They say that you can’t judge a draft class until years have passed and you finally see where all the chips fall. Some prospects who were seen as can’t miss, well, they miss. And then there are always the diamonds in the rough. Draft grades provided immediately after the picks are in very often don’t tell us much about the kind of impact those players will have—only what our expectations were at the time.
That’s why redraft exercises can offer some value as a sort of resetting tool, presenting an alternative scenario of what a draft might have looked like had we known then what we know in the future of who these players will become, and what we can glean from that about how to scout better.
Now five years on, those players who were selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft will be completing their rookie contracts if they had their fifth-year option picked up, or perhaps already signing second contracts, if they had stuck along.
As always, of course, there will be players who were selected in the first round who by no means would be chosen again if provided with the benefit of hindsight. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round selection that year, cornerback Artie Burns, would have been one of them. Adam Rank argues for their drafting safety Justin Simmons in his redraft exercise. He writes:
The Steelers always seem to nail it, no matter where they’re drafting from. OK, they originally took Artie Burns here, so maybe not always. With hindsight, Simmons seems like so much of a Steelers move that I have to do it. I mean, this might prevent them from nabbing Minkah Fitzpatrick in the future — unless one of them switches spots — but we’re not playing that game.
Simmons fell all the way to the compensatory portion of the third round, where he was selected 98th overall by the Denver Broncos. He has since turned into a Pro Bowler. In his five seasons there, the last four as a starter, he has produced 385 tackles with 16 interceptions, 37 passes defensed, a recovered fumble, and two sacks, and has become widely regarded as one of the top safeties in football.
As for Burns, he started 32 of 58 games for the Steelers, having been demoted or benched multiple times. He recorded 149 tackles with four interceptions, three of which came during his rookie season. He became only the second first-round pick for the Steelers to not have his fifth-year option picked up.
Burns signed with the Chicago Bears last year in free agency, and was to be in contention, albeit a dark horse, for a starting job, before suffering a torn ACL in the middle of training camp. It’s unclear what the future holds for him.