As we rapidly approach the 2014 NFL Draft, prospect prognostication (and misinformation) is reaching a fever pitch. But let's take a step back from the forecasting madness for a moment and reconsider last year's event -- with the spectacular benefit of hindsight.
Simple question to ask, challenging question to answer: What was the best pick of the 2013 NFL Draft?
Chargers struck third-round gold with Keenan AllenFive players received votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, and only one (Cordarrelle Patterson) was a first-round draft choice. (And even he was the third player selected by his own team!) Patterson received one vote, as did Larry Warford (Round 3, No. 65 overall) and Giovani Bernard (Round 2, No. 37 overall), while Eddie Lacy (Round 2, No. 61) won the award with 35 total votes. But the player who received the second-most votes stands out to me as the "best" pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.
A knee injury pushed Keenan Allen all the way back into the third round. He was the 76th overall pick, with seven receivers coming off the board before him. Of those top eight receivers selected, Allen was the only one to reach the 1,000-yard threshold. He was also the only one to lead his team in receiving yards. Of the eight teams these eight receivers represent, the Chargers were one of just two that qualified for the postseason (Aaron Dobson's New England Patriots also made it). And finally, Allen will be the only receiver selected in last year's draft who enters 2014 as a legit No. 1.
Sheldon Richardson certainly earned his keep as the Darrelle Revis pickI will go parochial here: The best pick is Sheldon Richardson. The Jets selected him with the 13th overall pick, the one they got from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Darrelle Revis. That trade could have been a demoralizing disaster. Instead, Revis was not fully himself after his knee injury, and Richardson emerged as a budding superstar, taking home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Oddly, this pick will look even better if Dee Milliner, taken by the Jets a few spots before Richardson, develops into a solid cornerback in his second pro season (as Gil Brandt forecasts). Then the Jets will have successfully replaced Revis and gotten a pass-rushing, run-stuffing behemoth in the same round.
Allen just continues to make skeptics look stupidBased on last season, the 2013 rookie crop threatens to go down as a disappointing one. Keenan Allen is a huge exception. There is a perception about Allen, even after his debut year, that he's not necessarily a "No. 1" receiver. It's hard to understand why. What didn't Allen show in his 1,046-yard rookie year? Allen can run any route, catch passes over the middle or deep down the sideline, and he rarely drops a pass.
Allen's the type of intelligent, supposed "No. 2 receiver" that suddenly has 10,000 career yards -- like Reggie Wayne. Not bad for the No. 76 overall pick.
Kenny Vaccaro's all-around brilliance resurrected New Orleans' defenseBefore Kenny Vaccaro's rookie year was cut short by a fractured ankle, Rob Ryan labeled him the league's best overall safety. The 15th pick in the draft played all over the field for the New Orleans Saints, leading Ryan to acknowledge that Vaccaro's workload in the scheme was the most he'd "put on a rookie's plate" in his 10 years as an NFL defensive coordinator. Operating at safety and slot corner, the rookie was a primary driver behind New Orleans' rise from last in the league to fourth overall in total defense.
Now paired with Jairus Byrd, Vaccaro belongs to the top safety duo in the NFL.
Kiko Alonso's instincts and playmaking ability will benefit Buffalo for years to comeConsidering his draft position (46th overall), Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is my pick. Many people felt he was the NFL's best rookie defender last season, as evidenced by a close second-place finish in Defensive ROY voting. The statistics (159 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, one forced fumble) jump off the page, but I was particularly impressed by his instincts to find the ball -- that's the most important trait for a linebacker.
Based on a 10-year study that I conducted, any second-round pick has a 50-50 chance of just developing into a starter within four years. Alonso was a star in Year 1. Barring injury, this guy should enjoy a highly productive career, especially now that new Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is moving him to outside linebacker.