After four seasons, the 2013 draft class is flirting with infamy, at risk of going down as one of the worst in league history: The class’s top 12 picks have produced just one Pro Bowl appearance (from Ziggy Ansah in 2015) and the first round has given us just one true superstar (Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins). Once the dust settled on free agency this spring, just 34 of the top 100 players taken that year are still with the team that drafted them.
The draft is the lifeblood of the NFL, and the first round is supposed to be the ever-beating heart. That’s where teams should grab their 10-year starters and the All-Pro pillars to build a roster around. But just 17 of the 32 first-rounders from that class have stuck with the team that took them, and among that group, only a handful have developed into anything more than rank-and-file starters (Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long, Falcons corner Desmond Trufant, Cowboys center Travis Frederick, Detroit pass rusher Ansah, and even though his team wants to trade him, Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson).
The results have been just as grim from Day 2 on. A couple of stars emerged from the second round (Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell), and a few came out of the third (Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Redskins tight end Jordan Reed), but overall, an extraordinary number of players failed to live up to expectations. As a result, a whopping 87 players from the 2013 class changed teams in free agency this year. For those players, new coaches, new schemes, and new depth charts all represent opportunity. Can this mass change of scenery give these previously disappointing players a second chance to jump-start their careers?
Combined, the Seahawks and Colts picked 18 players in the 2013 draft, and just one of those players — backup tight end Luke Willson (picked 158th) in Seattle — remains with his original team. With little to show from their respective draft classes, both clubs had to turn to free agency this year to fill positions of need. Seattle signed the second and third overall picks from 2013 — offensive lineman Luke Joeckel and defensive lineman Dion Jordan — plus the former 56th overall pick (linebacker Arthur Brown) and the former 61st overall pick (running back Eddie Lacy), and for good measure, threw in the former 141st overall pick (offensive lineman Oday Aboushi) and the former 233rd overall pick (pass rusher David Bass) as added depth. Meanwhile, new Colts general manager Chris Ballard replaced his team’s 2013 draft losses by signing eight other picks from that class: pass rusher Barkevious Mingo (no. 6), defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (no. 49), linebacker Jon Bostic (no. 50), pass rusher Margus Hunt (no. 53), running back Christine Michael (no. 62), offensive lineman Brian Schwenke (no. 107), linebacker John Simon (no. 129), and punter Jeff Locke (no. 155).
But not all second chances are created equal. Indianapolis’s free-agency spree was about rebuilding depth; it’s hard to see Mingo suddenly emerging as a big-time sack master (he hasn’t gotten to the quarterback once in the past two years), Bostic will have to fight for a starting job, Simon should be a rotational player, and Hankins will likely remain an unglamorous run-plugging interior cog. Hunt, Michael, and Schwenke will likely see most of their contribution come on special teams or as backups. Seattle, on the other hand, looks ready to give a pair of its recent signings the opportunity to play featured roles and jump-start their careers.
A second-team All-Pro as a rookie, Lacy rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons with the Packers, but after battling injuries and ballooning weight the past two years, he was forced to take a one-year deal from Seattle. He’ll have every chance to do the prove-it part of that prove-it deal, though: 18 players carried the ball in Pete Carroll’s offense last year (the most for any team since the strike-shortened 1987 season), and approximately zero of them could stay healthy along the way. With no reliable bell cow already in place, Lacy could shoot right to the top of the depth chart and take over the lead-back role. More importantly, his weight (he’s still more than 250 pounds) isn’t necessarily going to hold him back: The Seahawks want him to be their battering ram, beating up on defenses on first and second down, in short-yardage situations, and near the goal line. If he can get back to wearing down opponents, breaking tackles, and bulldozing into the end zone, he’ll be a perfect fit in Seattle — and that could help him earn a long-term deal after the year.
Joeckel has a similar opportunity. Despite disappointing in Jacksonville, he comes to Seattle as the presumptive starter at either left tackle or left guard (assuming he’s fully healed from a torn ACL suffered in Week 4 of last season). Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable couldn’t hide his excitement about the signing, saying recently that he thought Joeckel was as good as any guard in the league in the four games he appeared in last year. That’s probably closer to hyperbolic coach-speak than the truth, but the bar in Seattle is low — and if Joeckel can play at just a league-average starter level, it’d represent a huge upgrade for Cable’s squad. Seattle relied on inexperienced first-contract players last season as it spent less money than any other team on its offensive line, and that strategy produced what you’d expect: one of the worst units in the league. A leadership and talent vacuum there means that Joeckel has the real chance to come in and be the veteran anchor that the line has been missing. And with a season of solid play, he could still earn himself a big long-term deal and start to rehabilitate that “bust” status; Joeckel’s still just 25 years old, has upside and plenty of athleticism, and in an offensive-line needy league, should continue to have a strong market.
The Raiders could give another former 2013 first-rounder a similar shot at redemption. Cordarrelle Patterson signed with Oakland on a two-year deal worth up to $8.5 million (not including bonuses), and the second year could void if he catches at least 65 passes or plays more than 65 percent of snaps. The worst-case scenario for the Raiders is they’re adding an electric kick return man, and they’ll have the chance to finally turn the former 29th overall pick into a more complete receiver, too. Patterson never developed as a consistent route runner or displayed reliable hands in four years in Minnesota, but it didn’t help his development to cycle through two head coaches, three coordinators, and six quarterbacks in that time. Oakland provides him a blank slate with an up-and-coming star passer in Derek Carr. And while the 26-year-old will have to carve out a role behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in new coordinator Todd Downing’s offense, Downing knows how dangerous Patterson can be in the open field. He’ll surely look to incorporate some creative ways to get the ball into his hands — Oakland was already a catch-and-run-heavy system last year, with 55 percent of Carr’s passing yardage coming after the catch. With Downing expected to keep the core tenets of that system alive, the former Viking could be a great fit. If he pairs greater consistency in his routes with the same game-breaking ability as a runner in the open field, Patterson has the chance to develop into a complete offensive weapon — then parlay that into big bucks.
The Cardinals and Titans broke with convention in 2013 when they took guards in the top 10, with Arizona selecting North Carolina prospect Jonathan Cooper at the no. 7 spot, and Tennessee taking Alabama lineman Chance Warmack at no. 10. Neither gamble paid off. Now Cooper is a Cowboy and Warmack an Eagle.
Cooper’s road to Dallas has been stunted by repeated injuries — he’s missed 35 regular-season games out of a possible 64. He broke his fibula in the third preseason game his rookie season, causing him to miss the entire year; turf toe and a knee injury led to struggles in 2014, and another knee injury cost him his starting job in 2015. He was traded to the Patriots last season, and a foot injury preceded his release in October. Cooper landed in Cleveland, where he started three games, but was released in December. The Cowboys picked him up as depth for their postseason run, and following the loss of Ronald Leary (free agency) and Doug Free (retirement), he has somehow found himself in line for a starting role on one of the best offensive lines in football. With La’el Collins moving to right tackle, Cooper will get a shot at the starting left guard job, and it’s the best situation the former first-round bust could ask for: He’ll get plenty of support in pass protection lining up next to All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick, and will have the enviable task of clearing the way for one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott. If he can stay healthy, the athletic lineman will finally have a shot at shedding the bust label he’s been stuck with his first four seasons in the league.
Warmack, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily considered a bust, but after coming into the league as one of the most dominant college guards in recent memory, it’s safe to say he has yet to live up to lofty expectations. The former Crimson Tide star started 48 games in four seasons for Tennessee, but as the Titans cycled through two head coaches and won just five games combined in 2014 and 2015, his performance was inconsistent. He played in just two games last year before having surgery on a tendon in his right middle finger, and without much of a market in free agency this spring, signed a modest one-year, $1.51 million deal with the Eagles. He reunites with his college offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland, and while the big, physical 25-year-old still has to win a starting job (he’ll have to beat out Brandon Brooks or Allen Barbre), he has the chance to land in another near-perfect situation, playing on a talented and experienced offensive line.
A handful of other 2013 first-rounders will have the chance to reverse their fortunes, win starting jobs, and get onto the field in new cities this fall. D.J. Fluker, the 11th overall pick for the Chargers, will compete at right guard and right tackle for the Giants on a one-year, $3 million deal. Defensive lineman/linebacker Datone Jones, the 26th overall pick for the Packers, is in Minnesota on a one-year, $3.75 million contract. Pass rusher Jarvis Jones, the 17th overall pick for Pittsburgh, is on a one-year, $2.25 million deal in Arizona. Cornerback D.J. Hayden, who Oakland made the 12th overall pick, is in Detroit on a one-year, $3.75 million contract. And while Sylvester Williams never developed into a dominant force for the Broncos, he’ll hope to become one for the Titans, who gave him a three-year, $17.5 million deal.
Of course, the list of non-first-rounders from 2013 switching teams this season is a long one, too. While Mike Glennon looks like a one-year bridge to Mitchell Trubisky as the starter in Chicago, the former no. 73 pick is out to prove he can still be a starter in this league. He’ll be passing to the former no. 79 pick, receiver Markus Wheaton. Robert Woods (no. 41) has a shot to be Jared Goff’s favorite target for the Rams, and Justin Hunter (no. 34) could become the next dangerous deep threat in the Steelers offense. Menelik Watson (no. 42) will compete for the starting right tackle job in Denver, Larry Warford (no. 65) is the new starter at right guard in New Orleans, and Bennie Logan (no. 67) is slotted into Dontari Poe’s now-vacant nose tackle spot in Kansas City.
Linebacker Manti Te’o (no. 38) gets a fresh start in New Orleans, and Kevin Minter (no. 45) should get plenty of action in Cincinnati at that spot. Safety John Cyprien (no. 33) will be lurking about in Tennessee’s secondary, J.J. Wilcox (no. 80) should start in Tampa Bay, and T.J. McDonald (no. 71) should make an impact for the Dolphins after serving his eight-game suspension. If he can hold off Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray (no. 181) could replace Adrian Peterson as the Vikings lead back, and running backs Mike Gillislee (no. 164) and Rex Burkhead (no. 190) both should feature prominently in New England’s offense.
For many 2013 draftees making the move to new teams, scheme and culture changes will be good — especially for those that will be taking handoffs and catching passes from Tom Brady. For others, staying healthy will be the most important factor for success. As for Lacy, Joeckel, Patterson, Cooper, and Warmack, the stars of need, opportunity, and fit have aligned — now they just have to take advantage.