First, a quick introductory note: As part of our coverage of draft season, I’m going to be writing a series of “re-drafts” by year. I do this for a couple of reasons: One, I’m curious as to how historical evaluations change year-by-year. A redraft of 2005 would have looked quite different in 2007, 2009, and 2011. (Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t have even been on anyone’s radar in 2007!) I wanted some historical record going forward to see how my opinions would change year-to-year. I am interested to see how the balance between career-to-date and projected career going forward changes as each year passes, and to find out where the tipping point is when “career to date” is all that matters. By starting this process now, I can keep going every year and have an accurate understanding of what I was thinking at the time, rather than letting hindsight bias interfere with my analysis.
The other reason I’m doing these mock drafts is that they’re a great way to generate content and discussion during football’s slow season.
I’m starting with 2011 because it’s an obscenely talented draft and those are more fun. Here’s a fun1 question: how many of the players eligible for the 2011 draft, knowing what we know now, would have gone #1 overall in 2013? Without looking it over, I’m going to say “ten”.
I should be clear here: I’m not interested in team/prospect fit so much as I am value added by a player’s career and value as an asset going forward. I am using the original teams picking in these slots, rather than using the results of draft-day trades. A 2011 redraft after the jump..
1 – Fun not guaranteed.
1. Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Sticking with the same pick here simply because of the importance of the quarterback position. If you’re not a believer in that importance or in Cam’s skills, a simple Expected Points Added comparison will settle that:
2. Denver Broncos – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Not much question that when you can get a 24-year-old interior pass rusher playing at a historically great level, you do so.
3. Buffalo Bills – Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Yes, what this implies is that I think Newton’s performance is good and reliable enough to take Watt over him, but Kaepernick’s isn’t. It is easier to think this given that Kaepernick’s peak performance is still not as high as Newton’s has been so far, and that Kaepernick shoulders less of an offensive load and has a better team around him than Newton does.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
It’s a tough call for this next group of prospects. They could go in any order, but Green is that rare receiver who is a passing game all by himself.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
I think Peterson is of a caliber with Green as a prospect. Either one could go #1 in a more typical draft. I believe Peterson is the best cornerback in the game and a dynamite return man to boot. Plus, he’s unusually young for a prospect, as he was not yet 21 when he was drafted.
6. Cleveland Browns – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
A little slow to come on but became a dominant player this year. A game-breaking pass rusher.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford
Needs no explanation after the NFC Championship. I don’t think he’s quite as good as Peterson, plus he’s two years older and doesn’t return kicks.
8. Tennessee Titans – Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
Has become a premier edge rusher already, knocking at the door of the game’s very best.
9. Dallas Cowboys – Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
The best non-J.J. Watt 3-4 end in the league. A tremendous run defender and pass rusher. (And can you imagine how this would have played out in real life, with Rob Ryan still coaching Wilkerson and DeMarcus Ware in a 3-4?)
10. Washington Potatoes – Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Fit doesn’t make sense with Trent Williams on board, but like I said, I’m not too worried about fit for this draft. Smith’s level of performance at the left tackle position through three seasons, combined with his age, make him a killer value.
11. Houston Texans – Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Originally the top interior linemen prospect in this draft. Slides a little here, but his 2013 season proved he’s as good as advertised.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones and the next two players have more game-breaking talent than the few guys ahead of them, but they come with off-field concerns. At least Jones’ only concern is his health.
13. Detroit Lions – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Devastating when healthy. Torn ACL makes it hard to rely on health going forward, and six-game suspension calls into question the definition of “healthy”.
14. St. Louis Rams – Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Superlative pass-rushing talent. Must improve: Drinking, guns. Sounds like Jeff Fisher’s dream player.
15. Miami Dolphins – Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
Somewhat overlooked amidst the many edge rushers from this draft, but Casey has turned into a tremendous interior run defender and pass rusher on perhaps the most invisible team in the league. One of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs of the 2013 season (along with Wilkerson and Lavonte David), especially galling with the number of replacements that had to be selected this year.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky
This all-around dynamo will do a hell of a lot more for an offense than Blaine Gabbert could. As a side note, college statistics aren’t everything, but when a guy completes 60% of his passes and throws for 40 touchdowns in two seasons, in the same high-accuracy offense where undrafted free agent Chase Daniel completed 73% of his passes and threw for 39 touchdowns his senior year, that guy is probably not a top-10 pick.
17. New England Patriots – Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Belichick will love his versatility. Showed what he could really do as both a run defender and pass rusher in Rob Ryan’s defense this year.
18. San Diego Chargers – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Gets overshadowed by Suh and hasn’t put up the big sack numbers, but is still a very disruptive interior penetrator.
19. New York Giants – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
A quality starting left tackle is worth a first-round pick, especially for a team who’s been looking for a long-term solution there for some time.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
A capable #1 WR, if not the destroyer of worlds that a Green or Jones are.
21. Kansas City Chiefs – Cecil Shorts III, WR, Mount Union
Not just a good fit for a one-receiver team, but a guy who has shown some ability to be a #1 wide receiver. If he’s your #2, you have a pretty good situation.
22. Indianapolis Colts – Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue
He hasn’t quite broken through like he was expected to, but 24.5 sacks in three seasons is still a very good return for this pick and a solid expectation going forward.
23. Philadelphia Eagles – Jordan Cameron, TE, USC
A potential game-breaking TE who finally figured the game out in his third season. His lack of production to this point (and the way it leveled off in the second half of the season) prevents him from going higher.
24. New Orleans Saints – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
An unsung interior player who gets forgotten because the rest of his defense has been so bad.
25. Seattle Seahawks – Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State
A similar story to Cameron, except he broke through as a fourth option with Peyton Manning instead of a first/second option with Jabrandian Caweeder.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
Numbers took a dive this year, which is worrisome, but he’s still an above-average pass rusher.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
I know, I know. I don’t have a high opinion of Andy Dalton, but he has still been a passable starter for three years. He’s on the bottom rung of “passable”, but even the value he has over a replacement, at such an important position, warrants placing him here. On fit, this pick makes no sense, but in real life, the 27th pick eventually belonged to Kansas City, where it would, as they were still trying to make a go of it with Matt Cassel.
28. New England Patriots – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
A starting-caliber left tackle, which is rare enough in the NFL to merit a first-round pick. (Pick synergistically fits as well as the Pats missed on Nate Solder in this redraft.)
29. Chicago Bears – Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
Team fit: plugs what at this point is still a terrible offensive line. Pouncey is a Pro Bowl center but opinions of to what degree he deserves that accolade are mixed, in particular with the performance of Miami’s offensive line this season and character concerns regarding the company Pouncey keeps.
30. New York Jets – K.J. Wright, LB, Mississippi St.
He gets overshadowed by other players on Seattle’s defense, but he’s been a very good three-year starter.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina
He’s been a good starter for Dallas through some defensive messes. Could start at 3-4 ILB for them right away, where he’s performed better than he did in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 in Dallas.
32. Green Bay Packers – DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
Again, while drafting a running back in the first round is not an especially wise move, it’s the last pick of the round, and Murray’s going to a team whose RB situation is shaky at best. So they get a talented guy who’s quite injury-prone, but at this point in the draft, the pickings are surprisingly slim.
Other possibilities / Honorable mentions: The ending spots were close to a tie; I had Akeem Ayers, Jimmy Smith, and Charles Clay as the other players I was considering. Behind them, I had Shane Vereen, Orlando Franklin, Prince Amukamara, Rahim Moore, and Adrian Clayborn. Rob Housler is an interesting proposition for a high-risk player with potential to pay off big, but the fact that said potential hasn’t been realized going into the final year of his contract makes him not as valuable a prospect as the others.
Overall, I was surprised to find the talent pool wasn’t as deep as I thought it was. There were still roughly 25 first-round caliber prospects, the same as are usually projected year to year– it just so happens that all of them panned out well (and about 15 of them are among the best young players in the league at their respective positions). I had a real hard time picking those last three– I think there’s a definite dropoff after #14 (and a smaller one after #17), and another definite dropoff at #29. All in all, though, this draft was loaded with talent at the top, and it’s doubly impressive how few teams near the top didn’t miss. (Every non-QB pick up to #18 was redrafted in the first round, and every non-QB pick up to #22 made honorable mention. The success rate drops off significantly after #24, though.) The scouts pretty much nailed it this time (except for the tools-obsessed scouts who loved Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder).
Feel free to leave comments, especially if you have significant (not one or two slots) discrepancies with my list, or you think I missed someone. I’ll try to keep going with these as draft season rolls on; hopefully we have at least ten years of re-drafts by the time this year’s draft comes around.
And as to the question I posed before we started? Having done the exercise now, I think the answer is “fourteen”.