Four seasons later, we dive deep with 32 takeaways from one of the worst first rounds in league history—and some lessons for 2017
The NFL draft is an annual exercise in optimism, but hindsight is always part of the equation—it usually takes a few years to see how much of it was warranted. But going into the 2013 draft, the talent pool seemed to be half-empty rather than half-full. Comparing it to other years, Broncos GM John Elway presciently said, “Not nearly as many impact guys.” Another GM thought to himself, This board is probably a mess for everybody. It was the year between Andrew Luck and Jadeveon Clowney, a year when linemen were among the best and worst picks; when the bottom half of the first round would yield more Pro Bowlers than the top half; when a top pick who simply became a regular starter would be viewed as a “great” success. Six of the first 10 picks from the 2013 draft have already moved on to other teams—a stunning number. “I look back at that draft,” says one veteran talent evaluator, “as one of the most confounding drafts for us.” In the spirit of 32 picks, here are 32 takeaways from one of the strangest drafts in NFL history—and a few lessons that teams should take into their draft rooms next week.
The Chiefs had the first overall pick, but it wasn’t a golden asset. New general manager John Dorsey fielded only three or four calls from other teams the day before the draft—and none of the trade offers were very serious. There was no Andrew Luck to select at No. 1. Had there been, the Chiefs’ plan may have been very different. Instead, they traded with the 49ers for veteran quarterback Alex Smith in February, and in March they settled on drafting an offensive tackle as a building block for new coach Andy Reid. They took Eric Fisher, valuing his athleticism and upside even though he hadn’t faced top-tier competition at Central Michigan. “It was one of those things where, if you understood to have a degree of patience as an organization, that he would begin to hit his mark right around Year 3,” Dorsey says. Fisher has never made a Pro Bowl, but he’s started more games than any other top-10 pick from that year’s draft. Last year the left tackle signed a four-year, $48 million extension with Kansas City.
For the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, offensive tackles were drafted first and second overall. The Jaguars selected Texas A&M lineman Luke Joeckel with the second pick. To put an absolute value on those selections, however, consider this: One AFC personnel executive said his team’s grades on all three of last year’s top offensive tackles—Ronnie Stanley (No. 6 to Baltimore), Jack Conklin (No. 8 to Tennessee) and Laremy Tunsil (No. 13 to Miami)—were well above Fisher and Joeckel’s marks. Jacksonville didn’t pick up Joeckel’s fifth-year option. In March he signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Seahawks to play left guard.
Nick Aliotti, the former defensive coordinator at Oregon, remembers NFL teams streaming through the Ducks’ headquarters in the months leading up to the draft. Dion Jordan was projected to be a first-round pick, and talent evaluators asked about everything—including, point-blank, if drugs were a problem. “You feel bad, like, maybe you gave false information, even though I didn’t, to the teams that were considering drafting him, because I never saw that coming,” Aliotti says. “I never saw the drug thing being a problem, I really didn’t. We are not with him 24/7, but we are with him quite a bit, so I thought I really knew the kid.”
There are football reasons why Jordan wasn’t a good fit as the Dolphins’ pick at No. 3—he was a 3-4 outside linebacker drafted to be a 4-3 defensive end—but it’s his three suspensions for violating NFL substance abuse policies that have derailed his career. Aliotti says he and the Oregon staff signed off on Jordan without reservation. He even went so far as to vouch for him when a friend, then-Dolphins trainer Kevin O’Neill, called to inquire about Jordan. “You feel bad you didn’t know,” Aliotti says, “but you feel worse for the young man.” The Dolphins sacrificed a second-round pick to move up nine spots and leapfrog Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Jordan, who hasn’t played a down since 2014, was cut by the Dolphins this spring and signed a low-risk deal with the Seahawks.
Had Dion Jordan been on the board at No. 4, it would have been hard for Chip Kelly to pass on his former player. Instead, the Eagles took Lane Johnson, who played quarterback, tight end and defensive end in the college ranks before moving to the offensive line during his last two years at Oklahoma. He was drafted on upside—and the Eagles hit that projection. Johnson earned a six-year extension immediately following his third season. But he’s also missed his own share of time with suspensions—a four-game ban in 2014 and a 10-game ban last season for performance-enhancing drugs.
The top half of the 2013 first round has produced exactly two Pro Bowl bids in four seasons: defensive end Ziggy Ansah (No. 5 to Detroit) in 2015, and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (No. 13 to the Jets) in 2014. Among the top 16 picks, Ansah has earned the lone All-Pro nomination, a second-team nod in 2015. The crazy part is that Ansah might have been the biggest risk among the first 10 picks. Though he had the size (he’s 6'5", 271 pounds, and has 35 1/8" wingspan), he arrived at BYU in 2008 from Ghana having had no exposure to football. He showed up to spring practice in 2010 hoping to walk onto the team. When he was drafted, he had started just nine games in his life.
An undersized edge rusher who struggled to set a physical edge in the run game, Barkevious Mingo was taken sixth overall by the Browns . . . but he’s already playing for his third team. The Patriots traded for him last summer; he played 47 snaps on defense for New England in 2016, according to Pro Football Reference, and this spring he signed a one-year deal with the Colts. Three edge rushers were picked in the top six, and only one—Ansah—has worked out. A lesson? Says Mike Mayock, draft analyst for NFL Network: “All three of these guys, you were trying to project upside. But if you’ve gotta take a chance on somebody, let’s make sure you are clean off the field, check out medically and have the prerequisite height, weight, etc.”
One NFL talent evaluator still regards Jonathan Cooper as one of the more perplexing busts. He was seen as a can’t-miss prospect out of North Carolina, an elite guard who graded high across the board. That’s why you continue to see him get chances—he’s on his fourth team now (Dallas), because clubs want to get another look at a guy with high ability. Cooper broke his fibula in his first training camp; he has said that he’s struggled with the mental challenges of rebounding from a season-ending injury, something he’s never seemed able to outrun. New England had traded for Cooper last spring, but he suffered a foot injury just a few days into training camp. The Patriots cut him in October, and he landed in Cleveland, where he saw limited action before being cut in late December.
“I probably had five GMs tell me prior to that draft, you can’t build a team based on exceptions,” says Mike Mayock. That’s an old Bill Parcells-ism. If you keep making exceptions, the next thing you know, you’ll have a team full of them. Enter Tavon Austin, a 5'8", 174-pound receiver from West Virginia who caught fire that year as an explosive athlete who tested well at the combine. The Rams traded up to select Austin eighth overall, imagining him in myriad roles—receiver, running back, return man—but he hasn’t thrived in any. He signed a four-year extension last summer but has just one 100-yard receiving game on his résumé. “Whether medical, character or size, because this draft was perceived to be so bad,” Mayock says, “I think some teams talked themselves into saying we are going to reach for the talent, and they got burned.”
Dee Milliner, the ninth pick, is already out of football. At Alabama, Milliner had a championship pedigree the Jets liked—but they ultimately reached for a young cornerback after trading Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers four days before the draft. Milliner had been taken off at least one team’s draft board because of an injury history that included five surgeries before he got to the NFL, furthering wariness among some evaluators about Alabama players being beat up before reaching the pros. What the Jets didn’t see—and credit this to pre-draft preparation by either his college program or his agent—was that Milliner was behind when it came to the mental side of the game. He played a lot of man-to-man coverage in college, knowing only his assignment and not how to study or anticipate what the opposing offense was doing. He started to make strides at the end of his rookie season, thanks to extra study sessions with veteran teammates and coaches, but he tore his right Achilles in his second season. He was let go by the Jets during final cuts last year, and the only sniff he’s gotten since was a workout with the Panthers in November.
Just four years later, only four of the top 10 picks in the 2013 draft are still with the team that selected them. Let’s put that in context: From the 2012 draft, seven of the top 10 players were still with their teams after four years; that number was eight for the 2011 draft. For that reason, revisiting the 2013 draft isn’t a popular exercise for executives around the league. One GM whose team missed in the top 10 declined to be interviewed through a team spokesman, who explained, “Given the way our 2013 class has panned out, he’s not a huge fan of the subject.” Chance Warmack, a guard from Alabama, was picked 10th by Tennessee; a middling starter his first three seasons, he spent most of last year on IR with a hand injury and signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in March.
After Warmack, the Chargers took D.J. Fluker, a tackle from Alabama, 11th, meaning six of the first 11 picks were offensive linemen. “I think that was a direct reflection of people’s concern with a lot of these top-end players,” Mike Mayock says. “Six of 11 teams said, Hey, we are going to go with an offensive lineman, because that’s a lot safer. And the irony is, we are starting to learn that with college spread offenses, these offensive linemen are nowhere near as safe as they used to be.” It was the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on the issues teams have faced over the past several years in projecting college linemen from spread offenses to the NFL. There’s some evidence that teams are now correcting for this effect—in last year’s draft, the top two tackles taken, Ronnie Stanley by Baltimore and Jack Conklin by Tennessee, both played college ball with their hand in the dirt in a traditional three-point stance.
The weirdness of this draft: Pick No. 12 was cornerback D.J. Hayden, who nearly died after a collision on the football field. During a padded practice his senior year at Houston, he was struck in the chest by a teammate’s knee while covering a pass route. Against all odds, the impact ruptured a major vein that carries blood from the lower body back to the heart. He was cleared medically after recovering from the near-fatal accident. But, Mayock recalls, “I had several GMs tell me, Listen, the kid almost died. We don’t know if that’s going to change him. He’ll have a different approach to how he played football; how physical he is. We can’t touch him in the first round.” Hayden started 25 games for the Raiders, but they didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. In March, he signed a one-year contract with Detroit.
Mark Dominik, the general manager of the Buccaneers, traded away the No. 13 pick the Sunday before the draft. “I don’t want to sound like I’m saying this in hindsight, because you can debate whether the trade for Darrelle Revis was a good trade or not,” Dominik says. “But a big part of the reason why I felt like a first-round pick was worthy of Darrelle Revis was that I didn’t like the way the class looked that year, especially at the top of the draft.” He liked both tight end Tyler Eifert and cornerback Xavier Rhodes but felt both were reaches at No. 13. The fact that the Bucs had finished dead last in the league in pass defense the season before fueled the push for Revis. “But then I was happy to get [quarterback] Mike Glennon [in the third round],” Dominik adds, “so it was kind of a weird class that way.” Glennon started 13 games as a rookie, and was an oft-rumored trade target after being supplanted by Josh McCown and then Jameis Winston. The Bucs wanted to keep him as a backup to Winston, but Glennon cashed in as a free agent this spring, signing a three-year, $45 million contract with the Bears.
The Jets turned the Buccaneers’ pick into one of the best selections of the first round. Sheldon Richardson was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, and a Pro Bowler in his second season. His college film had some grading him as the top player in the Midwest—ahead of the No. 1 overall pick, Eric Fisher. The regime that drafted him, including former coach Rex Ryan and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, saw a three-down player who was dominant in the best conference in college football (SEC), and the Jets had a plan for using him up and down their defensive line. There were some questions about his maturity coming out of Missouri, which have also surfaced in the pros (he’s been suspended by the NFL twice under its substance-abuse and personal conduct policies, and has been benched by the team for tardiness)—and they may be his ticket out of town under coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan. But there was legitimate cheering in the Jets’ draft room that night in 2013. In a re-draft, Richardson would likely go in the top five.
There are 32 picks in the first round—in years without a Spygate or a Delfategate—but there are never 32 first-round talents. Evaluators grade players on both an absolute and relative scale, so they know when a class is down on talent. Mark Dominik, the former Bucs GM, recalls there being maybe 14 true first-round talents in 2013. In an average year, he says, there are about 18. The good news for next week’s draft? “In a year like this, there are maybe 23,” says Dominik, now an analyst for ESPN. “If this ’17 class had a top-tier quarterback, it would be going down as one of the best classes in a long time.”
Cautionary tale No. 1,345 about reaching for a quarterback: With the No. 16 pick the Bills drafted E.J. Manuel, whom some teams had rated as a third- or fourth-round talent. He’s started a total of 17 games for Buffalo, winning six. There’s been a lot of attention on the 2017 draft class lacking a quarterback who is ready to step in as a Day 1 starter—and only time will tell. The 2013 class was flagrantly dry in the most important position on the field. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III had declared early for the NFL the year before. Matt Barkley returned to USC for the 2012 season as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy and to be the No. 1 pick in 2013, but his stock tumbled after a mediocre senior year (he was drafted in the fourth round). West Virginia’s Geno Smith was the last man standing in the Radio City Music Hall green room, until the Jets selected him in the second round (he’s now a backup with the Giants). At pick No. 73, N.C. State’s Mike Glennon was just the third quarterback taken, so most teams recognized the dearth of talent that year. Except for the Bills, who, as another team executive put it, exercised “wishful thinking—you can’t draft a quarterback [just] because you need a quarterback.”
In this spot, the Steelers selected Jarvis Jones, an outside linebacker from Georgia. He recorded just six sacks in four seasons and is no longer in Pittsburgh. In the second round, the Steelers chose Le’Veon Bell, who became an All-Pro and is one of the top running backs in the NFL. They weren’t the only team that had more success later in the draft. Green Bay got more out of the second round (running back Eddie Lacy) and fourth round (left tackle David Bakhtiari) than the first round (Datone Jones). The Chargers’ and the Ravens’ first- and second-round picks are no longer with them, but both organizations made their best pick of the draft in the third round—respectively, receiver Keenan Allen and defensive tackle Brandon Williams, core starters who have signed multiyear extensions. A confounding year, indeed.
Let’s put those two Pro Bowl nods for the top half of the first round in some context: In their first four years in the league, the top 16 picks in the 2012 draft had been to 11 Pro Bowls; the top half of the 2011 class had been to 28; even the top half of the 2009 class, also marked as a down year, had been to four Pro Bowls. The top half of the 2014 class, which has only been in the league for three years, has already received 17 Pro Bowl bids.
The 2013 talent lull had a lot to do with the previous draft. Eleven of the top 16 picks in 2012 were underclassmen—and they included franchise cornerstones such as Andrew Luck (Colts), Luke Kuechly (Panthers) and Fletcher Cox (Eagles). Only four of the top 16 picks in 2013 were underclassmen: Joeckel, Mingo, Milliner and Richardson. Only one, Richardson, is still with the team that drafted him.
Said Mike Mayock before the 2013 draft, “If you’re drafting 20 to 30, it’s not a whole lot different than the fifth or sixth pick.” Indeed, the 20th pick was Kyle Long, one of the best in the class. A four-year starter for the Bears, he’s a three-time Pro Bowler and was named second-team All-Pro in 2014.
The weirdness of this draft, continued: The first Pro Bowler at an offensive skill position was selected two-thirds of the way through the first round. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert was taken by the Bengals at No. 21.
Earlier this month, Desmond Trufant signed a five-year, $68.75 million contract extension with the Falcons, who took the cornerback with the No. 22 pick in 2013. He’s just the sixth player in the first round to have so far signed a second contract with the team that drafted him (Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Tavon Austin, Kyle Long and Travis Frederick are the others). The rookie wage scale set by the 2011 CBA made first-round contracts less burdensome for teams, and it also introduced the fifth-year option, so missing in the first round is not as financially devastating as it was previously. With the 2013 class, more teams than ever used that fifth-year out: Only 17 players in the 2013 first round had their options picked up, compared to 20 in 2012 and 21 in 2011.
The Vikings picked twice in the 2012 first round and three times in the 2013 first round. Their two 2012 first-rounders (tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith) together started more games in their first four seasons than all three of their 2013 first-rounders (Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson) combined.
Three first-rounders are already out of football: Milliner (Jets); defensive end Bjorn Werner, picked No. 24 by the Colts; and safety Matt Elam, picked No. 32 by Baltimore. Werner has retired, citing injuries, but coming out of Florida State some teams weren’t sure he had true NFL ability. Elam was probably a reach by the Ravens to fill a need—the void left by Ed Reed. The lesson again: Draft talent, don’t chase positions.
The Seahawks didn’t have a first-round selection; they traded the 25th pick to the Vikings as part of a package for wideout/returner Percy Harvin, who has since retired. All but one of Seattle’s 11 draft picks that year are gone from the team—tight end Luke Willson remains—but Seattle seems to be taking a stab at its own redraft. This offseason they’ve signed four 2013 draft castoffs: Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan and second-rounders Arthur Brown and Eddie Lacy.
John Middlekauff, the Eagles’ West Coast scout from 2012 to ’13, recalls going through UCLA and liking defensive tackle Datone Jones . . . as a mid-round talent. “I remember thinking he was like a fourth-round player. Then he had a good Senior Bowl, measured in well, and you realize he’s not going to be there in the fourth round,” Middlekauff says. “Just on his senior tape, he was severely overdrafted. But he’s one of those cases where you can let the Senior Bowl skew your view on a guy.” The Packers drafted him at No. 26; they declined to pick up his fifth-year option. He signed a one-year contract with Minnesota this spring.
The weirdness of this draft, continued: DeAndre Hopkins was just the third offensive skill position player drafted in the first round, six picks from the end. He didn’t have head-turning size or speed, but teams perhaps undervalued the fact that had the skill set to be a Day 1 starter at a position where rookies often struggle. Hopkins has been on the receiving end of below-average quarterback play during his four years in Houston, but he is one of just two 2013 first-rounders who has started every game since he was drafted (Dallas' Travis Frederick is the other) and is in line for a big payday this year.
John Elway, two weeks before the 2013 draft, told the Denver Post: “We feel like we can get as good a player at No. 28 as we could at 10. It’s not like last year with Luck and RGIII. The year before with Von [Miller] and [Marcell Dareus] and A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson—loaded top end. This is probably a deeper draft, but not nearly as many top impact guys.” The Broncos chose defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, a solid but not spectacular three-year starter who is now with the Titans. But Elway’s instinct was correct: The bottom 16 picks have earned 13 Pro Bowl nods, compared to two in the top half of the first round. This is opposite of the trend in the previous two drafts, which, after four years, had at least double the amount of Pro Bowlers in the top half of the first round as the bottom half—so it’s not simply that the later picks in 2013 went to better, winning teams. The better explanation is that in a year with less blue-chip talent, evaluating players was an uncertain task. “With the talent pool that year,” Mark Dominik says, “trying to put the board together took a little bit more work.”
Vikings GM Rick Spielman was in the middle of a press conference about their first two first-round picks when team staff rushed in and yanked him out of the room. The Patriots were calling because they wanted out of the first round. They sent their 29th pick to the Vikings, who selected receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson. In exchange, the Patriots received draft picks that they used later in the same draft on Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Josh Boyce. Patterson never emerged as a No. 1 receiver; the Vikings declined his option and he signed with the Raiders in March. Advantage: New England.
From top to bottom, the 2013 first round combined for fewer games played and fewer starts in their first four seasons than any other first round from 2009 to 2013.
The immediate reaction to the Cowboys’ selecting Travis Frederick at No. 31 was, at best, underwhelming. A Dallas Morning News headline the night of the first round read, “Cowboys’ execs appear glum after trade down in first round.” The collective reaction on the team’s live feed of the draft room was compared to the year prior, when there was clear jubilation over cornerback Morris Claiborne, who is no longer in Dallas. The MMQB’s Albert Breer, then with NFL Network, quoted an AFC personnel man about the Frederick pick: “Yuck.” Most teams had graded him as a second- or third-rounder. He didn’t overwhelm athletically, but not enough credit was given to the fact that he came from a pro-style offense at Wisconsin and that he had excellent technique. As one college scouting director says in retrospect, “The ceiling is important, but more important is: Where is his floor? And Frederick had a high floor.” Four years later he’s been to three Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro in 2016; he’s the anchor of an offensive line that eased Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott’s transition to the NFL and powered the Cowboys to the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season. “The Cowboys got beat up for taking Frederick in the first round; people said, Oh, they reached on him,” Mark Dominik says. “Well, it ended up being one of the best picks of the whole draft.”
The 2013 draft, in summary: Eight of 32 teams (Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland, Tennessee) no longer have a single player from their ’13 draft class currently on their roster. In other words, just four years later, one-quarter of the league had a total washout.
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