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 2017 NFL Draft re-grade goes south, starting with the AFC.
*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.
Picks: QB Deshaun Watson (12th overall), LB Zach Cunningham (57), RB D’Onta Foreman (89), OT Julie’n Davenport (130), DT Carlos Watkins (142), DB Treston Decoud (169), C Kyle Fuller (243)
Best pick: Deshaun Watson
The Texans have won double-digit games both seasons Watson’s played in at least 15 contests. He made the Pro Bowl on both occasions (2018 and 2019). Watson was sacked 106 times in those two seasons, including a league-high 62 times in 2018. His physical and mental toughness are every bit as impressive as his raw talent. No quarterback has led more game-winning drives since the start of the 2018 season than Watson.
Worst pick: D’Onta Foreman
The Texas native and former Texas Longhorn compiled 327 rushing yards in 10 games prior to suffering a torn Achilles while scoring a touchdown. He appeared in one game in 2018 following his recovery from the injury. The Texans released Foreman in Aug. 4, 2019, and the Colts claimed him off waivers the next day. He lasted less than a month with Indianapolis and has not been on an NFL roster since.
Drafting a star quarterback automatically guarantees an A- at the very worst. The addition of Cunningham and his 339 tackles makes this an A. Watson, Cunningham and Davenport have more than 25 starts while the rest of the group has 10 combined. It’s not a spectacular group when Watson is removed from the equation, so an A it is.
Picks: DB Malik Hooker (15), DB Quincy Wilson (46), DE Tarell Basham (80), OT Zach Banner (137), RB Marlon Mack (143), DT Grover Stewart (144), DB Nate Hairston (158), LB Anthony Walker (161)
Best pick: Anthony Walker
Walker became a regular starter in 2018 and has posted 229 tackles over the past two seasons. That’s good for 17th in the NFL and ranks third among players drafted in 2017 over that span. Walker appeared in all but one game in 2018 and started all 16 contests last season. He led the Colts in tackles (124) and solo tackles (84) in 2019 while also contributing an interception and 2.5 sacks.
Worst pick: Quincy Wilson
Wilson still has not been able to establish himself as a consistent contributor three years into his career. He missed three games in his rookie season due to a knee injury and was a healthy scratch for the next seven games. Injuries forced him into the starting lineup at the end of the year and he made another five starts in 2018. Wilson took a step back in 2019, appearing for 150 snaps in nine games. Indianapolis traded him to the Jets for a 6th round pick in this year’s draft.
Wilson, Basham and Banner have a combined 14 starts, but Indianapolis did quite well aside from those three picks. Everyone else has at least 34 appearances and 14 starts. Hooker leads the group with 33 starts and has multiple interceptions every year. Mack came one yard shy of 2,000 over the last two seasons and scored 17 touchdowns in 26 contests. The Colts’ shortcomings in rounds two and three were compensated for by outstanding picks in rounds four and five.
Picks: RB Leonard Fournette (4), OT Cam Robinson (34), DE Dawuane Smoot (68), WR Dede Westbrook (110), LB Blair Brown (148), DB Jalen Myrick (222), FB Marquez Williams (240)
Best pick: Leonard Fournette
The Jaguars didn’t release Fournette due to a lack of production. He touched the ball 341 times last season and produced 1,674 yards of offense (1,152 rushing, 522 receiving). It was the second time in three seasons Fournette surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. Fournette is one of 10 players who can say that. The season he didn’t rush for 1,000 yards was 2018 when injuries and a suspension limited him to eight games. Was Fournette worth taking fourth overall? No. Has he been one of the best running backs in the league since arriving in Jacksonville? Absolutely.
Worst pick: Dawaunae Smoot
Smoot came into last season with 24 tackles and eight quarterback hits in minimal playing time. He saw the field much more often in 2019 and responded with the first six sacks of his career to go with six tackles for loss. His zero career starts stand in stark contrast to the 92 made by the Jaguars’ other three picks in the first four rounds. Smooth played 38% of Jacksonville’s defensive snaps this past season.
Westbrook has a strong case as Jacksonville’s best pick with 1,716 receiving yards in 38 games. The 92 starts by himself, Fournette and Robinson account for all but two of the group’s total. Fournette was by no means a great pick and nobody except Westbrook stands out as a high-value selection. Personal feelings about Fournette may slightly sway the grade one way or another and anywhere in the “B” range would be justifiable.
Picks: WR Corey Davis (5), DB Adoree’ Jackson (18), WR Taywan Taylor (72), TE Jonnu Smith (100), LB Jayon Brown (155), C Corey Levin (217), LB Josh Carraway (227), OT Brad Seaton (236), RB Khalfani Muhammad (241)
Best pick: Jayon Brown
Brown compiled 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks in a reserve role as a rookie. He got nine starts in 2018 while playing in every game for a second straight season. The California native finished the year with 97 tackles and six sacks. In 2019, Brown started all 14 contests he appeared in and recorded 105 tackles. He returned an interception for a touchdown in 2018 and a fumble for a touchdown last season.
Worst pick: Taywan Taylor
Taylor contributed 53 receptions and 697 yards in his two seasons with the Titans. Tennessee dealt him to the Browns on Aug. 31, 2019, for what turned out to be a 2020 seventh-rounder. He did not make a catch in his three appearances last season but did return three kickoffs. Taylor has played in 32 games in his career, starting 10 of them.
Davis led the Titans in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2018 but regressed in 2019 and had his fifth-year option declined. Jackson and Smith are tied for the most starts in the group with 39. Smith set new career highs with 35 receptions and 439 yards last season. The last four picks played in one game combined. Davis has not developed into a No. 1 receiver and the four top-100 picks are collectively underwhelming.
Click here to see the entire draft grades series.
Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons