It is fascinating to look back at previous drafts to track the progress of highly regarded prospects. While some of the early-round selections have started to make their mark as elite players, others have struggled finding their way in the league.
As an evaluator, this is particularly interesting because it provides an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of each draft class. In 2010, the early portion of the draft yielded a few gems like Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry and Joe Haden. Each has displayed outstanding talent, prowess and dominance, and their upside is through the roof. On the other hand, Gerald McCoy, Brandon Graham and Jerry Hughes have disappointed, and the jury is out on whether they will ever make an impact.
Given that premise and the opportunity to make amends for a few draft mistakes, let's take a look at how the 2010 draft would play out today:
The lingering image of Bradford's disappointing sophomore season has prompted some observers to question his worthiness as the No. 1 overall pick, but I would point to the lack of weapons and an offensive coordinator change as reasons for his struggles. Bradford was exceptional as a rookie under Pat Shurmur and a return to the West Coast offense under Brian Schottenheimer should help him regain some of his mojo in Year 3.
Suh's reputation as a dirty player has detracted from his sensational play on the field. Suh has amassed 14 sacks in two seasons, including 10 in 2010, and emerged as one of the league's most dominant interior defenders. Although opponents seemingly slowed him down a season ago, Suh's disruptive presence is one of the reasons the Lions' defensive line is feared across the league.
The Bucs have not fielded a dominant pass rush since Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice departed years ago. JPP enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 with 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, becoming one of the league's most disruptive playmakers. What's scary about JPP is the fact that he has recorded 21 sacks in only 12 starts and is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.
The Redskins have struggled offensively, but Williams has been one of the bright spots along the offensive line. A combination of strength and athleticism gives him a chance to become an all-star at the position, but he must manage off-field concerns to reach his true potential. Following a four-game suspension for a violation of the substance abuse policy, the pressure is on Williams to show his maturity and leadership in Washington this season.
The proliferation of the passing game has forced scouts to rethink the importance of the safety position with the need to lock down tight ends and slot receivers over the middle of the field. Berry is a Pro Bowl safety with corner-like skills, adept at playing in space or near the line. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 of last season, but a return to health should result in Berry reclaiming his spot among the ranks of the elite at the position.
Interior blockers are not traditionally selected within the top 10, but Pouncey has emerged as a top talent at the position. He is a unique athlete with exceptional strength, quickness and movement skills, and his ability to control the middle sets the tone for the offense. While the Seahawks would love to have a premier blocker on the edge, Pete Carroll would embrace an elite talent at the pivot.
Haden has quietly become one of the elite corners in the league. He is a superb cover man with exceptional ball skills, and his ability to create turnovers has helped the Browns' defense emerge as a top-notch unit.
The late Al Davis loved to take chances on prospects with extensive experience in other sports, so Graham's basketball background would certainly make him an attractive option. He quickly developed into a Pro Bowl tight end, and his dominance over the middle would remind some Raider fans of the great Raymond Chester.
Spiller has shown flashes of brilliance in limited action with the Bills, but it is hard to dispute Gronkowski's impact on the league as a dominant tight end. Gronk's combination of size and athleticism overwhelms defenders, and his huge pass-catching radius would make Ryan Fitzpatrick a more effective passer over the middle. With Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson and Gronk serving as the Bills' three-headed monster on offense, Buffalo could be a viable contender in the AFC East.
There is no way Shahid Khan would allow Gene Smith to bypass Tim Tebow in this draft, regardless of his shortcomings as a passer. Tebow would energize the fan base and give the Jaguars a winner with a knack for coming up with big plays in critical moments. The jury is still out on whether his unorthodox style will succeed over time, but he would instantly make Jacksonville relevant on the national scene.
Knocked it out of the park:New England Patriots. Bill Belichick's drafts have been maligned over the years, but the 2010 draft class featuring Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez is an unbelievable single-season haul. This class features three Pro Bowlers under the age of 25, and several key contributors in the Patriots' two-deep rotation. Given the fact that draft classes are evaluated by the number of difference makers inserted into the lineup, the Patriots' 2010 group deserves high marks across the board.
Wasted draft:Chicago Bears. The Bears were without a pick in the first two rounds after the Jay Cutler trade, but the team failed to identify many playmakers in the subsequent rounds. Although Major Wright and J'Marcus Webb have emerged as starters, the rest of that Bears draft class didn't deliver any key contributors or difference makers. From Joshua Moore to Dan LeFevour, the Bears were unable to add young player that improved the lineup significantly in the later rounds.
How Did He Go There?! Award:Victor Cruz (undrafted). Cruz has been one of the NFL's best "rags to riches" stories. The undrafted wonder is quietly becoming one of the most feared slot receivers in the game, and opponents are quickly finding out how difficult it is to handle him in isolated matchups. Given his status as a 1,500-yard receiver, there is no doubt Cruz should've been a legitimate mid-to-early round selection based on his pure talent.
Mr. Irrelevant of 2010:Tim Toone. The wide receiver out of Weber State is already on his second squad after failing to make the Detroit Lions out of training camp. He didn't display enough big-play ability to become a contributor in the Lions' rotation, and he faces long odds making the Broncos' roster with several athletic playmakers already in the mix.
Fun fact about the '10 draft: The proliferation of the passing game has placed a premium on acquiring cornerbacks with size, speed and athleticism. Although the 2010 draft featured five first-round corners, the best cover man in the class had to overcome a disappointing performance at the NFL Scouting Combine to emerge as an elite corner. Joe Haden clocked a 4.57 40 in Indianapolis, but hasn't shown any speed deficiency covering elite receivers. His exceptional quickness has made questionable long speed a moot point. Coaches and scouts are enamored by the times recorded on the stopwatch, but Haden is another example of a player's game tape providing a more accurate assessment of his pro potential.