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  • Seb Kennedy

Draft Pick Pay-Offs #5

From standout safeties to league-leading linebackers, the fifth overall pick has produced some of the greatest talents of the modern era. Those selected at the number five spot between 2010 and 2019 have already combined for no fewer than 29 Pro Bowl appearances so far, despite their respectively short tenures, with many more yet to come. However, while some of these names were able to earn a well-deserved inclusion into the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, a few of them didn’t quite cut the mustard at the pro level compared to how they performed in college. This article will assess how well these 10 players were able to follow in the footsteps of fellow fifth overall picks and Hall of Famers, Deion Sanders, Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson. Spoiler alert: contains another of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ characteristic organizational mistakes!

2010 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Eric Berry, Safety, Tennessee (Selected By Kansas City Chiefs)

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

A man who was diagnosed with – and beat – cancer in between both Pro-Bowl and first-team All-Pro seasons, Eric Berry’s inspirational story extends to beyond just the playing field. After a high school career spent thriving in cleats, the state sprinting champion soon swapped the track for the turf and chose to attend the University of Tennessee under the stewardship of both College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer and two-time National Championship-winning coach Lane Kiffin. And their impact on Berry’s footballing was clear to see. Over 240 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 14 interceptions, three sacks and three touchdowns in just 39 games from the safety position represented an incredibly productive college career for the defensive back who not only earned consecutive first-team All-SEC and unanimous All-American honours in 2008 and 2009, but also rounded off his junior season as the Jim Thorpe award-winner. After he declared for the 2010 NFL Draft, and with three tackles and a quarterback off the board, the boisterous ball hawk fell into the laps of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli who made no mistake in bringing Berry to Kansas City where his astounding level of play spoke for itself. Sliding straight into the secondary, the former-Volunteer posted an impressive Pro-Bowl, four-interception rookie season, but his immediate prowess in the pros would soon be seen as far from his most admirable achievement. On December 8th, 2014, Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and spent the succeeding offseason receiving chemotherapy before being declared cancer free, which he then followed up with a 2015 campaign earning first-team All-Pro, Pro-Bowl, and NFL Comeback Player of the Year honours. Just incredible. The fifth overall pick’s five Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro, and NFL 2010s All-Decade Team inclusions have cemented the player’s legacy as not only one of the greatest safeties of the modern era, but of all time with a Hall-of-Fame calibre career that featured an intermediary, victorious cancer battle. If that doesn’t represent a draft pick pay-off for Kansas City, then nothing does.

2011 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU (Selected By Arizona Cardinals)

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A fellow member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade team’s secondary possessing similar credentials, Patrick Peterson’s career to date represents as good a one as any team could’ve hoped for holding the fifth overall pick. Like Berry, the defensive back’s talent on the track and on-field prowess at a young age meant that his five-star recruit status gave him his choice of any football college he wanted. His decision? Louisiana State University. Across three seasons for Les Miles’ side, the Tiger tallied up 135 tackles and seven picks in purple and gold — doubling his interception totals year-on-year — earning him first-team All-SEC honours as a junior, consecutive first-team All-American inclusions in 2009 and 2010, and both the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik award in his final college season. Appearing as ready as any prospect ahead of the 2011 NFL Draft, Peterson became the newest Cardinals corner as general manager Rod Graves brought the phenom to Arizona in the hope that the ball hawk would make an instant impact to the team’s secondary. And do that, he did. A combination of excellent play at defensive back as well as a key asset to the Cardinals’ special teams unit as a punt returner, Peterson’s one interception and 44 returns for 699 yards and four touchdowns earned the rookie both Pro-Bowl and first-team All-Pro honours in a debut season effort for the ages. After a further seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and two more inclusions as an All-Pro first-teamer, the cornerback has posted 499 total tackles, 91 pass deflections, 28 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries across a stellar career that garners the fifth overall pick serious consideration for the Hall of Fame upon his retirement — whenever it is that may be. Having only just completed his first NFL season in his thirties, expect continued production out of Peterson for the foreseeable future as Arizona look to make a serious push in the league’s strongest division. Did Patrick pay off? Absolutely.

2012 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State (Selected By Jacksonville Jaguars)

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Another week, another bust by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Perhaps the player with the shortest pro tenure of any in this article series, Justin Blackmon’s respective college and NFL careers couldn’t have been much more different. The revered receiver won a scholarship to attend Oklahoma State and put on an incredible display during his three playing years for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. A promising redshirt freshman season was then followed by redshirt sophomore and junior campaigns compiling 3304 yards and 38 touchdowns as a serious aerial weapon for quarterback Brandon Weeden. Blackmon’s consecutive first-team All-Big 12 and unanimous All-American honours as well as back-to-back Fred Biletnikoff and Paul Warfield trophies — coupled with a 2010 season that broke every statistic in the school’s record books as the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year — made the wideout a sure-fire selection for Gene Smith’s roster when the receiver fell to the number five spot. But as fans from Duval celebrated Blaine Gabbert’s shiny new toy on offense, Blackmon’s NFL career abruptly ended before it ever really got going. Despite an impressive 865-yard, five-touchdown rookie season — with PFWA All-Rookie Team honours to boot — the fifth overall pick soon swapped receptions for suspensions as multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy eventually condemned the player to a life off the gridiron. Further arrests for the possession of marijuana and a DUI followed, as Blackmon became yet another player in the “What Could Have Been” chapter of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ history book. And when you consider that the franchise missed out on generational talents Luke Kuechly, Stephon Gilmore, Chandler Jones, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, instead favouring the Oklahoma State receiver, whether or not this one paid off isn’t even a question. Justin Blackmon was not the answer.

2013 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Defensive End, BYU (Selected By Detroit Lions)

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

The first-round talent with by far the least amount of experience ahead of the 2013 NFL Draft, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah wasn’t even introduced to the sport of American football until his first year at college. The Ghanaian-born athlete spent his sophomore and junior years at BYU familiarizing himself with the game and playing sporadically on third downs — contributing despite receiving limited snaps — before enjoying a senior season that not only showed the pass rusher’s sheer ability on film, but also in the box score. Ansah’s 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception in 13 games for the Cougars — coupled with an impressive performance at the 2013 Senior Bowl — elevated his draft stock significantly and left general managers the league over considering whether #47 would be the smart choice for their pick in the top 32. The man that made the move for the 2012 first-team All-Independent star defensive end? Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, who paired him with the ferocious Ndamukong Suh on a Detroit defensive line that struck fear into offensive linemen and quarterbacks across the NFL. And much like his new teammate, Ansah hit the ground running. Eleven quarterback hits, eight sacks, seven tackles for loss and two forced fumbles saw the pass rusher named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team in 2013, followed up by an even more impressive 26-quarterback-hit, 7.5-sack, 13-tackle-for-loss, three-forced-fumble sophomore effort as the Lions ended the season as the number-three-ranked defense, enjoying just their second playoff berth in 15 years. And while the greatest team success Detroit enjoyed during Ansah’s was in 2014 as the franchise ended the regular season 11-5, the player’s best individual season came in his third pro season where he accumulated 34 quarterback hits, 15 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles earning the Ghanaian not only a spot in the Pro Bowl but also second-team All-Pro honours. Now on his third team and desperately dealing with nagging injuries, the 31-year-old’s best days as a defensive end are certainly behind him. And while the Lions could’ve selected DeAndre Hopkins, Le’Veon Bell, Travis Kelce, Tyrann Mathieu, Keenan Allen or David Bakhtiari in Ansah’s place, this fifth overall pick turned out pretty well considering he’d never even worn pads nor stepped on a football field prior to his sophomore year at college.

2014 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Khalil Mack, Linebacker, Buffalo (Selected By Oakland Raiders)

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One of the most dominant defensive ends of the modern era, Khalil Mack has represented the epitome of the finished pass-rushing product since his senior season of high school. A 140-tackle, eight-tackle-for-loss, nine-sack campaign saw the Fort Pierce Westwood Panthers win a district championship as Mack’s individual effort won him a scholarship to play Division I football at the University of Buffalo. And from there, it was much more of the same production-wise. The Bull notched up 327 tackles, 74.5 tackles for loss, 28.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and four interceptions under Jeff Quinn, breaking not only school records but also into the All-MAC first-team three consecutive years, earning first-team All-American honours as a senior and winning the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013. Numbers and achievements of that standard projected Mack as a high first-round pick in 2014, and on May 8th the linebacker’s name was the fifth read out by Commissioner Roger Goodell at the podium as the Raiders made the pass rusher the latest addition to their lacklustre defense. And he turned out to be just the shot in the arm Oakland needed. After being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team in his debut season, Mack totalled no fewer than 49 sacks over the next four years in consecutive double-digit sack seasons that earned him four straight Pro Bowl appearances as well as three first-team All-Pro inclusions. What’s even more impressive is that the final season of those four was spent on the Bears as Oakland traded their generational talent to Chicago just eight days before the team’s season opener at Lambeau Field — a game in which Mack became the first player since 1982 to record a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception and touchdown in a single half. Still just three seasons into his Chicago career, the outside linebacker has already posted a further three Pro Bowl appearances, two All-Pro team inclusions, received his place in the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team and even won a spot in the list of 100 Greatest Bears Of All-Time. This dominant defender is headed straight to Canton as a Pro Football Hall of Famer upon retirement, making there absolutely no question that Mack is a draft pick pay-off.

2015 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Brandon Scherff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa (Selected By Washington Redskins)

Daniel Kucin Jr/AP

An incredibly safe and calculated pick from the college ranks, Brandon Scherff has been everything Washington could’ve hoped he would be following a fantastic career at Iowa. After redshirting his freshman year, the Hawkeye replaced junior and fellow future first-rounder Riley Reiff as Kirk Ferentz’s starting left tackle for the first seven games of the season before suffering a broken fibula and dislocated ankle against Penn State, rendering him out until 2013. A further two college seasons of excellent play as a junior and senior protecting quarterback Jake Rudock saw the guard earn first-team All-Big Ten and unanimous All-American honours as well as be named both the Outland Trophy winner and the conference’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. The Iowa graduate entered the 2015 draft as one of the leading linemen which, paired with an impressive performance at the NFL combine, stood Scherff in good stead against the competition. And with the fifth overall pick Scot McCloughan made no mistake. His first selection as Washington’s general manager brought the guard to FedExField where he would man the offensive line as a key protection piece for new starter behind center Kirk Cousins. After six years of reliable, top-tier play from the interior, Scherff’s accolades speak for themselves — a PWFA All-Rookie Team inclusion in his first year, followed by four Pro Bowl appearances in succeeding seasons as well as first-team All-Pro honours in 2020. As the first Washington player to be named first-team All-Pro since punter Matt Turk in 1996, it’s fair to say that the guard has been a bright spot in the team’s dreary endeavours last decade. Still just 29 years of age and reaching the peak of his career, Washington fans will be hoping Scherff’s injury issues are now a thing of the past as the fifth overall pick provides league-leading play at the guard spot when on the field — a welcome sight to any free-agent or rookie quarterback. A draft pick pay-off? Absolutely.

2016 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Jalen Ramsey, Cornerback, Florida State (Selected By Jacksonville Jaguars)

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One of the greatest talents the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise has ever drafted in their 26-season history, Jalen Ramsey is the quintessence of elite-level cornerback play. The high school track and field star’s athletic versatility saw him earn about 40 scholarship offers to colleges across the country — nearly half of those being for him to play wide receiver. After selecting Florida State, the physical phenom became the first true freshman to start a game at cornerback for the Seminoles since the aforementioned Deion Sanders in 1985 and stuffed the box scores throughout his Tallahassee tenure. Compiling 181 tackles, 22 passes defended, 15.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, four forced fumbles and three inceptions, Ramsey became a National Champion in his freshman season, earned first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American honours as a sophomore and was included in the conference’s first-team yet again the following year as well as being named a consensus All-American in a judicious junior season effort. After enjoying similar success representing FSU in track and field as well — including but not limited to posting a long jump just three inches short of automatic qualification for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials — the athlete made the wise decision to forego his senior season and entered the NFL Draft as a consensus top-10 pick. The question was, where would he be going? With a vision to create a potent passing defense, Jaguars’ general manager Dave Caldwell selected Ramsey at fifth overall who would soon represent one quarter of a supreme secondary comprised of fellow cornerback A.J. Bouye and safeties Barry Church and Teshaun Gipson. And following a Pro-Bowl, two-pick debut season earning the nod to the PFWA All-Rookie Team, the former-Seminole showed he was truly one of the league’s best at his respective position in 2017 with four interceptions and 17 passes defended. Those numbers saw Ramsey named to both the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro and were instrumental in Jacksonville’s run to that season’s AFC Championship Game. After another Pro-Bowl campaign the following year, the corner’s wish to continue his career elsewhere was soon granted as Dave Caldwell and Les Snead struck a deal that saw the former-Seminole head west to Los Angeles, where he would soon sign a five-year, $105 million extension, with the Rams to make him the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history. Already boasting four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro inclusions to his name at just 26 years of age, the ravenous Ram is currently on pace to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame if he continues to display league-leading coverage ability. This pick would’ve paid off for Jacksonville if they were just able to keep the corner in the building, but now Los Angeles is reaping the benefits. Mark this one down as another entry into the catalogue of errors that was Dave Caldwell’s Duval tenure.

2017 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Corey Davis, Wide Receiver, Western Michigan (Selected By Tennessee Titans)

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston

A receiver who’s made the most of mediocre quarterback play throughout his football career, Corey Davis has begun to thrive since Ryan Tannehill was installed as the starter in Tennessee. During his time as a wideout at Western Michigan, the Bronco compiled 331 catches for 5,278 yards and 52 touchdowns — setting school records across the board. In addition to breaking and holding the record for total receiving yards in NCAA Division I FBS history, Davis’ conference Freshman of the Year award in 2013, three consecutive first-team All-MAC honours, first-team All-American inclusion in 2016, Paul Warfield Trophy as a senior and title as the MAC Offensive Player of the Year the same season firmly placed the wide receiver near the top of NFL scouts’ and general managers’ draft boards ahead of April 27th, 2017. And with no further years of eligibility at the college level, it wouldn’t be long before Davis would be putting pen to paper on his rookie deal. As the Browns, Bears, 49ers and Jaguars were already welcoming their latest additions, the Titans were soon on the clock and wasted no time in bringing the record-breaking college receiver to Nissan Stadium on a limited Tennessee offense fronted by Marcus Mariota. And after putting up just 1,266 yards and four touchdowns across his first two seasons due to milquetoast quarterback play and offensive scheming, it was midway through the 2019 that saw the wideout really come into his own. The injection of veteran Ryan Tannehill into the starting line-up combined with visionary Arthur Smith’s play-calling ability was the shot in the arm both Davis and the Titans offense needed. They made it all the way to the doorstep of Super Bowl LIV where they lost to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, proving themselves as a serious conference contender which they would back up the following season. A two-win improvement on their 2019 season, the 2020 Titans went 11-5 as AFC South division champions with their fifth overall pick posting 945 yards and five touchdowns in just 10 starts on the year. Hoping for similar levels of production in 2021, Davis’ game has been transformed by Tennessee’s decision to put a new passer behind center. Whether or not he’ll fully justify himself as a draft pick pay-off is yet to be seen, but at just 26 years old, the future looks bright for the all-time college wideout in Nashville.

2018 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Bradley Chubb, Linebacker, NC State (Selected By Denver Broncos)

Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

The player picked to partner Von Miller on a Denver defense featuring a dominant pass-rushing presence, Bradley Chubb’s incredible college tenure is one that NC State fans will remember for a long time. After a freshman season receiving just two games of playing time, the defensive end’s sophomore and junior years finally saw him given adequate snaps as Chubb racked up 122 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, five forced fumbles, two defended passes and an interception in 26 games. But it was his senior season that truly propelled him to the top of 2018 NFL Draft boards. Seventy-two tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, two defended passes and a forced fumble earned the pass rusher first-team All-ACC and unanimous first-team All-American honours, as well as awarded him with the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, ACC Defensive Player of the Year title and Ted Hendricks award — finishing his time on the Wolfpack as the school’s all-time leading sack record holder with 26 in total. That emphatic pre-pro performance from the outside linebacker — coupled with his incredible NFL combine showing that displayed the player’s sheer athleticism — meant that it wouldn’t be too long until Commissioner Roger Goodell would be calling Chubb’s name at the podium on the opening night of the 2018 NFL Draft. In a quarterback-heavy class that saw two passers taken in the first three picks, the NC State star was just the second defender selected on the night as Broncos general manager John Elway brought Chubb to Denver in a move that he hoped would return the franchise to their defensive stature of years past. And with the addition of the fifth overall pick, the Broncos’ defense began trending in the right direction. Improving from the 23rd-ranked defense in 2017 to the 13th-ranked the year after, much of this can be attributed to their new pass rusher’s incredible debut campaign where he accumulated 60 tackles, 21 quarterback hits, 14 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and two forced fumbles. That stat lne saw the defensive end storm into the PFWA All-Rookie Team before unfortunately suffering a season-ending injury in Week 4 of 2019. However, an impressive bounce-back effort in 2020 saw Chubb earn his first ever Pro Bowl honours as the college phenom completed just his second full pro season on a Denver side that has been without a winning record in four years. Still just 24 years of age with a bright future ahead of him, the Bronco has performed as well as expected so far in his NFL career. However, the jury is still out on whether or not this will prove to be a draft pick pay-off but given what he’s already shown he can do when healthy, I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

2019 NFL Draft’s Fifth Overall Pick - Devin White, Inside Linebacker, LSU (Selected By Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Having already solidified his status as one of the greatest inside linebackers in the entire league after just two seasons, Devin White’s rise to stardom has been quicker than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could’ve ever hoped for. The Louisiana native signed with local team LSU in 2016 following controversies in high school and immediately shined on the field in Baton Rouge. The Tiger posted 30 tackles (three for loss), a sack and a forced fumble in eight games as a freshman before truly impressing in 2017 and 2018. His sophomore and junior seasons were spent compiling 256 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, nine defended passes, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception which earned the linebacker not only first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American honours in 2017, but first-team All-SEC and consensus All-American honours the following year as well. White’s prowess at the heart of the Tigers’ defense — becoming the first player in conference history to be named Defensive Player of the Week four times in the same season — rocketed his draft stock which was only further increased after the phenom’s outstanding display at the NFL combine. Not willing to pass on the Butkus Award-winner, Bucs general manager Jason Licht duly selected White with the fifth overall pick and brought him eastwards to Tampa Bay where, much like his time in Louisiana, he hit the ground running. In just 13 games, the linebacker racked up 91 tackles (four for loss), five quarterback hits, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, three defended passes, 2.5 sacks, two touchdowns and an interception on his way to a well-deserved spot in the PFWA All-Rookie Team. With Tom Brady now running the pirate ship, the 2020 season represented a different fate for Tampa but the one thing that didn’t change was White’s ability at the inside linebacker spot. The defender’s 140-tackle, 15-tackle-for-loss, 16-quarterback-hit, nine-sack effort not only elevated the Bucs defense to eighth overall (number one against the rush), but also saw the fifth overall pick earn second-team All-Pro honours at just 22 years of age. On the verge of winning a ring — with the outcome of Super Bowl LV yet to be decided at the time of writing — White’s incredible post-season campaign has also shown that the linebacker can perform on the biggest stage, as well as confirmed his status as a draft pick pay-off. Well done, Jason Licht - you nailed this one!

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