- Seb Kennedy
Draft Pick Pay-Offs #1
A total of 29 teams in NFL history have held the all-important first overall pick since the inaugural NFL Draft in 1936, whether it be through trading up to secure it and thereby ensuring you get the standout talent you’re looking for, or simply from being the very worst team in professional football. And despite the notable draft capital each franchise gave up for the opportunity to select first overall, or the woeful 1-15 season you’re desperately trying to put behind you as an organization, you now have the chance to change the future of your football team by taking a college star who also looks like he’ll be the real deal at the pro level. Some of these first overall picks work out brilliantly and others not so much. This series will look at EXACTLY how well each of the NFL Draft’s top 10 selections from 2010-2019 panned out and which organizations' fates were changed forever as a result of their picks (as well as which franchises’ now-conspicuous mistakes have left them with perpetual regrets!).
2010 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Sam Bradford, Quarterback, Oklahoma (Selected By St. Louis Rams)
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Only the second sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy back in 2008—in addition to numerous further accolades—Sooners slinger Sam Bradford appeared to be the consensus first overall pick heading into the 2010 NFL Draft. And initially, it looked as though Rams general manager Billy Devaney had made a wise choice. Bradford threw for over 3,500 yards in 2010 thereby deservedly earning him the coveted NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award as well as a spot in the PFWA All-Rookie Team. So far, so good. But it soon became evident that his best pro days were already behind him. The quarterback failed to register a single winning season throughout his time in the NFL as the team’s primary starter, rounding off his career by being pulled in favour of then-rookie Josh Rosen after the Cardinals suffered consecutive blowout losses to start their 2018 campaign. Injury issues and unjustified exorbitant contracts in his later years confirmed to football fans across the world that Bradford ultimately failed to live up to his first overall pick status.
2011 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Cam Newton, Quarterback, Auburn (Selected By Carolina Panthers)
One of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch at his peak in the modern era of the NFL, Cam Newton’s combination of elusiveness, rushing ability and sheer strength made him nothing short of a serious threat under center in Carolina. The six-foot-five passer’s exceptional Heisman Trophy-winning junior season at Auburn left no doubt in Panthers general manager Marty Hurney’s mind that Newton was the quarterback to take them back to the promised land of an NFC Conference Championship and Super Bowl appearance — and do that he did. The former Tiger delivered Carolina three straight playoff seasons from 2013 to 2015, the last of which saw the Panthers represent one of the all-time great outfits in NFL history. A 15-1 regular-season record, followed by a 49-15 blowout of Arizona in the NFC Championship Game and a valiant effort in Super Bowl 50 —against a Manning-led Denver side with an elite-level defense — indicates the ceiling Newton was able to provide the franchise was worth the draft stock and earned him a well-deserved NFL Most Valuable Player award compiling nearly 4,500 yards and 45 touchdowns in the process. Most recently taking snaps in New England for a Brady-less Patriots side and only just about keeping an inexperienced Jarrett Stidham out of the line-up, Newton is now five years removed from his career peak but a league MVP award, first-team All-Pro inclusion and three Pro Bowl most certainly represent a draft pick pay-off.
2012 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford (Selected By Indianapolis Colts)
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports
Having been blessed with 13 straight seasons of quarterback play from one of the finest passers the league has ever seen in Peyton Manning, Colts fans were about to receive another six from another talented signal-caller – Andrew Luck. Coming out of Stanford, the quarterback’s stellar junior year had impressed Ryan Grigson — and football fans alike — to the extent that the Colts general manager could not afford to pass up on him with the number one pick. And what a decision it turned out to be. Indianapolis experienced a total of zero losing seasons with Luck under center, making the playoffs four times, winning two AFC South division titles in the process and even reaching the doorstep of the Super Bowl in the 2015 calendar year. Luck finished with four Pro Bowl seasons in which he threw for nearly 20,000 yards and 137 touchdowns. Poor protection from his offensive line caused the passer to suffer numerous injuries throughout his career, which came to an end on 24th August 2019 as the quarterback announced his retirement. However, the level of play he provided the franchise — delivering it some of its finest seasons in its entire 67-year history — make this selection another draft pick pay-off.
2013 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Eric Fisher, Offensive Tackle, Central Michigan (Selected By Kansas City Chiefs)
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One of only six offensive linemen in NFL history to be selected with the first overall pick since the inaugural draft in 1936 — and the first MAC player to do so — Eric Fisher was considered one of the top tackles and players overall to be available in 2013 coming out of the college ranks. The Central Michigan prospect received first-team All-American and All-MAC honours in his senior season, duly prompting Chiefs general manager John Dorsey to take him at first overall and solidify the edge of Kansas City’s offensive line for the foreseeable future. Initially, Fisher struggled due to being transitioned to right tackle for his rookie season — despite playing left tackle throughout college. Fisher’s best years came later on in his career after he was moved back to left tackle in his second season. His accolades include: two Pro Bowl appearances in 2018 and 2020 and winning a Super Bowl ring in the intermediate season. While at first appearing as though Kansas City didn’t receive the value they were looking for when selecting the road grader — especially with generational talent DeAndre Hopkins still on the board who was taken 26 picks later — the Chiefs finally appear to be seeing a return on their investment in Fisher who’s now protecting elite-level quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
2014 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, South Carolina (Selected By Houston Texans)
Potentially one of the most dominant defensive ends at the college level in recent history, Jadeveon Clowney declared for the 2014 NFL Draft with a top-two pick status all but secured. A “meaner, nastier version of Julius Peppers” according to Bucky Brooks with Mel Kiper Jr. adding that “these types of prospects just don’t come along very often,” the Gamecocks pass rusher’s two consecutive first-team All-SEC inclusions gave Texans general manager Rick Smith the seemingly easy decision to select Clowney first overall and pair him with J.J. Watt on the defensive line. However, the now-27-year-old’s level of play never properly transitioned to the pros as he has consistently failed to fill up the box score in the way he was well-known for in college where an average of 8 sacks and 43 tackles per season in South Carolina has fallen to an average of 4.6 sacks and 36 tackles per season in the NFL. For a player possessing the talent Clowney displayed as a Gamecock, his production should be far higher. Three Pro Bowl appearances and a second-team All-Pro inclusion in 2016 shows the pass rusher has played well since entering the league, but for a first overall pick as highly touted as Clowney was, the Texans, Seahawks and now Titans should’ve been receiving record-breaking defensive end play.
2015 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State (Selected By Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
The career (to date) of Jameis Winston has certainly been an interesting one. As the youngest ever recipient of the Heisman Trophy at just 19 years and 342 days, the Seminoles signal-caller was meant to represent the start of a new beginning in Tampa Bay. He got off to a good start towards that goal with a Pro Bowl inclusion in his rookie season where he threw for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns and gave Buccaneers fans everywhere confidence that after decades of mediocre quarterback play, they had finally found their guy going forward. In his second year as general manager, Jason Licht’s seemingly vindicated selection of Winston at first overall meant his team now had the potential to contend in a stacked NFC. However, this ambition ultimately proved to be short-lived as the six-foot-four passer never once again reached the dizzying heights of his rookie campaign. Initial conservatism and caution to “let it rip” soon turned to a willingness to force passes to receivers that just weren’t open, culminating in a 30-interception season in 2019 (only six quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown more in a single campaign). Now warming the bench in New Orleans behind a 41-year-old Drew Brees and ‘gadget guy,’ Taysom Hill, this was a draft pick that never paid off for Tampa Bay and instead resulted in four losing seasons out of five, without a single playoff appearance.
2016 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Jared Goff, Quarterback, California (Selected By Los Angeles Rams)
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports
After returning home to Los Angeles following a 21-season tenure in St. Louis, the Rams decided to begin a new era in their franchise’s history with a new man under center. Enter Jared Goff. The California native spent three years on the Golden Bears and rounded off his productive college career with over 4,700 yards and 43 touchdown passes in a junior-season effort that convinced Rams general manager, Les Snead, that Goff was the real deal. So much so, that Los Angeles traded up into the number one spot with Tennessee to ensure that they didn’t miss out on the chance to take their quarterback of the future. And after a shaky rookie season marred by poor coaching, the installation of innovator Sean McVay transformed Goff’s pro career as the two proved to be the perfect pairing with four straight winning seasons including three playoff berths, back-to-back divisional titles, one NFC Championship title for the 2018 season and a Super Bowl appearance. The 2020 season thus far has seen McVay somewhat coaching around Goff as the quarterback’s limitations are starting to show, but the two-time Pro Bowler has lifted the franchise to the top of the strongest division in football in the NFC West for the first time in nearly 15 years — returning the Rams to contender status makes this a draft pick pay-off.
2017 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Myles Garrett, Defensive End, Texas A&M (Selected By Cleveland Browns)
Without a true franchise quarterback for almost 25 years when stalwart slinger Bernie Kosar departed for Dallas, the 2017 NFL Draft saw the Cleveland Browns presented with the number one overall pick for the first time since the year 2000. And de facto general manager Sashi Brown had a huge decision to make – roll the dice on another passer that could potentially relieve the franchise of their quarterback woes, or take top-ranked talent and consensus first overall pick Myles Garrett. The Aggies pass rusher had received two consecutive first-team All-American and All-SEC inclusions, averaging 10.3 sacks, 47 tackles and 15.6 tackles for loss per season during his time at Texas A&M. After opting to take Garrett instead of a QB, it soon became clear that the Browns had added an absolute stud to their defensive line. Garrett’s incredible production thus far in the NFL — averaging over 10 sacks and 2.5 forced fumbles per season — has given the long-suffering franchise something to celebrate as they embark on their first playoff berth in 18 years, a milestone their star defensive end played a key part in them reaching. Barring an uncharacteristic act against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11 of 2019 when Garrett struck Mason Rudolph in the head with his own helmet, two Pro Bowl appearances and a second-team All-Pro inclusion in 2018 are evidence of the pass rusher’s sheer ability at the highest level of football — and the 25-year-old’s best days are yet to come.
2018 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma (Selected By Cleveland Browns)
Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports
Following a historically poor 0-16 season in 2017, Cleveland found themselves with the first overall pick once again the very next year. Sixteen games of quarterback play from rookie DeShone Kizer and backup Kevin Hogan — in addition to the second-worst defense in all of football — meant that the Browns became only the second team to finish a season with a winless record since the 16-game season was introduced. Big changes were needed in Northeast Ohio, starting at the game’s most important position. In one of the strongest quarterback draft classes for years, Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield was first off the board and promptly slotted in to Cleveland’s starting line-up from Week 4 on, after replacing an injured Tyrod Taylor the week prior in an impressive display from the rookie. Since surrounding the Sooners slinger with offensive talent that includes Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, David Njoku and Austin Hooper — as well as the best offensive line in the NFL according to PFF — general managers John Dorsey’s and Andrew Berry’s efforts are finally starting to pay off, which when coupled with the installation of Kevin Stefanski as the head coach and his play-calling ability, have made Mayfield’s on-field issues all the less regular. While yet to make a Pro Bowl in any of his three years in the league thus far, three straight seasons of over 3,500 yards and an average of 25 touchdown passes makes Mayfield's future promising. The jury is still out, but this draft pick is certainly trending upwards.
2019 NFL Draft’s First Overall Pick - Kyler Murray, Quarterback, Oklahoma (Selected By Arizona Cardinals)
The second Heisman Trophy-winning Oklahoma quarterback to be selected first overall in as many years, Kyler Murray divided scouting opinion going in to the 2019 NFL Draft. On one side of the coin you have an incredibly-talented signal-caller with an undeniable dual-threat ability who put up a redshirt junior-season stat line of 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns and an additional 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. On the other side you have a very undersized QB at just five-foot-ten who might not be cut out for the pro game. And after a 32-game sample size in the NFL, there’s no debating which of the two rings true. Murray’s 2019 campaign saw him named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year on a barren Cardinals roster with very few offensive weapons and the 11th-worst offensive line in the league. He compiled over 4,250 total yards and nearly 25 touchdowns in that first year and then followed that up with an impressive sophomore season putting up even better numbers, earning him a well-deserved inclusion in the Pro Bowl. And while the team’s 8-8 record this year means they missed out on the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, now possessing both a top-12 defense and offensive line plus the addition of serial All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins means that the future looks bright for Arizona — especially with Murray under center. Kyler’s rushing ability is the scariest play in all of football, which when coupled with his unquestionable ability as a passer makes Kingsbury’s Cardinals a serious NFC threat going forward.
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