The NFL Draft has been and gone and there is a lot to look back on. This article will look at the players that, in hindsight, were taken too early or perhaps unecessarily.
These are certainly not bad players, just players that went higher than most expected. There are no picks beyond the fourth round here, because from that point on it’s more about scheme fit, taking gambles on talented athletes and special teams value plays a big part too.
Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia (1st overall to Jaguars)
Not many would have expected to hear his name called first on draft night. His six sacks and his pass-rush win rate of 10.8%, is about half of Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and even less compared to Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson.
This kind of reflects the assignments of the Georgia defense, where they flushed quarterbacks into their linebackers and asked those guys to clean up constantly, with very few true pass-rush reps for their D-line. But the counter argument is this: is that the role a number one overall pick will play in the NFL?
He has ridiculous athletic potential and he’s already close to being an elite run defender, but even when he was allowed to just go, you didn’t see the ability to attack half the man, set up his rush moves or find any reliable counters.
He could absolutely get there, but is that enough if you want him to be THAT guy. At first overall in the draft, this was a reach.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (20th overall to Steelers)
The fact that there were 54 spots in the draft between Pickett and the next-closest quarterback tells you that this was early for him, even if you had him as your clear-cut number one at the position.
At least they didn’t trade up for him and you never know how the board shakes out, but at worst they should have been able to get the Chiefs deal. The Chiefs traded up to the pick behind them at 21st overall, where the Patriots acquired a third- and fourth-round pick. The Steelers would still have got Pickett, since the Titans were the only potential threat to take him and they were never linked to Pickett.
Pickett plays the position the way you would want him to and he’s shown improvement throughout his career, but his game completely breaks down when he sees color flash up the middle and in high-leverage moments. He’s about to already turn 24 years old in a month.
Quay Walker, LB, Georgia (22nd overall to Packers)
If you just track his betting lines, Walker went from like a three-to-one chance to be selected in the first round of the draft to basically a lock at -500 odds. This was very plausible, as the NFL loves long, physical linebackers in the mold of Walker.
There’s plenty of redeeming qualities, the force to set the point of the attack, the speed to chase from the backside, his closing burst as a blitzer and once he ran that 4.52 in the 40.
He doesn't read his keys in the run game particularly well, he was routinely subbed off on third downs for a lesser athlete in Channing Tindall and even as a blitzer, too often he would just bang into blockers straight-on.
They could have just taken Devin Lloyd from Utah, who went five picks later, or taken a similar player later, considering there were 36 spots between him and the next-closest linebacker to Lloyd.
Cole Strange, IOL, UT-Chattanooga (29th overall to Patriots)
This is the draft pick that everybody was discussing from the moment it happened. Strange has to be mentioned here. In terms of the difference between positions on draft boards and the actual draft slot, Strange and Walker were pretty much the exact same. At least there was major buzz around the Georgia linebacker and he wouldn't have made it out of the first round of the draft.
Similar to linebackers, this was one of the deepest interior O-line classes in recent draft memory and this is just not the area you take what will be a 24-year-old rookie at a low-value position. Even though he was one of the biggest Senior Bowl standouts, he is so much smaller than those Power-Five guys and it is unclear how much more he can add to that frame.
Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky (43rd overall to Giants)
Robinson is a really fun player. He’s one of the most dynamic open-field players in this draft class, with the ability to change up gears in the open field to keep defenders guessing.
With great balance, he can bounce off hits, which is why he lined up in the backfield for Nebraska before going to Kentucky, where he was still used as a gadget.
Therein lies the issue, he’s a player you draw plays up for, rather than somebody who can produce as a classic receiver. He doesn’t have the size of somebody like Deebo Samuel, who you picture in that type of role. He’s 5’8”, 180 pounds and measured in with the shortest arms in NFL combine history at just 27 5/8 inches.
That lack of length shows up when he has to dive for balls instead of run through the catch and he doesn’t leap in a way that maximizes his height. So with the way he telegraphs some routes, at this point he’s more of a YAC specialist, like what they already had in last year’s first-round draft pick Kadarius Toney.
Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor (50th overall to Patriots)
Continuing with the theme of wide receivers, the Patriots did something similar in terms of selecting a player with a pretty defined skill-set. With his blazing 4.28 speed, he can take a slant 75 yards to the house and if he had received more competent quarterback play, he could have had a lot more big plays on tape even.
There are a lot of questions, like the fact that he basically only ran four routes at Baylor. Also, does he bring any value in contested situations with his below-eight inch hands? Can he bring anything after the catch? He can’t just flat out run away from the defense, manifesting in an average of just 3.1 yards after the catch last season.
Combine that with his spindly frame and that bad tendency of stepping backwards with his outside foot and he is a candidate for late day two/early day three range, rather than the 50th pick. Also, consider how deep this WR draft class was.
Joshua Ezeudu, OT/IOL, North Carolina (67th overall to Giants)
It was off-the-radar to see Ezeudu go as the third pick in round three of the draft. He has tackle-guard flexibility and has excellent dexterity in his lower half to execute reach-/scoop-blocks. He frames his rushers very well and has an impressive ability to recover.
This is still too early. He doesn't seem to have a lot of pop in his hands and you see him lean too far over his toes in the process as a run-blocker, while he has to work on kicking his feet back and finding a way to re-anchor when he gets too tall.
Considering five O-linemen were typically graded higher went within the ensuing 25 picks and the other UNC tackle, who right now is a better player, even though his ceiling is lower, this was too early in the draft.
Alex Wright, EDGE, UAB (78th overall to Browns)
If you go Pro Football Focus and other outlets, you’ll probably hear that Wright could end up being the guy across from Myles Garrett, who they’ve been trying to find for a while now. Let’s not sugarcoat this, Wright was some people's 19th-ranked edge defender in this draft class, yet he was the 11th off the board.
The intrigue is understandable for a guy at 6’5” with a massive 83-inch wingspan, who was one of the top-ten guys at his position in terms of pressure production last season.
Watching his tape, his first step wasn’t anything to write home about, there’s some tightness in his hips to clear blockers and he doesn’t really rush with a plan yet. Plus, he displayed poor contain responsibility.
He possesses some tools that you would want to work with, but considering their next pick was also a kicker, it is unclear how much of an impact those guys really make year one for one of the better rosters in the league.
Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State (91st overall to Buccaneers)
People were constantly referring to him as a sleeper, which in the draft is a top-100 pick at the position in this climate. There are several redeeming qualities with the player, his good size and tremendous start-stop quickness. He keeps open-field defenders off balance with head- and foot-fakes and he brings an intriguing skill-set as a receiver, with natural hands and a good feel for players around him.
However, you rarely see him run up to his size, accelerating into contact and dropping his pads into contact, routinely trying to spin off guys. He doesn’t yet use his arms to deliver strikes as a pass-protector. Some had him down as their RB18 and he was the fourth one off the board in the draft.
Dane Belton, SAF, Iowa (112th overall to Giants)
Belton will be 22 at the end of his rookie campaign. When you look at his spider chart, it’s basically an oval that gets out to the 70-80th percentile in the jumps and 40-yard dash (4.43), while the rest of the athletic testing and physical dimensions are in the 40-50th percentile.
He’s a physical player, who spent most of his time in the slot, but was also asked to slide inside with tight-ends and even fill the B-gap when teams put trips into the boundary. He’s got good speed and can stop his momentum quickly to redirect, along with soft hands to finish interceptions (five in 2021).
We didn’t see him be deployed in any deep coverage (only 6% of snaps last season) and they had also just drafted LSU’s Cordale Flott, who is a pure nickel himself. There were others in the draft class who looked better at safety and it's unclear where that duo fits, unless they think Flott can line up outside.
Other questionable picks:
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State (16th overall to Commanders)
Tyler Smith, OT/IOL, Tulsa (24th overall to Cowboys)
Velus Jones Jr., WR, Tennessee (71st overall to Bears)
Cordale Flott, CB, LSU (81st overall to Giants)
Ty Davis-Price, RB, LSU (93rd overall to 49ers)
Cade York, K, LSU (124th overall to Browns)
Jake Camarda, P, Georgia (133rd overall to Buccaneers)
Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky (137th overall to Patriots)
Delarrin Turner-Yell, SAF, Oklahoma (152nd overall to Broncos)
Teagan Quitoriano, TE, Oregon State (170th overall to Texans)
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