Every year, I feel the need to offer something in this space that makes people truly wonder if I know anything about football. That is not my ultimate goal, mind you...just what seems to happen. From my vantage point, I call out who I think the best player in the draft is—prior to the first round. This has produced, ummmm, mixed results over the years. Remember, I am not trying to guess who the top player drafted will be. I am simply naming a guy as the best football player in this thing, with a focus on guys who will almost certainly go early in the draft.
Here is a history of my hits and misses (yes, I’ve been doing this now for over ten years...jeeeeeez):
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.
Update: Rocky McIntosh was sitting there, but Mario Williams was a pretty safe pick. DeAngelo Williams, Cutler and Ngata stand out today from the top of this draft. Devin Hester, Maurice Jones-Drew and D'Brickashaw Ferguson also made some people look smart.
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.
Update: I can't believe I have done this post long enough for my picks to retire. What the hell?!?!?! I will stand by Megatron here, though AP has a rather strong case.
Ken: Jake Long
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Jake Long
This was the last one I got "right" for a few years. 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 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.
Update: Jake Long was a stud, and it was not a hard pick for me to make. He still stands out to me, though I find Justin Forsett looks like a hell of a 7th round selection. Jamaal Charles also came out of this draft.
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 bounced around the league. This was not my finest hour.
Update: Hmmm...this one just looks more and more terrible every year. Alex Mack came out of the first round...just sayin'. Clay!!
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.
Update: I like Eric Berry more and more each year I look back on this draft, but Suh was kind of a no-brainer.
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 Auburn player in the draft.
Update: This is one I will stand behind for a very long time. There are few players that I believed in more pre-draft than Patrick Peterson. Julio is great. Cam is great. Von is great. Maybe I am influenced somewhat by the fact I picked him (you think?), but I think Peterson remains right at the top of the list of players you would put in this debate.
Ken: Robert Griffin III
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Andrew Luck
I honestly thought there was a chance the Colts would shock the world and take RG3, letting Luck fall to the Washington Redskins. This was billed as a real 1 and 1A kind of draft, although injuries have favored one of these men over the other. Griffin's marketing machine/marketing potential made him a natural Dan Snyder selection, but he is also an obviously gifted player. His athletic prowess gave him the edge over Luck in my book, but neither one of these guys was considered a consolation prize. I had Matt Kalil and Luke Kuechly as the top pair of players I would have taken if I were the Redskins and didn't need a quarterback.
Update: I'm sorry? Not sure what to say here, other than I remember a crazy amount of shots drained leading up to and immediately following this draft. Not my proudest moment...but that is by no means a statement of anything good.
Ken: Luke Joeckel
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Eric Fisher
Call it my mid-major bias (Parks, looking at you here!), but I just thought the Texas A&M product was more NFL-ready. Eric Fisher really gained a lot of steam as the draft approached, with Lane Johnson also getting a lot of talking head love. The first round of that draft was going to be heavy on offensive linemen (no pun intended), which elevated this duo. I absolutely loved Kyle Long in this draft and spent way too many posts trying to convince the readers to join me.
Update: At the time, I also said, "The player I am most afraid not to draft if I need a skill player is Tavon Austin." Hmmmmm...I might have been better off going with DeAndre Hopkins there!
Ken: Blake Bortles (let the rain come down!)
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Jadeveon Clowney
Ken said: "Let it never be said that I am afraid to sound insanely stupid. Really, incredibly, laugh-out-loud foolish. In five years, I believe in my heart that this draft will go down as the Sammy Watkins/Blake Bortles/Johnny Football draft. I think these three guys will all be players, and the teams who take them will end up happy. I would take Khalil Mack over Jadeveon Clowney, and I love Greg Robinson, BUT I think it will be Blake Bortles who becomes a star, and since he is a quarterback, he wins the prize. I can honestly say this pick makes me a little bit nauseous, because it is a total feel thing and Sammy Watkins is just sitting there looking like a superstar already. Let's just hope it looks better in the rearview mirror than Aaron Curry!"
Update: Well...Blake didn't bomb out and Clowney barely saw the field. The wide receivers dominated this draft, but I suppose I could suggest that Blake is still potentially the best player in this draft. It becomes less and less a stretch each and every year. It will take a lot to overshadow those WR's as the years go by, but Blake has the tools to do it. I feel Jacksonville’s pain though...I really do.
Ken: Kevin White
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Jameis Winston
I guess I am somewhat concerned about looking back and seeing how obvious it was that Leonard Williams should have been the answer here, but I certainly don't see Suh when I look at Williams. Marcus Mariota could also cause this pick to look pretty silly. As for the DE/OLB trio consisting of Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley and Shane Ray, I guess you could say I am just not seeing anyone that is going to take the league by storm in the same way I think Kevin White will. Certainly the edge rushers have an advantage because of the nature of most defensive schemes these days and the way they lead to Sportscenter highlights. Certainly Amari Cooper is polished and could be the man wherever he goes, but I look at Kevin White and I just feel it. He has size, speed, strength and desire, which doesn't necessarily set him apart from every other elite player, but I see him having the biggest impact right away. I see him building considerable momentum in his career from week one. There is a real gambling side to this exercise, I have found. In the pass-happy era that we find ourselves in, I feel strongly about putting my chips on the best wide receiver this year...and there you have it--a completely questionable opinion for your commenting pleasure!
Update: I really, really liked what I saw out of Marcus Mariota. Amari Cooper looked great. Hell, even Brandon Scherff can lay claim to being the better player out of this draft than Kevin White--a guy who played the same amount of snaps in 2015 as yours truly. I'll take an "Incomplete" here, if there are any generous graders out there.
Ken: Laremy Tunsil
NFL #1 Overall Pick: Jared Goff
Compared favorably to Trent Williams, this player looks like a lock to dominate at one of the most important positions on the football field for a long time. I am looking right past the legal business with his stepfather. I am not looking at his injuries in college and assuming they will plague him in the pros. I see a man who could get bigger and stronger after getting to the league, and that should scare a lot of people. Carson Wentz is a player I like a lot, and the possibility of him going to Philadelphia bums me out. Did you actually think I would put Ryan Kelly here? Well, he is now in my official 2016 write-up, so we can review this in 10 years.
Update: I would still take Laremy over Goff...but I think we can already grade this pick of mine poorly. I think Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott would all rate higher. Of course, players like Dak Prescott and Jordan Howard have arguments to be made for themselves, but they came in later rounds and would not have really factored into the debate that day.
Ken: Jamal Adams
NFL #1 overall pick: ???????
The modern NFL is centered completely around the passing game. On defense, this means pass-rushing and coverage schemes. Jamal Adams is, in my humble opinion, the biggest difference-maker in a team’s passing defense out of this draft. That is said with complete respect for Myles Garrett, who will almost certainly make me regret not picking him. He is so well-rounded—he can sneak up and cover the run with the best of them, and his coverage abilities from his days at LSU are well-documented. He has the smoothness of an All-Star center-fielder, with the ferocity of an All-Pro linebacker. He is the defense’s answer to a mobile quarterback. He has the unteachable ability to break away from his first responsibilities in-play to destroy the offense’s plan—in other words, he’s a ballhawk. I think we’ll be seeing him play at a high level right away, and for a long time.