The Nine Biggest Reaches in NFL Draft History
Ah, the NFL draft, one of my favorite events of the year.
It's a time where teams can either build the foundation for championship success, or expedite the firing of their coach and general manager. It's the ultimate boom-or-bust event in all of sports.
Throughout the history of the draft, there have been a lot of good picks, a ton of bad picks, and many, many reaches, referring to a team snatching a player well before they should have.
Here is a collection of the nine biggest reaches in NFL draft history.
Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Selection: seventh overall, 2005, Minnesota Vikings
Doesn't the picture say it all when it comes to the career of Troy Williamson?
When the Vikings traded star receiver Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris and the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft, it left Nate Burleson as the top wideout on the roster. Everyone knew that coach Mike Tice and the team would need to replace Moss.
It was still a shock when South Carolina receiver Troy Williamson was the Vikings' pick at seventh overall.
Williamson was a speedster, running in the 4.3 range, but had issues catching the football, which is a problem when you're being paid a handsome sum of money to, you know, catch the football.
He had a disastrous 2006 campaign, dropping 11 passes, and blamed the problems on depth-perception issues.
His career lasted five years, and he only scored four touchdowns.
Williamson was an epic reach by a Vikings team desperately trying to replace Moss. There is no universe in which he was the seventh best player in the 2005 draft.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders
Selection: seventh overall, 2009, Oakland Raiders
Say what you want about the late, great Al Davis, but never question his love for straight-line speed.
That's why it was no surprise when Davis and the Raiders reached for Maryland wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick in 2009.
Heyward-Bey ran a 4.25 at the combine, which was likely enough for Davis, even though Heyward-Bey failed to sparkle in three seasons as a starter at Maryland, only catching 13 touchdowns. Like Troy Williamson, Heyward-Bey has long been plagued by drops, which again is a problem when you're being paid to catch the ball.
Making matters worse is the fact that Michael Crabtree went two picks later to the San Francisco 49ers. You might remember Crabtree's dominant postseason run a few months ago, which included a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Raiders released Heyward-Bey, and he was signed by the Indianapolis Colts, where he'll try to revive his career with Andrew Luck.
Good luck with that. Pun intended.
Mike Mitchell, S, Oakland Raiders
Selection: 47th overall, 2009, Oakland Raiders
Not to be outdone by their first epic reach of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders made history by becoming the first team in the history of the league to make unbelievable reach picks with each of their first two selections.
I'll never forget where I was when Mike Mitchell was selected by the Raiders in the second round. I was in studio for SiriusXM NFL Radio working our draft coverage when the pick was announced. I remember saying "Who?!" as everyone in the room looked around incredulously.
Mitchell was a little-known safety out of Ohio. Not Ohio State. Ohio. He wasn't invited to the combine, but ran a 4.43 40 at his pro day, which was likely good enough for Al Davis.
While some reports came out that Mitchell was being targeted by other teams in the same range, it doesn't change the fact that his selection was a gargantuan reach.
Mitchell compiled two interceptions in his Raiders career, and the team didn't re-sign him. He'll play in Carolina next season.
Ricky Williams, RB, New Orleans Saints
Selection: fifth overall, 1999, New Orleans Saints
Ah, Ricky Williams. One of the great characters in NFL history, and a pretty good running back to boot.
No, Williams isn't on the "bust" level as many of the other players on this list, and if he had just been selected straight-up, you wouldn't be able to call him a reach.
But it was what the New Orleans Saints and head coach Mike Ditka gave up for Williams that made this one of the biggest draft reaches in NFL history.
Desperately needing a workhorse tailback, Ditka watched as the Indianapolis Colts stunningly took Edgerrin James in front of Williams, leaving the Texas tailback available at pick five for the Washington Redskins. It was then that Ditka made one of the most ill-advised trades in NFL history, dealing away his six remaining picks in the 1999 draft to the Redskins for the fifth selection, where he took Williams.
Williams' quirkiness and off-field issues have been well-documented, but when right, he was a fine player. It's the fact that the Saints dealt an entire draft for him that makes him one of the biggest reaches ever.
And I'm not sure he'll ever live this picture down.
Maurice Clarett, RB, Denver Broncos
Selection: 101st overall, 2005, Denver Broncos
Remember Maurice Clarett? I'm sure you do.
He played only one season at Ohio State, 2002, and starred as a freshman, helping to lead the Buckeyes to the national championship.
That would be his only season in Columbus.
Clarett, plagued by off-field issues and immaturity, was eventually suspended by the football team after being charged with filing a false police report, and subsequently missed the 2003 season.
After trying unsuccessfully to force his way into the 2004 draft, Clarett devoted his time to preparing for 2005, even participating at the combine in Indianapolis, where he was labeled "Slow-Mo" by the media for his snail-like 40-yard dash times.
So, after not playing competitive football for over two years and a poor performance at the combine, Clarett wasn't expected to go in the early rounds of the draft, making it a total stunner when Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos reached to take him in the third round, 101st overall.
Predictably, Clarett washed out of the league, and later went on to play his best football with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL.
If that doesn't make you a reach, I'm not sure what does.
Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Miami Dolphins
Selection: ninth overall, 2007, Miami Dolphins
Ted Ginn Jr. was a tremendous player at Ohio State, combining electrifying speed with a penchant for making defenders miss. He is one of the best return men in college football history.
That, however, does not make you worthy of being a top 10 pick in the NFL draft.
Ginn struggled as a receiver while at Ohio State, drawing scouts' ire for dropping passes and running sloppy routes. But he was such a good return man and possessed such speed that the Miami Dolphins couldn't resist taking him with their first pick in the 2007 draft.
Dolphins fans roundly booed the pick, as they wanted quarterback Brady Quinn instead, which says something about something.
Bottom line: Ginn was selected ninth overall to be a kick returner. He flopped at receiver in the NFL, but is still capable of bringing a kick or punt to the house. In fact, one could argue that, if Ginn had been healthy for the 2011 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers would have beaten the Giants and advanced to the Super Bowl, as Ginn would have been the return man—not Kyle Williams, who lost two fumbles on returns.
Still, you don't take a return man in the top 10. This was a reach by the Dolphins.
Matt Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Selection: 21st overall, 2005, Jacksonville Jaguars
You know how that old saying goes: Anytime you have the opportunity to draft a wide receiver, converted from quarterback, in the top 25 of the NFL draft, you simply MUST do it. Or not.
Matt Jones was a fairly prolific quarterback at Arkansas, but when he went to the scouting combine, his physical tools blew scouts away, earning him the nickname "The Freak" (Jevon Kearse was nonplussed).
While there were varying opinions in the league about where Jones should line up, the Jaguars saw him as a wide receiver, and controversially took him with the 21st pick in the 2005 draft. It was a major reach, as Jones had never played wide receiver for any consistent period during his career.
Unsurprisingly, Jones never lived up to the billing, eventually washing out of the league due to substance-abuse issues. He scored 15 touchdowns in his four seasons in Jacksonville.
This was a major reach by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland Raiders
Selection: 17th overall, 2000, Oakland Raiders
For those fans old enough to remember Sebastian "Sea-Bass" Janikowski while he was at Florida State, well, you're probably smiling right now.
The pot-bellied kicker was a college folk hero, pounding 55-yard field goals through the uprights with the same vigor he'd shotgun a beer. He was a party animal and made no bones about it, but would also show up on Saturdays and kick the living daylights out of the pigskin.
The 1999 Oakland Raiders finished 8-8, and would have been better if not for the horrid performance of their kicker, Michael "Como Esta" Husted, who went 20-31 on the campaign. The Raiders needed a kicker, and planned to address the situation in the draft.
Even with Janikowski, perhaps the most highly-touted kicker in college football history, on the board, no one expected a team to pluck him in the first round. Jaws dropped across the nation when it was announced that Oakland selected him with the 17th overall pick.
There's no question that Janikowski has been one of the NFL's better kickers over his career. I don't care. There is no way that a kicker should ever be drafted in the first round. That makes his selection one of the biggest reaches in NFL draft history.
Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos
Selection: 25th overall, 2010, Denver Broncos
Tim Tebow is perhaps the most polarizing player in the history of sports, and that might even be an understatement.
Tebow compiled one of the most decorated careers in the history of college football, winning two national titles and becoming the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman trophy. But questions abounded concerning his NFL future.
Tebow played in Urban Meyer's spread attack while at Florida, and scouts questioned his ability to throw the football, which, as you might know, is a fairly important skill for an NFL quarterback to possess. Tebow was able to get away with his lack of throwing ability in college, but in the NFL, many wondered if his unique skill set would translate successfully.
The media hyped Tebow incessantly leading up to the 2010 draft, but few expected him to be a top pick, so it was a stunner when Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos selected him in the first round with the 25th overall pick.
While Tebow would help the Broncos win the AFC West in 2011, the team discarded him in favor of Peyton Manning, which would be like dumping Susan Boyle for Mila Kunis. He was traded to the New York Jets, where Rex Ryan opted to start Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy instead, which would be like being passed over in a butt-kicking contest in favor of two one-legged men.
The jury is still out on Tebow's career, but one thing is certain: His selection remains one of the biggest reaches in NFL draft history.