10: New Orleans Saints
With two first-round picks a year ago, the Saints had the potential to grab two future superstars for their team. With the 13th pick, they got an anchor for their offensive line in Andrus Peat. The Stanford man had his struggles, which almost all rookie lineman go through, but started eight games. Peat looks to have a much bigger role next season on that Saints O-Line. Stephone Anthony was the other first round pick. Anthony put up great stats from the MLB position in year one with 112 tackles, one sack, and an interception. The former Clemson linebacker looks like the future at the MLB position for the Saints.
Hau’oli Kikaha had a lot of hype while playing at the University of Washington, but having previously torn his ACL in both knees, the pass-rush specialist went flying down draft boards. The Saints managed to pick him up in the second round, and he proved that his knees were fine. Kikaha racked up over 50 tackles to go along with 4 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in his rookie year. Expect the linebacker duo of Kikaha and Anthony to be one of the best in a few years.
9. Tennessee Titans
Something has to be said for grabbing your future quarterback in the draft, but the rest of the picks for the Titans didn’t show up as much as Mariota did in his rookie year. Mariota didn’t put up the most eye-gauging stats, but he still showed the Titans why they picked him No. 2 overall last year.
Dorial Green-Beckham would’ve been one of the top wide receivers last year had it not been for his off-field issues. Luckily for the Titans, the 2nd round pick kept himself out of trouble last year, and it started to pay off late in the season. With a pair of 100+ yard games, Green-Beckham was able to pass the 500-yard mark in his rookie season. Expect the 6’5” receiver to try for the quadruple digit milestone next year.
8. Oakland Raiders
This last season saw a revival in Oakland. The Raiders went from being the butt of every joke in the NFL to actually being in the playoff hunt late in the year. First-round pick Amari Cooper looks like he could end up being the next great Bay Area receiver, and with a very capable quarterback in Derek Carr throwing him the ball, this team could look to win the division next season.
Mario Edwards Jr. was a bit of a gamble coming out of Florida State, but the second-round pick showed promise in his rookie year. Edwards put up 42 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. With new additions to this Raiders defense, you can expect Edwards to find himself in more favorable one-on-one matchups, which should lead to more production for the 2nd year defender.
7. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals struck gold in the third round with David Johnson. A "nobody" going into the draft process, the Northern Iowa running back gained over 1,000 total yards and 12 total touchdowns, while helping his team make a playoff run. Forget about Chris Johnson, there’s a new Johnson in town and he could end up being a top ten running back by the end of next season.
The “other” Missouri pass-rusher, Markus Golden showed that he didn’t need Shane Ray opposite him to be able to get pressure on the quarterback. Golden racked up four sacks and two forced fumbles while not playing every game last season. The Cardinals are looking for a star edge-rusher and Golden just put his name in the hat with his performance last season.
Fifth-round pick JJ Nelson wasn’t expected to do a whole lot coming out of UAB, but the speedster overcame the negatives of his size to gain 300 yards and two touchdowns while only really playing in four games last year. It will be hard to see him get a whole lot of snaps with Larry Fitzgerald still looking great and an emerging star in John Brown who has the same skill set as Nelson. Even with the depth at wide receiver, JJ Nelson already looks like he could outplay his draft position.
6: Buffalo Bills
The Bills did not have a first-round pick in last year’s draft, giving it up to the Browns in exchange for moving up two years ago for Sammy Watkins, but they did incredible with the picks that they did have. In the second round, they snatched up Ronald Darby from Florida State. Most thought that the other Florida State cornerback, PJ Williams, was the better of the two, but he was out for the season last year and is facing a four game suspension for the upcoming season. Ronald Darby clearly established himself as the better of the two. Darby racked up 61 tackles to go along with 2 interceptions and 21 passes defended, which ranked fifth in the league.
The Bills also grabbed guard John Miller in round three. Miller and the emergence of Richie Incognito were the reason why the Bills had the top ranked rushing attack last season. Miller looks like he could contribute well to the Bill’s line for years to come.
Another reason that the Bills had the top-ranked rushing attack was, of course, the running backs. LeSean McCoy is great to have, but grabbing Karlos Williams in the fifth round proved to be one of the biggest steals o the entire draft. Williams averaged 5.6 YPC on 93 carries and found the endzone seven times rushing and two times receiving. Williams only played in eleven games last season, so he could provide a valuable one-two punch for the Bills rushing attack if he stays healthy all season next year.
5: Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, I know. Marcus Peters was absolutely incredible last season. Grabbing eight interceptions is hard for anyone to do, but it is even more impressive as a rookie. Peters returned two of those picks for touchdowns last season, and he added 26 passes defended as well. With Sean Smith gone to Oakland, Peters will have the responsibility of covering every team’s top receiver, although he was pretty much doing that toward the end of last season.
Marcus Peters is great and all, but Mitch Morse could have been the real steal for the Chiefs in this draft. Morse graded out as one the top five centers in the league, and for some, he was the best center on all football last season. Getting a guy like that in the second round is something that doesn’t always happen. Morse will likely be a force in that line for years to come.
Chris Conley showed promise last year, going for 200 yards and showcasing his athletic ability on multiple occasions. Conley scored a touchdown in the first playoff game against the Texans, and while he didn’t do much else the rest of the season, he showed the Chiefs that they could’ve gotten a good complementary receiver in the third round.
4: Chicago Bears
Kevin White and Amari Cooper were pretty much interchangeable as the top receiver in last year’s class. If you asked me, I thought Amari Cooper was the top receiver, but Kevin White certainly had his supporters too. A season ending injury to White not only made Bears' fans sad, but also NFL fans too. Everybody wanted to see White play, and we finally will see what we’ve been looking forward for two years next season.
With White out, somebody had to pick up the slack for Chicago. That man was Eddie Goldman. The massive defensive tackle out Florida State didn’t play like a rookie last year, and he sure doesn’t look like one either. At 6’3” and 332 pounds, Goldman managed to add 4.5 sacks to the Bear’s total last year. As the Bears continue their transition to a 3-4 defense, they need players that can fit that scheme. While Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston didn’t look comfortable playing in a 3-4, so having Goldman as a true nose tackle down low helps the Bears future as they build toward a 3-4.
Third-round pick Hroniss Grasu made eight starts at center last year, and he looks to only be getting better as that offensive line looks to add new pieces. Jeremy Langford being picked in the fourth round by the Bears may be one of the biggest steals come the next few years. The Bears didn’t really use Langford until midway through the season, but when he was called upon, he showed promise. Langford rushed for over 500 yards and showed the versatility as a receiver out of the backfield, which is something that the Bears love. For the Bears to be content with Matt Forte leaving means that they must really think highly of second year player Jeremy Langford.
Selected in the fifth round, Adrian Amos was maybe the biggest steal of the entire draft. Out of Penn State, Amos had over 60 tackles and also showed equal ability in coverage. Look for Amos to be one of the best safeties in the NFL in the next three years.
3: Washington Redskins
Drafting an offensive lineman early is a huge risk, as sometimes they don’t pan out like you wish. If you don’t believe me, then just ask the Jaguars and Chiefs. The Redskins won’t join those two though, as first-rounder Brandon Scherff started all 16 games for the Redskins and gave them exactly what they needed from their at No. 5 overall last year. Look for Scherff to be the next great Redskins offensive lineman.
Getting Preston Smith in the second round was absolutely vital for Washington. Losing Brian Orakpo meant that they lost one of their star rushers, even though he wasn’t productive the past season and Ryan Kerrigan was emerging. Orakpo’s place needed to be filled, and it didn’t look like Trent Murphy would live up to the challenge, so Preston Smith made the decision easy for them. Smith finished the season with 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break double-digits in sacks next season.
Matt Jones looks like the next Marshawn Lynch. Okay, maybe that was a little bit of a reach, but the way he plays and his size remind me a lot of Beast Mode. Jones gained almost 800 total yards last season, and the Redskins wanted nothing to do with re-signing Alfred Morris in the offseason because they knew that they found their next future running back. Some may have criticized this decision because Morris had only really had one bad season and he was still young. I think it just shows how much the Redskins wanted Matt Jones as their feature back.
Jamison Crowder offered steady production throughout the entire season last year, and the former Duke wide receiver outplayed his 4th round value by a mile. Crowder could be the answer for the Redskins as Pierre Garcon hasn’t done much since his 113 receptions season a few years back.
2: Minnesota Vikings
First-round pick Trae Waynes wasn’t expected to be a top-flight corner right away, so it wasn’t a concern that he had some trouble in his rookie season. With a little more experience, Waynes definitely looks to live up to his draft hype.
The second-rounder Eric Kendricks looks to be the top pick from the Vikings draft last year. With 92 tackles and 4 sacks last year, Kendricks showed off not only his tackling ability, but also his pass-rushing capabilities. Kendricks and Anthony Barr should be one of the top linebacker duos as early as next season.
TJ Clemmings was picked up in the fourth round, but he started all 16 games at tackle for the Vikings. Granted, the Vikings offensive line wasn’t the best last year, but the experience that Clemmings got should help him progress into a solid starter for years to come.
Danielle Hunter was the Viking’s third round selection, and he added to an already stacked defense up in Minnesota. His 6 sacks were among the top for all rookies and he also had forced fumble.
With no true No. 1 receiver, the Vikings looked lost to start the season, until Stefon Diggs stepped onto the field. By far one of the most productive rookie receivers, Diggs caught 52 passes for 720 yards and 4 touchdowns. Diggs looked like the steal of the entire draft, as he was selected in the fifth round.
1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like I said about the Titans, there is no greater player you can draft than your franchise quarterback, and the Buccaneers did just that. Of course, when you have the first pick in the draft, you are expected to get the best haul of players, but it still takes great decision making to do what the Buccaneers did with their draft haul.
Not only did Jameis Winston throw for over 4,000 yards, something few rookie quarterbacks have ever done, he was named to the Pro Bowl, another thing that few rookies in general have ever done. Jameis looks like the franchise quarterback for the next ten to twelve years, assuming that the Buccaneers can hang onto him.
Donovan Smith was the 34th overall selection, a pick that many disagreed with, but he ended up actually doing a decent job at left tackle for the Buccaneers. Playing left tackle in the NFL is not easy, and to be able to play the position comfortably as a rookie deserves a lot of praise.
The Buccaneers grabbed another offensive lineman in the second round. A small school player, Ali Marpet started to rise up draft boards late, with some even taking him in the first round. Marpet didn’t look like a rookie last year, as he was a solid piece in the interior of that Tampa Bay offensive line.
Kwon Alexander is a guy that I really liked last season. He stuffed the stat sheet last season, racking up 93 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions in only 12 games. Those numbers would be impressive for any linebacker in the NFL. I take my statement about Kendricks and Barr back. I think that Alexander and Lavonte David could be the best linebacker duo in the NFL in the next two years.
What was so great about the Buccaneers draft wasn’t just that they found their quarterback of the future, although that is always great. It was the fact that the Buccaneers found future stars in their first four picks of the draft, something that few teams have ever been able to say.