NFL Draft: Ranking Each Team on Their 1st-Round Picks Since 2008
The key to winning in the NFL is the draft. The San Francisco 49ers should be the model for this. Jim Harbaugh acquired his franchise quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round while also managing to rejuvenate longtime bust Alex Smith.
Most of the stars on the Niners have come from quality drafts. The offensive line is 80 percent homegrown. Playmakers Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis were all acquired via the draft. On defense, superstars like Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson were the product of strong drafts.
Playing the free-agency game is tricky. The Philadelphia Eagles learned the hard way when they went through their "Dream Team" splurge in 2011, trying to bolster their roster through free-agent signings.
32. Chicago Bears
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First-Round Picks: OT Chris Williams (2008), OT Gabe Carimi (2011), DE Shea McClellin (2012)
It surprised me to see that the Chicago Bears finished dead-last amongst NFL teams in their first-round draft picks. But they’ve had a truly awful run. This could be why the team has missed the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons.
Chris Williams was a complete flop as the team’s first-round choice back in 2008. He’s since been released. Gabe Carimi hasn’t shown much in two seasons. He was actually moved inside to guard this past season. And Shea McClellin played limited snaps as a rookie defensive end.
31. Oakland Raiders
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First-Round Picks: RB Darren McFadden (2008) Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009), Rolando McClain (2010)
This is the team most people would probably expect to be dead-last on the list. The Oakland Raiders traded away two of their first-round picks and have gotten limited production from the other three.
Darren McFadden did have one Pro Bowl-caliber season, which is good but not enough for a fourth overall draft pick. Darrius Heyward-Bey was overdrafted in 2009 and has been simply mediocre. And Rolando McClain has been extremely subpar for three disappointing seasons.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
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First-Round Picks: DE Derrick Harvey (2008), OT Eugene Monroe (2009), DT Tyson Alualu (2010), QB Blaine Gabbert (2011), WR Justin Blackmon (2012)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have gotten limited production from their first-round picks, which is to be expected from a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason game since 2007.
Derrick Harvey was a total flop as a first-rounder in 2008. Eugene Monroe had a slow start but has developed into a very quality offensive tackle as of late. Tyson Alualu is an average starting defensive tackle, but he's not worth the 10th overall pick the team spent on him.
The real problem is Blaine Gabbert. The team’s hopeful franchise quarterback has been anything but since being drafted. He hasn’t been surrounded with quality playmakers or a great offensive line. But he’s appeared skittish in the pocket, and his teammates have already started calling him “Blame Gabbert.”
29. New Orleans Saints
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First-Round Picks: DT Sedrick Ellis (2008), S Malcolm Jenkins (2009), CB Patrick Robinson (2010), DE Cameron Jordan (2011), RB Mark Ingram (2012)
The New Orleans Saints have gotten almost no production from each of their last five first-round picks. Four of the five play on the defensive side of the ball, yet this team surrendered an all-time record 7,236 total yards from scrimmage. That’s an average of about 450 per game. The Saints also ranked 31st in scoring defense.
The lone pick from the offensive side of the ball was the result of a ridiculous trade. The Saints traded up to the first round to select Mark Ingram, who has given the team less production than undrafted free-agent Chris Ivory.
28. Kansas City Chiefs
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First-Round Picks: DT Glenn Dorsey (2008), OT Branden Albert (2008), DE Tyson Jackson (2009), S Eric Berry (2010), WR Jonathan Baldwin (2011), NT Dontari Poe (2012)
Judging by their first-round picks, the Kansas City Chiefs should have the best defensive line in the NFL. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson—each selected in the top five overall—have been enormous disappointments, as has wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
The Chiefs did get a five-year starter at left tackle out of Branden Albert. And safety Eric Berry has emerged as one of the game’s best, making two Pro Bowls in two full seasons.
27. San Diego Chargers
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First-Round Picks: CB Antoine Cason (2008), DE/OLB Larry English (2009), RB Ryan Mathews (2010), DE Corey Liuget (2011), DE/OLB Melvin Ingram (2012)
For many years, the San Diego Chargers were the class of the AFC West. Recent drafts have pushed them down to mediocre status.
Antoine Cason has been a solid corner since being drafted, although he did just leave in free agency. Ryan Mathews had a glimpse of greatness when he made the Pro Bowl in 2011, but he’s been a vast disappointment since being drafted.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers have gotten limited production from their first-rounders. Larry English has been a colossal bust. Corey Liuget has been a full-time starter since day one, and he’s been average. And Melvin Ingram was fine as a rookie.
The problem is that Liuget and Ingram are just getting started, and the Chargers wouldn’t have had to draft one of them for sure if English had developed at all.
26. Indianapolis Colts
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First-Round Picks: RB Donald Brown (2009), DE Jerry Hughes (2010), OT Anthony Castonzo (2011), QB Andrew Luck (2012)
If it wasn’t for Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts would have an F as their grade. Donald Brown has been largely underwhelming in four seasons. Jerry Hughes has had almost no impact. And Anthony Castonzo has been average as the blindside protector.
Fortunately, Luck has been absolutely magnificent. He took a 2-14 squad to a playoff berth in year one, doing so despite a defense that ranked 21st in scoring and 26th in yardage. Luck has a chance to be an all-time great quarterback, which means the Colts picked a tremendous time to finish least in the league.
25. New York Jets
First-Round Picks: DE Vernon Gholston (2008), TE Dustin Keller (2008), QB Mark Sanchez (2009), CB Kyle Wilson (2010), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (2011), DE Quinton Coples (2012)
More than about any other team, the New York Jets have had a roller-coaster ride of first-round draft picks. Vernon Gholston was a complete waste of the sixth overall selection, as he failed to register a sack in two seasons.
Mark Sanchez had his moments (especially in the playoffs), but he’s regressed as of late. There’s nothing about him that suggests he can be a franchise quarterback.
Kyle Wilson and Dustin Keller have been solid selections and Muhammad Wilkerson had a terrific 2011 campaign. Quintin Coples also played well in limited snaps, although these three are drowned out by the failures of Gholston and Sanchez.
24. Philadelphia Eagles
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First-Round Picks: WR Jeremy Maclin (2009), DE Brandon Graham (2010), G Danny Watkins (2011), DT Fletcher Cox (2012)
It’s been a rough five years for Andy Reid’s first-round draft picks. There was no selection in 2008. Brandon Graham looked like a colossal bust for his first two seasons. And Danny Watkins has been bench-worthy.
Jeremy Maclin and Fletcher Cox are the only players saving the Philadelphia Eagles from ranking last among all 32 teams. Maclin hasn’t broken out yet, but he’s been a productive player for four seasons. And Cox had a fine rookie season as a pass-rusher.
23. Arizona Cardinals
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First-Round Picks: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2008), RB Beanie Wells (2009), NT Dan Williams (2010), CB/PR Patrick Peterson (2011), WR Michael Floyd (2012)
The Arizona Cardinals got two very strong seasons out of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie before he faltered and they shipped him off to Philadelphia. And Patrick Peterson has made his mark as both a punt returner and a corner.
Other than that, Beanie Wells, Dan Williams and Michael Floyd have all been failed draft picks. Wells was finally released this offseason. Williams has been unproductive, and Floyd didn’t play well as a rookie.
22. Baltimore Ravens
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First-Round Picks: QB Joe Flacco (2008), OT Michael Oher (2009), CB Jimmy Smith (2011)
The Baltimore Ravens have only had three first-round picks in the past five seasons. Jimmy Smith has started slowly but played fine when called upon. Michael Oher began strong, although he’s tailed off and hasn’t developed into the blindside protector the team hoped he would be.
Joe Flacco has been the key piece. His performances in the regular season have been average but Flacco broke out last year. Flacco turned in the postseason for the ages, culminating in a Super Bowl MVP trophy.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers
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First-Round Picks: RB Rashard Mendenhall (2008), DE Ziggy Hood (2009), C Maurkice Pouncey (2010), DE Cameron Heyward (2011), G David DeCastro (2012)
The fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been to two Super Bowls and won one during these drafts bodes fairly well for their picks.
Rashard Mendenhall was a workhorse back during the three years he was utilized. Ziggy Hood has played sparingly as a defensive end, failing to develop into the Aaron Smith-type of player the team hoped he would be.
Maurkice Pouncey is a three-time Pro Bowler in three seasons, and he’s bound to make many more. David DeCastro missed almost his entire rookie campaign due to injury, but his ranking will go up as he plays more.
20. St. Louis Rams
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First-Round Picks: DE Chris Long (2008), OT Jason Smith (2009), QB Sam Bradford (2010), DE Robert Quinn (2011), DT Michael Brockers (2012)
Jason Smith has been a colossal disappointment after going second overall. He spent three miserable seasons in St. Louis before he was shipped off to New York. And Sam Bradford hasn’t reached his potential yet after going as the top pick in 2010.
Chris Long and Robert Quinn are future All-Pros, though, and if Michael Brockers develops, the Rams will have a top-notch defense.
19. Tennessee Titans
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First-Round Picks: RB Chris Johnson (2008), WR Kenny Britt (2009), DE Derrick Morgan (2010), QB Jake Locker (2011), WR Kendall Wright (2012)
The Tennessee Titans have had extremely mixed results from their first-round picks. Chris Johnson has been an absolute stud, averaging 1,378 rushing yards and eight touchdowns per season. That includes a 2,000-yard campaign and three Bowl invitations.
Kenny Britt and Jake Locker have failed to reach their potential yet. Britt has stumbled through four injury-plagued years of glimpses of greatness. Locker’s accuracy calls into question whether he can ever be a franchise quarterback.
The lone defensive player, Derrick Morgan, has shown great strides as of late.
18. Seattle Seahawks
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First-Round Picks: DE Lawrence Jackson (2008), OLB Aaron Curry (2009), OT Russell Okung (2010), S Earl Thomas (2010), OT James Carpenter (2011), DE Bruce Irvin (2012)
It’s interesting to see the correlation between the Seattle Seahawks’ first-round draft picks and their total wins.
Lawrence Jackson was a failed first-round pick as a defensive end, and Aaron Curry was a total waste of $34 guaranteed money in 2009. Russell Okung took his time before hitting it big, but he’s now a quality left tackle. Earl Thomas and Bruce Irvin are top defensive players that have made a big impact.
17. Buffalo Bills
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First-Round Picks: CB Leodis McKelvin (2008), DE/OLB Aaron Maybin (2009), C Eric Wood (2009), RB C.J. Spiller (2010), DT/DE Marcell Dareus (2011), CB Stephon Gilmore (2012)
The Buffalo Bills completely whiffed on pass-rusher Aaron Maybin, who was a healthy scratch by year two with the team. Leodis McKelvin has also struggled as a cover corner, although he has been effective enough as a punt returner to get a new deal.
Eric Wood will be a promising center if he can stay healthy. C.J. Spiller turned into arguably the most electrifying running back in the league in 2010. And both Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore will be integral parts of the Bills’ future.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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First-Round Picks: CB Aqib Talib (2008), QB Josh Freeman (2009), DT Gerald McCoy (2010), DE Adrian Clayborn (2011), S Mark Barron (2012), RB Doug Martin (2012)
It’s surprising that a team that has drafted this well hasn’t won anything. Aqib Talib is a top corner when he’s on his game, although he had some serious off-the-field issues. Gerald McCoy is developing into a sensational defensive tackle. It’s still early for defenders Adrian Clayborn and Mark Barron.
On offense, Doug Martin was an absolute playmaker as a rookie. He outplayed highly touted rookie Trent Richardson. At quarterback, Josh Freeman has been up one year and down another. He has one year remaining on his rookie deal to prove to the team that he can still be the guy in Tampa Bay.
15. Dallas Cowboys
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First-Round Picks: RB Felix Jones (2008), CB Mike Jenkins (2009), WR Dez Bryant (2010), OT Tyron Smith (2011), CB Morris Claiborne (2012)
Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins each showed glimpses of potential early on (Jenkins even made a Pro Bowl) but neither reached elite status.
Fortunately, the last three picks have all looked significantly better. Dez Bryant has All-Pro talent when focused. Tyron Smith has the tools to be a franchise left tackle. And Morris Claiborne showed growing pains as a rookie but has a lot of raw talent at cornerback.
14. Miami Dolphins
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First-Round Picks: OT Jake Long (2008), CB Vontae Davis (2009), DE Jared Odrick (2010), C Mike Pouncey (2011), QB Ryan Tannehill (2012)
Jake Long has been the best offensive lineman in the NFL (tied with Joe Thomas) since the Miami Dolphins drafted him. Regardless of whether he’s declined recently, Long has made four Pro Bowls in five seasons as a pro.
Add in Mike Pouncey and Ryan Tannehill, and the Dolphins have gone three for three on offense. Pouncey is even better than his brother, Mike, and Tannehill made major strides as a rookie.
On defense, Vontae Davis was pretty effective early on before a surprising trade sent him to Indianapolis. Jared Odrick has been a complete bust.
13. Denver Broncos
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First-Round Picks: OT Ryan Clady (2008), RB Knowshon Moreno (2009), DE Robert Ayers (2009), WR Demaryius Thomas (2010), QB Tim Tebow (2010), OLB Von Miller (2011)
You can’t get a pick much better than the Denver Broncos got with Von Miller. Miller has been arguably the best defensive player in the league over the last two seasons. He’s registered 30 sacks and a ridiculous nine forced fumbles in 31 games.
Ryan Clady is a three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle who excels in pass protection. Demaryius Thomas started slowly but broke out in the 2011 AFC Wild Card Game and made the Pro Bowl a year later.
Both 2009 draft picks, Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers, have been subpar performers. And it’s tough to grade the always-controversial Tim Tebow. He managed to get the job done in his lone year as a starter before he was shipped off to New York.
12. Cleveland Browns
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First-Round Picks: C Alex Mack (2009), CB Joe Haden (2010), DT Phil Taylor (2011), RB Trent Richardson (2012), QB Brandon Weeden (2012)
Not many centers go in the first round, but Alex Mack has been well worth the selection the Cleveland Browns used on him. He helped Trent Richardson put together a fine rookie campaign.
Joe Haden started his career en route to being one of the best in the game, but he hasn’t quite reached it. Phil Taylor has missed a high percentage of games due to injury. And Brandon Weeden has played just one year, but it’s looking as if the Browns may have reached for him.
11. Carolina Panthers
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First-Round Picks: RB Jonathan Stewart (2008), OT Jeff Otah (2008), QB Cam Newton (2011), ILB Luke Kuechly (2012)
From 2008 through 2010, the Carolina Panthers got little in return from their first-round picks. Jonathan Stewart has been solid, although certainly not worth the huge deal the team gave him. And Jeff Otah is productive, but he’s never been able to stay off the injury list.
What helps the team’s ranking is the selection of Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Newton has averaged 3,960 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns per season. And he’s done all that without missing a single game. Kuechly emerged as one of the most ferocious linebackers in the NFL in year one, tackling everything and everyone in sight.
10. Green Bay Packers
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First-Round Picks: NT B.J. Raji (2009), OLB Clay Matthews (2009), OT Bryan Bulaga (2010), OT Derek Sherrod (2011), DE/OLB Nick Perry (2012)
Check out the Green Bay Packers’ two first-round picks in 2009. They selected nose tackle B.J. Raji and pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews, each of whom played a major role in the team’s championship the following season. Matthews was the single-best player in that year’s draft.
Bryan Bulaga has been up and down, which will need to settle if the team can count on him to be a quality right tackle. Both Derek Sherrod and Nick Perry have had their brief careers derailed by injuries thus far.
9. Minnesota Vikings
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First-Round Pick: WR/KR Percy Harvin (2009), QB Christian Ponder (2011), OT Matt Kalil (2012), S Harrison Smith (2012)
The Minnesota Vikings got themselves an electrifying playmaker in Percy Harvin, who has made his presence known as a runner, receiver and return specialist. The team even got a first-rounder back for Harvin when they traded him to Seattle.
The jury is still out on Christian Ponder. Ponder has struggled, although he did play very well in a must-win Week 17 game in 2012. Matt Kalil is a franchise tackle and Harrison Smith played at a high level as a rookie safety.
8. Detroit Lions
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First-Round Picks: OT Gosder Cherilus (2008), QB Matthew Stafford (2009), TE Brandon Pettigrew (2009), DT Ndamukong Suh (2010), RB Jahvid Best (2010), DT Nick Fairley (2011), OT Riley Reiff (2012)
The Detroit Lions have had more first-round picks (seven) than any other team since 2008. Gosder Cherilus and Brandon Pettigrew have been league-average performers at their position.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have the potential to be the finest defensive tackle duo in the game. Each is a supreme pass-rusher that will be trouble for NFC North quarterbacks for years to come. Running back Jahvid Best is all but done his career thanks to a bout of concussions.
The key is quarterback Matthew Stafford. As talented as Stafford is, he’s really only had one good season out of four. Stafford has all the physical tools to succeed and his ranking will likely only go up.
7. New York Giants
First-Round Picks: S Kenny Phillips (2008), WR Hakeem Nicks (2009), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), CB Prince Amukamara (2011), RB David Wilson (2012)
Kenny Phillips has played very well when healthy, which has been iffy throughout his career. Hakeem Nicks is a big playmaking receiver for Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul is an unblockable force who was the best overall player from the 2010 draft.
Prince Amukamara has been used sparingly as a cornerback since being drafted. And running back David Wilson has a bright future and made his mark as a kick returner in ’12.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
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First-Round Picks: OLB Keith Rivers (2008), OT Andre Smith (2009), TE Jermaine Gresham (2010), WR A.J. Green (2011), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2012), G Kevin Zeitler (2012)
The Cincinnati Bengals have gotten limited production from their defensive players over the last five years. Keith Rivers was disappointing as the 10th overall pick and Dre Kirkpatrick tore his ACL in his lone season thus far.
The club has been much better on offense, though. Andre Smith appeared to be a bust early on, but he’s quietly emerged as an elite right tackle as of late. Jermaine Gresham is a two-time Pro Bowl tight end, Kevin Zeitler had a strong rookie season at guard, and A.J. Green is a bona fide stud at wide receiver.
5. Atlanta Falcons
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First-Round Picks: QB Matt Ryan (2008), OT Sam Baker (2008), DT Peria Jerry (2009), OLB Sean Weatherspoon (2010), WR Julio Jones (2011)
The key to the Atlanta Falcons’ grade is that they nailed it with their quarterback. Matt Ryan is a franchise quarterback. He led the team to the playoffs in year one, and he’s reached two Pro Bowls thus far. He’s the kind of guy that will be locked up until he’s 35 years old.
Sam Baker started slowly as the blindside protector, but he’s made strides as of late. Sean Weathersppon is a productive outside linebacker, and Julio Jones was well worth the huge price the Falcons paid to trade up for him.
4. San Francisco 49ers
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First-Round Picks: DT Kentwan Balmer (2008), WR Michael Crabtree (2009), OT Anthony Davis (2010), G Mike Iupati (2010), OLB Aldon Smith (2011), WR A.J. Jenkins (2012)
If this list was extended back to 2007 (Joe Staley and Patrick Willis), the San Francisco 49ers would probably rank first on this list. Even so, they’ve been very good.
Michael Crabtree and Anthony Davis each had slow starts to their careers, but both were instrumental in the team’s Super Bowl run last year. A.J. Jenkins was a nonfactor as a rookie, which was disappointing for a team strapped for receivers.
Mike Iupati and Aldon Smith have been All-Pro-caliber players from the day they entered the league. The pair has combined for two Pro Bowls in five seasons, but realistically, they probably should be 5-for-5.
3. New England Patriots
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First-Round Picks: OLB Jerod Mayo (2008), CB/S Devin McCourty (2009), OT Nate Solder (2011), DE Chandler Jones (2012), OLB Dont’a Hightower (2012)
The New England Patriots haven’t missed on a first-round pick yet. Jerod Mayo played well enough to earn a long-term extension with the team, and he’s a two-time Pro Bowler who was Defensive Rookie of the Year back in 2008.
Devin McCourty started well as a corner and was then moved to safety. Nate Solder, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower have all played extremely well since being drafted. Solder has the talent to be Tom Brady’s franchise left tackle. Jones and Hightower are key components of the defense.
2. Houston Texans
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First-Round Picks: OT Duane Brown (2008), ILB Brian Cushing (2009), CB Kareem Jackson (2010), DE J.J. Watt (2011), DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus (2012)
Drafts like these last five are why the Houston Texans are so good. Duane Brown is a top-three left tackle in the NFL, and a case could be made that he is the best. Brian Cushing is a top defensive player and Kareem Jackson has made significant strides as of late.
And who could forget about J.J. Watt? Watt was almost unanimously the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. He’s averaged 13 sacks, 63 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 10 passes defensed per season. And that’s as a 3-4 end.
1. Washington Redskins
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First-Round Picks: OLB Brian Orakpo (2009), OT Trent Williams (2010), OLB Ryan Kerrigan (2011), QB Robert Griffin III (2012)
Who in the world would have thought the Washington Redskins would come out on top of this list? The Redskins franchise hasn’t won a playoff game during this span, yet all four of their first-round picks have made the Pro Bowl.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are top pass-rushing linebackers. Trent Williams has emerged as a top offensive tackle. And Robert Griffin III is arguably the league’s most electrifying quarterback since Michael Vick. RGIII led the Redskins to the playoffs in year one, accounted for the highest passer rating by a rookie QB in league history and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year.