A Decade Later: Grading the 2008 NFL Draft

The 2018 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 2008 NFL Draft. This draft produced Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, Aqib Talib and Calais Campbell, and eight running backs who eventually had 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Some of the best players are still active, but we've got a good sense at this point for which teams did well in '08, and which ones did not.


Arizona Cardinals

Before this draft, they were a laughingstock. They had missed the playoffs for nine years in a row, and 24 of the last 25. They had one playoff win in the last 60 years. They had some talent, most notably Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, but had never turned it into a winning record. Following this draft, they had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in a quarter-century and won four playoff games in two years.

The Cardinals spent their first two picks on defense, and hit on both of them. First-round selection Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had 13 interceptions and 4 TD returns in his first three seasons, before an ill-advised trade sent him to Philadelphia. He made two Pro Bowls, and he had 6 INTs as recently as 2016. In the second round, Arizona chose the best defensive player of this draft class, lineman Calais Campbell. DRC and Campbell are two of the five players from the '08 draft class to appear in at least 150 regular season games. The Cardinals' draft also included Early Doucet, Tim Hightower, and Brandon Keith.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons had six selections in the first three rounds, including two 1st-round picks, so it's only reasonable that they found good players, but these grades are based on raw power — how much talent did your draft produce? — rather than opportunity.

Atlanta drafted five players who appeared in over 100 regular-season games. Most notably, that includes third overall pick Matt Ryan, who is probably just a few more good seasons from a Hall of Fame invitation. The others were Curtis Lofton, Harry Douglas, Thomas DeCoud, and Kroy Biermann. Lofton led the Falcons in tackles for three straight seasons (2009-11) and the Saints two more times (2013-14). Douglas, still in the NFL last season, had a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2013. DeCoud was a Pro Bowler in 2012. Biermann spent eight seasons in Atlanta, had multiple sacks seven times, and scored 2 defensive touchdowns.

Sam Baker, chosen 21st overall, started 61 games, including every game of the 2010 season, when the Falcons had the best record in the NFC. The Falcons improved immediately after this draft. After three straight years without a winning record, including 4-12 in 2007, they had five winning seasons in a row. Ryan is the jewel, obviously, but other than Lofton, all their draft picks stayed in Atlanta for most or all of their careers.

Green Bay Packers

Heading into their first season without Brett Favre, they showed their confidence in Aaron Rodgers by drafting two quarterbacks, Brian Brohm (2nd round) and Matt Flynn (7th round). Brohm never played for the Packers and was cut a year later, eventually ending his NFL career with 0 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Flynn, however, holds single-game franchise records for passing yardage (480) and TDs (6).

More significantly, the Packers drafted four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton, a potential Hall of Famer if he stays healthy, and Jordy Nelson, who spent a decade in green and gold, with four 1,000-yard receiving seasons and 69 career receiving touchdowns. Green Bay's draft also produced tight end Jermichael Finley and offensive lineman Breno Giacomini. Sitton, Nelson, and Giacomini were all active in 2017; only one other team drafted three players who are still in the league.


Kansas City Chiefs

Like the Falcons, they had six picks in the first three rounds, and drafted five players who appeared in over 100 regular-season games. Jamaal Charles, drafted 73rd overall, holds the all-time record for rushing average (5.39) and is one of only three players — the others are Jim Brown and Barry Sanders — with four seasons of both 1,000 rushing yards and a 5.0 average.

Kansas City's draft also produced linemen Glenn Dorsey and Branden Albert, and defensive backs Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. Carr is the only player from the 2008 NFL Draft to appear in all 160 games. After four years in KC and five in Dallas, he started every game for the Ravens last season, intercepting 4 passes. Charles made four Pro Bowls, Albert two, and Flowers one. With one exception that's kind of cheap, the Chiefs produced the most Pro Bowl selections of any team in the 2008 draft.


Baltimore Ravens

Drafted Joe Flacco, their starting quarterback for the last decade, 18th overall. In the second round, the Ravens retained Rutgers running back Ray Rice, who had four 1,000-yard rushing seasons, including two with 1,300 rush yards and 700 receiving yards. Their draft produced no one else of consequence, and Rice was the only Pro Bowler (2009, 2011, 2012), but he and Flacco and 2007 NFL Draft selection Marshal Yanda anchored the Baltimore offense for five straight playoff appearances (2008-12) and a victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

Tennessee Titans

Like the Ravens — like half a dozen teams in the 2008 draft — they added a dynamic running back. Chris Johnson began his career with six straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, including a historic 2009 season in which he rushed for 2,006 yards, with a 5.6 average and 14 TDs, plus 503 receiving yards and another 2 TDs. Johnson's injury was the turning point in Tennessee's 2008-09 playoff loss, a game the Titans had controlled before losing Johnson.

Tennessee's draft also produced starting defensive linemen Jason Jones and William Hayes, as well as tight end Craig Stevens and DB Cary Williams, who started every game for the Super Bowl XLVI champion Ravens.


Denver Broncos

Their first pick, offensive tackle Ryan Clady, was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro (2009, 2012). Second-rounder Eddie Royal and 7th-round selection Peyton Hillis both had moments in the spotlight. Kory Lichtensteiger was a special teamer his only season in Denver, but went on to start 75 games for Washington from 2010-16.

New England Patriots

Jerod Mayo was a near-unanimous choice as Defensive Rookie of the Year, a two-time Pro Bowler, and first-team All-Pro in 2010. He had season-ending injuries in 2013 and '14 and never came all the way back, retiring after the 2015 season. The Patriots' draft also included one of the greatest special teamers of all time, seven-time Pro Bowler Matt Slater. Granted that "special teams ace" is not as important a position as, say, wide receiver or defensive lineman, Slater has the most Pro Bowl selections of anyone from this draft class, and the Patriots' nine total selections are the most of any team.

New Orleans Saints

The prize of their draft was 5th-round selection Carl Nicks, a guard from Nebraska. Nicks made two Pro Bowls and easily could have made more, often outplaying his more celebrated counterpart Jahri Evans. This draft also produced Super Bowl XLIV hero Tracy Porter, who started 88 games, including 39 with the Saints. First-round pick Sedrick Ellis never became a star, but he was a regular starter for a few seasons.

My policy is to rate teams solely on the players they actually drafted, but the Saints acquired defensive captain Jonathan Vilma for a 4th-round pick. Vilma's role in Bountygate notwithstanding, that was a draft pick well-spent.


Miami Dolphins

Used the first overall selection on University of Michigan tackle Jake Long, who made four Pro Bowls. Their other productive draft choices were quarterback Chad Henne and defensive lineman Kendall Langford, both of whom were still active in 2017. Langford started 54 games for Miami, 36 for the Rams, and 23 for the Colts. Four other Dolphin draft choices appeared in at least 36 games, though none were impact players or consistent starters.

Houston Texans

Drafted one of the best players in the '08 class, offensive tackle Duane Brown. Unfortunately, their next-best pick was one-year wonder Steve Slaton, who as a rookie rushed for 1,282 yards (with a 4.8 average) and scored 10 touchdowns. Slaton amassed just 614 rush yards, a 3.5 average, and 8 TDs in the rest of his career combined.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Drafted Aqib Talib, who could be a Hall of Famer one day, but traded him halfway through the 2012 season, after which he has made all five Pro Bowls. It was a great draft choice, but they'd rate higher if they'd held onto him. Two of their other picks, Jeremy Zuttah and Geno Hayes, each played over 100 regular-season games in the NFL.


Carolina Panthers

One of five teams with multiple 1st-round picks. The others were the Falcons (Matt Ryan and Sam Baker), Chiefs (Glenn Dorsey and Branden Albert), Cowboys (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins), and Jets (Vernon Gholston and Dustin Keller). Carolina used their two on Jonathan Stewart, a 10-year Panther and the leading rusher in team history, and Jeff Otah, who played 29 games in four seasons.

Stewart and defensive back Charles Godfrey were Carolina's most productive players from this draft, but the team also selected tight end Gary Barnidge, who had a Pro Bowl season with the Browns. Dan Connor, Nick Hayden, and Mackenzy Bernadeau were in this draft as well.

Chicago Bears

Chicago only drafted one player whom you're likely to know about if you're not a Bears fan — running back Matt Forte — but they're distinguished by hanging onto their draft picks. To the extent that these players contributed, even if it was just filling a position for a year or two, they did so almost entirely with the Bears. That's not terribly common any more. Forte gained at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage for the first seven years of his professional career. His 102 receptions in a single season is the record for a running back.

Dallas Cowboys

Drafted six players, all of whom appeared in at least 80 regular-season games. Mike Jenkins and Martellus Bennett became Pro Bowlers. Orlando Scandrick, Erik Walden, and Bennett were all active in 2017; the Cowboys and Packers were the only teams in the 2008 draft to select three players still in the league a decade later. Walden, a 6th-round choice, never played for the Cowboys, but he has been on the field for 145 games, most notably with the Colts. He had 11 sacks in 2016.

The others Cowboys in this draft were running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, both of whom enjoyed some brief success.

Indianapolis Colts

No 1st-round pick because of their trade up (to draft Tony Ugoh) the previous year, but they still got four pretty solid players. Mike Pollak started 52 games, 44 of them for teams that made the playoffs. Philip Wheeler played in 133 games. In 2012, he led the Raiders in tackles and forced fumbles, finishing second on the team in passes defensed and within 1 sack of the team lead. Jacob Tamme had 500-yard receiving seasons for three different teams (Colts, Broncos, Falcons).

Their best draft choice was 205th overall, a 6th-rounder from Division III powerhouse Mount Union. Pierre Garcon had his best seasons in Washington, but he's caught more than 600 passes and gained over 7,500 yards. If the Colts had held onto the players they drafted, they would rank higher than this.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings actually had a great draft. They traded their 1st-round choice and two 3rd-rounders to acquire future Hall of Famer Jared Allen, so their rookie class was small, but it still produced two good players. John Sullivan and Letroy Guion aren't sexy selections from a draft class that includes Matt Ryan, Chris Johnson, and Aqib Talib, but Sullivan started 93 games for Minnesota; once Steve Hutchinson retired, he was probably the team's best offensive lineman in the Adrian Peterson era. Guion ate blocks inside to help set up opportunities for Allen on the outside, later starting for two seasons in Green Bay.

The Vikings are a C+ based on the rookies they drafted, but if you count Allen as part of their draft (which seems only fair), they'd get an A.

Philadelphia Eagles

Their first pick, Trevor Laws (47th overall), never amounted to much, but two spots later they got DeSean Jackson, who is now closing in on 10,000 receiving yards. Jackson had five 900-yard seasons in Philadelphia and two more in Washington. He has scored a 60+ yard touchdown in nine of his 10 professional seasons. Quintin Demps only played two seasons in Philadelphia (he's spent most of his career in Houston), but he was a nice value in the 4th round. Mike McGlynn, Joe Mays, and King Dunlap were also in this draft class.


Buffalo Bills

They only drafted three players who started double-digit games in the NFL, and only two who played in the league beyond 2012. Their best draft choices were 1st-round DB/KR Leodis McKelvin and 7th-round WR Stevie Johnson. The other starter was OT Demetress Bell.

Detroit Lions

The Lions drafted one impact player, pass rusher Cliff Avril, but he spent half his career with Detroit and the other half in Seattle. The Lions drafted one other Pro Bowler, fullback Jerome Felton, who got the nod after lead-blocking for Adrian Peterson in his 2,000-yard 2012 season. First-round selection Gosder Cherilus started 116 games, including 71 for Detroit.

St. Louis Rams

Chose Chris Long 2nd overall. Long spent eight years with the Rams, playing in 114 games. In those games, the Rams went 33-80-1. Since then, Long has played one season each with the Patriots and Eagles, going 33-5 (including postseason) with two Super Bowl rings.

The Rams also drafted Donnie Avery and John Greco, both of whom started on some really terrible offenses.


Oakland Raiders

Five running backs were chosen in the 1st round of the '08 draft: Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, and Chris Johnson. In the second and third rounds: Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith, Jamaal Charles, and Steve Slaton.

If we went back in time and let those teams re-draft RBs, the Raiders would presumably draft Chris Johnson. The Panthers would happily choose Jamaal Charles. The Cowboys would likely go with Matt Forte, sending Ray Rice to the Steelers. The Titans would close out the 1st round, probably with Stewart.

That leaves McFadden for the Bears, Mendenhall for the Ravens, and who really cares whether the Lions take Smith or Slaton?

In addition to McFadden, the Raiders also drafted Tyvon Branch, who was a legit starter for a few years, plus Trevor Scott and Chaz Schilens, who were mostly backups and special teamers.

Seattle Seahawks

Best pick was 4th-round defensive tackle Red Bryant, who started 47 of 48 games from 2011-13. He is also, I assume, the heaviest man ever to record 2 INTs and a TD in a single season (2011). Bryant is listed at 323 lbs., and that figure seems conservative. Tight end John Carlson showed promise at times, and Justin Forsett made a Pro Bowl with the Ravens in 2014.


Cincinnati Bengals

Linebacker Keith Rivers has a footnote in history, as the player who kept Jerod Mayo's selection as Defensive Rookie of the Year from being unanimous. Along with Rivers, Jerome Simpson, Pat Sims, and Andre Caldwell were productive enough to nudge their draft above a D.

Cleveland Browns

Actually a pretty good draft considering they had no picks in the first three rounds. They traded their 1st-rounder for the right to draft Brady Quinn in '07, then swapped their 2nd- and 3rd-round choices in March of '08 for the Packers' Corey Williams and the Lions' Shaun Rogers, respectively. That last one was a good trade.

With very little draft capital, the Browns did still find a productive player, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. He started 75 games for Cleveland, started every game for the Seahawks in 2015 and 2016, and was still active last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Rashard Mendenhall had a disappointing career, but with two 1,100-yard rushing seasons and another of 928, he was hardly a washout. The same can not be said, unfortunately, of the team's second selection, Texas WR Limas Sweed. Pittsburgh's draft also produced defensive back Ryan Mundy and backup QB Dennis Dixon. They should probably rate ahead of the Bengals and Browns, but at this point in the list, distinctions become pretty fine, and I like the AFC North theme.


New York Giants

No impact players, but they did draft a few guys who started for a while, most notably their first three picks: DBs Kenny Phillips and Terrell Thomas, plus WR Mario Manningham. Phillips started in Super Bowl XLVI, and Manningham was the Giants' second-leading receiver in the game.

New York Jets

Sixth overall selection Vernon Gholston was an epic washout who ended his career with 5 starts and no sacks. Fellow 1st-rounder Dustin Keller was better, retiring after the 2012 season with 17 TDs and nearly 3,000 yards. Their best draft choice was probably Dwight Lowery, but he only spent three years in New York. The Jets' defense declined rapidly when he was traded in 2011.

The Jets could rank higher than this, because they traded a pair of mid-round 2008 draft picks to acquire DT Kris Jenkins, an impact player when he was healthy.

San Diego Chargers

Antoine Cason had multiple INTs in each of his first seven seasons, five of them with the Chargers. Jacob Hester was an okay fullback. The rest of their draft picks played a combined 7 games.


Washington had three 2nd-round selections, and used them all on receivers. Devin Thomas and especially Malcolm Kelly washed out pretty quickly, while tight end Fred Davis was a little better. Defensive back Justin Tryon stuck around for a little while, and Chris Horton had a great rookie season then disappeared. Their best choice was probably DE Rob Jackson.

Hawaii QB Colt Brennan was part of this draft class, and 6th-round punter Durant Brooks lost his roster spot because of a misleading media campaign by incumbent Derrick Frost.


San Francisco 49ers

All six of their draft picks played at least 45 regular-season games. That's good. The problem is that they were: Kentwan Balmer, Chilo Rachal, Reggie Smith, Cody Wallace, Josh Morgan, and Larry Grant. Morgan was the best of the bunch, with three 500-yard receiving seasons, two in San Francisco and another in Washington.


Jacksonville Jaguars

First-rounder Derrick Harvey compiled 8 sacks in four seasons, while Quentin Groves managed 9.5 in seven seasons. The rest of their draft was even worse, laying the groundwork for their post-Garrard collapse, going 5-11 or worse every year from 2011-16.

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