Every year the tedious process of player evaluation that has consumed the lives of scouts, coaches, and general managers since February culminates in late April. The NFL draft is arguably the most important event in the season. The foundation of a team can be built or destroyed. And, for all the effort that is put in by every organization to find the best collegiate players, the only constant is this: The draft is, and forever will be, an inexact science. Major hits and major misses happen at every position in the draft, and at sometime or another, happen to every team.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the players that turned out to be the best and the worst picks at each position in the draft over the last 10 years.
(I left out the 2011 and 2012 drafts. It’s too early to judge them)
Elite, franchise changing players have been available at each of the 32 positions in the first round. Major busts have occurred at every slot as well, some of which set organizations back several seasons. No pick is a sure thing, but every pick has potential. Only time can tell.
Here’s the best and the worst picks at every slot since 2003.
#1 Overall Pick:
Best: Eli Manning, Giants 2004
Eli may not be in the conversation for league’s best quarterback, but it’s hard to argue for a better top overall pick in the last 10 years. He’s a 3-time Pro Bowler and has 2 more Super Bowl rings than you.
Worst: Jamarcus Russell, Raiders 2007
No explanation needed. Maybe the now 308-pounder will make a comeback as a nose tackle. Maybe not.
Best: Calvin Johnson, Lions 2007
The 3-time All-Pro was chiseled by the football gods and sent to Detroit to represent the prototype wide receiver for all eternity.
Worst: Charles Rogers, Lions 2003
One of the biggest busts in NFL history. Took the elite athletic intangibles few human beings possess and used it to batter women, smoke marijuana, and pop pills rather than play football.
Best: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals 2004
See Johnson, Calvin.
Worst: QB Vince Young, Titans 2006
A 2-time Pro Bowler can’t be a total bust, but with the third overall pick, Tennessee was hoping for a franchise QB that would be under center for a long time. That didn’t happen. It still turned out better than if they chose Matt Leinart, so at least there’s that.
Best: DeBrickashaw Ferguson, Jets 2006
This came down to Ferguson or Philip Rivers. Ferguson is a 3-time Pro Bowler who has anchored the Jets offensive line since he walked into the locker room.
Worst: Aaron Curry, SEA 2009
Seattle passed on Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing to take Curry, who many draftniks declared to be the safest pick in the draft. They were wrong.
Best: Sean Taylor Redskins, 2004
Taylor only played 3 and a half seasons before his death, but his talent was unquestioned. The 2-time Pro Bowler was elite.
Worst: Mark Sanchez, Jets 2009
The Jets traded up and hoped for a franchise quarterback. They got butt-fumble highlights.
Best: Vernon Davis, 49ers 2006
It took Davis a few years to breakout, but he’s now one of the best tight ends in the league.
Worst: Vernon Gholston, NYJ 2008
Gholston in 2008, Sanchez in 2009. When first round picks are busts your team is usually reeling a few years later. Gholston had 42 career tackles and was practice squad fodder for the Bears by 2011.
Best: Adrian Peterson, Vikings 2007
The 5-time All-Pro and 2-time Rushing Champion will go down as an all-time great.
Worst: Troy Williamson, Vikings 2005
Minnesota passed on Roddy White and Vincent Jackson to take Williamson in the top 10. He had 4 touchdowns in 5 years.
Best: DeAngelo Hall, Falcons 2004
3-time Pro Bowler has been a solid starter his entire career.
Wost: Derrick Harvey, Jaguars 2008
Harvey had 92 tackles in 4 seasons, and was cut in Bengals camp last summer.
Best: Kevin Williams, Vikings 2003
The 5-time All-Pro and 6-time Pro Bowler made the NFL 2000′s All-Decade team.
Worst: Ted Ginn Jr., Dolphins 2007
From the moment it was announced, Dolphin fans were livid that this pick wasn’t Brady Quinn. That would have been awesome, too.
Best: Terrell Suggs, Ravens 2003
A 5-time Pro Bowler and 2011 NFL Defensive POY.
Worst: Matt Leinart, Cardinals 2006
At the time, many wondered why Leinart dropped to the 10th pick. He should have dropped much farther.
Best: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers 2004
Another franchise player taken in 2004 with a pair of Super Bowl rings to show for it.
Worst: Aaron Maybin, Bills 2009
Brian Orakpo, Clay Matthews, and Percy Harvin were there for the Bills. Maybin has a career total of 36 tackles.
Best: Haloti Ngata, Ravens 2006
Ravens landed a prototype nose tackle who is a 5-time All-Pro.
Worst: Jimmy Kennedy, Rams 2003
Kennedy had 129 tackles in 9 years and was selected ahead of Troy Polamalu.
Best: Brian Orakpo, Redskins 2009
Orakpo is one of the best OLBs in the league and has 2 Pro Bowl births and counting.
Worst: Brandon Graham, Eagles 2010
Pick number 13 has been pretty solid over the last 10 years. Graham gets my vote because Earl Thomas and Jason Pierre-Paul were chosen immediately after him in 2010.
Best: Darrelle Revis, Jets 2007
The definition of a shutdown corner.
Worst: Michael Haynes, Bears 2003
After 3 uneventful seasons in Chicago, Haynes was out of the league.
Best: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants 2010
The Giants took a gamble on the “raw” Pierre-Paul and won. He’s one of the most feared pass-rushers walking the planet.
Worst: Jerome McDougle, Eagles 2003
McDougle was plagued by a litany of injuries his entire career and was out of football by 2009.
Best: Troy Polamalu, Steelers 2003
A 7-time Pro Bowler who is on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
Worst: Dustin Harrell, Packers 2007
Started 2 games and was out of the league by 2011.
Best: Chad Greenway, Vikings 2006
Missed his entire rookie season, but in the years since has blossomed into an All-Pro.
Worst: David Pollack, Bengals 2005
Injury limited Pollack to 29 career games, and 29 career tackles.
Best: Joe Flacco, Raven 2008
When you land a Super Bowl winning, franchise quarterback in the late first round, that’s a win.
Worst: Erasmus James, Vikings 2005
37 career tackles. Last played for the New Mexico Stars.
Best: Michael Griffin, Titans 2007
2-time Pro Bowler and 2010 All-Pro.
Worst: Kyle Boller, Ravens 2003
Journeyman backup. Not exactly the return the Ravens hoped for with a first round quarterback.
Best: Tamba Hall, Chiefs 2006
A solid, longtime starter and 3-time Pro Bowler.
Worst: Kenechi Udeze, Vikings 2004
An unfortunate battle with leukemia, and the neuropathy that arose during his recovery limited Udeze’s career to 3 seasons.
Best: Vince Wilfork, Patriots 2004
Another gem from 2004. Wilfork is a 5-time Pro-Bowler who has anchored the Patriots defense for years.
Worst: Matt Jones, Jaguars 2005
Only played 4 seasons with a total of 2,153 receiving yards. Roddy White was selected a few picks later.
Best: Percy Harvin, Vikings 2009
Harvin was already an All-Pro as a rookie, and is one of the most explosive players in the league.
Worst: J.P. Losman, Bills 2004
The Bills needed to draft a quarterback in 2004. Unfortunately, Manning, Rivers and Big Ben were off the board. They still felt the need to spend a 1st round pick on Losman.
Best: Willis McGahee, Bills 2003
A 2-Time Pro Bowler and former comeback player of the year who bounced back from multiple injuries to have a prosperous career.
Worst: Marcus Tubbs, Seahawks 2004
Best: Aaron Rodgers, Packers 2005
A franchise quarterback and NFL / Super Bowl MVP. Not bad for pick 24.
Worst: Peria Jerry, Falcons 2009
Jerry gets this by default. The 24th pick has proven to be a solid spot since 2003. Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Dallas Clark, Brandon Meriweather, Johnathan Joseph and Dez Bryant were all chosen here.
Best: Jon Beason, Panthers 2007
A 3-time Pro Bowler, and 2-time All-Pro.
Worst: Ahmad Carrol, Packers 2004
Carrol had 3 career interceptions and was in the CFL by 2008. Were it not for Tim Tebow’s fleeting moment with the Broncos – he might be here.
Best: Clay Matthews, Packers 2009
A bad, bad hombre who is a 4-time Pro Bowler and 2-time All-Pro.
Worst: Chris Perry, Bengals 2004
He had 2 career rushing touchdowns in 4 seasons.
Best: Roddy White, Falcons 2005
White has been one of the best receivers in the league for the past several years and is a 4-time Pro Bowler. Larry Johnson was also selected here.
Worst: Donald Brown, Colts 2009
It’s not that Brown is a terrible player, he’s just not what the Colts hoped for in a 1st round back. Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt were both chosen a few spots later in 2009.
Best: Joe Staley, 49ers 2007
The All-Pro LT is the cornerstone of the 49ers offensive line.
Worst: Andre Woolfolk, Titans 2003
Had 3 interceptions in 4 seasons.
Best: Nick Mangold, Jets 2006
The Jets solidified their offensive line with Ferguson and Mangold both picked in 2006. Mangold is a 3-time All-Pro.
Worst: Kentwan Balmer, 49ers 2008
Best: Heath Miller, Steelers 2005
A longtime starter and 2-time Pro Bowler.
Worst: Buster Davis, Chargers 2007
Fitting his nickname is “Bust”er. Logged 1 more NFL touchdown than me.
Best: Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders 2003
A shutdown corner when he peaked and a 4-time All-Pro.
Worst: Rashaun Woods, 49ers 2004
He caught 7 passes in his NFL career. Seven.
Best: Logan Mankins, Patriots 2005
A 4-time All-Pro plugged in for the better part of a decade. Not too shabby.
Worst: Anthony Gonzalez, Colts 2007
Couldn’t stay healthy and finished career with just 7 TDs. Kinda shabby.