In the 2011 NFL draft, the Rams have the 14th overall pick. In this draft class, the first round is stocked with underclassmen that should have a major impact early in their professional careers.
During my 15 years as an NFL scout, 11 of which I served as a front-office executive with the Rams and Carolina Panthers, I would conduct studies on the histories of those selected at No. 14. The yearly reviews provided just another indication of what to expect in terms of possible production level and success.
Listed below is a chart of players who were drafted with the 14th pick over the last 15 years. Nine of the players chosen were defensive players. Three of the players were cornerbacks, offensive tackles and defensive tackles; two were defensive ends and tight ends; and there was one running back and free safety.
Interestingly, several players made a switch from their college position once they arrived at the next level. While all teams have different visions and philosophies, drafting the best available player who brings value to a particular scheme is the key to building a championship foundation. When studying the 14th pick, I found that the following players were drafted and switched to fit the team’s scheme. Of course, this is not necessarily a negative for either the organization or the player.
Explanation of color codes:
BLUE – Blue players have Blue production and are difference-makers in every game. Playoff teams need at least 10 or more on the roster.
RED – Starters/heavy contributors with whom you can win right away; they have Blue traits with ascending skill-sets.
ORANGE – Back-up/special teams with limited production; struggles to match up with high Red player; limited skill-set.
GREEN – A high percentage of free-agent “greenies” get hurt due to inferior skill-sets and lack the ability to ascend to Orange.
Let’s now break down the picks, position-by-position, and identify their appropriate colors.
Earl Thomas, 2010 – Came to Texas as a cornerback, but was switched to the safety position and also played inside at the nickel corner in the dime and nickel packages. Drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, the defensive staff took advantage of his explosive tackling skills and speed to range deep and to the edge to help corners. Thomas led the team in interceptions, made the All-Rookie team and was a focal point of the secondary. He was a 16-game starter with five interceptions and 60 tackles. BLUE
Malcolm Jenkins, 2009 – Played both safety and cornerback at Ohio State. He had enough reps on tape to provide a solid evaluation of his standing in the back end of the secondary, making the New Orleans Saints very comfortable with him as a permanent safety. Jenkins has developed into a starter with good production and has ascended the last two seasons. He has played 29 games, starting 21 and has three interceptions, 16 pass breakups three forced fumbles, three fumbles recovered, one sack and 93 tackles. RED
Thomas Davis, 2005 – A strong safety for the University of Georgia, he also was used at the bandit position (hybrid outside linebacker or low safety). His coverage skills and open-field tackling skills were exceptional. He ran like a deer with great chase and pursuit with burst and acceleration with collision and explosive tackling skills like a linebacker. As the college scouting director of the Panthers, the only argument we had on this player was whether he should play safety or linebacker. The secondary coaches were pushing for him to play linebacker, coach John Fox wanted him to play linebacker because of his size (6-2, 230). When asked by general manager Marty Hurney for my thoughts, I quickly replied I don’t care where you play him I just want this impact player. Thomas was instrumental in spying Michael Vick (quarterback with the Falcons), and was a contributing factor in the defensive production as a linebacker. He has played 69 games, starting 54 and has 11 sacks, three interceptions, 21 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and 316 tackles. Davis missed nine games in 2009 and all of 2010 with knee injuries. RED
Pro Bowl players
Darrelle Revis, 2007 – A corner back that was a standout player for the University of Pittsburgh. An early-out junior, possessed the man press coverage skills that all NFL teams covet. Is considered the league’s best “shutdown corner” today with several future Pro Bowls ahead of him. The only question with Revis is why so many teams pass on this position early. While there is no set rule on drafting a position at any selection within the draft, many if not all general managers are kicking themselves on not drafting this playmaker and difference-maker, and at some point had to address their decision with their ownership group. Has started all 61 games he’s played with 14 interceptions and two touchdowns, 73 passes defended, 192 tackles and voted first-Team All-Pro twice. Blue
Eddie George, 1996 – A running back with great size for the position, and many teams felt he was too tall (6-3, 235). From Ohio State University, he was drafted by the Houston Oilers and the team became the Tennessee Titians and he didn’t miss a beat. He carried the load for several years and helped the Titians reach the Super Bowl. Several of the draftniks say No. 14 is too high to pick a running back, but I disagree. If the running back is special and considered a franchise-type player, then this is a perfect spot. Played 141 games with 136 starts; 2,865 carries, 10,441 yards, 68 touchdowns, 268 receptions, 2,227 yards and 10 touchdowns. Blue
Jeremy Shockey, 2002 – A true tight end (both blocker and receiver) that started out fast and maintained a level of consistent high production for several years. Drafted by the New York Giants and played six seasons; he was released and played the last three seasons with the New Orleans Saints and has earned himself two Super Bowl rings. While injuries mounted, this flamboyant player is headed to his third NFL club (Carolina), but is considered one of the top players at the position. Started 116 of 121 games played with 510 receptions, 5,688 yards, seven fumbles with one first-team All-Pro season. RED
Others with notable careers
Tommie Harris, 2004 – This Oklahoma Sooner stormed onto the NFL scene creating a wake of havoc in every game played. A dominant interior defensive lineman, his career has been plagued and impacted by major injuries. Has played 104 games with 90 starts and has 28.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defended, five forced fumbles, seven fumbles recovered and 171 tackles. RED
Bubba Franks, 2000 – This University of Miami product was drafted and played eight seasons for the Green Bay Packers, and finished his career with the New York Jets. Played 122 games with 98 starts. Had 262 receptions for 2,347 yards, 32 touchdowns and three fumbles. RED
John Tait, 1999 – This big man from Brigham Young was a versatile offensive tackle playing both right and left during his career. Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, he played at a high level for five seasons, before spending his last five with the Chicago Bears. Played 148 games with 139 starts. BLUE
Kenyatta Walker, 2001 – This former Florida Gator had a productive but short career. Had the talent and was versatile to play both left and right tackle positions throughout his career for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started 73 of the 75 games he played. RED
Two players with promising careers but delayed by injuries
Chris Williams, 2008 – Offensive tackle drafted by the Chicago Bears. Career was delayed because of back surgery due to a herniated disc. Has played 38 games with 29 starts, including the last 11 starts of the 2010 season at left guard. RED
Brodrick Bunkley, 2006 – Interior defensive lineman; drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and played his college ball at Florida State. Career started off slow, but the last few years he has become a solid starter and contributor. His 2010 season ended with an injury. Has played 76 games with 52 starts and has six sacks, seven passes defended and 111 tackles. RED
Players whose careers didn’t fare as well
Michael Haynes, 2003 – A defensive end that played at Penn State, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears and is no longer in the league. Played 42 games with just four starts; had 5.5 sacks, one interception and one touchdown, one forced fumble, 49 tackles. ORANGE
Jason Peter, 1998 – One of the most productive defensive linemen in University of Nebraska football history. Was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and only played four seasons. Played 38 games with 20 starts at left defensive end. Off-field issues and injuries derailed his career. Had 7.5 sacks and 65 tackles. BUST
Reinard Wilson, 1997 – A Florida State product that was labeled a tweener defensive end or linebacker. He never panned out despite great athleticism. Started just 23 of 93 games played and had 24 sacks, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recovery and 129 tackles. BUST
The yearly NFL Draft is a projection. No matter how much work is done in scouting, evaluating or investigating, there are no guarantees. The successful teams draft the best available players that fit their scheme regardless of round.