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  • Seb Kennedy

Draft Pick Pay-Offs #7

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

Sterling Sharpe, Champ Bailey and Adrian Peterson - what do these three all-time greats have in common? Other than performing at the pinnacle of their respective positions for large stretches of their individual careers, all three generational talents share seventh-overall-pick status as Green Bay, Washington and Minnesota each made one of the best decisions in franchise history by selecting their future star at the seven spot. Between 2010 and 2019, the players taken with the seventh overall pick have each built portfolios showcasing varying degrees of success at the NFL level. While some have more than justified their value and even performed above expectations, others have left general managers and scouts alike scratching their heads as to what went wrong for these college phenoms in the pros. This article will assess just how well these 10 men were able to hold their own at the highest level of professional football — and it’s fair to say that a few of these franchises would happily reselect these picks if they could.

2010 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Joe Haden, Cornerback, Florida (Selected By Cleveland Browns)

Jason Miller/Getty Images

A man who went from playing for Urban Meyer during his college days to now potentially facing off against him in the NFL, Joe Haden’s ability as a defensive back developed progressively throughout his years on the Gators — both in the box scores and on film. The first true freshman to start a game at cornerback on opening day for Florida, Haden’s debut season in blue and orange — in which he accumulated 63 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception — saw the defensive back named a Freshman All-American by the Sporting News and as well as an All-SEC Freshman. From there, the ball hawk continued to thrive at The Swamp to the tune of a further 155 tackles (5.5 for loss), seven interceptions and 3.5 sacks in just 28 games, earning him not only a National Championship in his sophomore season but also first-team All-SEC, unanimous All-American and Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year honours as a junior. Following the corner’s seemingly-obvious decision to forego his senior season — and an impressive NFL Combine performance to boot — the Florida phenom declared for the 2010 draft which he entered as the consensus top cornerback prospect. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Haden was the first corner off the board as new Browns general manager Tom Heckert brought him to Cleveland with the seventh overall pick, adding him to a secondary featuring veterans Eric Wright, Sheldon Brown and Mike Adams — soon to be completed by rookie T.J. Ward who became Heckert’s second pick of the 2010 draft. Wasting no time in making his mark in the NFL, the former-Gator recorded an incredible 64 tackles, six interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble in just seven starts in his rookie campaign — production which he never quite managed to replicate during the remainder his time at FirstEnergy Stadium. And despite the ball hawk’s five-year, $68 million contract extension in 2014 coming off the back of both a second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl season, Haden’s time in northeastern Ohio would ultimately prove to have an end date as the Browns released the cornerback in 2017 in a move they’d ultimately regret due to his choice of fresh franchise. Cleveland’s loss was their rival’s gain as Haden found a new home in Pittsburgh. After finally receiving a taste of playoff football in his first year as a Steeler and recording a further Pro Bowl campaign in 2019, the Florida baller remains a productive and value-adding playmaker at 31 years of age. The Browns got two Pro-Bowl seasons out of Haden before parting ways which represents a solid selection for a seventh overall pick. This one goes down as both a draft pick pay-off for Cleveland as well as a nice addition for Pittsburgh.

2011 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Aldon Smith, Linebacker, Missouri (Selected By San Francisco 49ers)

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Despite missing half of his NFL career due to suspension, Aldon Smith’s early-year production in the pros is unlike anything the league has ever seen before. The defensive end entered the college ranks as a three-star recruit — a ranking that would soon be seen as conservative to say the least — and after being redshirted as a freshman in 2008, he proved the doubters wrong over the course of the next two seasons. Smith’s 23 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in just 23 games — including a ridiculous 19-tackles-for-loss, 11.5-sack 2009 campaign that saw the pass rusher named Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year as well as countless other further accolades — meant that the Missouri Tiger declared for the 2011 NFL Draft with not just one but TWO years of eligibility remaining. The versatility offered by Smith as a fine fit for either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense coupled with his incredible athleticism that was on full display at the NFL Combine not only drew comparisons to DeMarcus Ware, but also made the Mizzou man a highly-touted prospect ahead of the 2011 NFL Draft. On April 28th of that year, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Smith would be heading to San Francisco as 49ers general manager Trent Baalke selected the defensive end with the seventh overall pick. And the pass rusher hit the ground running at Candlestick Park in a way no other player at his position had ever done before. A 14-sack rookie season in which Smith didn’t start a single game earned the player a well-deserved inclusion in the PWFA All-Rookie Team alongside Von Miller and Ryan Kerrigan, which he subsequently followed up with an even more impressive sophomore campaign. 19.5 sacks as a sophomore in the pros saw Smith receive both first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honours, cementing his legacy as both the fastest player in league history to record his 30th career sack (27 games), and break the record for most sacks in a player’s first two seasons (33.5). However, the remainder of the seventh overall pick’s NFL career would be riddled with suspensions as Smith played in just 27 games between the start of the 2013 season and the conclusion of the 2019 season — missing the last four years entirely. From starting in Super Bowl XLVII to finding himself handed a lifeline by the Dallas Cowboys this past season, the phenom represents one of the great ‘What If’ stories of the past few decades in the league. Had Smith continued on the pace he’d set in his first two seasons in the NFL, he could very well have ended his career knocking on the door of not only the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, but also Bruce Smith’s 200-career-sack record. But due to a plethora of suspensions and off-the-field crimes unforeseen by the 49ers when they made the pick in 2011, it didn’t turn out that way. Two consecutive seasons of record-breaking pass-rushing play out of Smith may have been exciting for 49ers fans in 2011 and 2012, but the defensive end’s seemingly-perpetual run-ins with the law deem this one a categorical bust for the franchise. Sorry, San Francisco — you should’ve taken J. J. Watt at number seven instead.

2012 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama (Selected By Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Mark Barron’s surname represented the perfect description of the Tampa Bay defense when he joined them following the 2012 draft. The Buccaneers ranked dead last on that side of the ball the year prior and were searching for the next top-tier talent to revitalize the team. Enter Mark Barron. The five-star safety recruit accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Alabama where he thrived under coach Nick Saban for four consecutive seasons. Totalling 235 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 12 interceptions, 11 defended passes, five sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a touchdown for the Crimson Tide saw the defensive back earn three consecutive All-SEC first-team inclusions, first-team All-American honours in both his junior and senior seasons and two National Championships in 2009 and 2011. The consensus top safety ahead of the 2012 NFL Draft, Barron soon found out he’d be heading to the Bucs as Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik selected the ball hawk with the seventh overall pick, injecting him into the starting line-up at strong safety. And very quickly, Dominik’s decision began to pay dividends. Eighty-eight tackles (four for loss), 10 defended passes, an interception and a forced fumble in Barron’s debut campaign saw him named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team which, unfortunately, would ultimately end up being his most prestigious accolade at the pro level. After not quite meeting the expectations the franchise’s front office had for him, the Buccaneers shopped the safety to St. Louis in October 2014 for a fourth and sixth-round pick where he would again fail to perform at the Pro-Bowl level associated with top-10 NFL draft selections. Subsequent stops in Pittsburgh and Denver continued Barron’s career but to no avail. While the defensive back remains a starting safety at the pro level, he never quite managed to reach that next level so commonly seen from players of his high-draft status. From starting in Super Bowl LIII to being left out on the street some two years later, the 31-year-old free agent now finds himself in search of a fifth suitor in the NFL — a quest he’ll undoubtedly achieve given not only his calibre but track record at the highest level of professional football. Here’s hoping Barron balls out in 2021 just as he did at Bama and finally earns the Pro Bowl appearance he’s been longing for. But Tampa Bay? Given the players still on the board at number seven where the safety was selected, this one unfortunately does not represent a draft pick pay-off.

2013 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Jonathan Cooper, Guard, North Carolina (Selected By Arizona Cardinals)

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

In 2013, Jonathan Cooper was tasked with the seemingly-impossible job of transforming Arizona’s rock-bottom offensive line. But the Cardinals were seen as more than rational in their selection of Cooper at seventh overall given the guard’s prowess at the college level. The lineman accepted a football scholarship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he thrived across his four seasons in blue and white. The Tar Heel protected quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Bryn Renner — as well as paved the way for the ACC’s leading rusher Giovani Bernard in 2012 — during his time at Kenan Memorial Stadium, achieving a plethora of accolades in the process. As a sophomore, Cooper was included in the All-ACC second-team — honours he would receive once again the following year. But it was his stellar senior season that really put the road grader on the radar of NFL scouts and general managers everywhere. The Tar Heel was named a member of the All-ACC first-team, won the conference’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the ACC and earned unanimous All-American honours in an effort that stood Cooper in good stead ahead of the 2013 draft. Following a tremendous showing at the NFL Combine, the lineman became the highest selected offensive guard since Jim Dombrowski in 1986 as Arizona selected Cooper at seventh overall to protect for the Cardinals’ brand-new signal caller – nine-year veteran Carson Palmer. And unfortunately, much like John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer the year before, the front five failed to provide their quarterback any protection whatsoever. While Cooper missed the entirety of his rookie season due to a broken left fibula, Arizona once again finished dead last in PFF’s offensive line rankings for 2013 — only improving eight spots to 24th the following year with their seventh overall pick playing 14 games. Having shown he wasn’t the answer the Cardinals were looking for on the team’s woeful offensive line, the guard followed up his tenure in Arizona with stops in New England, Cleveland, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington and Oakland, last seeing the field in 2018. Now 31 years of age and struggling to find work in the NFL, the seventh overall pick may well be resigned to practice squad snaps for the remainder of his career. Whether it be due to his aforementioned horrific rookie-season injury or the road grader’s inability to cut the mustard at the highest level of football, Jonathan Cooper — like Aldon Smith — is unfortunately nothing more than a ‘What If’ story at this point when compared to his prowess at the college level. This is another bust and therefore not representative of a draft pick pay-off.

2014 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M (Selected By Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

One of the most consistent wideouts of the past decade, Mike Evans has topped 1,000 yards every single season since his redshirt freshman year at college in 2012. The prolific pass-catcher signed to play for Texas A&M in 2011 where — after redshirting his freshman year — he set the NCAA alight. Over 150 receptions for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 26 games on the Aggies earned the receiver both first-team All-SEC and consensus All-American honours in 2013, in a redshirt sophomore campaign that broke the school’s single-season record. After showing off his incredible athleticism and huge six-foot-five, 230-pound frame at the NFL Combine following his decision to forego his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility, Evans entered the 2014 draft as one of the most sure-fire selections at his position in recent history. And with the seventh overall pick, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht brought the phenom to Florida making him the latest addition to a wide receiver corps fronted by the late Vincent Jackson (who himself had already recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Tampa prior to the Aggie’s arrival). Despite the lack of quality quarterback play on the Buccaneers’ depth chart — with the team’s choice all but limited to Josh McCown and Mike Glennon — both receivers recorded 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 with Evans leading the way on 1,051 for 12 touchdowns, in a debut-season effort that saw the wideout named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. And the seventh overall pick’s prowess in the pros didn’t stop there. Although #13 has spent the majority of his NFL career receiving passes from the reckless Jameis Winston, he has unequivocally made the most of his target share by racking up seven consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards in an effort that has seen him break nearly every record in the book for players at his position and age. Three Pro Bowl appearances, a second-team All-Pro inclusion and a Super Bowl ring in the city — most recently recording a career-high 15-touchdown campaign on his way to lifting the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LV — represent an incredible return for Jason Licht as Evans has more than justified his seventh-overall-pick status. Still just 27 years old having already racked up no fewer than 8,266 receiving yards, the relentless receiver looks to be not only on the hunt for further Pro Bowl and All-Pro honours but also a gold jacket as an inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And if he keeps up this pace, it’ll be very tough to make a strong argument against it. A draft pick pay-off? You bet.

2015 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Kevin White, Wide Receiver, West Virginia (Selected By Chicago Bears)

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A top-10 pick who’s only made five starts in the league across six seasons to date, Kevin White’s NFL career was over before it ever really got started. The speedy receiver’s two years at West Virginia yielded 1,954 yards and 15 touchdowns in total, with White recording an impressive 1,447-yard, 10-touchdown senior season that saw him achieve numerous accolades. The wideout earned both first-team All-Big 12 and second-team AP All-American honours, also ending his Mountaineers tenure as a Fred Biletnikoff Award finalist. After displaying breakneck 4.35-second speed at the NFL Combine and with no remaining years of collegiate eligibility, White contended with Alabama stud Amari Cooper to be the first receiver off the board at the 2015 draft. After Oakland selected the Crimson Tide star at number four and with Chicago also in need of a receiver to pair alongside Alshon Jeffery, Bears general manager Ryan Pace pulled the trigger on White and brought him to Soldier Field as a weapon for nine-year veteran Jay Cutler. But a plethora of injuries unfortunately forced the rookie to miss the entirety of his rookie season. White subsequently signed a one-year deal in Arizona but was released before the regular season started, and then tried out with the New York Jets on August 20th, 2020. After failing to galvanize Gang Green, the wideout put pen to paper with the 49ers where he has remained nothing more than a practice squad member — only elevated to the active roster in response to San Fran’s starters going down. Still just 28 years of age but having compiled under 300 total receiving yards at the pro level, it’s hard to debate that Kevin White — at this stage of his career — is unfortunately damaged goods. A sad sign for such a highly-touted receiving prospect. In hindsight, the man who beat out the Mountaineer for the crown of the Big 12’s leading receiver back in 2014 — three-time All-Pro Tyler Lockett — represented the better selection. This draft pick certainly didn’t pay off for Chicago, but they shouldn’t be hounded for it — injuries, unfortunately, are part and parcel of pro football.

2016 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - DeForest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon (Selected By San Francisco 49ers)

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

One of the key pieces on Robert Saleh’s number-one ranked, NFC Championship-winning pass defense of 2019, DeForest Buckner now has a new home in the NFL where he’s just enjoyed a season to remember. The defensive lineman spent his college years on a perennially contending Oregon side where — after a first two years spent finding his feet in the Pac-12 — he truly shined in his junior and senior seasons. A combined 164 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, nine defended passes, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 28 games saw the star earn not only second-team All-Pac-12 honours in 2014 but also be included in both the All-Pac-12 and All-American first-teams the following year — winning the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015 too. With no further years of collegiate eligibility remaining for Buckner and with his draft stock as high as ever, the Duck declared for the 2016 NFL Draft as one of the top-ranked defensive ends in his entire class. Fully aware of the value Buckner could offer new Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil on a front three with second-year pass rusher Arik Armstead, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke duly selected the Oregon talent with the seventh overall pick to join a San Francisco side where he would make an instant impression. Fifteen starts in his debut NFL season saw Buckner rack up 73 tackles, six sacks, two fumble recoveries and a defended pass in an effort that earned the edge a well-deserved inclusion in the PFWA All-Rookie Team. After gaining another year of pro experience in 2017 with fellow Pac-12 pass rusher Solomon Thomas now also in the mix at Levi’s Stadium, it was Buckner’s 2018 and 2019 campaigns that saw the seventh overall pick really shine in red and gold. Nearly 130 tackles (26 for loss), 34 quarterback hits, 19.5 sacks, five defended passes, five fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and a touchdown in 32 games as an interior defensive lineman earned the 49er both Pro Bowl honours in 2018 as well as an inclusion in the All-Pro second-team the following season — a campaign in which Buckner and Co would win the NFC Championship against the Packers, subsequently narrowly missing out on the team’s first Lombardi Trophy for 25 years. With an incredible front seven that couldn’t remain together for years to come due to salary cap restrictions, Robert Saleh let go of his prized possession in a move that saw San Francisco’s general manager John Lynch receive a first-round pick in return, from a team more than willing to pay Buckner his weight in gold — the Indianapolis Colts. On March 16th, 2020, Chris Ballard signed the defensive tackle to a four-year, $84 million contract extension to make him the second-highest paid at the position across the league, trailing only generational talent Aaron Donald. Now lighting it up at Lucas Oil Stadium, Buckner’s first season for the shoe saw the interior lineman earn first-team All-Pro honours alongside teammate Darius Leonard — an occurrence I wouldn’t rule out happening for years to come given the sheer talent possessed by the pair. Still just 26 years old, the seventh overall pick has finally left the shadow left by some of his more-recently-drafted San Francisco teammates and has a new franchise with which he can thrive. Due to the value he offered the 49ers for four straight seasons — playing a key part in that famous 13-3 2019 outfit under Kyle Shanahan — DeForest Buckner absolutely represents a draft pick pay-off for the red and gold. But it’s Indianapolis who are now reaping the benefits.

2017 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Mike Williams, Wide Receiver, Clemson (Selected By Los Angeles Chargers)

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo

Beaten out by a couple of guys named Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins to holding almost every receiving record in school history, Mike Williams selected a good college to spend his pre-pro career at in Clemson — a situation that was only further improved when quarterback Deshaun Watson joined the Tigers before the wideout’s sophomore year. Playing fourth fiddle to the aforementioned Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries, Williams’ 2013 season saw the pass-catcher accrue just 316 yards and three touchdowns on 20 receptions as a true freshman. But it was the receiver’s subsequent campaign where he obtained an uptick in targets that he really impressed, when Watson entered the fold. A 1,030-yard, six-touchdown sophomore year more than tripled the wideout’s downfield production, which he would only further improve in 2016 as a redshirt junior following an injury-laden 2015. William’s 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns earned the Tiger first-team All-ACC honours as well as a National Championship ring. After announcing his decision to forego his final year of collegiate eligibility, the pass-catcher entered the 2017 NFL Draft as one of the best at his position in his class and a serious weapon for any offense across the league. The wideout’s suitor? The Los Angeles Chargers. With Corey Davis already headed to Tennessee at number five, Bolts general manager Tom Telesco selected Williams with the seventh overall pick and brought him to the StubHub Center to learn from a receiver room full of household names in Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. But — much like #81’s 2015 season at Clemson — Williams’ rookie year in the pros was shortened due to injury and it was only when he truly recovered that he began to prove himself as a key contributor for the Chargers. A 664-yard, 10-touchdown season in 2018 was followed by the wideout’s first ever 1,000-yard NFL campaign in 2019, subsequently recording 756 yards and five scores in 2020. And while Williams is yet to either earn Pro Bowl honours or secure his second contract in the league — with the team exercising his fifth-year option last April — the now-productive pass-catcher has proven his worth at the top level, carving out a career for himself for years to come (whether it be in Los Angeles or elsewhere). Only 26 years of age and with a lot to offer any future franchise, the college star looks set to make an impression for the remainder of the 2020s. And with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert behind center for the Bolts, Tom Telesco’s selection of Williams at number seven overall could be vindicated sooner rather than later if the Chargers keep the wideout on the roster. As to whether this one is representative of a draft pick pay-off as of yet, the jury is still out — but there’s now certainly no denying Williams’ ability to fill that number-two spot behind Keenan Allen.

2018 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming (Selected By Buffalo Bills)

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

From looking like a bust to performing at an MVP level, Josh Allen’s NFL career to date has almost been as varied as Carson Wentz’s has proven to be. The quarterback made just a single start in his first year at Wyoming before suffering a season-ending injury, returning in 2016 as the Cowboys’ starter. The redshirt sophomore threw for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns at War Memorial Stadium in an effort that would see Allen named to the All-Mountain West second-team, adding another 1,812 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft. One of five top-tier talents at the position that would eventually be selected in the first round, the six-foot-five passer was taken with the seventh overall pick by Bills general manager Brandon Beane — the man tasked with building Buffalo from the ground up, a goal that would come to fruition three years down the line. In his rookie season at New Era Field, Allen struggled mightily in filling up the box score. Barely topping 2,000 yards passing and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, the signal-caller’s inability to throw with touch — more so preoccupied with exhibiting his huge arm — cost Sean McDermott’s side significantly as the Bills ended the season with a 6-10 record. The 2019 season, however, saw the franchise take a turn for the better with Allen behind center. Buffalo flipped their record as they put up a 10-6 playoff outfit in what was their first double-digit winning season for 19 years, but this was more down to their number-two ranked defense than anything else. The Bills were looking for that final piece that would both turn them into a contender and allow their seventh overall pick to fill his potential at the game’s most important position. Enter Stefon Diggs. In a blockbuster trade ahead of the 2020 season, the AFC East franchise traded away their first, fifth and sixth round picks in April’s draft to the Vikings, receiving one of the league’s greatest receivers in return. And the move proved to be one of, if not the greatest bit of business Brandon Beane has conducted at Orchard Park so far. In Allen and Diggs’ first season together, the dominant duo hooked up for 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns with the wideout finishing the 2020 season as the NFL receiving yards leader, in a 13-3 Bills campaign that saw both men make the All-Pro teams and the Pro Bowl. And it wasn’t just the receiver’s statistics that jumped off the page, as Buffalo’s starting quarterback’s 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns in the regular season saw the seventh overall pick pushing Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes to the very end in the MVP race — an award that would ultimately be won by the former. With only three pro years under his belt and still yet to celebrate his 25th birthday, Josh Allen looks to have already made the leap from struggling starter to league-leading signal-caller — all thanks to the quarterback’s new-found ability to throw the ball with touch. The recent efforts of Brandon Beane, Sean McDermott, Brian Daboll and Ken Dorsey all seem to have turned their prized passer into a world-beater. Despite the small sample size and ignoring recency bias, this one appears to be another draft pick pay-off. The AFC East division title is now Buffalo’s to lose, and Josh Allen is clutching it tightly with two hands.

2019 NFL Draft’s Seventh Overall Pick - Josh Allen, Outside Linebacker, Kentucky (Selected By Jacksonville Jaguars)

Tom DiPace via AP

Two years in a row a Josh Allen was selected with the 7th pick in the NFL draft. And just like the previous Josh Allen, the Jaguars linebacker looks to follow in the footsteps of his namesake and have a HUGE breakout campaign in his third NFL season this coming year. Allen played in just three games during his freshman year at Kentucky, before seriously turning it on in 2016. In Allen’s sophomore, junior and senior seasons combined, the pass rusher recorded 216 total tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, 31 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, seven defended passes, two fumble recoveries and an interception, picking up a plethora of awards and accolades in the process. In 2017, Allen was named to the All-SEC second-team before bettering that the following year as a first-team All-SEC inclusion, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Bronko Nagursku Trophy winner, Loft Trophy winner AND Chuck Bednarik Award winner, simultaneously earning unanimous All-American honours in a senior season for the ages. The defensive end smashed school records in career sacks (five and a half more than second-placed Oliver Barnett) and single-season sacks (five better than Dennis Johnson achieved in 2001), declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft as one of the consensus top players at his position. With Nick Bosa and Clelin Ferrell selected with picks two and four respectively, the Wildcat fell directly into the lap of Dave Caldwell who made a well-measured first-round pick and brought Allen to Jacksonville to join a defensive line featuring perennial Pro Bowler Calais Campbell and rising star Yannick Ngakoue. Both under the guidance of the two veteran talents and knowing that he would have a fight for regular snaps at defensive end spot, the seventh overall pick hit the ground running at TIAA Bank Field. Ten and a half sacks in just four starts in 2019 — a tally 1.5 greater than the much-revered Nick Bosa — saw the linebacker named both to the PFWA All-Rookie Team and the Pro Bowl, becoming the first player in franchise history to be selected to the latter in their debut season. Allen followed up his incredible rookie campaign with a 2020 season cut short by injury, having just 2.5 sacks in eight games. However, the phenom’s 2019 performance in Florida gave myself and other Jaguars fans across the globe confidence that we’ve got a serious talent on our hands here. All we need to do is ensure that new general manager Trent Baalke learns from the mistakes of Dave Caldwell and does everything in his power to keep Allen in the building come the end of his rookie contract. With the franchise holding the first overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft and following the much-needed clean-house operation in both the front office and coaching room, Duval will be hoping to return to the heights achieved by the team’s 2017 outfit as soon as possible. And if they’re able to, I guarantee Josh Allen will have played a key role in the organization achieving such success. In my eyes, this one goes down as a draft pick pay-off due to the pass rusher’s incredible rookie season — but further games in teal are needed to safely say this one worked out for Jacksonville.

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