2013 NFL Rookie Review: Round 1 hits and misses
Note: It is very tough to pick "misses" after just one season. What I did was look at rookies who struggled and failed to make significant improvements over the course of the season. Keep in mind, however, that tons of solid players have struggled early in their careers, so my deeming a player a "miss" now by no means suggests that he can't be good - or even great - later in his career.
OT Lane Johnson (PHI), 4th Overall: HIT: There were three big-time offensive tackle prospects in this year's draft, with Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel going first and second overall, and Johnson going fourth. As it turns out, Johnson is the best of the bunch after one season. He started all 16 games and missed three snaps all season while being an anchor on the right side of one of the best offensive lines in football. All of his bad games came in the first half of the season, with most coming during the first four games.
DE Ezekiel Ansah (DET), 5th Overall: HIT: Drafted as a project player with an insane wealth of untapped potential, it would be scary if Ansah improves as much as he is expected to. He started off better than anticipated, racking up a rookie-best 8.0 sacks with two forced fumbles while excelling in run defense.
CB D.J. Hayden (OAK), 12th Overall: MISS: The Raiders claim that they would have taken Hayden at third overall if they had not traded down, which implies that they were expecting some Rookie of the Year type production out of the young corner. What they got was far from ROY performance. Hayden was viable in run defense, but constantly struggled (badly) in coverage through eight games. His final game of the season was Nick Foles' record-tying performance, in which Foles roasted Hayden by completing 3-of-4 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Cornerbacks are said to have one of the toughest transitions to the NFL (compared to other positions), so hopefully Hayden can get things turned around.
DE Sheldon Richardson (NYJ), 13th Overall: HIT: This one is a big-time hit. Richardson should probably be Defensive Rookie of the Year. I was admittedly concerned with this pick, not because I did not like Richardson - I did - but because the Jets had already drafted a defensive player (Dee Milliner, 9th overall) and needed so much offensive help. In addition, they had Quinton Coples at defensive end at the time (he has since moved to outside linebacker). Richardson ended up with 3.5 sacks while absolutely dominating against the run (he was Pro Football Focus' No. 2 run defender from the 3-4 DE position). If the NFL redid the 2013 draft, Richardson would have a shot at the first overall pick. The Jets are happy with this selection.
DT Star Lotulelei (CAR), 14th Overall: HIT: Considered the potential first overall pick at one point, Lotulelei's stock dropped because of concerns over his pass rush ability. While he did struggle to rush the passer, his dominant run defense was enough to make up for it. The Panthers' defensive improvements aren't just due to Luke Kuechly. The team's run defense was ranked 14th in 2012 and 2nd in 2014. The biggest difference in the front seven between those two seasons was Lotulelei.
SS Kenny Vaccaro (NO), 15th Overall: HIT: After a rough start to the season, Vaccaro really turned it on after the Saints' Week 7 bye. He was impressive in both run defense and pass coverage, and was a big factor in the Saints' defensive turnaround this season. Against the pass, Vaccaro is a versatile asset, as he can play a traditional deep safety role or play man coverage in the slot. He broke his ankle in Week 16, landing him on injured reserve, but he should be ready to rock for training camp.