One year in is too early to truly judge a draft. This time last year, Vic Beasley looked like a disappointing bust after a four-sack rookie season. Todd Gurley looked like the franchise back people expected coming out of Georgia, but Melvin Gordon had been a staggering disappointment and seemed allergic to the end zone. We were a year away from unexpected breakout seasons from Landon Collins and Jay Ajayi.
If we're trying to figure out who produced the best crop of rookie talent after one year, though? That's up for grabs. Ohio State sent a whopping 12 players into the NFL this season, including Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, who will likely claim the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. Where do the Buckeyes rank among the most productive rookie draft classes in modern league history? Let's try to figure it out.
There's no easy or exceedingly accurate way to measure impact by football players across positions in the way there is in other sports. The most useful general tool is approximate value, a Pro-Football-Reference.com statistic that is designed to estimate overall player performance. It is admittedly limited, but it's not biased, either, which makes it suitable for a study like this. As a reference for what the scale means, here's an example of the approximate value system and how it measured player performance during the 2016 regular season:
To figure out overall production, I took every draft class produced by a college since 1970 and measured how the players performed during the first season after they were drafted. No undrafted or supplemental draft products were included. If a player missed the season with an injury or went to play in another league, he also missed out. That means a player like Dante Fowler, who was drafted out of Florida in 2015 and missed his entire rookie year with a torn ACL, doesn't generate any points for what he did in 2016. Players who changed university are also assigned to their most recent school, which comes up very early in the list below.
I also wanted to reward schools who developed useful players as opposed to guys who made it to the NFL and sat most of their rookie campaigns. With that in mind, I followed a lead from Chase Stuart's draft value chart and assigned a three-point "roster toll" to approximate replacement value. Any player who generated three points of AV or less was treated as a zero-point player, while those who produced four or more points had three taken off the top. So Elliott's season, which generated 16 points of AV, is worth 13 points of replacement-adjusted AV for the purposes of this methodology.
All right, with the preamble aside, let's run through the teams. There were 12 teams that generated 21 points or more, so in lieu of a top 10, let's stretch it to 12:
T9. Florida State, 1997 (21 points)
The Seminoles had only six players drafted in 1997, a relatively small total among the classes in this sort of rarefied air, but four of those selections went among the first 14 picks of the draft. The most famous player of that group was future Hall of Famer Walter Jones, who started 12 games at left tackle for a Seahawks team that finished ninth in scoring. Peter Boulware contributed 11.5 sacks as a rookie for the Ravens, but the most impactful rookie was Warrick Dunn, who produced 1,440 yards from scrimmage and made it to the first of three Pro Bowls. Fourth-rounder Henri Crockett also started 10 games for the Falcons.
T9. LSU, 2006 (21 points)
Much like that Florida State team, the LSU haul was paced by a first-round running back who was eventually overshadowed by bigger teammates. Joseph Addai had an inconsistent career with the Colts, but as a rookie, he ran for 1,081 yards and added 325 more yards through the air. He was responsible for 12 of LSU's 21 AV points, but two three-point players would eventually emerge as the stars of the class after Addai was retired. Andrew Whitworth matured into one of the best left tackles in football with the Bengals, while Kyle Williams made it to four Pro Bowls as Buffalo's nose tackle.
T9. Wisconsin, 2012 (21 points)
He spent only one year in Madison, but since we're crediting his career to his final school before entering the pros, Russell Wilson's AV belongs entirely to Wisconsin, not NC State or the Colorado Rockies. Wilson made the Pro Bowl in his first year out of school, one of just nine quarterbacks to do that since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Two of Wilson's linemen came along for the ride, as Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler each started regularly for the Falcons and Bengals, respectively. Zeitler is a free agent this offseason, and Seahawks fans would surely love to see these college teammates reunited.
T9. Alabama, 2013 (21 points)
One of the annual crops of promising talent Nick Saban sends to the league, this Bama class is most notable for seeing three consecutive Crimson Tide players come off the board with the ninth, 10th and 11th overall selections. It was a group that looked more promising before the draft than it does now. Chance Warmack failed to develop after looking like a future superstar at guard in school, while D.J. Fluker never developed at tackle and hasn't been consistent after moving to the interior. Dee Milliner was ineffective before tearing his Achilles and is currently a free agent, while Eddie Lacy hasn't been able to stay in shape. This group combined for just 12 points of replacement-adjusted AV this season, most of which came from Warmack and fifth-round pick Quinton Dial.
T6. Miami, 2002 (22 points)
Five Hurricanes were selected in the first round of the 2002 draft, but the best rookie was the university's lone second-rounder. Clinton Portis stepped into the Broncos' lineup as a 21-year-old and ran for 1,508 yards as a rookie while scoring 17 touchdowns. That wasn't good enough to make the Pro Bowl, but Jeremy Shockey snuck onto the roster with a 74-catch, 894-yard season for the Giants. The highest-drafted player of the bunch was Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie, who coasted on his athleticism long enough to make a Pro Bowl and win a Super Bowl with the Ravens, but the real superstar was Ed Reed, who finished his career with more AV than anybody in this draft class short Julius Peppers.
T6. LSU, 2014 (22 points)
One of the more notable offensive draft classes in league history, the Tigers sent a quarterback (Zach Mettenberger), two running backs (Alfred Blue and Jeremy Hill), two wide receivers (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) and a guard (Trai Turner) to the league in the same draft. Beckham turned into a superstar overnight, leading the class in AV despite missing the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury. Turner and Landry also made the Pro Bowl in 2015. How did an offense with multiple future star receivers finish sixth in the SEC in scoring? Ask Cam Cameron.
T6. Florida State, 2015 (22 points)
First overall pick Jameis Winston obviously paced this group. The story for the rest of this rookie class is frustrating, with injuries costing many of them a chance to shine this season. Cornerback Ronald Darby was a Week 1 starter for the Bills and excelled before settling into a sophomore slump, while Eddie Goldman was a rare bright spot for the Bears before missing 10 games in 2016 with a high-ankle sprain. Mario Edwards also flashed for the Raiders as a rookie before spending 15 weeks on injured reserve in Year 2.
Winston's offensive line has also been a mixed bag. Guard Tre' Jackson started nine times for the Patriots but never made it off the physically unable to perform list this season. The one consistent disappointment has been 19th overall pick Cameron Erving, who was one of the worst players in the league as a rookie and a stark contrast to the steady effectiveness of Alex Mack this season. This class generated a mere 14 replacement-adjusted AV this year, nine of which came from Winston.
5. USC, 1982 (23 points)
Talk about a top-heavy class: Just four of the 334 players selected in the 1982 draft were Trojans, but three of those four were first-rounders. (The fourth, ninth-round pick Dennis Edwards, didn't play in the NFL until 1987.) One of those first-rounders was Roy Foster, who spent two years on the bench before becoming a regular at guard for the Dolphins and 49ers for a decade. The other two had instant success. Browns linebacker Chip Banks made the Pro Bowl as a rookie en route to four Hawaiian trips across his first five seasons.
The star of the show was Marcus Allen -- he's one of just 22 rookies to achieve first-team All-Pro status on offense or defense since 1970. [Editor's note: As in, not kickers/punters/return men.]
T3. Notre Dame, 1993 (24 points)
Four of the first 20 picks in the draft were Notre Dame products after the Fighting Irish went 10-1-1 and blew out Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl 28-3. Rick Mirer was drafted by the Seahawks despite struggling to complete even 50 percent of his passes during his senior season. Mirer answered the bell 16 times as a rookie despite being sacked a league-high 47 times in what was his only full season as a starting QB. Tom Carter and Irv Smith also worked their way into the starting lineup for Washington and the Saints, respectively.
Again, though, the two impact players came out of Notre Dame's backfield. Second-rounder Reggie Brooks ran for 1,063 yards as a rookie. He ran for only 663 yards over the remainder of his career, although he did compensate some by winning the first two Madden Bowls. More notably, Jerome Bettis rewarded the Rams for drafting him with the 10th overall pick by running for 1,429 yards during his debut season. He and Brooks remain the only pair of rookie running backs from the same school to run for 1,000 yards during the same year.
T3. USC, 2009 (24 points)
USC sent a nation-high 11 players into the NFL through the 2009 draft, led by fifth overall pick Mark Sanchez, who was coming off a five-touchdown game in the Rose Bowl. Sanchez has become a bit of a punchline now, and he was overrated by his win-loss record at the time, but he did start 15 games for the Jets and didn't entirely fall on his face as a rookie. The vast majority of this production -- 20 points -- came from USC's set of linebackers, with Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing chipping in eight points from the Packers and Texans, respectively, while Rey Maualuga added four from Cincinnati.
2. Pittsburgh, 1981 (32 points)
I wouldn't blame you for being surprised to see the products of the 1980 Pittsburgh Panthers up here toward the top of the list, significantly ahead of the previously listed teams. The Panthers went 11-1 in 1980, but the most notable player on that team was sophomore quarterback Dan Marino, who didn't hit the draft until 1983.
These Panthers had six players start 12 or more games for their pro teams as rookies, which is still a record -- no other draft class since the merger has produced more than four instant starters. None of those Panthers made the Pro Bowl as rookies, but two -- Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson -- would eventually be enshrined in Canton. The biggest name in the class was All-American edge rusher Hugh Green, who would make it to a pair of Pro Bowls with the Bucs, while guard Mark May started 11 seasons with Washington and Phoenix.
They were the most impactful draft class for 35 years ...
1. Ohio State, 2016 (35 points)
... until this season, when Urban Meyer's Buckeyes took over the top spot. Ohio State had 12 draftees suit up for NFL teams this season, including five first-rounders and two second-rounders. You're already familiar with Elliott and Bosa, of course, who will likely claim Rookie of the Year awards in a couple of weeks. Taylor Decker started at left tackle all season for a Lions team that went to the playoffs. Michael Thomas finished the year with 92 catches, the second most for a rookie in league history, while his 1,137 receiving yards were seventh-best.
There's an entire second tier of contributors, too. Eli Apple eventually took Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's job for the Giants and was an impact corner by the end of his rookie season; the Giants allowed a 55.5 QBR without Apple on the field and a 43.7 QBR when he was between the lines. Vonn Bell, Darron Lee and Adolphus Washington were regulars for admittedly bad defenses. Braxton Miller even started six games for the Texans.
Is approximate value a perfect measure of impact? Of course not. This method credits Bosa with just three points of replacement-adjusted AV, which seems low given how effective he was on a play-by-play basis. It does serve as a dispassionate, unbiased approximation of performance, though, and that's exactly what's needed to answer a question like this one.
At the very least, it's safe to say that the Ohio State Buckeyes just sent one of the best draft classes the league has ever seen into the NFL.