Every late April and early May, an assemblage of “grades” commences for the NFL draft that was just completed. Of this mostly absurd and meaningless task, I remain as guilty as the next.
The need for instant and easy analysis is not difficult to understand. Fans want to know now—not later, when it’s more appropriate—how an incoming crop of players stacks up.
However, a true grading of a draft class should really be reserved for at least three years into the future. Unlike immediate post-draft grades, a three-year window of observation provides the opportunity to more fully understand and correctly analyze players.
With the 2012 NFL season concluded, the 2010 draft class now has three years of experience to work with. It’s now worth our time to look back on how that draft unfolded.
Below, we re-grade the seven draft picks the Packers made during the 2010 NFL draft. All stats and snap counts provided by Pro Football Focus.
1.23 OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
A true candidate to emerge as a Pro Bowl-quality tackle in 2012, Bulaga took a small step back in his third year. The right tackle allowed bigger defensive ends to get into his chest, and his balance against smaller, faster rushers was an issue. The result was as many total pressures allowed over the first five games of last season (24; three sacks, three QB hits, 18 pressures) as in 17 games in 2011 (24; 1/2/21). To his credit, Bulaga recovered to allow just three pressures over his last four weeks. Unfortunately, a hip injury suffered against the Arizona Cardinals knocked him out for the rest of the season. Barring a setback, he should be healthy in plenty of time for the 2013 season.
Despite his early struggles in 2012, Bulaga still has the skill set to start on the right side of the Packers offensive line for the next 10 years, and a move to the left side could still eventually happen. He’s tough, has ideal size (6-5, 315 lbs.) and often surprises with his athleticism. In 2011, Bulaga was certainly among the NFL’s best right tackles. Thompson needed a tackle in April 2010, and he appears to have picked the right one. It’s very difficult to argue the Packers would have been better off with any of the 10 players picked behind Bulaga: Dez Bryant, Tim Tebow, Dan Williams, Devin McCourty, Jared Odrick, Kyle Wilson, Jahvid Best, Jerry Hughes, Patrick Robinson and Rodger Saffold.
2.56 DE Mike Neal, Purdue
The three-year story of Neal is one of tantalizing promise and disappointing absence. Over two games during his rookie season, Neal flashed the kind of strength at the point of attack that enticed Thompson to take him in the second round. In Week 5, the Washington Redskins simply couldn’t block him. However, a shoulder injury suffered that same week knocked him out for the rest of the 2010 season. His injury luck hasn’t changed much. Since entering the NFL, Neal has played in just 20 of the 48 potential games, logging only 574 total snaps. Shoulder and knee problems have been recurring.
While Neal did come back from a four-game substance abuse suspension in 2012 to put together his finest year (11 games, 4.5 sacks), it’s worth pondering whether he will ever be a starting option at defensive end in the 3-4. The 49ers steamrolled him in the Divisional Round. He might end up as nothing more than a situational interior rusher. Among those picked after Neal in the second round are RB Ben Tate and LB Brandon Spikes.
3.71 S Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech
Thompson sent the No. 86 and No. 122 picks to move up and get Burnett, who came into the NFL with a ball-hawking reputation. Over three years and 36 games, Burnett hasn’t exactly lived up to that billing. He has just six career interceptions. That said, former Packers safety Nick Collins had just four interceptions in his first three seasons; over his next three, he picked off 17. Maybe the lightbulb can still come on in the turnover department.
While an ACL injury halted his rookie season early, Burnett has since played in all but 16 of the team’s defensive snaps over the last two seasons. That availability has allowed Burnett to register a team-high 230 total tackles since 2011. Still, Burnett is far too often reacting to a play instead of making one. He certainly can’t claim to be among the NFL’s elite safeties, but he’s probably got a good case to be in the upper half. To take the next step, Burnett needs get his hands on more passes. Considering both Kam Chancellor (5.133) and Reshad Jones (5.163) were picked two rounds later, it’s hard to love the pick.
5.154 TE Andrew Quarless, Penn State
As a fifth-round pick, Quarless was expected to marinate on the Packers’ bench while the takeover of tight end Jermichael Finley continued into 2010. For the better part of five games, that plan worked: Finley began an 80-catch pace, and Quarless was needed on just 12 snaps. When Finley went down against Washington, that plan radically changed. Quarless emerged as the de facto starter at tight end, a role the rookie performed admirably as the Packers advanced to and won the Super Bowl. While never a dangerous receiving option, Quarless held his own.
A year later, Quarless began to carve out a real role as the offense’s go-to blocker at tight end. However, disaster struck when he blew out his knee on special teams in Week 13 against the Giants. Quarless hasn’t played another down. Looking ahead to 2013, it’s perfectly fine to wonder if Quarless can do enough to make the 53-man roster next August. His climb could be uphill if Finley returns. Among the tight ends drafted after Quarless: Brody Eldridge, Fendi Onobun, Dennis Morris, Nate Byham and Anthony McCoy.
5.169 OT Marshall Newhouse, TCU
Few would have guessed that within a year and a half of being drafted, Newhouse would be starting at left tackle in Green Bay. But that’s exactly what happened, as Newhouse was forced to take over for the injured Chad Clifton in Week 5 of 2011. The results since have been mostly mixed, but there’s little doubt that Newhouse has improved tremendously as Aaron Rodgers’ blindside protector. His pass-blocking is now more than sufficient.
However, Newhouse is a clear liability in the run game, and few will argue he’s among the game’s top half of starting left tackles. Both realities are unlikely to drastically change. Can the Packers get back to the NFL’s peak with an average player anchoring at left tackle? That’s certainly a debatable notion. If healthy, 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod could supplant Newhouse at left tackle. Considering no consistent starter at offensive tackle was taken after Newhouse, the pick still has to be graded highly.
6.193 RB James Starks, Buffalo
Despite missing his senior season to a shoulder injury, Thompson rolled the dice and took the promising Starks in the sixth round. However, the tall, well-built running back has continued to battle injuries at the NFL level. Knee, hamstring and ankle problems have mostly handcuffed his potential impact over three years.
That said, Starks was instrumental to Green Bay’s Super Bowl run in 2010—solidifying a struggling running back position to bring the offense some balance over the final two months. If you include the postseason, Starks remains the last Packers running back to rush for 100 yards (at Philadelphia, 123). Over 22 career games, Starks has rushed for OK numbers of 934 yards and two touchdowns. He now needs a healthy offseason and training camp to ensure he’s still on the roster in 2013. No running back picked after Starks has run for more yards since 2010.
7.230 C.J. Wilson, East Carolina
Rarely do teams find starters in the seventh round, but Thompson did just that with Wilson. Over three seasons, he has made 11 starts (seven in 2012) over 42 total games. Whether Wilson is a worthy starter is another discussion. While mostly stout against the run, Wilson offers little in terms of collapsing the pocket and isn’t suited to play three downs. But what more can you reasonably expect out of the 230th overall pick in a draft? Wilson has 3.5 career sacks and 11 starts. That’s likely 3.5 and 11 more than anyone expected back in 2010.
Bulaga is clearly the gem of this class. At No. 23 overall, there’s very little you can fault Thompson for in picking a top-10 player at an important position. Bulaga’s best football is still ahead of him. Burnett is a steady player who looked ready to contribute from Day 1, and Newhouse was a nice find in the fifth round. From there, the class doesn’t “wow.” Neal has been a disappointment, and both Quarless and Starks could be on the street next season thanks to injuries. Wilson is a below-average starter and needs to be replaced. One big plus for Thompson: All seven of the players are still on the roster, and all seven have contributed at some point. Not many draft classes can say both after three years.