Last year’s top draft picks went to the Buccaneers, Titans, Jaguars, Raiders, and Redskins. Of those teams, only the Redskins made the playoffs. In determining grades for each pick, I compared stats in their position to others in the league. I also assessed their popularity by jersey sales, when applicable.
Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
Being the top pick in the draft comes with high expectations. Winston delivered with just over 4,000 passing yards and 22 touchdowns across the full 16-game season. He averaged 7.6 yards per pass attempt. But at 4,042 passing yards, he ranked 11th in the league, between Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson. More importantly, he took the Buccaneers from a 2-14 record to 6-10, this coming in a tough NFC South that included NFC champions the Carolina Panthers. Furthermore, he developed a great relationship with second-year receiver Mike Evans, who pulled in 68 catches for 1,052 yards and 12 of Winston’s touchdowns. On the ground, he had 53 attempts for 213 yards and 10 touchdowns, making his all-purpose total 32.
From March 1 to May 31, 2015 directly after he was drafted, Winston was 10th in the league in jersey sales.
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
During his rookie year, Mariota made sure that he wasn’t going to be on the bust list with other former top-five QBs like Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf. He threw for 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. When comparing these numbers to his counterpart Winston, you have to take into account that Mariota was hurt and only played in 12 games. But he did have a higher yards-per-attempt rate at 9.15. Yet he was more of a dual threat than Winston — he ran for 252 yards across 34 attempts and added two touchdowns. He was also a receiving threat downfield, catching one pass for 41 yards and a touchdown. Unlike Winston, he only helped improve the Titans record by one win.
For the first business quarter of 2015, Mariota ranked 9th in jersey sales, one spot ahead of Winston.
Dante Fowler Jr., OLB Florida
Fowler didn’t play in his rookie season because he tore his ACL in mini-camp. But he has a ton of upside. For 2016, Fowler is expected to be healthy. The Jags are still excited about his prospects — there is a lot to like about him from his time at Florida: He’s quick. He can play both ends or drop into coverage. He finishes the play once the quarterback starts scrambling. He’s also incredibly fast coming from the edge.
Grade: I (for incomplete)
Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Of the top five picks from 2015, the Raiders got the most production from theirs. Cooper hauled in 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns across 16 games. He ranked 20th in the league in yardage and was tied for 29th in touchdowns. He also contributed on special teams. The 6”1’ receiver quickly developed a relationship with second-year quarterback Derek Carr. Twenty-seven percent of Carr’s yardage went to Cooper, as did 19% of his touchdowns. Cooper’s contribution helped Carr earn his first Pro Bowl appearance. After that kind of first sear, who knows what the duo may do two, three, or even five years down the line. Keep your eyes open, Amari Cooper may be the next big time receiver.
Cooper’s jersey sales showed he was the 5th most popular receiver in the league, according to NFL Shop.
Brandon Scherff, T Iowa
Scherff was a workhorse who only missed a handful of snaps during the season. And because he plays down in the trenches, only missing a few is hard to imagine. As an offensive lineman, individual stats aren’t collected, but as a group the Redskins offensive line was able to protect their quarterbacks much better by only allowing 27 sacks in 2015, versus 58 in 2014. This was a large reason why the Redskins made the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 season.
Photos: Chris O'Meara/AP (Winston draft), Cliff McBride/Getty Images (Winston action), Eugene Tanner/AP (Mariota draft), Wesley Hitt/Getty Images (Mariota action), Todd Rosenberg (Fowler Jr. draft), Jeff Chiu/AP (Cooper draft), Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (Cooper action), Todd Rosenberg (Scherff draft), Carlos M. Saavedra (Scherff action)