Unappreciated: The NFL's Top 10 Most Underrated First Round Picks
If you are a NFL fan or just a sports fan in general, you know what is just around the corner—the NFL Draft. This event is one of the most highly anticipated events of the entire year.
The Draft can very easily make or break a franchise. The draftees that get the most exposure to the media are the first round picks.
They are the ones that land the most lucrative contracts, yet haven't even played a NFL down before. In addition, they carry the ridiculous franchise, media, and fan expectations to make an instant splash with the franchise.
If they fail, they are labeled the infamous "B-word," a bust. Plus, they will always have to hear their names on the "largest bust of all time" lists usually composed by fans and media who've never played a meaningful down before.
However, there seem to be first round picks that are simply forgotten, just because they did not play for a good team, injuries, or were just plainly overshadowed by more media-friendly players.
This slideshow lists the top 10 underrated picks of all time in descending order. Please leave your comments to add suggestions or opinions to this slide show if you would like.
10. Neal Anderson, HB, Florida
I know many readers are going to say that Neal Anderson doesn't even belong on the list because his career was cut short by injuries.
True, but he's unfortunately overshadowed by Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton, as well as the other great running backs in that decade.
He was drafted by the Chicago Bears (27th overall) in 1986, the year after they had won the Super Bowl with a ferocious defense.
Anderson spent his entire career with the Bears. He split carries with Sweetness for his first two seasons, which probably extended Payton's and his own career by sharing the pigskin.
He finally became the feature back in the Windy City in 1988 and responded with 1,106 yards rushing, 12 rushing touchdowns, and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
The following season was his best when he rushed for 1,275 yards, averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and scored 11 touchdowns running the ball.
He was selected to four Pro Bowls and is second in rushing yardage for the club (behind his predecessor Walter Payton) with 6,166 yards.
9. Billy Kilmer, QB, UCLA
Not a household name, but this quarterback played with much courage and heart. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers (11th overall).
Ironically, he was drafted by "that other league" in the fifth round of the AFL draft by the San Diego Chargers.
Billy Kilmer signed with the more familiar NFL. He spent his first six seasons as a backup to 49er legend John Brodie.
In his rookie season he saw playing time at running back because he was a proven runner at UCLA (he ran for over 800 yards his senior year). He rushed for 509 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His promising career with San Francisco was tarnished when he fell asleep while driving his '57 Chevy and crashed it unintentionally into the San Francisco Bay.
The accident cost him two seasons of his career. In 1967 he was selected by the New Orleans Saints via Expansion Draft. The 49ers allowed him to be eligible because of a contract dispute.
Kilmer was the regular starter in the Big Easy for his first two seasons but split time with Edd Hargett for his two final years with the team.
Kilmer asked to be traded in 1971 because he was sick of losing and didn't want to fight off Archie Manning for the starting job. Billy Kilmer saw himself as Redskin fan favorite Sonny Jurgensen's backup.
He acquired the starting role when Jurgensen went down with a shoulder injury. He led the nation's capital squad to a surprising 5-0 mark.
However, he was later yanked in the middle of the season due to some poor performances, but later regained the reins when Jurgensen stumbled to injury yet again.
He led the Redskins to their first playoff appearance in over a score, but exited quickly after when they lost to Kilmer's former team the 49ers.
However, Billy Kilmer rebounded the next season by leading the league in touchdown passes with 19 and a passer rating of 84.8.
Most importantly, he and NFL MVP Larry Brown led Washington to a NFC best 11-3 record and a conference title over the rival Dallas Cowboys en route to Super Bowl VII.
Unfortunately for the Redskins, the team ran into a roadblock, which were the Miami Dolphins, and lost 14-7.
Kilmer held on to his starting job until his final season, when a more familiar Redskin quarterback, Joe Theismann, beat him out for the starting job in 1978.
He retired at the conclusion of that season. He finished his career with 20,495 yards passing, 152 passing touchdowns, 1,509 yards rushing, and 21 rushing touchdowns.
He was named to one Pro Bowl, All-Pro twice, and the 70 Greatest Redskins list.
8. Walt Harris, CB, Mississppi State
A solid contributor no matter where he has played, despite not always playing for an elite team or one with a lot of glamor.
Harris was originally drafted by the Chicago Bears (13th overall) in 1996. In his rookie season the cornerback made an impressive 113 tackles. He also grabbed two INTs and forced two fumbles.
He was well liked by teammates in his two-yea stay in Indy because of his work ethic. In 2005 with the Redskins he was supposed to play a mentor role, but he was forced into the starting lineup and helped lead Washington to the postseason.
He made a huge play for the 'Skins in the wild card Round, where he returned a fumble for a TD.
The following year he signed with the 49ers, and he responding with a whopping eight INTs and four forced fumbles.
Overall, what amazes me the most is how long he has been able to remain competitive. Fourteen years strong, and he seems to be getting only better.
7. Bert Jones, QB, LSU
Bert Jones was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1973 (second overall). Baltimore then forced Johnny Unitas out the door to San Diego.
Jones was immediately handed the reins at quarterback. The quarterback’s best years were in the mid/late 1970s.
He led the Colts to three straight AFC East divisional titles. The most memorable year for Bert Jones was the 1976 season, where compiled a passer rating of 102.5, joining only Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler to post a 100+ rating during the entire 1970s.
He slung the ball for 3,104 yards and for 24 TDs, which proved to be good enough for the NFL MVP award.
Jones suffered a heartbreaking loss to Oakland during that year's postseason (the game is more famously known as “Ghost to the Post”).
Injuries began taking their toll on Bert Jones, which led him to retire after the 1982 season, which he spent with the Los Angeles Rams.
Yes, I know some readers will be wondering why a guy like Bert Jones even made the list. Well, he did, because even though he had some excellent seasons in the NFL, he will forever be overshadowed by other great Colt quarterbacks Unitas and Peyton Manning, due to him not winning a Super Bowl.
Jones wasn’t on any really great teams, and he was highly regarded by other coaches, players, and GMs. Under the correct circumstances, he would have been one of the greatest of all time.
6. Ottis Anderson, HB, Miami (FL)
Anderson was an old school power runner from the University of Miami (FL) who was drafted by the lowly St. Louis Cardinals (eighth overall).
In his rookie season, Anderson rushed for 1,605 yards in what was another dark year for the Cardinals.
He continued his 1,000+ season habits for his first six seasons with the exception of 1982, which was a strike-shortened season; he was, however, on pace to go over 1,000 in 1982 (he had 587 rushing) if it was a normal season.
Injuries took their toll on Ottis Anderson, which resulted him getting waived during the middle of the 1986 season.
For the remainder of the '86 season he was near the bottom of the New York Giants' RB depth chart. He did, however, gain a Super Bowl ring that year when the Giants defeated the Denver Broncos.
In 1989, Bill Parcells named him as the feature back for New York. He answered by rushing for 1,023 yards and a career-best 14 rushing TDs.
However, Ottis Anderson's finest moment came the following year in the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills. He ran for 102 yards, averaged 4.9 yards per rush, and scored a TD.
His performance resulted him being named MVP for Super Bowl XXV. He finished his career with 10,273 yards rushing.
He's currently ranked 14th in rushing TDs and is the Cardinals' franchise leader in rushing with 7,999 yards. He's currently one of 22 players to run for 10,000 yards in a career.
5. Jim Plunkett, QB, Stanford
A former Heisman Trophy winner that knew how to overcome adversity in life and in football, Jim Plunkett was drafted by the Bay State Patriots (first overall).
The Pats later changed their name to the New England Patriots. Plunkett started all 14 games for the team and helped prove that the New England could compete in the NFL.
However, Jim Plunkett's glitter faded over the next five seasons, and it became apparent that his career as a Patriot would come to a close when they drafted Steve Grogan in 1975 and named Grogan the starting QB during the middle of the 1975 season.
In 1976, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and was named starter in 1976, leading them to a disappointing 8-6 record. Plunkett had led the 49ers to a 6-1 start before the team crumbled to a 2-5 mark to finish the second half of the season.
The quarterback started one more season for San Francisco, but the team suffered a 5-9 season. Plunkett would hit an all-time low when he was waived by the 49ers and was claimed by the Oakland Raiders, who made him a backup for the next one-and-a-half seasons.
However, Plunkett was placed in the starting lineup when Dan Pastorini broke his leg. Plunkett guided the Raiders to nine wins in 11 games. Oakland pulled off three straight playoff victories en route to Super Bowl XV against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oakland defeated Philadelphia 27-10. Plunkett was named Super Bowl MVP for passing for 261 yards and tossing three touchdowns.
After the Super Bowl, Jim Plunkett was reassigned his backup role, this time to Marc Wilson. The quarterback would yet again take over as starter when injuries hit Wilson. He again led (Los Angeles) the team to the Super Bowl.
The victim this time was the Redskins, who were blown out 38-9. Plunkett threw for 172 yards and for one touchdown. He retired at the conclusion of the 1986 season.
He finished his career off with 25,882 through the air and is currently ranked fourth on the Raiders' all-time passing yardage list.
4. Steve Atwater, S, Arkansas
A relentless playmaker with some of the best instincts ever for a NFL safety, the former Arkansas Razorback legend was drafted by the Denver Broncos (20th overall) in 1989.
Head coach Dan Reeves was questioned for drafting Atwater because the highest rated safety, Louis Oliver, was still on the board.
Steve Atwater's play on the gridiron silenced his coach's doubters as he racked up 123 tackles, finished second in defensive rookie of the year voting, made the Pro Bowl, and most importantly, helped Denver's improved run D, which was one of the driving forces in reaching Super Bowl XXIV.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, they were spanked mercilessly by the San Francisco 49ers, 55-10. This didn't damp the safety's play in future seasons though.
Near the twilight of Steve Atwater's career, Denver entered Super Bowl XXXII as 11-and-a-half point underdogs to the Green Bay Packers, who had NFL MVP Brett Favre lining up under center and were last year's world champions as well.
The Broncos pulled off the upset with an efficient offense led by running back Terrell Davis and led by the "Assassin" (Steve Atwater, who else?) on defense.
No. 27 played one of the best games ever for a NFL safety in a Super Bowl with six solo tackles, one sack, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble.
The next year Atwater's downs were monitored by Denver, but he still made it to the Pro Bowl, but more importantly, the Broncos repeated as World Champions by defeating the inspirational Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
In his final season, the DB found himself as a salary cap casualty and wrapped up the year with the New York Jets in a injury-plagued campaign, which forced him to retire.
Steve Atwater did sign a ceremonial contract with the Denver Broncos so he could retire as a Bronco. He finished his career with eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pros, and he is on the NFL's All-Decade '90s team.
His nasty play and consistency should probably earn him a membership in Canton.
3. Cornelius Bennett, OLB, Alabama
Bennett was a player that seemed to dominate college football with both hands tied behind his back. in 1987, Cornelius Bennett was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts (second overall), but this didn't mean that he would sign with them.
Bennett was involved in the blockbuster trade in which the Colts ended up with Eric Dickerson. The trade involved the Colts, the Rams, and the Bills.
The Buffalo Bills were the quiet winners in this trade when Bennett made 8.5 sacks in just eight games in only his rookie season, showing flashes of being the next Lawrence Taylor.
The OLB would be one of the driving forces, along with current Hall of Fame member Bruce Smith, to get to a NFL record of four straight heartbreaking Super Bowl losses.
Cornelius Bennett left Buffalo as a free agent and joined the Atlanta Falcons. He enjoyed three solid seasons and helped get the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII, in which they were overpowered by the Denver Broncos.
At the conclusion of the Super Bowl, he left as a free agent yet again, this time signing his first contract with the Indianapolis Colts. With the Colts, he showed why Indy had drafted him so high.
Bennett retired at the end of the 2000 season. Bennett walked away with 1,190 career tackles, five Pro Bowls, and three All-Pros, ranks third in fumble recoveries with 26, and is on the NFL All-Decade '90s team.
With play like this, it would be puzzling not seeing him making an entrance to Football Heaven, Canton, Ohio.
2. Chris Hinton, G/T, Northwestern
Hinton was an offensive lineman who never did play for any elite or consistent teams throughout his career.
Chris Hinton was drafted by the Denver Broncos (fourth overall) but never actually played a down in the Mile High City, because he was soon traded away for future franchise quarterback John Elway.
Nevertheless, Hinton made the Pro Bowl his rookie season at LG despite the recent turmoil of the once proud franchise Baltimore Colts, who "sneaked" out of Baltimore en route to becoming the Indianapolis Colts. Hinton would play at LT, RG, and RT as well as receiving honors at those positions.
Hinton had stints with the Atlanta Falcons (where he was voted his lone All-Pro honor) and the Minnesota Vikings. Hinton started 169 games. The lineman was to voted to seven Pro Bowls and one All-Pro.
Seriously, I bet that Chris Hinton is probably absolutely sick and tired of hearing that he was one of the infamous black sheep during the historically impactful John Elway trade that forever changed the face of the NFL.
Historic debate will always conclude that the Denver Broncos were the clear-cut winners of the deal because John Elway simply won two Super Bowls for the Broncos.
The Colts received Mark Hermann, Chris Hinton (his draft rights), and Denver's 1984 first round pick (which later became Ron Solt). This trade probably tarnished Hinton's legacy, because Hermann had a knack for throwing interceptions, Solt went to one Pro Bowl but could not stay consistent, and Hinton did not stick around with the Colts nearly as long as Elway did with the Broncos.
Overall, this whole trade stole the lineman's invitation to Canton.
1. Tommy Nobis, MLB, Texas
Surprised? I bet most of you are since he's not a household name in most parts of the country.
Tommy Nobis was one of the last great "both ways" players in college football, playing guard and linebacker for the Texas Longhorns.
Nobis finished a dismal seventh in the Heisman trophy voting to Mike Garrett. This did not hurt his draft stock because he was drafted by Atlanta Falcons (first overall) in the 1966 NFL Draft. In addition, he was drafted by the nearby Houston Oilers of the AFL.
Nobis would ultimately sign with the Atlanta Falcons, being the franchise's first ever draft pick, earning him the nickname Mr. Falcon.
The Falcons played him at linebacker, which is probably one of the best moves the franchise has ever made.
However, Nobis suffered through the growing pains of an expansion NFL franchise, and he didn't take his angry and frustration out on the Falcons; he used it to punish and to strike fear in his opponents on the gridiron.
In his rookie season he led the league and set an NFL record with 294 tackles. Heck, I don't think Ray Lewis has even come close to putting up that many tackles in a single season.
This led to him gaining respect among all levels of football. Dolphins FB Larry Csonka said, "I'd rather play against [Dick] Butkus than Nobis."
Even his coach Norm Van Brocklin said, "There is where our football team dresses." He played his entire career with the Atlanta Falcons. He retired after the 1976 season.
Nobis earned five Pro Bowls, two All-Pros, and a defensive rookie of the year, his jersey is being retired by the Atlanta Falcons, and he is on the NFL All-Decade 1960s team.
It really makes me angry that Tommy Nobis was penalized for not ditching the Atlanta Falcons (like most players at the time probably would've) to play for a contender.
He played the game the way it was meant to be played, with courage, team, loyalty, trust—the list goes on and on. This guy is the most deserving player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.