Of the players drafted before Dez Bryant, 14 of them have been Pro Bowl selections. But Bryant is arguably the most talented of the group and is the most powerful offense threat from the 2010 NFL Draft…but Rob Gronkowski fights for him for that title each year. But Gronk doesn’t show up in these rankings because he was drafted in the second round. Here, we look at the 23 players who were drafted before Bryant.
The 2010 draft class had a large amount of defensive selections and a good chunk of those first rounders became stars. Although Bryant has proved to be more talented than most, if not all of the guys drafted before him, this year had some really good talent. This may not have been the most interesting draft at the time (though it was pretty interesting because Tim Tebow was drafted with the 25th pick), but there was a lot of players who have had very good careers in the NFL.
Bryant, though, is arguably the person most deserving of the first overall pick back in 2010. Bryant may only be a three-time Pro Bowl selection (more than a few players on this list have had more Pro Bowl selections), and he may have missed some time throughout his career, but he has proven to be one of the more talented wide receivers in the NFL. Bryant has done this no matter who is throwing him the ball. Last season he made a rookie look like a seasoned veteran. There’s not many wide receivers in the NFL who could do that.
23 ROLANDO McCLAIN, NO. 8
This guy has had an interesting career, but in this case, interesting doesn’t mean good. Rolando McClain has had a rollercoaster-type of career with ups and downs since he’s started. And after one really rough season with the Raiders, he announced his retirement and sat out the entire 2013 season. That caused some heavy questions of his character and his mindset for playing the game of football.
But Dallas still gave the troubled linebacker a shot in 2014 and he returned to the NFL. But he would only play two seasons with the Cowboys before he was suspended for the entirety of 2016 for failing a league drug test. It was reported that he was addicted to codeine and caused many people to wonder if he would ever be able to play in the NFL again.
22 C.J. SPILLER: NO. 9
Except for one really good season in Buffalo, C.J. Spiller (#26) has had a pretty awful career for someone that was picked so high in the first round. In 2012, Spiller was selected to the Pro Bowl as he rushed for 1,244 yards, and had 459 receiving yards with a total of eight touchdowns. That’s the first negative part to Spiller’s career. He’s never been much of a scorer. Those eight touchdowns in 2012 were by far the most he’s had in his career.
He’s also not on the field that much, especially in the past two seasons. Last year he was active for just six games and had six total rushes. The year before he was active for 13 games and started just two games. He’s currently not signed to a NFL roster and it wouldn’t be surprising if Spiller didn’t see any more action in the NFL.
21 SEAN WEATHERSPOON: NO. 19
After the 2012 season, Sean Weatherspoon really hasn’t provided any type of meaningful production. Well, Weatherspoon really didn’t do much during his first season either (when he recorded one sack and 34 tackles), but his rookie year was better than any of his last three seasons in the league (he wasn’t active for any of the regular season games in 2014).
Between 2011 and 2012, Weatherspoon looked like a consistent NFL player as he started 29 games in two seasons. Although he recorded just seven sacks in those two seasons, he posted 156 tackles and looked like a consistent part of the Falcons defense. But since then, he’s been almost nonexistent and doesn’t look like he’ll be increasing his presence anytime soon.
20 ANTHONY DAVIS: NO. 11
The 49ers wanted Anthony Davis so bad in the 2010 draft that they traded up a couple spots to draft the offensive lineman. For the first four seasons, there didn’t seem to be a reason to question San Francisco’s choice to draft Davis with the 11th pick. But then in 2014, injuries forced Davis out of most of the season. He played just seven games that year.
Then, in 2015 Davis announced that he would not be playing in 2015 and said that he wanted his brain and body to heal. He said that he would return though after the one-year hiatus. He did return to the league, but for a very brief amount of time as he decided to retire from the NFL at the beginning of last season.
19 BRANDON GRAHAM: NO. 13
The 2016 season was the best season that Brandon Graham has played to this point in his career. His first five seasons included just 13 games started. But the past two seasons have been looking up for Graham. In 2015 Graham started 10 games and recorded 6.5 sacks, then in 2016, he started six games and recorded five sacks. In those two seasons, he forced five fumbles and recorded 80 tackles.
Graham has proved to get better with age as he was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2016. Johnson had a rough start to the league as he recorded just three sacks and 12 tackles in his rookie season then was active for just three games in his second year. Things got better, but he hasn’t turned into a consistent starter until just recently.
18 BRYAN BULAGA: NO. 23
Bryan Bulaga was one of the players who were good to forego their senior season in college. He may have received a higher draft pick if he played another year in college, but it seemed like a good decision making millions of dollars instead of playing for free. When he started in the league, he began as a backup offensive tackle. By the fifth week of the season, he became a consistent starter. But in late-2012, he suffered a season-ending hip injury. In 2013, he dealt with injuries as well.
Although Bulaga barely played during those two seasons, he returned in 2014 and started all but one game with great success and missed just four starts during the next two seasons. In 2015, he signed a 5-year deal worth $7 million per year.
17 TYSON ALUALU: NO. 10
The last three years have been somewhat inconsistent for Tyson Alualu (#93), though he has played in and started in a good chunk of games during his time in the NFL. Alualu went from starting every game during his first four seasons to starting in just 24 games over the last three seasons. In his career, he’s recorded 177 tackles, 17.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Alualu definitely hasn’t proved to be worthy of his first round draft pick though.
In fact, he probably shouldn’t have been drafted in the first round at all (well, maybe a late first round pick would have been acceptable for a team in need of a defensive lineman). Alualu might turn things around and jump the ranks if he could string together a good stretch of games in 2017, but that doesn’t seem likely.
16 KAREEM JACKSON: NO. 20
Kareem Jackson hasn’t been much of a star, but he has been very consistent and starts very often. And that’s much better than a good chunk of these guys are able to say. Jackson has started more than 10 games in every season of his career. The only downside is the in the last two seasons, Jackson has started less than 13 games for the first times in his career.
Although his time in the game has slightly declined, Jackson is producing just as good as he has at the peak of his career. Defending the pass has seen a slight decline, but he’s recording tackles more consistently than he ever has. In the past two seasons, he’s recorded 103 of his 344 career tackles. That’s the most in a two-year stretch that he’s seen in his career.
15 RUSSELL OKUNG: NO. 6
Russell Okung was considered one of the best offensive tackles in this draft class. Okung hasn’t had the best career out of the offensive tackles that were drafted, but he’s been pretty since he’s been in the NFL. Though he’s definitely no star. At least not yet. Early in his career, Okung dealt with some minor injuries that kept him from playing but he was a large part of Russell Wilson’s and Marshawn Lynch’s great success, and he was part of the Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos.
Okung played for the Broncos last season and started every game for the first time in his career. Okung did go to the Pro Bowl in 2012, but has had a pretty quiet career other than that year.
14 DERRICK MORGAN: NO. 16
Derrick Morgan has consistently played, but he’s still more known among fans for his off-field actions. Morgan’s main claim to fame is advocating for medical marijuana and the ways it could help NFL players treat and prevent serious brain injuries. He’s called for research and has even donated money to fund research in the area. He even appeared with Katie Couric on Yahoo News.
As for his on-field performance, Morgan’s greatest accolades came in college as he was named as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year during his senior season. Since playing in the NFL, he’s recorded 173 tackles with 36.5 sacks and 21 pass deflections. But he’s never had a breakout season or even a season that makes him known league-wide for his play on the field.
13 JERMAINE GRESHAM: NO. 21
This tight end has never missed more than two games in a season. Jermaine Gresham hasn’t always proved the best receiver as a tight end, but he’s been consistent with the Bengals and the Cardinals, though his production has seen a steep decline in Arizona (last season he recorded 391 receiving yards and in 2015 he recorded just 223 receiving yards). The last two seasons, Gresham has seen the least production since he’s been in the NFL.
But Gresham used to be one of the best tight ends in the league. In 2011 and 2012 he was selected to the Pro Bowl. He’s been a good receiver and a great blocking tight end. But even has he’s seen less production, he had nearly an 8- percent catch percentage in 2014, which was his last season with the Bengals.
12 RYAN MATHEWS: NO. 12
So far, Ryan Mathews career is highlighted by two 1,000-plus yard rushing seasons. In 2011, he was selected to the Pro Bowl and rushed for 1,091 yards and six rushing touchdowns with 455 receiving yards. Then, in 2013 Mathews rushed for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns. Other than those two seasons, Mathews career has been nothing worth noting.
Mathews has spent most of the time sharing carries and struggling to find time on the field because of either injuries, or playing with someone who is more deserving of carries. He’s the best running back out of the first round of this draft class, though that’s not saying much because the other guy was C.J. Spiller. Mathews has been skillful at times but hasn’t approached 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the past three seasons.
11 JOE HADEN: NO. 7
A lot of Joe Haden’s talent has been hidden by Cleveland’s terrible play over the past years. It seems like just about every time he goes up against one of the league’s top wide receivers, he’s able to shut them down. But while playing for the Browns, his talent gets overshadowed by the team’s awful play year after year.
Haden, though, has been hurt by missed games over the past couple of seasons. Last season he managed to show up in 13 games, but the season before he played in just six contests. Haden has been a two-time Pro Bowl selection during his time in the NFL, but most of his accolades came in college. At Florida in 2009, he was named the Defensive Player of the Year by Sporting News. So far in his career, he’s recorded 100 pass deflections, 19 interceptions, four forced fumbles and one touchdown.
10 MIKE IUPATI: NO. 17
Even though he’s an offensive guard, Mike Iupati has been an unknown star in the NFL since he’s joined the league. He hasn’t started every regular season game since 2012, but he’s been consistent enough to be a major factor on each of the teams he’s played on (the 49ers, who drafted him, and the Cardinals, who he played for the last two seasons). He’s been a Pro Bowl selection for four-straight seasons between 2012 and 2015 and the least amount of games he’s started has been 12, which was in 2013. Injuries have caused him to miss four games in the past two seasons, but for a guy that’s the crushing force on the offensive line, that’s nothing to complain about, especially when you look at the time that the other guys on this list have spent on the bench.
9 MAURKICE POUNCEY: NO. 18
This guy has shown he’s one of the NFL’s best centers since the Steelers drafted him in 2010. Maurkice Pouncey has been on the Steelers since his rookie season when he was named the team’s rookie of the year. Just look at the Steelers success at the quarterback and running back positions over the last few seasons and it becomes obvious how important Pouncey is to the team.
Pouncey proved he was deserving of his first round draft pick early in his career. Pouncey, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, was named to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons and was even a first-team All-Pro selection back in 2011. He was injured and sat all but one game in the 2013 season, and he also missed the entire 2015 because of injury. But each time he was injured he returned the next season to the Pro Bowl (2014 and 2016). If he can stay healthy, it’s likely you’ll see him in more Pro Bowls.
8 JASON PIERRE-PAUL: NO. 15
So far, Jason Pierre-Paul’s best season’s in the NFL are far gone. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2011 and 2012 (and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2011), but has seen a fairly steep drop in production over the past couple of seasons. In 2014, Pierre-Paul had his first season where he started every game. He recorded 12.5 in 2014 but then just started eight games in 2015 and 12 games in 2016.
The Giants felt Pierre-Paul was so good in 2015 that they put the frachise tage on him. But he missed half the season because of an off-field injury that caused him to miss half the season (he ended up needing his right index finger amputated). A sports hernia kept him out of four regular season games last season. Hopefully Pierre-Paul can stay healthy going forward and maintain his position on this list.
7 SAM BRADFORD: NO. 1
Sam Bradford has been a good quarterback and deserving of a first round spot, but he still hasn’t broken out and had that star season that we’ve all expected from him. And he’s just not able to win as a starting quarterback. Bradford was the Offensive Rookie of the Year back in 2010 and even holds the NFL record with a 71.6 completion percentage in a season. That came last season as he tossed 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions when playing for the Vikings.
But Bradford still hasn’t led a team to a winning record and has a career 32-45-1 record as a starting quarterback. He’s also thrown more than 20 touchdowns in just two seasons in his NFL career. Expect Bradford to continue getting better, but for now he seems like an average NFL quarterback.
6 TRENT WILLIAMS: NO. 4
This offensive tackle has proved to be one of the best at his position since entering the NFL and that’s exactly what the Redskins hoped for when they drafted him fourth overall. Although he was suspended for four games last season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, he was ranked 45th on the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2016.
That’s why he gets paid the big bucks. In August 2015, Trent Williams signed a five-year contract extension worth $66 million and $42.25 million of that was guaranteed. Williams has been selected to the Pro Bowl for the past five seasons and there’s no reason to think that trend will stop anytime soon. And he seems to be getting better as last season he was also a first-team All-Pro selection.
5 ERIC BERRY: NO. 5
Eric Berry has such a good story. With all that he’s been through, he deserves to be one of the NFL’s biggest stars. Berry had a rough 2014 season. He suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him off the field until Week 8. Then, in November he began complaining of chest pain. He was diagnosed a month later with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and missed the rest of the season.
After that terrifying diagnosis, nobody knew if Berry would return to the NFL. But he was back in 2015 and was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and was named to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro selection. The strong safety has been named to the Pro Bowl five different times in his career and has been a first-team All-Pro selection three times.
4 GERALD McCOY: NO. 3
Other than a rough 2011 season where an injury kept Gerald McCoy out of most of the season, this defensive tackle has been very good and proved worth of his third overall draft pick. McCoy has been a force for the Buccaneers defensive line since they drafted him in 2010, and he’s deserving of one of the top spots on this list.
Since 2012, McCoy has been named to the Pro Bowl every season and has missed just five games. He was also a first-team All-Pro selection in 2013. McCoy has proved to be skilled as he finds ways to get sacks and tackles. He’ll even deflect a pass once and a while, just not as good as the guy who comes up next. In his career, McCoy has 168 tackles, 42 sacks, six forced fumbles and 19 pass deflections.
3 EARL THOMAS: NO. 14
Earl Thomas has been a huge factor on the Seahawks shutdown defense since he’s been in the NFL. Although Thomas had his worst season last year, it was still better than a majority of the free safety’s in the league. But he only managed to play in 11 games. Before last season, Thomas was selected to five-straight Pro Bowls, and from 2012 to 2014, he was a first-team All-Pro selection.
Thomas is consistent in every aspect of the game. He would have been selected to a sixth-straight Pro Bowl if it weren’t for injuries. Unfortunately, Thomas said after his most recent injury that he was considering retirement. Even if he doesn’t see another season in the league, he remains one of the best athletes on this list. Though his position will sink the more time he spends out of the game.
2 NDAMUKONG SUH: NO. 2
Ndamukong Suh has shown no signs of slowing down since the Lions drafted him in 2010 with the second overall pick. Sure, Suh has been criticized often for his aggressive style of play, but sometimes you need that in an NFL defensive tackle. Suh, who was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season in the NFL, has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times and has been a first-team All-Pro selection four times.
Suh currently plays for the Dolphins and hasn’t recorded 10 sacks since his rookie season, but he’s a monster on the field and has a total of 258 tackles in his seven-year career with 47 sacks. He’s crazy athletic and even deflected six passes last season. The best part of Suh’s play is that he’s always on the field. He’s only missed two games in his career and has started every game since 2012.
1 DEMARYIUS THOMAS: NO. 22
Some may say that Peyton Manning was the reason that Demaryius Thomas led the AFC in receiving touchdowns back in 2013. But we all saw how Manning aged. He was still good, but Thomas was a big reason why Manning looked like a star during those late years in his career. Thomas, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has been one of the best receivers in the NFL since 2010. Sure, Dez Bryant has looked to be more talented, but Thomas puts up a fair fight for that title.
Thomas even managed to make the Pro Bowl selection last season while Trevor Siemian was his quarterback. Who knows if Dez Bryant could have done that. While Thomas may not be recognized as one of the best receivers in the NFL, he’s the sole reason the Broncos receive credit for their offense.