Ranking best, worst 2016 NFL draft classes nearing midseason mark

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys

Evaluating an NFL draft in May is pointless. But it’s one of those silly spring rituals that we do because, well, everyone else is doing it.

It’s still way too early to assess each team’s 2016 draft. It will take years. But who wants to wait that long?

Now that we have nearly half a season to go on, let’s praise the best drafts of 2016 and pan the worst ones.


No. 5: Bears

Bears fans already are in mock-draft mode with their team 1-6 and last in the NFC North. If the Bears have a strong 2017 draft, the future will look bright because it could be paired with a 2016 draft that’s producing some contributors.

First-rounder Leonard Floyd, the No. 9 overall pick, had a breakout game in the Bears’ 26-10 loss at Green Bay in Week 6. He strip-sacked Aaron Rodgers and picked up the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. He had another sack in the game, giving him 2.5 so far in his rookie season. He missed two games with an injury before returning against Green Bay.

Fifth-rounder Jordan Howard had back-to-back 100-yard games in weeks 4 and 5 before cooling down with 56 yards in the last two games.

Second-round pick Cody Whitehair has started all seven games at center even though he never played the position in college. Whitehair and Howard earned Pro Football Focus’ top grades on the team in the Week 5 loss to the Colts.

Jonathan Bullard, a defensive tackle who the Bears drafted in the third round, had his first career sack in that game.

Deiondre’ Hall, a fourth-round cornerback, had an interception in the Bears’ only win but is sidelined with an ankle injury.

The Bears stocked up on defense in this draft. Fourth-round picks Deon Bush (safety) and Nick Kwaitkoski (linebacker) have seen action in some games, although Bush has played only on special teams. Sixth-round safety DeAndre Houston-Carson has played most of his snaps on special teams.

Seventh-round receiver Daniel Braverman was put on the practice squad.

No. 4: Patriots

Jacoby Brissett, who was the second of the Patriots’ three third-round picks, is the only quarterback from this draft class to win a game who isn’t named Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz.

Brissett replaced an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in the Patriots’ Week 2 win over the Dolphins and held the fort by completing 11 of 19 passes in the Patriots’ 27-0 win over the Texans. Garoppolo and Brissett helped the Patriots weather Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension and showed that there might be life after Brady.

Joe Thuney was drafted 13 picks before his North Carolina State teammate and has missed just one snap at left guard.

Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, the Patriots last third-rounder, has chipped in with a sack but is currently nursing a back injury. Malcolm Mitchell, a wide receiver taken in the fourth round, is near the bottom of the Patriots’ pass-catching food chain with six receptions for 82 yards.

The Patriots’ top pick was cornerback Cyrus Jones in the second round. He’s recovered two fumbles, but his main function so far has been returning kickoffs and punts.

Even though the Patriots had to wait until the second round to start drafting because they paid for Deflategate with their first-round pick, their first five picks all have contributed in one way or another.

No. 3: Eagles

The Eagles might have drafted their starting quarterback for at least the next decade with the No. 2 overall pick. If Carson Wentz is that guy, then the Eagles hit a home run with the draft no matter how the Day 2 and Day 3 picks turn out.

So far, Wentz has led the Eagles to a 4-2 record and an upset of the unbeaten Vikings.

Running back Wendell Smallwood, a fifth-round pick, ran for a garbage-time touchdown in Week 3 against the Steelers and returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in Week 6 against the Redskins. Seventh-round cornerback Jalen Mills saw a lot of DeSean Jackson at Washington in Week 6. It wasn’t always pretty but he also wasn’t embarrassed. Jackson caught four passes for 55 yards and no touchdowns.

The Eagles chose guard Isaac Seumalo in the third round, their only Day 2 pick because their fourth-rounder was one of the picks they sent to the Browns in the deal to get the No. 2 pick. Seumalo hasn’t been able to get on the field yet because of injuries.

Fifth-rounder Halapoulivaati Vaiti has started at right tackle for the last two games in place of suspended Lane Johnson. He struggled against the Redskins but improved and was part of a unit that held the Vikings without a sack in Week 7.

The Eagles’ 2016 draft has yielded their starting quarterback and at least two more potential starters in the future.

No. 2: Chargers

Who ever would have thought that Joey Bosa would be heard from at all this season when he held out until the end of August?

The third overall pick made his debut in Week 5 and had two sacks against the Raiders. He added two more sacks in Sunday’s 33-30 upset win at Atlanta and is second among rookies with four sacks.

Teammate Jatavis Brown, a linebacker chosen in the fifth round, has three sacks. Those seven sacks are more than any other 2016 draft class has generated.

In the second round the Chargers found the heir apparent to Antonio Gates. Hunter Henry already has 20 receptions to Gates’ 17 and he leads the Chargers with three receiving touchdowns.

The Chargers used a sixth-round pick on punter Drew Kaser, the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his role in the Chargers’ Week 6 upset of the Broncos. Fullback Derek Watt, J.J. Watt’s brother, was taken in the sixth round and has a couple of receptions.

No. 1: Cowboys

All the Cowboys came up with in the draft was two Rookie of the Year candidates.

No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliot leads the NFL with 703 rushing yards and is on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s 33-year-old rookie record of 1,808 yards.

Dak Prescott, taken in the fourth round, set a record by throwing the first 176 passes of his career without an interception. He’s thrown seven touchdown passes, including three in Dallas’ 30-16 Week 6 win at Green Bay. It was the Cowboys’ first win at Lambeau Field in seven tries since 1991.

The Cowboys rolled the dice in the second round, drafting Jaylon Smith.

The Notre Dame linebacker suffered a severe knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys knew he wouldn’t play in 2016 and there’s a chance he never plays. But thanks to Elliott and Prescott, anything the Cowboys get from Smith is a bonus.

Third-round defensive tackle Maliek Collins and sixth-round cornerback Anthony Brown both have seen action on defense. Brown and Sean Lee tied for the team lead with nine tackles against the Packers. But Elliott and Prescott have fueled the Cowboys’ 5-1 start and they alone make Dallas’ 2016 draft the best in the NFL so far.


No. 5: Steelers

The Steelers’ top three draft picks have seen significant playing time this season, which is more than can be said of recent Steelers draft classes.

However, Pittsburgh is one of 10 teams with no sacks or interceptions from a member of its 2016 draft class. While the Steelers have a lot of company in that regard, they’re the only one of those teams that drafted defensive players with their first three picks.

The Steelers chose cornerback Artie Burns in the first round, safety Sean Davis in the second round and nose tackle Javon Hargrave in the third round. The top tackler on that trio is Burns with 16, but that’s only 15th among all the players drafted.

One more defensive player from this Steelers draft class has made it onto the field this year. Seventh-round pick Tyler Matakevich has provided some value with his special teams play and has played 19 snaps on defense.

The Steelers drafted offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round, but he’s on injured reserve. Depth on the offensive line was a need for the Steelers, but their most pressing need in the draft was defense. The on-the-job training has been bumpy for Burns, Davis and Hargrave, but the upside is there.

No. 4: Vikings

The future is now in Minnesota. That became clear when the Vikings traded next year’s first-round draft pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford. They have their sights set on a deep playoff run and needed a quarterback when they lost Teddy Bridgewater.

The Vikings were the NFL’s last unbeaten team. This team is not about tomorrow, and Mike Zimmer doesn’t like to rush rookies. He has expressed some concern, however, about first-round pick Laquon Treadwell’s slow development.

Treadwell has dressed for three games and is still looking for his first NFL reception. He remains behind middling talents such as Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander, the Vikings’ second-round pick, has seen most of his action on special teams.

Moritz Boehringer, the heralded German wide receiver taken in the sixth round, went to the practice squad.

This draft centers around Treadwell and Alexander. If they come along, the Vikings ultimately will get a favorable grade.

No. 3: Bills

The Bills’ 2016 draft class is the third-worst right now, but it might not be for long. Their top pick, pass rusher Shaq Lawson, finally made his debut in Week 7 after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He made one tackle in a 28-25 loss at Miami.

The news about inside linebacker Reggie Ragland isn’t as good. The Bills’ second-round pick is expected to miss the entire season with an ankle injury.

The Bills were the only team whose top two picks hadn’t been activated for a game through the first six weeks of the season.

While it’s not a knock on the Bills’ talent evaluation, these injuries hurt the team’s 2016 draft grade because you can’t help the club in the tub.

Defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, the Bills’ third-round pick, has been on the field and has two sacks in a rotational role.

Running back Jonathan Williams (sixth round) has 23 yards on eight carries and cornerback Kevon Seymour (seventh round) has four tackles. Cardale Jones (fourth round) is the third-string quarterback.

If the Bills (4-3) make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, they’ll be forgiven for a shoddy draft. And depending on how Lawson does, it might not be so shoddy after all.

No. 2: Cardinals

The Cardinals’ top two picks are off to a rough start.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, the 29th overall pick, has battled injuries and played 25 just snaps on defense. The Cardinals’ second pick, cornerback Brandon Williams, was taken in the third round. He hasn’t played on defense since being benched against Tampa Bay in Week 2.

Four tackles by Williams and a pass breakup by Nkemdiche are the only marks on the stat sheet made by any member of the Cardinals draft class. The only other one to step onto the field is center Evan Boehm, primarily on special teams.

No. 1: Rams

The move to Los Angeles didn’t do much to improve the Rams’ offense. It ranked last in the NFL last season and is currently 30th this season with 307.6 yards per game. The Rams’ 227.7 passing yards per game rank 25th.

The Rams’ first three draft picks, quarterback Jared Goff, tight end Tyler Higbee and wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, have barely cracked this anemic lineup.

By trading two second-round picks and a third-round pick to the Titans for the No. 1 pick, the Rams put all their eggs in Goff’s basket. He’s suited up for just one game this season.

Higbee and Cooper, both fourth-round picks, have combined for Higbee’s two catches for six yards.

The Rams also had three sixth-round picks. Tight end Temarrick Hemingway has played exclusively on special teams. Inside linebacker Josh Forrest has just two tackles and wide receiver Mike Thomas has returned three kickoffs for 62 yards.

Jeff Fisher has a knack for finishing 7-9, but so far there’s nothing middle-of-the-pack about the 2016 Rams draft. At this point, it’s the worst.

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