Every NFL fan knows that you can't really 'grade' an NFL team's Draft class until two or three years have passed. Certain players need time to develop physically and/or mentally before the light comes on; others simply need to wait their turn to see the field; and others still might look to be the real deal early on only to fizzle out after a semi-productive debut.
Perhaps most importantly though, teams draft with more than just the upcoming year in mind. General managers know who's scheduled to be free agents in two or three years time, who might be approaching the twilight of their career, which positions might make sense to try to find a cheaper alternative at for financial purposes, etc. All these factors (and countless others) go into a team's draft day decisions. And all take more than a single calendar year to unfold.
Even though you'll never hear me write off a rookie as a 'bust' before at least three years have passed, I'm perfectly comfortable evaluating rookies' performances. That's especially true with first round picks, who more often than not see plenty of playing time in their first year.
To be clear, the grades that follow aren't my subjective evaluation of what I thought of the pick. For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars' selected Tyson Alualu with the tenth overall pick last year. I didn't like the pick and still don't. As you'll see however, I don't assign him a shoddy grade because of preconceived notions about the pick. Bottom lins is the young man was sufficiently productive as a rookie.
Of course assigning grades like this is entirely subjective. But basically, my grading scale is as follows: A=Exceptionally productive; B= Sufficiently productive; C= Somewhat disappointing; D=Very disappointing
A guy like Alualu who I graded as a B, would need to do more in his second year to merit a similar grade, but in year No. 1, he was sufficiently productive, even for a guy taken as high as he was. So basically, the fact that they were rookies is accounted for when evaluating their contributions.
Anyway, it's just one man's opinion on the matter, so if you disagree, chime on in with your own thoughts. Let's get to picks 1-10 from last year's first round crop and see how they fared under the bright lights of the NFL in 2010. (Many thanks to seton hall steelers for his help compiling some of the research for these first ten picks).
2010 NFL Draft Picks 1-10
1. St. Louis Rams select Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
Stats: 354-of-590 (60%), 3512 yards, 18TDs, 15 INTs, 76.5 rating,
Notes: After a prolonged stretch of futility, the Rams have reason to believe again. New head coach Steve Spagnuola has instilled a winning program, and Bradford more than looks like the real deal as a franchise quarterback. Bradford endured a few growing pains as a rookie, but generally speaking, he was outstanding as a decision maker, distributor, and leader. Bradford's yards per attempt (6.0) were very low, but outside of that one (significant) statistical category, he did just fine. For his fine efforts, the Oklahoma product was named the 2010 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
'10 Performance Grade: A
2. Detroit Lions select Ndamakong Suh, DT, Nebraska
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 66 tackles, 10.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 passes defended
Notes: Ndamakong Suh entered the league with the loftiest of expectations, yet somehow the Nebraska grad managed to exceed even the most lofty of hopes for the soft-spoken menace in the middle. Suh did a little bit of everything for Detroit -- he rushed the passer consistently, was solid in run support, and even dropped back into coverage on occassion from his defensive tackle position. This is one versatile dude that you can really build your defense around. Suh was named a 1st Team All Pro and 2010 Pro Bowler as a rookie, and you can count on him garnering those individual honors for years to come.
'10 Performance Grade: A+
3. Tampa Bay Bucaneers select Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
Stats: 13 games, 13 starts, 3 sacks, 28 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defended
Notes: McCoy maybe wasn't the disruptive monster that some Bucs fans had hoped to see as early as his rookie year, but the former Oklahoma Sooners DT had a plenty promising year in 2010. A torn biceps injury sustained in December caused him to miss the team's final three games, but he's expected to be healed and ready to go for '11. As he develops next year and beyond, the Buccaneers rush defense should improve significantly.
'10 Performance Grade: B+
4. Washington Redskins select Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
Stats: 14 games, 13 starts, 6 penalties, 45 yards, 11.5 sacks allowed
Notes: The third OU Sooner taken in the first five picks of last year's draft, Williams was also thrown into the fire early and often as a rookie. The Redskins offensive line was more or less a mess last season, and Williams had the not so fun task of replacing long-time veteran and fan-favorite Chris Samuels at LT. Williams should be just fine moving forward, and though it most have been personally frustrating for him to struggle more often than he dominated, he'll be better off in '11 and beyond because of it.
'10 Performance Grade: B-
5. Kansas City Chiefs select Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 4 INTs, 1 TD, 2 sacks, 10 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 87 tackles
Notes: Widely considered the best pure safety in the draft and one of the more intriguing prospects in quite some time in terms of his complete package of size, speed and ball skills, Berry didn't disappoint in year one with the Chiefs. He helped the Chiefs shore up their defense considerably from the previous year, and his presence I believe really helped the Chiefs cornerbacks. Berry was named to the Pro Bowl for his fine season.
'10 Performance Grade: A
6. Seattle Seahawks select Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
Stats: 10 games, 10 starts, 3 penalties, 14 yards
Notes: Okung missed six of Seattle's first nine games with high sprains on both ankles. Ouch. He did however recover in time to play in the final seven games of the year, as well as both playoff games. Seattle is still wholly confident that the former Oklahoma State tackle will pay big dividends for years to come, but it wasn't quite the debut campaign that Okung had hoped for.
'10 Performance Grade: C+
7. Cleveland Browns select Joe Haden, CB, Florida
Stats: 16 games, 7 starts, 1 sack, 6 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 57 tackles
Notes:: Haden proved why he was the highest cornerback taken in last April's draft, picking off six passes during his rookie season. Any argument that Haden was more deserving than Suh for Rookie of the Year honors is absurd, but that doesn't diminish the undeniably impressive first year for the former Florida Gator. Haden's next challenge is getting better in run support and finding a way to continue being a playmaker without exposing himself or his defense to big plays.
'10 Performance Grade: A-
8. Oakland Raiders select Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
Stats: 15 games, 15 starts, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT, 6 passes defended, 85 tackles
Notes: There were plenty of folks who thought McClain was a can't miss LB prospect at this time last year; there were plenty others who thought he was a bit overated and not deserving of a high first-round draft pick. Well, too early to say how productive McClain will be over the long haul, but it looks like those who were a bit skeptical of his athletic ability were well-founded in their criticism. McClain had a plenty solid rookie year, but middle linebackers that high are typically expected to be difference makers, not complimentary assets. Think Patrick Willis. In McClain's defense, his football IQ is off the charts, and it's not as easy to measure what impact his intelligence and leadership might have brought to a Raiders defense that was improved in '10.
'10 Performance Grade: B
9. Buffalo Bills select C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
Stats: 14 games, 1 start, 74 carries, 283 yards, 3.8 yards/carry, 0 TDs; 24 receptions, 157 yards, 6.5 yards/catch, 1 TD; 44 kickoff returns, 23.0 yards/return, 1 TD
Notes: With Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch already on the roster, quite a few folks were surprised to see the Buffalo Bills select Spiller with their top-ten pick in last year's draft. Lynch, of course, was shipped out of town, but Spiller never gave his coaches any reason to start him over the versatile Jackson. Spiller contributed as a rookie, and in his defense, it's not easy to establish your rhythm as a 'back when you're getting so few carries. But with his limited touches, Spiller didn't really live up to his first round billing. There's time for Spiller though to leave his mark on this league, it just didn't quite happen in '10.
'10 Performance Grade: C+
10. Jacksonville Jasguars select Tyson Alualu, DE, California
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 3.5 sacks, 35 tackles
Notes: Is it me or has Jacksonville been obsessed with finding long, athletic DEs in the draft in recent years? Not very wise if you ask me, as sheer athleticism doesn't necessarily translate to productivity at the NFL level, at least not in the trenches where you better be durable, mentally tough, and strong as hell. Speed ain't nearly enough. Give credit to Alualu, a guy most thought was undeserving of being selected so high, for hanging tough and staying healthy for all 16 games last year. He may not have totally silenced his critics, of which there are plenty. but the former Cal DE did what top ten picks are supposed to do -- stay healthy, make a few plays while learning the ropes, and give their team reason to believe that the best is yet to come. I personally don't think Alualu will ever come close to living up to his top-ten status, but regardless of what happens in the future, you can't knock him for the work he did as a rookie on Jacksonville's young defense.
'10 Performance Grade: B