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2011 NFL Draft Results: Cam Newton and the 10 Biggest Risk/Reward Picks Ever

Mark PareCorrespondent IIMay 11, 2011

2011 NFL Draft Results: Cam Newton and the 10 Biggest Risk/Reward Picks Ever

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    In the NFL Draft, one can only evaluate how the pick turned out several years down the road. Some later picks end up lighting up multiple Super Bowls, while others taken early end up setting their respective franchises back a number of years.

    Cam Newton was selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he is believed to be the man who will bring hope to the franchise and will help the team win their first NFC Championship since 2003. 

    Will the story play out that way? 

    Down the road, the risk and reward of this pick will be measured. For now, let us take a look at 10 other picks that may have been risky at the time (for more reasons than one), but have provided success and admiration for their careers, their team and the rest of the NFL.

10. Bob Sanders

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    Sanders' career has been plagued by injuries which made me even question why I put him on the list in the first place, but for the impact he made with the Colts in the short time he was with them, it gets him into the top 10.

    Selected at 44th overall in 2004, Sanders was selected to two Pro Bowls, was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and played a pivotal role in the Colts' 2007 Super Bowl victory.

    Here is a small stat from that Super Bowl-winning Colts team: Sanders played in four games that year, and the Colts had the worst rushing defense in the NFL, giving up at least 100 yards a game on the ground.  In the postseason, with Sanders in the lineup, the Colts gave up an average of 73.3 yards a game on the ground.  Quite the transformation, and it shows how big a part Sanders played in their defensive scheme.

    At 5'8", the risk was there, as most safeties are usually in the six-foot or more range. The fact that Sanders can’t seem to get in a full season, he more than makes up for it with crushing hits and was dubbed “The Eraser” by former Colts head coach Tony Dungy for his ability to stop big plays from happening.

9. Randy Moss

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    Originally considered a high first-round selection, Moss was widely criticized for his legal issues. But when he was drafted by the Vikings 21st overall in 1998, he became a star. 

    Moss was considered a risky pick at the time, but as high of a risk as he was off the field, you can’t argue that he will go down as one of the best wide receivers in league history.

    To his name he has seven Pro Bowls, a Pro Bowl MVP and holds the record for most TD receptions in one season with 23.  He stands at 14,858 receiving yards, and his 153 TD catches tie him with Terrell Owens for second on the all-time list.

    The only thing standing in his way of eclipsing Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice as arguably the best at the wideout position is a Super Bowl ring. 

    His current team, the Tennessee Titans, have gone on record to say Moss will not be back for their 2011 campaign. That makes him a free agent looking to play for a Super Bowl contender.

    Although he didn’t bring the Vikings to the promised land in his time there, Moss worked his tail off to get them as far as the NFC Championship game in his rookie season.  That work got him a Pro Bowl selection and the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. For all those personal accolades, the risk was worth the reward for the first seven seasons Moss was a Viking.

8. Roger Staubach

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    The world knew Roger Staubach was good—really good. 

    He received national attention when he was named the starter for the Navy team in 1962 and even won the Heisman Trophy in 1963.

    But the risk was that when the Cowboys picked him up at 129th overall in 1964, they had to wait for him to serve his required time with the United States Navy.  Many teams were scared off by that, but not the Cowboys.

    Staubach joined up with Dallas in 1969 and became the starter for the Cowboys in 1971. He had a Hall-of-Fame (1985 inductee) career that saw him win two Super Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP and six Pro Bowl selections.

7. Dwight Freeney

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    Some say the Colts reached to grab Freeney at 11th overall in 2002, but since then, Freeney has proven the doubters wrong.

    From his rookie campaign where he set a rookie record with nine forced fumbles, to his third season where he led the NFL with 16 sacks, Freeney quickly developed into one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the game.

    Freeney has been named to six Pro Bowls, multiple All-Pro squads and to cap it off, he won a Super Bowl title in 2007 with the Colts.

6. John Elway

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    A draft selection that caused controversy was the Baltimore Colts' first overall pick of the 1983 draft, John Elway. Younger Broncos fans may not be aware of how Elway came to the Mile High City, so here is a little history lesson and how much risk was involved in selecting him:

    At the time of the draft, Elway was a multi-sport athlete.  He played two seasons of minor league baseball for the New York Yankees, and after the Colts picked him, Elway threatened to join the evil empire of baseball full time unless he was traded, citing the recent woes of the Baltimore organization and Elway’s reluctance to play for then-head coach Frank Kush.

    Elway got his way and was sent to the Denver Broncos for QB Mark Herrmann (played 40 games in 11 seasons for four different organizations), the rights to offensive lineman Chris Hinton (played 13 years and named to seven Pro Bowls) and the Broncos’ first-round selection in 1984 (which turned out to be offensive guard Ron Salt, one-time Pro Bowler in 1987, but otherwise a low-profile eight-year career).

    The risk (as would be similar to the risk involved in the Manning-Rivers trade of 2004) was that the Broncos gave up a lot to get a high-profile QB.

    Elway turned out to be one of the most prolific QB’s in league history. He led the Broncos to five AFC Championship titles and two Super Bowls.

    He was selected to nine Pro Bowls, won the NFL MVP in 1987, was the Super Bowl MVP at SB XXXIII (the last game of Elway’s career) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

5. Donovan McNabb

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    This particular risk fits more in the controversial category. 

    While most fans thought running back Ricky Williams was the best choice to make at second overall in the 1999 Draft, McNabb was selected to a chorus of boos by the Eagles faithful.  While the risk here had nothing to do with the talent of the player, it had to do with the confidence that had to have been shaken by the fact that most of the fans didn’t want McNabb there to begin with.

    He proved them wrong with 10 seasons under center. McNabb was selected to six Pro Bowls, won Offensive Player of the Year in 2004 and currently stands as the franchise leader in wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns.

    With McNabb in tow, the Eagles won four consecutive division titles, appeared in five NFC Championship games, won an NFC Championship in 2004 and with it, a Super Bowl appearance.

    Today, McNabb faces controversy again as he remains a question mark in the Washington Redskins' organization due to his relationship with head coach Mike Shanahan. However, you can’t question the risk being higher than the reward in the case of McNabb. The immediate success the Eagles had throughout his tenure is evidenced by the fans' complete change of heart, thanks to the hard work of their long-time franchise QB.

4. Eli Manning

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    The situation going into the 2004 Draft is one still talked about today. 

    Eli Manning was touted as the best player available going in, and the San Diego Chargers held the first overall pick. Manning made it clear he did not want to play for the Chargers and would refuse to play for the team if he was drafted by them. 

    The Chargers grabbed Manning anyway.

    The Manning-Rivers trade was one of the more risky in the NFL for both sides, as the Chargers had to trade Manning to the Giants for their fourth overall selection, Philip Rivers, their third-round selection (Nate Kaeding, a two-time Pro Bowl kicker) and their first-round selection in the 2005 Draft (Shawne Merriman, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 and was named to three Pro Bowls before being waived this past offseason).

    For the Giants, they gave up a lot and risked it all on an unproven quarterback, but the reward outweighed the risk, as Manning has established himself as one of the better QB’s in the NFL. Although he hasn’t reached the level his brother Peyton is at in terms of records and accomplishments, Eli has still shown he can be a big boy and play with the best.

    He has a Super Bowl ring and the Super Bowl MVP to prove it. 

    If that is not enough, just look at the team he had to beat to get that Super Bowl title.

3. Peyton Manning

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    From one Manning brother to another, the question going into the 1998 Draft was Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. 

     A lot of people leaned toward Leaf, but the Colts ultimately used their first overall pick to risk it all on Manning.

    What a reward for the Colts, as Manning has been at the helm of a Super Bowl Championship, two AFC Championships and if we delve into his personal accomplishments, I could write a novel.

    I will be brief: 11 Pro Bowls, four NFL MVP’s (an NFL record), a Super Bowl MVP, Pro Bowl MVP and holds the franchise record for every major QB stat currently being recorded.

2. Lawrence Taylor

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    L.T. was one of those guys who had all the tools to be a solid football player. He was considered low-risk and went second overall to the New York Giants in 1981, but not before some controversy.

    Taylor’s contract demands before the draft put a question mark on whether or not New York would select him, as several Giants players threatened to walk out if Taylor was paid the $250,000 a season he was asking for (which in 1981, was an astonishing amount of money for a rookie).

    Taylor was chosen anyway, and he quickly won over his teammates and coaches with solid play and a clean reputation—to start his career. 

     His risk was a roller coaster ride that took him through several suspensions for failed drug tests, but otherwise, Taylor went on to have one of the best defensive careers in NFL history.  He was selected to 10 Pro Bowls, won the NFL MVP award in 1986, three-time Defensive Player of the Year and two Super Bowl Championships. Taylor was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 1999.

    On another note, wrestling fans won’t forget that L.T. is also undefeated at WrestleMania after his win over Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania XI.

1. Tom Brady

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    Widely considered the best draft pick ever, Tom Brady was overlooked several times when his draft year came in 2000. 

    The risk wasn’t necessarily when Brady was selected 199th overall in the sixth round behind a number of QB’s—namely Chad Pennington and Marc Bulger.

    The risk was there were three other QB’s on the roster (Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop), so at the time, Brady seemed like a wasteful pick.

    He quickly moved up the depth chart though and was second behind Bledsoe by the end of his first year in the league. In his second year, a blow to Bledsoe by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis caused internal bleeding and forever changed the landscape of the Patriots and the NFL altogether, as Brady became the new No. 1 from that point forward.

    The risk paid off, as Brady has led the Patriots to multiple division titles, three Super Bowl Championships and the envy of every other team in the league that passed on him.

    Brady will be in the Hall-of-Fame one day. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has been selected to six Pro Bowls, has been league MVP twice and has almost every NFL record that can be attained by a quarterback; most of those were achieved during the infamous 2007 season that saw him lead the Patriots to a 16-0 record (18-0 before falling to the Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII).

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