There's a lot of pressure that comes with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. For the most part, the team that gets that first pick had a terrible year and is looking to draft a player that can make an immediate impact at the professional level. Sometimes you get Terry Bradshaw or John Elway or Troy Aikman or Peyton Manning. Other times you get Tim Couch or JaMarcus Russell, who as I'm sure you've guessed will make an early appearance on this list. It's a very tough decision to have to make for a football team and it's a choice that you don't want to squander. The wrong choice can devastate a franchise for years. Imagine how different the NFL would have looked had the Colts picked Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning in 1998.
Of the 80 players that have been selected with the first overall pick, just over half have ever made the Pro Bowl, only five have won the Rookie of the Year and only 12 have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Over the last 15 years, there are a few players that have been selected with the first overall pick that may make that Hall of Fame number rise. Some of those picks will also go down as some of the worst decisions in history.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the last 15 men that were taken first overall in the NFL Draft and have a little fun ranking them. I'm sure you'll fight me on a few of these and I encourage and welcome you to tell me how your rankings differ from mine in the comments section. Enjoy.
15 2007 - JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
Let's take another look at some of Russell's NFL stats: 7-18 record, 52.1 completion percentage, 4,083 passing yards, 18 TD, 23 INT with 175 rushing yards, 1 TD
Coming out of LSU, JaMarcus Russell looked to be a huge get for the Oakland Raiders...literally. At 6-foot-6 and close to 300 pounds, Russell was a big quarterback with an even bigger arm. He went 21-4 in his college career and was the MVP of the 2007 Sugar Bowl, but he just couldn't make the transition to the NFL. His work ethic was questioned constantly and after three disappointing seasons, Russell was released in 2010 and hasn't played in the NFL since. He's regarded by many as the biggest bust in NFL history.
14 2014 - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
I'm sure that if I did this list five or ten years from now, Jadeveon Clowney would likely be much higher on it. But right now, I just haven't seen enough from him to justify putting him any higher than right here. Clowney was an absolute monster at South Carolina and became the first defensive player selected in the top spot since Mario Williams in 2006. After playing in only four games his rookie year, Clowney underwent a surgical procedure that ended his season. He returned in 2015 to play in 13 games, starting nine of them, and recorded 4.5 sacks.
13 2002 - David Carr, QB, Houston Texans
David Carr's career lasted much longer than Russell's, but his stats aren't much more flattering. In 79 starts he mustered a 23-56 record. He managed a 59.7 completion percentage with 14,452 passing yards, 65 TDs, 71 INTs and 1,328 rushing yards with 9 TDs.
David Carr has the distinction of being the first player ever selected in the NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Unfortunately, Carr also has the distinction of being another player that's been classified as a bust, which might be a little unfair due to the fact that it's very difficult to win with an expansion franchise. I'm not saying that he was a great quarterback by any means, but he did manage to keep himself in the league for a decade and does have a Super Bowl ring, which he won as Eli Manning's backup in New York.
12 2013 - Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Coming out of Central Michigan, Eric Fisher will forever have the honor of being the first player from the Mid-American Conference to be selected first overall in the NFL Draft. Fisher struggled a bit during his rookie season at right tackle, as he played left tackle in college. When head coach Andy Reid came to Kansas City in 2014, he moved Fisher back to his natural position and he has been steadily improving as his career progresses.
11 2015 - Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston managed to impress in his rookie year, already surpassing four on this list. In his rookie year, Winston posted a 58.3 completion percentage with 4,042 passing yards, 22 TDs and 15 INTs. He added 210 rushing yards with six scores and made a Pro Bowl appearance.
With two Heisman Trophy winners to choose from with the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided on Jameis Winston ahead of Marcus Mariota. The two faced off to open the season and Winston's first NFL pass was returned for a touchdown. However, even though the Bucs didn't have a great year, Winston did show loads of potential by setting team rookie records in pass attempts, completions, touchdowns and yards. He was only 23 yards short of the franchise record for passing yards and became only the third rookie to ever pass for more than 4,000 yards. If he gets some players around him, Winston will put up some big numbers for a long time.
10 2010 - Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
In the six seasons since Sam Bradford was drafted, he's only played in all 16 games twice. One of those seasons was his rookie season, when he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year and set a rookie record for completions. However, constant injuries kept Bradford from getting to that next level and after missing the entire 2014 season due to his second ACL injury, Bradford was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and recently signed a two-year extension. The talent has always been there with Bradford. The Eagles are hoping that his health can hold up and he can finally really show it off.
9 2009 - Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
After playing in only 13 games over his first two seasons, Matthew Stafford came back with a vengeance in 2011 and proved why he was the number one pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He became only the fourth player in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season and has played in every single game since that year. While his teams haven't been the greatest, minus that 11-5 team in 2014, Stafford has proven that he does have what it takes to be a starter in the NFL, throwing for over 25,000 yards and 163 touchdowns. Of course, we'll have to wait and see how those numbers hold up without Calvin Johnson.
8 2005 - Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
A lot of you might disagree with me putting Alex Smith ahead of guys like Bradford and Stafford, but the number one pick from 2005 has proven that he can win football games. He's never going to be the most flashy player on the field, but he manages the game quite well and he's been a starter in the NFL for more than a decade and has the second-highest completion percentage of the quarterbacks on this list. With that being said, however, I wonder if the 49ers ever regret not taking Aaron Rodgers with that number one pick.
7 2008 - Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins
Jake Long was once considered one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl four times. He immediately made an impact with the Miami Dolphins and was a Second Team All-Pro in just his second season. He improved on that by making the First Team a year later. Long started 61 consecutive games at one point. He signed a big four-year contract with the St. Louis Rams in 2013, but was released after two years after suffering a torn ACL in 2014. He was picked up by the Falcons on a one-year deal for the 2015 season, but that season also ended with an ACL injury. He's currently a free agent.
6 2001 - Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Oh, where to begin with Michael Vick. As far as pure athletes go, Vick is easily one of the best I've ever seen in any sport. While he wasn't the typical pocket passer, he could open up the field with his legs and was able to lead the Falcons to the playoffs twice. Often criticized for his style of play, he silenced a lot of his critics upon his return to the NFL in 2010 by setting career highs in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns and QB rating, winning the Comeback Player of the Year. Unfortunately for Vick, he'll always be remembered for that other thing.
5 2012-Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
This is another case where as the years pass, Andrew Luck will probably climb this particular list of players. As it stands right now, however, I think this is where he belongs. He's an extremely talented player that had the difficult task of taking over for some guy named Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and until he wins a Super Bowl will probably always be in that shadow. It's a Rodgers-Favre type of situation. A number of injuries limited Luck to seven games in 2015, but I'm sure he'll be looking to make a big return next season.
4 2006 - Mario Williams, DT, Houston Texans
While many thought that the Texans would take Reggie Bush, they instead went with defensive tackle Mario Williams with the first pick in the 2006 draft. Williams would give the Texans six solid years before signing a monster contract with the Buffalo Bills in 2012. Most of his defensive records with the Texans have been surpassed by J.J. Watt, but Williams will be considered one of the franchise's best defensive players for years to come. While some think that Williams didn't live up to his contract in Buffalo, he was a Second Team All-Pro in 2013 and a First Team All-Pro the following season. He recently signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins.
3 2003 - Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Carson Palmer is the only guy on this list who did not play one snap during his rookie campaign. He didn't start until his second season in Cincinnati and to this day, Palmer still owns nine franchise records. Although he'd put up big numbers, he was never able to win a playoff game with the Bengals and caused quite a stir when he threatened to retire in 2011. When the Bengals drafted and started Andy Dalton that season, they finally traded Palmer to Oakland, where he spent one and a half seasons. He threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2012 before being traded to Arizona in 2013.
Just this past season, Palmer was considered an MVP candidate, leading the Cardinals to a 13-3 record and became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win his first playoff game.
2 2011-Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Some of you may not have put Cam Newton this high on the list, but he's the only man on this list that's won a Most Valuable Player award, so that has to count for something. Like Michael Vick, Cam Newton isn't the most conventional quarterback, but he gets the job done. He just gets the job done better. He led the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record this past season en route to a Super Bowl 50 appearance. He's appeared in and started 78 of a possible 80 games since he was drafted and in just five years has already set numerous NFL records. It will certainly be interesting to see if Newton can maintain his style of play over the course of his career.
1 2004 - Eli Manning, QB, San Diego Chargers (traded to New York Giants)
While I certainly don't think that Eli Manning is the most talented guy on this list, he does deserve this top spot, if for nothing else beating Tom Brady in a Super Bowl....twice. Say what you want about him, but he's the most decorated player on this list: 59.3 completion percentage, 44,191 passing yards, 294 TDs, 199 INTs, 523 rushing yards, 5 TDs and made four Pro Bowls. He is a two-time Super Bowl Champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Outside of David Carr, who was his backup for the second Super Bowl win, he's the only man on this list that even has a Super Bowl ring and most of the guys don't even have a Super Bowl appearance. He has two Super Bowl MVP trophies at home and while he'll always be looked at as the less-talented Manning brother, Eli has carved out his own legacy as one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history.