Year four of a player’s NFL shelf life comes with a predetermined fork in the road. It’s after the fourth season when all those rookie contracts run out, and it’s before the fourth season when teams must decide if they’ll pick up any lingering fifth-year contract options. By the time a player reaches this point (if not long before), the team that drafted him should have a firm idea of his future with the franchise.
The recent 2017 draft class will be at that point during the summer of ’20. Right now, the 2014 class is there.
How did each team fare in ’14, now that we have three years’ worth of evidence on which to base conclusions? Here’s team-by-team look back at that draft, complete with a fresh attempt at grading each class.
Best pick: Deone Bucannon, LB, Washington State (Round 1, No. 27 overall)
Worst pick: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame (Round 2, No. 52)
The Cardinals traded with the Saints down from No. 20 to 27 and picked up No. 91, and then used those picks to land Bucannon and WR John Brown. Bucannon has been a fixture on defense, while Brown has averaged 50.7 catches and nearly 750 yards over his first three seasons. Everything else was gravy. Which is good, because the contributions elsewhere have been few and far between. OLB Kareem Martin has been the best of the bunch. Niklas has just eight receptions, or eight more than sixth-round QB-turned-TE Logan Thomas.
Best pick: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State (Round 4, No. 103)
Worst pick: Dezman Southward, DB, Wisconsin (Round 3, No. 68)
The top of Atlanta’s 2014 draft—OT Jake Matthews (No. 8 overall) and DT Ra’Shede Hageman (No. 37)—looks a lot rosier now than it did after Year One. Patience paid off with S Ricardo Allen, too, as the 147th-overall pick has started a combined 30 games that past two years after opening his career on the practice squad. No such luck with guys like Southward, Prince Shembo (No. 139) and Marquis Spruill (No. 168), but Freeman’s emergence in 2015–16 more than made up for those misses.
Best pick: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (Round 1, No. 17)
Worst pick: Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State (Round 3, No. 79)
There have been sporadic moments from TE Crockett Gilmore (No. 99), DL Brent Urban (No. 134), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (No. 138), G John Urschel (No. 175) and WR Michael Campanaro (No. 218), but this class’s impact mainly has boiled down to Mosley and second-round DL Timmy Jernigan. The Ravens just traded away the latter to Philadelphia, then drafted his possible replacement (Chris Wormley) with the pick acquired. Mosley is a two-time Pro Bowler and an anchor in the front seven.
Best pick: Preston Brown, LB, Louisville (Round 3, No. 73)
Worst pick: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor (Round 5, No. 153)
WR Sammy Watkins (No. 4) is the best player the Bills acquired during the ’14 draft, but he’s also struggled to stay healthy and cost them their first- and fourth-round selections in 2015. By value, then, Brown gets the nod, even though his starting job is in jeopardy headed into the summer. OT Seantrel Henderson was worth the seventh-round pick (No. 237), although he’ll open this season still serving a 10-game suspension. CB Ross Cockrell (No. 109) started all 16 games last year, but for Pittsburgh.
Best pick: Trai Turner, G, LSU (Round 3, No. 92)
Worst pick: Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford (Round 6, No. 204)
This had the potential to be a great group, and maybe it still could be. WR Kelvin Benjamin (No. 28) saw a promising career start halted by a knee injury; DE Kony Ealy (No. 60) blew up in Super Bowl 50 and now will eye a revival with the Patriots. Turner has been a beast inside thus far, although he was less successful when forced to play tackle parts of last year. Mid-round DB, Tre Boston (No. 128), found a little time, but he’s now with the Chargers, and Gaffney is near that late-round range where it almost doesn’t matter that he never contributed. Those picks are of the wing-and-a-prayer variety.
Best pick: Charles Leno, OT, Boise State (Round 7, No. 246)
Worst pick: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU (Round 2, No. 51)
So, in case you’re wondering why the Bears made a change at GM in 2015 ...
CB Kyle Fuller (No. 14) was brilliant as a rookie, only to suffer an abrupt injury-impacted fall. Ferguson? Cut. Third-round DT Will Sutton (No. 82)? Cut. Fourth-round DB Brock Vereen (No. 131)? Cut, and then briefly retired. Sixth-round QB David Fales (No. 183)? Signed with Miami after the Bears declined to offer a contract as an exclusive-rights free agent. And RB Ka’Deem Carey (No. 117) could be out the door soon. That just leaves Leno, a 16-game starter last year, and punter Pat O’Donnell (No. 191).
Best pick: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU (Round 2, No. 55)
Worst pick: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (Round 1, No. 24)
The most impactful picks, to date, have been Hill (2,757 yards rushing, 29 TDs) and C Russell Bodine (No. 111; 48 of a possible 48 starts), but will either be around for the 2018 season? Hill’s declining play coupled with Joe Mixon’s arrival clouds his future, and Bodine has been a weak—if reliable—link up front. The Bengals must still have hope for Dennard, because they picked up his fifth-year option, but they’ve kept him buried on the depth chart thus far. One to watch for the future: QB A.J. McCarron (No. 164)—he guided the Bengals’ ship at the end of the 2015 season when Andy Dalton went down with a broken thumb. Trade rumors swirled around him this off-season.
Best pick: Joel Bitonio, G, Nevada (Round 2, No. 35)
Worst pick: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (Round 1, No. 22)
It wasn’t all bad from the Browns’ previous regimes. Bitonio, despite injury issues the past two seasons, inked a well-deserved five-year contract extension in March—he’s been outstanding, when healthy. Third-round LB Christian Kirksey (No. 71) racked up 148 tackles last season. Of course, the misses overshadowed the hits: Cleveland traded up for both CB Justin Gilbert (No. 8) and Manziel, whose career imploded in a heartbeat. A saving grace from 2014, aside from Bitonio and Kirksey, is that Cleveland picked up two extra ’15 picks via that aforementioned trade with Buffalo. Those two first-round busts, though ...
Best pick: Zack Martin, G, Notre Dame (Round 1, No. 16)
Worst pick: Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh (Round 5, No. 146)
Only a few guards are drafted in the top 20, but Martin has proved his worth—the Cowboys have already watched him make three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro nods. A round after taking Martin, Dallas traded up for DE Demarcus Lawrence (No. 34), who had an 8.0-sack 2015 but hasn’t stayed healthy. LB Anthony Hitchens (No. 119) hasn’t been a star, but for a fourth-rounder he has worked—he can play all over the LB corps and has stepped into the starting lineup at times. Toss out Rounds 5–7—not one of the six players taken from Street on remains on the roster.
Best pick: Matt Paradis, C, Boise State (Round 6, No. 207)
Worst pick: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana (Round 2, No. 56)
A small class, consisting of just six players—the Broncos traded up so they could take Latimer (whoops) and then traded out of Round 4 when Chicago wanted Brock Vereen. The jury is still very much out on CB Bradley Roby (No. 31), whose fifth-year option the Broncos picked up. Third-round OL Michael Schofield (No. 95) started every game last year; he’s since been bumped from the first-team offense. Paradis is still locked in at center, from where he’s been outstanding.
Best pick: Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State (Round 4, No. 133)
Worst pick: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU (Round 2, No. 40)
Tough to pin down the best pick of this Lions’ class. Lawson emerged last season while starting all 16 games opposite Darius Slay, and he should hold his starting job into 2017. Does that give him the edge on C Travis Swanson (No. 76), who recovered from a rocky start to his career, or TE Eric Ebron (No. 10)? The latter has not lived up to the expectations placed on him by that draft position—Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald came off the board no long after Ebron’s selection. Van Noy has a ring now after the Lions handed him away to New England. He was a mess in Detroit’s scheme.
Green Bay Packers
Best pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (Round 1, No. 21)
Worst pick: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State (Round 4, No. 121)
Clinton-Dix landed on the Pro Bowl roster last season, and he has been a standout for the Packers since his first-round selection. Arguably next most valuable among the Packers’ 2014 class is center Corey Linsley, who was tossed to the wolves as a rookie and now is borderline irreplaceable on the current roster. WR Davante Adams (No. 53) is closing in on 2,000 career yards and TE Richard Rodgers (No. 98) surpassed 1,000 last season. Bradford, DT Khyri Thornton (No. 85) and WR Jared Abbrederis (No. 176) all have a claim to the "worst pick" designation.
Best pick: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Round 1, No. 1)
Worst pick: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame (Round 3, No. 83)
There was a lot of angst about the Clowney pick, but it was the right call in 2014 and Clowney’s breakthrough ’16 season hinted at a dominant future. Runner-up for the Texans’ best pick of 2014: RB Alfred Blue (No. 181), who has nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage. S Andre Hal (No. 216) was a find in the final round. This class also produced Tom Savage (No. 135), the QB holding the top job until Deshaun Watson is ready. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (No. 65) has 754 yards and six TDs in three seasons. He’s lapping Nix, who has played four games total, all for another franchise.
Best pick: Jack Mewhort, G/T, Ohio State (Round 2, No. 59)
Worst pick: Andrew Jackson, LB, Western Kentucky (Round 6, No. 203)
The Colts’ first-round pick in 2014 belonged to Cleveland, because the Colts traded it for Trent Richardson and ... well, ya know. Uncovering Mewhort in the second round and WR Donte Moncrief (No. 90) a bit later did allow Indianapolis to salvage something from this draft. Time’s running out for Moncrief to take a star turn—he was banged up in 2016 and is headed into the final season of his contract. The fifth- (Jonathan Newsome, No. 166) and sixth-round (Jackson) picks here are both out of the NFL. The T-Rich deal just kills this grade.
Best pick: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State (Round 5, No. 144)
Worst pick: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF (Round 1, No. 3)
A lot of positives in this class for the Jaguars, including Smith, WR Allen Robinson (No. 61) and OL Brandon Linder (No. 93). Robinson’s production slipped last season, as that of fellow ’14 draft pick Marqise Lee (No. 39) rose. If Lee and Robinson both wind up being 1,000-yard WRs for the Jaguars, that would be a boon. Linder’s penciled in as the starting center again after a strong ’16 campaign. But then there is Bortles. While he has upwards of 11K career passing yards and will be the starter again this season, he certainly has not performed like a No. 3-overall pick.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best pick: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G, McGill (Round 6, No. 200)
Worst pick: De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon (Round 4, No. 124)
Grade: B (thanks to the Smith trade)
Kansas City’s second-rounder belonged (initially) to San Francisco, as part of the Alex Smith trade. Say what you will about Smith, but for the cost of two second-round selections the Chiefs landed at least an average starting QB. Less glowing have been the returns from the actual picks made in Rounds 1-5 here: OLB Dee Ford (No. 23), CB Phillip Gaines (No. 87), Thomas and QB Aaron Murray (No. 163). Ford appears to be on an upswing, so 2017 is huge for him. Duvernay-Tardif is one of the ’14 class’s clear steals.
Los Angeles (San Diego) Chargers
Best pick: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (Round 1, No. 25)
Worst pick: Chris Watt, G/C, Notre Dame (Round 3, No. 89)
This class has been cursed. Verrett has top-two CB skills, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy—he’s coming back from an ACL tear ahead of ’17. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (No. 50) showed signs of life in 2015, then missed half of ’16 because of a foot injury. OL Chris Watt (No. 89) was waived in November after two-plus injury-plagued years. DT Ryan Carrethers (No. 165) has hung onto a roster spot, but that’s about all the Chargers have received from their late-round selections.
Los Angeles (St. Louis) Rams
Best pick: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (Round 1, No. 13)
Worst pick: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn (Round 1, No. 2)
Drafting Donald, one of the league’s most dominant defenders, at pick No. 13 is almost enough to make one forget that the Rams closed out their RGIII deal by taking Robinson with the second overall pick (the front office just declined Robinson’s fifth-year option). CB E.J. Gaines (No. 188) has developed into a starter. Mason looked like a gem as a rookie, when he approached 1,000 yards from scrimmage, but his star fizzled out in a hurry. (His mother told the Palm Beach Post last year that he is suffering from mental-health issues due to repeated concussions.) At the time, this class’s headline-grabbing pick was DE Michael Sam (No. 249); he never played a game for the Rams.
Best pick: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU (Round 2, No. 65)
Worst pick: Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia (Round 5, No. 155)
Landry is one of just four players taken after pick No. 60 to have claimed a Pro Bowl bid already. He’s had back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons on an evolving offense. OT Ja’Wuan James is part of that development, too—he started at right tackle last year and should again in 2017. Elsewhere? DE Terence Fede (No. 234) has chipped in and S Walt Aikens (No. 125) has paved a path for himself on special teams, but there hasn’t been much else. A draft class’s success often is as much about depth as it is star power, and the Dolphins didn’t churn out much here.
Best pick: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (Round 1, No. 9)
Worst pick: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State (Round 3, No. 72)
Was Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32) ever going to be one of the league’s elite quarterbacks? Probably not, but the Vikings had long-term plans for him. So while injuries hit all of these draft classes one spot or another, that setback landed perhaps the biggest blow. Barr is now the center piece of Minnesota’s 2014 group, and he’s rocking back-to-back Pro Bowl berths. RB Jerick McKinnon (No. 96) has been productive, with nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his career, but his role is unclear now that Dalvin Cook’s on the scene.
New England Patriots
Best pick: James White, RB, Wisconsin (Round 4, No. 130)
Worst pick: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida (Round 1, No. 129)
Even though he entered the draft whilst rehabbing an ACL injury, Easley projected as a potential steal. He wound up to be a disappointing bust instead, and is now trying to save his career as a Ram. Of course, the Patriots also selected QB Jimmy Garoppolo (No. 62) in 2014, and what happens with his contract could be a defining development next off-season. The Patriots found role players in this class: RB James White (No. 130), C Brian Stork (No. 105, now retired), OL Cameron Fleming (No. 140).
New Orleans Saints
Best pick: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (Round 1, No. 20)
Worst pick: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska (Round 2, No. 58)
Was moving up seven spots to take Cooks worth the Saints’ trouble? The Oregon State product racked up 2,800-plus yards and 20 touchdowns from 2014-16, then the Saints traded him to New England this off-season. He was a productive player for New Orleans, which also happened to finish 7–9 in all three of his years there. The rest of this class was a mess. Baptiste played all of four regular-season games for the Saints, one more than LB Khairi Fortt (No. 126). S Vinnie Sunseri (No. 167) is now a 49ers; LB Ronald Powell (No. 169), a Seahawk.
New York Giants
Best pick: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU (Round 1, No. 12)
Worst pick: Andre Williams, RB, Boston College (Round 4, No. 113)
The Giants probably could have shut it down after Beckham. The ultra-talented wide receiver gets a little too agitated from time to time, but he’s on a Hall of Fame career arc through three seasons. C Weston Richburg (No. 43) was a bonus on top of the Beckham haul—he has started 46 games for the Giants since his selection. The Giants also could have done worse than DT Jay Bromley (No. 74) and DE/OLB Devon Kennard by Round 5 (No. 174). To wit: Williams lasted just two seasons in New York.
New York Jets
Best pick: Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska (Round 6, No. 209)
Worst pick: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech (Round 2, No. 49)
Draft grade: D–
The Jets made 12 selections during the 2014 draft. Just 33% of those players remain on the current roster, and a mere one—Enunwa—should be considered completely safe headed into OTAs. The remaining three: S Calvin Pryor (No. 14), DB Dexter McDougle (No. 80) and G Dakota Dozier (No. 137). All could fall victim to the numbers game in the coming months. Amaro did catch 38 balls as a rookie, but an injury the following preseason effectively ended his Jets career. Noteworthy among the other picks: IK Enemkpali (No. 210), most infamous for breaking Geno Smith’s jaw with a punch.
Best pick: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (Round 2, No. 36)
Worst pick: Keith McGill, DB, Utah (Round 4, No. 116)
Drafting Carr went a long way toward reversing the Raiders’ franchise fortunes, but he’s not even the most talented player they landed. That would be DE Khalil Mack (No. 5), who only gets booted from "Best Pick" honors because the entire league passed on Carr in Round 1. Third-round guard Gabe Jackson (No. 81) is a rock-steady blocker on a very good line. DT Justin Ellis (No. 107) is a 27-game starter for Oakland inside. Even seventh-round CB T.J. Carrie (No. 219) and McGill, now a safety, have remained on the roster.
Best pick: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (Round 2, No. 42)
Worst pick: Marcus Smith, LB, Louisville (Round 1, No. 26)
For all the deserved criticism WR Jordan Matthews (No. 42) has heard during his Philadelphia days, he has been by far the most productive member of this class (2,673 yards, 19 TDs). If you want a strong value pick, it’s seventh-round DT Beau Allen (No. 224), whose 2017 status is in doubt because of a torn pectoral. The Smith selection was a head-scratcher when it happened, and nothing has changed since. He, CB Jaylen Watkins (No. 101) and DE Taylor Hart (No. 141) are still on the roster. WR Josh Huff (No. 86) did not last as long.
Best pick: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (Round 1, No. 15)
Worst pick: Dri Archer, RB, Kent State (Round 3, No. 97)
Draft grade: B+
In Shazier and DL Stephon Tuitt (No. 46), the Steelers found two players who would become integral on their defense. Shazier scored his first Pro Bowl nod last season, despite missing three games. The wild card moving forward, both for the Steelers’ 2014 class and their ’17 offense, is WR Martavis Bryant (No. 118). He has averaged a whopping 17.3 yards per catch for his career, yet is just removed from a year-long suspension. A surprise contributor from this class has been C Wesley Johnson (No. 173). Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, that contribution has come with the Jets.
San Francisco 49ers
Best pick: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State (Round 2. No. 57)
Worst pick: Brandon Thomas, G/T, Clemson (Round 3, No. 100)
The health-related retirement of LB Chris Borland (No. 77) stung—he had a phenomenal rookie year, but then called it quits. Hyde fell an iota shy of 1,000 yards rushing last season. He would have made it there were it not for the MCL injury he suffered in Week 16. Hyde and Jimmie Ward each could have important roles for the rebuilding 49ers this season, the latter via a permanent move to safety. Third-round OL Brandon Thomas (No. 100) never made it back after tearing his ACL pre-draft. DE/OLB Aaron Lynch (No. 150) has 14.0 career sacks to his credit.
Best pick: Justin Britt, OL, Missouri (Round 2, No. 64)
Worst pick: Jimmy Staten, DT, Middle Tennessee State (Round 5, No. 172)
Britt’s shift to center and the late-2016 emergence of WR Paul Richardson (No. 45) prevented the Seahawks’ draft class from slipping into near total invisibility. DE Cassius Marsh (No. 108) has seen action in 37 career games, with 3.0 sacks, and LB Keven Pierre-Louis (No. 132) has chipped in on special teams—slight tip of the cap to them, as well. Neither Staten nor OL Garrett Scott (No. 199) has played a regular-season game yet, now three full seasons removed from their selections.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best pick: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (Round 1, No. 7)
Worst pick: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (Round 2, No. 38)
Evans has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his three seasons, made the Pro Bowl last year and has 27 career touchdowns already. No doubt, that’s what teams want when they draft wide receivers in the top 10. RB Charles Sims (No. 69) has been more than serviceable, too with 941 yards receiving and 863 yards rushing. But Seferian-Jenkins couldn’t make it three-for-three on offensive weapons atop the draft. The Buccaneers made just six picks total in the ’14 draft, three following Sims’s selection early in Round 3. OL Kevin Pamphile (No. 149) was the best of that remaining bunch. OL Kadeem Edwards, taken six picks before him, never suited up for the Bucs.
Best pick: Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky (Round 5, No. 151)
Worst pick: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington (Round 2, No. 54)
The Titans walked out of the ’14 draft with a starting left tackle (Taylor Lewan, No. 11), a starting linebacker (Williamson) and an eventual starting defensive lineman (DaQuan Jones). Not bad. In fact, the Titans recently picked up Lewan’s fifth-year contract option, after watching their first-rounder mature into an above-average OT. Sankey spiraled the other direction, from 569 yards rushing as a rookie to 193 in Year Two to a pre-2016 cut. QB Zach Mettenberger (No. 178) and his 0-10 record as a starter are reminder of what life was like before Marcus Mariota.
Best pick: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia (Round 3, No. 66)
Worst pick: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor (Round 6, No. 186)
Sans a Round 1 pick, Washington nevertheless added two prospects now starting on its offensive line: Moses and Spencer Long (No. 78), who has grabbed the center job. Bookending those Round 3 selections were OLB Trent Murphy (Round 2, No. 47) and CB Bashaud Breeland (Round 4, No. 102). Between them, Murphy and Breeland have made 65 starts. The last three rounds are dust in the wind for the Redskins, barring a surprise outburst from WR Ryan Grant (No. 142). Trading away the 2014 first-rounder made life more difficult, but the results here are still impressive.