2015 First Round Picks: Booms, Busts, and Basically Fine

As we pass two and a half years since they were drafted, it’s high time to look at 2015’s first round picks again, to see who’s turned out to be a boom, a bust, or basically fine.

I think the 2015 NFL draft was the first one I stayed up all night for. In what’s becoming an annual tradition, I watched it with a mate and a selection of strong, pretentious beers. It’s, bizarrely, a thrilling event, and NFL fans seem to agree, as this first draft outside New York for 50 years became a huge event, turning Chicago’s Grant Park into a huge fan circus.

(Sidenote: Chicago is a city I absolutely adore, but Grant Park is not its finest landmark. It is a wonderful location that you could design a spectacular, cocooning park in, but Grant Park is not that park.)

I don’t remember a huge amount about that draft (blame the strong, pretentious beer), but I do a few things. Roger Goodell mispronouncing “Mariota”. Complete bafflement at the Saints drafting an offensive tackle. Laughing at Washington spending a long-awaited top-5 pick on a guard. But what you remember doesn’t matter. It’s how the player plays. And after two and a half years to adjust to playing in the league, it’s high time to see if your team chose well.

First Round Pick Booms

Amari Cooper, WR – drafted #4 by Oakland

There’s a danger of recency bias creeping in, with Cooper’s slow start to 2017. But he broke 1,000 yards in both his first two seasons, with 11 total receiving touchdowns, and two deserved Pro Bowl nods. He’s been at the forefront (with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack) of Oakland’s franchise turnaround these past few years.

Brandon Scherff, OG – drafted #5 by Washington

As above, I mocked this pick at the time, because what’s less flashy than a guard? But Scherff’s probably going to make his second deserved Pro Bowl this year, and he’s a key part of that Washington line. And high picks on guards don’t always work, just look at Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack.

Leonard Williams, 3-4 DE – drafted #6 by New York Jets

Williams has been good enough that the Jets were fine shipping Sheldon Richardson off to Seattle. 2016 saw Williams rack up 6 sacks from the less number-inflating 3-4 DE position. 2017 has seen him rack up pressure without getting home, but he’s a solid run-stuffer too and will be a very good lineman for years.

Todd Gurley, RB – drafted #10 by St Louis

Gurley only had a year in St Louis before his team jumped ship to LA, but what a year 2015 was, with a clip under 1,300 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns. As good as 2015 was, the Jeff Fisher mire took hold in 2016, as a dreadful year saw him drop from 4.8 to 3.2 yards per carry. Under Sean McVay, not only is the old Gurley back (754 rushing yards in 9 games), but he catches passes now too – 35 receptions for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Danny Shelton, DT – drafted #12 by Cleveland

It feels weird to talk about a Cleveland draft pick panning out (and scroll down for a more typical result), but Shelton has become a premier run-stuffer. After slimming down following his rookie season, Shelton has been a top-10 player against the run across the league these last two years.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Marcus Peters, CB – drafted #18 by Kansas City

I’ve droned on about how Ronald Darby – not Peters – should’ve been the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Peters won it having co-led the league in interceptions and then got better in 2016. Peters is an off-coverage extraordinaire, and one of the most canny gamblers at cornerback. Having 17 interceptions in 40 career games is remarkable.

Shaq Thompson, LB – drafted #25 by Carolina

I hesitated before branding Thompson a boom, but he excelled as the third (and so, rotational) linebacker in 2015 and 2016, and has impressed in 2017 playing near 80% of snaps. Thompson doesn’t give up big plays in coverage, and has a knack for being in play to stop the run. He’s a well-balanced linebacker.

First Round Picks Who Are Basically Fine

Jameis Winston, QB – drafted #1 by Tampa Bay

Based on this season, Winston is trending down at a rate of knots. His first two seasons saw 4,000 yard seasons, with 22:15 and 28:18 TD:INT ratios. 2016 felt like the better season. Although 8 games of 2017 have produced similar statistics, Winston has failed to take advantage of a more diverse, threatening, skill position set and has failed to inspire his team to improve, the baffling pre-game speech being illustrative rather than an outlier.

Marcus Mariota, QB – drafted #2 by Tennessee

I want to label Mariota a boom, but he’s consistently just not quite there. His mobility and fourth-quarter performances win games often, but it can be a whole he’s helped put his team in. While his red zone TD:INT ratio is a remarkable 36:0, only 3 red zone TD passes in 2017 betrays his tendency towards occasional over-risk-aversion.

Dante Fowler Jr, DE – drafted #3 by Jacksonville

Missing your entire rookie season due to injury is pretty much the worst start you can have. Having a flashy, but inefficient second season isn’t going to help much. Fowler’s 2017 has been better, and he has 5.5 sacks in an excellent defense. The issue now? Being overshadowed by 2016 third-rounder Yannick Ngakoue.

Vic Beasley, OLB – drafted #8 by Atlanta

This feels stupid. Beasley led the league in sacks in 2016 playing just 60% of snaps. But that’s kind of the problem. Beasley is a talented sack-artist; an athletic and opportunistic pass-rusher. Trouble is, for a top-10 pick to boom you need a complete player. And “opportunistic pass-rusher” does not equal “three-down defensive centrepiece”.

Trae Waynes, CB – drafted #11 by Minnesota

The inadequacy of a three-tier system demonstrates right here. We all know Beasley has been lumps ahead of Waynes. But Waynes is starting to get it in 2017. He put up great games on Tampa Bay and Green Bay, and defended three passes against Cleveland. He’s still a bit of a work in progress, but Minnesota can count on him across from Xavier Rhodes.

Andrus Peat, OL – drafted #13 by New Orleans

Peat was drafted a tackle, but has found a home at guard by 2017. Why? Well, as a tackle he was all-world awful. Peat still needs a bit more of a mean streak, but has shown progress pass- and run-blocking in year three.

DeVante Parker, WR – drafted #14 by Miami

You get the feeling if Parker can stay on the field, he could become a quarterback-proof receiver. Despite coming in slowly during 2015, only hitting a starting spot in 2017 and generally struggling with injury, he has 1,550 career yards and 8 career touchdowns. The best quarterback he’s had throwing passes? Ryan Tannehill.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Melvin Gordon, RB – drafted #15 by San Diego

There’s a perception that Gordon’s 2016 season was elite. His 2015 wasn’t – 641 yards at 3.5 yards a pop and no touchdowns. That 2016 though? Yards per carry improved to only 3.9, though touchdowns regressed to the mean and beyond at 10. That’s good, not great. With the best O-Line he’s run behind in 2017, Gordon still can’t hit 4 yards/carry and is losing carries to Austin Ekeler. He’s fine but no better.

Arik Armstead, DE – drafted #17 by San Francisco

Armstead will end his season on IR for the second time in 2017, but he’s shown flashes and looks a solid player. Used as a rotational rusher in 2015 and 2016, Armstead played at a very productive level in 2016 especially, racking up pressures if not sacks. He improved his play against pass and run in a more regular 2017.

Nelson Agholor, WR – drafted #20 by Philadelphia

Few of us outside Philly saw Agholor’s 2017 coming. Moving into the slot (and forcing Jordan Matthews out), Agholor has transformed from a shoddy route-runner with worse hands to a shifty weapon, both as comfort blanket and big-play threat. Agholor has 428 yards and 5 touchdowns in 9 games. So not elite, but trending up and he’s an important cog in the Eagles offense.

Shane Ray, OLB – drafted #23 by Denver

Ray looked like a steal at 23, but he’s still some way from kicking on towards ‘elite’. Getting more opportunities since Demarcus Ware took a step away in 2016, Ray played well, recording 8 sacks and setting a good edge against the run. That said, he hadn’t started well in 2017 before going on IR, recording no sacks in three games.

Byron Jones, S – drafted #28 by Dallas

You don’t complain about having a safety like Jones, even if he doesn’t light up the league or stat sheet. That said, 10 passes defended in 2016 made him a core part of Dallas’ bend-but-don’t-break defense. Indeed, Jones looks better in coverage than in run defense, and has the athleticism to do a decent job on receivers or tight ends.

Malcolm Brown, DT – drafted #32 by New England

Every so often Brown does something that makes you think he’s elite, but they’re only flashes around generally decent play. Nonetheless, Brown makes a tough part of New England’s fantastic 2016 rush defense, and while that unit has taken a step back in 2017, Brown has played like the best of the bunch.

First Round Pick Busts

Kevin White, WR – drafted #7 by Chicago

I always feel mean labelling careers derailed by injuries as busts. White missed all of 2015 due to injury, managed 4 games in 2016 (187 yards, 1 TD) before going on IR, and just 1 game in 2017 (2 catches for 6 yards). While mumblings about his lack of route-running acumen and stone hands are rife, there’s a decent chance we’ll never know if he was beaten by injuries, or if he’d have made it in the league.

Ereck Flowers, OT – drafted #9 by New York Giants

Flowers has been the butt of plenty of jokes, and hasn’t always taken criticism well. Unfortunately, there’s been lots of criticism, much of it deserved. Through his first two seasons, Flowers gave up quarterback pressure at a league-worst rate, and hasn’t improved in 2017.

Kevin Johnson, CB – drafted #16 by Houston

Johnson’s inadequacy has often been hidden on a depth chart including Kareem Jackson, Jonathan Joseph, and formerly AJ Bouye. 14 career passes defended looks okay, but Johnson is often a liability in coverage and looks out of his depth against better route runners. In his defense he’s had injuries, but that’s neither here nor there.

Cameron Erving, OL – drafted #19 by Cleveland

Yet another poster child for first-round bust linemen, even Florida State didn’t know if Erving’s best position was tackle, guard or center. Bafflingly, Kansas City gave up a fifth-round pick to take Erving off Cleveland’s hands this year, where he’s continued to give up pressure and fail to run block to an NFL standard.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT – drafted #21 by Cincinnati

Ogbuehi missed much of his first year due to injury, but it was a pre-draft injury Cincinnati knew about. Notice how Cincinnati can’t run the ball or give AJ Green time to throw this year? Ogbuehi has replaced Pro Bowl veteran Andrew Whitworth, and looks ill-equipped to protect Andy Dalton’s blind side.

Bud Dupree, OLB – drafted #22 by Pittsburgh

I’m anticipating pushback on this, but it seems every year Bud Dupree picks a different player to be outplayed by. Sure enough, 2016 James Harrison has been replaced by 2017 TJ Watt. Dupree struggled to get the start before 2017, and 41 pressures in two seasons in poor. 2017 has been a touch better, but he is now overshadowed by an actually effective first-round edge rusher in Watt.

(Getty Images)

D.J. Humphries, OT – drafted #24 by Arizona

Humphries was always going to be a project, and redshirted his 2015 year. 2016 was, however, not a great start. Humphries struggled with his technique, and was susceptible to, well, most pass-rushing moves. In fairness, he had put a decent 2017 year together before going on IR. I’m more confident about him improving enough to be considered an okay pick than others on this list.

Breshad Perriman, WR – drafted #26 by Baltimore

Perriman looked athletically talented but raw coming into the league. 2017 he still looks that, with some question marks about that athletic talent. I was surprised Perriman has only been on IR in the second half of 2015, which is telling. No route-running nous; can’t break through an anonymous wide receiver depth chart; has 553 career receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Ouch.

Laken Tomlinson, OG – drafted #28 by Detroit

My bad. I had Tomlinson down as a safe pick. And I thought he had a decent 2015. Things soured in 2016, and this offseason, with the emergence of Graham Glasgow and signing of TJ Lang, Detroit traded Tomlinson to San Francisco where he’s starting, but not playing well.

Philip Dorsett, WR – drafted #29 by Indianapolis

Bill Belichick loves to pick up underachieving early round draft picks and turn them into starters. Sadly, he lost this trade. Jacoby Brissett has been perfectly cromulent in Indy. Dorsett has played fewer than 25% of snaps, and has 6 catches for 101 receiving yards in 9 games. Dorsett is speedy, but seems to struggle to learn NFL routes and offenses.

Damarious Randall, CB – drafted #30 by Green Bay

This one is baffling. Randall was sneakily one of the best rookies from the 2015 class, but – maybe because of injuries – fell off a cliff last year and can’t cover for toffee this. The Packers secondary was swiss cheese in 2016, and a move to the slot hasn’t worked for Randall. He was benched against Bears in Week 4, and is rated by PFF as one of the worst corners in the league.

Stephone Anthony, LB – drafted #31 by New Orleans

Anthony was hailed as a rookie, but his play was a mixture of splash run plays and sloppy coverage plays that went undernoticed. Realising he was a liability calling plays in the middle, in 2016 New Orleans moved him to the strong side where he got worse. He was traded to Miami, who envisioned him manning the weak side. He has so far played one special teams snap and that’s it.

 

Follow Nick Dunkeyson on Twitter, @longsnapsranked.

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