Every NFL Team's Best 1st-Round Draft Pick of the Past Decade
Hope springs eternal during the NFL draft. All 32 clubs enter the event confident that when their name is called, they'll select a difference-maker.
Of course, that's not always the case. Look at the list of first-round picks since 2010, and there's been no shortage of swings and misses—more by some teams than others.
Looking at you, Cleveland.
However, just about every franchise has hit on at least one first-round pick in that time, adding a player who has made a dent on the field and the stat sheet while racking up individual accolades.
Every team has a best pick in the first round of the past decade. Here's a look at that list.
NOTE: Added weight was given to selections who have played their entire careers for the team that drafted them. Great as though a guy may be, if he spent half his career piling up numbers for another franchise, it knocks some of the shine off the pick. If a player was traded, the return a team got for that player was factored into the "value" of the selection.
Arizona Cardinals: CB Patrick Peterson (2011)
The Arizona Cardinals haven't experienced a ton of first-round success since 2010. Players such as linebacker Haason Reddick, guard Jonathan Cooper and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche didn't come close to living up to their draft slots.
The Redbirds are hopeful that they broke out of the dry spell with the selection of Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall in 2019. But the early part of the last decade contained an even better selection.
After a standout career at LSU, Patrick Peterson wasn't just considered the best cornerback prospect by most analysts in the 2011 draft—he was believed to be the best overall prospect by some.
The Cardinals made Peterson the No. 5 pick that year, and he hasn't disappointed the folks who thought so highly of him. In each of Peterson's first eight seasons, he was named to the Pro Bowl. He's earned a first-team All-Pro nod three times and had 25 interceptions.
Atlanta Falcons: WR Julio Jones (2011)
This was not a difficult call.
After a dominant college career at Alabama and a fantastic performance at the 2011 combine that included a 4.39-second 40-yard time with a broken bone in his foot (seriously), the Atlanta Falcons sent a bucketful of picks (including two firsts) to Cleveland for the right to move up and take Julio Jones.
Jones lived up to every bit of that lofty price tag.
There hasn't been a better wide receiver in football over the last decade than Jones, who has carved out a career that will likely land him in Canton one day. In seven of his nine seasons, Jones topped 1,100 receiving yards. He's caught 100 passes three times, topped 1,500 receiving yards three times, been named to seven Pro Bowls and earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors on five occasions.
Jones' average stat line is 89 receptions for 1,347 yards and six scores, and his 96.2 receiving yards per game for his career is the most by any pass-catcher in NFL history.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson (2018)
Former Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome made some outstanding first-round picks since 2010. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has been to four Pro Bowls. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey each earned nods last season.
But it was Newsome's final first-round pick that was the best of them all.
In 2018, the Ravens traded back into the first round after selecting tight end Hayden Hurst at No. 25. With the final pick in the frame, the team took a wildly athletic but raw quarterback from the University of Louisville named Lamar Jackson.
Since taking over as the starter midway through his rookie year, Jackson has won 19 of 22 starts. In 2019, he set an NFL single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206, led the 14-2 Ravens to the league's best record and was named Most Valuable Player.
As picks go, it was quite the mic drop from Newsome.
Buffalo Bills: CB Tre'Davious White (2017)
Given that Stephon Gilmore just became the first cornerback since 2009 to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Charles Woodson), the Bills' first pick in 2012 could've taken this spot.
Except for one small problem: Gilmore won the award while playing for the rival Patriots.
However, the Bills did an excellent job of finding a replacement for Gilmore when he left in 2017. With the 27th pick in that year's draft, they selected LSU's Tre'Davious White. And in the three seasons since, White has become one of the leading competitors to Gilmore for the title of the league's best cover man.
Bills GM Brandon Beane doesn't plan to let White follow in Gilmore's footsteps and leave in free agency (club option for 2021).
"Any guy that's been in Tre's situation ... we want back, and obviously Tre' is a guy we love, and we want back," Beane told WGR Radio in Buffalo (via the team's website).
Extending the contract of the franchise's best defensive player would be wise.
Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton (2011)
This is one of the hardest calls on this list. Carolina's first picks in the 2011 and 2012 drafts both went on to have a massive impact for the team.
That neither is still with the Panthers is unfortunate, but the pair is head-and-shoulders above any other picks the franchise has made over the last nine drafts. Both players won Rookie of the Year honors. Both have also been named the Player of the Year on their respective sides of the ball.
Luke Kuechly was a star at linebacker from the moment he took the field. A seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro, Kuechly topped 100 tackles in all eight of his NFL seasons.
But as good as Kuechly, Cam Newton played the most important position on the field. A quarterback built like a fullback, Newton took the league by storm with his dual-threat ability. And in 2015, the 6'5", 245-pounder won MVP honors and led the Panthers to a berth in Super Bowl 50.
That gives the signal-caller a narrow edge as the first-round pick of Carolina's last 10 drafts.
Chicago Bears: CB Kyle Fuller (2014)
This was a difficult call. There were a few viable contenders for this honor from the Chicago Bears—players who have gone from first-round pick to quality contributor for the team.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was not one of the finalists.
But while guard Kyle Long made three Pro Bowls over his seven seasons with the Bears and inside linebacker Roquan Smith could become one of the best at his position, veteran cornerback Kyle Fuller got the nod.
Since being drafted 14th overall in 2014, Fuller has been a starter at corner from nearly day one. With the exception of a 2016 season wiped out by a knee injury, Fuller has started all but two games over five years.
The 28-year-old has 18 career interceptions, including seven in 2018 (which tied for the NFL lead). In each of the past two seasons, the former Virginia Tech standout has been named to the Pro Bowl.
Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green (2011)
Just as you had to know Jones would represent the Atlanta Falcons, there was zero doubt that the wideout taken two picks ahead of him would be the guy for the Cincinnati Bengals.
If you're into hair-splitting, the argument can be made that the Bengals picked the wrong star SEC wideout. However, there's no arguing that A.J. Green has had a great career.
Injuries have plagued him in recent years, including a bum foot that wiped out his 2019 campaign. But from 2011 to 2015, there wasn't a better pass-catcher in the AFC. Over that five-year span, Green hit 1,000-plus yards each season, caught over 85 passes three times, averaged nine scores per season and made the Pro Bowl every year.
The Bengals also made it to the playoffs five straight times—if you're into the whole "winning" thing.
Cleveland Browns: EDGE Myles Garrett (2017)
Since 2011, the Cleveland Browns have had a whopping 15 first-round picks.
Those selections have been a litany of disasters. There was the 28-year-old rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, in 2012. The Heisman Trophy-winning sensation who imploded, Johnny Manziel, in 2014. There have been wide receivers who couldn't catch and cornerbacks who couldn't cover a bed with a sheet.
The consistency of the carnage has been equal parts bizarrely impressive and depressing.
However, twice in the last three years the Browns have had the No. 1 overall pick—and both of those players have the potential to shake off the curse of Cleveland.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield (2018) set a high-water mark for touchdown passes for a rookie quarterback, with 27, and would have been an easy call—had his play not regressed significantly in 2019.
Edge-rusher Myles Garrett (2017) looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate over the first half of last season—but spent most of the second half serving the longest suspension for an on-field incident in NFL history.
There are no sure bets in Cleveland, but Garrett's a generational talent. If he can keep his head on straight, he could easily be one of the league's best pass-rushers for years.
Dallas Cowboys: OG Zack Martin (2014)
There's been a lot said and written about Jerry Jones' acumen as a general manager over the years—and not all of it has been kind.
But there isn't a GM in the league who has hit on a higher percentage of Round 1 picks in recent years. Since 2010, Jones has made nine first-round selections. Seven have played in at least one Pro Bowl.
That's an impressive hit rate—but it doesn't make it any easier to select the best of the bunch.
Tailback Ezekiel Elliott (2016) is tempting, as he's the engine that drives the Dallas offense. The former Ohio State standout has led the league in rushing twice in four years, has topped 1,300 rushing yards three times and been to three Pro Bowls.
But as good as Elliott is, he's not the gold standard for running backs.
When it comes to offensive guards, Zack Martin is.
The 2014 draftee has played six seasons in the NFL. After all six, he was named to the Pro Bowl. The 6'4", 315-pounder has started all but two games of his career and been selected as a first-team All-Pro four times—including each of the last two seasons.
Assuming he maintains his level of play for a few more years, Martin will be a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer.
He may well be already.
Denver Broncos: EDGE Von Miller (2011)
Fun fact: For as great as he's been, and despite an 18.5-sack season in 2012, Von Miller has never led the NFL in that category. Not once.
It's about the only thing Miller hasn't accomplished, though.
To say he has lived up to the status of being the second overall pick (behind Cam Newton) in the 2011 draft is an understatement. Miller piled up 11.5 sacks as a rookie and hasn't looked back. Only two times in nine years has Miller not amassed at least 10 sacks—and in both of those campaigns he missed time.
Miller has been named to eight Pro Bowls—including every season since 2014. He's been named a first- or second-team All-Pro seven times. Miller was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and the MVP of Denver's victory in Super Bowl 50.
For his career, he has amassed 106 sacks—second among all active players behind Terrell Suggs (139). Five years after Miller calls it a career, there's an excellent chance he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Other than that, he's just been OK.
Detroit Lions: OT Taylor Decker (2016)
In fairness to the Detroit Lions, it's not entirely their fault that the last several years haven't been kind where the success rate of first-rounders is concerned.
Edge-rusher Ezekiel Ansah (2013) looked like a superstar in the making but couldn't stay on the field. Tight end Eric Ebron (2014) realized his considerable potential only after leaving the Motor City. Inside linebacker Jarrad Davis (2017) isn't great, but he isn't terrible.
Still, the Lions' Round 1 picks since 2010 haven't been great with the exception of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. And he hasn't played in Detroit since 2014.
There has been an exception though—the offensive line.
Riley Reiff (2012) played well enough in Detroit to get a fat contract with the Minnesota Vikings (five years, $58.75 million). Both tackle Taylor Decker (2016) and center Frank Ragnow (2018) have emerged as key components up front in Motown.
It's a toss-up between the two for the title of best pick of the past decade. But since the left tackle position is the most important on a line with a right-handed quarterback, Decker gets the edge headed into the last year of his rookie deal.
Green Bay Packers: DT Kenny Clark (2016)
The Green Bay Packers have had mixed first-round results since 2010. Players such as cornerback Jaire Alexander and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Damarious Randall all became quality starters. Others like defensive lineman Datone Jones and offensive tackle Derek Sherrod did not.
Clinton-Dix and Randall have since moved on to other teams. But there's at least one first-round pick of the Packers who is both still in Titletown and coming into his own.
He doesn't get much run in conversations about the NFL's best defensive tackles, but Kenny Clark is coming off his first Pro Bowl nod in 2019—an honor the 27th overall pick in the 2016 draft earned by posting a career-high 62 tackles.
The 6'3", 314-pounder is more than just a lane-clogging run stuffer, though. In each of the last two seasons, Clark has racked up six sacks, showing off quite a bit of talent for making quarterbacks miserable.
While Bryan Bulaga (2010) merits real consideration here too, he's never been named to the Pro Bowl. He's a very good offensive tackle. But not a great one.
We don't know that about Clark just yet.
Houston Texans: QB Deshaun Watson (2017)
The Cleveland Browns could have had a first round for the ages in 2017. After drafting edge-rusher Myles Garrett first overall, the Browns could have also landed a franchise quarterback at No. 12.
Instead, they flipped that selection to the Houston Texans for the 25th pick and a first-rounder the following season.
Cleveland's loss was Houston's gain.
It didn't take long for Deshaun Watson to see the field for the Texans—he was starting for Houston by the middle of September. And while a torn ACL suffered in practice cut short Watson's rookie season, it offered Houston a tantalizing glimpse of the franchise's future. Of an immensely talented, athletic young quarterback.
This isn't Houston's only first-round home run over the last nine drafts—since being taken 11th overall in 2011, J.J. Watt has been named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year three times.
But as great as it is to land an all-world defensive end, it's even better to select a Pro Bowl quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck (2012)
This one stings a little for Indianapolis Colts fans. The stunning retirement of Andrew Luck in the summer of 2019 was a shocking end to the 29-year-old quarterback's career. But while guard Quenton Nelson (2018) has already become one of the NFL's best interior linemen and Anthony Castonzo (2011) is an excellent tackle, it can't really be debated that Luck is the Colts' best pick of the past decade.
It's not like it was a difficult selection to make. Coming out of Stanford, Luck was viewed as the most can't-miss prospect under center in recent memory. The Colts were so confident that Luck would be a star that the team showed Peyton Manning the door.
For the most part, Luck held up his end of the deal—over seven seasons, he threw for over 4,000 yards four times. He topped 30 touchdown passes three times, made the Pro Bowl four times and led the Colts to the playoffs four times—including a trip to the AFC title game in 2014.
The ending may have stunk, but while the Luck Show was on the air, it was pretty danged good.
Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Jalen Ramsey (2016)
It's tempting to give edge-rusher Josh Allen the nod here. The seventh pick in last year's draft had a fine rookie season for the Jacksonville Jaguars, tallying 10.5 sacks.
That rookie year was a big part of why the Jaguars traded Calais Campbell—his replacement is already on the team.
But even though cornerback Jalen Ramsey is no longer with the Jags after they traded him during the 2019 season, the 25-year-old has to be the guy here.
After being drafted fifth overall in 2016, Ramsey rapidly developed a reputation as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. He's the epitome of a player whose stats don't tell the whole story, because his numbers are depressed by the fact that opposing quarterbacks often just avoid throwing toward him.
On some level the Jaguars are no doubt bummed that both corners from the team's "Pick-Fil-A" secondary have been traded, but in Ramsey's case, at least the pair of first-rounders Jacksonville received from the Los Angeles Rams softened the blow.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes (2017)
In 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs surprised some by dealing a package of picks (including two first-rounders) to the Buffalo Bills for the right to move up 17 spots to No. 10 overall. With that pick, then-general manager John Dorsey selected Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes—despite the presence of veteran Alex Smith and the fact that the Chiefs went 12-4 and won the AFC West the season before.
One year later, the Chiefs dealt Smith to the Washington Redskins and turned the reins over to Mahomes.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In his first season as the starter, Mahomes passed for 5,097 yards, tossed 50 touchdowns, won MVP honors and led the Chiefs to the AFC title game. In his second year in command, his stats were down (at least relative to 2018), but it didn't matter—because the season ended with the Lombardi Trophy in his hands.
Las Vegas Raiders: EDGE Khalil Mack (2014)
The Las Vegas Raiders are a unique case in that there's no question that wide receiver Amari Cooper and edge-rusher Khalil Mack have had the biggest impact of their first-rounders selected since 2010, but they traded both.
After two 1,000-yard seasons in his first three years, Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys partway through the 2018 campaign for a 2019 first-round pick. That pick became safety Johnathan Abram, who had his moments as a rookie before he tore his rotator cuff and labrum.
Mack, on the other hand, was dealt to the Chicago Bears before the 2018 season for first-rounders in both 2019 and 2020. The 2019 pick was used to select tailback Josh Jacobs, who topped 1,000 yards as a rookie. The 2020 selection leaves the Raiders flush with draft capital for a second straight year.
In four seasons in Oakland, Mack amassed 40.5 sacks, won Defensive Player of the Year and established himself as one of the NFL's best defensive players. As good as Cooper was (and is), he takes a clear back seat to those accomplishments.
He shouldn't feel bad. Just about everyone takes a back seat to Mack.
Los Angeles Chargers: EDGE Joey Bosa (2016)
It's happened without much fanfare, but under the guidance of general manager Tom Telesco, the Los Angeles Chargers have quietly had great success with picking the right first-rounders. Of the team's 10 such selections over the last decade, six have been to at least one Pro Bowl. Two more (defensive tackle Corey Liuget and wide receiver Mike Williams) are or were quality starters.
That average offers a measure of confidence that the Bolts will take advantage of the sixth overall pick in 2020. But it also makes picking the best of the lot no easy task.
With all due respect to edge-rusher Melvin Ingram, cornerback Jason Verrett, running back Melvin Gordon III and safety Derwin James, they all get honorable mentions.
It's Joey Bosa's world—they are all just living in it.
Bosa has been a force from the moment he entered the NFL. In 2016, the defensive end piled up 10.5 sacks in just 12 games and was named the league's Rookie of the Year on that side of the ball. He's added two seasons with 10-plus sacks in the three years since.
Los Angeles Rams: DT Aaron Donald (2014)
There isn't a more obvious call regarding a defensive player in the NFL than naming Aaron Donald as the best first-round pick the Los Angeles Rams have made in the last 10 years.
For starters, it's a reduced list. After taking Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016, the Rams traded their first-round picks in four straight drafts (including 2020). But even if this list were three players longer, there's a slim chance any of them would have had a bigger impact than Donald.
He's arguably the NFL's most disruptive defender. By his second year, Donald cracked double digits in sacks. In 2017, he had 11 sacks and won his first Defensive Player of the Year award. He repeated as DPOY the following season after racking up 59 tackles and a jaw-dropping 20.5 sacks.
Donald has everything a team could want in a 3-technique—including a first step that has to be seen to be believed. If he continues to play at the level he has these past few seasons, Donald could go down as the best defensive tackle ever.
Miami Dolphins: OT Laremy Tunsil (2016)
The Miami Dolphins have made 10 first-round picks since 2010. Of those 10, just three are still on the team.
That's an ugly stat.
Of those three, only one has had any real success. And it took that player (wide receiver DeVante Parker) five years to post his first 1,000-yard season.
That's an even uglier stat.
However, the team's best first-round pick of the past decade isn't with the Dolphins anymore. He's not the best because of what he's done on the field—in Miami or anywhere else.
Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil is the best because of what the Dolphins got to get rid of him.
The 13th overall pick in the 2016 draft made his first Pro Bowl in 2019 as a member of the Houston Texans. And to his credit, Tunsil has become an above-average offensive lineman.
But he's not a great one. The Dolphins did, however, get a great deal for trading Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills to Houston last summer: a package of picks and players that included Houston's first-rounders in 2019 and 2020.
Minnesota Vikings: S Harrison Smith (2012)
The good news for the Minnesota Vikings is that of the 12 first-round picks the team has made since 2010, half have appeared in at least one Pro Bowl.
The bad news is that of those six players, only two still play for the Vikings.
The first member of that duo is linebacker Anthony Barr, who made the Pro Bowl four straight years from 2015 to 2018. Barr is one of the more underrated players in the NFL—a versatile defender who's capable of stuffing the run, rushing the passer and holding his own in coverage.
The ninth overall pick in 2014 is good. But the 29th overall selection from 2012 is even better.
For much of his eight seasons in the Twin Cities, Harrison Smith has been one of the game's best safeties. He's been a full-time starter from day one, making at least 13 starts in every season except 2013. In three of the past four years, Smith has tallied at least 80 total tackles, and he's been selected for the Pro Bowl every season since 2015.
New England Patriots: DB Devin McCourty (2010)
The New England Patriots have been very good at two things in Round 1 over the past decade. The first is that they have been quite adept at playing "let's make a deal" and moving up and down the board.
The second has been drafting defensive players.
Chandler Jones has been one of the NFL's best edge-rushers since entering the league, although he's done quite a bit of that damage as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower has been to two Pro Bowls and was a key part of three Super Bowl wins.
Both were drafted in 2012. But it's the defensive back who joined the team two years earlier who gets the nod here.
Whether it's been at cornerback or free safety, Devin McCourty has carved out a career in New England that has included three Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls and three second-team All-Pro selections. He's been a steady constant at the back end of Bill Belichick's defense.
And after signing an extension this offseason, he'll likely finish his career in Foxborough.
New Orleans Saints: EDGE Cameron Jordan (2011)
Mickey Loomis is pretty good at his job. He has been the general manager of the New Orleans Saints since 2002, and over that time, he's crafted the team into a perennial contender.
A significant part of that success can be attributed to his hitting on early draft picks with regularity. Of his 11 first-round picks since 2010, all but two are still starting for NFL teams. Six are still starting in the Big Easy.
Given all that success, there are quite a few worthy candidates to be named Loomis' best first-rounder of the past 10 drafts, including one of the NFL's best young corners in 23-year-old Marshon Lattimore (2017).
But the winner here has to be edge-rusher Cameron Jordan.
The 24th overall selection in 2011, Jordan has become one of the best in the league at his position. Jordan's career-high 15.5 sacks in 2019 marked the third straight year (and fourth time in the past five seasons) that he has hit double digits in that regard.
The five-time Pro Bowler is also just 13 sacks shy of 100 for his career.
New York Giants: RB Saquon Barkley (2018)
A case can be made that even though Odell Beckham Jr. plays in Cleveland, the star receiver remains New York's best Round 1 pick since 2010. And maybe if the G-Men had gotten more in the trade with the Browns, the 2014 pick would merit more consideration.
But the Giants didn't, so we'll stick with a player who remains an important part of the Giants offense.
In fact, he's the most important part of the New York attack.
Whether the Giants should have used the second overall pick in the 2018 draft on a running back is a valid question. There's no question, though, that Saquon Barkley is legit.
In his first season, Barkley was a force of nature—he averaged five yards per carry, caught 91 passes, topped 2,000 total yards, scored 15 touchdowns and brought home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Barkley's numbers came down in 2019 (largely due to a high ankle sprain that cost him three games), but he enters his third season as one of the NFL's most dangerous players with a football in his hands.
New York Jets: SS Jamal Adams (2017)
To say the New York Jets have swung and missed a lot in Round 1 since 2010 is an understatement.
The team's first pick in 2011 (Muhammad Wilkerson), 2012 (Quinton Coples) and 2013 (Dee Milliner) are all out of football. Two more (Calvin Pryor and Darron Lee) are free agents who will be lucky to latch on to NFL teams in 2020. Yet another (Leonard Williams) was traded to the Giants last year.
Of the three picks who weren't colossal busts, the jury remains out on quarterback Sam Darnold and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. However, the verdict's in on safety Jamal Adams.
And the Jets appear to have gotten that one right.
Two years ago, Adams posted 115 total tackles and added 3.5 sacks. His tackle numbers were down in 2019 for the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft, but Adams led all defensive backs with 6.5 sacks.
That New York reportedly gave serious thought to trading Adams last year is a very Jets thing to do.
Philadelphia Eagles: DT Fletcher Cox (2012)
The Philadelphia Eagles will go as far as quarterback Carson Wentz takes them. And when he's healthy, 2016's No. 2 overall pick is an excellent quarterback. But Wentz, 27, isn't the Eagles' best first-round pick of the last decade.
As a matter of fact, Wentz isn't even their second-best pick—at least not yet. That would be Lane Johnson, who has become one of the best right tackles in the NFL since joining the Eagles in 2013.
However, neither can hold a candle to the player who has been wreaking havoc for the Eagles up front since being drafted 12th overall in 2012.
Over eight seasons, Fletcher Cox has become one of the best 3-technique tackles in the game. Ferocious against the run and adept at collapsing the pocket, Cox is a five-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All Pro. The 29-year-old has averaged six sacks per season and had 10.5 as recently as two years ago.
Pittsburgh Steelers: OG David DeCastro (2012)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been known for hitting on their draft picks, and the last 10 years have been no exception. Center Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. Defensive end Cameron Heyward in 2011. Guard David DeCastro in 2012. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in 2014. Edge-rushers Bud Dupree in 2015 and T.J. Watt in 2017. All have gone from first-round picks to Pro Bowl-caliber performers.
It's a loaded list. And a difficult choice. But it's DeCastro who gets the call as Pittsburgh's best first-round pick of the last 10 years.
DeCastro is a classic Pittsburgh selection—a player taken outside the top 20 who has made a big impact. Injuries put a damper on his rookie season, but by 2013 DeCastro was a 15-game starter. Over the last seven years, he has missed just four games, and in each of the last five seasons, the 316-pound road-grader was named to the Pro Bowl.
San Francisco 49ers: EDGE Nick Bosa (2019)
This is a rarity in this piece—a team whose most recent pick also happens to be its best since 2011.
There are other contenders for that title with the reigning NFC champions. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead just got a five-year, $85 million extension after a career season. DeForest Buckner has piled up 19.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod over the last two years. Guard Mike Iupati (2010) has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times
But before last year's 10-sack season, Armstead had nine sacks over his first four years. Buckner was traded to the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks ago. And Iupati's last season with San Fran was in 2014.
That leaves defensive end Nick Bosa, who was the second overall pick in the 2019 draft. Bosa made an immediate impact, posting 47 tackles and nine sacks on the way to both a spot in the Pro Bowl and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Just one season into what could be a great career, Bosa is already on the short list—alongside his brother, Joey—as one of the most feared pass-rushers in the game.
Seattle Seahawks: FS Earl Thomas (2010)
This is without question the easiest call on this list—in part because outside of one pick, Seattle's first-rounders since 2010 have been varying degrees of blah.
Edge-rusher Bruce Irvin has been OK. So has offensive lineman Germain Ifedi. And running back Rashaad Penny—when he can stay on the field.
Earl Thomas has been quite a bit better than OK.
Thomas' split with the Seahawks was a bit acrimonious. He spent the 2019 season prowling the back end of the Baltimore defense. But for most of his professional career, Thomas was a huge part of the Legion of Boom defense that helped Seattle make it to two straight Super Bowls.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, Thomas was considered the best safety in the game by many in his prime. Others considered him the best defensive player in football period. The Athletic recently named him one of the top five players of the Super Bowl era to wear the No. 29.
He's a lock to one day land in the Hall of Fame.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans (2014)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have thrown in the towel on their 2015 first-round pick with the switch from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady at quarterback.
But if the Golden Boy is going to have success in his new home, it will be in no small part because of the team's first pick in 2014.
Whereas Winston's tenure in Tampa was filled with ups and downs, wide receiver Mike Evans' career has mostly been ups. Since being drafted seventh overall out of Texas A&M, Evans has hit the 1,000-yard mark in all six of his NFL seasons. Evans has averaged eight touchdowns per season, topped 15 yards per catch four times and exceeded 1,500 receiving yards once.
Among NFL wide receivers, only Randy Moss has as many consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to open a career as Evans, who has been elected to the Pro Bowl three times.
And at just 26 years old, Evans is just entering his prime.
Tennessee Titans: OT Taylor Lewan (2014)
The Tennessee Titans have not enjoyed much success in the first round since 2010. The selection of quarterback Jake Locker in 2011 was a disaster. Chance Warmack in 2013 wasn't a lot better. Marcus Mariota will spend 2020 backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas. Wide receiver Corey Davis and cornerback Adoree' Jackson have been OK, but they haven't been difference-makers.
However, the Titans have had better luck with offensive tackles in recent years. And while Jack Conklin just signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Browns, Taylor Lewan is still in Nashville.
The 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Lewan has been the foundation of Tennessee's offensive line for several years. The 6'7", 309-pound former Michigan standout has been a full-time starter at tackle for the Titans since his second season, earning three straight Pro Bowl nods from 2016 to 2018.
Washington Redskins: OT Trent Williams (2010)
This last one is admittedly going to be a tough for Washington fans to swallow. Still, one would think they would be used to being kicked while they are down.
Sorry. That was mean.
Edge-rusher Ryan Kerrigan (2011) deserves a long look as the team's best pick of the past decade. Kerrigan has averaged 10 sacks per season over his nine-year career, has hit double digits in sacks four times, been named to four Pro Bowls and missed just four games (all in 2019). His next sack will tie him for the franchise's all-time record.
But Kerrigan gets edged out here by a player who wants no part of playing for the Redskins anymore.
Prior to last year's falling out, lost season and trade demands, Trent Williams spent most of his first nine seasons playing as well (or better) than any tackle in the game. Williams made 119 starts over that span and was named to seven Pro Bowls.
That both Kerrigan and Williams had such great careers playing for so many bad teams is rather depressing.