One can divide a 15-player group — such as the SEC’s record-setting number of first-round NFL Draft picks — in so many ways. The method used here is the division between well-run NFL organizations and poorly-run NFL organizations.
By Matt Zemek
Keep in mind that some of the not-very-well-run NFL organizations have significant legacies; they just aren’t operated properly in the present moment. A perfect example: the Denver Broncos, owners of three Super Bowl titles and eight Super Bowl appearances. Denver has had relatively few losing seasons over the past 40 years.
The Broncos, through the final season of the Peyton Manning years in Denver, had been phenomenally consistent. Playoff seasons were routine occurrences from the beginning of the John Elway years, on through Peyton’s time in the Rocky Mountains. There were a few gaps, but nothing especially long: five years was the longest playoff drought in the past 45 years. However, right now, the Broncos are not being run well by John Elway. The defense should be fine, but the offense has held back the franchise since Peyton left. The Broncos haven’t had a .500 season in any of the past three years, which is extremely rare if you look through the Broncos’ history since the mid-1970s. The organization has many glories and trophies to point to, but at the moment, it isn’t run well.
So, look past the long-term historical record and focus only on how well organizations are run TODAY.
The 15 SEC first-round draft picks fall relatively neatly into one of two baskets: Many fell into bad or at least worrisome situations they will be asked to turn around. A smaller number landed in great situations with organizations which understand how to work in the current NFL. A few might exist in situations which are hard to easily identify, given the questions swirling around them. Let’s dive into this process of separating the 15 SEC first-round picks into their various groups:
The bad situations (9 picks of 15):
Joe Burrow, Bengals. Cincinnati is a terribly-run organization. People throughout the NFL think Mike Brown needs to give up control of the team for the Bengals to have a brighter future. Can Burrow rise above the Mike Brown factor? Can he make second-year coach Zac Taylor look good, or is Taylor in over his head? We will see.
Andrew Thomas, Giants: The Giants under general manager Dave Gettleman have been bad. There is no way to sugarcoat or hide that reality. Is Thomas the game-changing lineman who makes the offense snap neatly into place?
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins. The Dolphins traded Minkah Fitzpatrick last year. They keep whiffing on their quarterbacks. They make horrible decisions, for the most part. Can Tua lift them out of misery in Miami?
C.J. Henderson, Jaguars. The Jacksonville franchise has been torn apart by internal dissent and a lack of cohesion. Can Henderson change the temperature in the room for the Jags?
Jedrick Wills, Browns. The instability in the Cleveland front office and on the coaching staff, flowing from irresponsible ownership, has swallowed up so many promising careers over the past 20 years. Can Wills be different?
Henry Ruggs, Raiders. The Raiders have a nutty owner and a volatile head coach. Can Ruggs make Al Davis smile from heaven by electrifying the Raiders’ vertical passing attack?
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos. The Broncos’ offense has been a disaster the past several seasons. Can Jeudy be the transformative piece in Denver?
K’Lavon Chaisson, Jaguars: Can Chaisson help Henderson in stabilizing the Jaguars?
Noah Igbinoghene, Dolphins: Miami needed a corner after its foolish dealings in previous seasons. Can Igbinoghene make the Dolphins look good?
The good situations (4 picks of 15):
Javon Kinlaw, 49ers: What a paradise for an elite defensive player to arrive in as an NFL rookie. Kinlaw will try to help the Niners dominate the NFC for the next decade.
Patrick Queen, Ravens: What Kinlaw found with the Niners, Queen found with the Ravens.
Isaiah Wilson, Titans: Is there a better team in the NFL than the Titans for a new offensive lineman, with Derrick Henry toting the rock?
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs: This is simply a jackpot for Edwards-Helaire. What else is there to say about landing in Kansas City with the world champions and Patrick Mahomes?
The uncertain situations (2 picks of 15):
Derrick Brown, Panthers: Matt Rhule was a brilliant college coach. He might be great in Carolina, but we don’t know yet. Let’s see what Brown can do for Rhule and the Panthers.
Justin Jefferson, Vikings: The Vikings aren’t poorly-run, but their offense has been dogged by inconsistencies, and the Kirk Cousins mystery remains unsolved. Is Cousins going to improve, regress, or remain an enigma? No one knows. Maybe Jefferson is the piece which will move the needle in the right direction in Minnesota.