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The best top-10 draft pick is no top-10 draft pick

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We know the Raiders have struggled in this century to draft and keep premier players, but key is to not be in the top-10 at all

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders held picks 12 and 19 in the most recent NFL draft and while I think speculation and consideration about a trade up into the top-10 made sense, Mike Mayock held firm in his positions and selected Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette. What is the difference between picking 12th and picking seventh anyway?

In truth, it might not be that much.

Among those picked seventh in this century are Adrian Peterson, Joe Haden, and Mike Evans. But players picked 12th include Marshawn Lynch, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham, and Halogi Ngata. The Raiders once picked a bust at pick 12 (D.J. Hayden) but they also did that at pick seven with Darrius Heyward-Bey. Another pick seven, Michael Huff, wasn’t a bad pick for Oakland, but Ngata went five picks later.

In all cases, the Raiders have been unable to find the right players or coaches to get them back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2002. As you’re aware, the franchise is going on nearly two decades of disappointment, which includes 12 of the last 17 seasons resulting in double-digit losses and only one case of a winning record. Those struggles have resulted in nine top-10 picks for the organization since 2000, but the first six of those players combined to make zero Pro Bowl rosters.

Robert Gallery, Huff, JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Heyward-Bey, and Rolando McClain.

That changed in 2014 when the Raiders managed to grab the player who is most likely the second-best of his class after Aaron Donald in Khalil Mack. They were lucky to do so but Mack went after Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles, and Sammy Watkins, four players who clearly do not belong in his echelon.

The next year, Oakland struck big again when they landed Amari Cooper after the players who all failed to make it to a second contract with the team that drafted them: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Dante Fowler. Cooper has made more Pro Bowl appearances (four) than any other player in the 2015 draft.

Unfortunately, neither Mack or Cooper made it to a second contract with the Raiders either. Instead they were flipped for more first round picks as Mayock and Jon Gruden look to rebuild the roster in their vision. That vision, they hope, will not include any top-10 picks of their own doing. Ideally Las Vegas will only be picking in the bottom-10 or bottom-two of the first round as many times as possible.

And if there’s anything we should have learned after looking over at least the last two decades of the NFL Draft, it’s that success in the top-10 or getting as close to the top of the draft as possible, does not equate to winning more games or reaching the Super Bowl. Failures in the top-10 can certainly indicate that that there will be failures on the field, but for obvious reasons the best possible outcome is no presence and even no value from top-10 or first round draft picks.

Case in point I’ll make right off the top: the last nine players that Washington has drafted in the top-10 have made the Pro Bowl, which is an unreal streak as you’ll soon see. They just took Chase Young second overall and there are really good odds he will make it ten in a row. With these players such as Champ Bailey, Trent Williams, LaVar Arrington, and Chris Samuels, Washington has gone 2-3 in the wild card round and 0-2 in the divisional round over the last 20 years of postseasons.

Who are the coaches?

Who is your quarterback?

What did you do on day two and day three of the draft? How did you do in undrafted free agency? How did you manage the cap? How successful have your opponents within the division been and how good of a job are you doing in matching up to beat those teams? Is the GM doing a good job of fitting players to the coach and is the coach doing a good job of making the most of the players the GM is adding to the roster?

These are all potentially bigger questions than “Who was your high draft pick?” but that’s where so much of the focus is every year. That the success of an entire organization now somehow hinges on the success of a single player with no NFL experience and who is voluntarily playing a sport likely to do damage to his body in ways that could cost him games, if not whole seasons.

It shouldn’t work like that. It hasn’t worked like that. And I believe that the results of the last 20 years of top-10 picks have clearly shown that success and failures in the top-10 of the draft has not really correlated to reaching or winning the Super Bowl, which most agree is the annual goal of each team. I also don’t think there’s been much causation either.

Here’s a breakdown of how all 32 teams have fared in the top-10 since 2000.

Barely There (4 or fewer top-10 picks since 2000)

Indianapolis Colts

Picks: 2

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 0

Super Bowls: 0 (with these players)

How to read the below:

YEAR / ROUND / OVERALL PICK / NAME / POSITION / AGE / TEAM / YEAR STARTED / MOST RECENT YEAR / All-PRO / PRO BOWL / SEASONS AS STARTER / CAREER ADJUSTED VALUE

Denver Broncos

Picks: 2

Pro Bowlers: 1

Busts: 0

Super Bowls: 2, 1 championship

Green Bay Packers

Picks: 3

Pro Bowlers: 1

Busts: 1

Super Bowls: 1, 1 championship

New Orleans Saints

Picks: 3

Pro Bowlers: 0

Busts: 2-3

Super Bowls: 1, 1 championship

New England Patriots

Picks: 2

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 0

Super Bowls: 7 (with these players), 4 championships

Philadelphia Eagles

Picks: 3

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 0

Super Bowls: 1, 1 championship

Pittsburgh Steelers

Picks: 2

Pro Bowls: 0

Busts: 0

Super Bowls: 0 (with these players)

Baltimore Ravens

Picks: 4

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 2, 2

Seattle Seahawks

Picks: 3

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 2, 1

Notes

The Colts won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, the first overall pick in 1998, and they selected Edgerrin James fourth overall in 1999, though he left prior to their Super Bowl win. I’m sure this will be a consideration, rightfully. But I think arguing Indianapolis as a reason for picking in the top 10 because of Manning is incredibly shortsighted.

This same organization picked in the top 10 FOURTEEN TIMES between 1979 and 1994 and they were still awful enough to get the first pick for Manning in 1998. That includes Hall of Famers John Elway and Marshall Faulk, showing that you don’t even always get to keep your picks for the good years or any years. Steve Emtman, Jeff George, Cornelius Bennett, Quentin Coryatt, and Johnnie Cooks were all first or second overall picks and the Colts continued to suck.

What would Manning have become if they didn’t also add Tony Dungy, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn, and others? Perhaps we got a glimpse of that answer in the case of Andrew Luck and Indy is only a Super Bowl contender right now because of picks like Darius Leonard, better coaching than Chuck Pagano, and a better GM than Ryan Grigson.

(Of course, Nelson is not someone you’d kick out of your top-10 for eating cookies either.)

For the most part, these organizations have all stayed out of the top-10 because of continued success and that success has never once been dependent on first round picks. Teams who are dependent on first round picks are most likely too weak in other areas of being an NFL franchise.

Also briefly some notes on what I’ve counted here:

  • “Pro Bowl” is just kind of a marker, a starting point. It doesn’t mean that the player was very good and not making a Pro Bowl doesn’t mean the player didn’t have considerable value. It’s just a starting point.
  • “Bust” is some rough estimation by me and you won’t catch me arguing that hard for or against a bust status probably. We all know it when we see it and arguments could be made in either direction in plenty of cases.
  • “Super Bowl” is counting how many times that team made/won the Super Bowl with those players. Not necessarily because of them.
  • Barely outside the top-10: Ben Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick and has won two Super Bowls and is a major reason why that happened. So shouldn’t he count in the Steelers favor? Sure! I don’t care. But what does it say about all the QBs who were drafted in the top-10 who didn’t win a Super Bowl? (Of 34 QBs drafted in the top 10 from 2000-2019, only Eli Manning and Patrick Mahomes have started and won a Super Bowl. In that period of time, only Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Mahomes were drafted in the top-10 and have been named a first team All-Pro QB.)

We’re Around (5-7 picks)

Atlanta Falcons

Picks: 7

Pro Bowlers: 6

Busts: 1

Super Bowls: 1, 0

Tennessee Titans

Picks: 7

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 4+

Super Bowls: 0

Carolina Panthers

Picks: 5

Pro Bowlers: 5

Busts: 0

Super Bowls: 2, 0

Chicago Bears

Picks: 7

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 4+?

Super Bowls: 1,0

Dallas Cowboys

Picks: 5

Pro Bowlers: 4

Busts: 1

Super Bowls: 0

Houston Texans

Picks: 6

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 2

Super Bowls: 0

Kansas City Chiefs

Picks: 6

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 3

Super Bowls: 1, 1

Miami Dolphins

Picks: 5

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 2-4?

Super Bowls: 0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Picks: 7

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 0

Minnesota Vikings

Picks: 6

Pro Bowlers: 5

Busts: 1

Super Bowls: 0

New York Giants

Picks: 5

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 2

Super Bowls: 2, 2

St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams

Picks: 7

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 1, 0

San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers

Picks: 5

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 0

Notes

This is where most the NFL sits, between 5-7 top-10 picks in the last 20 years. These 13 franchise have made a combined 130 top-10 picks in the last two decades but only the Giants (twice) and Chiefs have won the Super Bowl out of this group and with the players they selected. In that, of course making an exception that “Philip Rivers” is really Eli Manning. And are we now giving Eli Manning the credit for those two Super Bowls?

If so, his place in the Hall of Fame would have to be unquestionable and I don’t think many are on board for that. They’ve had five top-10 picks in the last six years and no success to show for it yet.

Maybe the easiest path here to draw from “high draft picks” to Super Bowl is the Falcons, who selected Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Jake Matthews, then had the NFL’s best offense in 2016. But they also had those players, plus Vic Beasley, in their most three most recent seasons and Atlanta hasn’t come close to a Super Bowl return.

The Panthers drafted Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and few dispute those as good picks. Especially in reaching the Super Bowl in 2015. But Carolina failed to win a playoff game in the four years afterwards.

The Vikings had incredible success here, finding Adrian Peterson, Anthony Barr, and Kevin Williams in the top-10. Only Troy Williamson was an indisputable bust and yet Minnesota is still searching for its first Super Bowl appearance since 1976.

Kansas City made all those picks in the top-10 that didn’t work and then in 2017 they traded up 16 spots for Mahomes and it has completely changed the makeup of the team and the future of the franchise. But like Roethlisberger, Mahomes wasn’t the marquee quarterback of his draft class. And like Peyton Manning, appears to be a rare exception — it wouldn’t be wise for any team to assume they just got “the next Patrick Mahomes.”

Primetime (between 8-9)

New York Jets

Picks: 9

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 4+

Super Bowls: 0

Oakland Raiders

Picks: 9

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 0

San Francisco 49ers

Picks: 9

Pro Bowlers: 2

Busts: 5?

Super Bowls: 2, 0

Washington

Picks: 8

Pro Bowlers: 8

Busts: 0-2?

Super Bowls: 0

Buffalo Bills

Picks: 8

Pro Bowlers: 4

Busts: 2ish?

Super Bowls: 0

Cincinnati Bengals

Picks: 8

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 3-4

Super Bowls: 0

Notes

You look at the Raiders and you may think “What do they have to show for the last 20 years of early draft picks other than Clelin Ferrell?” and you’d be right. It’s not much. They had a lot of bad draft picks. But then you see Washington — eight players who were recognized by fans and peers as being Pro Bowl worthy — and they’ve had virtually the same lack of success. If anything, at least Oakland was a winner early in the 2000s.

They weren’t made bad by bad draft picks; these teams are bad and therefore bust or Pro Bowl, the players aren’t able to give the franchise the value we expect the most from drafting early: consistently winning.

That has to come from up top and it won’t be solved because of a draft pick. The Chiefs were good before they got Patrick Mahomes.

The Hopelessly Helpless (10+ top-10 picks)

Cleveland Browns

Picks: 12

Pro Bowlers: 6

Busts: 7+

Super Bowls: 0

Arizona Cardinals

Picks: 10

Pro Bowlers: 5

Busts: 5ish

Super Bowls: 1

Detroit Lions

Picks: 11

Pro Bowlers: 6

Busts: 6

Super Bowls: 0

Jacksonville Jaguars

Picks: 14

Pro Bowlers: 3

Busts: 11???

Super Bowls: 0

Notes

Well, at least the Browns, Cards, and Lions found a bit of that Hall of Fame talent on their way to annually picking in the top-10. The Jaguars have an NFL-high 14 top-10 picks since 2000 (2002 actually) and they went 14 years between finding a Pro Bowl player in that range. When Dante Fowler and Jalen Ramsey looked like they could buck the trend, they got traded to the Rams.

And yet in 2017, Jacksonville was within minutes of beating the Patriots and reaching the Super Bowl with Blake Bortles as the quarterback. Why? Six Pro Bowl players on defense helped and while Ramsey was one of them, the others were taken 50th, 69th, 137th, 144th, and undrafted. Myles Jack was a second rounder (mainly because of injury), Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson were former undrafted free agents starting at safety. The focus may be on what Ramsey brought to the defense, but he’s just Joe Haden or Patrick Peterson if the other 10+ can’t play.

And you can’t make that many top-10 picks in a short enough time to expect the defense to be built — or the franchise to be successful — because of them.

You have to build a team. Did the Las Vegas Raiders do enough of that in the past couple of offseasons to offset any thoughts of what the next Khalil Mack or Amari Cooper could do for them? We’ll get a better sense of that when all their non-top 10 picks take the field for the next time.

The Raiders only have one former top-10 pick besides Ferrell on the roster right now: Marcus Mariota. I think that says plenty.