Draft season is upon us as free agency quiets down and prospect watch goes into overdrive. The reality is we’re not that involved in the College side of things, but that doesn’t mean we’re not fans of the draft.
For me that means reflecting back on drafts gone by to tell you which teams made the best picks and which ones the worst. So as I do every year I’m grading every draft pick from 2009 through to 2011 on the PFF rating scale (-2.0 to +2.0), factoring in where they were drafted, injuries and a host of other things.
Up first? Well we’re moving in draft order so it’s the Houston Texans
+2.0: You’ve just found Tom Brady in the 6th round
J.J. Watt, DE (11th overall pick in 2011): The cream of the crop. You have to be something special to get a +2.0 from me and be a first-round pick, but then J.J. Watt is something special (and then some). He’s not just been the PFF top ranked 3-4 defensive end the past two years but he’s earned a +223.2 grade over the past two years. Dominance we have never witnessed at any position during the PFF era.
+1.5: Getting much more than you bargained for!
Move along, nothing to see here …
+1.0: The scouts nailed it!
Brian Cushing, LB (15th overall pick in 2009): It’s a shame injuries have derailed Cushing because when he’s been on the field he’s been fantastic. Still despite the setbacks he’s managed a very healthy 3,540 snaps and has proved an impact player from the linebacker spot since day one.
+0.5: Never hurts to find a solid contributor
Glover Quin, S (112th overall pick in 2009): A versatile talent, Quin would manage 4,149 snaps before he moved to Detroit after the 2012 season. He was never the best safety but he was a man who could play a number of roles without looking out of place. The team has struggled to replace him.
James Casey, TE (152nd overall pick in 2009): It took Casey until his third season to really start making a mark in his h-back type role, logging less than 200 snaps in both his first two years. A better third season followed but it wasn’t really until 2012 where he caught the eye with his work catching balls out of the backfield. That earned him a decent sized deal in Philadelphia but not much playing time.
Troy Nolan, S (223rd overall pick in 2009): Nolan has proved anything but a fancy pickup but he has gone onto play 954 defensive snaps without ever looking a liability. From a seventh-round pick who also contributed on special teams, what more can you ask?
Daryl Sharpton, LB (103rd overall pick in 2010): The former fourth-round pick never developed into the every down kind of player the team hoped for, but when you get a guy in the middle rounds who can handle situational duty you can consider that a win. Sharpton is an old school downhill linebacker who proved much better against the run, actually finishing 2013 with the second highest grade here of all inside linebackers.
Garrett Graham, TE (119th overall pick in 2010): What do I want out of a mid fourth-round pick? I’ll take a solid starter who is not so much about the thrills and spills as he is about consistent output. Graham, who has managed 1,522 snaps for the team is better suited to a number two tight end role but that’s a useful pickup here.
T.J. Yates, QB (152nd overall pick in 2011): Yates isn’t a starting caliber NFL talent and likely won’t be with the team much longer. But he gets a positive solely for his work in 2011 when, as a rookie, he had to fill in for an injured Matt Schaub and did well enough to lead the team to their first playoff win.
0.0: It could have been worse
Antoine Caldwell, OL (77th overall pick in 2009): They got plenty of playing time out of Caldwell who would rotate snaps his first three years in the league before landing a starting job. That’s a decent return but he was never able to build on that to make a starting job his own, flopping in 2012 when it was handed to him.
Brice McCain, CB (188th overall pick in 2009): A sixth-rounder managing 2,198 snaps? I do like that. And if McCain had retired after his fantastic year in the slot in 2011 I’d likely go into the positive grades. But since then he’s been something of a liability, earning the lowest coverage grade of all cornerbacks in 2013.
Ben Tate, RB (58th overall pick in 2010): It’s been something of a frustrating time in Houston for Tate. Drafted to be the feature back, he missed his entire rookie year injured which gave Arian Foster a chance to steal his spot away. He’s looked good in his 993 snaps of limited action but not enough to get a positive.
Earl Mitchell, DT (82nd overall pick in 2010): Struggled to make much of an impression in his 320 rookie snaps before the team switched to a 3-4 defense that was a bad fit for him. Made the most of a bad situation to impress in fits, but was always limited once the team moved away from a 4-3.
Shelley Smith, OG (188th overall pick in 2010): A sixth-rounder that hung around on the roster, Smith did little for the team but wasn’t such a waste of space the team was prepared to wash their hands of him. Has gone onto have success in St Louis.
Dorin Dickerson, TE (228th overall pick in 2010): Would only manage 25 offensive snaps and one special team tackle. That’s more than you get out of most seventh-rounders.
Shiloh Keo, S (144th overall pick in 2011): A former fifth-rounder pick, Keo has developed into a transitional player. You’re always looking to upgrade on him but not deathly afraid of leaving him in. He’s averaging just over 330 snaps per year since being drafted, a decent return given where they picked him up.
Derek Newton, OT (215th overall pick in 2011): Normally a seventh-rounder playing 1,751 snaps in three years would be reason for a positive. But so out of his depth has Newton looked since snap one that it just makes you question how the team allowed him to get so much playing time.
Cheta Ozougwu, ER (256th overall pick in 2011): Like a lot of Mr. Irrelevants he was destined to not make his mark on the roster with zero defensive snaps to his name in Houston (though he has managed 87 in Chicago). A shot to nothing that late in the draft.
-0.5: That pick was not put to good use
Connor Barwin, ER (46th overall pick in 2009): Something of a project out of college, that doesn’t lessen the expectations. You take an edge rusher in the first 50 picks and they better make life tough for the quarterback. During his time in Houston Barwin had a -22.2 pass rushing grade. His work against the run salvages this pick, but he was something of a blunt Swiss army knife when it came down to it.
Anthony Hill, TE (122nd overall pick in 2009): The team weren’t short of tight ends when they drafted Hill and it was no surprise he only managed 20 snaps during his time with the team. Not good enough from a fourth-round pick.
Kareem Jackson, CB (20th overall pick in 2010): After the roughest of rookie years Jackson, to his credit, has developed into an average number two cornerback. At times he might look better than that, but his limitations mean you’ll never fully be comfortable with him on an island with receivers. From a first-round pick you should expect more.
Sherrick McManis, CB (145th overall pick in 2010): In a lot of respects the team would have hoped for the kind of production at corner from him that they received from Shiloh Keo at safety. Alas he wasn’t even trusted as cornerback depth, managing 31 snaps and hardly standing out on special teams.
Trindon Holliday, KR (198th overall pick in 2010): If you’re going to pick up a specialist, they better thrive in that situation. Evidently Holliday did not in practice as the team weren’t prepared to give him returning duties in his rookie year or in 2011. 2012 was a different story, but he didn’t do enough to avoid a midseason cutting.
Brooks Reed, ER (42nd overall pick in 2011): You think this team might have a weak spot when it comes to spotting pass rushers on the edge? Reed has managed just six pass rushing grades in the green his entire career, with just one in 2013. Not the player the team had hoped for.
Roc Carmichael, CB (127th overall pick in 2011): The team has invested a number of picks at corner and Carmichael is another that didn’t come off. He lasted just 43 snaps on defense before the team decided to say goodbye and write off another wasted draft pick.
-1.0: What a waste!
Brandon Harris, CB (60th overall pick in 2011): I tend to think a second-round corner should develop into someone who at least wins a job in the teams nickel package. After three years in the league Harris still hasn’t been able to deliver on my expectations, repaying playing time with poor production.
-1.5: The scouts/ coaches failed, big time!
Give yourselves a pat on the back
-2.0: You just drafted the love child of JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf!
Fortunately not the case …
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled