Perhaps the only thing more impressive about the NFL draft than the amount of time it takes to complete all seven rounds is the amount of grades produced in the aftermath of each selection. The draft’s winners and losers are decided before any pick plays a down of professional football.
For all the immediate evaluation that is done, it is impossible to fairly assess a draft class without data and the gift of time. Starting with 2010, 110 Sports is going back and grading every NFL draft of the past decade on a team-by-team basis.
These grades are based first and foremost on production. Other factors were taken into consideration, but the primary goal is figuring out how successful teams were at identifying talent.
The final installment of the 2014 NFL Draft re-grade is all about the NFC West.
*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.
Picks: DB Deone Bucannon (27th overall), TE Troy Niklas (52), DE Kareem Martin (84), WR John Brown (91), QB Logan Thomas (120), DE Ed Stinson (160), WR Walt Powell (196)
Best pick: John Brown
Ten of the 11 players drafted in 2014 who have over 3,000 career receiving yards were selected in the first two rounds. The other is Brown, who ranks seventh on that list with 4,290 yards. The speedster has played in at least 15 games all but one of his six NFL seasons. Brown surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 2015 with the Cardinals and 2019 with the Bills. He has caught 287 passes and scored 28 touchdowns in his career.
Worst pick: Troy Niklas
Football is in Niklas’ blood. His uncle is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, which makes Atlanta Falcons lineman Jake Matthews his cousin. In 41 games, Niklas caught 19 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns. A blocking tight end by trade, he signed with the Patriots after four years in Arizona but was released in July. A year later, he was waived/injured by the Buccaneers less than a week into his time with the team.
All seven guys made at least 15 appearances and started multiple games. Bucannon and Brown have 57 starts apiece while the rest of the group has 54 combined. Niklas, Stinson and Powell have not played since at least 2017. It’s a decent group that lacks a true difference-maker and consistent starters outside Bucannon and Brown.
Los Angeles Rams (then the St. Louis Rams)
Picks: OT Greg Robinson (2), DT Aaron Donald (13), DB Lamarcus Joyner (41), RB Tre Mason (75), DB Maurice Alexander (110), E.J. Gaines (188), QB Garrett Gilbert (214), OT Mitchell Van Dyk (226), DB C.B. Bryant (241), DE Michael Sam (249), C Demetrius Rhaney (250)
Best pick: Aaron Donald
Donald has made six Pro Bowls in six seasons. Donald has been named a First Team All-Pro each of the last five seasons. Donald has 72 sacks and 117 tackles for loss, good for second and first, respectively, in the league since 2014. Donald is the most dominant defensive force in football. Moving on.
Worst pick: Greg Robinson
Robinson started 12 times as a rookie and played every offensive snap for St. Louis in 2015. He showed up to training camp overweight in 2016 and was a healthy scratch in Week 11 that season. The following offseason, Robinson was traded to the Lions for a 2018 sixth round pick. Detroit waived him on Nov. 17, 2017 after six appearances. He then signed with the Browns and has started 22 times over the past two seasons. Robinson is currently facing up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted on charges stemming from the 157 pounds of marijuana police found in a vehicle he was riding in back in February.
St. Louis could actually afford to miss at No. 2 with the best player in the draft coming at No. 13. Robinson also does have 70 starts despite being a massive disappointment. Joyner is the most noteworthy of the rest of the group with 81 appearances and 52 starts. No class with Robinson was getting better than a B+ and no class with Donald was getting worse than a B.
San Francisco 49ers
Picks: DB Jimmie Ward (30), RB Carlos Hyde (57), C Marcus Martin (70), LB Chris Borland (77), OG Brandon Thomas (100), WR Bruce Ellington (106), DB Dontae Johnson (129), DE Aaron Lynch (150), DB Keith Reaser (170), DB Kenneth Acker (180), DE Kaleb Ramsey (243), FB Trey Millard (245)
Best pick: Aaron Lynch
Lynch recorded 12.5 sacks in 30 appearances over his first two seasons. He was limited to 14 games in his next two seasons due to a suspension and injuries but has rebounded somewhat since joining the Bears in 2018. Lynch played in every game last season and produced multiple sacks for the second season in a row. He is one of nine players in the 2014 draft class with 20+ career sacks. Lynch signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars in May.
Worst pick: Brandon Thomas
Thomas has been in the league every season since he was drafted yet has never gotten on the field in an NFL game. He missed his rookie season with a torn ACL and was inactive for all 16 contests in 2015. San Francisco traded him to Detroit in 2016 and he spent the year on the Lion’s practice squad. Thomas then joined the Jaguars’ practice squad, briefly getting promoted to the team’s active roster. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 10, 2019.
Ward, Hyde, Johnson and Lynch have 64+ games played and 22+ starts. Hyde has three seasons with more than 900 rushing yards and at least six rushing touchdowns. Borland retired after one outstanding season, leaving the 49ers with 14 career appearances from their two third round picks. It’s entirely fair to expect more from eight top-150 picks.
Picks: WR Paul Richardson (45), OT/C Justin Britt (64), DE Cassius Marsh (108), WR Kevin Norwood (123), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (132), DT Jimmy Staten (172), OT Garrett Scott (199), DB Eric Pinkins (208), RB Kiero Small (227)
Best pick: Justin Britt
Britt played every offensive snap at right tackle in 2014 and left guard in 2015 for the Seahawks. He was not particularly effective at either position, so he was moved to center in 2016 and was named a Pro Bowl alternate that season. From 2014 to 2018, Britt played in 79 of a possible 80 games, starting 78 of them. He landed on injured reserve with a knee injury halfway through last season.
Worst pick: Kevin Norwood
The three-time national champion at Alabama caught nine passes as a rookie. Those would end up being the only receptions of Norwood’s career. He was traded to the Panthers prior to the 2015 season and appeared in one game for Carolina. Norwood was a member of the Chargers’ and Giants’ practice squads in 2016, never making it onto an active roster. His career came to a close when New York let him go on Nov. 22, 2017.
Britt’s 86 starts can be deceiving since it took three seasons for him to find a position he was comfortable in. Richardson has never posted more than 703 receiving yards in a season. Nobody else has started more than eight times, though Marsh and Pierre-Lewis both have over 70 appearances. To be fair, Seattle did have a lot to work with in terms of high draft picks. That being said, nine selections are still nine selections.
Click here to see the entire draft grades series.
Photo by Fer Flores / Flickr