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.
Stop six on the 2016 NFL Draft re-grade is the NFC South.
*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.
Picks: DB Keanu Neal (17th overall), LB Deion Jones (52), TE Austin Hooper (81), LB De’Vondre Campbell (115), OG Wes Schweitzer (195), WR Devin Fuller (238)
Best pick: Deion Jones
Did you know Jones is tied with Marcus Peters for the most pick-sixes (4) since he entered the league? His best season came in 2017, when he picked off three interceptions and recorded 138 tackles en route to the Pro Bowl. Jones is one of 13 players with over 400 tackles in the last four seasons. The numbers would be even better had he not missed 10 games in 2018 with a foot injury.
Worst pick: Keanu Neal
This is almost certainly the only time a Pro Bowler will end up as a team’s worst pick solely for performance reasons. Neal registered 222 tackles and made 30 starts in his first two seasons, receiving an invite to the Pro Bowl in 2017. He has played in four games since then thanks to a torn ACL in the 2018 season opener and a torn Achilles in Week 3 last year. Everyone Atlanta took in rounds two through six has at least 12 more appearances than Neal. He is here for no other reason than awful luck.
Half the Falcons’ picks have made a Pro Bowl. Campbell has produced at least 92 tackles each of the last three seasons. Schweitzer has 36 starts. Those are the fourth and fifth most productive players Atlanta selected. The fact Neal wound up as the worst pick tells you all you need to know.
Picks: DT Vernon Butler (30), DB James Bradberry (62), DB Daryl Worley (77), DB Zack Sanchez (141), TE Beau Sandland (252)
Best pick: James Bradberry
Three of the four games Bradberry has been absent from came in his rookie season. He has started all 60 games he’s played in and was on the field for every defensive snap in 2018. Four years into his career, Bradberry is averaging two interceptions, 12 passes defended and 70 tackles per season. The Giants thought enough of him to offer a three-year, $45 million deal this offseason, making Bradberry the sixth-highest cornerback in terms of average salary.
Worst pick: Zack Sanchez
Sanchez started his career on the Panthers’ practice squad before getting promoted to the active roster and playing in five games. He ended his rookie season on injured reserve with a groin injury and never played in an NFL game again. Sanchez re-joined Carolina’s practice squad in 2017 and was waived for good on May 14, 2018. The Fort Worth native played for the San Antonio Commanders in the Alliance of American Football and signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League in March.
Butler would’ve been the worst pick were it not for his six sacks and nine starts last season. He had two sacks and zero starts in his first three years. Butler, Bradberry and Worley all have more than 50 appearances in their career. Sanchez had five and Sandland had none. That’s 40% of the draft class not on active rosters by year two. Another pick or two could’ve significantly altered this grade one way or the other.
New Orleans Saints
Picks: DT Sheldon Rankins (12), WR Michael Thomas (47), DB Von Bell (61), DT David Onyemata (120), RB Daniel Lasco (237)
Best pick: Michael Thomas
Not only is Thomas a two-time First Team All Pro with 77 more receptions than any other player in the past four seasons, but he has also missed just one game in his career. In four years, he has produced three seasons with more than 100 catches and over 1,100 receiving yards four times. His receptions and yards have increased all four years, culminating in his 149-catch, 1,725-yard campaign in 2019. Thomas isn’t lying when he says you Can’t Guard Mike.
Worst pick: Sheldon Rankins
Much like Neal, Rankins is not here through any real fault of his own. He registered four sacks in the nine games he was healthy for in 2016. Then came a two-year stretch where Rankins started every game and contributed 10 sacks along with 66 tackles. He tore his Achilles in the 2018 playoffs and missed time with an ankle injury in 2019. As a result, Rankins is fourth in appearances (51) and third in starts (32) in a five-man draft class.
Thomas is the best receiver in football at the moment, Rankins is a very good player when healthy, Bell has started 45 of the 61 games he’s played in and Onyemata leads the group with 63 appearances. That’s everyone New Orleans drafted except for Lasco, who played in 10 games as a seventh round pick. Needless to say, the Saints did quite well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Picks: DB Vernon Hargreaves III (11), DE Noah Spence (39), K Roberto Aguayo (59), DB Ryan Smith (108), OT Caleb Benenoch (148), LB Devante Bond (183), FB Danny Vitale (197)
Best pick: Vernon Hargreaves III
Hargreaves is here because of the massive statistical advantage he has over his fellow Buccaneers draftees. He and Benenoch are the only ones with more than 16 starts, and 16 of Benenoch’s 22 came in the same season. Despite battling injuries, Hargreaves has started at least half his team’s games and recorded at least 40 tackles in three of his four years as a pro. He is closer to the worst pick than the best in most situations but here we are.
Worst pick: Roberto Aguayo
Aguayo was the first kicker taken in the second round since 2005. He went 22-of-31 on field goals in his first season, the worst mark of any kicker with more than two attempts. He was beat out by Nick Folk the following year and released by Tampa Bay. Aguayo was a perfect 9-for-9 on field goals and extra points for the Chargers in the preseason but lost the job to Caleb Sturgis. The last time he kicked in a game was 2016.
Hargreaves is the only member of the group to start on a consistent basis and Tampa Bay waived him midway through 2019. The Aguayo pick was a disaster and Spence has six starts in four seasons. It felt unfair to give a draft class where six out of seven players have at least 32 appearances a D of any kind, so a C- it is.
Click here to see the entire draft grades series.
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