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 AFC South begins the second half of the 2016 NFL Draft re-grade.
*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.
Picks: WR Will Fuller (21st overall), C Nick Martin (50), WR Braxton Miller (85), RB Tyler Ervin (119), DB K.J. Dillon (159), DT D.J. Reader (166)
Best pick: D.J. Reader
Reader — who leads the group in appearances (61) and starts (52) — served as a rotational piece alongside Vince Wilfork for one season and then replaced him after he retired. The former Clemson Tiger started 14 games in 2017, 16 in 2018 and 15 in 2019. He set new career-highs with 2.5 sacks and 52 tackles last year, earning a spot on Pro Football Focus’ second team. Reader inked a four-year, $53 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals in April.
Worst pick: Braxton Miller
Miller played quarterback for three seasons at Ohio State before injuring his shoulder and moving to wide receiver for his final season in Columbus. He caught 34 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns in 21 games for the Texans from 2016 to 2017. Houston waived him during final roster cuts in 2018 and the Eagles signed him to their practice squad nine days later. Miller was waived by the Eagles and Browns in August 2019 before a brief stint on the Panthers’ practice squad in late October.
Fuller’s been productive when healthy but has only played in more than 11 games once in four seasons. Martin missed 2016 due to an ankle injury and has started 46 of a possible 48 games since. He was on the field for every one of Houston’s offensive snaps in 2018. Ervin has six rushing attempts and 16 receptions in 35 games. The fact that Reader is the lone member of the group to reach the 50-game mark keeps this at a B for now, though it could look significantly better in a couple of years.
Picks: C Ryan Kelly (18), DB T.J. Green (57), OT Le’Raven Clark (82), DT Hassan Ridgeway (116), LB Antonio Morrison (125), OT Joe Haeg (155), LB Trevor Bates (239), C/OG Austin Blythe (248)
Best pick: Ryan Kelly
Kelly immediately became the Colts’ starting center and was on the field for 1,020 offensive snaps as a rookie. Injuries restricted him to seven games in 2017 and 12 in 2018. He started all 16 contests for the second time in his career last season and was invited to the Pro Bowl for the first time. Kelly’s 51 starts are 16 more than anyone else Indianapolis drafted.
Worst pick: T.J. Green
Green got 11 starts in two seasons as a backup safety for the Colts, registering 86 tackles and appearing in 31 games. Indianapolis let him go after two seasons and he signed with the Seahawks on Oct. 3, 2018. On Oct. 22, he was placed on the exempt list after leaving the team with the intention of retiring. Green ultimately changed his mind and signed with the Saints on July 25, 2019. He was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster and played in one game before getting waived. The Panthers claimed him off waivers the same day. Green has played in 33 games in his career.
Green, Clark and Ridgeway have started a total of 35 times, an underwhelming return for a team’s second, third and fourth picks. Aside from Kelly, Haeg and Blythe have been the most successful members of this class. Haeg started 29 times in his first two seasons and has been a backup since. The Colts waived Blythe — who has since become a starter for the Rams — after one year. Everyone except Bates has played in more than 30 games yet only Kelly has more than 35 starts.
Picks: DB Jalen Ramsey (5), LB Myles Jack (36), DE Yannick Ngakoue (69), DT Sheldon Day (103), LB Tyrone Holmes (181), QB Brandon Allen (201), DE Jonathan Woodard (226)
Best pick: Jalen Ramsey
Ngakoue makes this interesting, but Ramsey’s been a Pro Bowler every year except his rookie season. Ngakoue’s lone Pro Bowl appearance came in 2017, the same season Ramsey was named a First Team All-Pro. In four years, he has 10 interceptions, three forced fumbles and 243 tackles. There is a reason it took two first round picks for the Rams to get Ramsey from Jacksonville even though everyone knew he wanted out.
Worst pick: Tyrone Holmes
It’s a tough break for Holmes, who’s played in 15 games while the four guys the Jaguars took before him have between 56 and 63 appearances. He didn’t make the team out of training camp and was picked up by the Browns. All 15 of his appearances came with Cleveland, who waived him on Dec. 13, 2017. Holmes has bounced around practice squads since then, save for a stint with the San Antonio Commanders in the Alliance of American Football. He was not on a roster last season.
Ngakoue’s numbers are rather remarkable: 37.5 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and two interceptions while missing one game in four seasons. He is one of three players with 35+ sacks and 14+ forced fumbles since 2016. Jack recorded 197 tackles in a two-year stretch from 2017 to 2018. Allen has been employed by four different teams. Jacksonville’s first three picks were great and the rest weren’t too shabby either.
Picks: OT Jack Conklin (8), DE/LB Kevin Dodd (33), DT Austin Johnson (43), RB Derrick Henry (45), DB Kevin Byard (64), WR Tajae Sharp (140), DB LeShaun Sims (157), OG Sebastian Tretola (193), LB Aaron Wallace (222), DB Kalan Reed (253)
Best pick: Kevin Byard
By the time Henry produced a 1,000-yard season, Byard had tied for the league lead in interceptions and been named a First Team All-Pro. He became a full-time starter in 2017 and has not missed a game since, playing every defensive snap in 2017 and 2018. Pro Football Focus had Byard on its first team in 2017 and its second team in 2018. The five-year, $70.5 million extension prior to the 2019 season only reinforces his place among the best safeties in the NFL.
Worst pick: Kevin Dodd
Dodd made one start as a rookie and appeared in 18 games in two seasons with the Titans. He was waived in July 2018 after he failed to report to training camp when he was supposed to. That was the end of Dodd’s NFL career.
Not many teams can claim to draft three future Pro Bowlers among the best players in the league at their positions. Together, Conklin, Byard and Henry’s contracts are worth an average of $13.5 million a year. Johnson made nine starts in 2018 and Sharpe is eight catches away from 100 for his career. The gap between the top three guys and the rest of the group is massive, but that’s more of a compliment than a criticism.
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Photo by Chipermc / Wikimedia Commons