With many NFL players having a career of fewer than ten years, drafting players from college is an integral part to any team. Every year clubs try to gather players that will contribute to their franchises for a long time, but as time progresses there are players that prove to be better than others.
Drafting isn't the only thing that keeps a team afloat, the perfect example is Drew Brees. When Brees was drafted in 2004, it was by the San Diego Chargers, not the New Orleans Saints, which is the team where he's found the most success, but when you consider that a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, and Antonio Brown in the past 15 years, the importance of draft choices becomes evident.
Whether it's the franchise's general manager, coach or scouting team, there are certainly some teams that draft better than others. Every player drafted won't provide long term franchise value, but there are draftees that shape teams' culture, scheme, and appearance look for many years. If we look back to the year 2000 we can see how draft picks have shaped the way NFL teams look in the modern era. Here are the most important draft picks of each NFL team since 2000.
32 Arizona Cardinals - Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald was drafted third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 draft. Fitzgerald has been the face of the franchise for 12 years and he is largely responsible for the Cardinals becoming a relevant team in the NFL. He spearheaded Arizona's 2008 Super Bowl run and earned three NFL records while he was at it: most touchdown catches in a postseason (7), most receptions in a postseason (30), and most receiving yards in a postseason (546). Unfortunately for Larry, the Cardinals lost in Super Bowl XLIII, but not before he burned the Steelers' defense for 64 yards with less than three minutes left in the game, giving Arizona the lead.
31 Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan was drafted in the first round, third overall in 2008. Ryan was called to action in his rookie season when he was able to throw for 3,440 yards and took the Falcons to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Atlanta has had many successful draft picks since 2000, including Roddy White, Julio Jones, and... ahem Michael Vick, but considering Ryan has provided the Falcons with a franchise quarterback since his rookie season, we have to give to nod to him. Since being drafted Ryan has brought the Falcons to the playoffs four out of his eight seasons, but he's had trouble winning when he's gotten there. For Ryan to keep his recognition as Atlanta's best draft pick, he needs to start winning games in the postseason.
30 Baltimore Ravens - Terrell Suggs
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Terrell Suggs in the first round, 10th overall, in the 2003 draft. At the time, Suggs was the youngest player to ever have been drafted in the NFL, and he was able to prove his worth immediately for the Ravens as he took home Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season. Suggs has proven to be a versatile player, lining up as both a defensive end and outside linebacker. He helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII and has been voted into six Pro Bowls. He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011 when he record 70 tackles and 14 sacks. In the 2014 season Suggs became the 31st player in NFL history to record 100 sacks.
29 Buffalo Bills - Marshawn Lynch
Marshawn Lynch was drafted in the first round, 12th overall, by the Buffalo Bills in 2007. Lynch is mostly known for his career in Seattle, but he was initially drafted to the Buffalo Bills. As a Bill, Lynch made it to the Pro Bowl once in 2008. Lynch wrestled with injuries throughout his tenure in Buffalo, and he started for three games for the Bills before he was traded to Seattle in 2010. Seattle made history that year when they were the first team with a losing record to win a playoff game in NFL history. One of predominant reasons Seattle won that game was because of a 67 yard rushing touchdown from Lynch. Maybe you've heard of it? It's now called the Beast Quake, so called because the Seattle crowd erupted in such a cheer that it registered on the Richter scale.
28 Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton
Cam Newton was drafted first overall in 2011. He's completely turned the Panthers around in his five year tenure in the league. He wasn't able to take Carolina to the playoffs until his third season, but in his rookie season Newton threw for 4,051 yards and rushed for 706, and scored a combined 35 touchdowns. Last season Newton won the NFL MVP Award when he threw 35 touchdowns and rushed for another 10. He also brought his team to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Denver Broncos. There's no doubt that Cam is going to to be a fixture in Carolina for many years to come, and he's likely aiming for another Super Bowl run next season.
27 Chicago Bears - Brian Urlacher
Brian Urlacher was drafted in the first round as the ninth overall pick in the year 2000. While Urlacher has since retired from the NFL, he had spent his entire career with the Bears. The head coach of the Bears - Lovie Smith - was the architect of the Tampa-2 defense which was the perfect fit for Urlacher. Urlacher played safety at the University of New Mexico, but his size made him a better fit for the linebacker position in the NFL. Urlacher rarely blitzed throughout his tenure with the Bears, instead he manned the middle of the field. He wasn't afraid to attack the ball, obtaining an impressive five interceptions in the Bears' Super Bowl run in 2007.
26 Cincinnati Bengals - A.J. Green
A.J. Green was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals fourth overall in the 2011 draft. Green has developed a reputation as one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL, with his long frame and quick burst, he is easily quarterback Andy Dalton's favorite target (Dalton, by the way, was drafted in the second round of the same year). Green has been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his five seasons in the NFL and has never received for fewer than 1,000 yards, including his 2014 season when he only played 13 games.
25 Cleveland Browns - Joe Thomas
The Cleveland Browns drafted Joe Thomas third overall in 2007. Thomas is the only offensive lineman to appear on this list, and that's for good reason. It's more difficult to track the progress of o-linemen because there aren't many stats to follow, but there's no denying that Thomas is one of the best linemen to ever play the game. He hasn't missed a Pro Bowl since being drafted - the first lineman to have ever achieved this feat. He's also a pretty swell guy, as he's won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award twice, once in 2010 and once in 2012.
24 Dallas Cowboys - DeMarcus Ware
The Dallas Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Ware in the first round, 11th overall in 2005. Although he no longer plays for the Cowboys, Ware contributed quite a bit throughout his nine year stint in Dallas. In 2008 Ware accounted for a staggering 20 sacks. He got close to his personal record again in 2011 when he got 19.5 sacks. By the time he left Dallas he had sacked the quarterback 127 times, which is an average of 14.1 sacks per year.
23 Denver Broncos - Von Miller
Von Miller was drafted second overall by the Denver Broncos in 2011, behind Cam Newton. Miller has proven to be a pivotal player for the Denver Broncos having made four trips to the Pro Bowl and helping his team win Super Bowl 50 - in which he also earned the title of Super Bowl MVP. Miller's influence is so strong that the Broncos have been a top 5 defense in the league since his second season, with the exception of 2013 when Miller missed seven games and the Broncos' defense finished fourteenth in the league.
22 Detroit Lions - Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round, second overall in 2007, right behind JaMarcus Russell. Johnson retired this year capping off a short, but impressive nine season stint with the Detroit Lions. While part of Johnson's success needs to go to another Lions' draft pick Matt Stafford, Johnson's stats speak for themselves. In 2012 Johnson accumulated 1,964 yards, which is an NFL record. That averages out to 122.8 yards per game. Johnson was a huge and powerful target, and he arguably catalyzed Matt Stafford's success. Johnson didn't give a definitive reason for his retirement. He claimed that it was something that he had long considered, but it seems to follow the pattern of Lions superstars. Barry Sanders - potentially the best running back of all time - was also drafted by the Detroit Lions and retired after 10 years with the Lions, citing their perennial losing seasons as a reason for his departure.
21 Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers was drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Green Bay Packers, being drafted 24th overall. The only thing more impressive than being able to facilitate a franchise quarterback, is being able to facilitate two franchise quarterbacks in a row. The Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 when they still had Packers legend Brett Favre at the helm, but it was becoming evident that Favre was nearing retirement and the Packers wanted to get a replacement for the aging quarterback. In 2007 Favre announced his retirement.
20 Houston Texans - J.J. Watt
19 Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. Peyton Manning had suffered a nerve injury which kept him out of the entire 2011 season, and so the Colts decided it was time for them to move on and draft another quarterback and they took the opportunity to draft a premier passer in Luck. The Neckbeard showed his NFL readiness in his rookie season when he was able to throw for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns. His best season so far was in 2014 when he threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns. This was enough to break Peyton Manning's franchise single season passing record. He led his team to the playoffs in the first three seasons of his career, and even made it to the AFC Championship game in 2014, but lost to the champs-to-be Patriots.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars - Maurice Jones-Drew
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Maurice Jones-Drew in the second round in the 2006 draft. Jones-Drew was a stocky figure who was characterized by his massive legs that could seem impossible to stop. Jones-Drew had three impeccable seasons with the Jaguars between 2009-2011, all of which concluded in trips to the Pro Bowl. In 2011 he was able to amass 1,980 total yards from scrimmage. He retired after an uneventful 2014 season, and by the time his career was over he had franchise records for most touchdowns (81) and most rushing touchdowns (61), and a few others.
Blake Bortles could prove to be Jacksonville's best draft pick in a few years, but his inability to put together a winning season has prevented him from making the list right now.
17 Kansas City Chiefs - Jamaal Charles
Kansas City drafted Jamaal Charles 73rd overall in the third round of the 2008 draft. Charles' career has been plagued by injuries, but despite his apparent fragility he continues to show us that he's tough as nails. The most amazing thing about Charles' career is that he doesn't have a single season where his average yards per carry dip below five yards, and has a career average is 5.5 yards per carry. That monstrous number is an NFL record and there's no other starter in the league who even comes close.
16 Los Angeles Rams - Steven Jackson
The St. Louis Rams (now in L.A.) drafted Steven Jackson in the first round, 24th overall in the 2004 draft. Jackson didn't play his entire career in St. Louis, but he definitely had his best seasons there. When Jackson was drafted it was evident that they were looking to replace Rams legend Marshall Faulk. Faulk was 32 and was beginning to show signs of slowing down. It's no easy task replacing a legend, but Jackson was up to the challenge.
15 Miami Dolphins - Ryan Tannehill
Miami drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round, eighth overall in the 2012 draft. The most impressive thing about this draft choice is that Ryan Tannehill began his college career as a wide receiver, but eventually changed to the quarterback position, and he's been able to keep up in the NFL. While Tannehill hasn't amassed tonnes of accolades and awards as an NFL quarterback, he seems to have given the Dolphins something that they've been looking for since the Marino days - a franchise quarterback, and he seems to be improving every year.
14 Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round in 2007, seventh overall. Peterson joins the ranks of other NFC North runningback greats like Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as being one of the best running backs of all time. In 2011 Peterson tore his ACL which led many people to believe that his promising career would be cut short, but he proved his doubters wrong by rushing for 2,097 in 2012. He provided doubts again in 2014 when he was indicted on child abuse charges, but would return to rush for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015.
13 New England Patriots - Tom Brady
Tom Brady was drafted in 2000 in the sixth round, 201st overall. It's highly unlikely that the Patriots believed they were getting the type of player that Brady developed into when they drafted him, but here we are. Brady first took the field in his second season when Drew Bledsoe went down, and he shocked the world by winning Super Bowl XXXVI. Many now consider Brady to be the best quarterback of all time. His best season was in 2007 when he threw for 4,806 yards and a staggering 50 touchdowns. The Patriots were undefeated in the regular season that year, but lost to the Giants in one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Brady has a plethora of NFL records. Some of these include the fewest pass attempts to reach 400 touchdowns, the most consecutive homes wins, the most consecutive away wins, and the most career wins with a single team.
12 New Orleans Saints - Marques Colston
Marques Colston was drafted in the seventh round in 2006, 252nd overall. The Saints' best player been Drew Brees for a long time, but he was traded from the San Diego Chargers. Colston may not be a premiere receiver anymore, but the value that he's provided his team as a seventh round pick is insane. He's amassed over 1,000 yards in six of his 10 seasons with the Saints. He also helped his team beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
11 New York Giants - Odell Beckham
The Giants drafted Odell Beckham 12th overall in the 2014 draft. Beckham has displayed a singular talent on the field, having performed one of the most incredible catches the NFL has ever seen, and that was in his rookie season! Throughout his two seasons Beckham has caught for 2,755 yards and 25 touchdowns, and he hasn't even played an entire 16 game season yet. It seems like Beckham's continued success is going to be a sure thing.
10 New York Jets - Darrelle Revis
The New York Jets drafted Darrelle Revis in the first round, 14th overall, in 2007. Revis is the definition of a shut down corner, and while his stats may not look too incredible, it's only because most teams are wise enough to not throw in his direction. It's called Revis Island when you're being covered by him. Revis has been selected to go to the Pro Bowl seven times in his career, and was the AFC Defensive player of the year in 2009. Revis was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013, and then he went to the Patriots in 2014 where he helped them win a Super Bowl.
9 Oakland Raiders - Derek Carr
Derek Carr was drafted in the second round, 36th overall in 2014. In the 2014 offseason, the Raiders signed Matt Schaub who was expected to be the starter for Oakland that season, but Carr impressed everyone in Oakland with his play in the fourth preseason game. Carr was named starter, and he was left to lead the Raiders in his rookie season. Carr had a fairly average season, but he did manage to throw for over 3,000 yards and had more touchdowns than interceptions which is a big win for a rookie quarterback.
8 Philadelphia Eagles - LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He was drafted in the second round, 53rd overall. While Shady McCoy may no longer play for the Eagles, the contribution he made is undeniable. His best season with the Eagles was in 2013 when he rushed for 1,607 yards and caught for another 539, culminating in a total 2,146 yards from scrimmage. Shady earned his nickname with his ability to juke to avoid tackles, sometimes making defensive players look like they're tackling someone who isn't even there. He attended the Pro Bowl three times while with the Eagles.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers - Troy Polamalu
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Troy Polamalu in the first round, sixteenth overall, in 2003. Polamalu was a special player that we only get to see once in a generation. His official position was safety, but you would often see Troy creep into the box to cover midfield, or even blitz the quarterback. You could even see Troy leap over the offensive line to sack the quarterback just as the ball was snapped. He spent his entire career with the Steelers, and attended eight Pro Bowls during that time. He was the undisputed leader of the Steel Curtain and helped them win two Super Bowls.
6 San Diego Chargers - LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlison was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the first round, fifth overall, in 2001. By the time he retired, Tomlinson would be regarded as one of the best running backs to ever play the game. His awards speak for themselves. Tomlinson has been a five time Pro Bowler, two time rushing leader, three time rushing touchdown leader, and one time NFL MVP. Tomlinson was an incredibly versatile player, having also accounted for 4,772 reception yards and seven receiving touchdowns in his career.
5 San Francisco 49ers - Frank Gore
4 Seattle Seahawks - Russell Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in the third round, 75th overall, in the 2012 draft. Not much was expected of the rookie quarterback when he was drafted, but he entered a quarterback competition in the preseason against Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson. Wilson won that competition and Seattle hasn't looked back. Wilson led his Seahawks to the Super Bowl in his second season, where they were able to systematically dismantle Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Wilson returned to the Super Bowl in 2014 but lost to the New England Patriots after he threw a pick in the red zone in the final minutes of the game. In 2015 his rookie contract had expired and Wilson signed a staggering $87.6 million contract, but he backed it up by putting up his best regular season ever by throwing for 4,024 yards and earning a 110.1 quarterback rating.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans
Mike Evans was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round in 2014, seventh overall. Mike Evans has only been in the league for two years, but he was able to prove his worth immediately by snatching 1,051 in his rookie season, and again in 2015 by grabbing 1,206 yards. Mike Evans shows promise on the field and hopes to continue building his career after two seasons. An honorable mention needs to go Jameis Winston who has shown promise in his own rookie season. It appears as though Winston aims to be the quarterback in Tampa for a long time.
2 Tennessee Titans - Chris Johnson
The Tennessee Titans selected Chris Johnson in the first round, 24th overall, in the 2008 draft. Chris Johnson played six seasons for the Titans before he went to the New York Jets for a season, and eventually the Arizona Cardinals where he is now. Johnson was an incredibly fast player who was able to break massive runs. His best season was in his second season when he electrified the league by rushing for 2,006 yards and gained another 503 from receptions.
Even though he promised he would beat his own record the following season, he was never able to put up those types of numbers again. Still, he would never dip below the 1,000 yard mark for the remainder of his Titans career. Johnson showed that he's still able to compete in the NFL in 2015 by gaining 814 yards through 11 games. Like Bortles, Tennessee's new quarterback Marcus Mariota could prove to be the best draft pick by the Titans in a few seasons.
1 Washington Redskins - Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins was drafted in the fourth round, 102nd overall in the 2012 draft. Cousins was named the starting quarterback last year when Robert Griffin III continued to disappoint with his play in preseason. Cousins took the helm, and although he received some initial criticism, he was eventually able to prove himself. Cousins had thrown for 4,166 yards, 26 touchdowns, and generated a 101.6 quarterback rating by the end of the season. One of the most amusing things about Cousins is that he was actually drafted the same year as Griffin who was drafted second overall by Washington.
It is unlikely that Washington ever saw Cousins as more than a back up quarterback, but he ultimately proved to be the better fit for Washington. Cousins shows promise to be the Redskins' franchise quarterback moving forward. You gotta like that.
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