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Evaluating the NFC West draft hauls, 2014-2016

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

This is part I of a V-part series looking at young players in the NFC West. Check out the previews of the Rams here and the 49ers here.

It’s too soon to give any sort of final grade on the 2016 draft class, that’s obvious. It doesn’t mean that it’s too early to have some opinion on it, however. Same goes for the 2015 class, though two seasons in, we have a much clearer picture of how good those players will be. And the 2014 class certainly won’t be closing the books on their careers if they’ve failed (though some have) or writing their tickets to the Hall of Fame if they’ve dominated (and some have done that too) but the second overall pick from that year was already traded to another team because of his shortcomings.

The following isn’t a ranking, there isn’t an order to it, it’s just a quick look at the draft classes of all four NFC West teams over the previous three years. These are the guys on rookie deals with some time under their belt, the players who we can presume are supposed to be the core of the next generation for these franchises ... unless they have yet to show any discernible ability at the pro level. In which case you might have been all but a couple players drafted by the LA Rams.

Jeff Foxworthy voice: If you were a top five pick, but you can’t top five yards ... you might be an LA Ram.

You’ll notice that no group from the NFC West is entirely overwhelming in their talent or abundance of solid picks. In reality, it seems like almost half of every player drafted into this division over the last three years is just about washed out. You also won’t notice any UDFAs like Thomas Rawls because ... well, because if I included them I might have also missed a few players for the teams I don’t cover on a daily basis.

As to having more information on the building blocks of the other three NFC West teams besides the Seahawks, I’ll have more on that next week from those who cover those teams. For now, here’s a primer:

(AV relates to Pro-Football-Reference’s career adjusted-value metric, which is far from perfect, but a starting point for career productivity)

LA Rams, 2014-2016

Total players drafted: 26

Pro Bowl appearances: 4 (Aaron Donald, 3, Todd Gurley, 1)

Less than 3 AV: 15 (Jared Goff, -2)

The Rams drafted Donald with the 13th overall pick in 2014, and that alone is enough to make their last three drafts nothing less than a minor success. I mean, if you draft one Hall of Famer, especially outside of the top-three range, that’s something. I believe that Donald is certainly on a HoF trajectory and his first three seasons are about as good as you could hope for from any player: 28 sacks from the defensive tackle position and probably a few MVP votes that he didn’t receive that he probably should have.

Luckily for their NFC West foes, little else has gone right in LA’s quest to build a core of players worth sweating about.

The second-most AV from any player drafted in this span belongs to Greg Robinson, now a member of the Detroit Lions after three awful seasons at left tackle. The second overall pick in 2014 — ahead of when they took Donald — Robinson did not appear to be a bad selection at the time, but he can’t stop even the most average pass rushers and was penalized far too often.

Todd Gurley’s third in AV, and his second season was quite bad: 3.2 YPC, 37th in DYAR, and best of all, he’s a running back that they felt compelled to draft in the top 10 despite so many other needs.

Other relevant players drafted in that time include corners EJ Gaines and Lamarcus Joyner, tackles Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown, guard Cody Wichmann, and safety Maurice Alexander. Tight end Tyler Higbee, plus receivers Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas, were drafted just a year ago and I believe the org still has high hopes for them.

Speaking of which ... Jared Goff.

Goff’s first season was as bad as any first season in recent memory for a first overall pick. He was clearly not capable of playing at the NFL level when put onto the field in 2016. Now, that may have a lot to do with Jeff Fisher, the assistant coaches, the lack of protection and explosive weapons, or just his own development curve, but I can’t think of a single positive thread to pull on if I’m a Rams fan. There’s just hope, and less hope than there was a year ago.

His -880 DYAR was the worst by any QB since Blake Bortles in 2014. Brandon Weeden’s second season with the Browns produced -443 DYAR. Ryan Lindley’s historically awful 2012 season produced -482 DYAR, and even Caleb Hanie had -470 DYAR with the Bears in 2011. Even Jimmy Clausen (-749) and JaMarcus Russell (-834) had better seasons than Goff.

San Francisco 49ers, 2014-2016

Total players drafted: 33

Pro Bowl appearances: 0

Less than 3 AV: 18

If looking for a reason why the Rams have at least had “a little success” in drafting recently, just peruse most of what San Francisco has done. While DeForest Buckner (seventh overall, 2016) looks like he could be exceptional, the overall haul since 2014 has produced very little.

The highest career AV belongs to Carlos Hyde, who has just 12 AV and is a season away from free agency. Hyde is also a running back who turns 27 in September and is yet to have a truly explosive year, posting a career-high 988 yards last season.

The second-highest AV goes to center Marcus Martin, who was waived and picked up by the Browns. Former first rounder Arik Armstead has 4.5 career sacks and will now be adjusting from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

The Niners other notable picks include guard Josh Garnett, tackle Trent Brown, edge rusher Aaron Lynch, linebacker Eli Harold, defensive backs Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Rashard Robinson, and punter Bradley Pinion.

Arizona Cardinals, 2014-2016

Total players drafted: 20

Pro Bowl appearances: 1 (David Johnson)

Less than 3 AV: 11

Johnson was a star last year, but there are always going to be inherent problems with pinning your future success on a running back. Too many hits, injuries, and variables. That being said, Johnson was incredible last season and for all we know, could be the next Marshall Faulk. That’s good, but even Faulk needed a lot of help to get to two Super Bowls.

The next two highest AVs belong to receiver John Brown and linebacker Deone Bucannon. Brown’s third season was a flop (517 yards, two TDs, 53.4% catch rate) compared to his second and his status in the offense is in jeopardy. Johnson may end up as the team’s number two receiver, or potentially 2015 fifth rounder JJ Nelson, who has averaged 19.3 YPC on 45 career receptions. Bucannon’s breakout followup in 2016 was also disappointing and his status for the start of 2017 is in question.

The big breakout last year belonged to edge rusher Markus Golden, who had 12.5 sacks. The question right now is how he, and the rest of the front-seven, will respond to losing Calais Campbell in free agency.

First round picks D.J. Humphries at offensive tackle and Robert Nkemdiche at defensive tackle have yet to contribute significantly, with Humphries moving from right to left tackle this season. Nothing left to say about that other than: We’ll see.

Other notable picks include guards Evan Boehm and Cole Toner, and that’s just about it. And it’s not much.

Arizona may have the best hit rate of these three teams, but with only 20 picks and not a ton to show for their first rounders, the Cards’ roster seems incomplete at the moment. That’s why I’m expecting them to top out at 8-8. Even breakout seasons from Humphries and Nkemdiche doesn’t seem like enough to get them over the hump — only a fantastic season from Carson Palmer would be able to do that.

Seattle Seahawks, 2014-2016

Total players drafted: 27

Pro Bowl appearances: 1 (Tyler Lockett, 2015)

Less than 3 AV: 17

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a disappointing result, with 63% of these players yet to top two career AV.

The most productive career belongs to Justin Britt, who has 24 AV and has started at tackle, guard, and now center, where he’s at his best. Finding a good center isn’t so difficult to do to make the selection of Britt sound all that fantastic, especially given that his first two seasons were bad and that he’ll be a free agent in less than a year.

On the bright side, Tyler Lockett and Frank Clark have had much more explosive careers, they just need to get on the field more often and stay there. For Lockett, it’s about his health and consistency, and for Clark, about finding snaps at a loaded position and staying away from his demons. Overall, it seems like the Seahawks drafted two perennial Pro Bowlers here, if all goes well.

The next best players drafted are probably Jarran Reed and C.J. Prosise. It would be nice to see Reed turn into more of a complete DT in 2017, which would allow him to stay out on third down more often and disrupt the quarterback. Prosise just needs to stay healthy and he could become one of the most exciting backs in the league.

Other starters include Germain Ifedi (we hope he can remain a starter), Mark Glowinski (was a starter, who knows at this point), and ... no one else yet.

Paul Richardson, Cassius Marsh, and Kevin Pierre-Louis are notable contributors, but Alex Collins, Rees Odhiambo, Joey Hunt, Nick Vannett, and Quinton Jefferson have so far been backups who rarely played or were injured. There’s some stuff here we can hold onto because we are Seattle fans and we follow these players closely and see the flashes of goody-goodness, but realistically speaking, what have the Seahawks definitely come away with over the last three drafts?

A center who will be a free agent in 2018, a talent-yet-injured receiver/returner, a talented-yet-troubled pass rusher, a fantastic run-stopping defensive tackle, an explosive-and-injury-prone back/receiver, and maybe a starter at tackle and/or guard. Clark is probably the best get since 2014, with potential to rack up double-digit sacks every year, but overall I’m sure John Schneider is a little disappointed with this haul. Think of all the players who basically did nothing with the team, including Garrett Scott, Jimmy Staten, Terry Poole, Kevin Norwood, Obum Gwacham, Tye Smith, Kristjan Sokoli, and Eric Pinkins.

Who has drafted the best of the other three NFC West teams. (Couldn’t include the Seahawks because let’s be real, you’re biased.)


Who had the best draft classes from 2014-2016?

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