Let's continue with our review of how last year's first round draft picks fared during their rookie campaigns in 2010. Before we get to it, here's the explanation I provided at the outset of the series of posts.
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.
2010 NFL Draft Picks 11-21
11. San Francisco 49ers (from Bears through Broncos) select Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 10 penalties, 70 yards, 11.5 sacks allowed
Notes: San Francisco was disappointing in just about every facet of offense last season. Their quarterbacks were sacked 44 times, and Frank Gore and the running game never really got things going with any consistency. San Francisco should be much better in '11 for having started two rookies (Davis + Iupata) along the offensive line in '10. Credit Davis if nothing else for staying healthy all season, but the Rutgers product most certainly had some significant struggles as a rookie. Continuity along the offensive line doesn't always yield dividends immediately. As Steelers fans we're all too aware of this. But the results will come for San Francisco, perhaps as early as next year.
'10 Performance Grade: C+
12. San Diego Chargers (from Dolphins) select Ryan Matthews, RB, Fresno State
Stats: 12 games, 9 starts, 158 carries, 678 yards, 4.3 yards/carry, 7 TDs; 22 receptions, 145 yards, 6.6 yards/catch
Notes: Matthews was another guy who drew mixed reviews around this time last year. Most everybody thought that San Diego perhaps reached a bit to take Matthews this high in the first round. Injuries proved to be a problem during his rookie season, disappointing fantasy owners everywhere who had hoped he'd flourish in San Diego's high scoring offense. I wonder if his high volume of carries (276) in his final season at Fresno State had anything to do with that. Matthews also was suspect protecting the football. He fumbled five times, losing four. He'll have to shore up if he wants to be a workhorse type back for the Chargers in future years.
'10 Performance Grade: C+
13. Philadelphia Eagles (from 49ers through Broncos) select Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
Stats: 13 games, 6 starts, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 13 tackles
Notes: I don't know, I probably haven't seen enough of the guy to make this claim, but Graham strikes me as somewhat of a poor man's LaMarr Woodley. He's somewhat of a 'tweener in terms of his size and speed, and I'm not sure he's ever going to be that productive in a 4-3 defense. In a 3-4, maybe so, at least if he lost a few pounds. Anyway, Graham missed time with both an ankle injury early in the year, and then a knee injury that forced him to miss the team's final three games and lone playoff contest. The former Michigan standout had his moments, but Eagles fans certainly had hoped for more out of their first round pick.
'10 Performance Grade: C+
14. Seattle Seahawks (from Broncos) select Earl Thomas, S, Texas
Stats:16 games, 16 starts, 5 INTs, 7 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 71 tackles
Notes: The Seahawks maybe didn't quite get what they had hoped for in '10 from Russell Okung, but Earl Thomas more than made up for it. Thomas stormed on to the scene as a rookie with a stellar campaign. His interceptions total very easily could have been 8-10 had he held on to a few easy balls, but his nose for the ball will provide him with ample opportunities in '11 and beyond. Pete Carroll was somewhat conservative with how he deployed Thomas. That's to be expected I suppose considering Thomas was just a junior when he declared for the Draft. As he continues to learn his craft from a mental standpoint, expect to see Thomas freelance quite a bit more, much like one of Carroll's former players, one Troy Polamalu.
'10 Performance Grade: A
15. New York Giants select Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
Stats: 16 games, 0 starts, 4.5 sacks, 6 passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 22 tackles
Notes: Pierre-Paul was another one of the more polarizing prospects in last year's draft. Some considered him to be well worth the gamble because of his freakish athleticism; others, Football Outsiders most notably, thought he had the highest 'bust' potential. The jury is certainly still out after his rookie season, as the South Florida DE had moments where he looked unstoppable, and others where he looked a bit confused about how to harness his physical gifts. Coaching will play an important role in his development, but if he can stay healthy like he did as a rookie, Pierre-Paul will continue the tradition of Giants' defensive ends that can affect a game with their pass-rushing ability.
'10 Performance Grade: B+
16. Tennessee Titans select Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
Stats: 4 games, 0 starts, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass defended, 5 tackles
Notes: Morgan's rookie season ended before it really got started when he suffered a season-ending ACL tear in early October. Morgan was considered a safer bet than either Pierre-Paul or T. Alualu, but it was the Georgia Tech product that wound up being a disappointment in '10. Next season represents a fresh start for him and the entire Titans organization.
'10 Performance Grade: D
17. San Francisco 49ers (from Panthers) select Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 4 penalties, 20 yards, 2.5 sacks allowed
Notes: Many thought Iupati was a great fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who knows exactly what the Steelers thought of Iupati, but both the 49ers and the Steelers wound up drafting guys that look like they'll be mainstays on the offensive line for years to come. Iupati was named to the All-Rookie Team for his solid year.
'10 Performance Grade: A-
18. Pittsburgh Steelers select Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 1 penalty, 7 yards, 3 sacks allowed
Notes: No need to remind you how special Pouncey was as a rookie. Provided he stays healthy, Pouncey almost certainly will cement his status as one of the Steelers' all-time greats along the offensive line, and that's saying something. Pouncey was a 1st Team All-Pro and was named a Pro Bowler in his first professional season.
'10 Performance Grade: A+
19. Atlanta Falcons select Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri
Stats: 11 games, 5 starts, 1 sack, 1 pass defended, 42 tackles
Notes: Weatherspoon got off to a nice start, recording 8, 9, and 7 tackles in his first three games respectively. Over the course of the next 13 games though, Weatherspoon started just twice and added just 18 more tackles to his early-season total. An ankle injury -- one that Weatherspoon was fond of discussing on Twitter to the chagrin of his head coach --- slowed him down significantly, then a knee injury a few weeks later really hindered his ability to contribute. Fortunately for him, the knee injury wasn't serious, but both it and his dinged up ankle really put the breaks on what looked like it was going to be a fantastic rookie year.
'10 Performance Grade: C+
20. Houston Texans select Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 2 INTs, 10 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 71 tackles
Notes: On the one hand, you've got to give Jackson credit for appearing in and starting all 16 games for the Texans. Never easy to do, let alone for a rookie. On the other hand, it's hard to pat him on the back too much when he was a primary player on what turned out to be the league's very worst pass defense. Regardless of how one would asses his rookie season, Jackson will be a better player because of the hardships he and his teammates endured in '10. With a better supporting cast around him -- both in the secondary and in the front-seven where pressure is created -- Jackson could conceivably be plenty solid at CB.
'10 Performance Grade: C+/B-
21. Cincinnati Bengals select Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
Stats: 15 games, 10 starts, 52 receptions, 471 yards, 9.1 yards/catch, 4 TDs
Notes: Gresham was as advertised for the Bengals in '10. A junior out of Oklahoma, Gresham was widely considered the best tight end prospect in last year's draft. He played like it on the field for Cincinnati as a rookie. He missed just one game, the team's season finale against the Ravens. Gresham would catch at least one pass in every game except one -- the Bengals' second loss to the Steelers in December.
'10 Performance Grade: A