In coming up with this ranking of the five 2013 draft classes that have had the biggest impact so far this season, I heavily factored team success into the equation. It always bothers me when draft classes are labeled as successful based purely on the number of rookies who are playing, because, in reality, the worse a team is the more opportunities its rookies are going to have to earn playing time.
The top five you see below are teams that are in playoff contention thanks in part to significant contributions from their rookie classes -- and even among the sub-.500 teams that earned honorable mention status, you’ll see teams that have had rookies emerge as real difference-makers and aren’t just playing because of a lack of existing talent on the team.
Here are the top five impact 2013 draft classes so far.
1st in NFC North, 6-3 record
The Lions have gotten both quality and quantity out of their draft class, a key factor to their being in first place in the competitive NFC North. Five of their eight draft picks, plus one undrafted free agent (TE Joseph Fauria), are on the 53-man roster, including three full-time starters and a fourth part-time starter, and all eight picks are still with the team.
First-round DE Ezekiel Ansah missed Sunday’s win over the Bears because of an ankle injury, but it’s the first game he has missed this season. When he has been on the field, he’s made a significant impact and provided consistent pressure (19 tackles, three sacks). DE Devin Taylor has been more productive than I would have expected as a rotational defensive end -- I thought he needed more time to develop, but he’s been contributing while learning on the job. He started against Chicago in place of Ansah. CB Darius Slay is contributing in nickel packages and shows the promise of one day developing into a starter (although he did struggle against the Bears).