The 2009 NFL rookie draft featured a pair of quarterbacks being taken in the first five picks with both performing well over the course of the season. Barring injury, the Lions and Jets appear set for years to come at quarterback with Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez leading their teams.
While the quarterbacks are always the headliners of any draft, the first round of the 2009 draft featured a number of players who either played well as rookies or who performed well enough that they are expected to earn bigger roles in 2010.
At wide receiver, Michael Crabtree played well for San Francisco despite a lengthy holdout and Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt displayed the ability to be top wideouts in the league.
Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells look like feature runners for the Broncos and Cardinals while Brian Cushing, Clay Mathews and Aaron Curry figure to be solid performers for years at outside linebacker.
After one year, it is safe to conclude that the first round of the 2009 NFL draft will produce a small number of busts. However, there are a number of players who, for various reasons, need to step up in 2009 or risk being labelled as a bust early in their NFL careers.
Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City – third overall
There was a collective gasp when the Chiefs unexpectedly took Jackson with the third pick in the draft. Most scouting reports questioned his ability to rush the passer at the next level and that proved prophetic when he failed to register a sack as a rookie.
Furthermore, teams that employ a 3-4 defense rarely take a defensive end so high in the draft since their main function is to fill two gaps and help stop the run by keeping offensive lineman off linebackers. Jackson has that ability but was considered a reach with the third pick and will struggle to shake that label.
Prospects for 2010 Turnaround – slim. Expect more of the same from Jackson. Unfortunately if you don't produce sacks as the third overall pick, you're going to be labelled a bust.
Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati – sixth overall
Smith was a risk at the sixth spot given his apparent lack of maturity, lack of dedication and inability to control his weight. After he held out and missed 30 days of training camp, it was no surprise when he fractured his left foot a few days after reporting.
He dressed for six games as a rookie but started only one when the Bengals opened in an unbalanced line. Essentially, it was a redshirt year for Smith, who will have to beat out Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins to be the Bengals starter at right tackle.
Prospects for a 2010 turnaround – decent. Should start at right tackle and run blocking is his forte, which fits in with the Bengals offensive philosophy.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland – seventh overall
Inexplicably, the Raiders made Heyward-Bey the first wide receiver taken in the draft, ahead of Michael Crabtree. In 11 games, he caught nine passes for 124 yards and a score. Despite missing training camp and five regular-season games, that was about two games worth of production for Crabtree, who plied his trade across the bay in San Francisco.
Heyward-Bey possesses outstanding speed but he looked lost as a rookie and displayed poor hands. While the Raiders upgraded at quarterback with Jason Campbell, they have a number of young wide receivers that will challenge Heyward-Bey for playing time.
Prospects for a 2010 turnaround – average. Raiders owner will lean on head coach Tom Cable to play Heyward-Bey whether he deserves it or not so there will be an opportunity. However, it’s difficult to expect more than 400-500 yards out of a player who was such a disappointment as a rookie.
Aaron Maybin, DE, Buffalo – 11th overall
The Bills were looking to improve their pass rush and chose the diminutive Maybin hoping he could fill the bill. It didn’t exactly work out. Maybin struggled to earn playing time, was overwhelmed by offensive tackles and failed to register a sack.
With the Bills moving to a 3-4 alignment, Maybin has been shifted to outside linebacker and will be given the opportunity to rush the passer in that role. However, unless he improves in the run game, he will likely be relegated to playing only on passing downs.
Prospects for a 2010 turnaround – slim. He was overmatched as a rookie and has to learn a new position. He could be fast approaching bust status by mid-season.
Robert Ayers, DE, Denver – 18th overall
Ayers is the third defensive end to make the list, further proving the theory it is difficult to project whether collegiate pass rushing skills will translate into production at the NFL level. While raw natural ability can translate to sacks in college, in the NFL pass rushers need balance, strength and solid pass rushing moves to get to the quarterback.
Like Jackson and Maybin, Ayers failed to register a sack as a rookie. Like Maybin, he will be asked to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.
Prospects for a 2010 turnaround – slim. No success as a rookie followed by a position switch is never a recipe for success.
Ziggy Hood, DE, Pittsburgh – 32nd overall
Another defensive end, Hood gets a bit of a free pass since the Steelers depth along the defensive line meant he did not have to play much as a rookie and also because he was a defensive tackle in college. However, the Steelers expect much more in 2010 and
Hood played in all 16 regular season games in 2009 but rarely saw the field, finishing with eight tackles and a sack. In 2010, he will likely be a backup but the Steelers expect him to backup both Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel.
Prospects for a 2010 turnaround – good. The expectations for Hood as somewhat tempered by his late first round status but he should earn increased playing time in 2010 and will likely be starting in 2011.