10 NFL Rookies Drafted by the Wrong Team
After the longest draft process in NFL history, the 2014 class has finally turned from evaluated prospects into expectation-driven professionals. The draft saw 256 prospects drafted and many more signed after Day 3.
While every team hopes to hit on all of its draft picks and signings, the reality is each team will find that two or three of its picks won’t last long in the NFL. And for at least a third of the top 100 picks, teams will find those players don’t contribute nearly as much as the hopes that now rest on their shoulders.
Some teams try to stick to their board too much and draft players who aren’t an ideal schematic, situational or locker-room fit for their organization.
While it’s unclear what each offensive or defensive coordinator has in mind for his respective team’s draft picks, I’ve done my best to use my evaluations and the prospects that come with each selection to find 10 rookies who may end up wishing they got drafted elsewhere.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns: First Round
The Browns traded down from the fourth overall pick in the draft, securing a 2015 first-rounder from the Buffalo Bills, but later traded up from No. 9 to No. 8 with the Minnesota Vikings. Their target was Justin Gilbert, one of the best cornerbacks in the draft and arguably the most athletically and physically gifted defensive back in a class that saw 53 drafted.
While it did fill the team’s biggest defensive need, Gilbert may not be the finished product this team needs to play immediately opposite Joe Haden. Gilbert, who has great length and fluidity in coverage, lacks NFL-ready timing, vision and anticipation in off-coverage.
Developed route-runners have a great chance of controlling him and separating vertically. While his mistakes will be treated as growing pains as a rookie, he enters the organization with high expectations, and the concern is that if he doesn’t reach them early, he may never be able to live up to the top-10 hype.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Detroit Lions: Second Round
I've been a big fan of Kyle Van Noy since his junior season at BYU thanks to his versatility, explosiveness as a rusher and creativity to get separation from blockers. I lauded his ability to play in multiple defenses but felt his best role would be in a hybrid defense where he can play as a pure edge-rusher as well as a stand-up, key-reading linebacker.
The Detroit Lions took Van Noy in the early second round, a plus-value based on my pre-draft grade, but my question immediately turned to where he’d play in the Lions defense. As of now, according to Jeff Risdon of Bleacher Report, he’ll be the third linebacker on a defense that didn’t use one with much frequency last year.
Van Noy struggles most when asked to shed blockers and finish on the interior, and while his ability in coverage is strong, he’s not the type of athlete who can be asked to finish in man coverage on a consistent basis. If he’s asked to do either or both as a rookie, he may struggle and not maximize his awesome talent in Detroit.
Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Second Round
A drastic reach based on my evaluation of Paul Richardson out of Colorado, the Seattle Seahawks will also need to be flexible in their willingness to be creative to get their second-rounder on the field.
Richardson struggles to fight through contact once cornerbacks engage and lacks the ability to subtly push off to get final separation as a downfield route-runner, two things DeSean Jackson (his primary comparison) can do.
The idea of using Percy Harvin and Richardson together sounds exciting, but it may prove more frustrating than anything else. Richardson likely will only have success early in his career as a vertical or screen-pass receiver, and while Seattle can utilize him there early, he likely won’t produce or provide an immediate impact as a second-rounder should thanks to his limitations.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Second Round
The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t shied away from prospects with character concerns during Marvin Lewis' time as a head coach, and Jeremy Hill of LSU will be added to that group of character-reclamation projects. Hill was arrested twice during his LSU career and seemed like a clear candidate to fall to Day 3 of the draft despite flashes of starter upside.
Prospects like Hill would ideally land in an organization that boasts ample leadership and would not force them to contribute early, instead letting them developing as a person and professional first. Instead, Hill will be asked to not only grow up quickly, but to also contribute as a rookie as the spell running back to last year’s second-rounder, Giovani Bernard.
Will he be able to stay focused and in control in Cincinnati the way guys like Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones have in recent years? That’s the hope, but he's still a question mark moving forward.
Dexter McDougle, CB, New York Jets: Third Round
Despite drafting Dee Milliner of Alabama in the top 15 picks the previous year, the New York Jets entered the 2014 draft with cornerback arguably their most critical position defensively to fill. With Milliner struggling as a rookie and the team letting Antonio Cromartie go in free agency, they lacked an ideal starter to help their 2013 first-rounder.
The Jets decided to wait until the third round, where they drafted Maryland’s Dexter McDougle. While McDougle was highly impressive early in his senior season before getting injured, he didn’t appear to be worth a top-100 pick due to his injury history and limited film as an impact player.
The Jets now will view him as a lead competitor for a starting role, an expectation McDougle will struggle to meet as a rookie. Unless first-rounder Calvin Pryor can have an Earl Thomas-like impact, I’d expect the Jets secondary will be among the league’s worst in 2014.
Kareem Martin, DE, Arizona Cardinals: Third Round
One of the most physically gifted defensive linemen in the draft, Kareem Martin’s measurables and explosive numbers would lead you to believe that he produced at a high level at North Carolina. However, despite producing in the past two seasons and flashing talent, Martin was riddled with inconsistency and lack of polish as a pass-rusher.
After playing as a pocket-collapsing defensive end in college, Martin will now need to transition to a 3-4 defensive end position, something he may struggle with early in his career due to his difficulties with double-teams in college and suspect lateral control in run support.
The good news is he’ll be learning behind Calais Campbell, who six years ago was a well-built, athletically gifted defensive end at Miami who didn’t produce as much as expected in college, so Martin may have an ideal mentor as a young player transitioning to a new position in the NFL.
AJ McCarron, Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals: Fifth Round
AJ McCarron said repeatedly that he expected to be taken in the first two rounds of the draft, despite evaluators across the Internet arguing otherwise. McCarron’s expected draft-day “slide” ended in Cincinnati, which, in my opinion, is one of the worst landing spots for him.
First off, he’ll enter camp with the expectation of competition for the starting quarterback job, something the team likely won’t fairly grant him. Second, he’s not as good a fit for Hue Jackson’s offense as recent signing Jason Campbell. Finally, his skill set as a passer is redundant with Andy Dalton’s, as both are limited game managers who can win with ample talent around them.
McCarron is no lock to be on this team long-term, and he’ll have a lot to prove and an uphill battle to show he's worthwhile for the future.
Aaron Lynch, DE, San Francisco 49ers: Fifth Round
For a team as loaded depth-wise as the 49ers, fifth-round picks may as well be treated like undrafted free agents, because there’s no way they can make the team.
The Aaron Lynch-Aldon Smith comparisons will immediately become commonplace due to their height and upside as edge-rushers. However, Lynch never produced as much as his talent level indicated he should’ve at Notre Dame or South Florida, and he fell in the draft as a result.
Lynch will need to prove himself more than just a plus athlete worth developing. He’s behind incumbent starters Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith, last year’s mid-round pick Corey Lemonier and special teams/veteran versatile linebacker Dan Skuta.
The 49ers likely hope that being drafted later than his talent indicates and entering a locker room that gives him no free pass will motivate him to capitalize on his elite skills. If he can, he could be groomed as Smith’s future replacement. If not, he may not make it out of camp.
Ryan Carrethers, NT, San Diego Chargers: Fifth Round
With Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers slated as the Chargers' starting nose tackles, it was clear the team’s biggest need defensively was filling its void in the middle. The team decided to wait until the fifth round to address the issue, drafting the active yet polish-lacking Ryan Carrethers from Arkansas State.
While I was a fan of Carrethers as a situational backup in the tail end of the draft, asking him to step in as the hopeful starter seems like an egregious mistake by the Chargers. While there’s no guarantee he’ll be playing right away, it’d be a surprise if he didn’t given the lack of experience and talent the two current starters possess.
If Carrethers can’t surprise and emerge as an adequate first-stringer, the Chargers defense may struggle to get this team back to the playoffs.
Arthur Lynch, TE, Miami Dolphins: Fifth Round
Arthur Lynch was one of Aaron Murray’s favorite short-area targets along with offering edge-blocking capabilities. After being the team’s featured tight end at Georgia the past two years, Lynch will have an uphill battle to just make the Miami Dolphins roster.
Last year, the team kept three tight ends for most of the year, sticking with lead tight end Charles Clay and two recent mid-round draft picks, Michael Egnew and Dion Sims. Lynch will likely need to beat out one of those two recent picks, likely battling with Egnew thanks to their similar skill sets.
The biggest issue Lynch faces is proving to the coaching staff that his and Clay’s skill sets aren’t redundant and they can effectively be used together. If not, Lynch may be on his second team after training camp.