The 2013 NFL draft was supposed to be a mess. 2012 had Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin. 2014, even a year in advance, held Jadeveon Clowney in what was regarded as one of the deepest draft classes in league history. 2013 was the awkward year in between, a thin draft with little star talent available at the top of the first round. What talent did exist was centered on the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen and interior defensive linemen help win football games, but they’re hardly sexy picks that invigorate the fan base during the spring.
It’s way too early to pass permanent judgment upon the 2013 draft, but what’s happened so far goes even beyond what those public perceptions suggested. While the top 10 of the 2012 draft has gone on a roller-coaster ride, the 2013 draft is stuck at the entrance. The first round of that draft has produced some brutally ugly misses, with top-10 picks who still aren’t playing regular snaps for their teams 18 months after being drafted. You could make a case that the second and third rounds of the draft in 2013 produced more talent than the opening round. It’s been that bad.
With that in mind, let’s reshuffle the talent. You’ve seen one or two thousand of these. We’ll run through the players each team drafted, detail what’s happened to them since, and pick a new player for each of the draft’s top 20 picks. We’ll try to fit the picks into logical spots for these teams’ rosters at the time of the 2013 draft, and all the trades that took place on draft day will stick here.
“We,” by the way, is because I’ll be joined by my podcast partner, Robert Mays. It’s impossible to talk about this many offensive linemen without having Mays involved. His team even ended up with one of the good ones … the first time around. Kyle Long isn’t making it to 20 in this redraft, Mays.
Robert Mays: As much as that hurts, he shouldn’t be making it to 20. It is too early for the live-or-die thumbs-up or thumbs-down on this group, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be very, very worried. Especially with the first round. If you took the third round of this draft and flipped it with the first, it might not be a better draft, but it’d be terrifyingly close. And the trouble starts right at the top.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: T Eric Fisher
The pre-draft process eventually yielded two tackle candidates for the first overall pick, with the Chiefs landing on Fisher, a Central Michigan product who made his first All-MAC team as a senior in 2012. Fisher was seen before the draft as an athletic pass protector who needed to get stronger to emerge as a top-flight tackle at the NFL level. Scouts naturally compared him to Joe Staley, who played tackle for Central Michigan before being drafted by the 49ers and maturing into one of the league’s best linemen.
It’s fair to say that Fisher hasn’t quite delivered on those projections. He had an indifferent rookie season at right tackle before replacing the departed Branden Albert as the team’s left tackle this year, where he’s been inconsistent as a pass-blocker and lacking as a run-blocker in Kansas City’s zone-blocking scheme. Even at his best, Fisher only looks competent; he almost never looks dominant and seems to have a few plays per game when he makes a notable mistake.
But who should come off the board as the draft’s new first overall pick?
Barnwell: DE Sheldon Richardson, (2013: first round, 13th overall) A great run-stopping tackle is rarely worthy of the top pick in a draft, but this draft is so thin that even a relatively undervalued position can justify the top overall pick. Richardson’s been a force of nature up front for the Jets since entering the league, and while he isn’t quite as obvious of a fit in Kansas City’s 3-4 alignment under Bob Sutton, he would combine with Dontari Poe to give opposing offensive linemen fits.
Mays: DE Sheldon Richardson. Richardson isn’t the player I’m most excited about from this draft, but need and scheme put him in the top spot for me. I actually disagree that he isn’t an obvious fit for Sutton. Since Sutton took over in Kansas City, the Chiefs have become the kind of penetrating defensive front they weren’t under Romeo Crennel. They’re encouraged to make plays, and man, does Richardson make a lot of them. Even in college,1 that knack for being around the ball is what defined his game. Richardson’s been a headache against the run since he came into the league, but this year, he’s improved a ton as a pass-rusher. He may have a slightly lower ceiling than a couple of his draftmates, but from what I’ve seen, he’s been the best player from this class.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: T Luke Joeckel
Joeckel’s career at left tackle started rough and hasn’t gotten much better since. In his first start on the left side, a few days after the Jaguars dealt Eugene Monroe to the Ravens a month into the 2013 season, Joeckel broke his ankle and was lost for the year.
This season, Joeckel’s first go-round as the team’s Week 1 starter at left tackle has been kind of a mess. He’s struggled in the run game and in pass protection, and so far it looks like he and Fisher might be enough to give teams pause about the safety that comes with picking linemen near the top of the draft. Joeckel has played only 13 games, so we’re even further from a final ruling on him than the other guys from this draft, but it isn’t looking good.
Barnwell: DE Ezekiel Ansah (2013: first round, fifth overall) I’m giving the Jaguars the young pass-rusher that Gus Bradley’s defense deserves. The Jaguars have quietly put together the league’s second-best pass rush this season, but that’s been a group effort, and the primary pass-rusher in the Leo role for Bradley’s defense has been 33-year-old Chris Clemons. Ansah gives the Jags a freak athlete to build around as they retool their front seven.
Mays: DE Ezekiel Ansah. Based solely on talent, Ansah is my favorite player from this draft. He’s looked ridiculous in stretches for the Lions this year — standing up as a linebacker, hunting down quarterbacks, dropping into coverage. This is his fifth year of football, like, ever, and he’s already affecting games in more ways than just about anyone we’re going to talk about here. Bradley is already in a good mood all the time. Just imagine the look on his face when he finds out he gets Ansah.
Al Bello/Getty Images
3. Miami Dolphins: DE Dion Jordan
The Dolphins traded up to nab Jordan, who started his career at Oregon as a tight end before eventually transitioning to the defensive line. He produced just 14.5 sacks in his four years at school, but Miami hoped he could develop in a situational role alongside Cameron Wake before eventually taking over as Wake’s replacement as the team’s primary pass-rusher.
Things have gone horribly wrong. Jordan looked lost during his rookie season and played just 28.8 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps, with Olivier Vernon sneaking ahead of him on the depth chart and emerging as a fine player in his own right. Vernon had 11.5 sacks, while Jordan could muster only two. He returned to camp having added 20 pounds of muscle, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that he was subsequently suspended for four games (later reduced to two) by the league on a PED charge. As he was about to return, Jordan was suspended for four additional games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and went to rehab. Jordan returned last week and played 30 snaps against the Jaguars, but his long-term role with the team remains unclear.
Barnwell: DT Star Lotulelei (2013: first round, 14th overall) While the Dolphins weren’t wrong to plan around improving their defensive line, they went in the wrong direction. With Vernon and Wake holding things down on the outside, Lotulelei would have given the Dolphins an excellent rotation at defensive tackle in 2013 before taking over as the full-time starter for the departing Paul Soliai this offseason. Wake already lives in the backfield; Lotulelei would give him a roommate.
Mays: T Lane Johnson (2013: first round, fourth overall) In this scenario the Dolphins take the player we all thought they were going to pick after trading up to no. 3. Based on how Tyson Clabo played last year, I can only assume that Ryan Tannehill was Clabo’s least favorite person on earth. Johnson was reliable during his rookie season with the Eagles, and since returning from his four-game suspension this year, he’s shown a ton of improvement in pass protection. He’s been the best tackle from this class, and that’s a player last year’s Dolphins needed desperately.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: T Lane Johnson
A former quarterback turned tight end turned offensive tackle at Oklahoma, the reviews of Johnson before the draft focused on the great feet he’d bring to being a left tackle in the NFL. The Eagles didn’t need a left tackle, not with Jason Peters on that side, but they did need a right tackle with the mobility to play in their zone-based offense. Johnson has plenty of it, and he was a major contributor to the Eagles being the best rushing offense in football last season.
Barnwell: WR Keenan Allen (2013: third round, 76th overall) It breaks my heart to imagine Allen and Philip Rivers apart, but Chip Kelly loves big receivers who can get open and go up for the football, and that fits Allen to a tee. The fact that Allen comes from the Pac-12 is only a bonus. The Eagles didn’t have an obvious need for a wide receiver this time last year, but if Kelly knew that DeSean Jackson wasn’t long for the roster, Allen might have slotted in as Jackson’s replacement instead of Jordan Matthews. Not bad for a guy who came off the board 76th in the real thing.
Mays: DT Kawann Short (2013: second round, 44th overall) Our first wild card! Or our first insane choice, depending on how you want to look at it. Short was the other side of the defensive tackle pairing that the Panthers drafted last year, and he and Lotulelei really are two sides of the same coin. Lotulelei is an immovable object in the middle of a defense; Short is the havoc wreaker. I tend to like the latter more. Some of the best defenses in the league this year (Detroit, especially) have been exercises in the importance of interior pressure, and that’s exactly what Short provides.
5. Detroit Lions: DE Ezekiel Ansah
Perhaps the biggest success story from the top half of the first round, Ansah left BYU as an even rawer pass-rushing project than Jordan. Ansah started for only one season at BYU, accruing just 4.5 sacks against what was hardly a difficult slate of opponents. He showed versatility and growth during his time at school, but when the Lions took him with the fifth pick, they were basically buying a lottery ticket.
They appear to have hit the jackpot. Ansah got better as his rookie season went along, as five of his rookie-high eight sacks came after he returned from a high ankle sprain in Week 12. This year, he’s been a revelation, capable of making former top-five picks like Matt Kalil look silly in one-on-one matchups. He still isn’t playing every down, but Ansah’s been the best pure pass-rusher on football’s best defense. Ansah remains rough around the edges, but he’s far closer to being a superstar than he is to washing out of the league, possibilities that seemed to hold similar probabilities when he was drafted.
Barnwell: CB Desmond Trufant (2013: first round, 22nd overall) The Lions had one of the best 2013 drafts in football when they came away with Ansah, Darius Slay, and Larry Warford, but Ansah’s a victim of his own success and already off the board in this scenario. With the Lions needing defensive help, I’m sending them after Trufant, who opposing offenses are already avoiding in Atlanta in favor of Robert Alford. Atlanta’s pass defense is a mess, but that’s mostly on the anonymous pass rush and the subpar safety play behind Trufant. He’s the real deal.
Mays: WR Keenan Allen. This draft happens in a world in which the Lions don’t have Golden Tate, so that gaping hole across from Calvin Johnson is still staring at them. Allen’s numbers haven’t been overwhelming this year, but I chalk that up to Rivers’s equal-opportunity approach rather than any drop-off by Allen. If he were getting force-fed like Tate has been the last few weeks, the results would be similar.
6. Cleveland Browns: LB Barkevious Mingo
Like Jordan, Mingo is the type of pass-rusher who scout types absolutely love these days. He’s long, explosive, and was productive in the most competitive conference in college football at LSU. In a season and a half, that production hasn’t translated to the NFL.
Mingo had five sacks as a rookie but still hasn’t gotten to the quarterback in Year 2. Sacks aren’t everything, but Mingo just isn’t generating a lot of pressure. The area where he’s shown the most promise is in the run game, but taking a player sixth overall usually means a team is hoping he can scare quarterbacks every week.
Barnwell: CB Xavier Rhodes (2013: first round, 25th overall) Minnesota used the first-round pick it acquired from Seattle in the Percy Harvin trade to draft Rhodes, a three-year starter out of Florida State who delivered quietly competent play during his rookie season. With Minnesota rebuilding its defense this offseason, it has relied heavily on the 6-foot-1 Rhodes to compete with the other team’s top wideout. That hasn’t always worked — Sammy Watkins beat Rhodes badly in the end zone for Buffalo’s game-winning touchdown catch in Week 7 — but Rhodes has been able to make plays and slow down opposing wideouts on a weekly basis.
Mays: CB Desmond Trufant. It’s funny you mention Watkins. If the Browns had taken a cornerback here, that means their most glaring hole in the 2014 draft would have been at wide receiver, freeing them up to take Watkins rather than trading back. It’s weird how this stuff tends to pile up.
I prefer Trufant to Rhodes in part because I’ve seen him do it for a little longer. Trufant got on the field from the start in Atlanta last year, and he’s been very solid since. He’s a bit on the small side, which tends to hurt him against physical receivers, but he’s a more than capable cover guy.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
7. Arizona Cardinals: G Jonathan Cooper
Nobody from the first round has been a bigger disappointment than Cooper, who was seen as a safe pick when Arizona drafted him out of North Carolina. Guard is a relatively low-value position in the NFL, but Cooper’s been a nonentity since suffering a fractured fibula that cost him his entire rookie season.
Cooper was expected to return this year and fill in as Arizona’s left guard, but the move never took. Cooper came in for criticism from the likes of Bruce Arians during camp, and he lost the guard competition to former Buccaneers rotation lineman Ted Larsen. Cooper, meanwhile, has played just four offensive snaps through his first two seasons.
Barnwell: RB Le’Veon Bell (2013: second round, 48th overall) I’m as against running backs being drafted high in the first round as anybody is, but Bell has rebuilt himself into an all-purpose back with the perfect match of size, strength, and speed, and there just isn’t much talent at typically important positions like quarterback and defensive end. The Cardinals drafted Andre Ellington in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, but Bell would have given them a bell cow to team with Ellington or take over as the undisputed no. 1.
Mays: RB Le’Veon Bell. You said it, buddy. Bell has been great this year, and he’d fit in well with the rest of this Arizona offense.
8. St. Louis Rams: WR Tavon Austin
In the months before the draft, it seemed like Austin tended to move up a few spots on draft boards every day. He was truly incredible in his final season at West Virginia: 1,289 receiving yards, 643 rushing yards, 17 total touchdowns, and the type of highlight reel normally reserved for grainy high school tape.
Austin was considered the perfect modern NFL weapon, a player who could line up anywhere, do anything, and keep defensive coordinators up all week. There’s a chance he still is that, but in St. Louis, he hasn’t been. The Rams have yet to figure out what they want to do with Austin. It’s been endlessly frustrating for fans of his to see him toil away in St. Louis.
Barnwell: T Lane Johnson. This pick would have come in even without knowing that starting Rams left tackle Jake Long would tear his ACL in both 2013 and 2014. The Rams drafted Greg Robinson in 2014, but Johnson would have come in a year earlier and started at right tackle before moving to the left side this year. As a physically imposing mauler, he could have given the Rams a certain level of nasty up front. Or Brian Schottenheimer could have ruined yet another player’s career.
Mays: S Tyrann Mathieu (2013: third round, 69th overall) If not for his off-field transgressions, this is probably about where Mathieu would have landed on draft day. Some guys just know how to play, and that was clear from the beginning of Mathieu’s rookie season in Arizona. Since the 2013 draft, the Rams have drafted one safety/slot corner (Lamarcus Joyner) and traded for another player to fill out the back end of their secondary (Mark Barron). Mathieu could have helped St. Louis from the start.
9. New York Jets: CB Dee Milliner
It’s never easy for young cornerbacks, but Milliner had it particularly tough, as he was seen as the fill-in for the traded Darrelle Revis, who was one of the more popular Jets under Rex Ryan. Milliner made a few rookie mistakes during his debut season and got benched, but Ryan eventually allowed him to work his way back into the lineup with the goal of assuming a large role in 2014. (Revis sucked as a rookie, too.)
Sadly, Milliner’s 2014 was a wash; he suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the lineup for most of September, reaggravated the injury upon returning, and when he came back for good, Milliner didn’t last very long. The former Alabama star went down with a torn Achilles suffered while trying to block a field goal in Week 6. The injury ended Milliner’s season after just 116 defensive snaps in 2014, and there’s no guarantee he’ll return with the same level of athleticism that led the Jets to take him in the top 10.
Barnwell: CB Darius Slay (2013: second round, 36th overall) After suffering through repeated benchings during Jim Schwartz’s final season as Lions coach, Slay has emerged in 2014 as an above-average cornerback with occasional lapses of poor play. Given that his opposite number is the ageless Rashean Mathis, you can’t really be too mad at Slay for allowing a big play or two. Slay would give Ryan a viable starting cornerback, which is in short supply in New York these days.
Mays: TE Travis Kelce (2013: third round, 63rd overall) I hate to take yet another cornerback away from the Jets, but if they came away from this draft with a player like Kelce, maybe they wouldn’t have had to spend a chunk of their free-agent cash and a second-round pick this year on pass-catchers, and someone like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would have fit into their budget. I absolutely love Kelce as a player. He’s a YAC monster, is smooth with the ball in his hands, and would be a perfect weapon for a rookie quarterback — both for Geno Smith last year and whatever top-five pick is starting there next year. (Too soon?)
10. Tennessee Titans: G Chance Warmack
Getting famous as a guard in college football is never easy, but that’s just how good Warmack was at Alabama. He was the best player on a team that rolled to a national title, and at various points during the 2011 season, he was being touted as the top prospect in the entire draft. Warmack and that belly turned defensive linemen into putty all year.
All that hype has made the first two years of Warmack’s career pretty disappointing. He hasn’t been all that bad, especially in his second year, but he hasn’t been notably good, either. He’s been what a lot of guards typically are — totally nondescript, when he was supposed to be anything but.
Barnwell: G Kyle Long (2013: first round, 20th overall) I agree that the Titans need a guard, especially after giving Andy Levitre what appears to have turned out to be a disastrous six-year, $46.8 million deal. Warmack hasn’t lived up to his dominant college tape during a pair of frustrating seasons, but Long has stepped in from day one with the Bears and impressed a fan base desperate for some interior line help. The famous name doesn’t hurt, either.
Mays: C Travis Frederick (2013: first round, 31st overall) We’re on the same page with the Titans needing an interior offensive lineman, so I’m giving them the best one from this draft. People laughed when the Cowboys took Frederick 31st overall. They aren’t laughing now. He’s been the anchor of the league’s most dominant rushing game, regularly handling nose tackles one-on-one, allowing his guards to worry about the second level and pave the way for DeMarco Murray to grind defenses into human dust. I’m not sure there’s a center in the league I’d rather have in the run game right now.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
11. San Diego Chargers: T D.J. Fluker
The Chargers have turned their fortunes around after hiring Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco as coach and general manager, respectively, before the 2013 campaign. While they came away with the aforementioned Allen and Manti Te’o in their first draft, Fluker’s been a relative disappointment on the right side. It’s tough playing in a division with the Chiefs and Broncos, of course, but Fluker seems to have games in which he looks totally overmatched. His performance against Von Miller last Thursday would qualify. Fluker’s not a bad player, he’s just not the 11th-best player in the draft.
Barnwell: S Eric Reid (2013: first round, 18th overall) San Diego’s primary building block on defense over the past few seasons has been Eric Weddle, but Reid would have given the Chargers a Pro Bowl–caliber player next to Weddle. Both Reid and Weddle (and current starter Marcus Gilchrist, truthfully) are talented and versatile enough to wade their way into coverage, which would give the Chargers more flexibility in covering for a group of cornerbacks that hasn’t always been the best over the past two seasons.
Mays: G Kyle Long. I’m going to miss you, Kyle, but this awful Chargers running game needs you more than I do.
12. Oakland Raiders: CB D.J. Hayden
There are great stories in every draft, but no one had a better one last year than Hayden. During a November 2012 practice at the University of Houston, Hayden tore a major vein that feeds blood through the heart — an injury that’s fatal in 95 percent of patients. The surgery left Hayden with a scar that runs down his entire torso. Not only did he return to play football, but the Raiders were considering taking him with the third overall pick before they managed to trade back to no. 12.
In his first two seasons, it’s been a different collection of maladies that’s haunted Hayden. He missed the second half of his rookie year with a sports hernia, and he was placed on the PUP list with a foot injury to start this season. He played just five defensive snaps in his 2014 debut last week. At this point, it’s almost impossible to judge what he’s done.
Barnwell: WR Cordarrelle Patterson (2013: first round, 29th overall) While the Raiders’ love for pure speed and downfield passing has diminished since the death of Al Davis, they’re still in the market for freak athletes — note that they’re starting Hillsdale prototype Andre Holmes on a weekly basis. Patterson really hasn’t produced much in the NFL with the Vikings, having accrued only 70 catches for 768 receiving yards in his first 24 pro games, but tack on 268 rushing yards and a pair of kick return touchdowns last year and you can imagine the sort of player he might turn into.
Mays: WR Cordarrelle Patterson. I’m with ya. I don’t know if Patterson ever turns into a top-flight traditional receiver, but he’s too talented to not have an impact.
13. New York Jets: DT Sheldon Richardson
John Idzik’s second draft pick has been his best. Richardson has arguably been the best player from this draft, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year last season while anchoring a Jets run defense that’s fifth in run defense DVOA after finishing second in the same category a year ago. The Jets have problems. Richardson is not one of them.
Barnwell: G Larry Warford (2013: third round, 65th overall) In our redraft, though, Richardson’s off the board long before now. The Jets drafted Slay with their first selection in my redraft, which gave them some help at cornerback, so they improve their offense by adding the draft’s best interior lineman. Warford was a revelation after the Lions took him in the third round, arguably outpacing Long while emerging as the best guard Detroit’s had since Damien Woody. He’d take over at left guard and eliminate one of Idzik’s more disappointing selections, 2013 third-rounder Brian Winters, who struggled before tearing his ACL earlier this year.
Mays: G Larry Warford. Agreeing with you this much is making me worry, but Warford makes sense here. He’s a real upgrade over Winters, and he helps get the Jets closer to the team they want to be offensively.
14. Carolina Panthers: DT Star Lotulelei
For much of the 2011 college football season, Lotulelei was considered one of the top picks in the draft. He made the offensive lines of the Mountain West look like Pop Warner teams during his time at Utah. It was honestly hard to watch after a while. What kept Lotulelei from the top five was a heart condition that was discovered during medical testing at the combine. Lotulelei was ultimately cleared, but it’s understandable why some teams got scared off.
The ones that were regretted it. Lotulelei was a force in the middle of a great Carolina defense this week, a load up front who just seems like an awful assignment for three hours every Sunday afternoon. He’s a human fire hydrant.
Barnwell: DB Tyrann Mathieu. With Lotulelei off the board, the Panthers instead opt to improve their secondary and draft the former LSU star. Mathieu fell to the third round after being dismissed from the LSU team and missing the entire 2012 season, but arriving in Arizona, he showed the sort of versatility and playmaking ability that made him one of college football’s most exciting players. Mathieu tore his ACL at the end of the 2013 season, but he delivered an impressive enough performance in the slot against the Eagles on Sunday to suggest that he’s back. The Panthers, who struggled to find viable defensive backs in 2013 and 2014, could certainly use the help.
Mays: DT Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei is great at what he does, but what he does just isn’t as valuable as the strengths of the people above him on this list. He’ll never be a pass-rusher, and although his ability to control the interior is important, he’s someone with a defined ceiling.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
15. New Orleans Saints: S Kenny Vaccaro
The Texas product was a dark-horse candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year before last season, and while the title went to Richardson, Vaccaro lived up to expectations. Before breaking his ankle in Week 16, Vaccaro looked like a five-year veteran, reading plays and using his athleticism to outrun his few mistakes. He’s admittedly taken a step backward this season, with the combination of Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd failing to impress before Byrd went down with a season-ending torn meniscus, but Vaccaro’s looked better since New Orleans returned from its bye.
Barnwell: S Kenny Vaccaro. This is about where Vaccaro should slot in, anyway.
Mays: CB Darius Slay. We’ve all watched the Saints secondary this year. They’re in bad shape on the outside, and Slay would help.
16. Buffalo Bills: QB EJ Manuel
It was a surprise when Manuel was the first quarterback off the board last year, but it was easy to see how a team like Buffalo could be talked into him. Manuel is big — 6-foot-5, almost 240 pounds — with very good mobility, especially for his size. He’s got a big arm and was successful and productive whenever he had the chance at Florida State.
We all know what’s happened since. The Bills sat Manuel down a month into his second season in favor of Kyle Orton. Buffalo’s situation — a very good defense, a lot of weapons — played into the decision to go with a more reliable option, but it doesn’t bode well for Manuel that the Bills were willing to move on from the 16th pick a year into his career.
Barnwell: TE Travis Kelce. With the Bills passing on Manuel and looking for their quarterback of the future elsewhere, they might as well give the quarterback they have a few weapons to work with. While Sammy Watkins was still to come, Kelce would give the Bills the sort of athletic tight end they’ve lacked seemingly for generations. He missed his entire rookie season after microfracture surgery on his right knee, but Kelce has come into his own as a viable second target for Alex Smith in Kansas City’s passing game.
Mays: S Kenny Vaccaro. In this scenario, Vaccaro moves from playing next to Byrd to playing for his old team. Vaccaro has definitely regressed this year, but I’m choosing to believe that in the long run, he’s closer to the guy we saw his rookie year. Aaron Williams has played well for the Bills since his move to free safety, but Buffalo could use a more physical, in-the-box defender next to him.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Jarvis Jones
This was a pick that made sense for everyone involved. Jones was a productive player at the highest level of college football, accruing 28 sacks over his two seasons at Georgia. He was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, but concerns about his athleticism and work ethic led Jones to slip to the Steelers — an outside linebacker factory — at 17.
Since then? Jones hasn’t lived up to expectations. Steelers defensive prospects often take a redshirt year before emerging as contributors in their second season, so the jury’s still out on Jones, but he’s picked up just three sacks in his first 17 outings before going on IR-backsies with a wrist injury. Pittsburgh obviously hopes he’ll take over as the team’s primary pass-rusher after Jason Worilds, who has disappointed in his own right this year, but it’s unclear whether the Jones who dominated the SEC will show up in the pros.
Barnwell: RB Eddie Lacy (2013: second round, 61st overall) With Bell (Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in the 2013 draft) off the board, the Steelers are still in need of an upgrade at running back. Bell has outplayed Lacy this season, but Lacy was the better player a year ago, when he ran for 1,178 yards and looked like a budding superstar.
Mays: DT Johnathan Hankins (2013: second round, 49th overall) I can’t believe you’re leaving Johnathan Hankins — he of your beloved New York Giants — out of this draft entirely. Are you trying to avoid jinxing him or something?
Hankins has been a beast this year playing inside for the Giants after being taken in the second round out of Ohio State. He’s a 320-pound world-ruiner, but that doesn’t stop him from regularly beating centers as a pass-rusher. I like him more as a 1-technique tackle in New York’s 4-3 than I do as a 3-4 nose, but guys like Dontari Poe have shown us that being able to penetrate from that spot can be a real asset.
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
18. San Francisco 49ers: S Eric Reid
It seemed inevitable that Reid, the next big, athletic safety off the SEC assembly line, would step in and play right away for the Niners. Reid rightfully went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and although he’s taken a small step back this year, San Francisco has to be happy with what it found in the back half of the first round.
Barnwell: C Travis Frederick. The Cowboys probably drafted Frederick a round too early, given that he reportedly had a third-round grade, but the likelihood they could have gotten him later doesn’t affect Frederick’s talent. He’s been an above-average center from the moment he stepped onto an NFL field, serving as the pivot on what’s been the best offensive line of 2014. The 49ers under Jim Harbaugh have built their offense around their dominant offensive line, but the once-fearsome five-man group has looked mediocre this season, especially on the interior. Frederick would solidify the group.
Mays: S Eric Reid. This is about right for Reid. He fits with the Niners, and he’s been solid for them.
19. New York Giants: T Justin Pugh
You guys watched that Giants-Eagles game on Sunday Night Football, right?
Barnwell: LB Kiko Alonso (2013: second round, 46th overall) The team that never manages to find a linebacker gets one in this redraft. The Giants solidified their middle linebacker spot last year only by trading for Jon Beason, who delivered a rare stretch of healthy performances before signing a new deal to stay in New York. He promptly suffered a toe injury that kept him out for most of this season, and while he came back for 159 defensive snaps, the Giants announced Monday that Beason would undergo season-ending toe surgery.
Alonso’s also on injured reserve, but his future is brighter as a prototypical 21st-century middle linebacker. He exhibits the range to cover athletic tight ends all over the field, if not necessarily the run-thumping ability of his replacement, Brandon Spikes. Alonso was going to move to the weak side to accommodate Spikes, only to tear his ACL during the summer. He should be back in 2015. Yes: This draft is so thin that we’re picking injured players halfway through the first round. This is why we’re stopping soon.
Mays: T Ricky Wagner (2013: fifth round, 168th overall) Poor Justin Pugh. I think he’s been just fine outside that Eagles game, and I actually wouldn’t have a problem just slotting him in here. But if the Giants are going with a right tackle, I think Wagner has been better. A fifth-round pick last year, Wagner was an absolute disaster when forced into duty during Week 1 against Denver. Shaun Phillips, not exactly a sack master these days, racked up 2.5 while wrecking Wagner all game.
In Year 2, Wagner’s looked like a completely different player. Playing next to Marshal Yanda, the best guard in the league, helps, but Wagner has looked great in pass protection. It makes sense why the Ravens were so willing to move on from Michael Oher.
20. Chicago Bears: G Kyle Long
Bears GM Phil Emery will remind you that people panned this pick when he first made it. Long was late to football, having started as a pitcher at Florida State before transferring to Oregon and going the football route. Howie Long’s son started only a handful of games for the Ducks — and at tackle, no less — but he stepped in from day one and played well for the Bears. Long isn’t a dominant guard, not yet at least, but he’s a very reliable piece of Chicago’s rebuilt offensive line.
Barnwell: DT Kawann Short. Sorry, buddy. Long is, well, long gone in this redraft. The Bears need defenders everywhere, so in this version of the multiverse, they target a defensive lineman and end up going from Long to Short. Short isn’t quite as consistent as his teammate Lotulelei, but he makes more “wow” plays than his more celebrated partner.
Mays: LB Kiko Alonso. Of all the Bears’ woes this year, the ability to cover someone, anyone, in the middle of the field is what they’ve missed most. I’m not saying Alonso would have shut down Rob Gronkowski last week, but he might have been able to slow him down. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Alonso at all this year, because in a draft full of misses, he really is one of the true bright spots.