The key to building and maintaining long term success in the NFL is effective drafting to provide a foundation which can be supplemented by free agency. The aim is to pick players who can be developed and are worth keeping several years down the line. As we approach the 2016 draft, it’s the class of 2012 who have reached the end of their rookie contracts and potentially hit free agency. An interesting indication of team building success is to look back at that draft and see which of those selected remain an effective part of the team that took them. One or two can make a huge difference. Take the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP from 2015; Cam Newton and Von Miller were drafted first and second in the 2011 drafts and remain vital and central elements of their respective teams beyond their rookie contracts. Lets take a look back at how well the AFC East drafted in 2012.
New York Jets
Players drafted: 8 Players remaining on the roster: 0
The Jets are one of only four teams in the NFL who have none of their 2012 draft class remaining, along with the 49ers, Falcons and Giants. Out of the eight selected, only two, Demario Davis (2nd round) and Antonio Allan (7th round), hit free agency and neither were re-signed although Davis had been the most productive of the group . First round pick Quinton Coples was released part way through the 2015 season as his role diminished within Todd Bowles’ system. Second round receiver Stephen Hill was the epitome of a ‘bust’, failing to have the impact predicted. He hasn’t played in the league since 2013. 6th rounder Josh Bush picked up a Super Bowl ring as a back up with the Broncos last season but this is not indicative of his career success; he bounced between teams after spending two years in New York. Three later round selections faded into obscurity and no longer play in the NFL. 2012 also saw the Jets give up draft picks in return for Tim Tebow; who failed to prove his worth in Green and White. In short, the 2012 draft was a complete disaster for the Jets and did nothing to build for the future. Mike Maccagnan is now seeking to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
New England Patriots
Players drafted: 7 Players remaining on the roster: 2
Although the Patriots didn’t have a vintage year in 2012, they have produced a fair amount of value from their picks, especially their two first rounders; Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, who have both played key roles in their recent success. Linebacker Hightower had his fifth year option picked up and remains on the roster, having been a productive starter since his rookie year. Jones, a complete defensive end who led the Patriots with over 30 sacks over the past three years, had his fifth year option picked up but was surprisingly traded to the Cardinals in return for a 2016 third round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. Both provide solutions to needs (having lost their first round pick following deflategate). New England then went on to use the proceeds to sign Chris Long to replace Jones. Sixth round pick Nate Ebner also remains on the roster and has carved himself a niche as a key special teams piece. He was signed to two year $2.4 million contract, keeping him a Patriot until 2018. Interestingly, Ebner is spending his off-season chasing his dream to represent the USA in the Olympic Rugby sevens in Rio, something the Patriots’ organisation is supporting. Only time will tell if letting Chandler Jones go proves a good choice, but the Patriots have definitely squeezed continued value from their 2012 picks.
Players drafted: 9 Players remaining on the roster: 1
The Dolphins took a group of players in 2012 who have turned into big names; for both the right and wrong reasons. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (eighth overall pick) is the only player who remains on the roster but has not consistently lived up to the high hopes the team had for him. The Dolphins are still desperate for Tannehill to become the long term franchise solution and hope that new head coach Adam Gaise will be able to turn him into a player worth the huge $77million four year contract extension he signed in 2015. Second round pick Jonathan Martin was embroiled in the Dolphin’s bullying scandal in late 2013 and was traded to the 49ers before the 2014 season as the team tried to wash it’s hand of the mess. Olivier Vernon, who was taken in the third round was hugely productive in Miami, but the Dolphins could not match the amount the New York Giants offered him when he hit free agency as the top ranked player available. They also lost fourth round running back Lamar Miller this off-season to the Houston Texans, who had become frustrated with his reduced role in 2015. Both Miller and Vernon were effective starters for the ‘Phins. The fact that only Tannehill remains, despite being drafting several players who have become productive starters in the league, illustrates the issues the organisation has faced both in coaching and in the front office. Their other five other picks no longer remain on the roster, all being released by the start of the 2014 season.
Players drafted: 9 Players remaining on the roster: 2
The Bills 2012 draft class has had mixed success. Four of the nine remained on the team in 2015, with two of these, linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerback Ron Brooks going elsewhere in free agency. It looked likely that Bradham, who had been productive as a regular starter, would stay in Buffalo, but negotiations ground to a halt and he is now with the Eagles. The four late round picks were all cut during their rookie training camp or after their first year. At the other end of the scale however, aside from wide receiver TJ Graham who was taken in the second round and released after two years, the Bills maintain two starters on the roster from the 2012 class. Most significant is Cordy Glenn, who is ranked in the top ten left tackles in the league. He was taken in the second round and has proven to be the epitome of the franchise player, starting started 61 out of a possible 64 games in his four-year career. The team are currently locked in negotiations for a long term deal with Glenn. The Bills also maintain corner back Stephon Gilmore who they took with the tenth overall pick. He was put on injured reserve during the 2015 season but has been a starting back since his rookie year and has been productive in this time. The Bills picked up his fifth year option, but are currently negotiating with Gilmore over an extension which will reduce his cap number for 2016. The Bills 2012 draft was therefore inconsistent but with some extremely effective outcomes; a little like their recent seasons.