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 has arrived at the NFC South.
*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.
Picks: DE Takkarist McKinley (26th overall), LB Duke Riley (75), OG Sean Harlow (136), DB Damontae Kazee (149), RB Brian Hill (156), TE Eric Saubert (174)
Best pick: Damontae Kazee
Kazee — who has yet to miss a game — saw more action on special teams than defense in his first season. He became a starter in 2018 and tied for the league lead with seven interceptions while also producing 82 tackles. Kazee recorded another 74 tackles and three interceptions in his 14 starts last season. No player has picked off more passes in the past two years than Kazee.
Worst pick: Duke Riley
Riley compiled 90 tackles and made 16 starts in his first two seasons. All but one of the 80 snaps he played for the Falcons in 2019 came on special teams. Atlanta traded Riley to Philadelphia — where he continued to be used primarily on special teams — four games into the season.
McKinley has 16.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 45 games. Harlow — who has one appearance — nearly edged out Riley as the worst pick. Everyone else has played in at least 29 games. Hill has 517 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. Two impact players from six selections with two in the top 135 is not bad at all.
Picks: RB Christian McCaffrey (8), WR Curtis Samuel (40), OG Taylor Moton (64), DE Daeshon Hall (77), DB Corn Elder (152), FB Alex Armah (192), K Harrison Butker (233)
Best pick: Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey is one of five players with more than 2,800 rushing yards since entering the league in 2017. He is 854 yards behind Ezekiel Elliott, who ranks first with 3,774. Three of the five players with over 2,800 yards rushing have more than 1,000 yards receiving: Elliott, Todd Gurley and McCaffrey. Elliott has 157 receptions for 1,256 yards. Gurley has 154 for 1,575. McCaffrey has caught 303 passes for 2,523 yards. He is also yet to miss a game. Case closed.
Worst pick: Daeshon Hall
Hall got on the field for nine snaps in his one season as a Panther. He was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 6, 2017, and released by the team on Sept. 1, 2018. The 49ers signed Hall to their practice squad and the Texans picked him up less than a month later. Less than a month after that, they released Hall and signed him to their practice squad. The Eagles signed him on Dec. 11, 2018. He tore his ACL in Week 17 last season and was waived with a failed physical designation. Hall has played in 13 games in his career.
McCaffrey is quite simply a franchise-altering talent. There isn’t too much else to get excited about though. Armah’s three starts are the only ones aside from McCaffrey (42), Samuel (27) and Moton (32). Samuel has 1,236 receiving yards and another 278 on the ground. Butker never appeared in a game for the Panthers but is doing just fine in Kansas City. McCaffrey’s “supporting cast” hasn’t shown enough to earn a regular A.
New Orleans Saints
Picks: DB Marshon Lattimore (11), OT Ryan Ramczyk (32), DB Marcus Williams (42), RB Alvin Kamara (67), LB Alex Anzalone (76), DE/LB Trey Hendrickson (103), DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (196)
Best pick: Alvin Kamara
Kamara and fellow NFC South draftee McCaffrey are the only players with more than 2,000 yards both rushing and receiving in the last three years. In 45 games, Kamara has rushed for 2,408 yards, caught 243 passes and scored 37 touchdowns. His 1,330 yards of total offense last season were the fewest of his career to date. No running back besides Kamara has made the Pro Bowl each of the past three seasons.
Worst pick: Alex Anzalone
Anzalone was immediately inserted into the Saints’ starting lineup but landed on injured reserve with a knee injury after four games. He made seven starts in 2018 while playing in every game and recording 59 tackles. New Orleans placed Anzalone on injured reserve with an unspecified injury on Sept. 16, 2019, ending his season with just two appearances. He has played in the fewest games (22) of anyone in the seven-man draft class.
Lattimore is a two-time Pro Bowler, giving New Orleans two players with multiple Pro Bowl appearances in three seasons. Ramczyk has missed one game and earned First Team All-Pro honors in 2019. Williams is second in the group in games played and starts with 46 of both. All seven players have started at least three times and played in more than 20 games. Imagine what this class could look like in three or four years if they continue to perform at a similar level.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Picks: TE O.J. Howard (19), DB Justin Evans (50), WR Chris Godwin (84), LB Kendell Beckwith (107), RB Jeremy McNichols (162), DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (223)
Best pick: Chris Godwin
Even though he missed a game for the first time in his three-year career, Godwin significantly improved his numbers for a second straight season. He nearly matched his production from his first two seasons combined in 2019 with 86 receptions, 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. Godwin ranked third in receiving yards, second in yards per game and sixth in yards per target last season and made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Tom Brady could very well turn Godwin into a household name by the end of the 2020 campaign.
Worst pick: Kendell Beckwith
Beckwith performed well as a rookie, recording 73 tackles and making nine starts. The following offseason, he fractured his ankle when college teammate Lamin Barrow lost control of Beckwith’s car with Beckwith in it and crashed into a gate. He missed all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons recovering from the injury. Tampa Bay waived him with a non-football injury designation on July 28, 2020.
Evans has not seen the field since Dec. 2, 2018, while battling a foot injury but started 21 of the 24 games he’s played in. That leaves Howard and Godwin as the only members of the group with more than 24 appearances. Howard has been decent (1,456 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 38 games) but not spectacular. The Buccaneers drafted four starters with their first four picks and got incredibly unlucky with two of them. Check back in a couple of years to get a better idea of how this class turned out.
Click here to see the entire draft grades series.
Photo by All-Pro Reels / Flickr