The 50 Most Shocking Draft Selections in NFL History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst I

The 50 Most Shocking Draft Selections in NFL History

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    The NFL draft is so compelling and draws such a huge following for one simple reason: Every so often, there is a move that stuns the ESPN or NFL Network panel of experts, the fans in the audience (usually Eagles, Giants or Jets fans) and the millions watching at home on television.

    Sometimes it's because the move is considered a huge reach; the player chosen was never considered to be a high, mid- or low first-round choice yet they came off the board far sooner than expected. 

    Sometimes it's because a team opted for a position that didn't seem to be one of need.

    And sometimes it's because the team passed on a high-profile name who was surprisingly still on the board.

    Any one of those scenarios would constitute a draft-day shocker. Through the years, we've seen some real doozies. Here's a look back at 50 of them.

    But do keep one thing in mind while reading this list: There's an old saying, "hindsight is 20/20." How is that relevant to this list? Well, just because JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich turned out to be colossal busts doesn't mean they were necessarily shockers on draft day. When their names (and many other soon-to-be busts) were called out by the commissioner, they weren't really surprise moves. 

No. 50: Matt Cassel, QB, New England Patriots

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    When: 2005

    Selection: seventh round, 230th overall

    This list starts out with something of an anomaly: A huge percentage of these 50 entries are first-round choices, even high first-round choices. So seeing a seventh-rounder here is a bit out of place.

    But Matt Cassel's situation in 2005 was among the strangest in NFL history: He never started a single game in his four seasons at USC, serving as a backup to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. In fact, he only threw 33 passes while in L.A.

    Even if it was something of a "throwaway" choice because they only spent a seventh-rounder on him, it was an unusual decision for the Pats. 

    When it comes to judging players, people always stress the value of game film over the Wonderlic test, the combine, the pro days and the interviews. But Cassel had almost none! 

No. 49: Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings

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    When: 2011

    Selection: first round, 12th overall

    Prior to the start of the 2011 NFL draft, this selection would have been a much bigger surprise, but after three quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert) had already been selected, it was less of a stunner.

    The Vikings needed a quarterback. 

    Still, Ponder was not considered a high first-round pick by most of the experts. In fact, many mockers didn't even have him as a Day 1 choice at all, largely because of his wear and tear and injury-prone reputation at Florida State.

    Yet the Vikings—hungry to fill the huge void left by Brett Favre—spent their top choice on Ponder, rather than Andy Dalton or Ryan Mallett, who many had rated far higher on their draft boards. 

No. 48: Joe Greene, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    When: 1969

    Selection: first round, fourth overall

    Of course, Mean Joe Greene is one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL, so any "shock" that resulted in his selection fourth overall in the 1969 NFL draft was soon forgotten.

    But he came out of a small school, North Texas State, one that few people outside of the region knew about. Had he been a product of Notre Dame, USC or Alabama, he almost certainly would have been the second overall choice and maybe even challenged O.J. Simpson for the top spot in that year's draft.

    Still, there's another reason why this has to be considered (at least on the day it was made) a shocking selection. The Steelers, desperately in need of a quarterback, passed on quarterback Terry Hanratty, a Notre Dame star and native of Western Pennsylvania. 

    Many thought that was the choice Chuck Noll would make with his first selection as head coach. How different might NFL history have been if that were the case? 

No. 47: Donte Whitner, S, Buffalo Bills

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    When: 2006

    Selection: first round, eighth overall

    Marv Levy did so many great things for the Buffalo Bills franchise: He coached the team to a record four consecutive Super Bowl berths, guided them to annual home playoff victories and molded a handful of young players into Hall of Fame talents. 

    But in his second stint with the franchise, Levy's 2006 draft was borderline disastrous and it started with this selection.

    Whitner was considered a good player, even excellent, at Ohio State. He had a great combine, running a 4.4 40-yard-dash. But he was never an All-American and played amongst a stacked core of starters.

    Teams really only take safeties as high as eighth overall in the draft if they are considered a phenomenal, game-changing player, like Ronnie Lott in 1981 or Sean Taylor in 2004. LaRon Landry and Eric Berry were considered much more impact players than Whitner. Don't forget that Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, currently the game's best safeties, were late first-round choices. 

    More to the point, however, is the fact that Whitner wasn't even considered the best safety in the 2006 class; Texas' Michael Huff went seventh overall. Levy and the Bills most likely really wanted Huff but panicked when he was chosen one spot earlier. 

No. 46: John McCargo, DT, Buffalo Bills

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    When: 2006

    Selection: first round, 26th overall

    As shocking as the Whitner pick was earlier in the day, this one had to be much more of a surprise (and disappointment) to Bills fans.

    Few people considered him a second-round choice let alone a first-round choice, yet the Bills—who really needed help on the defensive side of the ball—turned in one of the most memorable (forgettable to Bills fans) reaches of all time.

    The only reason it doesn't rank higher on the list is due to one simple fact: After the Whitner selection, logic and convention went out the window for the Bills. 

No. 45: Tony Jeffery, RB, Phoenix Cardinals

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    When: 1988 

    Selection: second round, 38th overall

    Here's another—albeit indirect—entry regarding the Buffalo Bills. For this one, they enjoyed a piece of good fortune.

    As part of the Cornelius Bennett deal, the Bills traded their first-round draft choice away in the 1988 draft. They still managed to land the best running back in that year's draft thanks to the inexplicable free fall of Thurman Thomas.

    Six running backs (Gaston Green, John Stephens, Lorenzo White, Brad Muster, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, Ickey Woods) were selected by the time the Phoenix Cardinals' turn came early in the second round and they too passed on Thomas, a star at Oklahoma State.

    Instead, the hapless Cardinals took Tony Jeffery, a TCU runner who had been declared ineligible late in the 1987 season for contact with an agent.

    As stated earlier, hindsight may be 20/20. Even at the moment it happened, the Cardinals passing on Thomas—in favor of another running back—was a major surprise. 

No. 44: J.P. Losman, QB, Buffalo Bills

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    When: 2004

    Selection: first round, 22nd overall

    Back to mistakes by the Bills.

    With Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger all top-11 selections, there was certainly a run on quarterbacks in the early going of the 2004 NFL draft.

    That put any team (like the Bills) in search of a quarterback behind the eight ball. 

    As a result, the Bills jumped the gun a bit by taking Losman 22nd overall despite the fact that he didn't have a great senior season at mid-major Tulane. 

    It's also worth pointing out that the Bills already had 32-year-old Drew Bledsoe (to whom they were paying a ton of money) and just added to the passing game with Lee Evans 11 spots earlier in the draft. 

    In short, there were several other positions of much greater need than quarterback, especially since the best they could do was the fourth-rated quarterback on the board. 

No. 43: Kevin Dyson, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    When: 1998

    Selection: first round, 16th overall

    Nothing against Dyson, who had a fine career at Utah, an even finer career in Tennessee and made one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history, but his selection was a huge shock on draft day.

    Why? Because of the wide receiver who the Titans passed on: Randy Moss.

    Yes, Moss had baggage coming out of college, and that helps explain why 20 teams passed on him.

    Still, considering his size, skill set and game, it was a safe bet that Moss would be the first wideout selected—not Dyson.

No. 42: Rickey Dudley, TE, Oakland Raiders

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    When: 1996

    Selection: first round, ninth overall

    Remember that this pick came before it was en vogue to take a college basketball player (Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham) and make them an NFL tight end.

    Dudley was a star forward for the Ohio State Buckeyes but joined John Cooper's football squad prior to the 1994 season and had a final year for the national championship contender. 

    But the former all-state tight end really only had one season as a college football player and played in an offense absolutely loaded with talent (Eddie George, Terry Glenn, Orlando Pace), so he was raw to say the least.

    Never one to play by convention—especially when it came to the vertical passing game—Al Davis spent the ninth overall choice on Dudley, surprising many insiders. 

No. 41: Steve Walsh, QB, Dallas Cowboys

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    When: 1989

    Selection: first round (supplemental)

    Although it came in the supplemental draft, this pick is worth a mention for one specific reason: Just two months earlier, the Cowboys spent the top overall pick in the 1989 draft (and millions of dollars) on Troy Aikman.

    So even though Walsh had been new Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson's quarterback at Miami, it was still a head-scratcher.

    It's one thing to bring in a veteran quarterback to challenge, motivate or teach a rookie, but another rookie?

    Clearly one of them (and it turned out to be Walsh) would have to go sooner rather than later. As a result, the Cowboys basically agreed to hedge their bets and squander one of the two choices. 

No. 40: Philip Rivers, QB, New York Giants

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    When: 2004

    Selection: first round, fourth overall

    Lost in all the confusion of the Eli Manning-to-the-Chargers pick a few minutes earlier was the fact that the Chargers (who were obviously going to deal Manning away) already had a young and capable quarterback in Drew Brees on the roster.

    I suppose we have to assume that the Giants and Chargers coordinated this deal so the Chargers could have instructed the Giants to select anyone they wanted, perhaps Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow II or Roy Williams.

    Much like the Cowboys' Aikman/Walsh duo mentioned in the previous slide, it just seemed strange that the Chargers would (essentially) spend a top draft choice on a young quarterback when they already had one on the roster. 

No. 39: Irving Fryar, WR, New England Patriots

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    When: 1984

    Selection: first round, first overall

    This selection is based purely on it being the first of its kind. 

    In today's NFL, when Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are making over $16 million a season and just about every team is pass-first, run-second, spending the top overall choice on a wide receiver wouldn't be terribly shocking.

    But 30 years ago when teams didn't throw the ball nearly as often as they do today, using the top choice on a player who only touched the ball a dozen times per game—at best—was just not how things were done.

    Furthermore, since Fryar was coming out of Nebraska—Tom Osbourne didn't exactly run an aerial circuit in Lincoln—the pick was a curious one. 

No. 38: Kelly Stouffer, QB, St. Louis Cardinals

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    When: 1987

    Selection: first round, sixth overall

    It wasn't exactly Drew Bledsoe vs. Rick Mirer, Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf or Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III. Still, in the 1987 NFL draft there was a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback followed by a fast-climbing prospect who started to garner a lot of attention as the draft neared. 

    Miami's Vinny Testaverde was expected to be (and was) the obvious top choice at the top of the draft, followed soon enough by Stouffer, who the Cardinals nabbed in a surprise move.

    Part of the reason it was unexpected was due to his background. He came from Colorado State, not Notre Dame, Miami, Alabama, Penn State or one of those other powerhouse programs. Because St. Louis already had Neil Lomax (who would go on to lead the NFL in passing that year), the soon-to-be-moving-to-Phoenix Cardinals had other holes to fill. 

    Finally, since the Cardinals were unwilling to spend the money on Stouffer (always an issue with the bottom-feeder, cheaper teams like St. Louis) and they had to trade him, the shock of this pick was justified. 

No. 37: Ricky Bell, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    When: 1977

    Selection: first round, first overall

    Bell wasn't the most highly touted running back in the 1977 NFL draft.

    That honor belonged to Tony Dorsett, the Heisman Trophy winner from the national championship-winning Pitt Panthers. 

    Preference was certainly a factor in this decision. Bell was bigger and had a fantastic career at USC, a school well-known for producing outstanding pro runners. So there's no accounting for taste. 

    Still, Dorsett had been a phenom as early as his freshman year. Passing on his explosive ability—in favor of a more bruising back—was a surprising twist for an expansion franchise that was coming off an 0-14 season and needed star power and excitement. 

No. 36: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    When: 2005

    Selection: first round, 24th overall

    I was careful not to list anyone simply because they experienced a "free fall," "tumble" or whatever you want to call it when a player isn't drafted nearly as high as every one expected—Ryan Mallett, Brady Quinn, Thurman Thomas, etc. It may be a "shock" that they fell but the pick itself isn't shocking. In fact, usually it's a foregone conclusion that they'll come off the board ASAP.

    But the infamous free fall of Aaron Rodgers is a different issue. When you're a perennial Super Bowl contender with a future Hall of Famer under center, spending a first-round draft choice on a rookie quarterback is a surprise. 

    Sure, Brett Favre was 35 years old in the spring of 2005 and the Packers needed to prepare for a life after the Ol' Gunslinger, but Green Bay was a playoff team the year before and Favre had one of his best seasons in 2004. Had they spent their first-round choice on a wide receiver, a tackle or even a defender, it might have been the move to get the team back to the Super Bowl—or that's at least how Favre and many Packers fans viewed it.

    Ted Thompson didn't, opting to take Rodgers. While it certainly reaped amazing benefits, it was a surprise at the time. 

No. 35: Ricky Williams, RB, New Orleans Saints

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    When: 1999

    Selection: first round, fifth overall

    Although the real "shock" of this selection came before the Saints even turned their card over to commissioner Paul Tagliabue, let's consider the whole package. 

    Trading an entire draft class to move up seven spots? It doesn't matter if you're doing so to draft Joe Montana, Dick Butkus or Orlando Pace in their prime—that's still a huge shock.

    There are many reasons why that is the case, but the most prominent and the simplest is this: It's the very definition of putting all your eggs in one basket, which most NFL teams and executives hate to do. 

No. 34: Levi Jones, OT, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When: 2002

    Selection: first round, 10th overall

    I suppose you can look at this choice—and No. 28 on this list—as the Bengals' never-ending and impatient search to find the next Anthony Munoz. 

    Jones was a good prospect coming out of Arizona State and a worthy first-round choice, but many of the experts had him well past the top 10 on their boards. The most memorable such expert was Mel Kiper Jr., who essentially laughed at this choice on camera during ESPN's coverage and said that Jones was a player they could have possibly gotten in the second round. 

    Certainly it's a mistake to take whatever Kiper (or any other prognosticator) says as gospel and infallible, but Jones wasn't considered a top-10 choice and the Bengals—not long removed from disastrous choices like Akili Smith, Peter Warrick, Dan Wilkinson and David Klingler—were expected to play it a little more safely.

No. 33: Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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    When: 2005

    Selection: first round, seventh overall

    Yes, when the Vikings dealt away Randy Moss for linebacker Napoleon Harris and a first-round draft choice there was a huge void at the wide receiver position. But that didn't mean they had to fill it instantly with the first wide receiver that crossed their path.

    That's what Mike Tice and Company did in the 2005 draft.

    They targeted the first wideout they saw, South Carolina's Troy Williamson. He ran with tremendous 4.32 speed but clearly had major holes in his game, most notably his hands and route running.

    It was really a surprise that the Vikings would essentially tab Williamson as interchangeable with Moss seemingly without any hesitation. 

No. 32: Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    When: 1972

    Selection: first round, 13th overall

    It wasn't a shocking move that the Steelers selected a running back with their first-round choice in 1972; they needed one. It wasn't even necessarily shocking that they spent that first-round choice on a Penn State running back. At the time, there was a quasi-pipeline between Happy Valley and Pittsburgh—Jack Ham, Fran Rogel, Steve Suhey and Dick Hoak, who was the Steelers running backs coach by 1972.

    But what was shocking was which Penn State running back the Steelers took in the 1972 NFL draft.

    Lydell Mitchell had been the star ball-carrier for the Nittany Lions in 1971, rushing for 1,567 yards and a whopping 26 touchdowns. That same season, Franco Harris carried the ball half as many times.

    Nevertheless, the Steelers grabbed Harris in the first round while Mitchell had to wait another 35 spots before being taken by the Colts. 

No. 31: Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Miami Dolphins

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    When: 2007

    Selection: first round, ninth overall

    No one doubted Ginn's speed or special teams abilities coming out of Ohio State in 2007, but his potential as a wide receiver was in question. And make no mistake about it—it doesn't matter how great a return man is (Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson) if that's all they can do; they're not going to be a top-10 choice.

    Because he didn't work out at the combine nor Ohio State's pro day due to a foot injury, he wasn't able to prove that he was a standout offensive player as well. 

    Still, the Dolphins remained enamored with the speed and took him ninth overall. 

    That alone was shocking but so too was the fact that the Dolphins—who were in the market for a quarterback after recycling names like Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington—passed on Brady Quinn, who was surprisingly still available.  

No. 30: Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions

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    When: 2011

    Selection: first round, 13th overall

    Quarterback is really the only position in football where having two superstars is a problem. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck can't coexist; neither could Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

    So just because a team has one monster defensive tackle in place (assuming they run a 4-3) doesn't mean drafting, signing or trading for another is problematic. 

    Still, because the Lions had just spent the second overall choice on Ndamukong Suh the previous April and clearly had needs elsewhere (cornerback, for example), when they pulled Auburn's Nick Fairley off the board at the 13th spot in 2011, it was a shocker.

    Unlike many of the entries on this list, few people really viewed the move as a "mistake," but to draft back-to-back defensive tackles is a strange turn of events. 

No. 29: Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland Raiders

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    When: 2000

    Selection: first round, 17th overall

    One theme in this list is the late Al Davis' willingness to buck trends and defy convention, something he certainly did in the 2000 draft.

    Not only did he spend the Raiders' top choice on a kicker, but he spent it on a kicker who was, let's say, troubled.

    No one doubted Janikowski's leg strength or accuracy, but couple his run-ins with the law at Florida State with the fact that he was a kicker, and it was another move by Davis that few people saw coming. 

    The only reason why this choice isn't higher up? The Raiders were on the verge of putting together a championship team, so it wasn't entirely far-fetched to think that Janikowski was the proverbial "missing piece."

No. 28: Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When: 2009

    Selection: first round, sixth overall

    If Levi Jones to the Bengals at No. 10 overall was a surprise, Smith to the Bengals at sixth just a few years later was a huge shock.

    By 2009, the Bengals were no longer the disorganized, downtrodden, laughingstock they had been back in 2002 and for a decade earlier. So selecting a player like Smith—who was suspended from the Sugar Bowl for contact with an agent, left the combine after a poor, out-of-shape effort and didn't do much better at his pro day—was a major risk.

    The issues that caused him to be suspended from Alabama weren't, however, nearly enough to suggest he wasn't worth rolling the dice. Teams will always take a talented player under those circumstances.

    But being totally out of shape and literally quitting at the combine was a red flag to most teams, enough to muddy the value of his great college career. The Bengals—who would soon jump into bed with troubled players like Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones and Terrell Owens—weren't the least bit concerned. 

No. 27: Todd Blackledge, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    When: 1983

    Selection: first round, seventh overall

    Bear with me on the next few slides. Nos. 27 through 23 are essentially all here for the exact same reasons.

    First up is Todd Blackledge. 

    He was a big, strong-armed quarterback and the first man to ever lead Penn State to a national championship, but it was strange to see the Chiefs pass up on Dan Marino, the strong-armed, four-year starter at Pitt.

    Furthermore, Blackledge's total lack of mobility (something that would cost him dearly in the pros) made him a surprise choice over Marino, who possessed an agility inside the pocket that has become legendary.

No. 26: Tony Eason, QB, New England Patriots

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    When: 1983

    Selection: first round, 15th overall

    To some extent, NFL fans and the media could understand the Chiefs passing on Marino in favor of Blackledge, the 1982 Davey O'Brien winner who won 23 starts between 1981 and 1982. 

    But Tony Eason, the Illinois passer who threw just two more touchdowns than picks as a senior? That's a hard sell to Patriots fans, especially since incumbent Steve Grogan was only 29 years old.

    Marino's drug rumors and a so-so Wonderlic score (as outlined by the Palm Beach Post's Ben Volin) might have been enough to keep him from being a top-10 choice, but seeing him slip into the second half of the first round was a total shock.

    Still, not as shocking as...

No. 25: Ken O'Brien, QB, New York Jets

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    When: 1983

    Selection: first round, 24th overall

    ...Slipping to the 24th choice.

    Sure, they had Richard Todd who quarterbacked Gang Green to the AFC Championship game (where he promptly threw five interceptions in a 14-0 shutout), but no Jets fans would have been sad to see him take a back seat to the incomparable Dan Marino.

    When the Steelers passed on the hometown product at 22nd in favor of Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabriel Rivera, the Jets were home free to take Marino.

    They didn't, opting instead to take Sacramento State's Ken O'Brien.

    Although O'Brien would go on to have a pretty solid career, the shock of this choice was long-lasting because the Jets had to play Marino's Dolphins twice a season for the next two decades.

No. 24: Giovanni Carmazzi, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    When: 1999

    Selection: third round, 65th overall

    Now we'll switch over to the other epic quarterback tumble of the last 30 years: Tom Brady falling all the way to the sixth round of the 1999 NFL draft. 

    The Brady free fall was wholly different from the Marino's. Marino was fully expected to be a high first-round pick, while Brady certainly was not. A handful of quarterbacks were taken ahead of the Michigan star.

    Several were reasonably justified, especially Chad Pennington.

    Still, of the infamous "Brady Six," two stand out as major surprises, even at the time.

    First is Giovanni Carmazzi, who probably benefited a ton by the mini-legend that fellow Hofstra alum Wayne Chrebet had established. 

    In search of a replacement for Steve Young and looking to make amends for the Jim Druckenmiller debacle, the 49ers chose Carmazzi despite the fact that Bay Area native and lifelong 49ers fan Tom Brady was still on the board. 

    We all know that Brady was a diamond in the rough. In April 2000, no one could have expected him to become the Hall of Famer he is today. But nothing really suggested Carmazzi would be much better either. 

No. 23: Spergon Wynn, QB, Cleveland Browns

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    When: 2000

    Selection: sixth round, 183rd overall

    Although only one (Marc Bulger) turned out to do anything at the pro level, the four quarterbacks taken after Carmazzi did have reasonable credentials, enough to at least validate passing on Tom Brady.

    Chris Redman had been a very impressive passer at Louisville, Tee Martin guided Tennessee to a national championship and Bulger had a fantastic junior season at West Virginia before injuries as a senior caused him to drop substantially. 

    But Spergon Wynn, the South Western Texas State passer who was taken 16 spots ahead of Brady? Not so much.  

    Wynn had good size and mobility, but he didn't shred the Southland Conference record books and was only second-team All-Conference. Not exactly David Klingler, Andre Ware, Steve Young or the other high draft choices from smaller conferences. 

    Although Giovanni Carmazzi (another small-school passer) went to the 49ers, Brady couldn't have been that burned up about the team he grew up adoring passing on him; after all, that was a high third-round pick. This one, a late sixth-round pick, was a different story and had to baffle most of the experts who stayed away long enough to see it. 

No. 22: Edgerrin James, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    When: 1999

    Selection: first round, fourth overall

    While the choice to trade an entire draft class in order to select Ricky Williams was a stunner, the choice before it might actually have been more surprising. 

    Mike Ditka thought enough of Williams to give up his entire draft class, but Williams was actually the second running back taken that day. The Colts passed on Williams in order to take University of Miami running back Edgerrin James.

    He was considered to be a bit more versatile, and therefore a better fit in the Colts offense, but everyone was so quick to anoint Williams the next Earl Campbell that Indy passing shocked many people. 

No. 21: William Green, RB, Cleveland Browns

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    When: 2002

    Selection: first round, 16th overall

    Browns head coach Butch Davis and general manager Dwight Clark made a surprising choice near the top of the 2001 NFL draft, going for Gerard Warren instead of Richard Seymour with the third overall pick.

    But that move wasn't nearly as surprising as the one that brain trust made the following spring. 

    Rather than take Clinton Portis, the Miami Hurricanes' 1,200-yard rusher who Davis had coached for two years, the Browns took Green, who had two drug suspensions while at Boston College. 

    This was another case in which the head coach and/or GM made a choice that wasn't necessarily right or wrong, despite the fact that Green's career had nothing on Portis'. The Browns needed a running back and Davis knew Portis so well (and he was so successful at Miami) that it was a shocking one. 

No. 20: Mike Williams, WR, Detroit Lions

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    When: 2005

    Selection: first round, 10th overall

    Merril Hoge's condemnation aside—on ESPN, right after the selection, he blasted this choice, saying that Williams wasn't "even worth a fourth-round pick"—the Lions really went out on a limb with this pick.

    One reason why was Williams' inactivity. He missed the entire 2004 college football season because declared for the draft after his sophomore year but was not allowed to come out. He was then ineligible to play for USC and essentially held in limbo throughout 2004.

    But that's not really enough to make this choice a shocking one. Because of his great size, leaping ability, hands and tremendous sophomore season at USC, someone would have gone after Williams.

    No, instead what made people stand up and say "wow" when this pick was announced was the fact that by making this selection, Lions general manager Matt Millen committed a third straight top-10 choice to a wide receiver. Charles Rogers was the second overall choice in 2003, followed by Roy Williams, the seventh overall choice in 2004.

    What's that old saying? "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

No. 19: Johnny Lam Jones, WR, New York Jets

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    When: 1980

    Selection: first round, second overall

    As surprising as the Irving Fryar choice was five years later, this pick by the Jets was much more so.

    Maybe he wasn't the top player selected, but for a wideout to be picked second overall was a major stunner back in 1980. 

    Jones had literally world-class speed; he won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in the relay. 

    But the Jets may have become too enamored with the prospects of having a player worthy of their team's nickname. They chose to take the unpolished, relatively small wideout and passed up the chance to draft a cornerstone offensive lineman, Anthony Munoz. 

No. 18: Jay Berwanger, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    When: 1936

    Selection: first round, first overall

    Back in 1936 there weren't mock drafts, ESPN round tables, draft gurus like Mel Kiper, etc.

    Nevertheless, the first common draft in NFL history did begin with a fairly shocking move.

    Jay Berwanger, the University of Chicago's running back and the first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, didn't necessarily show much interest in playing professional football, even before being drafted. (Ultimately he never did join the NFL, opting instead to pursue a career first as an Olympian and then as a sportswriter.)

    Yet the Eagles still went after him. That couldn't have been an easy decision given the fact that they could have picked any player they wanted.

    Fortunately, Philly was able to deal away the rights to Berwanger to Chicago, who also failed to sign Berwanger to a contract. 

    That surprising, drama-filled turn of events sure was a fitting launching point for the history of the NFL draft. 

No. 17: Kyle Brady, TE, New York Jets

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    When: 1995

    Selection: first round, ninth overall

    Any NFL general manager or head coach who makes decisions based purely on the advice/zeal/outrage of their fans is destined to fail. So just because the local fans want their team to draft a certain player because he's got a great reputation or looks good on television doesn't mean it will or should happen.

    Every year, it seems some crop of fans at the draft in New York City boo and boo and boo a certain pick because they took a lineman or another not-so-sexy pick instead of a big name. Not surprisingly, it's often Jets fans. In 1995, we saw one of the most infamous incidents.

    Jets fans really wanted Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who had unexpectedly fallen several spots on draft day, but new head coach/GM Rich Kotite (once an NFL tight end himself) opted to take Penn State's Kyle Brady ninth overall. 

    It upset the Gang Green fans at Madison Square Gardens and stunned many of the prognosticators. More importantly, it was an inauspicious start to the doomed Kotite era in New York. 

No. 16: Matt Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    When: 2005

    Selection: first round, 21st overall

    Taking an athletic college quarterback and trying to make him a wide receiver was nothing new back in 2005—consider Antwaan Randle El, Hines Ward, Kordell Stewart...and that's just one franchise.

    While each of those college signal-callers became stars at the next level, the raw talent of a Arkansas quarterback was even more palpable. Not only was he 6'6" and had a 39.5" vertical leap, but he ran a 4.3 40-yard dash. 

    He was still a project and spending a first-round choice on a project is always a surprise. 

No. 15: Phil Simms, QB, New York Giants

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    When: 1979

    Selection: first round, seventh overall

    Although Jets fans have a better (worse?) reputation for being angry over their team's choices on draft day, the "other" local fans who attend the annual NFL draft circus have occasionally displayed their displeasure.

    One of the earliest cases was the 1979 NFL draft, when new general manager George Young passed up stud running back Ottis Anderson in favor of an unheralded passer from tiny Morehead State.

    Fans booed and hissed at the choice, as did several of the experts. Many thought that if the Giants were to pursue a quarterback, it wouldn't be one from a school that seemingly never played on a big stage like the one in New York City. 

No. 14: Eric Swann, DT, Phoenix Cardinals

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    When: 1991

    Selection: first round, sixth overall

    Plenty of ultra-successful NBA stars (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett) and major leaguers (Jim Abbott, Ken Griffey Jr., Dave Winfield) went directly to the top without playing college or minor league ball, respectively.

    The NFL is an entirely different ballgame. Nothing is more important to a player's draft stock than their college resume. Not the Wondelic, the 40 time, the bench press or the team interviews. 

    That's what made the Cardinals' first selection of the 1991 NFL draft so surprising: Defensive tackle Eric Swann didn't play major college ball.

    He did play semi-pro ball in Massachusetts for a year, but transitioning from $5 per hour semi-pro ball to the NFL—specifically as a very high first-round pick—was a stunner. 

No. 13: Russell Erxleben, K, New Orleans Saints

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    When: 1979

    Selection: first round, 11th overall

    Earlier I stated that the Raiders' selection of Sebastian Janikowski was a shock, but not nearly as shocking as the one that took place 21 years earlier.

    Not only was Texas product Russell Erxleben taken just outside of the top 10—Janikowski was pulled off the board far closer to the end of the first round—but the move was made by a terrible team that had plenty greater holes to plug before going after a kicker. When they made this pick, the Saints hadn't had a winning season in their 12-year existence. 

    Even if he was a "dual threat" as both punter and kicker, at the time (and for years to come) there was nothing to justify that move at that time for that franchise. 

No. 12: Bo Jackson, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    When: 1979

    Selection: first round, first overall

    Exactly a half century after the Eagles failed to come to terms with the top overall choice and Heisman Trophy-winning running back, the Buccaneers befell the same misfortune.

    They drafted Bo Jackson first overall in 1986, but famously couldn't come to terms with him.

    While that certainly constitutes a squandered draft choice, it is an in-the-moment shocking draft choice as well

    The Bucs and specifically owner Hugh Culverhouse were notoriously cheap at that time and most insiders knew that they wouldn't meet Jackson's demands. Yet they went ahead and drafted him anyway. Furthermore, they knew he had a built-in "out" via his baseball career.

    They made the selection on draft day, based purely on the hope that he would sign with them. That's a shocking way to do business at the highest level of professional sports. 

No. 11: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders

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    When: 2009

    Selection: first round, seventh overall

    We all know that the Raiders have made some major miscalculations on draft day over the past decade or so; JaMarcus Russell was the most egregious, but Robert Gallery and Phillip Buchanon come to mind as well.

    Again, this list isn't necessarily about bad decisions—just surprising ones at the time. Russell, Gallery and Buchanon all had tremendous upside and potential when they were nabbed. Each came off the board at about the point where they were expected to be.

    Not the case for Heyward-Bey, the Raiders' top choice in 2009. 

    He blew away Davis with his 4.25 speed at the combine (are we sensing a pattern here: Heyward-Bey, Lam Jones, Troy Williamson, Ted Ginn?) but that wasn't enough for most experts to consider him top-10 material. After all, his best season at Maryland only produced 51 catches for 768 yards and he only scored 13 touchdowns in three seasons as a full-time starter.

    That's why so many people were wowed when Oakland grabbed him seventh overall. The fact that the highly touted Michael Crabtree as well as more prodigious college receivers like Percy Harvin and Jeremy Maclin were available was just the icing on the cake for this shocking selection. 

No. 10: Trev Alberts, LB, Indianapolis Colts

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    When: 1994

    Selection: first round, fifth overall

    We can thank this choice for the infamous phrase uttered by Bill Tobin: "Who in the hell is Mel Kiper?"

    Two years after spending the first and second overall choices in the 1992 NFL draft on front seven players Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt, the Colts only compounded those unsuccessful choices by spending the fifth overall selection on Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts.

    That move was blasted by Mel Kiper Jr., who hadn't quite become a household name, but was well on the way to becoming one after Tobin rhetorically asked for his credentials.

    Like many, Kiper thought the Colts would and should have drafted a quarterback (Jeff George had already left for Atlanta), specifically Fresno State's Trent Dilfer. On air, he remarked (per USA TODAY), "That's why the Colts are picking second every year in the draft, not battling for the Super Bowl."

    If nothing else, to Kiper, the choice was a major shocker. 

No. 9: Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans

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    When: 2011

    Selection: first round, eighth overall

    Despite some questions about his accuracy, Locker was certainly a first-round pick. He had ideal size, largely underrated athleticism and speed, and was a four-year starter in the Pac-10. 

    But no one expected him to go before Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, who at one point was a viable contender for the top overall spot in the draft, ahead of Cam Newton.

    So when the Titans' pick came and they took Locker over Gabbert, it set off a major firestorm across the Twitter-verse.

    Almost no one saw it coming. The Titans weren't even necessarily in the market for a quarterback—remember, they had essentially chosen Vince Young over Jeff Fisher and there was no hint that they were parting ways with him—so for them to take one and it not be the alleged best available prospect was shocking. 

No. 8: Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    When: 1999

    Selection: first round, second overall

    Like Giants and Jets fans, Eagles fans (most of whom aren't terribly far from New York City, the host site of the annual draft bonanza) often loudly express their disapproval of draft choices. 

    The most memorable case came in 1999 when most wanted to see their team draft Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, not a quarterback from Syracuse named Donovan McNabb.

    They booed mercilessly while McNabb walked on stage to meet with Commissioner Tagliabue and hold up his new green-and-white jersey.

    While Philly fans were busy booing, many of the less-invested onlookers were busy scratching their heads.

No. 7: Ray Guy, P, Oakland Raiders

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    When: 1973

    Selection: first round, 23rd overall

    Although Guy did play some defensive back at SMU and soon served as the Raiders' emergency quarterback, make no mistake about it: He was a punter. 

    Now, he was arguably the finest punter in NFL history (something he showed flashes of becoming in college) but still—a punter in the first round is as unheard of today as it was then.

    As surprising and unusual as it was to see Russell Erxleben and Sebastian Janikowski be first-round picks years later, at least they were players who were capable of scoring points. At best, all a great punter can do is provide an edge in field position. 

No. 6: Willis McGahee, RB, Buffalo Bills

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    When: 2003

    Selection: first round, 23rd overall

    Although officially it was known as the 2003 NFL draft, April 26 of that year was really the day that Drew Rosenhaus became a super agent.

    Despite a tremendous career at Miami, there was huge doubt about running back Willis McGahee's draft value. In a gruesome scene three months earlier, he blew out his knee in the Hurricanes' Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. There were serious questions about his availability for the next year and beyond. 

    Nevertheless, Rosenhaus guaranteed McGahee would be a first-round pick and staged phone calls on camera during the draft so teams would think there was more interest in his client than there really was.

    The Bills bit on the ruse and even though Heisman Trophy runner-up Larry Johnson was still on the board, they took McGahee with the 23rd pick.

No. 5: Tyson Alualu, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    When: 2010

    Selection: first round, 10th overall

    There's not much back story to this entry; it's relatively simple.

    The experts and the mock-drafters viewed Alualu as a good player coming out of Cal and a potential first-round choice. The Cowboys showed the most interest, reportedly considering taking him at 27th according to ESPN.

    The Jags either disagreed or just saw him as a superstar they couldn't afford to let slip away. They passed up a series of bigger names with more buzz, such as Earl Thomas, Derrick Morgan, Maurkice Pouncey, Dez Bryant and some quarterback with northern Florida ties named Tim Tebow

No. 4: Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos

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    When: 2010

    Selection: first round, 25th overall

    Even before his NFL career started—forget everything that's taken place in the last few months—controversy and heated debate had defined Tim Tebow's post-Gator career.

    Some people had him penned as a third-round choice (at best), some were a bit more encouraged and some thought that the Jaguars—in need of star power—might roll the dice and go after the local hero.

    Almost no one saw him winding up in a Broncos uniform, especially if it came by way of them trading up to get him.

    That's what soon-to-be-fired head coach Josh McDaniels did, however. Clearly Denver needed a quarterback of the future, but one with such tremendous question marks as a passer wasn't expected to be the player. 

    The fact that Denver had to give up a second-, third- and fourth-rounder just to get the pick to draft Tebow made the pick even more shocking. 

No. 3: Tommy Maddox, QB, Denver Broncos

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    When: 1992

    Selection: first round, 25th overall

    You never want to draft out of spite, but that might have been the case back in 1992 when Broncos head coach—famously feuding with his star quarterback John Elway—spent the team's top draft choice on UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox.

    As we've seen in the past, drafting a younger quarterback to either groom or supplant the incumbent is fairly commonplace.

    But because the Broncos' choice was a sophomore quarterback who had minimal success during his short two-year college career made the pick exceedingly baffling. 

    Since the Broncos had been contenders the year before—narrowly losing the AFC Championship game in Buffalo—there was even more surprise to the choice. Many thought they'd go for a player who could contribute right away and perhaps get them back to the Super Bowl—not a quarterback who was as raw as they come. 

No. 2: Maurice Clarett, RB, Denver Broncos

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    When: 2005

    Selection: third round, 101th overall

    By 2005, Mike Shanahan's ability to turn seemingly average running backs into 1,000-yard runners (Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns) had become legendary. 

    But even he wasn't expected to touch former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett with a 10-foot pole.

    Besides, the Broncos already had a stacked backfield: Anderson, Tatum Bell and even former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne was brought in a few weeks before the draft.

    Still, when Shanahan saw that Clarett—who hadn't played football in more than two full years—was available, he pulled the trigger and spent a third-round choice on the running back who ran molasses-like 4.72 and 4.82 40-yard dashes at the combine. 

    Considering how much value is placed on the 40-yard dash alone—even the numbers put up by 360-pound offensive linemen are scrutinized—for Clarett to be picked in the third round with those numbers and his background was stunning. 

    Even if it was just a late third-round choice. 

No. 1: Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans

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    When: 2006

    Selection: first round, first overall

    Very rarely do we see any drama at the top overall spot. After weeks and months of speculation, usually a front-runner emerges. It usually happens weeks before the actual draft day.

    2006 was a special case in which there was tremendous intrigue into the choice as late as a few days before the draft.

    For the entire winter and spring of 2006, everyone thought the Houston Texans would take Reggie Bush first overall. The Week 17 showdown between Houston and San Francisco was jokingly referred to as the "Reggie Bush Bowl," with the loser earning the rights to the top pick and presumably Bush.

    Somewhere along the line, the Texans started to shy away from Bush and turned their attention towards stud NC State defensive end Mario Williams, who they ultimately drafted.

    Still, that's not the reason why this episode of draft history earns the top spot; the "love triangle" that emerged between Bush, Williams and a third candidate is that reason.

    Houston also needed a quarterback and there were those who thought it would spend that top choice on Texas' Vince Young, fresh off his incredible national championship-winning performance in the Rose Bowl victory over USC. Young being a native of Houston fanned the flames of that speculation.

    So in the end, when the Texans chose Williams a few days before the draft, they essentially spurned two of college football's most exciting and accomplished players in favor of a defensive end who not that many people knew much about.