With half of the 2014 NFL regular season over, it's a great time to see how the scouts and draftniks did in their evaluations of prospects. While some of the grades are "incomplete" (Jadeveon Clowney has missed most of the season with a knee injury), by and large, we can start to see if people were on track with their predictions.
I'll be leaving the Buffalo Bills' draft choices out of this list; they've been hashed through plenty of times for everyone. The players here will be a selection of guys who I ranked higher or lower than the consensus or scouts. For reference, the consensus I used was the second table at this link, which looked at how other draftniks personally ranked players they viewed and assembled the lists into a consensus group. Let's find out where we were right, where we were wrong, and where we just had no idea.
Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
No. 7 on my board, No. 10 on the consensus board, No. 13 overall pick
Donald was one of my favorite players in this year's draft, and if Buffalo didn't already have two Pro Bowlers in the middle of their line, I would've been advocating taking him all offseason. For most of the pre-draft process, Donald was criminally underrated (in my opinion), and I thought that even the thirteenth overall pick was a bit low for his talent level. Despite his small stature, Donald brought an incredible combination of core power, burst, and technical prowess that reminded me of a modern Kyle Williams.
Donald jumped right into the NFL and showed that his college stats were no fluke. Pro Football Focus is a serious fan of his, ranking him as their second best defensive tackle on the season. While the Rams have struggled as a unit to generate pressure, Donald isn't the problem on their line.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings
No. 8 on my board, No. 3 on the consensus board, No. 32 overall pick
Never before have I seen so much divergence and confusing narrative in a player's pre-draft process. At one point considered a clear No. 1 overall pick, Bridgewater went through a bizarre gauntlet of criticism, claiming that he was too skinny, too quiet, injury prone, weak-armed, and incapable of playing without gloves. All of this despite putting up excellent stats in college, showing an aptitude for making NFL-quality reads on the field, and being as clean an off-field prospect as you'd find. The confusing rhetoric played out in the rankings, too; I believed him to be the best quarterback in the class, but a clear step below a cluster of ultra-talented players at other positions. The consensus evaluators thought he was better than anyone other than Jake Matthews or Clowney. And the NFL almost didn't consider him a first round prospect.
Bridgewater started the season on the bench, but was inserted into the starting lineup after Matt Cassel's broken foot. Thus far, he has looked like a rookie out there, completing 60.4 percent of his passes, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt, and throwing three touchdowns to five interceptions. It doesn't help him that his line has played badly and his MVP running back has left the team. Still, he has shown a knack for pocket presence and finding holes in the defense that is rare to see in a rookie. While he's not the third-best rookie in this year's class, he definitely looks like a first round prospect.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Packers
No. 81 on my board, No. 22 on consensus board, No. 21 overall pick
Everyone has "man crushes" in the draft process. Most of us have players we definitely don't like, too. Clinton-Dix fell into the latter category for me. Between the number of disappointing players to emerge from the Alabama program, the lack of impact generally seen from first-round safeties, and my own observations on film, I placed Clinton-Dix firmly in the third round of my grades. Everyone else disagreed, and he ended up going to the Packers in the first round.
On the one hand, Clinton-Dix has stepped right in as a starter since Week 1, putting together 43 tackles, a sack, and an interception. On the other hand, he has still shown a few of the weaknesses that I saw on tape, with some difficulty reading a quarterback's intentions leading to a few touchdown passes, and only one stuffed play so far in the run game. While Clinton-Dix is playing better than a third-round pick, he isn't quite measuring up to the other first round selections in this draft class, either.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns
No. 94 on my board, No. 127 on the consensus board, undrafted by the NFL
A major part of the draft process is finding diamonds in the rough. It's easy to say that Sammy Watkins will be a Top 10 pick and have a good career in the NFL. It's a lot tougher to find a name that may not even be drafted, and claim he'll measure up; the people who succeed there are the ones worth following. Crowell was one of my "sleeper" picks. A former top recruit as a running back, he ran into trouble with the law and ended up transferring to Alabama State to finish the last couple years of his college career. On tape, though, you could tell that playing in a weaker league hadn't dulled his edge. He still looked like a great running back, and I ranked him higher than several other popular backs in this year's draft, including Branden Oliver (one spot below Crowell in the positional rankings), Terrance West, Storm Johnson, and Jeremy Hill.
At this point in the season, Crowell has adjusted just fine. Playing in a timeshare with Ben Tate and West, Crowell hasn't had many carries, but he was productive with them, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and collecting four touchdowns. Sometimes he even looked like the best back on the team. While his ultimate placement in the draft was more of a function of his off-field concerns than his talent, Crowell definitely belongs in the NFL, as the scouts predicted he would.
Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Broncos
No. 93 on my board, unranked on the consensus board, undrafted by the NFL
The other side of gambling with your predictions, is of course that not every small name is going to turn into a Branden Oliver or Isaiah Crowell. The 6'1" edge rusher from Colorado State stood out to me on film, with a strong core and great technique defending the run. I knew that he wasn't collecting accolades in scouting circles, but in my book I saw a 'tweener who could rush the passer and set the edge against the run, even against top college teams. Teams ultimately disagreed, and Barrett went undrafted before signing with his local NFL team, the Broncos.
Barrett spent most of the season so far on the practice squad, before being signed to the active roster two weeks ago after Danny Trevathan's knee injury. He has yet to appear in a game yet this season. With that in mind, I'll keep pointing to him as a sleeper on my board. If you suddenly hear about a player making waves a la Stevie Johnson in a couple years, maybe it will be Barrett. Or maybe he'll never make an NFL impact. That's the way the game goes.
What about you? What rookies did you think would be good (or bad) in the NFL this year? Were you right? Have any other requests about how I ranked a player?