A few weeks ago, we cracked some whips with the worst draft decision from each franchise over the past five years. Now it’s time to pat some backs. Below is the best draft decision each franchise has made over the past five years.
Arizona Cardinals: Kicking Josh Rosen to the Curb
If you go back to January of 2019, you would have had to search far and wide to find a mock draft that had the Cardinals picking a quarterback after going Rosen at 10th overall the year prior. The Cardinals' own social media team even sent out the now infamous “Josh is our guy” graphic in February of that year.
Y’all are having fun with speculation, but… pic.twitter.com/dy4NbJ82iB
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) February 12, 2019
Josh wasn’t, in fact, their guy. He hasn’t become anybody else’s guy in the multiple stops he’s bounced to since. Taking the chance on the 5-foot-10 Kyler Murray with the first overall pick of the 2019 draft has reinvigorated the franchise, and Murray has quite easily lived up to top billing in that class.
Heading into the 2016 draft, Dan Quinn needed the horses up the middle to run his Cover 3 defense. With the well-defined box safety role and need for athletic linebackers evident, the Falcons had a decision to make at Pick 17 in 2016.
Darron Lee would be the first linebacker off the board a few picks later and was certainly in consideration for the Falcons, given his athletic profile. Instead, they went Florida safety Keanu Neal and addressed that linebacker need in the second round with Deion Jones. While Neal had his Falcons tenure derailed due to injury, his monster rookie season, which earned an 80.3 coverage grade, almost helped the team get a ring.
Baltimore Ravens: The Fall and Rise of QB Lamar Jackson
While the Ravens were technically one of the teams that passed on him, Jackson’s fall on draft day was the hot topic of conversation until the Ravens lept back up to secure him with the last pick in the first round. The rest is history, with Jackson taking home MVP honors in Year 2.
Buffalo Bills: Believing in Josh Allen’s Tools
There is not really a debate here. What’s lost is that the Bills paid a bit of a hefty price to secure Allen, giving up picks 12, 53 and 56 in that 2018 draft. Fortune favors the bold, as they say.
Carolina Panthers: Second-Round Steals
James Bradberry, Taylor Moton, Jeremy Chinn — those aren’t the kinds of players you find every year in Round 2. And that’s not to mention the solid pieces they added in Curtis Samuel, Yetur Gross-Matos and Donte Jackson, as well. The Panthers have cleaned up in the second round in recent years.
Chicago Bears: Day 3 Contributors
The Bears didn’t have much in the way of early-round draft capital to work with after the Khalil Mack trade. They’ve circumvented that issue by identifying several Day 3 steals over that span.
The most obvious of their Day 3 picks is All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson, who was picked in the fifth round back in 2017, but they also got key contributors like Jordan Howard, Nick Kwiatkoski, Tarik Cohen, Bilal Nichols and Darnell Mooney with what many deem the “throwaway picks” of the draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jessie Bates III at Pick 54 in 2018
The interesting thing about this pick was that it didn’t even qualify as a need at the time. The Bengals had Shawn Williams and George Iloka under contract, with both coming off quality seasons in 2017. But Bates came in, immediately pried that job from Iloka, and has been one of the best safeties in the league ever since.
Cleveland Browns: The Tank
If you’re wondering how the Browns have made several splash trades and signings in recent years, just won their first playoff game in decades and yet still have the 11th-most cap space in the NFL (and could create more with some obvious cuts), look no further than the tank.
The Browns drafted 33 players from 2016-2018. And while their actual ability to identify talent over that span was still Browns-esque, they had more darts to throw at the dartboard than anyone else. It’s netted them multiple franchise cornerstones that are still relatively cheap because of it.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott at Pick 135 in 2016
It doesn’t matter that they may have been much higher on Connor Cook or that they drafted Charles Tapper 34 picks prior. The Cowboys were willing to draft Prescott higher than anyone else was, and he’s been the most consistent quarterback from that 2016 group over his career.
Denver Broncos: Justin Simmons at Pick 98 in 2016
The list of the safeties who came off the board before Simmons is an incredible mix:
That’s seven guys, with Byard being the only one who can hold a candle to Simmons in terms of career production. The Broncos safety has earned coverage grades of 91.1 and 79.0 over the past two seasons, respectively.
Detroit Lions: Kenny Golladay at Pick 96 in 2017
There’s not a lot for Detroit to hang their hat on over the past five drafts. After writing about how their dismissal of positional value was their downfall for much of that stretch, it’s not a coincidence that Golladay, who was taken semi-early in the draft and plays a valuable position, is now easily their most valuable asset. Funny how that works. Three receivers from the 2017 draft were selected in the top 10, and Golladay has outperformed all of them.
Green Bay Packers: The 2018 First-Round Fleecing
The Packers' trade with the Saints to acquire a 2019 first-round pick was ultimately what kickstarted the defensive turnaround that has taken place over the last two seasons.
They ultimately jumped back up to grab Jaire Alexander, who finished as PFF’s highest-graded corner in 2020. And that 2019 first-rounder would become safety Darnell Savage, who finished as PFF’s ninth-highest-graded safety in 2020.
Houston Texans: The Deshaun Watson Trade
This is where the good decisions begin and end for Houston. Sadly, the Texans haven’t been able to take advantage of having a young, cheap quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts: The Trade-Backs
The Colts have selected 46 players over the past five years. They’ve not been anything great in terms of hit rate, but that complete overhaul of the roster with young, cheap talent has afforded them the ability to make plays for DeForest Buckner and Carson Wentz while still holding the fourth-most cap space in the NFL.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The 2016 NFL draft
A Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue 1-2-3 in the draft is the definition of a franchise-changer. Unfortunately, that change lasted only a year. The Jags faltered in free agency and their roster crumbled in subsequent drafts.
Kansas City Chiefs: An Unprecedented Play for Patrick Mahomes
It’s easy to forget that the Chiefs went 12-4 the year before drafting Patrick Mahomes. Alex Smith was widely considered a “quality enough” starting quarterback, and the move to get Mahomes was panned by some. Now, it will go down as one of the greatest moves in NFL history.
Las Vegas Raiders: Stopping the Maurice Hurst Slide at Pick 140 in 2018
The Raiders don’t have many home runs on their resume, but getting one of the league’s better interior rushers at No. 140 overall certainly qualifies as one of them. Hurst ranks 21st among his peers in pass-rushing grade over the past two seasons.
Los Angeles Chargers: Standing pat for Justin Herbert in 2020
They could have moved up to make sure they landed their QB of the future, but they ultimately didn’t have to pay an extra dime to get their guy. Herbert immediately turned the Chargers’ offense into an explosive unit, ranking sixth among signal-callers with 953 yards on deep passes.
Los Angeles Rams: Building a secondary overnight
In the span of months, the Rams went from Trumaine Johnson and Kayvon Webster starting at cornerback to Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. And all it took was a second, fourth and fifth-round pick to get it done. It was a series of moves that almost netted them a Lombardi Trophy, as the defense actually held up its end of the bargain in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Miami Dolphins: The Gas Mask Bong
The Dolphins were willing to stop Laremy Tunsil’s slide at 13th overall in 2016 and have been reaping the benefits ever since. He was not only a quality starting left tackle for the Dolphins for two seasons, but he also netted the team the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft after they traded him to the Texans in 2019. That’s about as slam-dunk a pick as you’ll see outside the quarterback position.
Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson at Pick 22 in 2020
Trading away a talent like Stefon Diggs only to find a cheaper replacement with comparable skill immediately is about as big a “W” as you can get in a pick-trade scenario. Jefferson was the second-highest-graded receiver in the NFL as a rookie.
New England Patriots: Offensive Line Scouting
Joe Thuney, Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu — the Pats have added some serious talent to their offensive line over the past five drafts, and they have only invested one first-round or second-round pick in the position. That’s how you build an offensive line.
New Orleans Saints: The 2017 NFL Draft
The crown jewel of the modern draft era. The Saints' 2017 draft was an absolute masterclass in scouting. Let’s look on in awe one more time before it more than likely falls apart this offseason:
- CB Marshon Lattimore
- T Ryan Ramczyk
- S Marcus Williams
- RB Alvin Kamara
- LB Alex Anzalone
- EDGE Trey Hendrickson
- EDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad
The crazy thing is, even the one player who didn’t stick and get playing time for the Saints, Al-Quadin Muhammad, has played over 1,500 snaps for the Colts over the past three seasons.
New York Giants: Defensive Tackle Scouting
Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, Dexter Lawrence — the Giants know a good all-around defensive tackle when they see one. The problem is that it’s not a particularly valuable position to continually knock out of the park.
New York Jets: Maximizing Jamal Adams’ Value
Getting two first-round picks in return for a player who was essentially a box safety was an incredible return. Studs like DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs and DeForest Buckner were all traded last offseason, and neither netted a comparable haul.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Big Play for Carson Wentz
Even though they didn’t technically win the Super Bowl with Wentz, it’s difficult to imagine them winning it all without him getting them to 10-2 before going down with a knee injury. He earned a career-high 84.9 overall grade that season before tearing his ACL.
Even though he’s not been the same since, Wentz still netted the Eagles a third and what could be a first next year. Quarterback value is undefeated.
Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt at Pick 30 in 2017
The 2017 edge class was very similar to the 2021 class in that rankings were all over the map. But it was kind of reversed in that it had a ton of very productive guys but a lot of middling athletes. Derek Barnett, Charles Harris and Taco Charlton all fell into that bucket and went before Watt. Watt, however, had sneaky good production with a 91.0 pass-rushing grade in 2016 and was an exceptional all-around athlete.
San Francisco 49ers: George Kittle at Pick 146 in 2017
This is a pick that’s so much of an outlier it has to earn this distinction. With 4.52 speed and an 11-foot broad jump, Kittle really should never have gotten to Pick 146 in the first place. That’s the type of explosiveness it takes to be a difference-maker at the position.
Seattle Seahawks: D.K. Metcalf at Pick 64 in 2019
The Metcalf fall will always be a head-scratcher. His tape was that of a lab-created deep threat. With almost 35-inch arms, 4.33 speed and a 40.5-inch vertical at 228 pounds, Metcalf had every trait imaginable to get it done. And that’s precisely what we’ve seen in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Commitment to the Secondary
While the Tristan Wirfs pick may have been more impactful, it’s difficult to call that their best decision. Everyone and their mother would have drafted Wirfs there with how the tackle class fell if they were in the Bucs' shoes.
Tennessee Titans: The 2019 NFL Draft
Jeffery Simmons, A.J. Brown, Nate Davis, Amani Hooker and David Long — 2019 was a foundation-laying draft for the Titans. It’s why they went to the AFC title game that year and won the AFC South this season. They’ll be well-positioned for the foreseeable future because of it.
Washington Football Team: Terry McLaurin at Pick 76 in 2019
While the investment in their defensive line has been admirable and has led them to the playoffs, some of those picks came at the expense of more impactful players (Daron Payne over Derwin James/Jaire Alexander comes to mind). However, McLaurin has been about as good a third-round receiver as you’ll ever see. He’s no one-trick pony, either — he’s an all-around No. 1 guy.