After each year's draft players and fans eagerly talk about how their team just got better. Yet players ordinarily come into their own only after improving significantly between their first and second and second and third years in the league. Even a well-regarded rookie whose first year meets or exceeds expectations doesn't usually perform better or even as well as the average veteran at his position. What his relatively good first year portends is that he may well be significantly better than average once he matures. He won't normally make his team better his first year. (Even Miller, as brilliant as he was as a pass-rusher, had holes in other aspects of his game his first year.) What makes his team better that year is veteran free agent signings (if they outweigh free agent losses), players coming back from injury, and players drafted previously, especially the two years prior to the current one.
I think we can agree that despite the loss of Dumervil we came out well ahead in free agency. Welker, Vasquez and possibly Rogers-Cromartie are upgrades at their positions, Shaun Phillips cushions the blow of losing Dumervil, and Knighton gives us depth at tackle. Several players, including Walton, are returning from season-ending injuries. Manning can be added to that group, as he's continued to gain arm strength and will have a year's added familiarity with the offensive system and teammates. As for this year's draftees, if Williams is close to average we've got ourselves a gem who will probably significantly upgrade his position in the near future. His main value as a rookie, however, will be to add depth to the tackle rotation. Montee Ball is more likely to represent immediate improvement, as quality running backs often hit the ground running.
The bulk of our draft-based improvement, however, should come from second-year players Wolfe, Hillman, Jackson and Trevathan, and third-year players Moore, Franklin, Irving, Carter, Julius Thomas, Green and possibly Beal....And Von Miller, who like other third-year players will likely be significantly more effective, which is scary (for opponents) to think about. When we talk about how much better we're going to be this year, if we're thinking of the draft it's mainly these players we should be talking about. If a strong draft portends a bright future it's logical that strong recent drafts are the basis for a bright present.