Since this week marks the halfway point in the season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of this year's crop of first round picks. We all know how much money NFL teams spend on their first round picks and making the wrong choice can really set a franchise back. Conversely, teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have shown that drafting well is the best way to be successful in the NFL. So what teams are getting a good early return on their first round investments?
QB Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) - The 5th overall pick has certainly had his share of ups and downs during his short stay with the New York Jets, but overall he has been fairly effective. If you take out two dismal performances against the Saints and the Bills, Sanchez has posted a quarterback rating of over 80 in every game this season. The USC alum has the Jets in second place in the AFC East, and if he has a strong second-half they could sneak into the playoffs. Obviously Sanchez has benefited greatly from New York's running game and he has not yet shown the ability to win a game with his arm. But more often than not he has been able to effectively manage the game and give the Jets a chance to win, and that's all you can realistically ask of a rookie quarterback.
WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco 49ers) - Despite the fact that Crabtree missed the first five games of the season and has yet to score a touchdown, there is no denying his impact on San Francisco's offense. Since the arrival of Crabtree, the 49ers have started to open things up a little bit more and shown the ability to move the ball with the passing game now that Alex Smith is back at quarterback. With the additions of Crabtree and Smith, San Francisco now has the ability to spread the defense out and attack through the air, something they weren't able to do during the beginning of the season. While it remains to be seen whether or not the 49er's new look offense will be able to reverse the club's fortunes, San Francisco has shown a commitment to getting Michael Crabtree the ball and I think that bodes very well for the second half of the season.
DE Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins) - In a year that has been marred by disappointment, rookie defensive end Brian Orakpo has been one of the lone bright spots for the Redskins. The former Texas Longhorn has lined up at both strong side linebacker and defensive end this season, and while he is still adjusting to rushing the passer from his linebacker position, Orakpo leads all rookies with 5.5 sacks. He has also logged 26 tackles and a pass breakup. A lot of people felt that San Francisco might draft Orakpo to help improve their meager pass rush, but they passed on him when Crabtree was still available. Had he been drafted by the 49ers, his 5.5 sacks would lead the team. But, he is in Washington and I expect him to continue to improve as he gets more and more comfortable in the second half of the season.
We look at a few more rookies after the jump...
OLB Brian Cushing (Houston Texans) - Coming into Week 10, Cushing is second in the league with 78 combined tackles. He has been hampered by several injuries during his rookie year, but has continued to play at a high level. Cushing's best game came in Week 6 against Cincinnati, when he forced three turnovers and helped Houston beat the Bengals. He recorded the franchise's first safety in seven years against Oakland in Week 4, and has also made two interceptions. As the second linebacker taken in the 2009 Draft, Cushing has outperformed 4th overall pick Aaron Curry by a wide margin and his propensity to make big plays has already made him an integral part of the Texans' defense.
WR Percy Harvin (Minnesota Vikings) - Without a doubt, Percy Harvin has been the most explosive player drafted in the 1st round. This rookie may only be 5'11", but he has already made a big impact both on offense and on special teams. As a receiver, Harvin is a work in progress but he has already developed a good rapport with his future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. On the season he has recorded three receiving touchdowns, including one last week at Green Bay. But Harvin's biggest contribution has been on kick returns. He is currently tied for first with Josh Cribbs with 860 return yards, and his 30.7 yard average is the 4th best in the league. Harvin is tied with Ted Ginn Jr. with two return touchdowns. I expect him to continue to grow as a receiver, but his value as a kick returner has already made Harvin a great asset to the Vikings.
OT Michael Oher (Baltimore Ravens) - Oher was another guy that many personnel experts had going to San Francisco before the 2009 Draft, but concerns about his reserved temperament caused him to fall down the board to the Ravens at number 23. Since arriving in Baltimore, Oher has done nothing but impress. Despite his huge 6'5" 310 lb frame, Raven's beat writer Mike Preston has been quoted as saying, "He (Oher) has some of the quickest feet I've ever seen." Preston, who is regarded as an expert on offensive linemen, went on to say that he could envision Oher making the move over to left tackle if need be. That's exactly what happened when LT Jared Gaither went down with a neck injury against New England in Week 4. Oher performed well filling in for Gaither, but has since moved back over to his right tackle spot. His power and versatility have solidified Baltimore's offensive line and helped them get off to a strong start offensively.
WR Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants) - After the departure of Plaxico Burress, New York needed to add to their young receiving corp. While this Tar Heel has by no means replaced Burress' production he, along with Mario Manningham and Steve Smith have done an admirable job so far this season. Despite splitting time with Manningham at split-end, Nicks has already caught 26 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns. While New York has struggled in the red zone, Nicks has shown the ability to make big plays in the passing game from anywhere on the field. The 21 year old has already caught nine passes of over twenty yards, and he could see his targets in the red zone increase due to his height and ability to win jump balls. He will most likely not be among the league leaders in receiving due to his limited playing time, but he has already proven himself to be a valuable addition to the Giants receiving corps.
Is there anybody else you feel should have been on this list? Even though it is still too early to be sure, what picks look like a potential bust to you?