Considered a risky selection at the time, Arizona Cardinals third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu is looking like a brilliant selection early in his NFL career.
Yes, it’s way too early to start considering members of the 2013 NFL draft class “steals” or “busts” after only the first four games of their NFL careers.
That said, some rookies drafted outside of the first round have exceeded expectations and have shown, at least through Week 4, that they should have been selected higher than they were. On the other hand, some first-round picks have really struggled to acclimate early in their first NFL seasons.
The early stars of the 2013 rookie class are likely to run into slumps eventually. However, many of the players who have been disappointments are adjusting to new roles or schemes with their NFL teams, and are likely to improve as they develop.
Nonetheless, NFL teams may already be regretting letting the following five “steals” fall as far as they did in the draft. The five teams who drafted the “busts” will continue to develop their players, seeking continued improvement. But they may be beginning to have doubts about whether they made the right selections.
When the Buffalo Bills drafted Oregon’s Kiko Alonso with the No. 46 overall selection, he was viewed as more of a reach than a steal. Thus far, however, he has arguably been better than all of the 45 rookies drafted ahead of him.
The Buffalo Bills needed to find a true “Mike” linebacker, and Alonso has been that.
Alonso has played all 327 of the Bills’ defensive snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He has taken advantage of those snaps; he has 32 total tackles and is tied for the league lead with four interceptions.
Alonso has been a very solid run defender and has been excellent dropping back into coverage and making plays on the ball. He is making a strong early case for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The No. 1 overall pick in a draft is expected to be an immediate-impact player who quickly emerges as a star for his team. Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher, however, hasn’t lived up to expectations out of the gates.
Making the transition from left tackle at Central Michigan to right tackle in Kansas City (at least for his rookie season), Fisher has struggled in both pass protection and run-blocking.
His overall grade of minus-6.5 from Pro Football Focus ranks him 62nd of the 72 NFL offensive tackles who have played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps. He also already has four penalties to his name.
While left tackle has been traditionally viewed as the premier position over right, the transition is likely a contributing factor in his struggles. Nonetheless, the Chiefs did not draft Fisher first overall to be a patiently developed project.
The other two OTs drafted in the top five in April, Luke Joeckel of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles, have also played disappointingly to start their rookie seasons. Like Fisher, both have had to make the transition from left to right tackle, though Joeckel is likely to move back to left following the Jaguars’ trade of Eugene Monroe, and Johnson had experience playing right tackle at Oklahoma.
After being dismissed from the LSU football team in 2012 and missing the entire football season due to failed drug tests, Tyrann Mathieu was considered a very risky selection when the Arizona Cardinals selected him with the No. 69 overall selection.
The risk-reward pick has been all reward through the first four weeks of Mathieu’s NFL career.
Before Mathieu became best known for his off-field issues, he was a star playmaker for the LSU defense. Whether lining up at free safety or as a slot cornerback, he has continued to be a playmaker for the Cardinals.
Mathieu has showed his range right away for the Cards, making plays all over the field with 29 tackles. He has an interception and a forced fumble already this season, and has had a knack for coming up with big plays in big situations.
Mathieu received his first career start Sunday in place of injured free safety Rashad Johnson, and he performed well while playing every snap in the game, according to Pro Football Focus. Even if Johnson gets his job back once he is declared fit after a severed fingertip, Mathieu should continue to see the field and continue to make plays.
While much has been made of No. 9 overall pick Dee Milliner’s early struggles with the New York Jets, the cornerback drafted just three picks later has struggled even more. D.J. Hayden’s meteoric pre-draft rise made the cornerback selected higher than many thought he should be, and he hasn’t lived up to his selection with the Oakland Raiders.
Hayden has huge athletic potential and flashed great playmaking ability during his college football days at Houston, but he has struggled in his first four games.
Among NFL corners who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps, he ranks among the bottom 10 in coverage snaps per reception (6.5) and tackling efficiency (2.7 tackles made per every missed tackle), according to Pro Football Focus. He has 10 tackles and a pass deflection, but opposing quarterbacks have a 109.6 passer rating when throwing against him.
Hayden has been playing in a nickel/dime role off the bench for the Raiders defense, but he hasn’t provided the coverage ability and playmaking spark the Raiders would like him to have in that role.
Cornerback is one of the NFL’s toughest positions to excel at as a rookie, so he should improve with gained experience. He also has less experience than even most of his fellow rookies because he missed time throughout the offseason and training camp due to an abdominal surgery and hamstring pull.
Nonetheless, D.J. Hayden has been a disappointment, not yet justifying one of the most questionable picks of the first round thus far.
While many of the rookie offensive linemen selected in the first couple rounds have struggled, Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford is off to a terrific start. A massive, powerful guard with surprising quickness for his size, Warford has been a strong run-blocker and solid pass-blocker for the Lions.
It came as a surprise when Warford fell to the third round. The Lions were smart to select him at 65th overall, where it is appearing they ended up with a bargain.
Warford has been an immediate upgrade for the Lions over Stephen Peterman. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the NFL’s fourth-best guard through the first four weeks. With no sacks and only two total pressures allowed, PFF also ranks him as the second-most efficient pass-blocking guard.
While many teams may be questioning their early offensive line selections, the Lions should feel lucky to have been able to draft Warford in Round 3.
The No. 10 overall pick Chance Warmack is the massive, mauling right guard who was expected to be a standout from the opening snap, but the Alabama product has struggled.
The Titans completely overhauled their interior offensive line this offseason and have improved in that area as a result, but Warmack is still struggling to acclimate to NFL pass-rushers. Pro Football Focus ranks Warmack 55th in pass-blocking efficiency out of the 60 guards who have played 50 percent or more of their team’s snaps.
Warmack is a big, powerful drive blocker who has made an impact paving the way in the rushing offense, but his ability to protect the quarterback continues to be tested. With Titans starting quarterback Jake Locker already out several weeks with a hip injury, Warmack’s improvement in pass protection is of utmost importance.
It is very rare for a guard to be a top-10 selection, so when one is, he is expected to be an immediate Pro Bowl candidate. To this point, Warmack has not been close to that.
There have already been a number of undrafted jewels to emerge in the 2013 draft class, but few if any are as important to their team already as New England Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. For a team who lost four of its top five receivers from last season, Thompkins has emerged as an immediate starter and playmaker for the Patriots offense.
Thompkins has had some issues with dropped balls, but he has made up for it by making the tough catches for big plays. He has 15 receptions for 257 yards and a team-high three receiving touchdown.
Thompkins has improved with each game, and he looks like he could be a weapon in the Pats offense for many years to come. While he must catch the ball consistently, he is a strong route-runner and good athlete who may already be the team’s best outside downfield weapon.
No team took a chance on the Cincinnati product in April, but Thompkins’ playmaking ability should have the Patriots feeling lucky that they landed him as an undrafted free agent.
Tavon Austin’s early production for the St. Louis Rams has not been as advertised. While he has had his fair share of touches, he has yet to show the open-field playmaking ability that convinced the Rams to trade up to No. 8 to draft him.
An explosive athlete with dynamic speed and quickness, Austin is viewed as a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.
St. Louis, however, has not seen any of that. His longest play to date has gone just 14 yards. Between receptions, rushing attempts and punt returns, Austin has an average of just 4.8 yards per touch through four games.
Some of Austin’s struggles have been blamed on poor play-calling by Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Even if the game plan does not change, Austin is likely to make more plays with the ball in his hands once he becomes comfortable with the system.
Nonetheless, it is a disappointment that the 5'8" speedster out of West Virginia has been nothing more than a short-gain player to this point.
Finding a nose tackle to adequately anchor the middle of a 3-4 defense can be hard to do, and finding one that can make plays from the position can be even harder. In third-round pick John Jenkins, the early results show the Saints may have found both.
Jenkins possesses the combination of size (6’3”, 359 pounds), power and quickness to be a star nose tackle, but he fell in the draft due to concerns about his fundamentals and stamina.
He has only been officially credited with one tackle for loss, but as everyone knows, impact is rarely measured in statistics at NT. Jenkins has, nonetheless, done a good job breaking free from blocks to bring pressure or make plays. He commands attention with his size and strength and allows the players around him to make plays.
The nose tackle position is also a very important one in the Saints’ transition to the 3-4 defense.
Jenkins must show that he can stay on the field for three downs and have the stamina to hold up over the course of a game/season. Nonetheless, he is already looking well worth the 82nd overall selection the Saints invested in him.
The Denver Broncos drafted Sylvester Williams to address one of the weakest positions on their team, defensive tackle, but their first-round pick (No. 28 overall) has made no impact through Week 4.
In just 44 snaps, Williams has been mostly ineffective and was kept off the game-day roster as a healthy scratch in the Broncos’ most recent game versus the Philadelphia Eagles
There is still plenty of time for the UNC product to come along, and he has higher upside than any other tackle on the Broncos roster.
It is disappointing that Williams has been unable to work his way up the depth chart at all, especially considering the early success that many other DTs have had thus far, including first-round picks Sheldon Richardson (New York Jets) and Star Lotulelei (Carolina Panthers).
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.