As they say, hindsight is 20/20. In addressing each NFL team's biggest recent draft mistakes, I'm not claiming that I would have done things differently or better had I been handed the keys to each franchise. That being said, it’s still worth analyzing mistakes to learn from them in the future. To all the masochistic NFL fans out there, enjoy.
JUMP TO A TEAM:
ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL
DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE
NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
Burning a top-10 pick on Josh Rosen
The Steve Keim era in Arizona has a number of mistakes to pick from, but Rosen’s epic flameout in the NFL is chiefly among them. As much as it was a smart decision for Arizona to cut bait when they did on Rosen for a second-rounder, using a top-10 pick on a player who peaked with a 49.1 overall grade in the NFL is as bad as one can swing and miss.
Missing the boat on Matt Ryan’s trade value
This one is a little more nuanced. If you’re not a fan of the Falcons or an NFL South rival, it may surprise you to know that Atlanta has been below .500 for the entire span covered by this article — five straight years of mediocrity or worse. They refused to hit a hard reset after going 4-12 in 2020 and, in turn, held on to Matt Ryan past his usefulness in the trade market.
With Carson Wentz returning a first-rounder in the same span, surely the former MVP who was only 35 years old after a rough 2020 season could have fetched the Falcons a pretty penny in a rebuild. Instead, they got back only a third-rounder for the face of their franchise for the past decade (less than they traded away for the next player on this list) and are still in quarterback limbo.
Drafting Hayden Hurst over Lamar Jackson
The Ravens aren’t alone in passing on Lamar Jackson, as 31 picks went by before the MVP quarterback was selected, but it’s always been comical that one of those 31 was from the Ravens themselves. Hayden Hurst played all of 790 snaps in two seasons for Baltimore before he was shipped away. Kudos to the Ravens, though, as they didn’t compound the mistake when Hurst couldn’t take snaps away from Mark Andrews, and the Ravens got a second-rounder in return.
Trading Wyatt Teller for pennies
The Bills' interior offensive line has been a revolving door ever since Josh Allen took over at quarterback. Little did Buffalo know, one of their fifth-round selections in the same year would turn into one of the NFL's best guards. After earning a 60.2 overall grade on 476 snaps as a rookie, Teller was given away in a pick swap for some reason, with the Bills getting 2020 fifth- and sixth-round selections and giving the Browns back a 2021 seventh-rounder. Teller has since been named a PFF All-Pro right guard (2020) and outplayed anyone Buffalo has since employed at the position.
Looking for a quarterback in all the wrong places
It’s not as if the Panthers haven’t spent money at the quarterback position, but they have never done enough to truly secure their franchise guy. Over the past five drafts, Carolina has spent the following on the position:
- 2018 3rd (Will Grier)
- 2021 6th (Sam Darnold)
- 2022 2nd (Sam Darnold)
- 2022 3rd (Matt Corral)
- 2022 4th (Sam Darnold)
- 2024 5th (Baker Mayfield)
While the approach of throwing as many darts as one can at the proverbial quarterback dartboard is respectable, the Panthers were in striking distance for both the 2020 and 2021 quarterback classes and failed to pull the trigger on either. We’ll see if they change their approach with their fourth straight top-10 pick.
Throwing away picks
Between the Khalil Mack trade, the Mitchell Trubisky trade-up, the Anthony Miller trade-up, the David Montgomery trade-up, the Justin Fields trade-up and the Teven Jenkins trade-up, a lot of draft capital was shipped out of Halas Hall for lone players over Ryan Pace's tenure as general manager. Because of that, the Bears had only two first-rounders over the past five years and just 11 top-100 picks. That’s going to erode a franchise in the long run, as we’ve seen.
Drafting Billy Price
Most teams' decisions are a little more nuanced, but this one is self-explanatory. Price was the 21st pick in 2018 but never earned higher than a 55.6 overall grade in his three seasons with the Bengals before the Giants inexplicably gave the Bengals B.J. Hill in return for Price’s services.
Failing to find value in the third round
It's a touch too early to decide whether trading three first-round picks for Deshaun Watson was a team-building folly, but that one is trending toward making this list. What we know already was a massive problem for Cleveland over the past five years was their complete inability to find even passable NFL players at the backend of Day 2. Their list of third-rounders since 2018 is a tough pill to swallow:
- DE Chad Thomas (2018)
- LB Sione Takitaki (2019)
- DT Jordan Elliott (2020)
- LB Jacob Phillips (2020)
- WR Anthony Schwartz (2021)
- CB Martin Emerson (2022)
- DE Alex Wright (2022)
- WR David Bell (2022)
That’s eight top-100 picks among which the lone serviceable starter is Martin Emerson. Cleveland has glaring roster holes because of it.
Relying too heavily on Rod Marinelli’s scheme
The Cowboys have been tremendous at identifying talent over this span, meaning their biggest mistake wasn’t necessarily talent evaluation but, rather, draft approach. They drafted scheme-specific defenders with premium picks for Marinelli's system.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (2018 first-rounder) and defensive tackle Trysten Hill (2019 second-rounder) were Marinelli-specific players. Vander Esch was a jumbo linebacker who could roam to the deep middle in Tampa-2, and Hill was a three-technique who could penetrate. Those are two picks the Cowboys wish they’d had a re-do on.
The Russell Wilson trade
Unless things drastically change, giving up two first-rounders, two second-rounders, a fifth-rounder, Drew Lock, Shelby Harris and Noah Fant for Wilson and a fourth-rounder will go down as an all-time bad use of draft capital.
Disregard for positional value in the Bob Quinn era
From 2018-2020, the Lions had six top-50 picks. This is how they utilized them:
- C Frank Ragnow (Pick 20, 2018)
- RB Kerryon Johnson (Pick 43, 2018)
- TE T.J. Hockenson (Pick 8, 2019)
- LB Jahlani Tavai (Pick 43, 2019)
- CB Jeffrey Okudah (Pick 3, 2020)
- RB D’Andre Swift (Pick 35, 2020)
For those scoring at home, the Lions used five of those six picks on the four lowest-paid positions in the NFL. The only way it could have been worse is if they drafted a kicker. And even the pick of a cornerback in 2020 was debatable given Matthew Stafford had one foot out the door with Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert still on the board.
Green Bay Packers
Their backup-laden 2020 NFL Draft
The Packers started off the Matt LaFleur era with a bang. They went 13-3 in his first year as head coach with a loss in the NFC championship game and turned around Aaron Rodgers from the downward trajectory of the end of the Mike McCarthy era. With a roster that looked only a few pieces away, the Packers' front office obviously saw things differently. They drafted three straight backups with their first three picks (QB Jordan Love, RB A.J. Dillon and TE Josiah Deguara). Lo and behold, they finished with the exact same record and lost at the exact same point in the playoffs the next season. All three picks have remained backups to this day.
Turning the keys over to Bill O’Brien
The Texans gave O’Brien general manager control in the summer of 2019, and he reacted like a kid in a candy store. Here’s a highlight reel:
- Traded a 2020 third-rounder for Browns RB Duke Johnson Jr.
- Traded Jadeveon Clowney to Seahawks for a 2020 third-rounder
- Traded a 2020 first, 2021 first, 2021 second and CB Johnson Bademosi to Dolphins for LT Laremy Tunsil and a 2020 fourth
- Traded a 2020 third-rounder from Clowney trade for CB Gareon Conley
- Traded DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth for RB David Johnson, a 2020 second and a 2021 fourth
- Traded a 2020 second for WR Brandin Cooks
Oh, and that was all in the span of one year. Needless to say, Deshaun Watson was not a fan of the team's direction, and neither were the fans. They won only four games that next season, O’Brien was fired and the Texans are still trying to pick up the pieces.
The Carson Wentz trade
The Colts shipped away a first-round pick for a one-year quarterback rental only to finish with a worse record than they did the year prior and miss the playoffs. Hopefully, they’ll finally go younger at the position.
Their 2020 NFL Draft
It's hard to say what the Jaguars were scouting when everyone was locked at home at the start of the pandemic, but they didn’t do all their homework on their top three picks, apparently. They drafted C.J. Henderson (9th), K’Lavon Chaisson (20th) and Laviska Shenault Jr. (42nd) with premium picks. Henderson and Shenault have been shipped out of town, while Chaisson has already been replaced (120 snaps last season).
Kansas City Chiefs
Misusing the luxury pick
It’s often a school of thought that having a complete roster all of a sudden makes drafting a running back in the first round a good value proposition. General manager Brett Veach learned the hard way that that’s not the case. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was supposed to be the cherry on top of an already Super Bowl-winning team. This year, he was a healthy scratch as the Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi.
Las Vegas Raiders
The spoils of the Khalil Mack trade
This was obviously re-hashed at the end of the Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock era, so there’s no need to beat a dead horse. The Raiders had five first-rounders from 2019-2020. The only one who started for them last season was running back Josh Jacobs. That’s rough.
Los Angeles Chargers
Everyone makes mistakes in the draft — sometimes, in spectacular fashion. The key is knowing and admitting when that’s the case. Sadly for Chargers fans, their franchise has been very slow about doing just that with two former first-rounders. Neither Jerry Tillery nor Kenneth Murray has ever earned a season grade above 55.0 in a Chargers uniform, yet both went unchallenged in their starting roles for three straight seasons. General manager Tom Telesco finally saw the writing on the wall with Tillery last year and cut bait. Now, will he do the same with Murray?
Los Angeles Rams
Ignoring the draft
A team can only go so long without replenishing the coffers. The strategy obviously paid off with a Lombardi Trophy, but having zero top-50 picks over the past five seasons is obviously taking its toll.
Poor draft strategy at offensive line
The Dolphins' draft track record over the past five years stacks up with any team in the NFL. This one extends back a touch outside of the realm of the past five years, but it’s worth noting the genesis of the issue. When the Dolphins drafted Laremy Tunsil in 2016, they already had Branden Albert starting at left tackle and former first-rounder Ja'Wuan James at right tackle. By the start of the 2020 season, all three of those players were gone and the Dolphins had used only one top-150 pick on an offensive lineman since (Michael Deiter, Pick 78, 2019).
The result was a mad dash to fix the offensive line via the draft that season with first-, second-, and fourth-round picks used to solidify the front. That’s not an advisable strategy by any means given how long the learning curve can take at the position, as the Dolphins figured out the hard way.
The Danielle Hunter blueprint
It’s notoriously difficult to find a game-changing edge rusher outside of the first round. The Vikings bucked the odds when they got just that in Danielle Hunter with the 88th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Since then, however, they’ve tried to catch that same lightning in a bottle almost yearly to no avail.
It was a decision borne out of trust in then-Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson, whose track record of developing players is as good as it gets around the league. That's why 2013 was the last time they spent a top-50 pick on a defensive lineman. That’s not to say those were all bad value picks, per se, but, rather, that they ignored potential impact prospects early on in the draft. That was most notable in 2019 when they took center Garrett Bradbury at No. 18 overall with Jeffery Simmons coming off the board next and a similarly tooled edge rusher to Danielle Hunter in Montez Sweat being the next edge drafted (26th).
New England Patriots
Over the past five years, the Patriots have used four Day 1 or Day 2 picks on either receivers or tight ends. They’ve combined for a total of 84 catches for 900 yards and seven scores in their careers with New England.
New Orleans Saints
Trading up for Marcus Davenport
The Saints have owned the single-best draft hit rate in the NFL over the past five seasons, bar none. Even the Davenport pick is difficult to call a miss when considering his performance when healthy. It’s a tough pill to swallow, though, given that Green Bay walked away from that draft after the trade with the better player (Jaire Alexander) and the Saints' 2019 first-rounder while Davenport failed to make a consistent impact.
New York Giants
Drafting a running back at No. 2
This one has been beaten to death at this point — so much so that I don’t think we’ll be seeing it again anytime soon.
New York Jets
Sam Darnold at No. 3 and Zach Wilson at No. 2. Quarterback evaluation … it’s tough.
Selecting Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson
A lot of mistakes on this list are either compounding errors or long-term themes. Not this one. This is just an egregious missed evaluation — one I made myself. Jefferson was already an all-timer as a rookie, while Reagor has already been shipped out of town (coincidentally, now with Jefferson in Minnesota).
Drafting a running back to fix their running game
The Steelers learned their lesson about putting the cart before the horse when it comes to productivity running the football in the NFL. Coming into 2021 with one of the worst offensive lines in the league, they drafted Najee Harris at Pick No. 24 to improve their running game after the Le’Veon Bell saga. That hasn’t come to fruition. Harris has averaged 3.8 yards per carry in two seasons.
San Francisco 49ers
Betting the farm on Trey Lance
With the 49ers having a roster in position to win immediately, it never quite made sense to draft the least experienced and youngest quarterback in the 2021 class. After a leg injury to start the year, Lance is still the least experienced quarterback in that class, with just 124 career dropbacks to his name.
Scouting along the defensive line
The Seahawks have consistently fielded one of the league’s worst defensive lines over the past five seasons, and it starts with their inability to identify difference-makers in the draft. Here’s a list of the defensive linemen they’ve taken over that span:
- DE Rasheem Green (Pick 79, 2018)
- DE Jacob Martin (Pick 187, 2018)
- DE L.J. Collier (Pick 29, 2019)
- DT DeMarcus Christmas (Pick 209, 2019)
- DE Darrell Taylor (Pick 48, 2020)
- DE Alton Robinson (Pick 148, 2020)
- DE Boye Mafe (Pick 40, 2022)
- DE Tyreke Smith (Pick 158, 2022)
That’s not going to cut it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lack of impact from the 2021 class
Coming off a Super Bowl high with a window that was starting to close, general manager Jason Licht did everything he could to run it back with the contracts he handed out to impending free agents. When the draft rolled around, however, he sang a little different tune. He took a project defensive end who had opted out in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and used the last pick of the second round to suddenly look toward the future, drafting quarterback Kyle Trask. It could have really been an “all-in” draft to match where the Bucs were as a roster that targeted one or two true impact players. Instead, no one from that class has made much of an impact yet and the Bucs are still staring at a rebuild.
Wilson was quite easily the most egregious first-round bust since I started working in football. He showed no interest in the game whatsoever, played all of three snaps for the Titans and was out of the league entirely after one year.
Inability to find a QB
They’ve tried. Dwayne Haskins at No. 15 in 2020. The Carson Wentz trade. Sam Howell in the fifth round last year. The Commanders also passed on the now-vaunted 2020 class of quarterbacks (Tua Tagovailoa/Justin Herbert) and started closer to Pick No. 7 than the Bills did back in 2018 when they made their move for Josh Allen. Drafting at Pick No. 16 once again, it’s unlikely their quarterback fortunes turn around this year.