Regrading drafts from several years ago is NFL draft season at finest. Jenny Vrentas of the MMQB recently wrote a superb piece on the 2013 draft, which, four years later, turned out of be not only pretty bad but also bizarre one that ultimately threw many teams off (I encourage y'all to read the full article).
One of most intriguing points repeatedly brought up in the article is that many evaluators deemed the top-end talent of the class to be pretty poor compare to other years.
Mark Dominik, the general manager of the Buccaneers, traded away the No. 13 pick the Sunday before the draft. "I don’t want to sound like I’m saying this in hindsight, because you can debate whether the trade for Darrelle Revis was a good trade or not," Dominik says. "But a big part of the reason why I felt like a first-round pick was worthy of Darrelle Revis was that I didn’t like the way the class looked that year, especially at the top of the draft." He liked both tight end Tyler Eifert and cornerback Xavier Rhodes but felt both were reaches at No. 13. The fact that the Bucs had finished dead last in the league in pass defense the season before fueled the push for Revis. "But then I was happy to get [quarterback] Mike Glennon [in the third round]," Dominik adds, "so it was kind of a weird class that way."
John Elway, two weeks before the 2013 draft, told the Denver Post: "We feel like we can get as good a player at No. 28 as we could at 10. It’s not like last year with Luck and RGIII. The year before with Von [Miller] and [Marcell Dareus] and A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson—loaded top end. This is probably a deeper draft, but not nearly as many top impact guys." The Broncos chose defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, a solid but not spectacular three-year starter who is now with the Titans. But Elway’s instinct was correct: The bottom 16 picks have earned 13 Pro Bowl nods, compared to two in the top half of the first round. This is opposite of the trend in the previous two drafts, which, after four years, had at least double the amount of Pro Bowlers in the top half of the first round as the bottom half—so it’s not simply that the later picks in 2013 went to better, winning teams. The better explanation is that in a year with less blue-chip talent, evaluating players was an uncertain task. "With the talent pool that year," Mark Dominik says, "trying to put the board together took a little bit more work."
After Warmack, the Chargers took D.J. Fluker, a tackle from Alabama, 11th, meaning six of the first 11 picks were offensive linemen. "I think that was a direct reflection of people’s concern with a lot of these top-end players," Mike Mayock says. "Six of 11 teams said, Hey, we are going to go with an offensive lineman, because that’s a lot safer. And the irony is, we are starting to learn that with college spread offenses, these offensive linemen are nowhere near as safe as they used to be." It was the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on the issues teams have faced over the past several years in projecting college linemen from spread offenses to the NFL.
Which leads us to an important point:
There are 32 picks in the first round—in years without a Spygate or a Deflategate—but there are never 32 first-round talents. Evaluators grade players on both an absolute and relative scale, so they know when a class is down on talent. Mark Dominik, the former Bucs GM, recalls there being maybe 14 true first-round talents in 2013. In an average year, he says, there are about 18. The good news for next week’s draft? "In a year like this, there are maybe 23," says Dominik, now an analyst for ESPN. "If this ’17 class had a top-tier quarterback, it would be going down as one of the best classes in a long time."
This is yet another reminder every draft class is different, so are their called talent distribution. Sometimes 10 draft spots within top 50 picks make a world of difference. Sometimes you can pick equally talented players between, say, 30th overall to 70th overall.
It is safe to assume Belichick shared similar sentiments with Dominik and Elway:
Vikings GM Rick Spielman was in the middle of a press conference about their first two first-round picks when team staff rushed in and yanked him out of the room. The Patriots were calling because they wanted out of the first round. They sent their 29th pick to the Vikings, who selected receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson. In exchange, the Patriots received draft picks that they used later in the same draft on Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Josh Boyce. Patterson never emerged as a No. 1 receiver; the Vikings declined his option and he signed with the Raiders in March. Advantage: New England.
Below is a full detail of how every Patriots pick for that year was spent (from Wikipedia):
The Patriots traded their fourth-round selection (No. 126 overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for cornerback Aqib Talib and the Buccaneers' seventh-round selection (No. 226 overall). The Patriots traded their fifth-round selection (No. 162 overall) to the Washington Redskins in exchange for defensive end Albert Haynesworth, The Patriots also traded their sixth-round selection (No. 197 overall) and their 2012 fifth-round selection to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for wide receiver Chad Johnson. The Patriots traded their first-round selection (No. 29th overall) to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for selections in rounds two, three, four, and seven (No. 52, 83, 102, and 229 overall). Then, New England proceeded to trade running back Jeff Demps and the second of their three picks in the seventh round (No. 229 overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for running back LeGarrette Blount.
Here, Belichick steered clear from underwhelming "first rounders" and instead tried to maximize sheer number of lottery tickets (or at-bats if you prefer baseball terms) he could cash in between roughly 50-100th range where he probably have deemed the true depth/value of the talent pool was present. He did have two pretty big "whiffs" in Dobson and Boyce, at the WR position where current regime is notoriously bad at, but since he was simply allowed to "swing more," he was able to come up with three quality picks in Collins, Ryan and Harmon.
While Collins / Ryan no longer belong to the team, there is no denying they are both great players who definitely provided more to the team than their dirt cheap rookie wages provided them during their tenure (Not to mention, Collins netted a 3rd rounder from his departure and Ryan's big contract counts to comp pick formula).
Needless to say, Harmon is an underrated yet integral part of the defense and Blount has outperformed what the team has paid to him and Tampa Bay (assuming his post Pittsburgh second tenure with the team wouldn't have happened if there were no first one).
Granted, this isn't like the 2010 Draft where the team knocked out of the park with McCourty and Gronk. Granted, Dobson and Boyce were pretty big disappointments when the teams needed competent WRs in the worst way. However, if you were picking from the class that included colossal busts like Dee Milliner, EJ Manuel, Dion Jordan, DJ Fluker. Jarvis Jones etc, what Belichick netted from it was far from shabby.
The 2013 draft, in summary: Eight of 32 teams (Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland, Tennessee) no longer have a single player from their ’13 draft class currently on their roster. In other words, just four years later, one-quarter of the league had a total washout.