The recent history of DLs selected No. 1 overall in NFL Draft
The Cardinals’ decision on whom to select with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft will be very important to the future of the franchise, and so far, a couple of different players have emerged as early favorites for that distinction.
Outside of the Kyler Murray hype that has gained some steam as of late, the majority of mock drafts have the Cardinals selecting either Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa or Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams with the top spot in April. Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen has also been listed as a possible option there.
The trio of Bosa, Williams and Allen all have one thing in common: all are fearsome pass rushers that would provide an instant boost to new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s unit.
Drafting a defensive lineman with the first pick has been a risky business in the past, however. Some have become legitimate franchise cornerstones, while others have fizzled out spectacularly.
Here are the last eight defensive lineman picked at No. 1 overall and how the rest of their careers went after that:
2017: Myles Garrett – Browns
The most recent example of a defensive lineman going No. 1 overall was just two years ago, when the Browns picked Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M in that spot. Garrett was the consensus pick for the top spot in his draft, and he has lived up to expectations in his first two years.
Garrett missed the first four games games of his rookie season after injuring his ankle in training camp, but still managed to record seven sacks, eighteen quarterback hits and 31 total tackles.
His real breakthrough came this past season, as he blossomed into one of the most dangerous pass rushers in all of football. Garrett started all 16 games and recorded 13.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 29 quarterback hits, all of which earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
2014: Jadeveon Clowney – Texans
Coming out of South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney was one of the most hyped draft prospects in recent memory, which made the Texans’ choice at No. 1 overall an easy one.
Various injuries derailed the start of Clowney’s career, but he has been relatively healthy over the last three years, and has become a very productive player on Houston’s defensive line as a result. Over those three seasons, Clowney recorded a combined 24.5 sacks, 59 quarterback hits and 53 tackles for loss, and made the Pro Bowl in all three of them.
While he hasn’t been the All-Pro caliber player that many thought he would be, Clowney has still played at a very high level up to this point in his career, and may get a hefty free agent contract this offseason as a result.
2006: Mario Williams – Texans
Before they picked Clowney, the Texans took another defensive end with the first pick eight years prior, selecting Mario Williams out of North Carolina State.
The pick of Williams came with a lot of questions, as many thought the Texans would select running back Reggie Bush out of USC instead. They made the correct decision in the long run, however, as he ended up having a very solid NFL career.
Williams recorded 97.5 sacks over his 11 years in the league, and made the Pro Bowl four times and the All-Pro team once in 2014. He was never considered one of the premier defensive players in the league during his time, but he still enjoyed a long and productive career.
2000: Courtney Brown – Browns
The first real bust on this list fittingly belongs to the Browns, who took Courtney Brown out of Penn State with the top pick in 2000.
Brown was an All-American at Penn State and set the all-time NCAA sack record during his time there, but his pro career was ravaged by all kinds of different injuries.
Brown played all 16 games in a pretty good debut season, but major surgeries to both knees, his left elbow and his right biceps caused him to never play more than 14 games in a season over his final five years in the league. He finished his career with just 19 sacks in 61 games.
1994: Dan Wilkinson – Bengals
Like Brown, Dan Wilkinson was an All-American in college who captivated NFL teams with his pure talent. The Bengals selected the Ohio State product No. 1 overall because of this, and they got a mixed bag in terms of performance.
The first half of his career saw Wilkinson post three separate seasons of at least seven sacks as an interior lineman, but he still bounced around the league after clashing with multiple different front offices. His production then started to tail off as his career went on, with his sack total never going above four during his last seven years in the league.
All things considered, a 13-year career with 54.5 sacks isn’t bad, but Wilkinson never really lived up to the lofty expectations that come with going No. 1 in the draft.
1992: Steve Emtman – Colts
Steve Emtman is another example of a No. 1 pick that was wrecked by injuries.
The Colts took Emtman with the first pick in 1992 out of Washington, and he appeared to be justifying their selection early on in his career. Things took a turn very quickly, though, as he blew out his knee just nine games into his rookie season, Upon returning from that injury the next year, he tore the patellar tendon in the other knee, and after coming back from that, he ruptured a disc in his neck.
His career was understandably never the same, and his early exit from the league made him one of the biggest busts in NFL history, through no fault of his own.
1991: Russell Maryland – Cowboys
This one may need an asterisk, as Rocket Ismail was the consensus No. 1 pick heading into the 1991 draft. He decided to sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL straight out of college, though, which left the Cowboys to pick Russell Maryland out of Miami with the top pick.
Maryland had a solid but not spectacular NFL career, posting 24.5 sacks and making one Pro Bowl during his 10 years in the league. He also was a fixture on the defensive line of three different Super Bowl teams with the Cowboys.
1985: Bruce Smith – Bills
Last but not least, we conclude with the best defensive player ever taken with the No. 1 pick and arguably the best player taken at that spot, period.
When the Bills took Bruce Smith out of Virginia Tech with the fist pick in 1985, they expected him to be one of the premier defensive players in the league for a long time. Eight All-Pro teams, 11 Pro Bowls, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, 200 sacks and a Hall of Fame berth later, it is safe to say he lived up to their expectations and then some.