The first-overall pick in the National Football League’s annual college draft is routinely one of the most scrutinized positions in the entire sports world. The expectation placed on this player, regardless of the obvious fluctuation in talent from year to year, remains unreasonably high. There’s rarely a standalone player at the top. Instead, there’s a handful of closely-rated prospects that writers endlessly debate until the draft. I decided to rank the past ten players to be selected with the top pick, going all the way back to the 2007 Draft. Let’s see how they stack up.
10. JaMarcus Russell: QB – L.S.U.
2007 Draft – Oakland Raiders
Career Stats: 4,083 Passing Yards, 18 TD Passes, 65.2 QB Rating
Analysis: Russell is considered maybe the biggest “draft bust” to ever play. Lions fans remember well, seeing as how Calvin Johnson fell into their laps as a result of the Raiders’ blunder. He represents the NFL’s obsessive nature with the quarterback position. Prior to the draft, it was widely understood that Calvin Johnson was the best player and a rare, can’t miss prospect. But the late Al Davis was a strong believer in the downfield passing game. Russell wasn’t known for his accuracy or athleticism but had one of the strongest arms ever.
He was thrown in too early, often overweight and was eventually out of the league by 2009. He’s made several comeback attempts, unsuccessfully, though so far. At the time, Oakland wasn’t the most well-run franchise, so it’s fair to assign some of the blame to the team itself. Russell never resembled the player that made him a national champion in college.
9. Jared Goff: QB – CAL
2016 Draft – L.A. Rams
Career Stats: 1,089 Passing Yards, 5 TD Passes, 63.6 Passer Rating
Analysis: It’s too early to judge Goff, being one of the few first-overall picks in recent years to not play right away. Goff played in seven games, looking extremely raw and validating former head coach Jeff Fisher’s reluctance to play him right from the jump. I put him over JaMarcus Russell, but that’s not saying much. Second-overall pick, Carson Wentz, looks to be the better quarterback so far, and fourth-round pick Dak Prescott played better than any rookie quarterback from the 2016 Draft.
Goff could use some weapons in the passing game but has stud-running back, Todd Gurley to take pressure off of him going forward. With a new coaching staff taking over, it may be tough for Goff to make the progress fans are expecting next season. He’s a very talented passer, however, and if he can adapt to the mental aspect, his arm talent may begin to show.
8. Eric Fisher: OT – Central Michigan
2013 Draft – Kansas City Chiefs
Analysis: Eric Fisher was considered the safe pick at the top of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was the first of three offensive tackles taken in the top-5 that year. After an underwhelming start to his career, things started to click for Fisher midway through the 2015 season. The Chiefs gave him a 4-year extension worth $48 million before the season.
Fisher is trending towards becoming the franchise left tackle he was once projected to be. He’s been extremely durable for the Chiefs, playing in all but two games since entering the league. I would expect him to settle in over the next few years and rise up this list with more consistent performances.
7. Sam Bradford: QB – Oklahoma
2010 Draft – St. Louis Rams
Career Stats: 18,667 Passing Yards, 98 TD Passes, 84.5 Passer Rating
Analysis: Bradford is a perfect example of the illusion being a number-one overall pick creates. Since his first season, he’s been an Alex Smith-like game manager that completes a high percentage of his passes. Often injured (18 games missed), Bradford has been traded twice over the past two offseasons. When healthy, he’s been a good decision-maker, who’s very accurate, just not elite. The status and perceived potential of a first-overall pick have caused NFL people to overvalue Bradford in trades in my opinion.
Sam Bradford has been a middle-of-the-road starter, but his production doesn’t represent that of a franchise QB. If the Vikings can keep him upright and they don’t replace him with Teddy Bridgewater (once he’s healthy next season) then he has a chance to get better.
6. Jadeveon Clowney: DE – South Carolina
2014 Draft – Houston Texans
Career Stats: 99 Total Tackles, 10.5 Sacks
Analysis: Clowney came into the league with Reggie White levels of hype. The Clowney phenomenon was based largely off of a highlight against a Michigan running back during a bowl game in 2013 that went viral. His work ethic and passion for the game were questioned coming out and after two years in the NFL, it looked like he could potentially be a bust. This season, Clowney started to put it together. Without J.J. Watt, he started to flash the rare combination of size and speed that got him drafted so high.
People still question his toughness, but critics were somewhat harsh as a result of being compared with the beloved, historically-productive Watt. Clowney has still not produced the big sack totals most anticipated, although, he generated elite pressure on quarterbacks in 2016. His NFL start was slow, but future looks bright on a talented Texans team.
5. Jake Long: OT – Michigan
2008 Draft – Miami Dolphins
Analysis: Jake Long came into the league on a rebuilding Miami team, and for the first few seasons, he looked like a home-run at left tackle. Unfortunately, injuries somewhat derailed his production and he bounced around the league over the past few seasons. Long would be higher if he had stayed healthy, but top five is still a good spot for this former Michigan standout.
He ended up playing for the injury-riddled Minnesota Vikings last season, and while not the player he once was, nine years in the NFL is nothing to sneeze at. His career hasn’t validated his top-pick status, but playing several years at a pro bowl level, it’s hard to say he was a bust of any kind.
4. Jameis Winston: QB – Florida State
2015 Draft – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Stats: 8,132 Passing Yards, 50 TD Passes, 85.2 QB Rating
Analysis: Winston has been everything that he was advertised to be and more. He was phenomenal at F.S.U. and looks to have an extremely bright future as a pocket passer. I couldn’t put him any higher – with Luck, Stafford and Newton all having longevity on their side. If he stays on his current trajectory, Winston could be one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
A true play-maker, Winston does throw too many interceptions. Considering he was thrown into the fire as a rookie, though, you have to give him a pass. Compare him to this year’s top pick, Jared Goff, and you see just how impressive he has been. Winston is truly one of the brightest young QBs in the entire league.
3. Cam Newton: QB – Auburn
2011 Draft – Carolina Panthers
Career Stats: 21,772 Passing Yards, 136 Passing TDs, 48 Rushing TDs, 86.1 QB Rating
Analysis: Newton has reached the highest level of anyone on this list, yet hasn’t had the consistency to be number-one. In 2015, he was the league’s MVP and reached the Super Bowl. While in 2016, he wasn’t even considered a top 100 player. I went back and forth on where to rank him, but coming off of such a down year, I can’t put him above Stafford or Luck at the moment.
Cam Newton has always been a dual-threat quarterback but hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves for how good of a passer he has been. He came into the league with back-to-back 400-yard passing games – a rookie record. These top three quarterbacks will likely fluctuate greatly over the next couple years. Newton is surely a franchise QB and I expect him to bounce back next season.
2. Matthew Stafford: QB – Georgia
2009 Draft – Detroit Lions
Career Stats: 30,303 Passing Yards, 187 TD Passes, 86.8 QB Rating
Analysis: Matthew Stafford was drafted onto one of the worst teams in NFL history. He has the best numbers of anyone on here and has been playing without a run game for his entire time in Detroit. Stafford has not gotten it done in the Playoffs, which is why I left Luck at number one. Is that totally his fault? No, but he’s had three chances and failed each time to advance to the second round. Stafford leads the Lions in every major passing statistic and after an injury-prone first couple of seasons, he’s been one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league.
In 2016, he was a legit MVP candidate with eight fourth-quarter comebacks. Prior to the year, I would’ve had Stafford third or fourth on this list. Many expected him to regress without Calvin Johnson to bail him out. Instead, he was extremely efficient before his finger injury slowed him down. If he had the Playoff success, he would be higher on this list.
1. Andrew Luck: QB – Stanford
2012 Draft – Indianapolis Colts
Career Stats: 19,078 Passing Yards, 132 TD Passes, 87.3 QB Rating
Analysis: One of the most hyped up quarterbacks to come into the league since John Elway, Luck has mostly lived up to those expectations thus far. He still turns the ball over more than you would prefer, but like Stafford, he’s been hindered by an incompetent front office. His talent is good for eight wins and video game-like numbers most seasons, yet, until they give him a defense and running game, he won’t win a Super Bowl. He has however, been to the AFC Championship with little help around him.
Luck was considered a top-5 quarterback before he got injured in 2015 and slightly regressed. In 2016, he was very good statistically, yet his team missed the Playoffs. Put him on the Texans — this year’s AFC South champs — and he’s likely a Super Bowl champion by now. Stafford and Luck show how a good-to-great QB can only get you so far. Luck is exactly what you want out of the first-overall pick in the NFL Draft.