PFF's Top 10 Second-Round Picks, 2008-2012
Yesterday we looked at the Top 10 First-Round Failures of the past five years. Today we continue looking at the NFL Draft in every way possible, not just looking at the Top 10 biggest second-round busts of the past five years, but also the 10 best draft picks out of the second-round over the past five years.
While plenty of second-round picks have turned into consistent starters for their teams, a few have risen to greater heights to become some of the best at their positions. These are the players that NFL teams get for a bargain on their rookie contract, and then need to pay them millions of dollars in order to keep their services. If these drafts were to be done all over again knowing what we know now, there is no doubt these would become early first-round picks.
Without further ado, here is the first of series of pieces featuring the top 10 players from each round after the first.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: No. 42 Overall, 2010
Only one second-round pick over the past five years has clearly risen to the top of his position, and that player is Rob Gronkowski. As a rookie he impressed everyone with a league-leading 10 touchdown receptions. What caught our eye more was his +14.2 run block rating, which was fifth-best in the league. That was only the beginning. In his sophomore year he led all tight ends in both receiving and run blocking. He had 138 more yards after the catch and six touchdowns more than any other tight end. While injuries did cost him much of the second half of 2012, he still finished in the Top 4 in terms of both receiving and run blocking, which again made him our best regular season tight end. It is rare to find someone that is clearly the best at their position. It is even rarer to find that player outside of the first round.
2. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs: No. 35 Overall, 2008
One of the least consistent positions from one year to another is cornerback. Although Flowers had some struggles as a rookie, with eight missed tackles, he has been the definition of consistency ever since. The second-most dependable cornerback over the past four years has been Champ Bailey with a +6.7 coverage rating or higher in each of the last four years. The most reliable is Brandon Flowers, with a +9.8 coverage rating in each of those years. If that wasn’t enough for you, to prove his consistency he has allowed between a 50.0% and 53.8% catch rate in each of those four years, and has at least 10 combined interceptions/passes defended each year. When you find such a cornerback who year-in and year-out you can depend on in the second-round of the draft you certainly have a steal.
3. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals: No. 50 Overall, 2008
Over the five years of PFF, we have seen both Justin Smith and J.J. Watt dominate the 3-4 defensive end position. However, over the past four years Campbell has 31 sacks which leads the position over that time frame. Since his second year in the league, Campbell has been a dominant interior pass rusher, and deserves to be more well-known than teammate Darnell Dockett. While Campbell by no means has been a liability in the run game, it wasn’t until this last season that Campbell began to reach his true potential as a run defender. His 10.4 Run Stop Percentage was the fourth-best among 3-4 ends behind Watt, Smith and Muhammad Wilkerson. Although the Cardinals have had a number of problems on the offensive side of the ball, outside of Larry Fitzgerald, they have a number of keys in place on defense including two of the Top six second-round picks of the past five years.
4. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots: No. 58 Overall, 2009
The second round of 2009 produced a number of quality linemen, including William Beatty, Max Unger, Phil Loadholt and Andy Levitre. The one that ends up making this list is Vollmer, who has proven himself due to his versatility. Although most of his time has been spent at right tackle, he has proven himself at left tackle. In his first five starts in the league, he played left tackle and allowed eight overall pressures and no sacks. In fact he has been so versatile that in all four years in the league, Vollmer has had positive ratings in pass blocking, screen blocking, run blocking and penalties. Pass blocking is the biggest factor for an offensive tackle, and Vollmer had a pass blocking rating below -0.3 only twice in 2013 — mostly thanks to Cameron Wake and Von Miller. After signing a four-year deal this offseason, Vollmer should continue helping the Patriots’ line be one of the best in the league.
5. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills: No. 42 Overall, 2009
It’s not often you find a safety this high on a Top 10 list, but when you’re the best coverage safety in 2012 it’s hard to ignore a player like Byrd. It took two weeks on the bench before Byrd emerged as a starter in Buffalo. He was a very solid starter from the get go, and in just his third year he emerged as one of the best safeties in the NFL. He received a little more attention in 2012 as his five interceptions were third most for safeties while he didn’t allow a single touchdown. On top of that, in half of his games he allowed 2 receiving yards or less, and only once allowed more than 30, when he allowed a 36-yard catch against the 49ers. He ended up making the Pro Bowl as an alternate this year, but in the future should make the team outright.
6. Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals: No.47 Overall, 2010
While you can certainly make an argument for the linebacker picked eight slots later in Sean Lee, you can’t ignore the player who has twice as many snaps as Lee. It’s hard to find a unit that has been more disastrous over the past five years than the Cardinals’ linebackers. The one exception to that has been Daryl Washington, who became a Day 1 starter and was an instant upgrade to the defense. In his first two years he proved himself as a coverage cornerback, and then in 2012 he became a triple threat as a run defender and pass rusher as well. Eight sacks in his first eight games of the 2012 helped him become more of a household name. If he can put all parts of his game together consistently, he can fight the 49ers inside linebacker duo for the Pro Bowl.
7. Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers: No. 62 Overall, 2012
Although it is certainly too early to judge the 2012 draft class, a list of the best rookies over the Past five years wouldn’t be complete without at least one 2012 draft pick. An argument could be made for one of the great linebackers here, but it is Hayward that got our attention the most. Picked right near the end of the second round, Hayward emerged as the Packers’ slot cornerback after injuries to other players. He allowed just 0.74 Yards Per Coverage Snap, which was second-lowest for slot corners in 2012. His 18 combined interceptions and passes defended in the regular season were the third-most for all cornerbacks behind only Richard Sherman and Tim Jennings. For years Charles Woodson held the position of slot corner, and it looks like Hayward will take over without problem and continue to shut down the oppositions slot receiver.
8. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: No. 36 Overall, 2011
Although it took a year-and-a-half for him to crack the starting lineup, what Kaepernick did in the second half of the regular season and the playoffs was enough for him to make this list. This becomes especially true when you compare him to other second-round quarterbacks, like Brian Brohm, Pat White and Jimmy Clausen. He is known for his legs, as he already holds the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a game ever, but his passing is just as impressive. His Accuracy Percentage of 55.1% on deep passes was the best for all quarterbacks in 2012. He looks like he can be a star for years to come and proves that you don’t need to find your quarterback in the first round of the draft.
9. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals: No. 54 Overall, 2010
The sometimes injured pass rusher has been very consistent when he is on the field, with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 9.7 or higher in each of his three years in the league. He has gotten better with time, with at least one sack/hit and at least two hurries in each of his last seven games. He has become by far the best outside pass rusher to have come out of the second round in recent years, with division rival Paul Kruger the only one coming close. In 2012 he showed that he can be an every-down defensive end with his Run Stop Percentage of 10.9% being the second-best in the NFL for 4-3 defensive ends. It’s a shame he is considered a backup while long time starter Robert Geathers remains in the starting DLE position.
10. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: No. 36 Overall, 2008
After spending his first three years as a backup for Green Bay due to their depth at the position, Nelson broke out for the Packers in the 2010 playoffs. In the divisional round he caught eight passes for 79 yards in an upset of Atlanta, followed by a 140 yard Super Bowl performance despite four drops. He followed this up with one of the better recent wide receiver seasons in 2011 with top five finishes in catch rate and yards per catch which is very rare. Late season injures prevented him from repeating his 2011 performance. What makes Jordy stand out more is there have been a lot more second round busts at wide receiver then successes, with Golden Tate, Torrey Smith and Randall Cobb being the only other notable wide receivers coming out of the second round in the last five years out of 24 drafted.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke