The most disappointing part of the NFL draft weekend is right after it’s over. It’s like this big build-up to ….well, no actual climax. The weekend ends and draftniks everywhere write articles declaring “winners” and “losers” of the draft. Hey, I love reading those bits and I’ll probably end up writing one this year. However those articles never make sense because they’re not based on actual NFL experience.
Now that we have the results on tape, we can make pass some judgments on these rookies. These are some of the biggest surprises and disappointments from the 2010 rookie draft class.
Sam Bradford – So how can the 1st player taken and the guy who was given $40 million before even taking an NFL snap be a “surprise”? For one, it’s the quarterback position. It would’ve been acceptable for Bradford to struggle this year and go through some growing pains.
Two, he’s quarterbacking a team who went 1-15 the year before. Three, his receivers are basically practice squad guys. Bradford has been the catalyst for quadrupling the Rams’ win total from last year, and its only week 11.
Jared Veldheer – When the Raiders finally realized that Mario Henderson was one of the worst tackles in the league earlier this year, they brought in this massive (6-9, 320) small school (Hillsdale? Where is that anyways?) third-rounder off the bench to plug up the hole in the dam. Since then he has been THE catalyst on the Raiders offensive line. He even moved over to center when Samson Satele went down, showing versatility and quick learning.
The biggest question for the Raiders heading into the 2010 season, the offensive line, has quickly become their biggest strength (ask Darren McFadden whose having a career year), and Veldheer has been the only new face on the line. Now entrenched as the bedrock left tackle of the future, expect years of high-end production from Veldheer going forward (and a big contract to match it).
Alterraun Verner – Verner is a slap in the face to draftniks, scouts and anyone who looks at mock drafts. For those months after the BCS National Championship game, we all huff and puff over prospects’ draft stock down to the exact spot they’ll be drafted. Then guys, who no one talked about during the pre-draft evaluation process, quietly sneak up on us once the season starts.
Seemingly over drafted in the fourth round out of UCLA, Verner has since become the starting corner opposite of Cortland Finnegan. And folks in Tennessee will tell you–Verner is clearly the best corner on the team this year.
LaGarrette Blount – Actually, in terms of talent, it shouldn’t be that surprising that Blount is finding NFL success. When I watched him run at the senior bowl, I thought he looked like a man playing in a pee-wee league. He just looked so much bigger and faster than everybody else, and had those NFL running back instincts you can’t coach. He actually wasn’t a factor at all this year until week 7, but since then he’s arrived in a big way– if you haven’t seen it already, just watch this 48 yard run against Arizona.
Since becoming the starter, Blount has averaged 16 carries and 82 yards a game, good for over 5 yards a carry. He’s also broken off 20+ yard runs in each of the past 4 games. The more surprising fact is that he’s kept his head on straight despite his college baggage and already switching teams (spent training camp with the Titans).
Mike Williams – See LaGarrette Blount. Many draft experts said he might be the best receiver in the draft going in. He’s projected to finish with over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs this year, and is a future #1 wideout for the Bucs for years to come. Like Blount, it’s surprising to see these so-called immature diva-cases actually end up being more mature as pros.
I think Dez Bryant could also be loped in with Williams and Blount in this respect. The NFL is a league of trends and it makes you wonder–will organizations pay less attention to the off-the-field scouting reports this coming draft season?
Colt McCoy – A lot of the same things said about Sam Bradford can be said about McCoy. More impressive in McCoy’s case though are two of the three teams he’s been a part of beating: the Saints and Patriots. Also more impressive in Colt’s case is the fact that he took over the QB position by default when Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace went down. He’s learned quickly on the fly and the Browns are going to have to wrestle the QB-1 job away from him, if they even try.
Aaron Hernandez & Rob Gronkowski – The tight end-obsessed Patriots found two good ones in this year’s draft, and they didn’t have to take either in the 1st round. Hernandez has become a deadly target for Brady in between the 20′s (436 yards, 2nd on the team). Gronkowski has become a deadly target in the red zone (6 TD’s, 1st on the team). They had a pretty big need at tight end before the draft. That’s called owning the draft people.
Honorable mentions: Jordan Shipley, Tony Moeaki, Cody Grimm, and George Selvie.
DISAPPOINTMENTS (Note: Just because a player appears in this section doesn’t mean I’m casting a judgment on their future NFL careers. These players are considered disappointments because of their performances AS ROOKIES IN 2010.)
Kareem Jackson – The first round corner has been a starter from day one with the Texans. There’s no excuse for how far behind he looks at times with his technique. He’s second in the league in yards surrendered by a corner, and the majority of that has been on big plays.
It’s difficult to really gauge any progress out of Kareem given how bad the entire Texans secondary has been (and the entire Texans defense for that matter), as they’ve all been beat repeatedly. That may lead some to blame the Texans pass rush for the secondary problems, which has been bad in its own right. Kareem was one of many cornerback choices for the Texans in the first round at pick 20. Rick Smith deemed Kareem the best. He has a lot to improve if he’s going to be that.
CJ Spiller – I’m no NFL scout, but I thought the Bills drafting CJ 8th overall was a mistake. They had glaring needs at several other positions and there were several other “safe” picks for the Bills at 8 overall. But when the Bills went ahead and made the pick, I figured they would only do that if Chan Gailey had a specific plan for how they were going to use him.
If what we’re seeing this year is that plan, then I’m extremely underwhelmed. Spiller hasn’t been a factor in any way. His longest run of the year is 19 yards. His carries have ranged anywhere from 2-7 a game and he’s never gotten more than 7 carries. He’s not even the receiving threat most assumed he would be, with only 18 catches through 9 games. Fred Jackson has taken over as the full-time back getting 20+ carries a game over the past 4 weeks. If the Bills had a plan when they drafted CJ Spiller, it didn’t involve the 2010 season.
Ryan Matthews – Mathews has been good, don’t get me wrong. But we’re talking about a rookie back who had Pro Bowl expectations from the moment the Chargers selected him with the 12th overall pick. With LT taking the brunt of the blame for the Chargers running woes the past few years, it was thought that with fresh first round legs manning the backfield, the Chargers’ running game would revert back to the top unit it was in the mid-2000′s.
While the Chargers running game has improved, it hasn’t been because Mathews became the work-horse back. Instead, Mathews has been reduced to a part-time role with Mike Tolbert. Mathews has been gaining only 47 yards a game and doesn’t project to gain even 1000 yards in his rookie season. While his 4.4 yards per carry is above average, his longest carry was only 20 yards. He’s also not been the receiving threat he was assumed to be either. Mathews won’t be going to the Pro Bowl, nor will he win the rookie of the year award like most penciled him in for before the season.
The IR guys: Derrick Morgan, Dan Williams, Jared Odrick - It’s hard to knock these guys because it wasn’t performance that got them on this list. It’s their lack of performance because they haven’t played much, if any, NFL football this year due to various injuries. Given how good Tennessee’s pass rush has been this year, it’s scary to think how many sacks Morgan could have piled up this year. The Cardinals defensive unit has struggled mightily and could’ve used Dan Williams at the 0-technique all year. The Dolphins have been thin at defensive line and Odrick would be getting a heavy amount of snaps if healthy.
The offensive tackles: Russel Okung, Trent Williams, and Anthony Davis – Okung and Williams have battled injuries all year and have not been able to stay on the field. It’s tough to see these two go through this because it makes you wonder if the size/speed/strength of the NFL is just too much for these guys to stay healthy. In Anthony Davis’ case, he’s been just plain awful. He’s allowed 7 sacks on the year and leads offensive lineman in penalties. That’s not very impressive for the 11th overall pick in the draft.
Honorable mentions: Gerald McCoy, Kyle Wilson, Jerry Hughes, Patrick Robinson, Toby Gerhart.