Published On: Wed, Apr 18th, 2018

Which NFL teams have been most and least successful in recent drafts?

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The NFL draft is only three days long, but many front-office jobs hang in the balance for that period. One first-round mistake can cost a general manager his job, while an early-round hit and a late-round diamond in the rough could result in long-term job security.

Unfortunately, draft success isn’t easy. Fourteen teams have changed general managers since 2014, and many of their fates were sealed by poor draft-day decisions. A number of GMs have thrived during the selection process, however, building their teams into perennial playoff contenders.

Below are the teams that have been most and least successful in recent drafts. The 2013-2017 editions were taken into consideration, with emphasis on the last three years.

Best

Atlanta Falcons


Based on their last five draft classes, it’s easy to see how the Falcons elevated their franchise from a 10-22 combined record from 2013-14 to a playoff contender and NFC champion. General manager Thomas Dimitroff deserves a ton of credit for building both the offense and defense.

Their first-round hits include Desmond Trufant (2013), Vic Beasley (2015), and Keanu Neal (2016). There’s also 2014 sixth overall pick Jake Matthews, who has evolved into a dependable left tackle after an unimpressive rookie season. Atlanta also discovered value on Day 2, with cornerback Robert Alford in 2013 and running back Tevin Coleman in 2015.

Where the Falcons separate from their peers, however, is their ability to discover gems on the draft’s third day. Devonta Freeman was a fourth-round pick (2014), as was starting linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (2016). Dimitroff also hit in the fifth round with free safety Ricardo Allen in 2014 and stud defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in 2015.

Atlanta’s only significant misses over the last five drafts were Ra’Shede Hageman in 2014 and Jalen Collins in 2015. Hagemen was never productive after being selected with the 37th overall pick, while Collins – also a second-rounder – is out of the league after multiple suspensions.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have taken a “safe” approach in recent drafts, opting for the best player available instead of filling immediate needs. It’s worked, especially on the offensive line. All-Pros Travis Frederick (2013) and Zack Martin (2014) were both selected outside of the top 15.

Starting safety Byron Jones (2015) and 2016 leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott were also successful first-round picks, and Dallas found success in the second round with terrorizing pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014 and linebacker Jaylon Smith in 2016, who looks to be fully healthy after suffering a scary knee injury in college. Of course, the Cowboys’ most recent draft success story is 2016 fourth-round pick Dak Prescott. Defensive back picks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, meanwhile, were impactful as rookies last season. The jury is still out on first-round defensive end Taco Charlton.

Jerry Jones’ draft failures in recent years are few and far between. Only second-rounders Gavin Escobar (2013) and Randy Gregory (2015) stand out, with the latter creating more headlines off the field than on it.

New Orleans Saints


The Saints did miss on a few prospects in 2014 and 2015 (namely Stephone Anthony and cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste), but their last two draft classes are second to none. New Orleans had six selections on the first two days last year, and five of them were excellent in their first season. We all know Alvin Kamara (third round) and Marshon Lattimore (first round, 11th overall), the reigning offensive and defensive rookies of the year, but offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk also played well after being selected 32nd overall. Second-round safety Marcus Williams’ blunder at the end of the Vikings-Saints playoff game is well-documented, but he had an otherwise solid rookie campaign.

Michael Thomas was an absolute steal for Mickey Loomis and Co. in the second round in 2016. Through his first two seasons, he has accumulated 196 catches and 14 touchdowns. The Saints also discovered a Day 2 gem in 2013 left tackle Terron Armstead.

Honorable mention

Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars have built their defense through the draft, including later-round steals Yannick Ngakoue and Telvin Smith, but their Blake Bortles (third overall) and Luke Joeckel (second overall) whiffs place them just below the top three.

Worst

New York Jets

The Jets switched general managers three times since 2013, so it’s not surprising to see them atop the list of the worst drafting teams. From 2013-2015, New York missed on Geno Smith (second round), Brian Winters (third round), Dee Milliner (first round), Jace Amaro (second round), Devin Smith (second round), and Calvin Pryor (first round). That’s too many misses for a team intending to compete in the AFC East.

Their last two drafts weren’t much better. The Jets’ selection of quarterback Christian Hackenberg in 2016’s second round still leaves many scratching their heads. Their first-round pick that year, linebacker Darron Lee, has at least seen the field, but he’s been swallowed up in run defense and has been equally poor in coverage since entering the lineup.

Cleveland Browns


The Browns are easily the least shocking inclusion here. Cleveland has a staggering five whiffs on first-round selections over the last five drafts. These include Barkevious Mingo (sixth overall, 2013), Justin Gilbert (eighth overall, 2014), Johnny Manziel (2014), Cameron Erving (2015), and Danny Shelton (2015), who the team traded to New England on his rookie contract. Corey Coleman is a poor 2018 season away from being added to this list. The Browns have struggled on Day 2 as well, missing on Leon McFadden (2013), Terrance West (2014), Xavier Cooper (2015), Cody Kessler (2016), and DeShone Kizer (2017). For those scoring at home, that’s three quarterbacks that didn’t pan out – a franchise-altering stat.

While Cleveland did have a few recent draft hits, including Joel Bitonio, Myles Garrett, and Christian Kirksey, they weren’t enough to rectify their mistakes.

Baltimore Ravens

There are three NFC teams on our “Best” list and three AFC clubs on our “Worst.” The Ravens are the last to feature in this section, which may surprise many. Ozzie Newsome is among the top general managers this century, but his recent drafts are littered with busts. This is especially true on the offensive side of the ball, where Newsome has been incapable of drafting weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco. Tight ends Crockett Gillmore (now an offensive lineman) and Maxx Williams were failed Day 2 experiments in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The biggest miss in Baltimore over the last five years, though, is unquestionably wide receiver Breshad Perriman, chosen 26th overall in 2015. He has just 43 catches over three seasons while battling injuries and inconsistent play.

The Ravens’ defensive draft classes don’t exactly make up for their offensive struggles. Day 2 selections Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi (2016) haven’t made an impact. The 2013 draft was even worse. Newsome and Co. selected safety Matt Elam in the first round and linebacker Arthur Brown in the second. Both players lasted just three seasons with the club.

Baltimore’s poor draft classes are the primary reason the team has only one postseason appearance since its 2013 Super Bowl victory.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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