Draft Pick Pay-Offs #3
Three is the magic number, as De La Soul first told us back in 1989 — and eight NFL teams were hoping this would still prove true some 21 years later and beyond. The Buccaneers, Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Jaguars, Chargers, 49ers and Jets held the third overall picks in the NFL Draft between 2010 and 2019 in what would eventually prove to be a very interesting selection of players with regards to how their respective careers panned out. Some were able to entirely justify their incredibly high pick status whereas others didn’t quite end up performing near what was expected of them coming off the back of a fantastic college career. Here’s a breakdown of just how well the third overall picks from each of the last decade’s NFL Drafts played in the pros.
2010 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Oklahoma (Selected By Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
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Everyone loves a good hometown hero success story which is exactly what Oklahoma-born Gerald McCoy provided before turning pro. After a fantastic college career that saw him accumulate 83 tackles, 33 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in just 40 games as an interior defensive lineman, the stellar Sooner left Tampa Bay general Manager Mark Dominik little to no choice but to take the him with the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. And what a decision it turned out to be. Rookie and sophomore seasons both truncated by arm injuries in which McCoy was able to remain productive were then followed by six consecutive seasons of exceptional play that saw the lineman make the Pro Bowl every single year, as well as receive four All-Pro team inclusions. Averaging 7.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits per season during that span not only highlights McCoy as a cornerstone of the now-dominant Buccaneers defense – that ranks first against the rush and eighth overall in 2020 under Todd Bowles – but also gives the defensive tackle a substantial case for one day making it into the prestigious Pro Football Hall of Fame. After subsequent spells in Carolina and Dallas that now see McCoy resigned to free agency, the now-32-year-old’s best days are certainly behind him, but don’t rule out the third overall pick’s chances of returning to the league as a productive playmaker in 2021. A draft pick pay-off for Tampa Bay? 100 percent.
2011 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Alabama (Selected By Buffalo Bills)
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Combine unbelievable athleticism and incredible size, and you get Marcell Dareus. The six-foot-three defensive tackle’s fantastic college career that saw him put up double-digit sacks and 70 tackles (20 for loss) as an interior lineman culminated in a National Championship MVP performance as Alabama defeated Texas 37-21. But further success was destined for Dareus as he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft. The Bama baller made history by becoming the highest selected defensive player from the school since Cornelius Bennett in 1987, as Bills general manager Buddy Nix took the tackle at third overall to slot him into a defensive line alongside six-time Pro Bowl talent Kyle Williams. And it didn’t take long for Dareus to deliver in the pros. A 5.5-sack freshman season saw the lineman earn PFWA All-Rookie Team honours that he would later upgrade to Pro Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014, earning a first-team All-Pro inclusion for the latter. Notching up 28.5 sacks in his first four NFL seasons from an interior position, there’s no denying that Dareus had proven he could perform on the biggest stage — though at just 25 years old, unfortunately his best years as a pro were already behind him. A few bum years in Buffalo followed that elite-level 2014 season as the third overall pick soon found himself being traded to the Jaguars, where he was never able to surpass two and a half sacks despite adequate playing time on a Duval team now destined for better days. With the team’s front office declining the option on Dareus’ contract last offseason, the National Championship MVP now finds himself as a free agent (much like McCoy). But those first four years in Buffalo and the lineman’s early career peak deem Nix’s decision a well-evaluated one when all things are considered.
2012 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama (Selected By Cleveland Browns)
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The story of Trent Richardson is certainly an interesting one. The running back started his career splitting carries with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr. in an Alabama backfield that contributed to two National Championship-winning seasons in just three seasons — and with Ingram heading to New Orleans after being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, it was Richardson’s time to shine. The five-foot-nine, 230-pound rusher saw a significantly increased share of touches as the leading Bama back, compiling over 2000 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns in a junior season that convinced general managers across the league that this guy was the real deal. Drawing comparisons to both Emmitt Smith and Earl Campbell with former Colts team president Bill Polian describing him as one of the “three sure-thing players” in the 2012 draft, Browns general manager Tom Heckert made sure his potential running back of the future fell no further down the board than number three. But after a productive rookie season putting up over 1300 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Doak Walker Award-winner’s NFL career was over before it ever really started. Traded to the Colts to play out the majority of the 2013 season as second-in-command to Donald Brown before splitting carries with Ahmad Bradshaw in 2014, Richardson eventually made his way north of the border for a season in Canada returning only in 2019 for a stint in the newly-formed AAF. Though a fantastic college player who enjoyed a productive rookie season as a pro, it’s fair to say that #33 never quite fulfilled his third overall pick potential.
2013 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Dion Jordan, Defensive End, Oregon (Selected By Miami Dolphins)
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One of the seldomly-seen cases where a top-10 pick was drafted at a position he didn’t begin his college career playing, Dion Jordan’s switch from tight end to defensive end in his sophomore season at Oregon makes his production all the more impressive. Fourteen and a half sacks, 29 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles on a Ducks defensive line that didn’t feature Jordan until 2010, saw the pass rusher earn consecutive first-team All-Pac-12 honours in 2011 and 2012, as well as being named a first-team All-American for his senior season. Despite entering into the NFL Draft undergoing surgery for a torn labrum requiring three to four months recovery, Jordan’s college prowess encouraged Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland to trade up with the Raiders to secure not only the third overall pick, but hopefully Miami’s defensive star of the future alongside Cameron Wake. But unfortunately, the Duck’s pro tenure didn’t exactly play out as successfully as his time at Oregon. Two unproductive years on the Dolphins which saw Jordan miss the entire 2015 season due to violation of the league’s substance abuse policy were followed by subsequent similarly-woeful stints in Seattle and Oakland, also riddled with injury and further suspensions. Now playing out his days on the 49ers and only being promoted to the active roster after Nick Bosa’s season-ending ACL tear, the 30-year-old is yet to top four sacks in an NFL season — a feat he achieved twice at the college level. Jordan remains a fringe roster player in 2021, which is a far cry from the generational talent he was projected to be as a third overall pick.
2014 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Blake Bortles, Quarterback, UCF (Selected By Jacksonville Jaguars)
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Blake. Bortles. Two names when combined cause Jacksonville Jaguars fans the world over to let out a sigh of despair while simultaneously adding fuel to the fire of the notion that Dave Caldwell favoured his hometown picks. After a redshirt freshman season that saw Bortles adopt the back-up role to sophomore Jeff Godfrey, the quarterback stepped into the starting gig in 2012 and played 27 games in a two-season span that saw the Knights signal-caller compile some impressive statistics including 7,197 total yards and 64 touchdowns for an average passer rating of 154. After a sophomore season in which the UCF QB earned first-team All-AAC honours as well as being awarded the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year Award, and with the Jaguars in dire need of a serious upgrade at quarterback with nothing more to offer than Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville duly selected Bortles with the third overall pick. And initially, it seemed as though the team’s front office had made a sensible decision. The Knight had no issues filling up the box score every Sunday and averaged over 4,000 yards passing and 26 touchdowns in his first three seasons as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback, playing out a rookie deal by delivering the franchise their best record in10 years. A 10-6 2017 season that saw Bortles hand Jacksonville their first division title since 1999 and make it to the doorstep of Super Bowl LII earned the passer a three-year, $54 million contract in 2018. However, that deal would ultimately prove to cripple the team’s cap for years to come as the signal-caller – who for years was held as a diamond in the rough – actually turned out to be fool’s gold. The underwhelming play that followed the signing of Bortles’ new deal saw him subsequently resigned to a back-up spot again — this time to Jared Goff in Los Angeles. Unlikely to ever receive a starting job at the NFL level again, this draft pick would’ve been better spent on a Khalil Mack, Mike Evans or Aaron Donald — all of whom were selected after Bortles in the 2014 NFL Draft. But as a Jaguars fan myself, I thank you, Blake, for giving me the greatest year of my football fandom to date.
2015 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Dante Fowler, Defensive End, Florida (Selected By Jacksonville Jaguars)
Dante Fowler - David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire
The second number three overall pick selected from a local school by the Jacksonville Jaguars in as many years, Dante Fowler declared for the 2015 NFL Draft having racked up 8.5 sacks, 60 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in just 12 games as a junior. His final outing for the Gators saw the pass rusher record three sacks in a 28-20 Birmingham Bowl victory against East Carolina, which, when added to his first-team All-SEC inclusion for his final year at Florida, made the defensive end one of the hottest prospects heading into the draft having proven he could perform on the big stage. After a woeful 3-13 season the year prior, the Jaguars made Fowler’s transition to the NFL as logistically stress-free as possible by bringing him to EverBank Field some 74 miles down the road from “The Swamp.” However, the Gator missed out his entire rookie season and thus a year of invaluable pro experience by tearing his ACL on the very first day of mini-camp making him unable to make his NFL debut until September 11th, 2016 in a loss to the Packers. But 2017 is where Fowler really shined in black and teal. Eight sacks, seven tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles in the regular season with a further two sacks, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits in the playoffs, all without making a single start, made the pass rusher a key rotational piece to the team’s success. After a Super Bowl LIII appearance with the Rams and a subsequent career-high 11.5-sack season, Fowler now finds himself in Atlanta as one of the highest-paid defensive ends in all of football. Can the 26-year-old replicate his 2019 form for years to come? Only time will tell.
2016 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State (Selected By San Diego Chargers)
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From one of the highest-paid defensive ends in the league to the highest-paid defensive end in the league, Joey Bosa’s 2016 entry into the NFL and subsequent success blazed a trail for his brother Nick to follow. The elder of the two brothers played three seasons at Ohio State from 2013 to 2015 compiling 26 sacks, 148 tackles, 51 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles on a Buckeyes team that won the National Championship in Bosa’s intermediate season where he truly shined — winning the Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year Award as a sophomore. His ability to stuff box scores as well as the incredible athleticism he displayed at the NFL combine left Chargers general manager Tom Telesco no real alternative than to select Bosa with the third overall pick, pairing him with fellow edge defender Melvin Ingram to form a duo that would soon wreak havoc on the league and keep both offensive tackles and offensive coordinators up late at night. Across the next four seasons together, the dominant defenders would account for a combined 72.5 sacks and five Pro Bowl appearances, with the former Buckeye earning first-team All-Pro honours in 2019 and a record-breaking five-year, $135 million contract extension prior to the 2020 season. And with his younger brother Nick showing that he’s every bit as dominant as Joey off the edge — and having been selected one spot higher in the NFL Draft — the sibling rivalry has never been higher. It’s too early to determine which Bosa is going to have the more successful career, all that’s clear is that Joey Bosa is 100% representative of a draft pick pay-off.
2017 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Solomon Thomas, Defensive End, Stanford (Selected By San Francisco 49ers)
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The third consecutive defensive end drafted in the first round by the 49ers, the selection of Solomon Thomas in 2017 elucidated San Francisco’s commitment to their now-conspicuous drafting philosophy — going heavy on the defensive line with their early-round picks. After redshirting his first year at Stanford, the pass rusher’s first taste of college football came in 2015 where he compiled 3.5 sacks, 37 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. But it was his stellar junior season that really caught the eye of NFL scouts everywhere. With 8.5 sacks, 61 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and a forced fumble the pass-rusher earned first-team All-Pac-12 honours as well as the Morris Trophy and being projected as a first-round pick for the 2017 NFL Draft. Not wishing to pass on such a productive talent, new 49ers general manager John Lynch — who actually studied alongside Thomas as a mature student while working as a broadcaster for FOX Sports — took the college Cardinal and added him to a defensive line featuring DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. And in just a couple of years’ time with Pro Bowlers Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Nick Bosa also in the mix, Thomas and Co. would go on to take the league by storm by forming the NFL’s number one passing defense and leading a San Francisco squad to a 13-3 season and NFC Championship, before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. And while Thomas is yet to top three sacks in a season since entering the pros, he serves as a key rotational piece to a star-studded 49ers defense that will be under the command of a new defensive coordinator in 2021 with Robert Saleh taking on his first head coaching role in New York. A draft pick pay-off? It’s still too early to say, but his presence alone on the red-and-gold defensive line is a threat to tackles, guards and centers across the league.
2018 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC (Selected By New York Jets)
One of the five signal-callers selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft — a haul tied for the second-most of all time behind the famous 1983 class — Sam Darnold would become the latest passer that represented hope for a franchise in search of a true franchise quarterback since the days of Ken O’Brien in the 80s and early 90s. Following a redshirted freshman year in 2015 and acting as the second-stringer to Max Browne the following season, Darnold’s fortune soon took a turn for the better as he got the chance to prove himself in the Pac-12. Browne’s benching after a 1-2 start gave the future third overall pick his first ever college start against the Utah Utes. His 18/26, 253-yard display in that game continued throughout the year as the Darnold-led Trojans did not lose a single game for the remainder of the 2016 season. When combined with his 4,143-yard, 26-touchdown sophomore campaign in 2017, the passer’s first-team All-Pac-12 honours had convinced Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan that Darnold was the man to return Gang Green to the heights Hall of Famer Joe Namath had taken them to some 49 years earlier — a Super Bowl title. Despite New York’s barren offensive personnel and far-from-exceptional defense, the Trojan was expected to round up the horsemen and lift the level of the team’s overall play to contender status. But that never proved to be the case. Albeit marred by poor coaching, Darnold only managed to surpass 3,000 yards in one of his three NFL seasons and has thrown nearly as many interceptions as he has touchdowns in the league across a now-ample sample size. Robert Saleh’s intentions at quarterback for the future of Jets remain unclear at the time of writing but with both Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen having performed at an MVP level for stretches of their career already, it’s beginning to seem as though New York took the wrong signal-caller at third overall.
2019 NFL Draft’s Third Overall Pick - Quinnen Williams, Defensive Tackle, Alabama (Selected By New York Jets)
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More so known for his hilarious interviews than his play on the field, it often goes overlooked just how dominant a player Quinnen Williams was at the college level. A sophomore season compiling eight sacks, 71 tackles and 19.5 tackles for loss as an interior lineman put the defensive tackle in good stead ahead of the 2019 draft. And after an unbelievable performance at the NFL combine — running the 40-yard dash in a frankly ridiculous 4.83-second time at over 300 pounds — the Bama baller became the latest addition to a New York Jets side looking to find their footing in an increasingly-competitive AFC East division. The third overall pick made a shaky transition from college to the pros and struggled slightly in his rookie season, but his 2020 campaign is where Williams really came into his own. The Outland Trophy-winner more than doubled his 2019 production as 2.5 sacks became seven, 28 tackles became 55, four tackles for loss became 10 and six quarterback hits became 14, despite playing three fewer games and missing the final two after being placed on injured reserve. The defensive lineman’s step up from year one to year two is certainly encouraging for the organisation, but it’s still far too soon to determine whether or not this one really worked out for the Jets. However, one thing’s for certain — from both blessing AND thanking yourself after a sneeze to looking forward to “playing with yourself” on Madden — never change, Quinnen Williams!
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