With all the ballyhoo and anticipation that goes to the buildup of the NFL draft, I believe the number one pick in the NFL’s college draft is more or less a testimony to this hypothesis: that over 50% of the draft picks in the NFL draft are hardly overwhelming successes and more often than not, closer to be being actual duds. To test this hypothesis I examined the last twenty years of the #1 picks for the NFL’s draft of the so-called best college player available in their respective year of eligibility and rated them on the following scale: A+ = Overwhelming Successful Career, A = Successful Career, B = Better than Average Career, C= Average Career, D = Below Average Career and F = Dud Career.
2007 – JaMarcus Russell: The number one pick by the Oakland Raiders who was a preseason holdout that lasted to just before, the start of the regular season. He was signed to a six-year deal worth up to $68 million. The deal also includes about $31 million-$32 million in guarantees. Moreover, Russell will earn substantially more in the first three seasons of his contract than the number one selection in 2006, Mario Williams of the Houston Texans will earn in his first three years. The Raiders, (Al Davis), like his strong arm and have given Russell some very good receivers but the offensive line remains porous and that never bodes well for any young QB who needs to learn the fast and furious game of NFL ball on the run. Still he was more or less an observer rather than an active participant for the Raiders for the majority of his first season. His second season he led the Raiders to a 5-10 record with 15TDs, 12 INTs and a QB rating of 77.1. No grade: The book is still out on Russell therefore he earns an incomplete D-.
2006 – Mario Williams was drafted number one by the Houston Texans. The Texans signed the defensive end to a six-year, $54 million deal. Of the $54 million, Williams is guaranteed $26.5 million. At the time, the Texans took Williams they were criticized for not taking Reggie Bush. Bush was what could be called a success in his rookie year but when the bulk of the running was placed upon his shoulders the following year due to an injury to his running mate Deuce McAllister, his statistics dropped. Williams has played two decent seasons since being tabbed by the Texans. His rookie year ended with a serviceable 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks. His second year he showed marked improvement with 59 tackles, 14 sacks and 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a TD. In 2008, he had 44 tackles, 12 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. At this point, he earns a B with a chance to move in the ranks one way or the other.
2005 – Alex Smith – Smith signed with the San Francisco 49ers for a six-year contract worth $50 million that includes $24 million in bonus money, the most guaranteed money given to a rookie in the history of the NFL at the time. His first season was uneven at best and his short career so far has been inconsistent at best. In his first year, he was under a learning curve adjusting to the NFL style of playing the game of football. His second year showed improvement and he was the 49ers number one QB taking every snap under center for the season. He completed 257 passes for 2890 yards with 16 TDs and 16 INTs. His QB rating was 74.8. However, in 2007 he completed only 48.7 % of his passes and started only seven games finishing with a 57.4 QB rating for the season.
Smith was due to make nearly $10 million in the 2008 season under the deal he signed in 2005. The 49ers asked Smith to restructure his contract and he agreed and is now under contract for the next two years at a salary more commensurate with his so-so five years with the club. Smith has never been healthy since a sack early in the 2007 season. Adding to his problems on the field was an off again/on again feud with the 49ers then head coach Mike Nolan. Smith has passed for 4,679 yards in 32 career games with the 49ers, throwing 19 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions. Grade at this point in his career is an incomplete D.
2004 – Eli Manning: Six-year, $45-million deal with the New York Giants after being drafted and traded by the San Diego Chargers. The deal was worth up to $54 million with incentives and included a $20 million signing bonus. Eli Manning’s career initially started with much controversy over his agent telling the San Diego Chargers to not draft Manning because he flat out would not sign with them due to their (1) reputation for being tight wads and (2) because their front office management acumen was reputed to be questionable. The Chargers took Manning with the first pick and the Giants chose Phillip Rivers with the second pick. The Giants then managed a trade with the Chargers for the negotiating rights to Manning for a package of the negotiating rights to Rivers, a 2005 first round draft pick, a 2004 third round draft pick and a 2005 fifth round draft pick. The fifth rounder was eventually traded to Tampa Bay and the other two picks were used to select and sign Shawne Merriam, (05 first round), and Nate Kaeding, (04 third round pick).
The players the Chargers received were taking the Chargers fortunes onward and upward very noticeably. Eli Manning, however, was struggling to live up to his touted reputation in the New York area. At times, he was being excoriated by the NY metropolitan press for not being the second coming of his brother, Peyton, who had led his team, the Colts to Super Bowl Supremacy and was among the leaders in overall QB ratings on a yearly basis. Then Manning was able to QB the Giants into the 2007 playoffs as a wild card selection and had four very good playoff games before he and the Giants were to meet with their comeuppance before the mighty and the undefeated Patriots. Eli shocked the world by leading the Giants to a Super Bowl upset victory over the Patriots. The NY press and the NY public embraced Manning and any shortcomings Eli had, imagined or real, were all forgiven. Many had been calling for the Giants to cut Manning early in 2007 before he actually led his team to that Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. In 2008 some of those shortcomings were to arise once again at various times and coupled with injuries, some sustained on the field and some sustained off the field, notably Plaxico Burress’ self inflicted gunshot wound the Giants were not able to recapture the magic that was theirs in the 2007 playoffs. The Giants and Eli finished the season one and done in the 2008 playoffs. Manning’s numbers have improved every year so far. In 2008, his season QB rating was a personal best 86.4 and though his TDs fell slightly he made a major improvement in reducing his INTs from a 2007 league leading 20 to a respectable 10 in 2008. Due to the Super Bowl win El is rated as a very cautious A/B with the admonition he could be a one shot wonder depending on where his skills eventually take him over the duration of his career.
2003 – Cincinnati Bengals first pick Carson Palmer‘s signed for a $49 million, six-year contract, including a bonus of $14 million, a then rookie record. Palmer has a career 90.1 QB rating. He has been in two Pro Bowls and has set a number of franchise records for the Bengals. An injury limited his 2008 season to four games but should return QBing the Bengals in 2009. In his 05, 06 and 07 seasons he has thrown for at least 26 TDs and over 3800 yards while QBing the Bengals’s offense. His QB rating of 88.9 is tenth best actively and twelfth best career wise in all of the NFL. Palmer is a present day elite QB. He just needs to keep on his present course of achievements and gain a history of playoff performances with the ultimate achievement of the Super Bowl crown. His career numbers give him a B+.
2002 – David Carr signed with the Houston Texans for a $46.75 million contract. The final three seasons of the deal were voidable. Early in his career, Carr reached, (or should it be said “sunk to”), sufficient performance levels to cancel those three years. The Texans had the right to “buy back” the voidable years and opted to invoke the option to buy back three seasons, at base salaries of $5.25 million each in 2006 and 2007 and of $6 million in 2008, plus a $8 million “bonus”. Carr never did play up to his collegiate standards and, as of 2007, in 60 games (59 as a starter), he had completed 941 of 1628 for 10,624 yards, 48 TD tosses, 53 INTs and a QB rating of 73.7. Carr has suffered from a lack of support, due primarily to a poor offensive line that has seen him sacked 208 times in his career, which includes a record 76 times in 2002 and another 68 times in 205. Carr quite possibly is a vision of what fate may lie ahead for the 2005 pick Alex Smith if the 49ers do not shore up their offensive line. Carr moved on to the Carolina Panthers where he also failed to produce any significant QB numbers, and, was ultimately replaced by 40-year-old Vinnie Testaverde. Carr was signed in 2007 as Eli Manning’s backup at NY. Carr is decidedly graded as a D-.
2001 – Michael Vick signed a six-year $62 million rookie record contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Vick was an athletic and inventive QB who either delighted his supporters or inspired vitriol from his detractors. He appeared in three Pro Bowls, led the Falcons to the NFC championship game in 2004, and achieved a second place vote total for the NFL’s MVP. When Vick was unable to find an open man for his passes, he would often become an effective running back for the Falcons and in 2006 compiled a rushing total of 1039 yards in 2006 to add to his 2474 passing yards. However, in 2007 an indictment on federal dog fighting charges led to a 23 month negotiated prison sentence that he is presently about to end soon this year. Whether he ever plays another NFL down again remains to be seen. Michael Vick rates B- as a football player except for the fact he failed his team so miserably off the field. Overall rating as of right now: F
2000 – Courtney Brown, defensive end, signed a six-year, $45 million contract with the Cleveland Browns that included a one-time, first-year roster bonus of $10.8 million. The Browns used a first round draft choice to move up in the draft to take Brown. After a rookie season that showed future promise with 70 tackles and 4.5 sacks, injuries have limited Brown to appearing in just 26 games from 2002 through 2004 with eight sacks. After going to the Denver Broncos in 2005 and playing decently, he was still cut after the season. He tore his left ACL in a preseason game attempting to revive his NFL career and has not played pro ball since that time. Grade: F
1999 – Tim Couch signed a seven-year $48 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. Couch’s injury riddled career as of 2007: 64 TDs, 67 INTs, 11,131 yards and a 75.1 and that about tells the story of his NFL career so far. Grade: D
1998 – Peyton Manning signed a then top dollar contract: $48 million over six-year with the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning has lived up to his hype and even surpassed it throughout his NFL, HOF bound career. He has the potential to break every passing record in the books before he retires, he is a two time MVP, eight time Pro Bowler including six consecutive Pro Bowls. He is a durable and exceptional QB who gives his team a chance to win games rather than lose games. From the first moment he entered the NFL replacing the Colts then effective QB, Jim Harbaugh, the pressure was on and he has paid his team back many times over by his performances on and off the field. In addition, he has a Super Bowl championship to his credit. Peyton Manning’s career QB rating is 94.7. This is the best of any active QB in today’s NFL and is the second best ever in the history of the NFL. Grade: A+
1997 – Orlando Pace signed a seven-year $25.6-plus million contract with the Rams. Yes, a then rookie record. He has been an elite offensive tackle since his entry into the NFL until recent injuries have begun to slow his effectiveness. When he is healthy he can still be one of the NFLs most effective OTs. He has made seven pro Bowls and in 1999 helped to provide the blocking for Kurt Warner to QB the Rams to a Super Bowl championship. Grade: A+
1996 – Keyshawn Johnson signed a three-year-contract, worth $15 million with the New York Jets. He was an excellent receiver at times who tended to hide that fact behind an aggravating personality. Upon his retirement, he had 814 catches for over 10,000 yards. While he was never the greatest receiver to toe the sideline, he was better than many other wide receivers that have played the game. Keyshawn made three Pro Bowls in his eleven-year career. Grade: B-
1995 – Ki-Jana Carter was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals to a seven-year, $19.2 million contract, including a $7.125 million signing bonus and guaranteed salaries of $726,000 and $150,000 in his first two seasons, whether he played a down or not.
He retired in 2004 after 10 seasons with 1144 rushing yards and 21 total scores and didn’t start a single game after his first two years in the NFL when he averaged 2.9 yards a carry and somehow still scored 15 rushing touchdowns. Grade F
1994 – Dan Wilkinson signed a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals that made the defensive lineman the highest-paid player in their history at the time. The deal was for six years, $14.4 million, including a $5 million signing bonus, and included a clause that would allow Wilkinson to void the last two years of his contract if he plays a certain percentage of downs. Wilkinson had a thirteen-year career playing on the defensive line for four teams. Although his totals are far from spectacular and in fact a bit underwhelming, he was considered a tough hard nose tackler for the early part of his playing career. Wilkinson could be described as working man lunch pail player who did his job capably and fairly well during his career. Grade: B-/C+
1993 – Drew Bledsoe signed a contract with the Patriots worth $14.5 million over six years, including a $4.5 million signing bonus. His numbers include a career of 44,611 passing yards and 251 TDs. He was the face of the Patriots for 1990s after he was signed as the number one pick in 1993. He led the Patriots to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI and while with New England made three Pro Bowls. Before he finished playing in the NFL, he made one more Pro Bowl appearance as a Dallas Cowboy under his former New England Patriot coach, Bill Parcells. He will be celebrated, in all likelihood, as a HOF player with a bust in Canton, Ohio. Grade: A
1992 – Steve Emtman signed with the Indianapolis Colts for $8.6 million over four years. The defensive tackle/end retired 6 seasons in the NFL with a total eight sacks and three forced fumbles. Emtman injured his knee nine games into his rookie season and finished out his first three years on the inured list. Grade: F
1991 – Russell Maryland signed a five-year deal worth $6.8 million with the Dallas Cowboys. Maryland played ten years in the NFL and was a part of the Cowboy defense that was to be a key to the Cowboy legacy of three Super Bowls in the 1990s. He retired with 24.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles. To sign Maryland the Cowboys used some, then very creative negotiations. Maryland and the Cowboys both realized that he was not the top pick in the draft in 1991 but that he was a possible lower top ten pick. But the Cowboys needed a good defensive tackle and Maryland fit the bill. The Cowboys gave Maryland more money than he would have gotten in his estimated draft spot but not as much as the projected amount for the overall number one pick. Grade: A-/B+
1990 – Jeff George signed a six-year contract for $12 million with the Indianapolis Colts, (richest at the time). George was a cocky, vile filed, arrogant and generally dislikable player by his teammates, his coaches and the fans. Basically, besides having a rifle like strong passing arm, he was a journeyman QB throughput his career. Despite that fact George acted the role of the Prima Dona throughout his career and had a very inflated opinion of his talents and abilities. He fought with his coaches, his teammates and fans often gesturing violently and obscenely within full view of TV cameras. His final numbers after a rather amazing career for the fact that somehow he lasted 12 years in the NFL were a 57.9% completion rate for 27,602 passing yards with 154 TDs and 113 INTs. His career QB rating was 80.4. Grade C-
1989 – Troy Aikman signed a six-year, $11.2 million contract over six seasons. It was the largest contract ever for a National Football League rookie. Aikman retired as one of the best QBs in NFL history. Aikman is in the NFL’s HOF after having a stellar career that included winning three Super bowl titles with the Cowboys.
In 1992, Aikman had career highs in completions (302), passing yards (3,445) and touchdown passes (23), and led the Cowboys to a team record 13 regular season wins. Aikman had a stellar playoff in 1992. Among the feats he accomplished were breaking Joe Montana’s record of 83 completions without an interception, leading the Cowboys to victory in Super Bowl XXVII and winning the Super Bowl MVP after throwing for 273 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-17 dismantling of he Buffalo Bills.
In 1993, Aikman posted a 99.0 passer rating, and led Dallas to a 12–4 record and once again led the Cowboys to victory over the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl.
In 1995, Aikman led the Cowboys to victory in Super Bowl XXX over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many personnel changes afflicted the Cowboys for the rest of Aikman’s tour of duty as the Cowboys QB and he also suffered through a string of concussions. The last one, his tenth, would lead to the culmination of his football career. In 2000, the Cowboys had a 5-11 record and Aikman was waived by the Cowboys after the season ended a day before he was due a $70 million/7-year contract extension. Aikman soon announced his retirement on April 9, 2001. Troy Aikman ended his Dallas Cowboy career as the Cowboys’ all-time leading passer with 32,942 yards. He was a Pro Bowl player from 1991 through 1996. Ninety of his ninety-four career victories were in the’90s and were the most by a quarterback in any single decade until Peyton Manning surpassed that record in the 2000’s with 101 victories. Grade: A+
1988 – Aundray Bruce signed a five-year, $4.15 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons. He has spent more than a decade in the NFL with three different franchises and retired with 32 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions. As a NFL player, he was okay. He was however never near the equal to the player, he was said most likely to emulate: the original LT, Lawrence Taylor. In Bruce’s eleven-year career, he started only 42 games and in the total 151 games that he appeared, he had 32 sacks and 4 Interceptions. Grade C-
The final scorecard for 20 years since 1988 is surprisingly more to the above average side of the ledger than the below average side of the ledger. However, overall, only three players could be really called career-defining players for any single franchise and thus deserving of their multimillion dollar contacts as a number one draft pick. Another eight players had better than average NFL careers but could hardly be called franchise-defining players and arguably therefore not worth the inflated contract awarded to a number one draftee. Another three players were just so-so or had average NFL careers and three players had subpar NFL careers. Four players were total failures as NFL players. Therefore none of these players were deserving of the number one pick in retrospect and never mind being deserving of the big dollars that a number one pick receives. So the bottom line is this, out the 21 number one picks since 1988 only three were franchise changing and franchise-defining players and truly worth the multiple million dollar contacts they received regardless of the fact that they had no track record as a professional player: Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and, Orlando Pace.
“If being a high-priced No. 1 draft pick is your only plus, we don’t have room for you.” former Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville
Good words but seldom heeded these days in the NFL.
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