As if you needed another post to remind you about all the ways I am wrong...
Every year, I decide who the "Best Player in the Draft" is and--as a service to NFL general managers--I put that information out into the universe. As soon as I publish what is clearly the nugget of all nuggets, I set one television on ESPN and one on NFL Network. I have CNN, MSNBC and BBC loaded on the computer and I wait for everyone to start reporting what Ken Meringolo has decreed. It probably comes as no surprise to you all that I am thoroughly disappointed each year.
Given that we are powering through yet another combine, I thought I would summarize my work from the last handful of years. For the purpose of this exercise, the player I name as the top individual in the draft should be the top player drafted, with little consideration for team need. After all, I assume that somehow, some way...some team will move to make this player the overall #1 pick. Therefore, I judge myself right or wrong based on whether the player is chosen at the top of the NFL draft. I'll tell you who I thought was the best player in the draft, who went #1 overall, and identify a couple of other top players that were taken in the upper portion of the first round in that year. Today is not about deciding who the best player turned out to be...only who I thought was the best player and top pick going into the draft. SPOILER ALERT--I have only gotten two "right" in the last six years. Another way to put it: four teams have been VERY wrong over the last six years.
Ken: Mario Williams
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Mario Williams
This draft was all about Reggie Bush for months. Mario Williams began shooting up the draft board in the month before the draft, but most of us believe that many teams in the league would still have taken Reggie with the top pick if they had been given the chance. I had Vince Young as the second-best player in this draft, and my bias had me probably grading Vernon Davis over Reggie as well. Jay Cutler and Haloti Ngata were notable selections early in that draft, but Mario Williams looked like the slam dunk of the whole class. Give me the uber-athletic defensive lineman over the smallish, breakable running back all day long.
Ken: Calvin Johnson
NFL #1 Overall Pick: JaMarcus Russell
This draft has to make Raiders fans sick to their stomach. Talk about two players who went in two distinctly different directions. The fact of the matter is that accurately predicting which of these players would have better careers was just not that hard. Adrian Peterson was in this draft, as was Darrelle Revis, but neither came into the draft with the kind of polish that Calvin Johnson had on him.
Ken: Jake Long
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Jake Long
This was the last one I got "right." Jake Long was the definition of can't miss. He has lived up to it and then some. I was super high on Aqib Talib but that might have just been a contact high--he has has played well but he has had his problems. Darren McFadden was the other guy I had at the top of that draft. His combination of size, speed and strength at such a critical position made him the kind of player that teams could easily kick themselves for passing on.
Ken: Aaron Curry
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Matthew Stafford
I remember really talking myself into this one. Curry was smart, athletic and came off as the kind of player that was ready to handle being a star in the NFL. I was so scared of Stafford that I had Knowshon Moreno, Michael Crabtree and Brian Orakpo rated higher on my personal preference list. There were also guys like Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews sitting out there that tantalized teams in the first round. Ultimately, Stafford has shown he is an elite player--when healthy. Aaron Curry is currently bouncing around the league. This was not my finest hour.
Ken: Ndamukong Suh
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Sam Bradford
For the second time in a four-year span, the Detroit Lions landed the player I thought was the best in the field. This does not bode well for Detroit. Add in their selection of Matt Stafford and...wait, jeeeeeeeeeez they had a lot of top picks. I suppose the Rams had to take Bradford, but would anyone have really faulted them for taking Suh? At the very least, someone could have traded up to get the monster defensive lineman to prove me right. Russell Okung, Eric Berry and Ryan Mathews were the other players I had rated at or near the top. I wanted Eric Berry for the Redskins...badly.
Ken: Patrick Peterson
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Cam Newton
I simply never understood why Peterson would last past the #1 overall pick. To me, he was clearly the best player in the field. Not only did he not go #1, he slipped to #5! I did not envision him being the factor he has become in the return game. In fact, it would seem I overrated his coverage abilities but he was very clearly a special player out of LSU. I had Von Miller as the second-best player, with Julio Jones right behind him. I have said it before and I'll say it again--God, was I wrong about Cam Newton. Just to show how dumb I was, I had Nick Fairley as the best player in the draft out of Auburn.