History Class: NFL Draft Favourite Picks
By George Somerville
In his final NFL Draft history lesson of 2021, George asks some colleagues and famous friends or their favourite ever selections:
PAY ATTENTION CLASS!
To finish off this season of NFL Draft history articles I asked around Touchdown HQ and beyond to people in the know for their individual favourite draft picks. What I ended up with is an eclectic mix of selections from different years past, from the first round to the fifth.
So here we have the class’s favourite picks of all time…
Host of ESPN's 'NFL Live' & The SEC Network's 'SEC Nation'
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Miami Dolphins, 2020 – Round 1, Pick 5
LR: “My fav pick of all time is Tua. Because of what he went through… and how the Dolphins still believed in him. Truly amazing to watch that happen to such a great person”.
While there had been much hype about Tua vs Joe Burrow, the truth is that Tua’s season ending injury against Mississippi State meant the real question was whether NFL teams believed he would fully recover from the dislocated hip and fracture to the posterior wall. This situation was further complicated by restrictions placed on teams and players as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with no NFL Combine being held.
It was no secret that Cincinnati wanted a new quarterback, and no surprise that Burrow was selected with the first pick. Joe Burrow had just come off a season that we had never seen from a QB before. However the consensus number one player was Ohio State’s Chase Young – who didn’t fall beyond pick #2 which belonged to Washington. The first round would be dominated by an excellent wide receiver class, with six pass catchers taken by pick #25.
The draft, which was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, was instead held virtually with Commissioner Roger Goodell broadcasting from his basement. Albeit a very plush basement.
15% of all draft picks in 2020 were linebackers and the strong wide receiver class accounted for 1 in 7 picks across the three days.
Noticeable undrafted free agents were UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship and Illinois State’s running back James Robinson. Blankenship was picked up by the Colts and Robinson would record the highest scrimmage yards of any rookie free agent in Jacksonville.
Find Laura on Twitter @LauraRutledge.
'College Chap' & Head Of Analytics & Social Media at The Touchdown
Aaron Rodgers, QB, California
Green Bay Packers, 2005 – Round 1, Pick 24
AC: “The Packers shocked the NFL world by trading up to select the heir apparent to legendary gunslinger Brett Favre. The successor, one Aaron Charles Rodgers – passed over by his home town Niners – would go on to become a legend in his own right in Green Bay”.
This pick rightly goes down in Draft history as one of the greatest picks of all time – as much for the drama that was caused by Rodgers falling down the draft board as the Packers drafting a replacement for the legendary Brett Favre – who had no intention of hanging his cleats up. Of course we weren’t to know the humiliation that Rodgers endured that draft night would fuel his drive to prove people wrong, a chip on his shoulder that he carries around even to this day.
The pictures of Aaron Rodgers sitting alone in the Green room are well known and we know that A-Rod would fall into the Packers laps at pick #24. Prior to the draft, demonstrating all the confidence of a California wunderkind, Aaron Rodgers was certain that he would be drafted by his home state San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers decided against Rodgers, selecting Alex Smith out of Utah – which started a slide down the board for Rodgers.
Post draft, when asked If he was disappointed at being passed over by the 49ers, Rodgers’ now infamous quote was the stuff of legends:
“Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me.”
And just an interesting side note for fans of College Gameday and NFL Live – UGA’s David Pollack and LSU’s Mrcus Spears were both drafted ahead of Cal’s Rodgers. Although in fairness, beyond San Francisco there were few teams in dire need of a new quarterback, which largely explains Rodgers’ fall from grace and his long wait in the Green Room.
Find Alex on Twitter @byalexchinery.
NFL Draft Analyst at Bleacher Report
Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh
Miami Dolphins, 2007 – Round 1, Pick 14
CR: “For me it would be Darrelle Revis. My Dad was all over him that year at Pitt and he said “this is the guy”. They ended up trading for him and the rest is history. Rare to have things play out that way, especially for the Jets!”
The 2007 NFL Draft is considered one of the greatest draft classes of all time and will likely go on to have at least seven Hall of Famer’s once their time comes. Of course with greatness comes the inevitable draft busts, and 2007 provided at least one if not two of the greatest busts of all time too. In amongst this ying & yang of draft drama, 2007 also holds the record for being the longest time taken to complete round 1 – an incredible 6 hours and 8 minutes. LSU Quarterback Jamarcus Russell was taken with the first pick by the Oakland Raiders, with consensus number 1 pick Brady Quinn falling to the Cleveland Browns at pick #22. Of course, neither had stellar NFL careers with Russell widely regarded as the biggest bust of all time.
But what of those future Hall of Famers – as well as the Jets grabbing possibly the best cornerback that the league has ever seen? This draft introduced Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, Marshal Yanda, Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson to the league. So it’s no surprise that Bleacher Report named the 2007 Draft as the greatest draft in the last 25 years.
And Revis? He played in the NFL for 11 seasons – 8 with the Jets and then one each in Tampa, New England and Kansas. Revis won a Superbowl, had 7 Pro Bowl appearances and four first team All Pro seasons, & was voted on to the Sporting News 2010’s All Decade Team. Revis is rightly considered one of the greatest players to fill the cornerback position of all time, Proving the Jets CAN pick well in the draft….
Find Connor on Twitter @ConnorJRogers.
Head of NFL Draft & CFB Content at The Touchdown, and Co-Host of The Collapsing Pocket Podcast
Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
Seattle Seahawks, 2018 – Round 5, Pick 141
SC: “Suffering from ‘amniotic band syndrome’, Griffin had so much pain in his undeveloped left hand he had it amputated at the age of four. This didn’t deter him from having a stellar college career with UCF before joining his twin brother Shaquill in Seattle.”
The 2018 NFL Draft holds fond memories for me. Admittedly as I attended the draft in person, but also because of the excitement that ensued when it became known that the Cleveland Browns would not take Sam Darnold as the overall 1st pick, instead selecting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield as the new face of their franchise.
This was the draft where five QB’s would be selected in the first round – Mayfield, Darnold, Allen, Rosen and Jackson. But as Simon rightly points out if you cared to delve into the 5th round, a very emotive and incredible story was unfolding.
Shaquem Griffin played football at UCF in the same side as his twin brother Shaquill. Having redshirted his freshman year, Shaquem stayed on at UCF for an additional year while his brother entered the draft to be selected and play for the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin, despite only having one hand, forced himself into the UCF team at Linebacker, and under head coach Scott Frost became more and more of an influence in the team. During the 2017 year in which UCF went undefeated the entire season, Griffin was named Peach Bowl Defensive MVP.
An incredible role model, Griffin’s work ethic saw his Seahawks career get off to a flying start, leading his team in tackles on his debut.
Find Simon on Twitter @NFLDraftSi.
Saturday Down South & Co-Host of CFB Uncovered
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Atlanta Falcons, 2011 – Round 1, Pick 6
CM: “Atlanta traded so much in the draft to get him and I remember thinking as a ‘Bama fan, “Shit, if this doesn’t work out we are screwed and it’ll be labeled as a ‘Bama bust. It was such an unfair amount of pressure put on him and he did nothing but thrive”.
In 2011 the Atlanta Falcons traded five draft picks with the Cleveland Browns to select Julio Jones from the University of Alabama with the sixth overall pick of the Draft.
Despite the run of great wide receivers to have come out of Alabama since Jones, Julio continues to be held high on a pedestal by Crimson Tide fans. In 2009, Jones was on the Crimson Tide team which went to an undefeated 14-0 record, clinching the BCS National Championship over the Texas Longhorns to complete an incredible season.
Jones’ NFL career did not disappoint and he became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards. In 2020 he became the all time career receptions leader in Falcons history, and his career average of 96.1 receiving yards per game remains the highest in NFL history.
Aside from Jones, the 2011 NFL Draft was stacked with talent such as Cam Newton (#1), Von Miller (#2), AJ Green (#4), Patrick Peterson (#5), Jones at 6, JJ Watt (#11), Mark Ingram (#28), as well as Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Kyle Rudolph, Richard Sherman and Randall Cobb.
Of course. 2011 was the draft where both Cameron Jordan and Jordan Cameron were selected, causing some confusion along the way!
And finally, Doug Baldwin – an undrafted free agent – would go on to have an excellent NFL career in Seattle.
Find Chris on Twitter @VerneFUNquist.
Anchor of ESPN's 'SportsCenter' & CFB on ABC
Brian Dawkins, S, Clemson
Philadelphia Eagles, 1996 – Round 2, Pick 61
KN: “My favourite all time pick will always be Brian Dawkins in the 2nd round of the ’96 Draft. Turned out to be a Hall of Famer. Not bad. A legendary player and person”.
Brian Dawkins played in the NFL for 16 seasons; 13 with the Eagles and 3 in Denver with the Broncos, ending his career being voted to 9 Pro Bowls. Following on from an excellent college carer with the Clemson Tigers, he thrust himself into the inds of NFL scouts with a truly fantastic showing at the 1996 Combine. John Wooten, Director of Scouting with the Eagles said of Dawkins’ Combine performance,
“He just took over the Combine.You would’ve thought he was the captain of the DB’s at the workout. He was ahead of everybody. He was doing everything. Which is the same thing I saw at Clemson”.
The Eagles drafted Dawkins as the fifth overall safety taken, and used a compensatory pick to select him.
Dawkins had a stellar career with the Eagles and is a member of the 30/30 club to have at least 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles – he and Charles Tillman sit atop this group with 35 of each. In his time with the Eagles, Dawkins started 182 of 183 games, recording 898 tackles, 34 interceptions, 32 forced fumbles and 26 sacks. Dawkins would play a further 3 seasons with the Broncos before retiring . It was no surprise that “Weapon X’ as he was affectionately known was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
While I talked at the top about the quality of the 2020 wide receiver class, the 1996 receiver class is considered amongst one of, if not the best. Keyshawn Johnson was selected first overall by the Jets, with five receivers taken in the first round alone. To date this draft has created five Hall of Fame inductees: Jonathan Ogden, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, Terrell Owens and Dawkins.
This would also be the last draft without a quarterback selected in the first round – a stat which is very unlikely to be reset in this years draft.
Find Kevin on Twitter @KNegandhiESPN.
NFL Writer at The Touchdown
Sebastian Janikowski, K, Florida State
Oakland Raiders, 2000 – Round 1, Pick 17
JG: “The sheer confidence to take Janikowski in the 1st round was just brilliant!”
Up until 2000, the previous time that a kicker had been selected in the first round was 1966, and Janikowski remains one of only three kickers ever to be taken in round one of the draft. However, the confidence that the Raiders had in their future Hall of Famer stemmed from a stellar college career with the Florida State Seminoles. To this day the only player to win the Lou Groza award (for best college kicker) twice (Janikowski won it in consecutive seasons), ‘Seabass’ as he was affectionately known would score 324 points in his first three years in Tallahassee.
Off the field at College, Janikowski had a chequered history, which had him in trouble with the law on a number of occasions. So perhaps it was somewhat inevitable that Seabass would be drafted by those perennial bad boys of the NFL, the Oakland Raiders – where Janikowski would play all but one of his seasons during his 19 year NFL career. Janikowski retired from the game as the Raiders’ all time leading point scorer with 1,799 points – surely repaying many times over the faith the Raiders placed in that first round pick.
But could you imagine the hullabaloo if a kicker was drafted in the first round in 2021? Let’s not go there…..
You can read more about the 2000 NFL Draft in the History Class article I previously wrote, here:
You can find Jamie on Twitter @JamieGarwood.
College Football Writer & Historian
Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee / Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Indianapolis Colts, 1998/2012 – Round 1, Pick 1
IM’: My two favorite drafts picks are cut from the same cloth. Peyton Manning as No. 1 pick over Ryan Leaf in 1998 and Andrew Luck over RGIII in 2012. In each case, the pre-draft buildup focused on who would be the better pick. In each case, it didn’t seem like a difficult decision to me. I thought both Manning and Luck had so much more to offer. Their intelligence stands out to this day among the players I’ve interviewed over 30-plus years’.
1998 is a draft that stands easily amongst the best NFL Drafts of all time, with Pro Football Hall of Fame 2021 inductees in Manning, Woodson and Alan Faneca, as well as existing HOF member Randy Moss; ’98 was a draft class of exceptional talent. Whilst there is little doubt who will be the #1 pick in the 2021 draft, there are comparisons to the Manning/Leaf debate with the current QB class. A lot of discussion has been had regarding Mac Jones’ maturity, accuracy and mental capacity making him close to being NFL ready. Now, I’m not comparing Jones to Manning but there has been a lot of rhetoric about Jones’ lack of mobility. At the same time much has been made of the higher “ceiling” of Trey Lance and Zach Wilson. And that was exactly the debate 23 years ago. Ryan Leaf had the stronger arm and the potential for a higher ceiling. Yes, potential.
I touched on the 1998 Draft in one of my previous History Class articles, which you can read here:
By similar comparisons, 2012 was an equally compelling Draft class with two top college QB prospects vying for the top spot. There was no doubt that Stanford’s Andrew Luck was a generational talent in the same way that Trevor Lawrence is being talked about. However the Heisman trophy-winning RGIII had broken every record in Baylor football history, and was back then the rarest of breeds – a dual threat quarterback. The Colts would select their franchise quarterback for the next seven seasons before injury took its toll and forced Luck to retire.
This draft also introduced Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins and a certain Russell Wilson to the NFL as the next generation of QB’s.
Of course there is a lesson to be learned here – the lesson the Bengals must take heed of; protect your QB at all costs. Neither Luck nor Griffin remain in the league due to injury. So if the Bengals don’t pick Sewell this year, some serious questions should be asked.
You can find Ivan on Twitter @ivan_maisel.
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.