Teams that consistently find players through the draft build rosters capable of contending over the long haul. Teams that struggle in this department find success hard to come by. It’s this group we’re focusing on as the 2017 NFL Draft waves at us from across the room.
Every season offers each team an equal opportunity to improve its fortunes. Some teams just have a terrible track record at identifying players who will develop into viable starters over the long haul. Not surprisingly, some of the teams most likely to bungle their 2017 NFL Draft are picking near the top.
We’re giving teams like the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts — franchises that have recently been awful in the draft — a pass as they are under new management.
So which teams are most likely to fail miserably this April in Philadelphia when it’s time to make the tough choices?
The Bears currently own the No. 3 overall pick in Round 1, but recent history suggests they won’t have a clue about how to use it.
Granted, general manager Ryan Pace has only had two drafts to establish himself, but he’s likely already on the hot seat after his first two drafts. After all, Phil Emery only got three seasons to turn things around, and he failed miserably, ushering in the Pace era.
During his first season, Pace swung and missed on receiver Kevin White, who has been plagued with lower-body injuries and has 19 total catches. His 2015 draft class did produce defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, but that’s about all we can say.
Last year’s draft class fared better, with first-round pick Leonard Floyd, second-round lineman Cody Whitehair and fifth-round RB Jordan Howard all contributing in a big way.
However, the roster is still in need of some serious work, and one decent draft doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Chicago has been in a tailspin since the franchise fired both Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo, and it’s going to take some solid work to right the ship.
Jacksonville is probably the worst-drafting team in the NFL.
“Of the over 180 total players the Jaguars have drafted in their history, only 11 have been elected to a Pro Bowl,” per Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country. “Only four players drafted by Jacksonville (in any round) have earned the honor of first-team All-Pro, and of the four, Boselli and Hardy were the only first-round selections (Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashean Mathis were the other two players, both of whom were drafted in the second round of their respective drafts).”
Since David Caldwell took over in 2013, the Jaguars have drafted in the top five each subsequent year. The Jags once again have that “honor,” picking at No. 4 overall this year.
The roster is simply not getting any better from year to year. Starting with quarterback Blake Bortles — a veritable turnover machine — and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, the team has failed to provide viable centerpiece players at cornerstone positions.
Jalen Ramsey was stellar last year as a rookie cornerback, and guys like Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee can clearly play. But when it comes to building a roster that can compete at the highest level Jacksonville has failed.
New York Jets
The Jets have been able to assemble some tremendous pieces on defense via the draft in recent memory. But when it comes to drafting offensive players this team just stinks. As we saw with the Bears, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan only has two drafts under his belt, but they were miserable ones on the offensive side of the ball.
Christian Hackenberg is practically a curse word in New York. Bryce Petty might not even stick on the roster. And the Jets don’t have any quarterbacks other than Hackenberg, Petty and career mediocre journeyman Josh McCown.
On that note, consistently we’re hearing reports that the Jets are enamored with former North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Throwing him into the Big Apple as a high draft pick (they have No. 6 overall this year) will work out about as well as it did for Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.
The team’s offensive line is now in a shambles as well, especially in light All-Pro Nick Mangold being released this offseason. Whoever ends up behind center better be able to either diagnose defenses quickly or have the speed to run for his life. He’ll need receivers to play with as well, and New York hasn’t drafted particularly well there, either, since the days of antiquity.
Jets fans better prepare for more misery. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
There is a very good reason the Bills haven’t made it to the playoffs since 1999. And don’t say Tom Brady. This team just doesn’t know how to draft a quarterback. Period.
Since Jim Kelly retired, Buffalo has gone though a number of options — none of them sustainable or very good. When it comes to the draft, the franchise is typically too scared to use a pick on a passer. Then the one time in recent memory the Bills did take a quarterback high, they struck out magnificently reaching for EJ Manuel.
General manager Doug Whaley wasn’t directly responsible for the team’s decision to draft Manuel, but he was the assistant GM at the time and took over in May of 2013, after the draft.
Since then, he’s done a decent job of providing defensive talent but his offensive selections have been a mixed bag. Aside from Sammy Watkins, who struggles to stay healthy, offensive players drafted by Whaley that have impacted the team positively are few and far between.
The Bills have been looking intently at the top quarterbacks this year and have the No. 10 overall pick. They have Tyrod Taylor for at least one year, so they’re not in a huge rush to play a rookie. But this team is on the verge of reaching for a passer again, and if it does the results won’t be pretty.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have now suffered through three straight 7-9 seasons, and without the magnificent Drew Brees they’d have been one of the worst teams in the league every year. The biggest reason this team struggles to win is that its defense is atrocious. The biggest reason for that is that Mickey Loomis is terrible at drafting.
From 2010-14, the Saints drafted 28 players. Of those 28, only seven remained on the roster heading into the 2016 season.
The past couple of drafts have provided some positive developments. The likes of Sheldon Rankins, Michael Thomas, Stephone Anthony and Andreas Peat could be tremendous building blocks for the future.
But based on this team’s deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball in general, and just looking at Loomis’ history of poor drafts, it’s more likely the Saints will draft poorly again in 2017 than hit a home run. In particular, defensive backs are almost guaranteed to flounder, and don’t dare ask the Saints to draft a dynamic edge rusher.
Because this scribe is fond of Brees and would love to see him end his career on a positive note, we sure hope New Orleans can do something positive. With the No. 11 overall pick in Round 1, the Saints have a chance to land an instant impact defender that could help this come to fruition. But one player won’t do it. It’s going to take a very successful draft to help the Saints make positive strides in the very competitive NFC South.
Now that ill-treated general manager Scot McCloughan has been tossed aside like used tissue paper, it’s Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen’s show in D.C. once again. That should terrify fans in Washington, who actually had reason to get excited about the moves McCloughan was making before his demise.
“The 2011 and 2012 drafts should be forming the core of the team now,” wrote Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic before last year’s draft. “They should have several starters and a number of key contributors on the team working on their second contracts. But from 2011 they have Ryan Kerrigan and Niles Paul. From 2012 they have Kirk Cousins. That’s it. And they had a total of 21 picks in those two drafts. It’s no wonder that there are holes to fill.”
Of particular concern for Washington entering the draft this year is the inside linebacker spot, the defensive line, free safety, receiver and running back. This team has a terrible time keeping running backs who can contribute long term, and it lost its two top receivers via free agency. Defensively Washington was a sieve last year, even as McCloughan’s plan to build from the inside out was starting to take shape.
Of further concern has to be the quarterback position, because Kirk Cousins — despite being a trooper right now — likely cannot wait to bolt next year in free agency. Dysfunction runs amok. It’s the overriding force guiding this franchise right now. And because of that, we aren’t expecting a particularly sound draft strategy to address this team’s needs in 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It might be a bit unfair to use this as a battering ram, but here it goes anyway: Bucs general manager Jason Licht used a second round pick last year to draft a kicker.
A. SECOND. ROUND. PICK!
Roberto Aguayo didn’t exactly live up to expectations, either, making just 71 percent of his attempts last year. And he isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot in 2017 (more on that here).
In all fairness to Licht, he’s done a very nice job building up his team at other positions. Most notably, he didn’t overthink things in 2015 when he selected Jameis Winston No. 1 overall. He also drafted Mike Evans in the first round the year before, brought in starters Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith, Kwon Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves and rising star Noah Spence.
Now comes the time when Licht must start fine tuning the roster and drafting for future needs. It’s going to be fascinating to see what he does in the next year or two. But forgive us if we just can’t trust a man who did what he did last year.
New York Giants
Longtime general manager Jerry Reese has a surprisingly bad track record when it comes to the draft. He has some very notable hits, including recent hits like Sterling Shepard, Landon Collins and Odell Beckham Jr.
But overall? It’s not a pretty picture, folks.
“The players the Giants drafted since Jerry Reese became GM in 2007 combined to play a league-low 10,767 offensive and defensive snaps in the NFL this season,” wrote ESPN Insider scribe Mike Sando before last year’s draft. “Other teams’ picks over the same span averaged 16,448 snaps per team, or about 53 percent more snaps than the Giants’ selections.”
This is highlighted all the more by the insane amount of money the Giants had to throw at free agents last year and this offseason to feature a dynamic defense.
Eli Manning is getting older, and the team has admitted it’s probably time to look for his replacement. But the Giants haven’t drafted a quarterback higher than Round 4 since landing Manning in 2004 in the famed Philip Rivers trade with San Diego.
Reese has gotten a lot of credibility because the Giants have won two Super Bowls under his leadership. But little of that success came because of his drafting. It’s also worth pointing out the team has made it to the playoffs just twice in the past eight seasons and once in its last five.