1. J.J. Watt, 2011, Houston Texans
It’s no surprise that Watt tops this list, as he is a freak of nature that is one of the top players of our generation. Though he plays a less scintillating position of defensive line, his sheer dominance at the position is arguably something football has never seen before. The gap between Watt and everyone else at his position is truly gaping, and there are many stats that can serve to showcase this. For example, consider that Watt managed 20 QB hits on 3rd down last season, when only 4 other players managed 20 QB hits on all four downs combined. It is for this reason that Watt was Pro Football Focus’s top ranked player in 2013 and 2014 – yes, ahead of Peyton Manning and his record setting 2013 season, and the 2014 MVP Aaron Rodgers. If over the course of his career JJ Watt can even keep up a good fraction of his current production (which I believe he will), he is the clear-cut choice at number 1.
2. Patrick Willis, 2007, San Francisco 49ers (now retired)
Nothing needs to be said for Willis. He is a perennial pro-bowler who has dominated the league’s linebacker position for a decade. Despite an early retirement, Willis had already cemented himself as one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
3. DeMarcus Ware, 2005, Dallas Cowboys (now with the Denver Broncos)
Like Willis, not much elaboration is needed on Ware. The veteran is eight time pro-bowler with eight 10+ sack out of 10 seasons, including a 20 sack season in 2008.
4. Dontari Poe, 2012, Kansas City Chiefs
In regards to Poe over Cutler, here is the deal with Cutler. Though Cutler is undeniably talented, and has shown many sparks throughout his career, he is also known for being extremely erratic and error prone, with perhaps his lowest point occurring just last season when he was benched by the Bears for Jimmy Clausen. It’s also worth noting that Cutler has a reputation for being a headcase. Though Cutler is definitely an above average quarterback, it’s tough to pinpoint him as an elite quarterback. Meanwhile, Poe has already cemented already himself as one of the league’s premium nose tackles, and is a pro-bowler for two years running. Its worth noting that due to his position (0-tech NT), Poe doesn’t accumulate a huge amount of stats; it would be wrong be judge Poe as a player by purely his numbers. The athletic freak is still young, and I say that he get still better as he matures.
5. Jay Cutler, 2006, Denver Broncos (now with the Chicago Bears)
6. Anthony Davis, 2011, San Francisco 49ers (currently out of football)
I consider Lewan, Davis, McKelvin, Fluker in the same tier. It’s tough what to make of Anthony Davis’s “year off” situation. Is he gone for good? Will he come back and play at the same level? In any case, before holding out from football, Davis was a very solid tackle – one of the better tackles in the league. Lewan showed flashes in his rookie year, but that’s not yet enough to peg him as one of the league’s better tackles. D.J. Fluker was noted coming out of college in 2013 for his potential and massive physique. Though he has shown flashes of brilliance, his performance in the pros as whole has been sub-par and has not lived up to his great expectations. Fluker has been moved around quite a bit during his short career, having moved from his college position of left tackle to right tackle, and recently, from tackle to right guard. McKelvin is very good starting cornerback for the Buffalo Bills, with his 2013 season perhaps being the most impressive of his eight seasons.
7. Leodis McKelvin, 2008, Buffalo Bills
8. Taylor Lewan, 2014, Tennessee Titans
9. D.J Fluker, 2013, San Diego Chargers
10. Aaron Maybin, 2009 Buffalo Bills (now retired)
Aaron Maybin is now retired from football and can be considered a surefire draft bust. Maybin can be said to have been at his best during his rookie season, where in 16 games he compiled 18 tackles and no sacks. However, in his second season, Maybin was deactivated as a healthy scratch after six games, in which he had five tackles and no sacks. Maybin was waived by the Bills before his third season.