The Demise Of The “Safest Pick” Reminds Us There Is No Safe Pick
During the late winter and early spring of 2009, NFL draft experts and talking heads proclaimed Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry to be the “safest pick in the draft”. As in, “he might not ever be a superstar, but he is guaranteed to be a highly productive player” or the ever-popular and “worst case, he has a high-floor, low-ceiling”. Just a little more than 2 seasons later and Curry is being shipped out to Oakland for a 7th round pick in 2012 and a conditional (on playing time) pick in 2013. It’s a stark reminder that there is no such thing as a “sure thing” in the NFL draft.
As disappointing as Curry has been, he has plenty of company in high-profile busts from the class of 2009. Let’s revisit the top half of the 1st round:
The jury is still out on the two QB’s, Sanchez has battled inconsistency (and one of the worst offensive coordinators in football) and Stafford has struggled with injuries (although he looks like he is on the way to living up to his potential). Jackson is an adequate 2-down 5-technique DE but not much more, and a prime example of the danger of drafting for need. Jason Smith was recently benched in favor of backup Adam Goldberg and could be on the outs in St. Louis.
The next five spots weren’t too much better. The perpetually out-of-shape Smith recently had his contract option declined, making him a UFA after next season, Heyward-Bey put up a meager 35 catches in his first 2 seasons before (perhaps) turning the corner a bit this year and Crabtree is floundering for the 49ers. Monroe, who was the #1 OT ahead of both Smiths on a lot of boards, has been inconsistent but easily the best of the three. Raji is easily the most accomplished in the top 10, developing into one of the game’s 3-4 NT.
Rounding out the first half of the first round, Maybin was (predictably) a huge flop in Buffalo and is trying to find a second chance with the Jets as a pass-rush specialist, Moreno and English are both duds who are probably cut before the start of 2012. Cushing, Jenkins and Orakpo are all high-quality players worthy of their 1st round status. That said, all three came with more red flags than Curry. Orakpo was thought to be inconsistent with questions about his strength, Jenkins had an unimpressive combine and was considered a safety/CB tweener making him unworthy of a high pick and Cushing was thought to be a “boom or bust” (as opposed to a “safe” pick).
In retrospect the top picks in 2009 are pretty similar to those of most years. Half are busts, a few are inconsistent players who will flash enough potential to kick around the league for awhile and a small number have lived up to (or exceeded) their potential.