I think that as far as draft evaluation goes — at least for ~first round picks — three seasons is just about enough to know what you’ve got in certain players. Sometimes you get a player who improves immensely after three years; more often than that, you’ll see guys get considerably worse after three years, but for the most part teams are very aware of how they feel about their picks once those initial seasons are in the books.
Which is important, because as far as the 2016 draft class goes, franchises will have to decide on the fifth-year option for their first round picks once the 2018 season is complete. This is the season of decision.
Earlier this month, the Cleveland Browns traded 2016 first round pick Corey Coleman to the Buffalo Bills for virtually nothing, making Coleman the first player in that group of first rounders to part ways with his initial team. Earlier on Tuesday, the Baltimore Ravens traded Kamalei Correa — the 43rd overall pick in round two — to the Tennessee Titans. Other second rounders to leave their original teams include Jihad Ward, Christian Hackenberg, Su’a Cravens, and Roberto Aguayo.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks have had a mixed bag from these two rounds. Germain Ifedi, the last pick in round one, is on the verge of losing a starting job on the offensive line. He still seems in line to start at right tackle, but the fifth-year option seems unlikely. In round two, Jarran Reed is potentially one of the better picks in his range, but could use a major step forward in 2018. But the pressure isn’t on Reed or Ifedi like it is on many others.
Here are 13 first round picks who are definitely behind where the team that selected them wanted them to be after two seasons, and in absolutely no particular order:
Paxton Lynch, QB, Broncos, 26th overall
Still perhaps the most notable disappointment from this draft because he’s a first round quarterback who has given the team sixth round production. Not only that, but John Elway gave up a third round pick to the Seahawks (turned into Nick Vannett) to move up five spots for Lynch, which tells you all you need to know about a Hall of Fame QB being able to recognize QB talent. Denver signed Case Keenum and drafted Chad Kelly, which all but puts Lynch on a trip to somewhere-else-ville, just 28ish months after he was selected.
Fifth-year option prediction: Ha.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings, 23rd overall
In 2015, rookie Stefon Diggs showed a lot of promise with 52 catches for 720 yards and four touchdowns. An unknown Adam Thielen had 12 catches for 144 yards. Cordarrelle Patterson (2 targets in 16 games) had been removed from the offense entirely. Mike Wallace’s one year stop in Minnesota resulted in 473 yards, then he left for Baltimore, giving the Ravens 1,017 yards in a comeback campaign. All of which is to say that the Vikings had a significant need at receiver and it was Treadwell — once considered for the top-5 — was meant to be their elite number one option.
At this point, he just needs to prove he can get onto the field.
As a rookie, Treadwell got just three targets and was a healthy scratch more than once. Last season, he upped it to 35 targets, catching 20 passes for 200 yards. He’s still looking for his first NFL score. Of course, Diggs and Thielen have become one of the top duos in the league, so where does Treadwell even fit in at this point? The interesting thing is that he only just turned 23, so Treadwell could experience further significant growth as an NFL prospect, he just has a lot more to prove while playing in an offense where he probably can’t be more than a number three unless one of the top two guys gets injured. Funny enough, SB Nation’s Stephen White actually likes Treadwell more now than he did at the time of the draft, noting that he’s probably just going to be held back by being the number three.
If Treadwell is anything, then suddenly the Vikings have three intriguing receiving weapons, plus Kyle Rudolph, plus Dalvin Cook to surround Kirk Cousins. The big issue will be protection, as the offensive line seems to be below-average on talent level headed into the year. If Treadwell taps into that first round status, then the weapons are way, way above average.
Fifth-year option prediction: Nope.
#Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell managed to get more separation in training camp practices. I felt like he looked quicker in-and-out of breaks. This is the first time he's really applied it to a game. I think Kirk Cousins will find him often this year. pic.twitter.com/rqRw4VDfRe— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) August 25, 2018
Corey Coleman, WR, Browns, 15th overall (traded)
The year that Cleveland started at pick 2, passed on Carson Wentz, and traded down twice before landing Coleman at 15. When you’re in Seattle’s position most years, I advocate for trading down because there are talent “cliffs” in every draft and after a certain point, you just know that the player at 25 isn’t likely much different than the player at 35. However, when you’re picking second, you’re usually assured (not always, check 2013), of elite, once-in-a-GM’s-career type prospects. That’s why I think the Browns made a mistake with these trades, not just because of Wentz, but because of Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey.
They went down to the 8th overall pick, passing over Jack Conklin (another player they could desperately use) and ultimately settling on Coleman. The trades netted them picks, some of which turned into useful or hopefully-useful players, but it’s rare you get the opportunities for some of the guys they’ve passed on; the next year they used the first rounder they received to trade down again, passing up on the chance to select Deshaun Watson. I’ve been sidetracked.
Coleman was bad in so many ways and traded to the Buffalo Bills for a 2020 seventh round pick despite Cleveland’s need for receivers.
“Corey Coleman has been invisible since coming to the Bills from the Browns mid-camp, but he’s still learning the offense and is a former first-round pick. Expect him to make the team.”
Fifth-year option prediction: They didn’t pick up Sammy Watkins’ option.
Shaq Lawson, OLB/DE, Bills, 19th overall
Search “Shaq Lawson” on Twitter and you’ll find it very hard to find anyone who has something positive to say about Buffalo’s first round pick in 2016. That being said, I did find a report suggesting “improvement” in Lawson’s technique and results so far this preseason:
Shaq Lawson’s improvement seems to be real. Lawson seems to have been coached up to play off the ball this year and is much better off the snap than last season. His ability to use his strength is still spotty at times and his finesse techniques could use a lot of work. Overall though, Lawson is more consistently impacting the play. It’s only preseason, but Lawson’s improvements aren’t ones that should go away when teams start scheming for one another.
I just don’t care too much what happens in the preseason. I would not be the one to give up on Lawson after two years, but his record so far is 11 games missed, six sacks, and the need for a significant breakout if the Bills are going to consider him a part of the defense for 2019.
Fifth-year option prediction: Nah.
Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Bucs, 11th overall
What Bucs Nation is concerned with right now is the fact that Hargreaves should have been considered a nickel corner in the draft, which would have likely not made him a first round pick, and now his bouncing back and forth from the outside to the inside and back is going to be the biggest factor in deciding if he was a good pick or a bad one:
Hargreaves is always going to have to carry the label that comes with being a first-round pick. If his future exists in the slot, then he’ll face questions and comments about his being a bust for the rest of his career.
Hargreaves missed seven games last year and has not quite played like he’s the next Chris Harris, Jr.
Fifth-year option prediction: Even a good year in the slot could solidify, so I’ll say yes.
Leonard Floyd, OLB, Bears, 9th overall
I don’t think Floyd is widely considered to be on the “bust” track but is he a special enough pass rusher to be worthy of a top-10 pick? He had seven sacks in 12 games as a rookie, followed by 4.5 in 10 games last season. That’s almost as many games missed (10) as sacks (11.5). But there’s more to it than that.
Floyd needs to use his hands better — which is a problem when one of your hands is broken, as Floyd’s is right now though he’s expected to start Week 1 with a cast — and his own linebackers coach says that he “has got a long way to go” despite it being two-and-a-half years since he was a top-10 pick:
“His hands have come alive,” Bears linebackers coach Brandon Staley said earlier this month, per the Chicago Tribune. “That was always, to me when I got here, the missing piece with him -- just being able to use his speed, use his length and attack these guys with his hands. He still has got a long way to go, but he’s coming. You can see it.”
It’s about the injuries, it’s about the technique, it’s about the production; this is not an indictment on Floyd as a player or his future, it is simply what the title of the article is asking: “Has this player produced up to their draft status?” I can say with total confidence that Floyd has not. A top-10 pass rusher one year earlier: Vic Beasley, who went 9th overall in 2015 and recorded 15.5 sacks in year two. That might be exceptionally good, but at that level, you’re looking for exceptionally good.
Fifth-year option prediction: Yes.
Eli Apple, CB, Giants, 10th overall
Rob Staton correctly predicted that Apple would go ahead of Hargreaves, something not a lot of draft prognosticators were saying in 2016, but unfortunately Apple has not played up to his draft day rise.
Apple doesn’t consistently exert the best technique or effort and has issues with processing/staying focused, but this does not mean he isn’t redeemable. Apple has qualities that can be utilized on this Giants’ defense and if Big Blue wants to be in position to win more games this season, they’re going to need quality secondary play, so the coaching staff must find a way to maximize these qualities and keep him focused. 2017 was most certainly a year to forget for Apple, but he has a new opportunity playing for Big Blue with the suspension behind him and a fresh slate from the new regime. He can be a solid cornerback, if he stays focused, but don’t expect him to be a player that he is not.
Apple admitted that he had a bad campaign in 2017 and is hoping to be back on the right track as a starter opposite Janoris Jenkins. Maybe he will, it’s also just fair to say that so far he has been a disappointment.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Saints, 12th overall
Rankins was one of Rob Staton’s favorite players in the 2016 draft, highlighted by a TEF (trench explosion formula, aka explosive power at the line of scrimmage) score that was off the charts, and so I loved Rankins too. I still do have high hopes for him as a pass rushing defensive tackle who could be great, but a promising rookie season marred by injury was followed up by a healthy sophomore year with less than half of the production you’d have expected. Rankins spent the offseason in isolation, training and trying to get better.
The 2017 campaign was a season of breakouts for many Saints defenders, but Rankins wasn’t one of them. After registering four sacks and six quarterback hits during a promising but injury-shortened nine-game rookie season, Rankins recorded only two sacks, 26 tackles and nine quarterback hits in 16 starts a year ago.
”I’m not going to say that I played terrible,” Rankins said. “I think I played well in spots and played pretty damn good at times, too. ... A lot of times last year, I was there. I was so close.”
Fifth-year option prediction: I am still a believer. Yes.
Josh Doctson, WR, Washington, 22nd overall
Say what you want about Josh Doctson, just don’t say that he’s headed for a breakout just because he’s a former first round pick without much in the way of competition ahead of him. Washington signed Paul Richardson to be their number one and Jamison Crowder is locked into the slot, but Doctson gets to stay on the field almost by way of default. Despite that, he’s received just one target total over the last two preseason games; isn’t Doctson, a with only one real season under his belt, worth testing during exhibition? Doctson played in just two games as a rookie, then caught 35 of 78 targets for 502 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. Washington acquired Alex Smith at QB, but it feels like mostly a lateral move.
The only receivers pushing behind him appear to be Brian Quick, Maurice Harris, Trey Quinn, and Cam Sims. He’ll be starting, most likely, but Jay Gruden probably won’t stick with him for long if the production isn’t there.
Fifth-year option: Nope.
Joshua Garnett, OG, 49ers, 28th overall
If you draft a guard in the first round, he absolutely should be starting at some point in his rookie campaign, and be entrenched as one of the your better linemen by year two. Obviously this did not happen with Germain Ifedi (who was a tackle and that was always the plan eventually) but it’s even worse with Garnett, whose only job was to win a spot at guard. In year three, he’s fighting against Mike Person to start on the right side and it looks like he could very well lose.
Kyle Shanahan said he was pleased with Garnett’s play in their most recent preseason game (Person still got the start), but he’s absolutely a candidate to get traded or released.
Fifth-year option: Needs to get to year 3 first.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Cardinals, 29th overall
17 games played, 0 starts, 0 sacks, four solo tackles ... one touchdown. Nkemdiche is injured again and hopes are high because he’s likely Arizona’s best defensive tackle, but low because he’s likely Arizona’s best defensive tackle.
Fifth-year option: He’ll have to have a hell of a breakout season.
Vernon Butler, DT, Panthers, 30th overall
His first two seasons has included 24 games, 0 starts, 1.5 sacks, and 13 solo tackles. His offseason included a citation for pushing a woman in a bar. He’s got to be a completely different player if he’s going to stick in Carolina for much longer.
Fifth-year option: Unlikely after the team signed Dontari Poe to start next to Kawann Short.
Germain Ifedi, OG/OT, Seahawks, 31st overall
He’s been bad at both guard and tackle and he seems to be getting worse at tackle. If you give him credit for anything, it’s that only six 2016 first rounders have played in more than his 29 games thus far. So at least he’s out there and we don’t have to wonder “What could have been?” Ifedi’s been healthy and we know what really is: that if he’s going to become an NFL starting offensive lineman, he needs to prove it now. He doesn’t have to be great, he just needs to be dependable. That means fewer penalties and a lot more protection of Russell Wilson.
He’s still been a lot better than Garnett. He’s also been a lot better than the next offensive lineman off the board, Jason Spriggs. (In case you’re wondering, the ideal pick was probably defensive tackle Chris Jones.)
Fifth-year option: It’s hard to envision him starting at right tackle for the whole season. If he did manage to do that, then the fifth-year option makes some sense because right tackles are being overpaid everywhere due to scarcity of quality at the position. I don’t think that Ifedi will pull it off, but it’s possible that he does.
Other first rounders: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Ezekiel Elliott, Ronnie Stanley, DeForest Buckner, Jack Conklin, Laremy Tunsil, Karl Joseph, Taylor Decker, Keanu Neal, Ryan Kelly, Will Fuller, William Jackson, Artie Burns, Kenny Clark
How many of those could be in consideration to be added to the list above?
I’ll say that Stanley and Buckner were drafted very high and maybe have not been quite as out-the-box amazing as Bosa and Elliott, but I wouldn’t say I’d be disappointed with the results. As far as tackles go though, Tunsil has played below expectations. He gets a pass because so far he’s at least playing left tackle, which is a tough thing to find. Decker’s seemingly been a little better, but missed more games.
Joseph’s been a good safety but not at the level of Keanu Neal, who went four picks later and was one of Rob’s favorite players in the whole class.
Kelly missed nine games last season. Fuller missed six games but caught seven touchdowns over his first four games of the year. There’s still some big questions surrounding Fuller — including his current injury that has him in doubt for Week 1 — but what happened to allow him to be that productive? Just some Deshaun Watson in his life? Fuller was completely missing when T.J. Yates and Tom Savage were in the game, so is he fully dependent on a good quarterback? That’s maybe enough from a guy who went 21st — as opposed to one who went top-8 and should be productive regardless of QB; DeAndre Hopkins went 27th overall in 2013 and became an elite number one, actually managing a higher QB rating from Savage (107.9) than he had with Watson (104.1).
Despite missing all of 2016 and recording just a single interception last year, William Jackson III has emerged as one of PFF’s favorite cornerbacks in the NFL. That’s enough for me to wonder what’s next and more than justify a late first round selection. Burns and Clark also seem plenty good enough for their draft selection.