Drafting is hardly an exact science. The proof is any draft list, be it the first round of any year, or any team’s selections for any given year. They’re not the answer to a quiz; it only seems so on draft day. But on the field of play, things change. Tom Brady and Joe Montana are two of the most successful quarterbacks of all time by any measure, be it championships, awards, or statistics. Neither of them were taken in the first round. So, not only did every team pass on them in the draft, even the teams that look so smart for taking them passed on them, too, at first.
When you read the roll call of the great players who have outlasted the first round, you find the likes of Drew Brees, Michael Strahan, Johnny Unitas, and Russell Wilson. There’s even the great undrafted: Antonio Gates, Tony Romo, and Kurt Warner.
But there’s still a premium on the top picks. In the 2016 draft, both the No. 1 and No. 2 picks went from the low finishers of 2015 to the highest bidders. In deals with Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Cleveland and Tennessee received a combined four first-round and three second-round selections.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of disappointments at the top of the draft. Here we will go through all the top two picks since 2000 and see who went on to have great careers.
34 2003 Second — Charles Rogers (Detroit Lions)
Having grown up in Saginaw, MI, and played for Michigan State, Rogers didn’t have to go far to begin his NFL career in Detroit. He didn’t go far with the Lions, either. He played only three NFL seasons — each with Detroit. He made 22 of his career 36 receptions in his rookie season when he played only five games. Rogers’ career consisted of 15 games and nine starts. Each of his first two seasons were cut short by broken clavicles, the second coming in the 2004 season-opening game. He was distraught by the second injury and the Lions allowed him to go home for the remainder of the season. The time away surely didn’t help, as he was suspended four games in 2005 due to violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Rogers was released eight days before the 2006 season opener, and never made another NFL roster. He never lived up to his two-touchdown debut against Arizona in 2003. Only Carson Palmer went ahead of him in the 2003.
33 2009 Second — Jason Smith (St. Louis Rams)
Smith was drafted by the then St. Louis Rams and played only three seasons with the team before closing out his career in one year with the New York Jets in 2012. He started 26 games for Rams and none with the Jets. The Rams’ hopes in Smith being a long-term answer at right tackle were diminished by a series of injuries and a flair for being penalized. He had five false starts in 2010, and two personal fouls the following year. In 2010, when he played the most, starting 15 games, the Rams were tied for 30th in yards per play, and were the 10th most-penalized team in the NFL.
Only QB Matthew Stafford went ahead of Smith in the 2009 draft. One year later the Rams took a QB No. 1 overall in Sam Bradford, while Detroit took DT Ndamukong Suh No. 2. You’d have to say St. Louis lost out on both counts.
32 2007 First — JaMarcus Russell (Oakland Raiders)
Russell’s star burned out quickly as he lasted only three seasons with the Raiders and didn’t draw serious interest when he hoped to make a comeback with another team. He had respectable numbers in his second season, 2008, when he had a 77.1 passer rating with 2,423 yards and 13 touchdowns, compared with 55.9 and 50.0 ratings in his first and third seasons, respectively. Russell had only three touchdown passes against 11 INTs in 2009 when he was 2-7 as a starter. The 2007 draft wasn’t really a QB draft.
Brady Quinn was the second of two QBs, including Russell, taken in the first round. Only second-rounder Kevin Kolb, who briefly shined for Philadelphia and Arizona, had any success. But if Oakland had to do it over, they would not doubt have taken WR Calvin Johnson. Surely, they could have found someone to get him the ball.
31 2002 First — David Carr (Houston Texans)
Derek Carr’s elder brother was the cornerstone of the Houston Texans franchise as the No. 1 pick in their expansion season of 2002. He played five seasons with the team, culminating with 2006 when he led the league in completion percentage. Unfortunately he never led Houston to the playoffs or a winning record. Carr was a 16-game starter as a rookie and led the team to victory over Dallas in the first regular-season game in team history. He was sacked 76 times that year. It’s rare when a QB’s sack total surpasses in his passer rating, but that was the case his rookie year when his rating was only 62.8.
Houston would later become a team that would prefer to draft for defense. Surely they learned from their first year when they passed on Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney for a franchise QB.
30 2008 Second — Chris Long (St. Louis Rams)
The eldest son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, Chris played eight seasons with the then St. Louis Rams before joining New England in 2016. He had more than 10 sacks in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and ’12, but has been reduced to being a non-starting specialist. He was on the field for 15 snaps in the Patriots Super Bowl victory over Atlanta this past season. Ironically, Long went one pick ahead of the Falcons' selection of QB Matt Ryan. Long was the top defensive player in a draft that wasn’t exactly a great defensive year. It was not a great year for the Rams, either.
Their second-round choice, WR Donnie Avery, played only two seasons with the team. Avery was followed by OL John Greco, in the third round, who started only four games in two seasons with the team. It’s always tough to see your castoffs in big games.
29 2000 First — Courtney Brown (Cleveland Browns)
The DE from Penn State followed Tim Couch as Cleveland had the No. 1 pick for the second straight year. Like the QB he didn’t have as long a career as you would expect, playing six NFL seasons, five with the Browns. Speaking of QBs, Brown was the top pick in the Tom Brady draft, when New England took the Michigan QB 199th overall. Of course Cleveland already had their QB, right? Brown played 16 games only in his rookie year, but never had more than 6.0 sacks in a season. The Browns might have been better off taking his Penn State teammate LB LaVar Arrington, who went No. 2 overall to Washington.
Though he didn’t play much longer than Brown, he made the Pro Bowl three times. Brown was limited to five games in 2001, due to injuries which would plague him the rest of his career, which he closed out in one season with Denver in 2006.
28 2006 First — Mario Williams (Houston Texans)
Williams played six seasons in Houston and was a Pro Bowl player in back-to-back seasons in 2008 and ’09, the latter being the first winning season in Texans history. He had double-figure sacks in 2007 and ’08. It was a nice draft for the Texans, who also came away with LB DeMarco Ryan, OL Charles Spencer, and TE Owen McDaniels — each of whom proved to be long-term starters. Williams’ time with Houston ended when he became a free agent and signed with Buffalo in 2012. He played in only five games in his last season with Houston when he spent most of the year on injured reserve. In his first season with the Bills he recorded double-figure sacks for the first time in four years. In 2014 he recorded a career-high 14.5 sacks, beating his old mark set in 2007 by half a sack. After four years in Buffalo he went to Miami in 2016.
27 2014 Second — Greg Robinson (St. Louis Rams)
Robinson has started 42 games in three seasons with the Rams. He was a disaster for the Rams in 2016, their first season in Los Angeles. Robinson showed up to training camp well-over 10 pounds overweight, and earned 12 penalties in the first 10 games of the season. The 2016 Rams were 32nd among the NFL’s 32 teams in yards per play. They were 31st in both total rushing yards and passing yards. And they were third in penalties. Meanwhile they were 32nd in points scored. They scored 224 points. The Cleveland Browns (264 points) were the only other team to score less than 275.
Just one year earlier, in 2015, the Rams were the No. 7 rushing team in the NFL. But in 2016 Robinson and the Rams didn’t have it in what should have been a memorable return to Los Angeles.
26 2013 Second — Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Though he started a combined 30 games of the 2014 and ’15 seasons, Joeckel was limited to five games as a rookie, and four last season. He hasn’t been the answer for a Jacksonville team that hasn’t won more than five games in a season since he has joined the team. They were 8-8 in 2010, but haven’t had a winning season since 2007. Joeckel’s 2016 season ended after four games when he was placed on injured reserve following a knee surgery.
Jacksonville has already decided not to pick up his option for a fifth season in 2017. He was the second OT to go in the 2013 draft, and one of four taken in the first 11 picks. Yet, only fourth rounder David Bakhtiara of Green Bay is the only one to have made the Pro Bowl.
25 2013 First — Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs)
Fisher was the first of three tackles taken in the top four picks. Fisher is only the second player in the history of Central Michigan to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. He’s started 59 games in his four years with the Chiefs, but being in the lineup is the least of expectations for the No. 1 overall pick. As a rookie Fisher allowed seven sacks and 35 hurries, but was a 13-game starter on a team that improved to 11-5 after a 2-14 season the year before his arrival.
Fisher was caught on what will be one of the most infamous holding calls in team history, in the 18-16 playoff loss to Pittsburgh last season. It came on an otherwise successful game-tying two-point conversion with 2:43 to play. The Chiefs failed on the retry. If only they could retry the 2013 draft.
24 2012 Second — Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins)
The Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2012, Griffin was hampered by injuries that limited to 20 starts during his remaining time in Washington before joining Cleveland in 2016. He opened only five games for the Browns, but led the team to their only victory of the season. Griffin was succeeded in Washington by Kirk Cousins, who was also drafted in 2012, in the fourth round.
To draft Griffin, the Redskins traded a number of high draft choices to the then St. Louis Rams. Washington didn’t make another first-round selection until 2015. Though Griffin led the team to a division title his rookie year, their first since 1999, the team has only been to the playoffs once since, and they haven’t won a postseason game since the 2005 season.
23 2016 First — Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)
Goff started seven games as a rookie and went 0-7. He threw five touchdown passes while tossing seven interceptions. Los Angeles acquired the top pick of the 2016 draft in a deal with Tennessee. He was the Rams' only selection before the fourth round. Goff took snaps in the shotgun during his collegiate years at Cal, and saw five other rookie QBs play in the NFL before he threw his first regular-season pass in November. He recorded only a 63.6 passer rating for the year, though he was at 100.3 in his second start, against New Orleans, when he threw three touchdown passes. Goff’s season-high 235 passing yards came against Atlanta, when he completed 24 of 41.
The Rams' selection of Goff came only six years after the team took Sam Bradford No. 1 overall. It might just prove too costly to spend so much on the same position in such a short time frame. Either way, Goff was the team’s cornerstone pick of their relocation back to L.A.
22 2004 Second — Robert Gallery (Oakland Raiders)
Gallery was drafted by Oakland and played seven seasons with the team before closing out his career in one year with Seattle. He started 103 of the 104 career regular-season games that he played. Gallery was with the Raiders during the down years when they had a losing record every year except for his final season with the team when they were 8-8. In his one season with the Seahawks, the team went 7-9, their last losing season to date.
Gallery followed only QB Eli Manning in the draft, and was the only offensive lineman chosen in the top 15 selections. It was an unremarkable draft for the Raiders. Seven of their nine picks played in the NFL, but not a single Pro Bowler among them. The team went 5-11 his rookie year, which was Oakland’s best record until 2008, when they went 5-11 again. They had become a team that aspired to 5-11.
21 2008 First — Jake Long (Miami Dolphins)
In five seasons with Miami, Long was a four-time Pro Bowler, and earned All Pro status in the 2010 season. He started 61 straight games for the Dolphins, a streak that ended when he was placed on injured reserve late in the 2012 season. The No. 3 pick of 2008 was Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP. The Dolphins had a string of temporary snap takers until they drafted Ryan Tannehill in 2012. After five years with Miami, Long has since gone on to play for the Rams, Atlanta, and Minnesota. Of course, you shouldn’t be hard on a guy for getting hurt.
Long has been plagued by a series of injuries since the 2011 season when his game-starting streak came to an end when he missed the final week of the year. He denied a request by the Baltimore Ravens for an injury waiver and did not sign with the team. He was out of football until October when he joined the Vikings.
20 2005 Second — Reggie Bush (New Orleans Saints)
Bush played five seasons with New Orleans, but had his two 1,000-yard rushing seasons with other teams, Miami and Detroit. He did eclipse 1,300 scrimmage yards as a rookie when he had a career-high 88 receptions. Five times he has been recognized as conference Offensive Player of the Week; three times as an offensive player, and twice as a special teamer. Bush returned three punts for touchdowns in 2008. During his years with the Saints he played both running back and wide receiver in addition to his role as a return man.
It’s great to have a hybrid, but for the No. 2 player in the draft you might expect more a one-position superstar. Bush was only New Orleans’ third-leading rusher in 2009, the year the team won its only Super Bowl.
19 2009 First — Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams)
Bradford has never played on a winning team. He was traded from the then St. Louis Rams to Philadelphia after missing the entire 2014 season. Bradford was 1-9 as a starter in 2011, but he did save the Rams from drafting RG3 with the second pick of the 2012 draft, which they traded to Washington. He spent last season with Minnesota and led the NFL in completion percentage, though he couldn’t save the team from an 8-8 season despited their 5-0 start. The only other QB taken in the first round of 2010 was Tim Tebow.
In 2015, Bradford went from the Rams, along with a fifth-round draft choice, to Philadelphia in exchange for QB Nick Foles, and second- and fourth-round selections. Foles had been a third-round pick, and Bradford represented the only first rounder in the trade. By the time of his trade to Minnesota, he netted a first-round pick, and a conditional fourth rounder.
18 2016 Second — Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles)
Wentz started 16 games as a rookie and passed for 3,782 yards. He got the Eagles off to a 3-0 start in the first three weeks of the season. Wentz recorded four 300-yard games on the year. Philadelphia obtained the pick in a deal with Cleveland, who also sent a conditional 2017 draft pick in exchange for a combination of five draft picks in the 2016, ’17 and ’18 drafts, including two first rounders, and second and a third. After the selection of Wentz, the Eagles drafted only one other player before the fifth round in last year's draft. Wentz played at North Dakota State as a collegian and was the highest FCS QB ever drafted. The only other FCS QBs taken in the first round were Joe Flacco, Steve McNair, Phil Simms and Doug Williams.
17 2001 Second — Leonard Davis (Arizona Cardinals)
Davis played six seasons with the Cardinals, but did not earn Pro Bowl status until he joined Dallas in 2007 and earned the honor in three straight years. He was inactive with Detroit for every remaining game after signing in November of 2011, and closed out his career in one seasons with San Francisco in 2012. Davis was a second-team All-Pro in 2007, when he helped Dallas to 13-3 season, their best record in 15 years. When Davis came to the Cowboys he was moved from tackle to guard, a position he hadn’t played in four seasons. He followed Michael Vick in the 2001 draft, and was the only offense lineman taken before the No. 14 selection.
The Cardinals could have drafted Hall-of-Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who went No. 5 overall. It was a tough draft for Arizona. Their second round pick, DL Kyle Vanden Bosch, who, like Davis, made three Pro Bowls, also like Davis made them with another team, the Tennessee Titans.
16 2015 First — Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Winston has been as advertised, passing for over 4,000 yards in each of his two seasons in the NFL. In 2016, he led Tampa Bay to a 9-7 record, their first winning season since 2010. The Bucs were 6-2 during the second half of the season. Despite the winning record, the team did not make the playoffs and haven’t had a postseason appearance since 2007. Winston opened 2016 in a victory over Atlanta, a win that proved more impressive as the Falcons marched to the Super Bowl from there. He threw four touchdown passes in the 31-24 victory, and recorded a 125.1 passer rating on the day.
Winston had an 86.1 rating for the season, but eclipsed 100.0 in five games. Tampa Bay was defeated in the rematch against Atlanta, but Winston threw for three more touchdowns and had no interceptions.
15 2015 Second — Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)
Mariota was 8-7 as a starter last season, while throwing 26 touchdown passes against nine interceptions. He helped the Titans record their first winning season since 2011. In seven games last season Mariota recorded a passer rating better than 100.0. He was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. Mariota followed only Jameis Winston in the draft. During their rookie seasons of 2015, they went head to head when former led Tennessee to a 42-14 win. In the victory Mariota recorded a 158.3 passer rating, the highest rating possible. He completed 13 of 15 for only 209 yards, but threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions. Mariota had been the Rose Bowl Offensive MVP when he led Oregon over Winston’s Florida State team at the end of the 2014 season.
14 2005 First — Alex Smith (San Francisco 49ers)
Smith looked like a big disappointment until he led San Francisco a division title in 2011 when they made their first postseason appearance in nine seasons. That year he had the league’s stingiest interception rate at 1.1 percent, and had 17 touchdown passes against five INTs. In four seasons with Kansas City, he’s never thrown more than eight INTs in a year even though he’s started at least 15 games each season. In the 2005 draft, Aaron Rodgers slipped to 24th in the first round. The 49ers got a lot more out of their third round choice that year, RB Frank Gore, who rushed for over 11,000 yards in 10 seasons with the team, than they did in Smith.
Smith has been selected two two Pro Bowls since joining the Chiefs. He led Kansas City to a 9-0 start in 2013, his first season with the team; and to 10 straight wins to close out the 2015 regular season.
13 2014 First — Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans)
Clowney was limited to four games as a rookie, but was a force in 2016 when he picked up the slack with the absence of J.J. Watt. Houston was still one of the best defensive teams in the NFL. He had 6.0 sacks and a forced fumble. In his regular-season debut in the 2014 season-opener, he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the next six games. Though he returned that year, he only played four games that year and wouldn’t record his first regular-season sack until the next season.
It wasn’t until last season that Clowney truly arrived. He was second-team All-Pro, leading a defense that was No. 2 against the pass. The most amazing thing about the Texans might be that they won the AFC South while surrendering more points than they scored, which on both counts wasn’t much.
12 2005 Second — Ronnie Brown (Miami Dolphins)
Drafted by Miami, Brown played six seasons with the team but rushed for 1,000 yards only in the 2006 season. He caught more than 30 passes in five of his seasons with the Dolphins, and had two more 1,000-yard season from scrimmage when you factor in his pass-catching yards. Brown made the Pro Bowl only in 2008 when he had 10 rushing touchdowns. He was the top running back in a class with terrific sleepers: Frank Gore (third round), Brandon Jacobs (fourth round), and Darren Sproles (fourth round). But he was followed by Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams in the first round; and J.J. Arrington and Eric Shelton in the second.
Forget running backs. The Dolphins would have been better off with DL DeMarcus Ware or QB Aaron Rodgers. But hindsight is 20-20 vision. Miami has made the playoffs only twice since the 2005 draft and visionaries, they are not.
11 2001 First — Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons)
The No. 1 pick for 2001, Vick looked like a long-term answer for Atlanta before his career was derailed by his involvement in a dog-fighting operation which led to a prison sentence and a two-year suspension. He played six seasons with the Falcons and became the first QB in NFL history rush for 1,000 yards in a season. If you’re an Atlanta fan, you probably don’t want to know that Drew Brees went No. 32, taken by San Diego, but came to the NFC South with New Orleans in 2006, Vick’s final season with the Falcons.
Vick was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 when he led Philadelphia to the NFC East Division title. He was 8-3 as a starter that year and rallied the Eagles to a 38-31 win over the New York Giants after trailing 24-3 at halftime.
10 2000 Second — LaVar Arrington (Washington Redskins)
Following Penn State teammate Courtney Brown in the draft, Arrington played six years with Washington and was selected to three Pro Bowls. He had 11.0 sacks in 2002 when he also scored a defensive touchdown. Arrington closed out his career in one season with the New York Giants. He had only one sack in his six games with the Giants, matching his combined total during his last two seasons with Washington, when he was hampered by knee injuries. His one season in New York was shortened by a ruptured achilles tendon. Arrington intercepted a pass and returned it 21 yards in a 17-10 playoff win over Tampa Bay in the 2005 season, the first of two postseason games he played in during his career. He was the first of back-to-back picks for Washington, who took OL Chris Samuels No. 3 overall.
9 2012 First — Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)
Luck was the top pick in the quarterback draft that saw Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins go in later rounds. He led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes in 2014, but was limited to seven games the following year. Last season, when he played 15 games, he failed to lead the Colts back to the playoffs as the team went 8-8 for the second straight time. However he was just one of five QBs to throw more than 30 touchdowns last year. He was sacked 41 times, matching the career-high set in his rookie season. Despite the knocking around, he’s done alright, running the ball himself for more 300 yards last year, including more than 50 yards twice in a three-game span.
Luck is the author of one of the more memorable postseason touchdowns in recent memory, his fumble-recovery score in the Colts' 45-44 comeback win against Kansas City following the 2013 season.
8 2003 First — Carson Palmer (Cincinnati Bengals)
Chosen by Cincinnati in 2003, Palmer played seven seasons with the team before forcing a trade to the Oakland Raiders. In 2005 he led the Bengals to an 11-win year and their first playoff berth in 15 years. Palmer led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes that year, but later led the league in interceptions with 20 in 2007. He led an otherwise forgettable group of QBs in the 2004 first round: Bryon Leftwich, Kyle Boller, and Rex Grossman. Palmer came to Arizona in 2013 when he led the team to a 10-6 record, but still missed the playoffs. He was limited to six games the following year but in 2015, led the Cardinals to a team-record 13 wins, and led the league in yards per attempt, while eclipsing a 100.0 passer rating for the first time since ’05.
7 2002 Second — Julius Peppers (Carolina Panthers)
Peppers played eight seasons with the Panthers before going on to play on both sides of the Chicago-Green Bay rivalry. He has amassed 143.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 50 forced fumbles, and six defensive touchdowns. Peppers was All-Pro twice during his Carolina years, and once with the Bears. He was the top defensive player taken in a draft in which two of the top three picks were QBs, neither of which started a game past the 2007 season.
Last year he passed Michael Strahan to move into fifth place on the all-time sacks list. He did it, ironically in a game against Houston. It was the Texans who passed on Peppers when they had the top pick in 2002. During his time at North Carolina, the 6’6” Peppers played one season on the basketball team, which he made as a walk-on. The Tar Heels reached the Final Four that year.
6 2004 First — Eli Manning (San Diego Chargers)
Manning was selected by San Diego but was immediately dealt to the New York Giants in the deal that sent Philip Rivers to the Chargers. Despite leading the league with 20 interceptions in 2007, he guided the Giants to their Super Bowl victory over an unbeaten New England Patriots team that season, and led New York to another Super Bowl championship in the 2011 season. In addition to Manning and Rivers, there were two other QBs taken in the 2004 first round: Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Losman. In 2016, Manning led New York back to the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl victory at the end of 2011. They have now made the playoffs only twice during the last eight years.
He was co-winner, along with Larry Fitzgerald, of the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year award, given annually to a player who is recognized for excellence on and off the field.
5 2010 Second — Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions)
Suh was selected by Detroit and played five seasons with the team before signing with Miami. He supplied an inside rush as a rookie when he recorded a career-high 10.0 sacks. Though he expressed an interest in remaining with the Lions when he became a free agent after the 2014 season, Suh singed with the Dolphins and became, at the time, the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. His impact with Miami wasn’t immediately felt as the team went through a midseason coaching change and 6-10 year in 2015, losing seven of 10 to close out the season. But in 2016 the team went to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Suh was the top defensive player chosen in 2010, and the first of three DTs taken in the top 10 picks. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the year. Though he has been with the playoffs with Detroit and Miami, he has not been able to lead either team to a postseason victory.
4 2009 First — Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)
Stafford was Detroit’s reward for an 0-16 season in 2008. In 2011 he threw for over 5,000 yards, something that had been done only twice before in NFL history, though he was one of three QBs, along with Drew Brees and Tom Brady, to do it that year. Stafford is the only player in history to throw 700 times in a season, which he did in 2012. In 2011 he led Detroit to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, though he doesn’t have a posteason win under his belt and the Lions faithful still look forward to their first playoff win since the 1991 season.
He was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year for 2011 after a ’10 season in which he was limited to three games due to a shoulder injury. Stafford is the only player in Lions history to pass for over 30,000 yards, which he has done in just eight seasons.
3 2011 First — Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)
Newton hasn’t saved Carolina from its disturbing curse of never having recorded back-to-back winning seasons. You would have thought they could have coasted to a winning record last season after a 15-1 campaign in 2015 when they were 14-0 before their first loss, but they went 6-10. Newton was the league MVP in 2015 as he threw 35 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. He also had 10 rushing touchdowns that year. Newton was the first of four QBs taken in the first 12 picks of 2011, followed by Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder. The 6’6” Newton has often been used like a running back. Whereas many QBs will utilize their speed to run out of the pocket and exploit defenders that are downfield in coverage, he is frequently called upon to run for the tough yards in short-yardage situations against stacked defenses.
Newton has been critical of officials and has said he “doesn’t feel safe out there.” But maybe it's Panthers play-calling he should be upset with.
2 2011 Second — Von Miller (Denver Broncos)
Miller has been a three-time All Pro and a Super Bowl MVP. The 2011 draft looked good in the Super Bowl at the end of 2015 when Miller led Denver to victory over No. 1 selection Cam Newton and Carolina. Miller was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011. He had a monster month in November 2012 when he totaled eight sacks in four games. That was part of an 11-game winning streak to close out the regular season. Miller became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history with the $114.5 million, six-year deal he signed last summer.
He ended the year on a low note, however, as he failed to record a sack in the last four games of the season. It was the first four-game stretch in his career where that happened. This came as Denver won only two of six games after the bye week, and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since he had joined the team.
1 2007 Second — Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)
Johnson played nine seasons with Detroit before retiring after the 2015 season, saying he was fed up with football. Nine years is not a short time, but a guy coming off his sixth straight 1,000-yard season could have kept going for a considerable time had he chosen to. Johnson was an All-Pro for three-straight seasons beginning with 2011. He led the NFL in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons in ’11 and ’12. He stood out in bad times, leading the league with 12 touchdown receptions in 2008, when the Lions went 0-16.
Yet, without him in 2016, Detroit made the playoffs for only the third time this millennium. His nine seasons were one short of the 10 played by Barry Sanders, Detroit’s Hall-of-Fame RB who also retired in top form.