Just as sure as Roger Goodell will hear some boos when he takes the podium, there will be reaches in the first round of the NFL draft.
The following five players were drafted too early. They’re listed in the order in which they were taken.
Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
The Bears traded from No. 11 to No. 9 and drafted Floyd, who had 26.5 tackles for loss in three years at Georgia. Floyd’s sack totals decreased in each of his three years, however. He went from 6.5 sacks in 2013 to six sacks in 2014 to 4.5 sacks last season. He also didn’t force a fumble in 2015 after forcing two in 2013 and three in 2014. At 6’6″, 244 pounds, Floyd will have to fill out his frame at the next level if he’s going to hold up against the run. The sky is the limit for him if he can do that, but he’s too risky as a prospect to be a top-10 pick.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Eli Apple would not have been a reach by the Giants at No. 10 if it weren’t for the fact that Vernon Hargreaves III was still on the board. The Florida cornerback is just a notch or two ahead of Apple, but it could be enough for the Giants to wish they had taken Hargreaves a few years down the road. Apple is a solid prospect, but he might have benefited from elite talent in front of him. Joey Bosa and Darron Lee also were first-rounders. Apple had four interceptions and 17 passes defended in two seasons while in a superior conference Hargreaves had 10 interceptions and 27 passes defended in three seasons.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 29, 2016
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
West Virginia safety Karl Joseph was expected to go in the second round, but the Raiders jumped on him with the No. 14 pick. If Joseph stays healthy, he’ll make the Raiders look like geniuses. He intercepted five passes in four games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the 2015 season. He’s listed as 5’10” on NFL.com, but according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he’s 5’9 1/2″, so size could be a concern. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network characterized Joseph as a “poor man’s Earl Thomas.” You don’t want to draft a “poor man’s” anything in the top half of the first round. Mayock also mentioned Bob Sanders in his assessment, which again raises the cloud of durability.
Keanu Neal, S, Florida
The Falcons, who chose Keanu Neal at No. 17, had the fewest sacks in the NFL last season with 19. Better coverage in the secondary can aid the pass rush, but it has to start up front. Shaq Lawson would have been a steal, and he’s even more of a steal for the Bills at 19. In this weak safety class, the Falcons could have had one comparable to Neal at No. 50 in the second round. They probably got an itchy trigger finger when the Raiders took Karl Joseph at 14. Missed tackles are a universal concern with Neal among the scouting community.
Artie Burns, CB, Miami
The Steelers hadn’t drafted a cornerback in the first round for 19 years. They should have made it 20 when the Bengals took William Jackson III at No. 24, one pick ahead of them. Jalen Ramsey, Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves III also were long gone, and there were no remaining cornerbacks worthy of the No. 25 pick. Artie Burns’ ACC-leading six interceptions last season are a little inflated because one came against Bethune-Cookman and another came against Florida Atlantic.
Artie Burns posted just three above-average pass coverage grades in 2015 and had a negative overall grade. #SteelersDraft
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 29, 2016
The Steelers would have had a shot at Burns in a later round. Or they could have at least traded back a few spots gained a little value for Burns with an extra late-round pick in hand.