Ranking the 7 Biggest Draft Mistakes of the Past 3 YearsApril 4, 2021
Ranking the 7 Biggest Draft Mistakes of the Past 3 Years
In just over three weeks, representatives from the NFL's 32 franchises will gather in Cleveland for the 2021 draft. Every team from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers has the same goal: get better by adding the right first-year players.
Over the past few seasons, some teams have had more success in that regard than others. While the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns are relatively pleased with the quarterbacks they drafted in 2018 (quarterbacks who just led their teams to the postseason), the Baltimore Ravens are over the moon to have landed the 2019 MVP at the back end of the first round of that same draft.
Some teams, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to have a do-over on a recent early pick. The quarterback who flopped in a starting role. The offensive lineman who is more matador than bodyguard. The trade up that not only landed the team a disappointing player but also cost considerable draft capital.
Of course, all mistakes are not created equal—and we're going with next-level no-nos here.
Using a combination of a player's performance (or more appropriately lack thereof), the pick used to select them and any additional compensation required to move up to that slot, we've singled out the seven biggest mistakes of the last three NFL drafts.
In news that should surprise no one, several involve quarterbacks.
7. New Orleans Saints Trade Up to Draft EDGE Marcus Davenport at No. 14 (2018)
The New Orleans Saints face a decision regarding edge-rusher Marcus Davenport. By May 3, the team needs to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option for 2022 on the 24-year-old's pact—an option that would pay him $9.5 million guaranteed.
As ESPN's Mike Triplett reported, batterymate Cameron Jordan thinks this is a no-brainer.
"Marcus is a physically blessed athlete that has shown flashes of how good he could be when healthy," Jordan said. "This year will be the year to affirm that the flashes he has shown already can be a constant."
The dilemma for the Saints is that those flashes have been few and far between.
In 2018, Davenport was one of the more polarizing prospects in the draft class. The 6'6", 265-pounder shone at that year's scouting combine, but after starring at tiny UTSA, he faced questions regarding the level of competition he faced.
The Saints weren't concerned. Quite the opposite, in fact. After Davenport slid into the middle of Round 1, New Orleans dealt a package that included its first-round pick in 2019 to Green Bay for the right to move up to take him at No. 14.
The return on that significant investment has been modest. In three seasons, Davenport has managed just 12 sacks—including a career-low 1.5 in 2020. He's had physical issues in each season, missing three games in 2018 with a toe injury. He also ended the 2019 campaign on injured reserve with a foot setback that required surgery in 2019, and he sat out five games with numerous maladies last season.
It's understandable given what the team invested in Davenport that the Saints are hopeful for a fourth-year breakout.
But based on his first three seasons, that breakout isn't especially likely.
6. New York Giants Trade Up to Draft CB DeAndre Baker at No. 30 (2019)
In 2019, the New York Giants used the sixth pick to select the heir apparent to Eli Manning in Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. But Big Blue wasn't done. The team shipped fourth- and fifth-round picks to Seattle for the right to move up seven spots and select Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker at No. 30.
In retrospect, the Giants would have been much better off standing pat—and drafting someone else.
To be fair, Baker was a highly regarded prospect after a standout career in Athens. Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports ranked the 5'11", 180-pounder as the No. 2 cornerback prospect in the class.
"Baker reminds me of Tre'Davious White," Trapasso wrote. "Not someone who'll wow you with his physical stature, twitch or length. But his vast experience (and productivity) in the SEC has led to him being a mirroring magician. He stays glued to receivers and has awesome awareness."
That was the last time Baker's talents and the word "awesome" would be used in proximity.
As a rookie, he was roasted in the Big Apple. Baker allowed 15.7 yards per completion and half a dozen touchdowns with a passer rating against of 116.2.
In May 2020, Baker was arrested in Florida and charged with four counts of robbery with a firearm, as well as four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm/intent to commit a felony. That July, Baker was placed on the commissioner's exempt list, and by September 2020 the Giants released him after just one season.
Yet last November, all charges against him were dropped. Per assistant state attorney Paul R. Valcore, "The alleged victims and the known witnesses have become uncooperative, and their credibility is inalterably tarnished." In addition, an attorney for three of those victims was arrested and charged with extortion related to the case.
While the legal situation could be attributed to bad luck on Baker's part, his poor play clearly made it an easier decision for the Giants to move on, and the cost in draft capital alone makes this a draft flub for Big Blue.
Late in the 2020 season, Baker got back on the field as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. He played just 45 snaps over two games before breaking his femur.
5. Tennessee Titans Draft OT Isaiah Wilson No. 29 (2020)
Offensive tackles are coveted draft commodities. And one year ago (at least in the opinion of Joe Marino of the Draft Network), one of the most physically imposing of the class was Georgia's Isaiah Wilson.
"An all-everything recruit, Isaiah Wilson started for two seasons at Georgia before declaring for the NFL draft. An impressive blend of size, mobility and power, Wilson has some dominant reps on tape as both a run blocker and pass blocker where his traits simply allow him to take over. With that said, honing in on the technical side of the game to maximize his rare physical gifts is critical for him to reach his ceiling at the next level."
He wasn't the most technically proficient blocker in the class, but the Tennessee Titans thought enough of the 6'7", 340-pound mauler to use the No. 29 pick on him.
Less than one year later, Wilson is out of the league.
In August 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he received a trespass warning while attending a party at Tennessee State. One month later, Wilson was arrested and charged with DUI. A pair of stints on the reserve/COVID-19 list also contributed to his playing only three snaps before the team suspended him for violating its rules. He eventually landed on the reserve/non-football illness list because of "personal issues," per Paul Kuharsky.
"We did a lot of work on him, leading up to the evaluation process," Titans general manager Jon Robinson said in February, per Terry McCormick of Titans Insider. "The player that was here in the fall in Nashville was not the player we evaluated. He's going to have to make a determination if he wants to play pro football. That's on him."
Wilson then posted a since-deleted tweet that he was "done with football as a Titan." The team traded him in March to the Miami Dolphins, who waived him days later after he was late to his physical and skipped several workouts.
The lineman's story is a sad one, because it appears he has no interest in harnessing his talent, or has become incapable of doing so. The recent stories about him stand at odds with the endorsement his college position coach gave him after the Titans drafted him, per Luke Worsham of A to Z Sports Nashville:
"He'll fit in perfectly. He's got to continue to get his technique better, but the desire there, the toughness being there, you can coach him however you want. Their o-line coach will get exactly what he wants out of him—he'll figure out exactly how to coach him."
Clearly, something changed, but for the Titans this will likely go down as an infamous draft-day decision.
4. Las Vegas Raiders Draft Clelin Ferrell No. 4 (2019)
The Las Vegas Raiders signed multiple free-agent linemen this year, including edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. It's not the first time in recent years the team has tried to address the unit.
The 2019 draft class was choked with talent on the defensive front—three of the first four picks were D-linemen—starting with Ohio State's Nick Bosa at No. 2 and ending with the Raiders' selection of Clemson's Clelin Ferrell at No. 4.
Ferrell was coming off a 55-tackle, 11.5-sack season in 2018 that culminated in winning the Hendricks Award, given to the nation's top defensive end.
At the time, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller noted: "Ferrell is one of the more NFL-ready pass-rushers in this class, but he also has less potential athletically than the players ranked ahead of him. Ferrell could be a day one starter at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but his lack of elite athletic traits could limit his upside."
That lack of upside led some to question whether the Raiders reached for Ferrell. Miller graded him as a second-round pick. If the first two seasons of his career are any indication, those concerns were valid.
Ferrell's rookie season wasn't terrible—38 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 648 snaps. But that isn't the impact teams expect from a top-five pick. Still, headed into his sophomore campaign then-Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he was confident Ferrell could realize that potential, telling Kyle Martin of the team's website:
"Cle came in here as a highly drafted guy — I always tell him, 'I don't care how you were drafted, or how you get here, you're now a Raider.' So, however you get here doesn't matter, it's what you do once you get here. Clelin had a lot of snaps last year, outside on first and second down, and we put him inside on some. He's a guy we can move around, he's come back in tremendous shape — he looks like a different guy. He's a lot quicker, he's a lot stronger, so I'm looking for big things from him [this season]."
Instead, his numbers dropped across the board in 2020…including to just two sacks.
There's still time for Ferrell to turn things around somewhat. But given that the Raiders could have drafted edge-rushers like Josh Allen, Brian Burns or Montez Sweat with this pick, it's hard to view this one as anything but a major misfire.
3. Washington Football Team Drafts QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. at No. 15 (2019)
As the quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2018, Dwayne Haskins Jr. had a season for the ages. He threw for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns on the way to being named a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Haskins fit the mold of a pure pocket passer. He wasn't especially quick on his feet, but when he was protected in Columbus, Haskins showed he could wing lasers to just about any part of the field.
However, as Lance Zierlein wrote in his scouting report on Haskins at NFL.com, some issues led one to believe the QB could take time to develop:
"Haskins is still very early in his journey and is prone to misreading coverage and stalling in getting through his progressions. While this is normal for an inexperienced quarterback, Haskins is going to be forced to learn on the fly against NFL speed and defensive coordinators conspiring to defeat him. His athletic limitations could keep him pocket-bound, but he has the arm talent, confidence and pocket savvy to become a good NFL starter if he's protected and given the time to develop early on."
Haskins wasn't the first quarterback drafted in 2019—that was Kyler Murray, who went No. 1 to the Arizona Cardinals. But the Washington Football team saw enough to snatch Haskins at No. 15.
Or I should say, Washington's owner Daniel Snyder saw enough. Per the Washington Post, by October of Haskins' rookie season, reports were swirling around the nation's capital that then-head coach Jay Gruden hadn't wanted to draft Haskins at all.
This isn't to say that the quarterback didn't participate in his D.C. flop. In a November 2019 win over the Detroit Lions—Haskins' first—he missed the game's final snap while taking a selfie with fans.
Things didn't get any better in 2020 under head coach Ron Rivera. After a loss to the Baltimore Ravens early in the season, Haskins riled teammates by seemingly caring more about his stats in the game than the fact that Washington lost. The final straw came last December, when Haskins was filmed violating COVID-19 protocols by partying maskless.
He was released just after Christmas before eventually signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and during a March appearance on The Herd With Colin Cowherd, Rivera said the young quarterback's work ethic needs, well, work (h/t Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post):
"You know what? I tried to come to terms with him. He's a very talented player. He's got an NFL arm, a legit arm, and there's a part of him that he wants to, but something keeps getting in the way. I'm not sure what it was, and that was the hard part because he puts in the time, and then he doesn't. And you're wondering, ‘Where is he? What's he doing?' You see him over there and you go, 'OK,' and then you don't see him. So I think the thing he needs to do is just prioritize. The kid, as I said, he's talented, and if he ever does get it, he's going to make an impact."
2. Arizona Cardinals Draft Josh Rosen at No. 10 (2018)
More than a few people are wondering how this isn't the biggest draft-day mistake of the past three years. That's because there hasn't been a quarterback prospect in the past five years who has fallen further and faster than Josh Rosen.
Before the 2018 draft, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com wrote that it wasn't Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield who was the top QB prospect in his class. Or USC's Sam Darnold. Or Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
It was Rosen, who threw for 3,756 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2017 at UCLA.
"Josh Rosen is the best quarterback in the 2018 class. I might be on an island with my assessment of the UCLA star, but I really believe he has all of the tools to be the most successful quarterback prospect from this class. From his A-plus arm talent and flawless mechanics to his exceptional intelligence and football aptitude, Rosen has always checked off all of the boxes as a potential franchise quarterback. He is the quintessential player at the position, and we should be celebrating his arrival as the NFL's next great quarterback."
Three years later, just about everything that could go wrong for Rosen has. Forced into action for a God-awful Cardinals team as a rookie, Rosen struggled. He barely completed 55 percent of his passes, threw 11 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, posted a passer rating of 66.7 and won just three of 13 starts.
That disastrous season earned the Redbirds the first overall pick in 2019—one that new Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury used on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. With Rosen's replacement in town, he was quickly cast aside—traded to the Miami Dolphins for second- and fifth-round picks in 2019.
In Miami, things went from bad to worse. Rosen made just three starts, losing them all. His completion percentage and passer rating fell to more abysmal levels, and he managed just one touchdown pass against five picks.
When Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall in 2020, Rosen's time ran out there as well. The 24-year-old spent most of his third season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad before signing with San Francisco in December.
Now the 49ers could draft their own quarterback of the future third overall in 2021—and Rosen could find himself looking for work once more.
1. New York Jets Trade Up for QB Sam Darnold at No. 3 (2018)
This one is apt to stir debate. After all, while Sam Darnold hasn't been good over three seasons with the New York Jets, he's been better than Rosen.
But Darnold was an even bigger draft gaffe for a few reasons.
While his on-field performance has been at least marginally better than Rosen's, that's just about all it has been. Yes, Darnold has thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions. But the margin isn't impressive: 45 to 39. He hasn't completed 60 percent of his career passing attempts; his career passer rating is south of 80; and he's won just 13 of his 38 starts.
At least Rosen apologists can note he was barely given a chance. The same can't be said about the player one QB coach said was a much better NFL prospect than Buffalo's Josh Allen in 2018, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com:
"If you watch them both, I think it's obvious how much better an athlete Darnold is than Josh Allen. I'm not talking about times or anything. I'm just talking about his ability to move quickly, to adjust, the movement drills that they did with him. Josh Allen lumbers a little bit and Darnold does a great job of moving around. I think Darnold's ceiling is very high because I think he's a really good athlete for a bigger guy."
The Cardinals had also fewer options at No. 10 than the Jets did when they moved up to No. 3. Gang Green could have drafted Allen, who just turned in an MVP-caliber season in 2020. Instead they chose a player who averaged just 184 passing yards per game with nine measly touchdown passes in his third season.
Then there's what the trade cost. At No. 6 (New York's original slot), the Indianapolis Colts picked guard Quenton Nelson, who is arguably the best offensive lineman in football. The deal also cost New York three second-round picks. Braden Smith is the starting right tackle for the best line in the NFL. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has played a prominent role in the Indy secondary each of the past two years. And the third pick (which was traded to Philadelphia) was used on one of the league's better young tight ends in Dallas Goedert.
That's one superstar and three solid players for a mediocre (at best) signal-caller the Jets appear to be on the verge of throwing in the towel on after three years.
From most indications, the Jets have their sights set on Zach Wilson of BYU with the second pick in this year's draft.
Here's hoping New York has better success with this quarterback prospect than the last one.
Stats via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.