You hear it every year from NFL coaches after the draft concludes and they are asked to analyze their selections.
“You can’t honestly evaluate the draft right now because these players haven’t played a down. Come see me in four years.
That’s just what we are doing here as we look back on the 2013 draft. The players who were selected that year have had a chance to put four full seasons under their belt, and we know what they have done and what kind of players they are. The players are established commodities – good and bad.
That draft has proved to be one of the strangest in league history. Several brilliant players have emerged from that draft, including running back Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker Kiko Alonso of the Miami Dolphins (drafted by Buffalo Bills), tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs and linebacker Ezekiel Ansah of the Detroit Lions are just a few of them.
However, when you look at the first round – and the first 10 picks in particular – it was one of the worst drafts of the last 10 years. There was only one skill-position player chosen among the first 15, and while wide receiver Tavon Austin is one of the fastest players in the league, he has never fully developed his talent.
Many of the top players have been flat-out busts or simply ordinary.
15. Star: Keenan Allen
While injuries have slowed Allen down in the last two seasons, he was an immediate hit for the San Diego Chargers and he became one of Philip Rivers’ favorite receivers. Allen caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie and he followed that up with 77-783-4 in 2014. He was on his way to becoming one of the best receivers in the league when he caught 67-725-4 at the midway point of the season, and that’s when he went down with a lacerated kidney that kept him out the rest of the season.
He suffered a torn ACL in the first game of the 2016 season, so he has much to prove as he returns this year. He has had an excellent camp, and Rivers said he looks “just as good as he did before his injuries.” Look for Allen to put dominant numbers on the board this year.
14. Bust: Luke Joeckel
Joeckel was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he was supposed to be a stellar blocker who would protect the back side for quarterback Blake Bortles for years. Joeckel, at 6-6 and 306 pounds, struggled from Day 1, and he was unable to play left tackle with any proficiency. He was moved to right tackle and failed there as well.
The Seahawks signed him in the offseason and have moved him to guard because they are desperate for blocking. While there have been a few favorable reports, it appears they are taking a huge gamble since they signed him to an $8 million contract. The only saving grace is that it’s just a one-year deal. Seattle must have been desperate for help.
13. Succeeded: Kyle Long
The Bears have not done many things right during the last four years, but selecting Long with the 20th pick in the first round has been one of them. At the time of the draft, many thought the Bears had made a mistake because Long was quite inexperienced during his college career at Oregon. He hadn’t played many games, and the Bears didn’t have a lot of tape to study. However, the Bears loved his athleticism, size, strength and mean streak. Long quickly became the Bears best offensive lineman, and he has been to three Pro Bowls. He has proven he can play right guard or right tackle, and while he suffered a serious ankle injury last year, he is probably the Bears’ best offensive player when he is healthy.
12. Bust: Dion Jordan
Unlike Long, his teammate at Oregon, Jordan has been a brutal bust since the Dolphins selected him with the No. 3 pick in the draft. His career has been marked by underachievement, a substance-abuse violation and injuries. He recorded 3.0 sacks in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, and he missed the 2015 season because of a league-imposed suspension.
He missed the 2016 season with a knee injury, and the Seahawks brought him to camp to give him a chance to turn his career around – (is this a recurring theme for the Seahawks?). He has been slow to take advantage of his opportunity, and it may be a longshot for him to succeed this year, or ever, in the NFL. Calling him a bust feels safe.
11. Star: Kawann Short
Short was not supposed to be a star when the Panthers drafted him with the 44th pick overall in the second round. Head coach Ron Rivera wanted Short to become a key contributor, but he was not expected to be a centerpiece of the defense. However, when the Panthers got on a roll in the 2015 season, Short was dominant with 11.0 sacks and 55 tackles. While Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis were perceived as the leaders, it was Short who came through with big play after play, and he became a game changer for the Panthers. The Panthers built their defense primarily through their front seven, and while Luke Kuechly is undoubtedly the leader of the bunch, Short plays an important role as well.
10. Bust: E.J. Manuel
Manuel is trying to make it as a backup quarterback for the Raiders, and he must beat out Connor Cook if he is going to do it. However, he had much bigger aspirations when he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 16th pick overall. Many questioned the pick when the Bills made it, but the team expected him to be a star. Manuel has struggled with his ability to lead the team, his overall accuracy and his decision-making. He is not a starting quarterback, and there is no reason to believe he will be in the future. Granted, Manuel was not in the best situation, as the Bills have been very unsteady both with coaches and with general managers. Perhaps a fresh start is exactly what Manuel needed.
9. Star: DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins has become one of the best receivers in the NFL, and that’s a major achievement on its own and a near-miracle considering the Houston quarterback play. Hopkins has a knack for getting open and then adding a burst at the end of his route to gain separation. Hopkins caught 111-1,521-11 in 2015, and he has a chance to get back to that level if the Texans get decent quarterback play. Hopkins is arguably the best player to come out of the 2013 class even though he was considered an afterthought when the Texans drafted him in the late stages of the opening round. Hopefully for Hopkins’ sake, Deshaun Watson really is the future star of the Texans, as Hopkins has been wasting some prime years with poor QB play.
8. Bust: Geno Smith
Well, Geno Smith may not have changed cities since being drafted, but he did changes teams!
Smith was supposed to be the New York Jets’ quarterback of the future when they drafted him with the 39th pick overall in the second round, but Smith has not been able to read defenses consistently and he does not get rid of the ball on time. Additionally, his accuracy has been a huge problem, and that’s why he has a 28-36 career touchdowns-interception ratio. The Jets parted company with him in the offseason and he is trying to earn a spot in MetLife Stadium with the Giants. If he makes the team and he has to play in place of Eli Manning, it will be a disaster for the Giants.
7. Star: Kiko Alonso
OK, it didn’t start out well for Alonso who was a second-round pick and the No. 46 overall choice for the Buffalo Bills. After moving to Philadelphia, Alonso was traded to the Dolphins and he had a brilliant season in 2016 with 115 tackles, four fumble recoveries, four passes defensed and two interceptions. The Eagles thought they were sending a warm body to the Dolphins, but Miami received an impact player who can play middle or outside linebacker.
By the time he made his way to the Dolphins, Alonso had a chip on his shoulder, as he’d been a productive player in Buffalo, only to be traded to Philly where his career took a downturn under Chip Kelly. He’s since bounced back in a big way.
6. Bust: Bjoern Werner
The German-born Werner was a player with some success at Florida State, but he was selected with the 24th pick in the first round by the Colts because of his athletic ability and the excellent work he had done in pre-draft testing. The Colts were trying to get more physical on defense to provide some relief for Andrew Luck, who was carrying the offense, but to no avail.
Werner had 80 tackles and 6.5 sacks in three seasons, and he was waived by the Colts after the 2015 season. He was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars but he didn’t make it out of their training camp in 2016. He has subsequently retired from football, blaming his failure on bad knees.
5. Star: Travis Kelce
The Chiefs had some hope that Kelce would become a functional tight end when they drafted him with the 63rd pick overall in the third round. However, Kelce has become much more than that, and he is arguably one of the three best tight ends in the league. He excels at getting open, and has wonderful hands to make the difficult catch. Kielce’s receiving total has improved each of the last three seasons and he caught 85-1,125-4 last year. Kelce is also a fine blocker at the position, and he has made two Pro Bowls. He’s been given the nickname ‘mini Gronk’ which he doesn’t like all that much, but it is in fact a compliment, as he possesses many of the qualities that make Gronk a dominant tight end.
4. Bust: CB Dee Milliner
There was little doubt that Milliner would become a stellar defensive back when the Jets selected him with the ninth pick in the first round. Milliner had a brilliant college resume while playing for Nick Saban at Alabama and he had the tools to succeed at the pro level. He also was going into a situation where the Jets already had a good defense and where he could be a ‘plug and play’ type player. However, he was unable to provide the coverage the Jets needed and then he was done in by injuries. Milliner hurt his hamstring, biceps, quadriceps and ankle. He also tore his Achilles tendon and had his shoulder surgically repaired. Those kind of injuries along with poor coverage have knocked Milliner out of the NFL.
3. Star: Ezekiel Ansah
The Lions had a huge need for an impact player on the defensive side of the ball when they drafted Ansah with the No. 5 pick in the draft, and they thought they might be getting a linebacker who could rush the passer based on the success he had at Brigham Young during his college career. Ansah flashed his talent as a rookie with 8.0 sacks and he followed that with 7.5 sacks the following year. He became a full-fledged star in 2015 with 14.5 sacks. He struggled with indifferent play and injuries in 2016, but the Lions are counting on a bounce-back season in 2017. Ansah had a lot of question marks around him but the Lions thought his upside was too high to pass up. They were right.
2. Bust: Jarvis Jones
Jones was supposed to be a game-changing impact player when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him with the 17th pick in the first round. Jones never lived up to his potential, as he recorded 6.0 sacks in four seasons in Pittsburgh. He signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals in the offseason. Jones was seen as nearly a sure thing after recording 28 sacks in his final two seasons at Georgia, but he never got it going with the Steelers. The Cardinals are hoping to revive his career, but he’s failed to turn any heads thus far in the desert. You wonder if this is a make or break year in Jones’ career. If Jones can’t stick with the Cardinals this year, his NFL career could be over before we know it.
1. Star: Le’Veon Bell
The Steelers may have failed with their first-round pick, but they hit a grand slam with their second-round selection. They took Bell from Michigan State with the 48th pick overall, and he has become one of the best and most complete running backs in the league. Bell came into his own in 2014 when he ran for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns and he also caught 83-854-3. Bell had an injury-shortened 2015 season, but he had a brilliant year in 2016 even though he missed four games due to a suspension. Bell ran for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns last season and also had 75 receptions. While he is in a contract holdout this summer, the Steelers know that if they are going to have a team that goes deep in the playoffs, they need a huge year from Bell.
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