The success of an NFL draft pick largely hinges on the abilities of that player and whether they end up translating to the pro game.
But the issue of whether or not a player thrives in the NFL also can depend in part on the situation into which he is drafted.
These players may have been drafted into favorable circumstances and have the potential to hit the ground running in Year 1 of their NFL careers.
Malcom Brown, DT, Patriots (Rd. 1)
There was perhaps no better — or more fortunate — selection in the entire draft than the Patriots getting Brown with the final choice of the opening round. New England is known for trading up, trading down, doing something — anything — with its pick. In this case, the Patriots simply stayed put and had a potentially dominant defender for their front seven fall conveniently to them. The selection comes in an offseason in which the Patriots, on the heels of their Super Bowl triumph, chose to part ways with longtime defensive-line anchor Vince Wilfork, meaning that Brown will have a significant role to play as a rookie.
Shane Ray, LB, Broncos (Rd. 1)
Denver ended Ray’s plummet through the opening round by trading up to take him with the 23rd overall pick. He probably couldn’t have landed in a better spot, with fellow pass-rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on hand to occupy the attention of opposing blockers. The move obviously came with risk for the Broncos after Ray was cited for marijuana possession during the week of the draft. But if he does his part and manages to remain eligible to play and on the field, he is well positioned to have a productive rookie season and perhaps give the Denver defense the sort of boost that could keep the Broncos among the top AFC contenders.
Breshad Perriman, WR (Rd. 1) and Maxx Williams, TE (Rd. 2), Ravens
The Ravens were kind to their quarterback, Joe Flacco, with their first two picks of the draft. The wide receiver corps needed some bolstering after Torrey Smith’s exit in free agency, and Perriman could fill the role of being a big-play complement to Steve Smith. But Williams might be an even more valuable addition. He was widely regarded as the top tight end available in the draft. He could step in and be the next highly productive Ravens tight end in the mold of Todd Heap, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders (Rd. 1)
Cooper was the draft’s most complete receiver. He should be ready to make the same sort of immediate impact that a number of rookie wideouts made league-wide last season. The Raiders can pair him with second-year quarterback Derek Carr and realistically hope they remain an effective combo for a decade or so.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks (Rd. 3)
Seattle traded up in the third-round order and surrendered more in the deal with the Redskins than some might have liked. But the trade made sense for the Seahawks because of their deep roster, which would have made it difficult to retain a number of later-round selections. In Lockett, they get a speedy wideout who could provide some big plays on offense. He also could upgrade Seattle’s special teams as a very dangerous returner.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers (Rd. 1)
Todd Gurley and Gordon are what is becoming a rarity in the NFL: running backs chosen in the first round. Both could succeed immediately. But while Gurley, once he recovers from his torn ACL, might end up being the focal point of the Rams’ offense — and, therefore, of opposing defenses — Gordon has Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to occupy the attention of the defenses he faces. It could make for an effective, multi-dimensional offense in San Diego.
Leonard Williams, DE, Jets (Rd. 1)
Todd Bowles, the first-year coach of the Jets, designed very good defenses in Arizona as a coordinator. He and his new defensive coordinator with the Jets, Kacy Rodgers, have some interesting possibilities after signing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in free agency and having Williams, regarded by many as the top defensive player in the draft, fall to them for the No. 6 choice. Williams is capable of playing different positions along the line and the Jets need to be creative and come up with various packages to get the most out of his considerable talent.
Garrett Grayson QB, Saints (Rd. 3) and Brett Hundley, QB, Packers (Rd. 5)
This isn’t about being set up to succeed immediately, with Grayson behind Drew Brees in New Orleans and Hundley behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. It’s about being in position to succeed long term. That is the situation in each of these cases. They won’t be asked to play immediately, barring injuries. They can wait and learn and be ready when their times arrive. That doesn’t guarantee they will develop into reliable NFL quarterbacks. But it might give them a better chance at that than they would have had if they’d been drafted into circumstances in which more would have been expected sooner.
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