Draft: The Chiefs acknowledged they had some pretty big problems at cornerback by selecting two in this draft. So with their fifth overall pick they select the best CB available, meaning Brandon Flowers remains a Chief, just with a far larger contract.
6. Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets
Key Stat: Managed 629 snaps as a Jet before they decided it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
Notes: When you look back at this draft class, for all the successes, this pick will stand out. A workout warrior, Gholston looked like Tarzan and played like Jane. Ended his career with just two quarterback hits and no sacks. You can safely use the bust word here. In fact, it’s encouraged.
Re-Draft: The Jets got over 1300 yards from Thomas Jones in 2008, so imagine what they could have done with a fresh and useful running back. Pick up Chris Johnson and pair him with Leon Washington and you’re giving defensive coordinators fits.
7. Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints
Key Stat: Currently has the fifth-most combined sacks, hits and hurries of all defensive tackles in the league.
Notes: Ellis has talent. The only problem is you don’t often see it on a play-to-play basis. Some of that is the Saints doing a horrendous job of managing his snap count, being overly reluctant to take him off the field. But a lot of it goes down to Ellis, who had that big rookie year and spent two years picking up sacks, but struggling to consistently generate pressure. On course for his best year to date.
Re-Draft: Can you ever take a guard this high? Well in my opinion you can when you know he’s going to be one of the best in the league. Carl Nicks is the choice for a loaded Saints team.
8. Derrick Harvey, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Key Stat: After picking up 41 defensive stops in 849 snaps in 2009, picked up just eight in 359 a year later.
Notes: First you had the Jags trading up for him. Then you had the holdout. Then you had him being benched and then cut. In between it wasn’t all bad. As a rookie, Harvey generated some pressure, but the Jags flirting with a 3-4 in 2009 seemed to confuse the heck out of him and see him lose his way as a pass rusher. By the end of the things was just a non-entity when on the field and will go down as a waste of a number of picks.
Re-Draft: Well you wouldn’t take Harvey this early that’s for sure. Instead how about giving your quarterback who, at the time, you have faith in, a weapon? DeSean Jackson please.
9. Keith Rivers, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals
Key Stat: Received positive grades in 2009 and 2010 but has never managed to play a full season, and has never been trusted with an every-down role.
Notes: He’ll never be a favorite of Bengals fans who thought Rivers should be the next Patrick Willis. I mean that’s what you’re hoping for when you spend a Top 10 pick on a linebacker. Instead, Rivers has been the kind of reliable player you need in your team, but rarely makes the big plays that change games. A good player but it’s telling the Bengals haven’t missed him this year on defense. Talented but replaceable.
Re-Draft: The Bengals landed Cedric Benson in-season, but why wait for an inferior back when you can pick up a guy who has become one of the most complete in the league? Matt Forte is the man for them.
10. Jerod Mayo, ILB, New England Patriots
Key Stat: The NFL scorer has Mayo down for 433 combined tackles and assists. That’s 74 more than our retrospective take has him down for. No player in the NFL is more beloved by the home scorer than Mayo who gets a stat whenever he’s near the pile.
Notes: You can’t measure what Mayo brings in terms of leadership and other intangibles, but on the field? Well, the hype has never matched the performance. He’s not a bad player by any stretch, and is certainly above average, but I do cringe when I hear his name mentioned alongside the truly elite linebackers in the game. Reputation benefits from playing for the Patriots.
Re-Draft: Pats fans you think Mayo is a special player? Well wait until you see what David Hawthorne can do.
11. Leodis McKelvin, CB, Buffalo Bills
Key Stat: Has five interceptions and 14 pass deflections in his career.
Notes: When you draft a cornerback in the first round you expect him to develop into the kind of guy you build your secondary around. McKelvin just hasn’t been that guy. He’s having a decent enough year, and has never played terribly, but as the 11th overall pick you’re expecting him to earn spots on a Pro Bowl roster. A good player to have, but not the great one he was expected to be.
Re-Draft: For how long have the Bills had problems on the offensive line? If you pick up Josh Sitton here you get a stud who ends up being the best right guard in the league.
12. Ryan Clady, LT, Denver Broncos
Key Stat: Currently sits sixth in our Pass Blocking Efficiency for left tackles after giving up three sacks, one hit and nine pressures. Finished seventh last year.
Notes: That pesky rookie year. You know the one where he never gave up any sacks? Sure 14 other tackles gave up less pressure on a per play basis, but there’s no getting over those sacks, and as such Clady has always been valued a little more than he’s worth. He’s still a very good player, and a left tackle you can trust. But he’s not elite, and the signs are that he’ll always be a step below.
Re-Draft: If you’ve hit the nail on the head once with Ryan Clady, why differ from the script?
13. Jonathan Stewart, HB, Carolina Panthers
Key Stat: Was the most elusive back in the league between 2008 and 2010. It’s written here and everything.
Notes: With DeAngelo Williams on the roster, Stewart has never had the opportunity to be the true feature back his performances have suggested he could be. Whenever he has the ball in his hands he’s making something happen, and it’s why he leads our Elusive Rating once again this year.
Re-Draft: The Panthers were a pretty strong team in 2008 but had some problems up the gut. It’s a reach but you pick up Sedrick Ellis and let him develop a bit as a backup and situational player.
14. Chris Williams, OT, Chicago Bears
Key Stat: Drafted to be the franchise left tackle. Has managed 414 snaps at the spot, or to put it another way, 17% of his total snaps as a Bear.
Notes: You don’t spend the 14th overall pick on a tackle who turns into a terrible guard. That’s what the Bears managed to do and worse still, they persist with Williams. The shame is that towards the end of the 2009 season Williams put forward some strong performances at left tackle, but after a Kyle Vanden Bosche-inspired beatdown in 2010, the Bears decided he couldn’t be trusted.
Re-Draft: With old and slow defensive ends, why not add some youth to the picture with Cliff Avril?
15. Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Key Stat: Has given up 27 sacks since entering the league. For what it’s worth.
Notes: The former collegiate guard has taken plenty of time to adapt to life as a left tackle, and, in fairness to him, has got better every year. This year for example he’s only given up four sacks, a hit and four pressures through seven games. It’s the first time he’s had a positive grade for his pass protection but the question remains can he keep it up?
Re-Draft: The Chiefs would eventually get Jamaal Charles, but he’s gone in this version. Instead, Ray Rice could spell, and then replace, Larry Johnson.
16. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Key Stat: Allowed 50.8% of balls thrown his way to be complete in 2009. Jumped up to 62.2% in 2010. Feel the regression.
Notes: The most disappointing thing about DRC and his time inArizona is it could have been so different. Take his sophomore year. He didn’t just play well, he was damn near elite. He was our third-ranked CB in coverage during a year where Revis shutdown everyone and Charles Woodson won DPoY. A year later he was ranked 89th behind guys like Bryant McFadden and Glover Quin. All the talent in the world but it seems the application wasn’t there, and that’s why he’s no longer a Cardinal.
Re-Draft: The Cardinals were a pass-first team, but imagine how much deadlier they could have been with an explosive running back? Darren McFadden anyone?
17. Gosder Cherilus, OT, Detroit Lions
Key Stat: Other than a disastrous rookie year, has graded between +1.5 and -1.5 in our grades. Has done so despite giving up 123 combined sacks, hits and pressures since entering the league.
Notes: He’s never been a favorite of the Lions fans, but Cherilus hasn’t been that bad compared to some of the guys taken above him. That said, he’s had some really low points and the kind of roller coaster he puts you on isn’t ideal for a tackle. Serviceable.
Re-Draft: Before Louis Delmas, why not get an extremely reliable safety? You know I’m talking about Kenny Phillips.
18. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Key Stat: Has completed just 49.3% of throws when pressured this year. In 2009, that figure was 58.9%.
Notes: Still we wait. Wait for Joe Flacco to kick on and become the player we have at times seen him be. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a trend now where Flacco just doesn’t have it in him to be one of the better quarterbacks (on a consistent basis) in the league. The worrying thing is he hasn’t really got any better from a 2009 which seemed to indicate he could be a major player. Just hasn’t developed.
Re-Draft: You either pick Joe Flacco or start Kyle Boller or Troy Smith.
19. Jeff Otah, OT, Carolina Panthers
Key Stat: Didn’t give up a sack or hit in his 147 snaps in pass protection before injury knocked himself out of the starting lineup.
Notes: It’s been so long since Otah played to such a high level that I’m beginning to wonder if that rookie year actually happened. An uneven sophomore year isn’t the problem as much as the amount of time the Panther right tackle has missed. A shame because he was quite exquisite as a rookie.
Re-Draft: A weapon like Jermichael Finley makes an already talented Panthers team that little bit harder to deal with.
20. Aqib Talib, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Stat: Want to know why Talib isn’t an elite cornerback? It’s the 13 touchdowns he’s given up over the past three years.
Notes: Talib is one of these players who, if you catch him on the right day, looks as good as anyone. Hard to separate from and making plays on the ball, he has all the tools. But if you catch him on the wrong day he’s someone who either trusts too much in his own ability, or doesn’t respect his opponents. It’s why he’s graded positively every year without ever having the kind of score to make you stand up and take notice. Consistency.
Re-Draft: Calais Campbell can fill the role of stout defensive end, and penetrative tackle in nickel situations. Much needed for the Bucs.
21. Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Key Stat: Has a grade of -51.2 since entering the league.
Notes: I wish I could say Baker’s -51.2 was largely down to a woeful rookie year, but given that he’s already picked up a -15.0 for his work in 2011, what do you think? Baker has just never got to grips with concepts such as ‘pass protection’, resulting in him being the chief culprit of pressure that has come Matt Ryan’s way. The Falcons organization has nailed so many things, but you just can’t get them all right. Baker is proof of this.
Re-Draft: A real test for Falcons management. They take Aqib Talib and hope to harness his talent.
22. Felix Jones, HB, Dallas Cowboys
Key Stat: Since being drafted has managed 1145 snaps. In that same time frame, Adrian Peterson has managed 1127 carries.
Notes: The more you break down the pick of Jones the more you question it. He was never likely to be a feature back and so it has proven, with the Cowboy struggling to stay healthy, and never able to handle the kind of workload you’d expect from a first round back. You could understand if he was dynamite when he was on the field, but he’s been merely average.
Re-Draft: The Cowboys didn’t have many weaknesses, but they’re defensive ends left a lot to be desired. Red Bryant would add something to their run defense.
23. Rashard Mendenhall, HB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Key Stat: Is averaging just one forced tackle for every 11.9 carries this year.
Notes: It’s fair to say Mendenhall has never really been helped by an offensive line better at getting beaten than it is at opening holes. That said, he’s never had that consistent stretch of games to make you think he’s a top running back, spending most of his career struggling to average more than four yards per carry. He’s good for what the Steelers are, but compared to some of the backs taken in this class? Well let’s just say he’s not in their class.
Re-Draft: Mendenhall is a good back, but Jonathan Stewart could be a great one. Give him the ball 20 times a game and watch him break tackles like it’s going out of fashion.
24. Chris Johnson, HB, Tennessee Titans
Key Stat: Had 1063 yards after contact in 2009.
Notes: Everyone has been quick to lay into CJ2K after his slow start to 2011, but let’s not forget what he has achieved to date. He obviously had the 2000-yard season, but he also picked-up over 1,200 in both his other years, and he’s done it with some underappreciated running. People are locking onto his hesitancy now, but before they were applauding his patience as he let his blocking develop and took full advantage of whatever gaps were presented to him. Has been overused by the Titans and should never be regarded as an every-down back, but like many of his runs, they’ve been home runs for the Titans.
Re-Draft: With no Chris Johnson on the board you take the best available running back (and best player left on the board). That just happens to be Rashard Mendenhall.
25. Mike Jenkins, CB, Dallas Cowboys
Key Stat: His 2010 season was almost remarkable for all the wrong reasons as he gave up the most yards (994) of all cornerbacks in the league.
Notes: After 2009 I was bold enough to proclaim Mike Jenkins a star in the making. Then 2010 happened and I hung my head in shame. It wasn’t just getting beaten in coverage routinely, but it was the infamous whiff on a tackle at the goalline that made you question Jenkins’ appetite for the fight. Still, he’s put on a better show of things this year in allowing just half of the balls thrown his way to be completed.
Re-Draft: It made sense to go cornerback but if you think you can get the best out of him, you have to pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
26. Duane Brown, OT, Houston Texans
Key Stat: Was our lowest-ranked left tackle in our Pass Blocking Efficiency ranking as a rookie. Was 11th last year as the developmental left tackle project has actually developed.
Notes: Brown was so bad as a rookie you almost wanted to write him off straight away. But the Texans were wiser than that and bit by bit he got better and better. Now? He’s not, nor ever likely to be, an upper echelon left tackle, but in this age of sub-standard tackle play, having an above average guy like Brown is valuable.
Re-Draft: Duane Brown has developed into an above average left tackle, exactly the project he was meant to be. A good-but-not-great player.
27. Antoine Cason, CB, San Diego Chargers
Key Stat: Gave up five touchdowns in six games in 2011 after giving up five in all of 2010.
Notes: Quite the interesting path Cason has taken in his NFL career. After being a non-entity during his first couple of years in the league, he burst onto the scene with a 2010 that warranted Pro Bowl consideration. Maybe he started believing the hype a little too much because he earned his benching with some atrocious play in 2011. Consistency is so key at cornerback, so how can you trust Cason?
Re-Draft: With LT getting towards the end of his career pick up Peyton Hillis to be a change of pace back who can double as a fullback in Year 1.
28. Lawrence Jackson, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Key Stat: Managed 34 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 655 pass rushes as a Seahawk. That’s a pressure for every 19.2 plays he was on the field. As a Lion? He’s picking up a pressure for every 9.5 pass rushes.
Notes: It just didn’t work out for Jackson in Seattle. There are a number of reasons why (some of which we discussed with Jackson) it didn’t work, and it certainly didn’t help that he portions of his rookie year playing at either end and then as a tackle in nickel situations. But the scouts didn’t get this one wrong as Jackson has flourished in Detroit. It’s just one of these cases where it was meant to be.
Re-Draft: The Seahawks had bodies and not much else at receiver. Stevie Johnson fixes that.
29. Kentwan Balmer, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Key Stat: No longer in the league after three teams gave up on him.
Notes: No matter where the 49ers put him, Balmer just couldn’t get anything done.
Re-Draft: Jason Jones is twice the player they thought they might be getting in Balmer.
30. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets
Key Stat: Has 24 dropped passes and has forced 18 missed tackles since entering the league. Boom or bust.
Notes: This is the year where Keller is finally becoming the player he can become. A consistent pass catcher who is also consistently bad in the run game. There’s nothing wrong with that (most of the recognized top tight ends are), and the Jets will be happy with that return given how up-and-down Keller has been through most of his career.
Re-Draft: The Jets weren’t overflowing in options at receiver, so getting a deep threat like Mario Manningham gives Brett Favre something a little bit different.
31. New York Giants, S, Kenny Phillips
Key Stat: Has received a positive grade every year he has been healthy.
Notes: Maybe it was missing a large chunk of time in 2009 injured, but Kenny Phillips has never received the credit his performances have deserved. Indeed, while Antrel Rolle is the Giants’ safety everyone knows, it’s Phillips who stands out as a far superior player when you watch the tape. One of the better safeties in the league.
Re-Draft: Jerod Mayo is the kind of linebacker the Giants could use.