The new league year of 2013 started on Tuesday and teams made no mistake in rushing out to sign big name free agents causing the football world to turn upside down. It's hard to even keep up with all the moves, I know my head has been spinning all week.
To quiet things down some, I've focused on preparing for this year's NFL Draft in April, by looking back at past draft(s) in the last five years or so. Now four-long seasons ago, the 2009 NFL Draft class is one of intrigue and prominence.
Most of the free agents out there this off-season are linked back to this particular draft. With four years established in the league many have either become gigantic busts, or potential star(s) signing major contracts in free agency (Mike Wallace, Jared Cook, Paul Kruger) for example.
For all you draft nicks' out there this article is for you. Where's Mel Kiper Jr. when you need him? Lets analyze the winners and losers from this draft. Who stands out? Who is/was a bust? Let's re-grade the 2009 NFL Draft.
QB Matt Stafford/Detroit Lions- The Lions found a franchise quarterback in Stafford with the 1st overall pick. In his four seasons, the talented QB has turned the Lions from laughing stock into contender. Throwing for 41 touchdowns in 2011, Stafford is a rising star. The Lions also found two starters in Safety Louis Delmas (currently a FA) and TE Brandon Pettigrew. Not a bad haul for the downtrodden franchise.
LB Clay Matthews Jr/Green Bay Packers-With the 26th pick in the first round of the '09 Draft the Packers selected Matthews. At the time, many believed he was either too small or not athletic enough to compete in the NFL. He has only gone on to win Defensive Player of the Year and become a sack machine. He was passed over for players such as DE Aaron Maybin (11th pick), Larry English(16th pick) and Robert Ayers (18th pick). The Packers also nabbed starting players DT B.J. Raji, OT TJ Lang, and LB Brad Jones in this draft. Not a bad haul.
First Round Wide Receivers- The 1st round of the '09 draft has its share of busts which we will get to, however when looking back the first round became a gold mine for game changing Wide Receivers. At 10th overall, the 49ers selected Michael Crabtree who is finally coming into his own. The Eagles took budding WR Jeremy Maclin at 16. At 22nd, the Vikings took Percy Harvin (recently traded to the Seahawks for a first round pick) and is being paid top 5 WR money. The NY Giants were gift wrapped WR Hakeem Nicks with the 29th pick and WR Kenny Britt followed to the Titans at # 30. Nicks has helped the Giants win a Super Bowl and Britt has showed flashes of dominance on the football field. Win for the receivers.
WR Mike Wallace/Pittsburgh Steelers-With the 84th pick in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers got a major steal. Wallace who was undersized coming out of Ole Miss has turned himself into a top-10 WR in the NFL. This week, he signed a major free agency deal with the Miami Dolphins (5 years/$ 60 Million). The 11th receiver taken in the draft, Wallace has shown that he was undervalued. Perhaps the fastest player in the NFL. The Steelers also found CB Keenan Lewis (Free agent) in the 3rd round.
RB LeSean McCoy/Philadelphia Eagles- The Eagles stole RB LeSean McCoy in the 2nd round of this draft. Combining him and Maclin, Philadelphia instantly transformed it's offense. McCoy has become a perennial pro-bowl running back. The 'Iggles also found LB Moises Fokou in the 7th round who has started 22 games in the past three seasons.
Houston Texans-The Texans did an admirable job in the '09 draft acquiring three starters on defense and a solid TE/H-Back. LB Brian Cushing(15th overall), DE Connor Barwin(46th overall), FS Glover Quin Jr. (122nd overall) and TE James Casey( 188th overall). All four players have been key contributors for the Texans in the past three seasons. Barwin (Eagles), Quin (Lions), and Casey (Eagles) have found new homes this off-season with lucrative contracts. Cushing remains in what was a solid draft for Houston.
Sleepers/Late Round Gems-
K Ryan Succop-Kansas City Chiefs (256th Overall/7th Round)-Let's start here with "Mr. Irrelevant". Succop has become one of the more reliable kickers in the NFL, including making 6 field goals in one game this season.
WR Julian Edelman-New England Patriots(232nd Overall/7th Round)- Edelman has became one of Tom Brady's better targets with the Pats in four seasons. From special teams standout to 4th receiver on the depth chart, Edelman was quite a find in the 7th round. A current FA, Edelman has suitors looking for a perfect slot WR.
DT Henry Melton-Chicago Bears (105th Overall/4th Round)- Melton was a pro-bowler in 2012 and has completely turned his career around. The up-and-coming defensive tackle is both stout against the run and a good pass rusher. He is currently signed as the Bears franchise player for 2013. What a steal.
TE Jared Cook-Tennessee Titans (88th Overall/3rd Round)- Jared Cook recently signed a four year contract with the St. Louis Rams at the onset of Free Agency. Despite a lack of production at times, Cook poses as one of the few true deep threats at the TE position in the league. He is impressive to watch and should be a future star reunited with former head coach Jeff Fisher.
DE Michael Johnson-Cincinnati Bengals(70th Overall/3rd Round)- Johnson has become a key contributor for the Bengals defense. He is signed as the Bengals' franchise player for 2013 as is growing into one of the better defensive ends in the NFL.
QB Mark Sanchez/New York Jets-Is it too soon to label Mark Sanchez a bust? After four seasons in the NFL, Sanchez has more turnovers than touchdowns and was a disaster in 2012. I know he took the Jets to the AFC Championship in both his rookie and second season, but since 2010 he has been one of the worst QB's in the NFL since. It's make or break time for the quarterback. Then, in the 2nd round, the Jets selected RB Shonn Greene from Iowa who never panned out like many fans wanted. He has since signed a free agent deal with the Titans for 2013.
WR Darius Heyward Bey- Hall of Fame Owner Al Davis always had an obsession with speed for his Oakland Raiders. Heyward-Bey caught everyone's attention with an impressive combine where he ran the fastest 40 yard dash time by any WR. With many mocks projecting Heyward-Bey as a third round talent, the Raiders made him the 7th overall pick out of Maryland. Heyward-Bey has never delivered much for Oakland and two days ago was released making him of one the best pure busts in recent draft memory.
Cleveland Browns-The Cleveland Browns were expecting a major haul in the '09 Draft only to come up empty handed so far. In a trade-down with the NY Jets in the first round, the Browns used extra selections on some disappointing players. Besides first round stud, C Alex Mack, the rest of the draft was ugly. WR Brian Robiskie (36th), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (50th) were supposed to be cornerstones of the offense. Both have since flopped and taken before players such as LeSean McCoy and Falcons safety William Moore. As usual with the Browns, the rest of the picks neither me nor you have even heard of in the NFL. Not good when trying to rebuild.
Dallas Cowboys-The Cowboys have always been known as having solid drafts in recent memory. 2009 should be erased from the memory bank. The 'Boys draft looked like this: 3 (69) LB Jason Williams- Western Illinois, 3 (75) OT Robert Brewster, Miami (Ohio); 4 (101) QB Stephen McGee-Texas A&M; 4 (110) LB Victor Butler-Oregon State; 4 (120) DE Brandon Williams-Texas Tech; 5 (143) CB DeAngelo Smith-Cincinnati; 5 (166) S Michael Hamlin-Clemson; 5 (172) K David Buehler-Southern Cal; 6 (197) S Stephen Hodge-TCU; 6 (208) TE John Phillips- Virginia; 7 (227) CB Mike Mickens- Cincinnati; 7 (229) WR Manuel Johnson- Oklahoma. Not ONE impact player in this entire draft class. Some small contributions from the kicker, Hamlin and Phillips but after that chalk this one up as a big zilch for Jerry Jones and co. Definitely a loser of the 2009 Draft.
Aaron Curry/Pat White- Both highly anticipated draft picks in '09 and both are now looking for employment with the NFL. In lineback Aaron Curry, the Seattle Seahawks thought they were getting the most talented player in the draft at No. 4 overall in the first round. Many even had him projected going first overall. Three years later he was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a 7th round pick (Yes, a 7th round pick). He was released halfway through the 2012 season and it appears to be over for the linebacker. In QB Pat White, the Miami Dolphins thought they had the QB of the future or at least in part to bring a certain versatility to the offense (Wildcat). Drafted early in the 2nd round, White was a standout in college at West Virginia. Many, including myself thought he was just too small to excel in the NFL. He found out the hard way in late 2009 when he was hammered by LB James Harrison of the Steelers on a sideline scramble. He never saw the field again and changed professions for baseball. How ironic. White is currently trying to get back into the NFL and plays in the UFL for whatever that's worth. Unfortunately he must be labeled as a bust.
All in all, in retrospect the 2009 NFL Draft was one of the weaker variety in terms of star talent. Many teams found value in the later rounds and let us not forget the jury is still out on many of these players. If I had to give the 2009 Draft a total grade, I'd give it a C+ in terms of star quality. This could change in the coming years however.
Hindsight is 20/20 and the Draft remains an inexact science even for the Mel Kiper's, Todd McShay's and Mike Mayock's of the world.