Power Ranking Every NFL Team's 2016 Draft Haul 1 Year Later
A single draft class can make or break an NFL franchise.
The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders finished 2013 with identical 4-12 records.
The Raiders came through with a franchise-defining class in 2014, taking reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, the league's highest-paid player in Derek Carr and ultra-reliable guard Gabe Jackson during the first three rounds. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns selected Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel with their pair of first-round picks.
It's easy to see why one of these teams is challenging for division championships, while the other resides in the league's basement.
To establish the best overall classes from the 2016 draft, multiple factors came into play. First, the number of starts a team received from rookies last season helped determine overall impact. Second, the number of games played showed how much depth a class had.
On average, rookies got 29 starts and played 75 games for each team. These baselines provide context. But they're only part of the story.
The Browns received, by far, the most contributions from last year's rookie class, yet the Dallas Cowboys enjoyed the highest quality of play from their first-year performers. These variances helped establish which class actually provided the best haul from 2016.
All 32 franchises have been ranked by taking these qualifications into account to establish which were the best at identifying talent and building toward a brighter future.
32. Minnesota Vikings
Total Starts: 2
Games Played: 64
Top Performer: WR Laquon Treadwell
Establishing a "top performer" among the Minnesota Vikings' 2016 draft class is an oxymoron. The Vikings received little to no help from their top draft picks.
First-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell managed one reception for 15 yards in nine games. Second-round cornerback Mackensie Alexander only played a handful of reps on defense even though he appeared in 13 contests.
The rest of the class—including offensive tackle Willie Beavers, linebacker Kentrell Brothers, wide receiver Moritz Boehringer, tight end David Morgan, defensive end Stephen Weatherly and safety Jayron Kearse—combined to start one game and primarily participated on special teams.
It's nearly impossible for any rookie class to provide as little of an impact as the Vikings experienced last season. The future could be bright for each of these talented young players, but Minnesota must find a way to get them on the field this fall or run the risk of wasting an entire draft class.
31. Los Angeles Rams
Total Starts: 21
Games Played: 66
Top Performer: QB Jared Goff
Quarterback Jared Goff's long-awaited debut and struggles are well-documented. He finished his rookie campaign with a putrid 54.6 completion percentage and five-to-seven touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, last year's No. 1 overall pick will get a chance to prove himself under new head coach Sean McVay.
The rest of the Rams' 2016 draft class didn't feature a standout performer. Not one. This is unacceptable for a franchise with multiple talent deficiencies.
Four of the team's final five selections—all in the fourth through sixth rounds—were intended to be weapons to develop around the quarterback. Tyler Higbee, Pharoh Cooper, Temarrick Hemingway and Mike Thomas provided 28 receptions for 228 yards and one touchdown.
Yes, the Rams were at a disadvantage after trading up to acquire Goff, but nothing was done to feature these prospects. The face of the franchise, Goff, only started seven games, and the new staff has no clue what it has among last year's additions.
30. Arizona Cardinals
Total Starts: 6
Games Played: 38
Top Performer: CB Brandon Williams
The Arizona Cardinals developed a trend over the last two years. The coaching staff is far more comfortable placing veterans on the field than throwing a rookie into the fire if he's not ready.
Two years ago, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries didn't play in a single game. Last year's first-round pick, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, was active for five contests and made one tackle.
Both are extremely talented, but head coach Bruce Arians wasn't comfortable with them in their initial seasons. This didn't just apply to Nkemdiche; all six rookies from the 2016 class received little exposure.
Cornerback Brandon Williams did start three games as defensive coordinator James Bettcher tried to find a reliable option opposite Patrick Peterson. Last year's third-round pick will again compete for a starting spot once training camp begins. The same can be said for fourth-round pick Evan Boehm, who will fight for time at right guard after starting one game.
Essentially, the Cardinals allowed their rookies to redshirt.
29. Buffalo Bills
Total Starts: 15
Games Played: 52
Top Performer: CB Kevon Seymour
If the Buffalo Bills didn't have bad luck, the franchise wouldn't have any luck at all. This must be how the team's faithful fanbase felt last year when the Bills' top two draft choices each dealt with injuries for large portions of the season.
First-round pick Shaq Lawson missed six games after requiring shoulder surgery last May. He eventually returned to the lineup in Week 7, but he only managed a pair of sacks and started one game. He's expected to enter the 2017 campaign fully healthy as a starter at defensive end, but the Bills received little from him a year ago.
Last year's second-round pick, Reggie Ragland, provided even less. The middle linebacker tore the ACL in his left knee during training camp and never played a down.
However, the Bills found a few solid contributors later in the process.
Defensive lineman Adolphus Washington started 11 games. Running back Jonathan Williams carried the ball 27 times for 97 yards, and he's expected to be LeSean McCoy's primary backup this fall. Cornerback Kevon Seymour provided the biggest boost after being the team's last pick. According to Pro Football Focus, the USC product finished first among rookie corners in most coverage snaps per reception allowed (14.8).
28. Cincinnati Bengals
Total Starts: 6
Games Played: 56
Top Performer: WR Tyler Boyd
Three of the Cincinnati Bengals' seven draft picks didn't play last season. Normally, this isn't a big deal, particularly if it involves late-round selections. However, all three were taken by the fifth round.
First-round selection William Jackson III missed the entire campaign after tearing a pectoral muscle. While the Bengals already had multiple reliable veterans and finished 11th overall in pass defense, Jackson missed a year of development as a potential ball hawk.
Nose tackle Andrew Billings and offensive lineman Christian Westerman didn't play either. Billings suffered a knee injury, while Westerman was inactive for 15 games.
Second-round pick Tyler Boyd did finish third on the team with 54 receptions for 603 yards. Boyd didn't become a dominant presence in the passing game, but he established a role as the team's slot receiver.
Later-round picks Nick Vigil, Cody Core and Clayton Fejedelem found ways to contribute, albeit in a limited fashion.
27. Washington Redskins
Total Starts: 9
Games Played: 36
Top Performer: LB Su'a Cravens
No team received fewer contributions from their 2016 draft class than the Washington Redskins. Washington became one of two teams (along with the Arizona Cardinals) not to have its rookies active in at least 52 games.
This doesn't mean the class was a waste.
Yes, first-round wide receiver Josh Doctson only played in two games with two receptions while dealing with a lingering Achilles injury before hitting injured reserve. The organization's final four picks—defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, quarterback Nate Sudfeld, linebacker Steven Daniels and running back Keith Marshall—didn't provide anything of consequence, either.
However, a pair of defensive backs made themselves known. Well, the team's second-round pick, Su'a Cravens, served as a safety/linebacker. As a sub-package linebacker, Cravens led rookies at the position in lowest catch rate allowed, per Pro Football Focus. He also led Washington's linebackers in run-stop percentage.
While Cravens proved an ideal fit in the defensive scheme as a conversion project, Washington's third-round pick, Kendall Fuller, started six games at cornerback. With his impressive performance last season, albeit in a limited role, Fuller can serve as the nickel corner between Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Total Starts: 24
Games Played: 74
Top Performer: DT Jarran Reed
Over the years, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider found multiple stars beyond the first round. Quarterback Russell Wilson (third round) and cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round) are obvious examples.
Yet the 2016 class appears devoid of major contributors.
Last year's first-round pick, Germain Ifedi, will compete for a starting spot at right tackle or guard after starting 13 games last season. The team clearly likes his potential even though Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson deemed him "one of the league's worst offensive linemen." Of course, Ifedi should improve during his second year, but he has a long way to go.
Second-round pick Jarran Reed was the team's most consistent rookie, but he's not an every-down defender. Reed is a strong run-stopper, but the defensive tackle doesn't create much pressure along the interior.
Aside from running backs C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins' 297 combined rushing yards, the rest of the class provided little.
25. Denver Broncos
Total Starts: 16
Games Played: 81
Top Performer: RB Devontae Booker
The Denver Broncos traded up in the 2016 draft to select quarterback Paxton Lynch knowing full well he would be a project. Lynch was as-advertised when given an opportunity to start. In his two such appearances, he completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 327 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Opponents also sacked him eight times.
Anytime a quarterback is involved, his performance overshadows the rest of the class. But despite Lynch's unimpressive beginning, the rest of the rookies provided solid performances.
Devontae Booker, a fourth-round pick, led the Broncos with 174 rushing attempts for 612 yards. Booker made the most of his opportunities behind a porous offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the rookie runner gained 69.4 percent of his yards after contact. First-year fullback Andy Janovich helped lead the way.
On defense, Justin Simmons and Will Parks each contributed to one of the game's best secondaries. Simmons started the final three games and snagged a pair of interceptions.
The Broncos received a boost on special teams, too. Punter Riley Dixon, a seventh-round pick, finished fourth overall in punting yardage.
24. Houston Texans
Total Starts: 26
Games Played: 57
Top Performer: WR Will Fuller
When the Houston Texans chose speedy wide receiver Will Fuller in the first round, he was supposed to be the perfect complement to DeAndre Hopkins. In some ways, he was. Fuller finished second on the team with 635 receiving yards and led the squad's top targets with an average of 13.5 yards per catch.
The Texans' failed quarterback situation held Fuller back, though, and the offense never realized its potential.
At least Fuller was on the field. Second-round pick Nick Martin never played a down, because he needed ankle surgery in August before being placed on injured reserve.
Braxton Miller also dealt with a season-ending shoulder injury and managed 15 receptions for 99 yards, while continuing his transition from collegiate quarterback to NFL wide receiver.
Houston found tremendous value in the fifth round with the addition of defensive tackle D.J. Reader. The Clemson product started seven games. The 335-pound lineman should eventually replace veteran Vince Wilfork, who is still contemplating retirement, at nose tackle.
23. New York Jets
Total Starts: 25
Games Played: 72
Top Performer: OLB Jordan Jenkins
After the New York Jets front office dismantled the roster, the 2016 draft class will play a big part in the team's direction this fall. Linebackers Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins provided the most hope among last year's rookie crop. Right now, the Jets faithful can't ask for anything more.
Lee brings speed and athleticism to the second line of defense. He only started nine games yet finished second on the team with 73 total tackles. Since the organization released veteran David Harris, Lee returns as the Jets' top tackler with far more responsibilities.
Jenkins continually improved and became one of the NFL's best rookie edge defenders. According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins finished second behind Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa in 3-4 outside linebacker pass-rush productivity during the final four weeks.
Cornerback Juston Burris, offensive tackle Brandon Shell, wide receiver Charone Peake and even punter Lac Edwards have roles to fill.
However, the team's second-round selection, Christian Hackenberg, places a black eye on the entire class. Hackenberg was active for only one game, and he doesn't appear to be any closer to starting this year even with the 38-year-old Josh McCown serving as the Jets' top quarterback option.
22. Oakland Raiders
Total Starts: 34
Games Played: 78
Top Performer: S Karl Joseph
The Oakland Raiders are an ascending franchise. General manager Reggie McKenzie built the core of the team during the 2014 draft with the additions of Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson. The 2016 class looked far more like an attempt to add complementary pieces.
Karl Joseph became the first safety selected when the Raiders chose the West Virginia product with the 14th overall pick. During his time in Morgantown, Joseph served as a heat-seeking missile. There are positives and negatives to this style of play, and they followed him to the professional ranks. Joseph proved to be a playmaker with 60 total tackles, six pass deflections and an interception, yet he missed multiple games due to injury.
Beyond Joseph, the Raiders' class had minimal contributions, but they're expected to claim bigger roles during their second seasons.
Second-round pick Jihad Ward started 13 games, and he'll serve in a rotational role along the defensive front. Third-round pick Shilique Calhoun is coming off a knee injury, but he still has potential as a pass-rush specialist. Running back DeAndre Washington has a chance to become Marshawn Lynch's primary backup, while Cory James will compete for a starting job at middle linebacker.
21. Carolina Panthers
Total Starts: 25
Games Played: 44
Top Performer: CB James Bradberry
Allowing All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman to leave as a free agent after initially placing the franchise tag on him shaped the Carolina Panthers' 2016 draft. General manager Dave Gettleman doesn't value the position as highly as others around the league. He felt he could adequately replace Norman through the draft as long as his front seven continued to play at a high level.
He proved to be right and wrong. The Panthers defense didn't play to the same level it did during the previous season. However, Gettleman found two solid contributors at cornerback among the team's five draft picks.
Second-round selection James Bradberry started 13 games and graded as the top rookie cornerback in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Bradberry is a long, aggressive corner who fits well in the team's heavy zone schemes.
Third-rounder Daryl Worley joined his fellow rookie in the starting lineup. Like Bradberry, Worley is a 6'1" cornerback with arms over 33 inches long. The Panthers searched for a certain type of defensive back and found two.
Meanwhile, first-round pick Vernon Butler remains stuck behind starting defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
Total Starts: 32
Games Played: 65
Top Performer: S Sean Davis
The Pittsburgh Steelers made a concerted effort during the 2016 draft to become younger and more athletic on defense. The organization did so with its first three selections.
Cornerback Artie Burns started nine games. The Steelers' first-round pick was far from polished coming into the league and experienced his share of ups and downs. However, his improvement throughout the year was substantial.
"No rookie cornerback has surrendered more touchdown catches than Artie Burns, but he also has three picks, five pass breakups and has allowed fewer than 60 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage to be caught," Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson noted.
Second-round pick Sean Davis proved to be a Swiss army knife with his ability to play safety, cover the slot and blitz opposing quarterbacks. His versatility and consistency helped settle the team's secondary for the majority of the year. Davis is expected to become a full-time safety this fall, which will allow him to become even more comfortable.
Last but not least, third-round pick Javon Hargrave provided something completely different at the nose tackle position. The rookie, who started 13 games, is a disruptive presence with his ability to make tackles in the backfield. The Steelers lacked this quality with previous nose tackles Casey Hampton and Steve McLendon.
19. Indianapolis Colts
Total Starts: 49
Games Played: 95
Top Performer: C Ryan Kelly
For years, the offensive line took the blame for the Indianapolis Colts' offensive issues. Of course, quarterback Andrew Luck couldn't be blamed, because he's the chosen one. Still, the overall play of the skill positions failed to develop as a direct result of the line's poor play.
Thus, former general manager Ryan Grigson attacked the position during the 2016 draft with fervor. He selected four blockers, and the Colts are now a better team because of it.
"Ryan did a great job last year really identifying some young players in the draft, particularly on the O-line," current general manager Chris Ballard said, per the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer.
With the 18th pick, Indianapolis chose the class' top center in Alabama's Ryan Kelly. The Rimington Trophy (given to the nation's top center) winner didn't disappoint. Kelly started all 16 games and didn't allow a single sack, per Pro Football Focus (via Keefer).
Kelly quickly developed into a stalwart at center, but the team may have also found its starting right guard and tackle. Third-round pick Le'Raven Clark is the favorite to take over at tackle, while Joe Haeg has the inside track at guard.
18. Green Bay Packers
Total Starts: 14
Games Played: 87
Top Performer: NT Kenny Clark
On the surface, the Green Bay Packers didn't get a lot from last year's draft class. However, multiple contributors emerged despite a low number of starts.
The defense didn't need to lean on 21-year-old nose tackle Kenny Clark early due to Letroy Guion's presence in the middle. Clark emerged by the end of the season, though. The young interior defender became difficult to block and played well during the playoffs. He'll now set the tone at the point of attack, especially after the NFL handed down a four-game suspension to Guion for violating its policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Fourth-round pick Blake Martinez started the most games (nine) of any Packers rookie. The linebacker finished sixth on the team with 69 total tackles.
Offensive lineman Jason Spriggs, linebacker Kyler Fackrell, defensive end Dean Lowry and wide receiver Trevor Davis all contributed in some manner, but they're viewed as depth.
The Packers are all about drafting well and developing talent. Last year's class isn't any different.
17. Miami Dolphins
Total Starts: 23
Games Played: 76
Top Performer: OG Laremy Tunsil
Prior to the start of the 2016 NFL draft, many considered Laremy Tunsil a top-three, if not the top, talent. The infamous gas mask video surfaced, and Tunsil slid to the 13th pick where the Miami Dolphins gladly selected him.
The offensive lineman rewarded them with a stellar first season at left guard, starting 14 games. But he'll make a change in his second campaign and return to his natural position at left tackle after the Dolphins traded veteran Branden Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the second round, Miami found another starter in cornerback Xavien Howard. The Baylor product battled injuries, but he started six of seven contests. He's expected to line up opposite Byron Maxwell as one the team's top cornerbacks.
The team's next three selections—Kenyan Drake, Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant—were all meant to make the offense more dynamic and explosive. None had a major impact, but Drake and Grant provided a presence in the return game.
Tunsil and Howard provided a base, while the rest of the class is still trying to catch up.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total Starts: 20
Games Played: 67
Top Performer: CB Vernon Hargreaves
Everyone needs to forget about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' decision to trade up in the second round of the 2016 draft to select kicker Roberto Aguayo for a moment, because others from the class developed into major contributors.
First-round pick Vernon Hargreaves played 97.7 percent of the team's defensive snaps, according to the Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds. After last year's trial by fire, Hargreaves is prepared to be better in coverage during his sophomore campaign.
"We've got a big guy in Mike Evans, we've got a speedy guy in 'D-Jax' [DeSean Jackson], so it's good for me to get to see both looks," Hargreaves said about facing the Buccaneers' talented wide receivers, per Bucs Wire's Bonnie Mott.
Defensive end Noah Spence established himself as a pass-rush specialist, too. The second-round pick finished third on the team with 5.5 sacks behind All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Robert Ayers.
But, yes, the Buccaneers couldn't get a higher ranking based on the Aguayo selection. He might have been one of the greatest kickers in college football history, but he may not even be on Tampa's roster this fall if veteran Nick Folk is given a legitimate shot to compete.
15. Cleveland Browns
Total Starts: 61
Games Played: 149
Top Performer: DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Quantity doesn't equal quality. The Cleveland Browns traded down multiple times during the 2016 draft and finished with 14 total picks—which tied for the most in modern draft history. The organization wanted to maximize its assets and passed on the opportunity to select quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick before trading out of the top 10 entirely.
With the 15th overall selection, the team chose wide receiver Corey Coleman. Unfortunately, Coleman suffered a hand injury that prevented him from playing six games. After being the first receiver selected, the Baylor product finished ninth among rookie targets with 33 receptions for 413 yards.
The team's second-round pick, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, developed into the most consistent performer among its influx of rookies. Ogbah led the team with 5.5 sacks and settled into left end after being moved around the defensive front during the early portions of the season.
Later-round picks Carl Nassib, Cody Kessler, Shon Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Seth DeValve and Spencer Drango all flashed in limited opportunities. A few—Kessler, DeValve and Shon Coleman, in particular—are positioned to compete for starting spots this fall.
The Browns fielded one of the NFL's youngest teams in 2016, and last year's draft class served as the building blocks toward a new foundation.
14. New York Giants
Total Starts: 31
Games Played: 74
Top Performer: WR Sterling Shepard
Aside from first-round pick Eli Apple—who was viewed as a reach at no. 10—the New York Giants found value in all but one of the subsequent rounds.
Sterling Shepard was a steal as the team's second-round choice. Shepard finished second on the team with 65 receptions for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. Each also ranked second among all rookie receivers. The first-year target became one of the NFL premier slot receivers, too, by leading the league in touchdown receptions from the slot, per Pro Football Focus' Aaron Bloch.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson wasn't asked to do much after the franchise used its fourth-round pick to select the Clemson product. The team's decision not to re-sign veteran Kelvin Sheppard this offseason paves the way for Goodson to start at middle linebacker.
Fifth-round pick Paul Perkins also has a chance to take over as the starting running back after finishing the season with a 102-yard effort against Washington. Meanwhile, sixth-round pick Jerell Adams managed 16 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown. He's expected to be part of the tight end mix, even after the Giants selected Evan Engram with this year's first-round pick.
Even Apple performed better than expected. The rookie didn't allow more than five receptions in any contest, per PFF's Ryan Smith.
13. Detroit Lions
Total Starts: 38
Games Played: 109
Top Performer: OT Taylor Decker
The Detroit Lions' 2016 draft class received a massive blow this offseason when first-round left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder during minicamp and required surgery. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Decker will miss four to six months.
Last season, Decker played as well or better than any rookie blocker, particularly those at left tackle. His absence was something the Lions couldn't afford and will scramble to find a competent replacement. It also places the overall draft class at a disadvantage since its top performer won't be in the lineup.
Last year's group still features multiple contributors. Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson played in all 16 games. The 307-pound defender isn't much of an interior pass-rusher, but he provides a physical presence beside veteran Haloti Ngata.
Graham Glasgow, a third-round selection, started 11 games and he'll compete this summer to start at left guard. This means the entire left side of the Lions offensive line is in upheaval. Glasgow has a chance to secure the guard position while the organization figures out what to do at left tackle.
The Lions are also overhauling their linebacker corps, but the franchise may have found something in its second fifth-round pick, Antwione Williams. Williams started three games and played in 14. He has a chance to start this fall alongside 2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis and one of the team's veterans.
12. New Orleans Saints
Total Starts: 26
Games Played: 63
Top Performer: WR Michael Thomas
The New Orleans Saints only selected five players in the NFL draft, and every single one found a way to contribute last season.
Michael Thomas, a second-round selection, set franchise rookie records with 92 receptions for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. Thomas led all rookies and finished top 10 overall in each of the categories. His presence allowed the Saints to trade the offense's leading receiver during the last two seasons, Brandin Cooks, to the New England Patriots.
Aside from Thomas, first-round pick Sheldon Rankins didn't quite live up to expectations after missing seven games due to a broken fibula he suffered in training camp. Yet his explosiveness displayed itself later in the season when he managed four sacks.
Safety Vonn Bell, who was selected later in the second round, started 14 games and finished second on the team with 87 total tackles. Impressively, the rookie didn't miss a single tackle, per Pro Football Focus.
Of the later-round selections, defensive lineman David Onyemata was active for all 16 games, while running back Daniel Lasco played in seven contests.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
Total Starts: 33
Games Played: 66
Top Performer: QB Carson Wentz
Where the Philadelphia Eagles rank among the best classes is dependent on Carson Wentz's public perception as a potential franchise quarterback.
In his first season, last year's second pick completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The turnovers indicate an up-and-down campaign, which he experienced. The North Dakota State product came into the league and played unbelievably well to open his career. As defenses started to decipher his strengths and weaknesses, his play declined. In fact, Wentz finished 25th out of 30 qualified quarterbacks with a 79.3 quarterback rating.
Despite the disappointments seen later in the season, Wentz still flashed legitimate franchise potential. Even without the quarterback, the Eagles built a solid draft class.
Third-round selection Isaac Seumalo started four games a year ago, and he'll compete to start at left guard this summer. Fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood finished third on the team with 312 rushing yards and helped returns kicks. Fellow fifth-round choice Halapoulivaati Vaitai started six games.
Beyond Wentz, cornerback Jalen Mills was the Eagles' most crucial selection. Mills struggled at times, but the organization appears comfortable with him as one of its top three cornerbacks.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
Total Starts: 16
Games Played: 80
Top Performer: DE Chris Jones
Two draft selections don't make or break an entire draft class, but the Kansas City Chiefs would like to challenge this hypothesis. Defensive end Chris Jones and wide receiver Tyreek Hill developed into stars during their initial campaigns.
Jones graded as the league's top rookie interior defender, per Pro Football Focus. Once knocked for his inconsistency at the collegiate level, the Mississippi State product became a force along the Chiefs front. The second-round pick led the team's defensive linemen with 28 total tackles and a pair of sacks. With Dontari Poe leaving in free agency, Jones will be the focal point for opposing offenses.
Hill developed into a Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro due to his ability as a returner. The fifth-round pick provided three special teams touchdowns while averaging 27.4 yards per kick return and 15.2 yards per punt return. The rookie also led the team with six touchdown receptions to go with three rushing scores. Hill finished fourth overall with 1,836 all-purpose yards.
Of the rest of the Chiefs' draft class, two are not even with the team, and only fourth-round pick Parker Ehringer provided any starts. Jones and Hill are standouts, but their presence alone only provided Kansas City with enough to crack the top 10.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Total Starts: 36
Games Played: 81
Top Performer: DE DeForest Buckner
Chip Kelly's lone season as head coach provided the San Francisco 49ers with multiple building blocks for Kyle Shanahan to enjoy.
Defensive end DeForest Buckner headlined the class as the seventh pick. The 6'7", 291-pound lineman led all interior defenders last season with 1,007 total snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
"I think DeForest will eventually be a Defensive Player of the Year," Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said, per KHON 2's Sam Spangler. "... I keep telling him there's nobody like him. He's not normal. His physique, his speed, it's not normal. So when you're not normal, you can do not normal things and winning the defensive MVP is not normal for most people."
The 49ers then traded back into the first round to acquire guard Joshua Garnett. The Outland Trophy winner (as college football's best interior lineman) started the final 11 games. San Francisco will feature a completely different offensive scheme this fall, but Garnett should be able to hold down one of the starting spots.
San Francisco also seems to have found its top cornerback in fourth-round pick Rashard Robinson. Robinson always had the physical tools, yet lacked actual playing time. After being suspended for over a year, the 49ers took a chance and struck gold.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
Total Starts: 41
Games Played: 64
Top Performer: CB Jalen Ramsey
The Jacksonville Jaguars featured the only 2016 draft class to have its top four selections active for all 16 games last season.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was one of the NFL's top rookies. Last year's fifth overall pick was the only first-year cornerback to hold opposing signal-callers under an 80 quarterback rating when targeted, per Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson. Ramsey is the perfect corner for today's game: He's long (6'1" with arms over 33 inches long), aggressive, has ball skills and can play either press or zone coverage. Ramsey led all rookies with 14 pass deflections.
Meanwhile, edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue finished second among rookies and led the Jaguars with eight sacks. The pass-rush specialist found a niche on a defensive front that will feature Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr., Calais Campbell and Sheldon Day (who also played in all 16 games as a rookie).
On the other hand, Myles Jack never really found a home last season, even though the majority of his reps came at strong-side linebacker. He's expected to become a full-time middle linebacker this year, and it'll only help the supremely gifted athlete.
The latter portion of the draft didn't provide any contributors, but the first four rounds certainly did.
7. New England Patriots
Total Starts: 33
Games Played: 85
Top Performer: OG Joe Thuney
The New England Patriots find value where others don't. This is how Bill Belichick has operated for a long time, which provides the organization with a competitive edge.
This offseason, the Patriots found ways to flip draft picks for young veterans at key positions. A year ago, New England maximized its draft class with multiple selections who went on to become contributors on a Super Bowl roster.
Guards aren't as valued as others in the offense and not even among their fellow offensive linemen. The Patriots selected North Carolina State offensive lineman Joe Thuney in the third round, placed him at left guard and didn't worry about the position for the rest of the season. Thuney started all 16 games.
The team found more value in the sixth round with the selection of Elandon Roberts. Due in part to the rookie's play, the team felt comfortable trading Jamie Collins prior to last year's deadline. After Collins' departure, Roberts split reps with Kyle Van Noy before starting the Patriots' first two playoff games.
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell showed up in the biggest game of the year, too. After finishing fifth on the team with 32 receptions during the regular season, the aspiring author caught six passes for 70 yards in Super Bowl LI.
Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady remain the same, but the surrounding cast changes with the Patriots adept at finding who fits their culture.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Total Starts: 32
Games Played: 92
Top Performer: CB Tavon Young
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is known as one of the league's best at evaluating talent. He didn't disappoint during the 2016 draft.
First-round pick Ronnie Stanley started 12 games at left tackle and graded as the most proficient rookie pass-blocker, per Pro Football Focus. His combination of size (6'6" and 320 pounds), length, athleticism and improving technique make him an ideal blindside protector for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Newsome discovered another starter along the offensive front four rounds later. Alex Lewis started eight games at left tackle and guard. Lewis is projected to take over left guard this fall, which allows Marshal Yanda to move back to the right side.
Tavon Young proved to be the best of the bunch, though. The undersized (5'9", 180 pounds) defensive back never looked overwhelmed after being a fourth-round selection. Young ranked first among rookie corners in yards per coverage snap, per PFF. His level of play might have been enough to push the Ravens higher on this list, but Young suffered a torn ACL during OTAs this spring.
Add running back Kenneth Dixon, wide receiver Chris Moore and linebackers Matt Judon and Kamalei Correa into the mix, and the Ravens put together a strong overall class.
5. Chicago Bears
Total Starts: 55
Games Played: 102
Top Performer: RB Jordan Howard
Everyone knows the Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing during his first season. Another rookie finished second.
The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard was a workhorse for the Bears after being selected in the fifth round. The 225-pound back carried the ball 252 times for 1,313 yards. His 5.2 yards per carry also ranked second behind the Buffalo Bills' LeSean McCoy (5.4) among backs with 200 or more carries. As one of the league's leading rushers, Howard was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Howard developed into the crown jewel of last year's class, but the Bears also received plenty more from his fellow rookies.
Between weeks 10-14, first-round pick Leonard Floyd proved to be one of the league's most productive pass-rushers over the likes of Von Miller and Khalil Mack, per Pro Football Focus. Floyd tied for second on the team with seven sacks despite missing four games due to injury.
Center Cody Whitehair also adapted quickly to his new position after being a collegiate left tackle. The second-round pick started all 16 games.
On top of those three standouts, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Kwiatkoski and Deon Bush all received opportunities to start on last season's 3-13 squad.
4. Tennessee Titans
Total Starts: 38
Games Played: 110
Top Performer: OT Jack Conklin
The draft is an opportunity for a team to establish an identity. This was never more evident than in the Tennessee Titans' approach to the 2016 class. General manager Jon Robinson wanted the Titans to be more physical, hence the genesis of #ExoticSmashmouth.
Robinson achieved this by trading out and back into the top 10 to select Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin. The rookie responded with one of the best first-year campaigns for any blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, Conklin graded as the league's best rookie offensive lineman. He even earned first-team All-Pro honors.
The team also added 247-pound running back Derrick Henry. The Heisman Trophy winner served as a backup to DeMarco Murray, but he managed 490 yards on 110 carries. He and Murray form a talented duo running behind one of the league's better offensive lines.
Both free safety Kevin Byard and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe worked into starting roles. Sharpe finished third on the team with 522 receiving yards. Cornerback LeShaun Sims also strung together multiple strong performances and has a chance to be a big part of the Titans secondary alongside new additions Adoree' Jackson, Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien.
Tennessee surprised with a 9-7 record last season because the front office is building the team the right way.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
Total Starts: 31
Games Played: 86
Top Performer: DE Joey Bosa
Despite a well-publicized contract squabble with top pick Joey Bosa—which led to him missing the first four games of the season—the Los Angeles Chargers' 2016 class came out looking great.
Bosa headlined the group after being the third selection. The Ohio State product managed 10.5 sacks in 12 games and developed into a consistent disruptive force. According to Pro Football Focus, Bosa received the second-highest grade in pass-rush productivity by a rookie over the past 10 years. The edge defender also finished second on the team with seven tackles for loss. As a result, Bosa earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
In the second round, the Chargers chose top tight end prospect Hunter Henry. All he did was finish tied for first among tight ends with eight touchdown receptions. The Hall of Fame is waiting for Antonio Gates, and his replacement is already on the roster.
Those two picks alone would place the Chargers among the top draft classes. The later-round additions of linebacker Jatavis Brown, punter Drew Kaser and fullback Derek Watt push it into the top three overall. Brown is an exciting defender with an unbelievable combination of athleticism and quickness. Kaser and Watt adequately fill niche roles within the roster, too.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Total Starts: 40
Games Played: 54
Top Performer: LB Deion Jones
Quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones stole the headlines, but a young, athletic and continually improving defense that flew to the football became a significant reason for the Atlanta Falcons' success last season.
Safety Keanu Neal established a physical presence in the Falcons' once-toothless secondary. The 6'0", 211-pound defensive back ranked second in defensive stops among safeties last season and first in percentage played near the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. Last year's first-round pick was second on the team with 105 total tackles, while another rookie finished first.
Deion Jones became a mainstay in the middle of the Falcons defense with his 106 total tackles. Many deemed the 222-pound linebacker undersized before Atlanta chose him in the second round. He's a modern-day backer with the ability to defend the run and comfortably drop into space. According to PFF, no linebacker broke up more passes last season.
Fourth-round pick De'Vondre Campbell took over as a starter at outside linebacker in Week 7 and became a stalwart along the second line of defense.
With tight end Austin Hooper added to the mix, the Falcons capitalized on a small draft class by adding multiple standouts.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Total Starts: 54
Games Played: 72
Top Performer: QB Dak Prescott
The Dallas Cowboys redefined their entire organization with the selections of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. After missing the playoffs during five of the previous six seasons, the rookie duo led the Cowboys to the NFC's best record at 13-3.
Which of the two actually performed better last season is up for interpretation, but Prescott gets the nod here since far less was expected from the fourth-round pick.
If not for a preseason injury to veteran Tony Romo, Prescott may have never seen the field. But he did and excelled. The young signal-caller set rookie records with a 67.8 completion percentage, 104.9 quarterback rating, 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 11 games with an over-100 NFL passer rating and 176 consecutive pass attempts without an interception to start a career. As a result, Prescott was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year.
Elliott challenged his teammate as the league's top rookie, though. Last year's fourth-overall pick became the first rookie back to lead the NFL in rushing yards since Edgerrin James in 1999. Elliott accumulated 1,631 yards on his way to his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.
These two standouts once again placed stars in the Cowboys lineup and not just on their helmets. But they're not the only contributors found within the class. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and cornerback Anthony Brown established roles within the defense and much is expected of both as they continue to develop.