The best and worst NFL draft classes of the past five years

Which teams have beaten expectations? Which teams have fallen short?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bucs first-round pick Vita Vea force smiles while holding the ugliest jersey in professional football at last year's draft. [DAVID J. PHILLIP | Associated Press]
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bucs first-round pick Vita Vea force smiles while holding the ugliest jersey in professional football at last year's draft. [DAVID J. PHILLIP | Associated Press]
Published April 22, 2019|Updated April 23, 2019

The wait is almost over. The 2019 NFL draft begins Thursday, and by this time next week, all 32 teams will be talking up their rookie classes. The truth is that none of them, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, truly know what they’re getting, and it might take years to find out.

“We’re not unlike any other team trying to find that magic solution to be able to look into the mind and soul of a player,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said before last year’s draft. “If I could figure it out, or someone could figure it out, they’d make a lot of money.”

I wanted to know which teams have gotten the most out of what seems to be, at best, a lottery, so I built a database of every pick from the past five years and his Approximate Value for each season he has been in the NFL. Approximate Value, or AV, is a Pro Football Reference metric puts a single numerical value on a player’s season, much like baseball’s Wins Above Replacement statistic. I then compared the value each pick produced with the value he was expected to produce relative to his draft slot. From that data, I was able to determine which teams have beaten expectations and which teams have fallen short.

I’ll dive into what I learned about Licht and the Bucs later in the week, but for now, here are the best and worst classes from the past five years. (Please note the classes below are ranked based on their value to this point.)

The five best

5. 2016 Falcons: Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, Wes Schweitzer, Devin Fuller

4. 2014 Raiders: Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis, Keith McGill, T.J. Carrie, Shelby Harris, Jonathan Dowling

3. 2017 Saints: Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara, Alex Anzalone, Trey Hendrickson, Al-Quadin Muhammad

2. 2016 Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, Dak Prescott, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, Rico Gathers

1. 2018 Colts: Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Nyheim Hines, Daurice Fountain, Jordan Wilkins, Deon Cain, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin

The Bucs’ best: 2015. Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander, Kenny Bell, Kaelin Clay, Joey Iosefa

The five worst

5. 2017 Patriots: Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Deatrich Wise, Conor McDermott

4. 2016 Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, Mackensie Alexander, Willie Beavers, Kentrell Brothers, Moritz Boehringer, David Morgan, Stephen Weatherly, Jayron Kearse

3. 2018 Rams: Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen, John Franklin-Myers, Micah Kiser, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, John Kelly, Jamil Demby, Sebastian Joseph, Trevon Young, Travin Howard, Justin Lawler

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2. 2014 Jets: Calvin Pryor, Jace Amaro, Dexter McDougle, Jalen Saunders, Shaquelle Evans, Dakota Dozier, Jeremiah George, Brandon Dixon, Quincy Enunwa, IK Enemkpali, Tajh Boyd, Trevor Reilly

1. 2014 Chargers: Jason Verrett, Jeremiah Attaochu, Chris Watt, Ryan Carrethers, Marion Grice, Tevin Reese

The Bucs’ worst: 2018. Vita Vea, Ronald Jones, M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis, Alex Cappa, Jordan Whitehead, Justin Watson, Jack Cichy.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.