Now we’re getting to players who endured mixed fortunes throughout their NFL careers. The Rams made Bradford the first overall draft pick in 2009. He was one of the top young quarterbacks in the nation, claiming the Heisman and Davey O’Brien trophies. St. Louis hoped that he’d be the second coming of Kurt Warner but it didn’t happen that way.
Bradford ran hot and cold for the Rams but never convinced the franchise that he was the long-term answer. He had an excellent rookie season but an ankle sprain ruined his sophomore year. Unfortunately, Bradford had terrible luck and suffered injuries at the worst possible times. He also never recovered from an ACL tear in 2014 (via Sporting News).
Mayfield became the sole shining light of the Brown’s 2018 season after he played with a swagger. After a tough sophomore year in 2019, he bounced back and inspired Cleveland to a rare postseason campaign, beating their rival Steelers in 2020. But then everything went downhill and he found himself with his fourth franchise in the space of a year.
First, it’s absolutely true that the Browns treated Mayfield badly in their pursuit of Deshaun Watson. Mayfield deserved far better from the franchise that sold out. However, he had a second chance in Charlotte with the Panthers but he didn’t take it. Now he’s running out of time to prove himself in the NFL (via The Athletic), but has found yet another new start with the Tom Brady-less Tampa Bay in 2023. We’ll see how it plays out.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Winston the first overall draft pick in 2015 and everything appeared to be rosy. He set franchise records in his first couple of seasons but then things became unsettled. Winston has phenomenal talent but no coach managed to manipulate it into the full package (via ESPN).
It didn’t help that he had three head coaches in his Tampa Bay career. Yet on the field he was a wild interception machine and there were serious problems off the field. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015 but never looked like replicating that. Then Bruce Arians sent him to New Orleans but he failed to show that he was Drew Brees’ long-term replacement.
Clowney has had a solid career but he didn’t reach the levels that people expected. He spent most of his time with the Texans and they don’t usually make smart decisions. But Myles Garrett proved that it’s possible to be outstanding with an underachieving franchise. Clowney has some accolades including three Pro Bowl appearances and a second-team All-Pro selection.
But pre-draft, analysts talked about the former number-one draft pick like he was going to be an unstoppable force. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and he bounced around the NFL after leaving Houston. He played for the Seahawks, Titans, and Browns as he embarked on a nomadic journey. It’s too harsh to call him a bust but he didn’t reach his full potential (via Pro Football Network).
Murray is one of the most controversial players on this list. The Cardinals opted to choose the quarterback as the first overall pick over Ohio State pass rusher Nick Bosa. They also chose to give him one of the most lucrative contracts in the NFL after three years of only mild success. Murray polarizes a downtrodden fanbase because he hasn’t done anything special (via Outkick).
The best thing they’ve achieved was a solid 11-6 season in 2021. Then they handed him a massive deal and he immediately regressed before tearing his ACL late in the 2022 season. Some players do that because they run out of motivation. There was even talk of using Murray as a trade option in 2023 because he hasn’t impressed. There’s time on his side but he must show them he’s worth the investment.
Smith had a solid NFL career but there are a couple of reasons why he appears low on this list. First, he didn’t have the best start to life with the Niners. They infamously booed him and fans wanted him to leave. But he managed to stabilize his career and turned things around. However, there’s another major problem with his position as the top draft pick.
San Francisco drafted him ahead of future four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but this is one of the most amazing mistakes ever. Nonetheless, Smith has a decent legacy because he’s one of the most inspiring ever. Remarkably, he actually returned to pro football after a life-threatening broken leg (via ESPN).
There aren’t many Super Bowl winners on this list, but Fisher became one of them in 2020. He helped the franchise to its first Vince Lombardi Trophy in 50 years. However, he only played eight games that season because of injuries. The Chiefs made Fisher the number one draft pick in 2013 when they chose him as the best option of a weak class.
There were tentative links with Matt Barkley and Geno Smith but then they traded for Alex Smith. Fisher provided a solid building block for the future and later offered Patrick Mahomes decent protection. They made it to two Super Bowls with him on their roster and became a dynasty team (via Fansided).
Chad Pennington partially owes one of his Comeback Player of the Year awards to Long. The left tackle was one of Miami’s most reliable players after they made him the first-overall draft pick in 2008. He also made the Pro Bowl for his first four seasons in Florida as he lived up to his potential (via UPI).
Unfortunately, injuries took their toll and Long retired after nine seasons. Nobody can say that he didn’t put his body on the line because he took a lot of punishment. In the end, he played just 15 games in his last three seasons for different franchises. His legacy deserves better because he was a great talent.
Goff has had an up-and-down career since he arrived in the NFL from the University of California. It’s easy to forget that he was a two-time Pro Bowler during his time with the Rams. The franchise made him the first overall draft pick in 2016 and he helped them to a Super Bowl appearance. Yes, he underperformed in that game but it’s wrong to call him a complete write-off.
Then Sean McVery decided that he didn’t rate Goff and traded him to Detroit in exchange for Matt Stafford. Many people thought that this was the end of Goff’s career but he belied expectations. Dan Campbell reignited Goff’s confidence and now he leads one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL (via NFL.com).
Vick should be much higher on this list because he was a generational talent. The former Atlanta star transformed the public’s perception of the quarterback position. But then he went to jail for a few years because he led a dogfighting ring. This meant that he left the Falcons in a hole when he was entering his peak.
The Eagles immediately signed him after his release and he played reasonably well. He won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award but he should have done more. The four-time Pro Bowl selection could have been one of the greatest ever. But he made shocking decisions outside of football and this cost him dearly (via Sportskeeda).
Many people shook their heads in disbelief when the Texans drafted Williams over Vince Young in 2006. However, history proves that this was a smarter decision than everybody expected. Young became one of the worst draft busts in history while Williams had a solid career. He’s not the most spectacular number-one draft pick ever but he was decent.
Williams set the world on fire during his time with NC State. Then he became an All-Pro selection in the NFL in 2015 with the Bills. He was one of the most consistent pass rushers in the sport for a decade. It’s difficult to impress when playing for a trashcan fire like the Texans but he achieved it (via Democrat and Chronicle).
Some might say that Luck deserves to be higher on this list. But his story is one of unfulfilled potential because he retired in his prime. The Colts gave up Peyton Manning after his injury-struck year because Luck fell into their laps. It was incredibly lucky because the Stanford star was brilliant (via The New Yorker).
The four-time Pro Bowler won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2018. He led the league in passing touchdowns in 2015 as the Colts rubbed their hands together gleefully. But he stepped away after seven seasons because of his injury record. Arguably, the Colts never saw the best of him and that’s a shame because they never protected him.
Palmer is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history. The three-time Pro Bowler had a phenomenal 2005 season. He led the league in passing touchdowns as he showed his lethal accuracy. Meanwhile, he turned the Bengals into a winning team before his injury against the Steelers.
The quarterback deserves immense credit because he managed to maintain his place in the league. 2015 was arguably his most successful season because he helped the Cardinals to the NFC Championship game. He wasn’t the flashiest number-one draft pick ever but he had a decent career (via NBC Sports).
Yes, it’s very early to say for sure, but there’s a good reason why Lawrence is already high on this list. It’s amazing how quickly the Jaguars’ fortunes turned around with the former Clemson star under center. He was the most-coveted college quarterback since Andrew Luck when Jacksonville made him the first overall draft pick.
However, his rookie season was a nightmare because the Jags appointed Urban Meyer as head coach. This disastrous move set them back but they bounced back in his sophomore year. Doug Pedersen’s guidance transformed Lawrence’s confidence and he helped the franchise back into the playoffs (via The Athletic).
Garrett is one of the best defensive players in the NFL today. Arguably, only Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt have been more impressive than Garrett at his peak. There were indeed initial doubts about him but Garrett squashed these. Yes, he occasionally blows up as Mason Rudolph discovered, but he’s an animal on his day.
Those days come very often because Garrett is a four-time Pro Bowler as well as a two-time All-Pro selection. He even performs well when the Browns don’t produce good results as we saw in 2022. The defensive end was the first overall draft pick in 2017 and now he is going from strength to strength (via Cleveland.com).
Stafford spent a decade in with Detroit as one of the league’s most underrated quarterbacks. It says a lot about his talents that Lions fans mourned when he left but they also gave him their blessings. The Rams brought him to the West Coast in 2021 as they attempted to buy a Super Bowl (via L.A. Times).
They recognized that Stafford wasn’t the flashiest quarterback in the NFL but he was consistent. In the end, he did enough to help win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Lions made Stafford the first overall draft pick in 2009 after he impressed for Georgia. He’s undeniably one of the best number-one draft picks of the century so far.
Burrow shows exactly why franchises desperately pursue elite college quarterbacks. He arrived in the NFL after one of the best college seasons ever with LSU. The Bengals made him the first-overall draft pick and dropped him in the deep end. His first season was a mixed bag because he played well but took too many sacks (via Sporting News).
In the end, an ACL year cut his rookie year short. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise because it took him off the front line. Then the Bengals began to protect him properly and he helped them to a rare Super Bowl appearance. His bond with Ja’Marr Chase is one of the most exciting in football today. Now the Bengals are a serious proposition because of his influence.
Yes, Newton’s career suffered a major nosedive but it’s wrong to ignore everything he achieved before this. The former Panthers star had an amazing 2015 season as he won the MVP award. He helped the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance and was one of the most exciting quarterbacks of the decade.
Sadly, injuries slowed him down but he had an amazing impact on Carolina’s fortunes. Newton threw for a ludicrous 4000 yards in his rookie year and rushed like a bull. He also made three Pro Bowl appearances and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2015. There’s no denying that he was a special player in his prime (via NFL.com).
There’s no doubt that Manning was the most successful top overall draft pick since 2000. Some people question his Hall of Fame credentials and if he was an elite quarterback. None of that matters to the New York Giants because he helped them to two Super Bowl victories. Manning also came up clutch in both of those games as he proved his winning mentality.
No, he didn’t have his older brother’s natural talent but he still has two Super Bowl rings, and over the Patriots. He also did more in those games to earn them than Peyton did. It’s funny that in another life he could have played for the Chargers. San Diego had the number one draft pick but Manning refused to go there after the Ryan Leaf debacle (via Forbes).