Top Ten with a Twist: Best players to emerge from 2009 NFL Draft

ClayMatthews was the best pick in the 2009 draft. (USATSI)
Clay Matthews was the best pick in the 2009 draft. (USATSI)

We’ve talked quite a bit lately about players who were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and it’s been for negative reasons.

First, quarterback Josh Freeman -- who was taken No. 17 by the Buccaneers -- was released by his team, though he quickly found a job with the Vikings.  Then, you also had Mark Sanchez having to undergo season-ending surgery, and Titans receiver Kenny Britt seemingly on his way out the door in Tennessee as well.

And as my colleague Will Brinson pointed out, that first-round draft class as a whole wasn’t so special. With players like … well, let’s go down the list of all the disappointments that have littered that first round.

No. 2 overall: Jason Smith. No. 3 overall: Tyson Jackson. No. 4 overall: Aaron Curry. No. 5 overall: Mark Sanchez. No. 7 overall: Darius Heyward-Bey. No. 11 overall: Aaron Maybin. No. 16 overall: Larry English. No. 23 overall: Michael Oher. No. 24 overall: Peria Jerry. No. 27 overall: Donald Brown. No. 31 overall: Beanie Wells.

But hey, for this week’s Top 10 with a Twist, let’s be positive and focus on the good draft picks that came out of the 2009 NFL draft (FYI, I’m not sure I’d say anybody in the first round was a grand slam, with the exception of No. 26 overall Clay Matthews; No. 15 Brian Cushing and No. 29 Hakeem Nicks could be classified as solo home runs).

Let’s just hope we can actually come up with 10.

10. Matt Slauson, Jets guard, sixth round: Is Matt Slauson the best offensive guard in the league? No. But is he a solid starter on the offensive line and certainly one of the better finds in the later rounds of that draft? Yes. Now, he’s with the Bears and he’s helped keep Jay Cutler more protected than he’s ever been in his career. If you’re drafting in the sixth round, a solid starter is more than acceptable. Bad pick: Thirty picks before Slauson, the Panthers picked guard Duke Robinson. He played exactly zero games in his career.

9. Julian Edelman, Patriots receiver, seventh round: Taken with the No. 232 overall pick, Edelman has excelled on special teams before this season. But after the team let go of Wes Welker in the offseason and then watched as Danny Amendola injured his groin in Week 1, Edelman had established himself as perhaps the only receiver on the roster trusted by Tom Brady. His previous career-high in catches came in 2011 when he made 28 receptions. This year, he’s already more than halfway there. Bad pick: There appears to be approximately eight receivers who were selected before Edelman who no longer play in the NFL.  

8. Connor Barwin, Texans defensive end, second round: He’s done well, considering he wasn’t moved from tight end to defense until late in his University of Cincinnati career, and though the Texans found him expendable last offseason, he’s one of the brighter spots on a Eagles defense that badly needs to be rebuilt. Bad pick: The selection just before Barwin was the Giants taking linebacker Clint Sintim, who had an injury-plagued career and no longer is in the league. He and Barwin didn’t play in the same kind of defense, but still, Barwin would have been a much-better selection.

7. Mike Wallace, Steelers receiver, third round: After an unimpressive 2012 in which he admitted to feeling distracted because of his contract issues, Wallace signed a $60 million deal with Miami in the offseason. Things still aren’t perfect for Wallace -- he complained about his lack of touches after Week 1 -- and he’s only fourth on the team in receptions. But as far as cashing in even though he hasn’t proven he’s one of the better receivers in the league, Wallace is a first-round pick. Bad pick: Two picks before Wallace was taken, the Lions slelected receiver Derrick Williams, who played a total of 18 games in 2009 and 2010. You know what would have been a pretty good 1-2 receiving punch? Wallace and Calvin Johnson.

6. Jairus Byrd, Bills safety, second round: While Byrd probably is one of the best safeties in the game, he also feels like he should be the best-paid safety around. Which has completely broken down his relationship with the Buffalo front office. And we have a hard time telling now if Byrd is using an injured foot as an excuse not to have played this year or if the Bills are the ones who are keeping him off the field. He’s a talent, but he’s also not playing right now -- which is kind of a shame. Bad pick: Eight picks before the Bills grabbed Byrd, the Patriots selected Patrick Chung. Unfortunately for New England, Chung’s career hasn’t gone quite as well as Byrd’s.

5. Lardarius Webb, Ravens cornerback, third round: In the past year or two, Webb has established himself as one of the league’s better cornerbacks. Which is why he was allowed to sign a $52 million deal before last season. Bad pick: The two players picked just before Webb were Asher Allen (Vikings) and Patrick Turner (Dolphins). Neither of them are in the league.

4. Henry Melton, Bears defensive end, fourth round: The fact he was a running back in college (see?!?) reminds us just how good an athlete Melton has been for the Bears defense. According to the Pro Football Focus metrics, Melton has been a top-20 defensive tackle the past two seasons. Unfortunately for the Bears, he’s out for the season with a torn ACL. But getting him in the fourth round was still a really good pick. Bad pick: From Terrance Knighton (No. 72 overall) to Melton (No. 105 overall), a total of 16 defenders were drafted. Melton has more career sacks than all of them combined.  

3. James Laurinaitis, Rams linebacker, second round: Laurinaitis is a steadily-good player who flies under the radar, most likely because he plays in a market that garners very little national attention. But he’s accumulated at least 98 tackles in every year he’s played, and he’s reached the 100-tackle mark in three of his four years in the league. He’s not the best linebacker in the league, but he’s a guy that many teams would love to employ. Bad pick: The Rams first pick that year was Jason Smith, who would be considered one of the biggest draft busts in recent years if he hadn’t played in St. Louis.

2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles running back, second round: One of the best running backs in the league, McCoy has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and scored 33 touchdowns during his career. He isn’t the most-durable running back in the league -- he hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule in the past three seasons -- but there’s little doubt he’s one of the best. Bad pick: With the No. 12 overall pick, the Broncos took Knowshon Moreno. He’s actually played better this season, but for the most part, comparing his career to McCoy’s would be laughable. Which is maybe why McCoy thinks Moreno sucks.

1. Clay Matthews, Packers linebacker, first round: Clearly, he’s the best player to emerge from this draft, and for a time in his first couple of seasons in the league, he was legitimately one of the top-three defenders in the NFL. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore, but you could easily fit him in the top-10 and probably the top-5. Quick trivia question: how many linebackers were taken before Matthew’s name was called? Four. With the possible exception of the Texans taking Cushing, that’s three teams who wish they could have back that pick. Bad pick: Aaron Curry, who is out of the league now, was taken 22 spots before Matthews.

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