Drafting is hard. It's difficult in leagues like the NBA and NHL where players mostly have the same skill sets but play different positions, however, it's even more challenging in the NFL, where teams need to consider what their greatest weakness is and also evaluate and compare players who play vastly different positions. Obviously, the quarterback position is the most important to overall team success, but can you get by with an average quarterback and then use a first-round pick to select a dominant pass rusher or linebacker? The defense shouldn't be ignored, nor should offensive linemen; as irrelevant as they are to fantasy football players, they are pivotal in the success of an offense as a good line can give a quarterback an extra second or two of protection, which can make a world of difference in offensive efficiency.
And, believe it or not, offensive linemen have been selected first overall in the NFL Draft and are often among the top five or 10 picks. Quarterbacks have been featured heavily at the top of recent drafts as teams try to find that franchise QB who could lead them to the promised land, but that quarterback is generally nothing without a good offense in place. Johnny Manziel was awful in Cleveland not only because of his own personal problems but also due to the team's lack of depth at seemingly every position. In this list, we'll look back at some of the more questionable first overall picks in the NFL Draft and suggest who should have been selected in that spot. Hindsight is 20/20, but some of these were even obvious at the time.
24 First Overall: Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown wasn't a complete bust in the sense that some on this list were, but the defensive end had a relatively uninspiring career given his first overall draft status, although that could be in part due to the fact that he had the misfortune of being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, who likely only selected him because his last name matched their team name.
Through 61 career games in the league, Brown notched 194 tackles, 19 quarterback sacks, and six forced fumbles. Those would be considered great numbers for a mid-round pick or even a late first-round pick, but there were much better options out there for Cleveland in retrospect.
23 Should Have Been: Brian Urlacher
The Browns' loss was the Chicago Bears' gain in 2000, as the team held the ninth overall pick in the draft and selected future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher. It's interesting to think of how his career might have gone if he were drafted by the Browns, but fortunately for him, he wasn't.
With the Bears, Urlacher played in eight Pro Bowls, won the 2000 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the 2005 AP Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league in solo tackles in 2002 and retired in 2012 with 1,354 combined tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, and 11 forced fumbles.
22 First Overall: David Carr
Derek Carr might be a bit of an overrated quarterback, but at least he wasn't burdened with the pressures that come with being a first overall pick as his brother David was. Selected by the Houston Texans with the first pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, David Carr lasted 10 seasons in the league but was a backup and third-stringer for his last four seasons with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
Through five seasons with the Texans, he posted a dismal record of 22-53 to go along with 14,452 passing yards, 65 touchdowns, and 71 interceptions. Had he not been selected first overall, he likely wouldn't have lasted beyond his rookie season as he had nine touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
21 Should Have Been: Julius Peppers
There were plenty of better options than David Carr in the 2002 NFL Draft, but Julius Peppers was the most logical and obvious replacement as the first overall pick. Peppers, a defensive end out of the University of North Carolina, was selected second overall by the Carolina Panthers and earned the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year after registering 35 tackles, 12 sacks, and five forced fumbles.
The future Hall of Famer is now in his 17th season and second stint with the Panthers and has 711 tackles, 156.5 sacks, 54 forced fumbles, and 11 interceptions through 257 career regular season games.
20 First Overall: Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer might be among the most productive first overall picks on this list, but that doesn't mean he was the best choice in the 2003 NFL Draft. Selected by the Cincinnati Bengals out of USC, Palmer played in three Pro Bowls during his 14-year career and experienced quite a career resurgence in his mid-30s with the Arizona Cardinals, especially in 2015, when he recorded 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
However, on the whole, his numbers are rather mediocre; Palmer retired following the 2017 season with a record of 92-88-1 as a starter to go along with 46,247 passing yards, 294 touchdowns, and 187 interceptions. His best quality was his longevity.
19 Should Have Been: Terrell Suggs
Again, Palmer had a good career, but he wasn't much use to the Bengals as he posted a 46-51 record with the team through seven seasons. Cincinnati would have been much better off selecting linebacker and defensive end Terrell Suggs, who ended up being picked by the Baltimore Ravens with the 10th overall pick.
An alumnus of Arizona State University, Suggs is still playing in the league and is now a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker and one-time AP Defensive Player of the Year. Through 221 career regular season games, he has 840 tackles, 131 sacks, 33 forced fumbles, and seven interceptions.
18 First Overall: Tim Couch
Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf have long been linked as quarterback busts given they were taken in successive drafts, but only one, Couch, was selected first overall. Leaf was taken second overall behind Peyton Manning in the 1998 NFL Draft, while Couch was chosen with the first pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by, not surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns.
A dominant force with the University of Kentucky, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Couch had all the tools to be as successful as someone like Ben Roethlisberger - he was agile for his size and registered 267 rushing yards as a rookie - but was never able to put it all together. He lasted only five seasons and left the league in 2003 with a record of 22-37 to go along with 64 touchdowns and 67 interceptions.
17 Should Have Been: Donovan McNabb
As with any other draft, there were several other worthy players for the Browns to take first in 1999, but the most logical and obvious selection was Donovan McNabb, who went second overall to the Philadelphia Eagles. McNabb might not be the greatest quarterback of all-time, but he lasted 11 seasons with the Eagles and led the team to a Super Bowl in 2004 - he posted 31 touchdowns and a career-high 3,875 passing yards that season to go along with 220 rushing yards.
McNabb would have given stability under center to the Browns, which is something the team hasn't really had since drafting Couch first overall. Although, because it's the Browns, you have to wonder if they would have ruined McNabb's career as well.
16 First Overall: Jameis Winston
There was still some shine on Jameis Winston this season even when Ryan Fitzpatrick was dominating under center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston, the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, is still only 24-years-old and has the talent to be a premier quarterback in the league. Unfortunately, he lacks and poise and intelligence required to thrive in the position.
That's why it was no surprise to see he has once again relinquished the starting job to FitzMagic. The Florida State alumnus was average at best during his first three seasons in the league but has struggled mightily in 2018 with six touchdowns and a league-leading 10 interceptions in only three starts.
15 Should Have Been: Todd Gurley
Even if you're a believer in Jameis Winston, there's no denying the notion that Todd Gurley should have been the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. At the time, selecting a running back so high in the draft was considered so rare that the Rams' selection of Gurley 10th overall drew some questioning, especially given he was coming off of an injury, but it's now clear the team knew what it was doing.
A fantasy stud, the Georgia alumnus won the AP Offensive Player of the Year last season and appears to be a likely candidate to do so again this season. Gurley leads the NFL in rushing yards, touchdowns, and rushing yards per game, through the first nine weeks of the season.
14 First Overall: Ki-Jana Carter
Perhaps one of the most little-known first overall picks over the past 30 years is Ki-Jana Carter. The Penn State alumnus was selected first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1995 NFL Draft and, although he remained in the league until 2004, wasn't able to surpass more than 464 rushing yards in a single season due to an assortment of injuries.
Carter reached that mark in 1997 and, over the course of the next five seasons, compiled a combined 416 rushing yards. He also wasn't much of a passing threat out of the backfield, as he caught only 66 passes in 59 career regular season games.
13 Should Have Been: Warren Sapp
A Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Warren Sapp would have undoubtedly made a bigger impact with the Bengals than Carter. The Miami University alumnus was selected 12th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so it's not as though he was much of a candidate to go first overall at the time, but in retrospect, he was the best player in the draft class.
Sapp played 13 seasons in the NFL and recorded 571 tackles, 96.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, and four interceptions. He was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and played in seven Pro Bowls. He also won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2002.
12 First Overall: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is similar to Carson Palmer in that he is a quarterback that has had a relatively decent NFL career, but by no means has lived up to the expectations that come with being a first overall pick.
The three-time Pro Bowl QB and University of Utah alumnus was selected first overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft and has since compiled an impressive career record of 93-64-1, to go along with 191 touchdowns and 98 interceptions. He also has 33,449 passing yards and 2,530 rushing yards. However, he has never been among the top five quarterbacks in the league at any point in his career.
11 Should Have Been: DeMarcus Ware
Cadillac Williams and Shawne Merriman won the AP Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year respectively in 2005, but the best player from that draft class has been DeMarcus Ware, who was selected 11th overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Williams peaked as a rookie and, while Merriman had an impressive career, Ware's longevity and overall ability make him a better pick than either of those as well as Smith.
Through a combined 12 seasons with the Cowboys and Denver Broncos, Ware registered 659 tackles, 138.5 sacks (he led the league in this category in 2008 and 2010), 35 forced fumbles, and three interceptions.
10 First Overall: Jake Long
We mentioned that offensive linemen can be selected first overall and tackle Jake Long is a good example in that regard. Selected first overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2008 NFL Draft, the University of Michigan alumnus played in four Pro Bowls during his nine-season career and was often thought of as one of the best at his position, but his impact wasn't felt as much as some of the players selected behind him.
It's hard to judge the value of an offensive tackle, but Football Reference puts Long's approximate value at 11, 13, and 12 respectively in his first three seasons in the league. He didn't reach double digits in either of the next six seasons.
9 Should Have Been: Matt Ryan
The Atlanta Falcons were thrilled with the first two picks in the 2008 NFL Draft as Jake and Chris Long went to the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams respectively. This meant the Falcons could draft the quarterback they so desperately needed: Matt Ryan.
Since entering the league, the Boston College alumnus has earned the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, AP Offensive Player of the Year, and MVP. He has also played in four Pro Bowls. Moreover, he has given the Falcons stability at the quarterback position for 11 seasons now while playing at an elite level. He boasts a career record as a starter of 98-67 to go along with 275 touchdowns and 128 interceptions.
8 First Overall: Baker Mayfield
The jury is still out on Baker Mayfield and, as was the case with other Browns first overall picks on this list, he could very well be hindered by the team that selected him.
Since replacing Tyrod Taylor in Week 3 and leading the Browns to a comeback victory over the New York Jets, Mayfield has shown flashes of brilliance but also infuriated Browns fans at times. All things considered, he has been pretty decent and could very well be the team's quarterback of the future, but there was another high-impact player selected behind him who looks to have an edge on Mayfield through the first half of their respective rookie seasons.
7 Should Have Been: Saquon Barkley
The New York Giants desperately needed a running back entering the 2018 NFL Draft so the team was thrilled to get Penn State alumnus Saquon Barkley. However, the Browns had an equal need at the position and could have very well drafted a quarterback with its second first-round pick, which it used to take safety Denzel Ward.
Barkley has been breaking records in New York and is leading the team's woeful offense by a large margin. Through his first eight games, he has seven touchdowns in addition to 519 rushing yards and 497 receiving yards. He is incredibly dangerous in open space and, if healthy, should be a dominant force in the league for years to come.
6 First Overall: Sam Bradford
You can consider Sam Bradford in the same category as Alex Smith and Carson Palmer, but the former has had less success due to the injuries he battled throughout his career. As a result, his talent hasn't been able to come through on a consistent basis, nor has he been able to hold down a starting position.
Bradford had opportunities to do so in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Arizona, and eventually gave way to the backup in all of those situations. Despite the perception that he's a below average quarterback, he has 103 touchdowns and 61 interceptions in addition to a quarterback rating of 84.5. Still, in retrospect, he was far from the best choice at first overall.
5 Should Have Been: Ndamukong Suh
The Rams could have bolstered its defense in 2010 with the addition of Ndamukong Suh, who was selected second overall by the Detroit Lions, but instead opted with Bradford. It might be a moot point now given Suh signed with the Rams in the 2018 offseason, but he could have made a drastic difference with the team in the prime of his career.
The University of Nebraska alumnus was the 2010 AP Defensive Rookie of the year after registering 65 tackles, 10 sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception. Now, the potential future Hall of Fame inductee has 444 tackles, 54.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and one interception through 134 career regular season games.
4 First Overall: Jadeveon Clowney
The Houston Texans appeared to have formed the most intimidating defense in 2014 when the team selected South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick. And, while Clowney has given the team a formidable one-two pass-rushing duo alongside J.J. Watt, it's clear now there were better options for the team, both on offense and defense.
Clowney has played in two Pro Bowls and is by no means a bust at first overall, but he isn't the best player taken in the draft. He only played in four games as a rookie, but has come along nicely in recent years and now has 181 tackles, 24.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles through 54 career regular season games.
3 Should Have Been: Aaron Donald
The Texans already boast an impressive defensive line, but imagine Aaron Donald at defensive tackle instead of Clowney along the edge. Donald is the league's highest-paid defensive player and with good reason. In addition to looking like The Incredible Hulk, the massive 6-foot-1, 280-pound University of Pittsburgh alumnus was named the 2017 AP Defensive Player of the Year after registering 41 tackles, 11 sacks, and five forced fumbles.
Rather than resting on his laurels after earning a big contract, he already has 10 sacks through eight games this season and is one away from tying his career-high in the category. Donald now has 233 tackles, 49 sacks, and 10 forced fumbles through 70 career regular season games and is well on his way to earning induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2 First Overall: JaMarcus Russell
Arguably the biggest first overall bust of all-time, JaMarcus Russell was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL Draft out of LSU. He projected as a Michael Vick type with an incredible arm to match his speed out of the pocket, but none of that came to fruition in the NFL.
Instead, the Mobile, Alabama native lasted only three seasons in the league and compiled a 7-18 record as a starter to go along with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He was particularly bad in his third and final season when he had only three touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions and an awful quarterback rating of 50. By contrast, that's only slightly better than Nathan Peterman's quarterback rating.
1 Should Have Been: Adrian Peterson
Selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Vikings out of the University of Oklahoma, Adrian Peterson excelled right from the beginning of his career and, surprisingly, continues to be an effective option at running back.
The 33-year-old has played in seven Pro Bowls, won the 2007 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, the 2012 AP Offensive Player of the Year, and 2012 MVP. He posted a career-best 2,097 rushing yards that season, which now ranks second all-time behind only Eric Dickerson. Through 140 career regular season games, Peterson had 15,029 yards from scrimmage as well as 103 rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns.