Ranking the Past 10 #1 Overall Picks

The streak of four consecutive years with a quarterback going at #1 (Stafford, Bradford, Newton, and Luck) came to end this year, with the Chiefs picking Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher. As I try to examine the most recent decade of #1 overall picks, the criteria of ranking them is a little complex. Because the list includes players with 10+ years of experience (Carson Palmer, Eli Manning) as well as players with great promise but little NFL experience (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck), the determination of their placing on this list comes from some combination of the two. Something that must also be considered is who else was available in that given draft. I have tried developing a formula to solve this problem, but as you will find with most communication majors, my math skills aren’t exactly something to write home to Mom about. Regardless, I think we can all agree who falls in at #10 on this list…..

10. Jamarcus Russell-Oakland, 2007 The slam dunk of the ranking. In fact, if I were to make a list of the worst #1 picks of all time, I have a good feeling Jamarcus would find himself at the bottom of that as well. In his three (!!!) years in the NFL, Russell amassed 18 touchdowns against 23 INT’s, and his passer rating of 50.0 in 2009 remains the lowest for a QB since 1988. There have been many busts at #1, but none that flamed out quicker and harder than Russell, who is currently on a comeback pursuit. It is still hard to quantify just how far back this set Oakland, considering they left Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, and Adrian Peterson on the board.

9. Alex Smith-San Francisco, 2005 Smith, to his credit, has had a phenomenal career revival in the past two years, and has been rewarded with a nice contract with the Chiefs. While his inconsistent play for most of his 49ers career can’t all be attributed to him, it can’t be ignored either. Smith didn’t throw for more TD’s than picks until his 4th full year in the league. While Jim Harbaugh and Smith worked great together for the year-and-a-half Smith was the signal caller, it is hard to imagine that the 49ers struggles for most of Smith’s tenure would have happened had San Fran gone with Aaron Rodgers instead/

8. Sam Bradford-St. Louis, 2010 Bradford’s stock as an NFL quarterback has plateaued at best since his first year when he won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Ask anyone who pays attention to the league and they will tell you that Bradford’s lack of any discernable weapons around him has hurt him significantly. Undoubtedly, Bradford still has the talent to make it has a premiere QB. With Steven Jackson now out of the picture, Bradford will have to shoulder all the load for the Rams offense. In terms of value, Bradford, even three years later, remains the right call for the Rams at that spot in the draft. The Rams selection of West Virginia WR Tavon Austin in the first round should aid Bradford.

7. Carson Palmer-Cincinnati, 2003 Carson Palmer’s career as an NFL quarterback can pretty much be divided into two clear-cut and very different sections. From the time he got drafted in ’03 until 2007, he was unquestionably one of the league’s best. Then game a Tommy John surgery in 2008, and since then, the former Heisman Trophy winner has not been the same. Two disappointing seasons preceded a short-lived retirement which led to a trade to Oakland, where Palmer led two uninspired campaigns before getting traded to Arizona this past offseason. While his stats are impressive, and his stretch of dominance early on isn’t forgotten, his last 5 years and lack of playoff success cast Carson farther down on this list.

6. Cam Newton-Carolina, 2011 People originally questioned Newton’s ability to succeed at the professional level. However, two years later, it appears that Cam has answered the critics. In his rookie year, Newton broke the record for passing yards by a rookie QB, in addition to setting the mark for rushing touchdowns in a season by a QB. His first year was very well decorated, as Newton compiled the Offensive Rookie of the Year award for Pepsi and the AP, as well as a Pro Bowl nod. After a rough start in his sophomore year, Newton led the Panthers to a strong second half, and once again compiled impressive stats. As Newton improves as a passer, there is no reason to think he won’t be elite sooner rather than later.

5. Matt Stafford-Detroit, 2009 Through four years in the league, Stafford has had only one year that ranks as above average. However, that season was strong enough, combined with Stafford’s obvious talent, to put him at #5. Stafford on occasion showcased extreme skill in ’09 and ’10 but suffered through injuries both years. The former Georgia Bulldog became just the 4th QB ever to throw for more than 5, 000 yards in a single season, and led the Lions to the playoffs, an accomplishment that warrants merit in its own right. Stafford led Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking 2012, but still threw too many interceptions. If Stafford can cut down on throwing the ball to the other team, the results will show, especially with a pretty talented team around him.

4. Andrew Luck-Indianapolis, 2012 If I were to make this same list a year from now, I can safely assume that Luck would probably be #2. His talent is through the roof, and while playing for a roster that was bottom-10 in skill last year, put up very impressive numbers en route to a playoff appearance for the Colts. Even though he was under the shadow of RGIII for most the year, Luck’s ability to often will his team to victory is the mark of a future All-Pro, and potentially even more than that. Having only one year under his belt limits just how high up on this list the Stanford product can go, but would anyone be surprised if he is the consensus best quarterback in the NFL by 2015? I know this observer would not.

3. Mario Williams-Houston, 2006 One of the most underrated aspects of this selection seven years after it happened is the fact that is was RIDICULED at the time. Houston surprised most when they selected Williams over much more heralded players, like Reggie Bush and Vince Young. As we get ready for the 2013 draft, Vince Young is out of the league, and Reggie Bush has far underproduced what was expected of him. Williams, on the other hand, is a 2-time Pro Bowler, as well as a 2-time All-Pro. While injuries have been somewhat of a deterrent for Williams, who thanks to the most lucrative contract ever for a defensive player now plays in Buffalo, he has still produced at a high level for most of his career. He holds the Texans’ franchise records for sacks (53) and forced fumbles (11). Once again, the foresight of Houston to pick him over Bush and Young helps Williams in this discussion.

2. Jake Long-Miami, 2008 Typically, when offensive tackles go high in the draft, the “bust rate” is pretty low (Hi Robert Gallery!), and Long is certainly no exception to the rule. Having just signed a new contract to relocate to St. Louis, Long departes Miami with 4 Pro Bowl appearances, and two All-Pro selections. His second year in the league, Long allowed just 2.5 sacks, cementing him as one of the best tackles in the game. He sustained that level for most of his tenure in South Beach, and in what was a pretty week draft in ’08, the Dolphins managed to find themselves a stud, and a potential Hall of Famer going forward.

1. Eli Manning-New York (from San Diego), 2004 The undisputed king of this list. 2 Super Bowl titles. 2 Super Bowl MVP awards. Manning, who pulled a John Elway to get out of San Diego on draft day, battled inconsistencies in the first part of his career, but has clearly emerged now as an (ELI)te quarterback. Most believe Manning is still in the middle of his prime, having accomplished a lot already. Manning’s numbers might not compare quite to older brother Peyton or Tom Brady, but his prowess for the 4th quarter comeback in unrivaled right now in the NFL. It would have been hard for the Giants to come out in a bad spot with the 4th pick in a stacked draft, but drafting Philip Rivers and swinging him to the Chargers for Manning couldn’t have worked out better for Big Blue. Every quarterback with at least 2 Super Bowl titles has later been enshrined in Canton, and Eli might very well find himself there down the road as well.  

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