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  • Seb Kennedy

Draft Pick Pay-Offs #6

Whether your organization has either not performed badly enough to receive a top-five overall pick or wasn’t willing to trade away the required draft capital to jump up the board, the sixth selection spot in the NFL Draft still holds a lot of value in the modern era. From all-time tackle Walter Jones to “Mr. Raider,” Tim Brown, the number six overall pick has delivered numerous inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — but these examples represent the true cream of the crop. For each and every generational talent selected at sixth overall, there were just as many categorical busts. This article will look at just how well these particular individuals between 2010 and 2019 were able to replicate the success enjoyed by fellow sixth overall picks before them — and some of the names on this list have done exactly that.

2010 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Russell Okung, Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma State (Selected By Seattle Seahawks)

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

The player drafted as the replacement for the aforementioned Walter Jones on the Seahawks’ offensive line with the all-time tackle’s retirement imminent, Russell Okung had some incredibly big boots to fill in Seattle. Under the stewardship of the experienced Mike Gundy, the Oklahoma State baller moved into the starting line-up against Kansas to complete a true freshman season with eight straight starts in a debut college year that not only saw Okung voted to The Sporting News’ All-Big 12 Freshman Team, but also win the Dick Bogert award as the school’s top freshman. And from his sophomore year onwards, it was very much of the same. The tackle solidified the edge of the Cowboys’ offensive line for a further three seasons, enjoying a college career receiving two consecutive inclusions in both the All-Big 12 and All-American First-Team, as well as both the Jim Parker Trophy and Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year award as a senior. Boasting plenty of prestigious accolades including a game against Texas A&M that saw Okung hold then-NCAA sack leader, Von Miller, without a quarterback sack, newly-hired Seahawks general manager John Schneider selected the reliable road grader as his first Seattle draft pick at six overall — making him the highest Oklahoma State selection since Barry Sanders in 1989. Okung’s injury-laden first few seasons in the NFC West contributed towards the Seahawks’ failing to muster even an average offensive line, with PFF’s 2014 rank of 19th being the franchise’s peak in the first half of the decade. But as the tackle continued to gain invaluable experience and with second-year passer Russell Wilson’s mobility behind center, Okung and company put up a season to remember in 2013. Coming off of a Pro Bowl campaign, the tackle’s efforts saw the Seahawks end the year with a 13-3 record, subsequently winning three straight playoff games and getting their hands on the team’s first ever Lombardi trophy. Since winning his Super Bowl ring, Okung’s only other Pro Bowl season came on a 9-7 Chargers side in 2017 that failed to make it to the postseason. Now on his fourth franchise at the age of 32, the lineman’s injury issues have continued to hinder him after the turn of the decade and it seems as though his best days on the field as a key protection piece are sadly behind him. Despite his two Pro Bowl appearances and Super Bowl XLVIII victory, the once-deemed stalwart franchise tackle was essentially condemned to a journeyman career. For the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft, you’re looking for a better return than that if you’re Seattle — this one didn’t pay off for the Seahawks.

2011 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Alabama (Selected By Atlanta Falcons)

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

No list of the best wideouts of the 2010s is complete without Julio Jones — there’s even a strong argument to be made that the reliable receiver deserves the top spot. The five-star college recruit committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide in February 2008, hitting the ground running in his first season. Jones made history by becoming the first ever true freshman wide receiver to start a season opener for Alabama, playing in every game on the Crimson Tide’s schedule in a 924-yard, four-touchdown effort that earned the phenom second-team All-SEC honours as well as the conference’s Freshman of the Year award. In his sophomore and junior campaigns, Jones averaged 864.5 yards and 5.5 touchdowns, further adding to his college accolades with both Conference and National Championships in 2009 as well as first-team All-SEC honours in 2010, placed the receiver firmly near the top of NFL teams’ boards ahead the 2011 draft. Following an incredible display at the NFL Combine that saw Jones record a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 220 pounds, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff needed no further evidence that the Bama baller was the real deal and traded five picks to the Browns to ensure that Julio would become the latest aerial weapon for Matt Ryan, joining Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez as part of Atlanta's receiving core. A debut season spent compiling 959 yards and eight touchdowns as a member of the PFWA’s All-Rookie Team proved to head coach Mike Smith that Jones was more than able to produce at the pro level, and throughout the decade he has done exactly that. Almost 14,000 career receiving yards including no fewer than eight 1,000-yard seasons has seen #11 being named to seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams, the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, end two regular seasons as the league leader in receiving yards and confirmed his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame upon retirement. The career leader in NFL receiving yards per game with 95.5 — 9.4 greater than second-placed Calvin Johnson — Jones may well finish his football life as one of the greatest players of all time that failed to win a Super Bowl ring. Not only is this a draft pick pay-off, but this selection represents one of the greatest decisions the Falcons’ franchise has ever made.

2012 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU (Selected By Dallas Cowboys)

Tom Pennington

One of the many defensive backs from LSU to make a name for themselves in the NFL in recent years, Morris Claiborne’s college career more than justified his status as a sixth overall pick. Spending his freshman year as a backup, the corner’s sophomore and junior seasons proved exactly why the defensive back was ready to take the next step up to the pro level. Eighty-eight tackles (two for loss), 11 interceptions, nine defended passes, a fumble recovery and a touchdown in 26 games as a member of Les Miles’ secondary earned Claiborne second-team All-SEC honours in 2010, before enjoying an even more decorated 2011 season. The corner was a first-team All-SEC member, both the conference Defensive Player of the Year and Jim Thorpe award-winner and won unanimous All-American honours. With the Tiger deciding to forego his senior season and Dallas scouts holding him as the highest-graded cornerback in any NFL Draft since Deion Sanders in 1989, Jerry Jones pulled the trigger and made Claiborne a Cowboy for the next four seasons. However, things didn’t go quite to plan for the ballhawk on Jason Garrett’s defense. The college phenom’s rookie contract tenure in Dallas was riddled with injuries as the corner failed to top one interception per season as a Cowboy. But with veteran Darrelle Revis coming to an end of his second and final tenure in New York, the Jets handed Claiborne another chance to revive his career after signing him to a one-year contract in 2017 which they would later extend the following season. Despite Gang Green’s best efforts to create an environment in which the defensive back could thrive, adding stud safety Jamal Adams to the secondary in the draft some 40 days later, once again Claiborne failed to produce at the level expected of a sixth overall pick. Now 31, the former-Tiger earned himself a Super Bowl ring in 2019 by contributing to a dominant Kansas City Chiefs side in the regular season despite being inactive for the big game. The cornerback didn’t play in 2020 and remains a free agent — not what the Cowboys were hoping for when selecting him sixth overall. Draft pick pay-off? Unfortunately not.

2013 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Barkevious Mingo, Defensive End, LSU (Selected By Cleveland Browns)

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Possessing probably the greatest name of any top-10 pick in NFL history, the fascination surrounding Barkevious Levon “Keke” Mingo extends to beyond just his birth certificate. The linebacker’s role in an explosive LSU defense alongside Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu and the aforementioned Morris Clayborne contributed to the school’s 42-10 domination of Georgia in the 2011 SEC Championship game. While this may well have been the highlight of Mingo’s college career, his consistent play across his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons in purple and gold saw the pass rusher compile some impressive statistics. Across 40 games, his 119 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 11 defended passes, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery earned Mingo not only back-to-back second-team All-SEC honours in 2011 and 2012, but also the attention of NFL scouts and general managers everywhere. Come the 25th April 2013 — and with fellow defensive ends Dion Jordan and Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah already selected by Miami and Detroit respectively — newly-hired Mike Lombardi spent his very first draft pick as general manager of the Cleveland Browns on the tough-tackling Tiger who joined a defense seriously lacking any sort of fire power in the front seven. And even after the addition of Mingo, that sentiment appeared to remain true as Cleveland failed to muster anything representative of a competitive outfit as the Browns finished last in their division each and every year the outside linebacker took to the field at FirstEnergy Stadium. After Cleveland announced they would not be picking up Mingo’s fifth-year option, de facto general manager Sashi Brown traded him to New England in return for a fifth-round pick ahead of a season that would see the linebacker win a Super Bowl ring against the Falcons in February 2017 — though appearing exclusively on special teams during the game. Following very brief spells on the Colts, Seahawks and Texans thereafter, the sixth overall pick now finds himself playing out his days in Chicago on the wrong side of 30. While Mingo has by no means performed at the level expected of a top-10 draft selection, the fact that he continues to find work in the sport’s premier league says something to his character and versatility both on and off the field. For a pass rusher selected sixth overall, you’re hoping for a Von Miller-esque type of talent which unfortunately Mingo has not proven himself to be — though this may not be a draft pick pay-off for Cleveland, I for one, would love to see Mingo stick around in the pros throughout the 2020s.

2014 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M (Selected By Atlanta Falcons)

Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

Looking to follow in the footsteps of his Hall-of-Fame father Bruce as the latest member of the famous family to play in the NFL, Jake Matthews grew up in as ideal an environment as one could hope for wishing to play football. As a four-star recruit and USA Today High School All-American in 2009, he selected Texas A&M as his college of choice where he enjoyed a stellar pre-pro career. Manning an offensive line protecting starting quarterbacks Jerrod Johnson, Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel, Matthews received back-to-back first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American honours in his junior and senior seasons, as well as being named an unanimous All-American in 2013. With Auburn Tigers’ tackle Greg Robinson already off the board at number two, and given the increasing importance of outside linemen in the modern pass-happy era of the NFL, the Falcons duly selected the Aggie at number six as a key protection piece for Matt Ryan as Atlanta looked to return to their 2012 form. With Matthews protecting Ryan’s blindside from Week 1 of his rookie season, the Falcons’ line improved year-on-year, per PFF, culminating in the team’s incredible 2016 campaign that saw them put up an 11-5 regular season as NFC South division winners on route to Super Bowl LI where Matthews was named to the starting line-up. Nevertheless, their franchise left tackle was performing at an exponentially-improving rate which earned the former Aggie a five-year, $75 million extension in 2018 — a year he would justify his price tag by making his first ever Pro Bowl appearance. Given that Matthews’ most recent campaign saw him play all 16 games, allowing only three quarterback sacks, six quarterback hits and three total penalties on 1,113 offensive snaps as the ninth-best pass-blocking tackle in the entire league, the lineman’s durability and consistency he has shown since entering the NFL in 2014 is something every franchise dreams of. And while the player may not be the most decorated at his position and doesn’t have multiple All-Pro honours and Pro Bowl appearances to show for his effort, a franchise left tackle is something teams go in search of for decades and is definitely worth a sixth overall pick. This one is a draft pick pay-off for Atlanta.

2015 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Leonard Williams, Defensive End, USC (Selected By New York Jets)

Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

One of Gang Green’s latest attempts to find a pure pass rusher since the days of John Abraham in the early 2000s, Leonard Williams’ consistency at the college level is something very rarely seen on the defensive line. An incredible freshman year at USC spent compiling 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and an interception saw the tackle win the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award, before being moved to defensive end in his sophomore and junior-season efforts which proved equally as impressive. One Hundred-fifty-four tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 26 games earned Williams not only consecutive first-team All-Pac-12 honours but also back-to-back inclusions in the All-America first-team. Coupled with an astounding performance at the NFL Combine where the lineman ran a sub-five second 40-yard dash at over 300 pounds, New York made Williams the second defensive end off the board after Dante Fowler by taking him with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft — not only making him the highest selected Trojan since Darrell Russell some 18 years earlier, but also giving Jets fans everywhere hope that the team would be able to return to a top-10 pass defense. And for the first time in three years — thanks in part to the addition of Williams on the edge — that’s exactly what Gang Green was able to do. The sixth overall pick’s 63 tackles (seven for loss), 21 quarterback hits and three sacks in his debut season saw him make the PFWA All-Rookie Team, before putting up his very best campaign in green and white the next year. A 2016 season in which Williams compiled 68 tackles (11 for loss), 19 quarterback hits, seven sacks and two forced fumbles earned the pass rusher Pro Bowl honours in just his second year as a pro, though this wouldn’t end up being his most productive campaign at MetLife Stadium. On October 28th, 2019, general managers Joe Douglas and Dave Gettleman struck a deal that saw Williams traded to the stadium’s other home franchise in return for a 2020 third-round pick and 2021 fifth-round pick. The defensive end justified his value in his first full season playing for Big Blue. In just 12 starts, number 99 racked up 57 tackles (14 for loss), 30 quarterback hits, 11.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one defended pass on Patrick Graham’s defense in a double-digit sack season the Jets failed to get out of the player. Williams appears as though at the age of 26, he’s found the right system for him as he enters his peak at the position. While not a draft pick pay-off for the Jets, this is certainly a trade pay-off for the Giants. A nice bit of business here by Mr. Gettleman.

2016 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame (Selected By Baltimore Ravens)

Baltimore Ravens

The highest-selected offensive tackle in the 2016 NFL Draft, taken ahead of two-time first-team All-Pro Jack Conklin and two-time Pro Bowler Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley entered the pros with a lot to live up to. After committing to Notre Dame in December 2011 and playing in just two games as a true freshman in a reserve role, the tackle’s three subsequent college seasons were what seriously proved his worth as a member of Brian Kelley’s team. As a sophomore Stanley started all 13 games at right tackle as a key part of an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks all year — ranking second in the FBS — and took over from Cowboys draftee Zack Martin the next season where he allowed just a single sack. Following contemplation to enter the NFL draft a year early, the Fighting Irishman returned to Notre Dame Stadium for his senior season where he won consensus All-American honours protecting sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer on a 10-3 outfit, ultimately vindicating his decision. With no remaining years of eligibility in the NCAA and with his draft stock as high as it’s ever been, Stanley entered the 2016 NFL Draft as one of the consensus top tackles where he would eventually find a home in Baltimore, as Ozzie Newsome selected the lineman with the sixth overall pick to protect 31-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside. In a rookie season where the tackle started 12 games — only missing four due to a foot injury — the Ravens’ offensive line improved from 13th the year prior to 9th in 2016 with Stanley receiving the third-highest grade among all rookies at his position. From there, the sixth overall pick’s consistency saw Baltimore pick up the fifth-year option on his contract in 2019 — where he would go on to have a career year. A reliable road grader for dynamic MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back tandem Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, Stanley earned both first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honours on a 14-2 Ravens side that finished the regular season as the most productive rushing offense of all time — breaking the NFL record with 3,296 yards. And Baltimore’s stud left tackle was a key reason for this. Following an incredible 2019 season, the Ravens signed their loyal lineman to a five-year, $112.866 million contract extension which made him the highest paid tackle, guard or center in the league in terms of maximum total value. Yet to turn 27, Stanley will be blocking for Baltimore well into the 2020s and may still have his best years in him. Much like the aforementioned Jake Matthews, due to the Ravens’ ability to properly scout and install their franchise left tackle, Ronnie Stanley absolutely represents a draft pick pay-off.

2017 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Jamal Adams, Safety, LSU (Selected By New York Jets)

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Another Jets draft pick now playing and succeeding elsewhere in the league like Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams represents one of the bright spots in the recent dark history of Gang Green football. A five-star, top-10 overall recruit in his class, the safety committed to LSU to play college football from 2014 where he would thrive for three consecutive years in purple and gold. With 209 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 14 defended passes, five interceptions, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries across just 36 games in the Tigers’ secondary, Adams earned second-team All-SEC honours as a true freshman and both first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American inclusions in his sophomore season in 2016. No longer needing to prove himself at the NCAA Division I level and more than ready to perform in the pros, the strong safety declared for the 2017 NFL Draft on January 6th where he was bound to find many a suitor needing serious help in the secondary. The lucky franchise that received Adams — without even needing to trade up to select him — was Mike Maccagnan’s New York Jets at number six, where the defensive back hit the ground running. An 83-tackle, nine-tackle-for-loss, two-sack, one-forced-fumble debut season saw the safety named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team as the sole representative of Gang Green, propelling Adams to a further two outstanding seasons at MetLife Stadium. 2018 and 2019 campaigns spent compiling 190 tackles (19 for loss), 21 quarterback hits, 19 defended passes, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and two touchdowns on successive poor Jets defenses earned the safety back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances, a second-team All-Pro inclusion in his second NFL season and first-team All-Pro honours in his third. Not willing to waste his career on a non-contender — as New York failed to record a single winning season with Adams in the defensive backfield — the sixth overall pick voiced his discomfort with not only new general manager Joe Douglas, but also uninspiring head coach Adam Gase. It was clear that the star safety wanted to play for a franchise that would not only value him both personally and financially, but also contend year in, year out. And after being traded to Seattle last July, Adams finally got his wish where he received his first ever taste of January football. A record-breaking, 9.5 sack 2020 season saw the strong safety’s Seahawks win the NFC West — the unequivocally strongest division in the league — with a 12-4 record, as Adams played in his first career playoff game where he recorded three defended passes against the Los Angeles Rams. Still just 25 years of age and now playing for a true contender, it remains a mystery as to why the Jets ever let the safety out of the building. Joe Douglas’ loss was John Schneider’s gain, and despite Adams’ three seasons of elite-level play in New York’s secondary, trading him away will haunt the Jets for years to come. A draft pick pay-off given the player’s pure talent, but the fact is he’ll be lighting it up at Lumen Field for the foreseeable future rather than MetLife Stadium. This is a case of excellent scouting and abysmal management.

2018 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame (Selected By Indianapolis Colts)

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

A player already on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory at just 24 years of age, Quenton Nelson is quite simply the perfect offensive guard. The lineman supplemented his early football career with basketball and Taekwondo which — after committing to the University of Notre Dame in 2014 — assisted his on-field development immensely given the prowess Nelson displayed at the college level. Protecting quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush throughout his college career, the Fighting Irishman earned unanimous All-American honours as a senior in 2017 which raised his draft stock to an all-time high ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft with draft experts and scouts projecting Nelson as a top-ten selection — something very rarely seen from interior offensive linemen. Following an incredible NFL Combine showing, including putting up 35 reps on the bench press and running a 7.65-second three-cone drill, Colts general manager Chris Ballard ensured the guard fell no further down the board than number six — bringing the lineman to Indianapolis where he would protect three different quarterbacks in as many years –Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. And in each of those seasons, Nelson has performed at an all-time level. The offensive guard has not only been voted to the Pro Bowl each and every year since entering the pros, but also earned first-team All-Pro honours too. Let me just repeat that: Quenton Nelson has been a first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler every single year he has played in the NFL. We’re potentially watching one of the all-time great guards to have ever graced the field in the early stages of his career, and an offensive lineman for whom there have been countless highlight reels created that continue to amaze not only the viewer, but the league’s best pass rushers that have the displeasure of matching up against him. Nelson is one of the greatest players in the entire league despite his inexperience at the pro level compared to that possessed by a lot of his peers, and not only is that representative of a draft pick pay-off and worth the sixth overall pick, but that is priceless. Colts fans should feel very lucky to have this man on their roster for years to come, because a lot of other franchises could only dream of such a talent. Well done, Chris Ballard.

2019 NFL Draft’s Sixth Overall Pick - Daniel Jones, Quarterback, Duke (Selected By New York Giants)

USA Today

The man handed the undeniably difficult task of replacing two-time Super Bowl MVP and New York Giants franchise legend Eli Manning in one of, if not, the biggest markets in the country, Daniel Jones’ pro career couldn’t really afford to start any other way than impressive. After committing to Duke University in 2015 and redshirting his first year, the quarterback became the starter in 2016 after Thomas Sirk suffered a season-ending injury — and after being given the chance to take the field at Wallace Wade Stadium, Jones never looked back. The second-year signal-caller relished the opportunity, throwing for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns for a passer rating of 126.3 as a redshirt freshman, before compiling a further 5,365 yards and 36 touchdowns in blue and white in 2017 and 2018. Bowl MVP performances in three consecutive seasons including a Senior Bowl MVP showing in 2019 put the passer firmly on the radar of all general managers ahead of the NFL Draft, where a 38-year-old Manning would finally face some serious competition for his long-held starting spot. Dave Gettleman pulled the trigger and brought the Blue Devil to New York with the sixth overall pick where — although he wouldn’t beat out the veteran for the starting gig as a rookie — he wouldn’t have to wait long on the bench as the backup to get a taste of NFL action. Jones’ first regular season game came on September 8th against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 in relief of Manning, and just two weeks later the 22-year-old was named the starter against the Buccaneers where he would lead Big Blue to their first win of the season, toppling Tampa Bay on the road in a 32-31 win. From Week 4 of 2019 onwards, Jones’ play has been uninspiring to say the least – averaging under 3,000 passing yards per season in the pros in the weakest division in football (the NFC East), nothing on a consistent basis has suggested that the signal-caller is the answer at MetLife Stadium for the foreseeable future. While he’s had periods of play where he appears as competent a thrower as any veteran pocket passer, Jones’ failure to raise the level of his surrounding talent is clear to see — ever-accentuated by the spotlight on the New York market. In the 2019 draft, the Giants’ alternatives to the Duke star included — and were all but limited to — Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock, who certainly haven’t proven their worth on their respective draft franchises either. For this reason, it’s harsh to kill New York for their pick of Jones — simply because there was little else they could’ve done. With Manning now retired and their 2019 sixth overall pick also potentially moving on sooner rather than later, we could well see another new starting quarterback for the G-Men as early as the 2021 season — and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if that was the case. This one has unfortunately not been a draft pick pay-off for the New York Giants, but given the passer’s admittedly-small sample size in the NFL, there’s no reason why Jones can’t thrive in a better situation, with better coaching and on a different organization in the future.

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