Apr 28, 2011; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks before the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

NFL Draft History: 21st-Century First-round Draft Steals


Welcome to the first of a weekly series of reflections on NFL draft curiosities. Since there are roughly 6 weeks until the Real Deal happens, I thought it might be fun to put things in perspective. High draft picks don’t guarantee success and low ones don’t necessarily mean you can’t find a gem. Some fellow named Aaron Rodgers was drafted 24th overall, I think it was? Don’t despair if the team trades back – the reality is you’ve just armed yourself with another dart.

With so much attention on first-round picks just like every year, I thought I’d start off with a look at very productive players that were drafted AFTER at least one other player that played the same position was taken. After the big news of the Washington Redskins trading with the St. Louis Rams for the rights to draft Robert Griffin III, all 30 of the other teams could potentially move in the first round. Fans will ride a roller coaster on draft day since the Rookie Wage Scale takes away most of the financial reservations franchises used to have when deciding to trade or not. Been there, talked about that so suffice it to say more trades of draft picks should happen all the way around, not just this time with RG3. That wage scale will be there so teams really won’t have an excuse to be wrong reaching for need in the draft except perhaps a bit lingering with Quarterbacks.

If you look at NFL Draft history and go player-by-player picks in round one, it’s astounding to realize that the majority of those names aren’t well known. If you’re drafted in round one, you’re generally in the top 3 or 4 at your position after your college career. Some picks pan out, but the fact is that most never live up to the hype. We all know the names like JaMarcus Russell, Charles Rogers and David Carr, but what about guys who saw one or more of their peers drafted ahead of them only to vastly outplay those higher picks in their ensuing careers? Some drafts have multiple examples just within round one.

NOTE: To qualify as a “steal” for this purpose, the player in question cannot be a top-10 selection and must have at least one other player at a very similar position drafted above him. Ex: DE/OLBs, WRs, CBs etc. compare with each other within the position. Remember, some positions rarely have multiple players even drafted in the first round (safeties, guards, and anyone using only one leg for their NFL livelihood). Also keep in mind some drafts had multiple players at a position and they ALL bit it (ie: 2002: David Carr and Patrick Ramsey were first-round bookends).

Oh – by the way, contrary to pop culture myth 2001, not 2000, is the first year of the 21st Century. Just clearing that up. Some positions have players drafted higher who had decent careers (2002 – DTs Ryan Simms, John Henderson) so I’m only including unproductive or players that overall are less productive than projected going in, and who went higher than the “steal,” and the list is by no means exhaustive – just some names that jumped out at me. That said, let’s have a look, year-by-year: (btw, 2007 was the one year things seemed to draft well overall…other than J-Russell and Brady Quinn – another example from above!)

YEAR: PLAYER NAME, POS, PICK — SIMILAR POSITION PLAYERS DRAFTED HIGHER:
2001: Santana Moss, WR (16) — David Terrell (8), Koren Robinson (9), Rod Gardner (15)
Reggie Wayne, WR (30) — Freddie Mitchell (25)
2002: Albert Haynesworth, DT (15) — Wendell Bryant (12)
2003: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (31) — Andre Woolfork (28), Sammy Davis (30)
2004: Chris Gamble, CB (28) — Ahmad Carroll (25)
2005: Aaron Rodgers, QB (24) — Alex Smith (1)
Roddy White, WR (27) — Braylon Edwards (3), Troy Williamson (7), Mike Williams (10), Matt Jones (21), Mark Clayton (22)
2006: DeAngelo Williams, RB (27) — Lawrence Maroney (21)
Johnathan Joseph, CB (24) — Tye Hill (15), Jason Allen (16)
2008: Chris Johnson, RB (24) — Darren McFadden (4), Felix Jones (22)
2009: Clay Matthews, DE/OLB (26) — Aaron Curry (4), Larry English (16), Robert Ayers (18)
Hakeem Nicks, WR (29) — Darius Heyward-Bey (7), Michael Crabtree (10)
Michael Oher, OT (23) — Jason Smith (2), Andre Smith (6)

I figured I’d end there. It takes several years for trends to develop, so the jury is still out on the past 2 seasons but I’m sure other names will pop up as the years go by. Some good defenders in there and several good Cornerbacks. But considering that aside from Santana Moss, every player on the offensive side that’s listed was taken in the final third of the draft and is that not an INSANE offense!?!?

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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Braylon Edwards Chris Gamble Chris Johnson Clay Matthews DeAngelo Williams Koren Robinson Matt Jones Michael Crabtree Michael Oher NFL NFL Draft Nnamdi Asomugha Reggie Wayne Santana Moss