A Decade Later: Grading the 2007 NFL Draft

The 2017 NFL Draft begins this week, and many journalists (including this one) will pass judgment afterwards, issuing grades and critiquing picks and trades — all of it based on educated guesses, sometimes not even all that educated.

Before I try to evaluate the new draft, I'm tackling a project I can handle with more confidence: grading the 2007 NFL Draft. This draft produced offensive superstars like Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, and Joe Thomas, as well as defensive standouts like Darrelle Revis, Eric Weddle, and Patrick Willis. It was also notable, though, for producing five quarterbacks drafted in the first or second round, all of whom bombed: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, and Drew Stanton. Many of the best players are still active, but we've got a good sense at this point for which teams did well in '07, and which ones did not.

A

San Francisco 49ers

Grading the 2006 NFL Draft, I awarded one A+ (Saints) and four A's. I'm not sure any team had that kind of success in '07. The Niners might be a reach here, but I wanted to give someone an A. The 49ers drafted five players who appeared in over 100 games, including four who played at least 100 games for San Francisco. The highlights were linebacker Patrick Willis, offensive tackle Joe Staley, and safety Dashon Goldson.

Willis was a year-in, year-out Pro Bowler who retired early following a toe injury. Just as Willis anchored the middle of the defense, Staley anchored the offensive line; he has made five Pro Bowls and still starts at left tackle. I've always felt that Willis was overrated, but Staley was underrated, so it balances out. Both were first-round selections who lived up to (and probably exceeded) expectations, though acquiring Staley required giving up the next year's 7th overall selection.

Goldson was a hard-hitting safety who brought leadership, attitude, and play-making to the secondary for six years, then spent three productive seasons in Tampa and Washington. Willis, Staley, and Goldson combined to make 14 Pro Bowls, easily the most of any team in this draft. Defensive lineman Ray McDonald and cornerback Tarell Brown were the other 100-game draft picks, solid players with decent careers, but never stars.

A-

Carolina Panthers

First-round pick Jon Beason was every bit the player Patrick Willis was, but his injury problems began earlier and significantly disrupted his career. Second-round choice Ryan Kalil still starts at center, and was first-team all-pro in 2015. Defensive end Charles Johnson, drafted in the third round, has 67.5 sacks, the most of any player from this draft class.

Minnesota Vikings

No one questioned Adrian Peterson's talent, but he had some injury problems at Oklahoma and was considered something of a gamble with the 7th overall draft pick. He broke the single-game rushing record, won Offensive Rookie of the Year, won NFL MVP in 2012, and should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Sidney Rice gained 1,300 receiving yards in 2009 and played for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in 2013. Brian Robison was to Minnesota's exceptional defensive line as Roger Brown was to the Rams' Fearsome Foursome with Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen. Robison was clearly the weakest member of the line, but he's been a good player and a consistent starter on a standout unit. From this draft class, only Charles Johnson and LaMarr Woodley have more sacks, and Robison will probably pass Woodley in 2017. He has started 95 of the last 96 games.

New York Jets

The Jets only drafted four players, tied (with Denver) for the fewest of any team, but those four included future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis and 10-year starter David Harris. Revis was the best cornerback of his generation, and Harris has played 154 of 160 possible games, including 135 starts in a row from 2007-16. Someone in your fantasy league picked up seventh-round selection Chansi Stuckey after he scored three touchdowns in his first three games.

B+

Pittsburgh Steelers

There are only three players from the 2007 NFL Draft who have played in all 160 regular-season games since: Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby, Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas, and Steelers cornerback William Gay, a fifth-round pick out of Louisville. He played one season with Arizona, but the other 144 with Pittsburgh.

The Steelers also drafted Pro Bowl linebackers Lawrence Timmons, perhaps their most consistent defensive player of the past decade, and LaMarr Woodley, who had three seasons of double-digit sacks; including two seasons in which Pittsburgh reached the Super Bowl. Tight end Matt Spaeth was a backup and role player, but he appeared in 123 games with the Steelers, and the team drafted punter Daniel Sepulveda in the fourth round.

B

Baltimore Ravens

The players they drafted have combined to make 10 Pro Bowls, tied for the second-most of any team. Six of those 10 come from guard Marshal Yanda, with the others split between fellow guard Ben Grubbs and halfback/fullback Le'Ron McClain. McClain was never an impact player, and Grubbs spent half his career on other teams, but Yanda has become the best guard in professional football. Fourth-round choice Antwan Barnes appeared in 88 regular season games; in 2011, as a member of the Chargers, Barnes started five games — the only starts of his career — and tallied 11 sacks.

Cleveland Browns

Counting down — counting up, actually — the Class of 2007's Top 10 in Pro Bowls:

Eric Weddle, 4
Joe Staley, 5
Marshawn Lynch, 5
Ryan Kalil, 5
Marshal Yanda, 6
Calvin Johnson, 6
Patrick Willis, 7
Darrelle Revis, 7
Adrian Peterson, 7
Joe Thomas, 10

Eric Wright was the only other player of consequence whom the Browns drafted, but Thomas alone made this a pretty good draft.

Detroit Lions

Same as Cleveland, only Calvin Johnson instead of Joe Thomas, Manny Ramirez instead of Eric Wright, and Drew Stanton instead of Brady Quinn.

C+

There are no B-minuses. There is a substantial gap between "B" teams like Baltimore, Cleveland, and Detroit — all of whom drafted and retained HOF-quality players — and the teams at this level (Atlanta, Buffalo, and Dallas).

Atlanta Falcons

Their first pick, defensive end Jamaal Anderson, taken 8th overall, was a bust. He retired with 7.5 career sacks. The Falcons had two 2nd-round picks, though, who were a little better. Defensive back Chris Houston started three seasons in Atlanta and four in Detroit, including 2011, when he led the league with 225 interception return yards and 2 touchdowns. Guard Justin Blalock never made a Pro Bowl, but he easily could have; he was one of the best guards in the NFC for a few years. Wide receiver Laurent Robinson had one good season in Dallas, linebacker Stephen Nicholas led the Falcons in tackles one year, and 7th-round running back Jason Snelling was an exciting fantasy handcuff to Michael Turner for a couple seasons. He rushed for 613 yards in 2009, and retired with 2,669 yards from scrimmage and 17 TDs.

There are no stars in that group, except maybe Blalock, but there are a lot of legit NFL players.

Buffalo Bills

Their first-round pick, RB Marshawn Lynch, has been in the news again lately, considering unretirement to play for the Raiders. Lynch was the hardest runner of his generation, and the most fun to watch. Like Walter Payton and Larry Brown, he played like he weighed about 20 pounds more than he did, attacking defenders and breaking tackles we never thought he could. Unfortunately for the Bills, most of Lynch's production came in Seattle. He was a great draft choice, but they didn't stick with him.

Their second pick, linebacker Paul Posluszny, had 100 tackles four times and made a Pro Bowl with the Jaguars in 2013. Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards lost his confidence and fell apart, but as a rookie, he played well and gave the team a spark. Sixth-round choice John Wendling was never a starter, but he appeared in over 100 games as a backup and special teamer, with the Bills and Lions.

If the Bills had held on to the players they drafted, they would rank among the most successful teams in the draft. But they missed the best seasons of their most successful players, so C+ seems about right. I'd rate them ahead of the other C+ teams, the Falcons and Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys

Ten years after the 2007 draft, Doug Free is still their starting right tackle. Anthony Spencer started for four seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2012. They also drafted kicker Nick Folk, who is still active, and 7th-rounder Alan Ball, who appeared in over 100 games as a nickel back and special teamer.

C

Jacksonville Jaguars

Their first two picks, DB Reggie Nelson and LB Justin Durant, both played in 2016. Nelson, who only played three seasons in Jacksonville before moving to the Bengals, has 35 interceptions and has started for seven playoff teams in 10 years, making two Pro Bowls along the way. Punter Adam Podlesh and guard Uche Nwaneri both appeared in over 100 NFL games.

San Diego Chargers

In the 2nd round, they chose a defensive back from Utah, four-time Pro Bowler Eric Weddle. He had the misfortune to play at the same time and in the same conference as Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, but he's been one of the best safeties in the NFL for most of the last decade. The rest of their draft was not productive. First-round choice Craig Davis, a wide receiver from LSU, only lasted four seasons, retiring with 558 yards and 2 TDs.

C-

Green Bay Packers

Most receiving touchdowns, 2007 draft class:

1. Calvin Johnson, 83
2. Greg Olsen, 52
3. James Jones, 51

Jones has more receiving TDs than contemporaries like DeSean Jackson, Wes Welker, and Dwayne Bowe.

Mason Crosby, drafted in the 6th round, has never missed a game. Long snapper Clark Harris, taken 243rd overall, never played a regular-season game with Green Bay, but he's still in the league, playing the last eight seasons with the Bengals. Desmond Bishop was also in their draft class.

Miami Dolphins

They drafted four players who appeared in at least 100 games — a good number for this part of the list. But those four are Ted Ginn, Samson Satele, Paul Soliai, and Brandon Fields. Ginn, considered a reach at 9th overall, was a bust in Miami: in three seasons, he had more fumbles (10) than touchdowns (8). He's never had an 800-yard receiving season, and he's never made a Pro Bowl, as a receiver or returner. Satele started for two seasons, then went to the Raiders and Colts. Soliai was their best investment; he made the Pro Bowl in 2011, and (like Ginn) played for the Panthers in 2016. Those were the only players from Miami's draft class still active last season. Fields, a punter, made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and was out of the league a year later.

New Orleans Saints

Drafted two or three useful players, WR Robert Meachem, OT Jermon Bushrod, and maybe DB Usama Young. Marvin Mitchell also stuck around the league for a while, but he was never much of a factor. Bushrod, who moved to the Bears in 2013 and started every game for Miami last season, was by far the best player from their draft class.

New York Giants

With the 250th pick in the draft, only five spots before Mr. Irrelevant, they chose Marshall running back Ahmad Bradshaw. He rushed for 1,000 yards twice, with good averages, and he was a pretty good receiver. If the coaches had recognized his talent earlier, he might have been even more productive. Long snapper Zak DeOssie is still with the team; he has missed only four games in 10 years. This draft also produced defensive back Aaron Ross, the "other" Steve Smith (who caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards in 2009), and tight end Kevin Boss.

D+

Arizona Cardinals

First-round pick Levi Brown started 79 games, including every game from 2008-11, a streak that includes a couple of pretty good playoff runs. Defensive tackle Alan Branch only started three games for Arizona, but he's won two Super Bowl rings in New England; he started every game last season. Steve Breaston, the third wheel in the Larry Fitzgerald-Anquan Boldin pairing, was also in this draft.

Cincinnati Bengals

First-round draft choice Leon Hall was still active in 2016, as a nickel back with the Giants. He played 121 games with Cincinnati and intercepted 26 passes as a Bengal. In 2009, he had 6 INTs, 24 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and he was the 3rd-leading tackler on the team. Hall is very underrated, a fine cornerback, but the rest of their draft was disappointing. Second-round pick Kenny Irons, an RB from Auburn, tore his ACL and never played in a regular-season game.

Seattle Seahawks

Used their first pick on a defensive back for the second year in a row. For the second year in a row, it wasn't Richard Sherman. Josh Wilson played 126 games with Seattle, Washington, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Detroit. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane started for nine seasons, before moving to the Chargers in 2016. Sixth-round selection Courtney Taylor was the subject of a fascinating post at the old Pro-Football-Reference.com blog, examining the distinction between process and results. It's required reading if you play fantasy sports, and recommended reading even if you don't.

Tennessee Titans

Spent their first pick on safety Michael Griffin. He played in Tennessee for nine seasons, made two Pro Bowls, and started 131 games before moving to Carolina last season. Center Leroy Harris (4th round) stuck around for a little while, and DT Antonio Johnson (5th round) became a starter with the Colts.

D

Chicago Bears

They drafted Trumaine McBride, who hung around the league through 2015, and Corey Graham, a backup DB and standout special teamer who has played 157 games out of a possible 160. But their first-round pick, tight end Greg Olsen, was the real star. Unfortunately, they gave up on him after four years, before he joined the Panthers and became the best TE in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs

Dwayne Bowe has been up-and-down. He had one great season, in 2010, and the rest of his career was mostly disappointing, even when he was the best receiver on the team. Turk McBride was their only draft pick worth mentioning.

D-

Denver Broncos

Only four draft picks, tied for the fewest of any team, but all in the first four rounds: Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder, Ryan Harris, and Marcus Thomas. Harris, an offensive tackle, was by far the best, and the only one still active last season.

Houston Texans

Amobi Okoye showed flashes of great promise, but too inconsistently. Jacoby Jones had a couple years as a good third receiver and an overrated kick returner. Zach Diles was a good pick in the 7th round.

Indianapolis Colts

No impact players, but enough role players to avoid an F: WR Anthony Gonzalez, lineman Tony Ugoh, LB Clint Session, and DL Keyunta Dawson. Dawson, the 7th-rounder, was the only one to play beyond 2012.

New England Patriots

The Patriots went 16-0 this season, and they're such a consistently successful team, it's hard to believe how bad this draft was. They chose Brandon Meriweather, the head-hunting safety, who was a good player. The rest of their draft simply was not productive: Kareem Brown, Clint Oldenburg, Corey Hilliard, Justise Hairston, Mike Richardson, Justin Rogers, Mike Elgin, and Oscar Lua. Meriweather was their only decent pick, and he only spent four seasons in New England. They did make productive trades, obtaining Wes Welker and San Francisco's top pick in 2008 (with which they obtained Jerod Mayo). If you count Welker and Mayo as part of this draft class, they'd be more like an A-.

Oakland Raiders

Number one overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell was an epic washout. He held out, scored a record contract, and then played about as badly as possible, with an attitude toward football that struck many people as indifferent. But the Raiders also drafted five players who appeared in 59 or more regular-season games. The most notable were tight end Zach Miller, who had 3,804 yards and 20 TDs, and running back Michael Bush, whom you might remember as an important fantasy handcuff for Darren McFadden.

Philadelphia Eagles

Traded out of the first round and used the 36th overall pick on Houston QB Kevin Kolb. Oops. Later on, though, they drafted linebacker Stew Bradley and tight end Brent Celek.

Washington

LaRon Landry had a disappointing career after going 6th overall, but I guess he was good enough to avoid an F.

F

St. Louis Rams

Their first pick, Adam Carriker, was their best, which tells you something about the quality of this draft. Carriker retired with 9 sacks. From 2007-09, the Rams went 3-13, 2-14, and 1-15. That's not just because this was a bad draft, but it certainly didn't help.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Selected Gaines Adams fourth overall, but traded him during the 2009 season, and he died of cardiac arrest a few months later, aged 26. Linebackers Sabby Piscatelli, Quincy Black, and Adam Hayward all stuck around the league, but without making much impact. Tanard Jackson was alright, but his career was hindered by persistent drug suspensions. The Bucs could be considered an F+; they did better than the Rams.

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