PFF’s Top 10 Fourth-Round Picks, 2008-2012
With coverage of the upcoming draft focussed on who will go in the first round, Gordon McGuinness demonstrates just how many stars where lurking in the fourth round from 2008 ...
PFF’s Top 10 Fourth-Round Picks, 2008-2012
Yesterday we brought you the Top 10 Third-Round Draft Picks of the past five years. Today we follow on from that and continue our look at the NFL draft during the Pro Football Focus era with the 10 best fourth-round draft picks between 2008 and 2012.
It’s important for teams to hit on draft picks later in the draft, particularly as it can land them a productive player for three to four years without much of a salary cap hit. That being said, this list has at least one player who has gone well beyond just being productive, and if you can land a player who becomes one of the best players in the league in the fourth round you deserve the plaudits. With the benefit of hindsight, and the ability to get a do-over from previous drafts, the players on this list would all be gone long before the fourth round.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the Top 10 Fourth Round Draft Choices of the past five seasons.
1. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals: No. 120 Overall, 2010
Remember that 2010 Defensive Tackle draft class that saw Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy both taken in the Top 3 picks? Nobody would have thought that both men, despite playing well in their own right, would be upstaged by the 120th player off the board in Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins. That’s exactly what has happened however, with Atkins blossoming into one of the best players in the entire league. Coming out of Georgia in 2010, he had success as an interior rusher on passing downs for the Bengals, catching our eye enough to be selected as their Secret Superstar that year. The next season he became a key part of the Bengals’ defense as a starter, adding some solid play against the run to go with his pass rushing prowess. None of that could have prepared us for this past year however, with Atkins putting together quite simply the best season we’ve seen from a defensive tackle since PFF began grading in 2008. We’re just looking forward to seeing what he does next!
2. Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers: No. 135 Overall, 2008
Josh Sitton just barely made this list after being drafted with the final pick of the fourth round of the 2008 draft but, despite that, he’s gone on to be the most successful fourth-round pick of the PFF era not named Geno Atkins. Playing sparingly as a rookie, with just two starts and a total of 161 snaps, Sitton showed early on that he had the skills to be an elite player at his position, with a strong showing as a run blocker in his first season in the league. Taking over as the starting right guard in Green Bay in 2009, he hasn’t looked back since. Never finishing outside the Top 8 highest graded guards in his time as a starter, Sitton has been good as a run blocker and fantastic as a pass blocker. Finishing last season with a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 97.9, Sitton allowed just 17 total pressures from 644 pass blocking snaps.
3. Henry Melton, Chicago Bears: No. 105 Overall, 2009
The year after the Packers hit on the selection of Sitton, their bitter rivals the Chicago Bears were able to find someone to test Sitton twice a year in the form of defensive tackle Henry Melton. Melton’s rookie season, where he didn’t see a single snap on defense, was followed up by a disappointing second year effort that saw him struggle in limited duty. The light went on during the 2011 season however, with him turning in some excellent performances, particularly as a pass rusher, in his first full season as a starter. He improved again in 2012 and, while his pass rushing prowess was again on display, with him finishing the year fifth among defensive tackles with a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 7.7, he was productive against the run too. With a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 11.6% of his plays against the run, Melton was unmatched in that regard among players at his position.
4. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots, No. 113 Overall, 2010
You saw on Thursday how New England snagged themselves the league’s best tight end in the second round and, in the very same draft, they were able to find one of the biggest playmakers at the position in the fourth round. Nobody will ever confuse Aaron Hernandez with being the type of blocker Rob Gronkowski is, but his athletic ability has lead to him becoming one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets. Injuries held him back in 2012, but a look back to his 2011 season shows just how special a player he can be. Including the playoffs, he was able to reel in nine touchdowns and force a ridiculous 28 missed tackles in his second season in the league. A versatile weapon, Hernandez has lined up at tight end, in the backfield and in the slot as the Patriots look to find ways to keep him and Gronkowski on the field together.
5. Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans, No. 104 Overall, 2010
Sticking with that 2010 draft class, which has produced plenty of talented players in the fourth round, the Tennessee Titans were able to pick up a vital piece of their secondary with the selection of Alterraun Verner out of UCLA. Thrown in at the deep end as a rookie, Verner found himself playing as the team’s third corner before eventually starting, and gave a solid account of himself in allowing an average of 1.19 Yards Per Coverage Snap. 2010 saw him go back to playing as the team’s third corner but, when starter Cortland Finnegan left the following offseason, Verner found himself back in the starting line-up. His play took a downturn at the end of the season, but his work through the first three quarters of the season proved the Titans had found themselves a long-term starter at the position.
6. Tyvon Branch, Oakland Raiders, No. 100 Overall, 2008
Back in 2008, the Oakland Raiders drafted Tyvon Branch as a cornerback but that’s not where he stuck as a pro. Making the switch to safety, Branch has the ability to cover deep, play in the box, and even cover from the slot. In today’s NFL with receiving tight ends become more athletic by the minute, his ability to match up with them man-to-man is even more key. His 2012 season had its ups and downs, but when all was said and done he finished tied for 10th among all safeties, with 19 tackles resulting in a defensive stop against the run.
7. Glover Quin, Houston Texans, No. 112 Overall, 2009
The year after the Raiders drafted Branch, the Houston Texans were able to nab their own jack-of-all-trades safety in Glover Quin. Moving around the field depending on which defensive package the Texans were in, Quin allowed an average of 0.81 Yards Per Coverage Snap and, while that ranks 50th among starting safeties, it’s worth pointing out that Quinn spent plenty of time covering slot receivers. Often lined up in the box, he was eighth among players at his position with a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 9.4% of his plays against the run.
8. K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks, No. 99 Overall, 2011
At 6’3 and 246, it’s easy to see why K.J. Wright was used by Sam Monson when describing the Prototype SAM-linebacker in today’s NFL. A Day 1 starter, Wright has been a mainstay on the Seattle defense since he was drafted, but it was in his second season when he became a three-down linebacker. After having some struggles in coverage in his rookie year, though not looking like a liability by any means, Wright was eighth among 4-3 outside linebackers with a grade of +4.5 in coverage in 2012.
9. Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins, No. 108 Overall, 2009
Though they splashed out to sign free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace this offseason, the Dolphins have been able to get some big-play production out of 2009 fourth-round draft pick Brian Hartline. Boosted by a huge game against the Arizona Cardinals early in the season, Hartline finished the year with a Yards Per Route Run average of 2.08 – tied for 14th among starting receivers and above the likes of Victor Cruz and Julio Jones. He may see less opportunities with Wallace now in town, but Hartline remains an excellent pickup by Miami.
10. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens, No. 114 Overall, 2010
Drafted one spot behind him, it’s appropriate that Dennis Pitta has seen similar success, albeit on a smaller scale, to Aaron Hernandez. He might not be worth much as a blocker but, as was witnessed down the stretch in the Ravens’ Super Bowl winning run, he’s a great target for quarterback Joe Flacco, with 109 yards and two touchdowns from the slot in the postseason alone. Season 2012 was also his worst in terms of dropped passes but, with just five in his three-year career so far, he’s a more than solid pair on hands in Baltimore.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.