The San Francisco 49ers No. 2 pick in the first round is a terrible slot, unless Cleveland muffs the Myles Garrett selection at No. 1. However, the second pick in the second round is a great slot.
Teams are cautious with their first round picks for a lot of good reasons, so every year some top names tumble, and San Francisco is in prime position to get one of them. But is it really a good idea? There’s almost always a reason players slide, usually issues of character, size or athleticism (based on Combine testing).
Dallas bet heavily on the strategy in 2015, picking Randy Gregory (a “top 10 talent”) in the second round, Chaz Green in the third, and La’el Collins as a UDFA after he fell all the way out of the draft. They also signed free agent Greg Hardy, released by the Panthers after a conviction for assaulting his girlfriend (later overturned on a technicality), and bragged that it was as if they had managed three first round picks.
Collins’ “red flag” was the most unfair — right before the draft, he was interviewed by police investigating the murder of his ex-girlfriend, though he was never a suspect. And he has been solid, though the top notch offensive line surrounding him may have made him look better than he would have on a different team.
The rest, though, have been flops. Gregory has played in only 14 of the 32 games in his 2-year career, due to a series of suspensions and injuries, and is suspended for all of next year due to yet another violation of the NFL substance abuse policy. Hardy is out of the league; he played one year before being released after a series of incidents. Green, downgraded in the draft after missing his junior season with a torn labrum, has managed only four games in two years due to hip, foot, and back injuries.
This year, talented LB Reuben Foster could slide from a top ten projection in some mock drafts all the way to the Niners at No. 34 after several problems: recent rotator cuff surgery, measuring smaller than touted at the Combine, and getting kicked out of the Combine for an altercation with a hospital employee. Most recently, his drug test at the Combine was flagged for dilution, to which he gave a very long and rambling excuse.
Would it be a good idea to grab him? Let’s look at some of the biggest slides in recent draft history, and how they worked out.
I realize this is a sore subject for 49ers fans, but Aaron Rodgers is the classic draft slide who proved to be a great bargain. There was no particular reason he fell, either. Maybe some thought he was cocky, or held the ball too high, or a system QB under Jeff Tedford. Eddie Lacy was projected as a late first or early second round pick back in 2013, when first round RB picks were rare. He skipped the Combine, though, causing injury concerns. He dropped all the way to the end of the 2nd, again for Green Bay.
Going way back to 1983, Dan Marino fell to No. 27 — and was removed from some team’s draft boards entirely — amidst rumors of drug use and a senior season short of expectations. Five QBs were taken ahead of him, including Todd Blackledge at No. 7. Oops.
MLB Ray Lewis slid from high first round to No. 26 in 1996, because he was seen as too small (6’1, 225). Sometimes intensity can overcome that. QB Drew Brees fell from a mid-1st projection to the top of the second round, again due to size (6’0”) as well as his alleged arm weakness and concerns that his college team’s “basketball on grass” spread offense inflated his stats.
Randy Moss was kicked out of high school (for a racially charged fight for which he was arrested) and his first college (Florida State, for a failed marijuana test in jail). Then he skipped the Combine — to avoid the marijuana test, it was rumored. Though he had a great Pro Day, and kept pretty clean at his second college (Marshall), he slipped from a top ten projection to No. 21 — and scored 17 TDs in just his rookie season.
Some players who fell were NFL stars but had more than their share of incidents. DT Warren Sapp was projected as top five until rumors of failed drug tests came out right before the 1995 draft. He fell to 12th, then made seven Pro Bowls and four All Pro teams. He also had confrontations over cheap hits, arguments with referees, and repeated, provocative skipping through opponent warmups.
Some guys slide for good reason, notably Johnny Manziel. He was projected as a top 10 pick based on his crazy instinctual talent but fell to No. 22, because of his size (6’0” but big hands), questionable work ethic and hard partying. Even that was way too high. He barely lasted two years as a shaky backup and is out of the league.
Brady Quinn was forecast as top 5 but also fell to No. 22, for no particular reason. Teams apparently just didn’t think he’d be very good, and they were right. Matt Leinart fell only from a top five projection to No. 10, but then did nothing to justify a pick anywhere in the first round, playing only 29 games in 5 seasons.
Aaron Hernandez is about as extreme an example of troubled talent as you will find. An NFL star with two AFC Championship games and a Super Bowl in 3 years, convicted murderer, and now dead at 28 of an apparent suicide in prison. He was projected as a first or second round pick but fell to the fourth after admitting a failed marijuana test. There were rumors of more failed drug tests and his connection to “street activity.” This was one case where the rumors were not only true, but understated.
Vontaze Burfict was projected as a top-five pick at the beginning of his junior year but didn’t have a good season. Then he tested poorly at the Combine, except for the marijuana test where he had one of the highest scores in the league. He went undrafted, and led the Bengals in tackles his rookie year. He’s had a great career marred by repeated fines for cheap shots and one suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit. He’s widely considered as one of the league’s dirtiest players for stunts like deliberately twisting Cam Newton’s ankle with both hands.
Not Sure Yet
OT Laremy Tunsil - Someone was really out to get Tunsil, leaking a damaging video of him (smoking out of a gas mask bong) ten minutes before the 2016 draft. Earlier he had been arrested after an altercation with his stepfather, who then went to the NCAA with allegations of broken NCAA rules that got Tunsil suspended for 7 games.
Once projected as the No. 1 overall selection before the OL-hungry Titans traded that pick, he fell all the way to Miami at No. 13. So far he looks like a steal. Tunsil played so well as the starting left guard in his rookie season that the Dolphins are moving him to starting left tackle in just his second year.
LB Myles Jack was expected to be Jacksonville’s first round pick at No. 5 overall, but they got him in the second round at No. 36. The day before the draft, he told the New York Post that his knee injury from fall 2015 had degenerative aspects that might require microfracture surgery. “I would understand if I fell,” he told the paper. And so he did, a full round.
During his rookie year he only played 239 snaps, but the Jags are moving veteran Paul Posluszny to strong side LB to make room for Jack to start at MLB this year. We’ll have a much better idea of his value next January.
QB Matt Barkley was once projected as the number one overall pick, but fell to the 4th round after a shoulder injury his senior year, which caused him to skip throwing at the Combine. He was drafted in the 4th round by Chip Kelly and got early action when Mike Vick and Nick Foles both got injured. Barkley was able to move the team up and down the field but turned the ball over eventually on nearly every possession.
After a couple of quiet years, he played well enough as a backup for Chicago last year for the Niners to pick him up in the off-season, though his turnover problems continued. This may be his last chance to shake the bust label.