The NFL Draft is an event that is nearly as big as actual NFL games. For weeks leading up to the draft reporters publish, edit and republish mock drafts projecting which college star will be taken by which NFL team.
We’ve got nearly 24 hours a day coverage of the draft leading up to the big night. There is on-air talent who has made entire careers about covering the draft. We’re looking at you, Mel Kiper. They’ll wax poetic about how this guy’s skills translate to his new teams’ schemes or how they don’t.
In the end, some guy behind a desk on the set of an ESPN show has no idea how a guy will do in the NFL. That’s determined by several factors including the player himself, the situation with the team he’s drafted to, and how healthy he stays.
We’ve taken a look at every NFL team’s draft picks over the last 20 years and pulled out their best and worst picks. Take a look and see who made it.
Best: Larry Fitzgerald – 2004 Draft – Pick #3
If Larry Fitzgerald had played anywhere but Arizona he’d have received more than one All-Pro selection. Despite being one of the greatest receivers of all time, Fitzgerald is still underrated. He has over 17,000 career receiving yards and 121 receiving touchdowns.
Worst: Josh Rosen – 2018 Draft – Pick 10
In truth, no one knows just how good or bad Josh Rosen is. He never sees the field. All we know from the outside looking in is that he’s on his fourth team in 4 years and he’s only appeared in 20 games. No one seems to want the kid.
Best: Matt Ryan – 2008 Draft – Pick # 3
Though his time in Atlanta may be coming to an end, Matty Ice should be revered by Falcons fans as he’s helped give them one of the greatest decade+ that the franchise has had. If only he could have held on to that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.
Worst: Peria Jerry – 2009 Draft – Pick #24
Jerry came off an All-American season at Ole Miss before jumping to the pros. Atlanta gave him 4 years but Jerry gave them just 5.5 sacks in return. You know it’s bad when your rookie deal ends and no one signs you. He’s been out of the league since 2013.
Best: Josh Allen – 2018 Draft – Pick #7
Many people doubted whether the guy who played a couple of seasons of college ball at Wyoming could be worthy of the #7 overall pick, but Allen has proved the doubters wrong. He’s reenergized a dormant Bills franchise. This past season Allen was named a second-team All-Pro and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Worst: EJ Manuel – 2013 Draft – Pick #16
In his 28 games as the Bills’ starting quarterback, he threw for just 19 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. Manuel lasted four non-descript years in Buffalo before signing with the Oakland Raiders for the 2017 season. Manuel is now retired.
Best: Lamar Jackson – 2018 Draft- Pick #32
Jackson almost made it as the value selection here because you don’t often get MVP quarterbacks that late in the first round. Lamar Jackson has helped revolutionize the quarterback position again. His 2019 season of 3,000+ passing yards and 1,000+ rushing yards was one for the history books.
Worst: Kyle Boller – 2003 Draft – Pick #19
Boller played 5 seasons in Baltimore and managed to play a full season just once. He managed to throw for more than 2,000 yards only once and retired with a career passer rating of just 69.5. The best thing Boller did in Baltimore was this ridiculous photoshoot.
Best: Cam Newton – 2011 Draft – Pick #1
Cam was a star immediately in Carolina as he picked up the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He would go on to become the franchise’s greatest player and win the 2015 MVP Award. If only the Panthers would have acquired him so protection or weapons so he didn’t have to destroy his body along the way.
Worst: Jimmy Clausen – 2010 Draft – Pick #48
We should have known something was up with Jimmy Clausen when the projected top 10 pick plummeted to the second-round. He just wasn’t any good. Clausen showed so little potential that a year after drafting him they drafted Cam Newton.
Best: AJ Green – 2011 Draft – Pick #4
AJ Green had an immediate impact on the Bengals, catching more passes in his first three seasons and an NFL player than anyone else in NFL History. Since then Green has gone on to 7 Pro Bowl selections and 3 All-Pro nominations. Lately though, Green has missed significant game time due to injury.
Worst: Chris Perry – 2004 Draft – Pick # 26
One good thing you can say about Chris Perry’s career is that he was loyal. The running back spent his entire 5-year career with the Bengals. Unfortunately, at the end of that 5-year career, Perry had a grand total of 606 yards to his name. Incredibly, he stayed in the league with that output.
Best: Joe Thomas – 2007 Draft – #3 Pick
Browns fans were displeased when their franchise took Joe Thomas with the 3rd overall pick. The team desperately needed a quarterback and fans wanted Brady Quinn the hometown kid. Turns out they’d get Quinn a few picks later, and Thomas would turn out to be a Hall of Fame left tackle and best player in the reborn Browns franchise.
Worst: Johnny Manziel – 2014 Draft – Pick #22
There could have been many people listed here as the modern Browns have one of the worst draft records in the history of the league. However, Manziel is the pick because he represents everything thing that was going wrong with the Browns organization at the time.
Best: Brian Urlacher – 2000 Draft – Pick #9
You don’t see a lot of linebackers from the University of New Mexico taken in the top 10 of an NFL Draft, but Urlacher broke the mold. He couldn’t have found a more perfect franchise to join. Over 12 years Urlacher turned himself into a modern “Monster of the Midway” and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he retired.
Worst: David Terrell – 2001 Draft – Pick #8
The Bears gave David Terrell plenty of chances. They kept him on the roster for 4 seasons before they had to cut him loose. The Michigan alum never gained more than 700 yards in a season and he didn’t get another job after the Bears cut him.
Best: Dak Prescott – 2016 Draft – Pick #135
Ezekiel Elliott was supposed to be the star of the Cowboys 2016 Draft class but then Tony Romo got hurt and Dak Prescott showed that he was a star himself. A few years later he’s got two Pro Bowl selections and just signed one of the richest deals in the history of the league.
Worst: Bobby Carpenter – 2006 Draft- Pick #18
If you want a simple illustration of how disappointing Carpenter’s time in Dallas was, here’s one. After three years with the team, Carpenter was finally given a role in the defense. For three seasons the first-round draft pick was limited to special teams’ duty. Ouch.
Best: Von Miller – 2011 Draft – Pick #2
Von Miller has been a stud in the NFL since the day the Broncos drafted him. Miller won the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year and then a few short years later he was the Super Bowl MVP. He has the most sacks of any active player in the NFL.
Worst: Paxton Lynch – 2016 Draft – #26
John Elway loves a quarterback that looks like him though. Big and strong, can probably throw through the wind at altitude. Well, it didn’t take long for the Broncos to realize their mistake. In two seasons Lynch played in just 5 games, mostly in meaningless games. He’s now technically a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Best: Calvin Johnson – 2007 Draft – Pick #2
They don’t give the nickname “Megatron” to just any old scrub-catching footballs. Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver of his generation and his numbers may have been even better had he played for a successful organization. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
Worst: Charles Rogers – 2003 Draft – Pick #2
Charles Rogers was a no-brainer pick for the Detroit Lions. Rogers was a unanimous All-American wide receiver who appeared to have all the physical tools required to be a great pro, plus he was from the state of Michigan and played his college ball at Michigan State. Injuries and suspensions limited Rogers’ career to just 15 games over 3 seasons. Eventually, the Lions released Rogers. He would never play again in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers
Best: Aaron Rodgers – 2005 NFL Draft – Pick #24
Think back to Draft Day 2004. The unquestionable loser of the day was Aaron Rodgers. He went viral before it was a thing for falling to the 24th pick. It worked out perfectly for Rodgers and the Packers as they’ve won a Super Bowl and he will be a Hall of Famer.
Worst: Justin Harrell – 2007 Draft – Pick #16
Justin Harrell has the most unlikely Super Bowl ring of any player on this list. He rode Aaron Rodgers coattails to a Super Bowl XLV win over the Steelers. Don’t be leave us, the guy had 28 tackles in 4 seasons of pro ball. He was a defensive tackle.
Best: JJ Watt – 2011 Draft – Pick #11
Not even the Texans anticipated getting a three-time league Defensive Player of the Year when they drafted JJ Watt in 2011. Watt is one of the best defensive players of his generation, and one of the best of all-time never to win a Super Bowl.
Worst: David Carr – 2002 Draft – Pick #1
Carr was the first-ever draft pick of the Houston Texans, the man around which a franchise would be built. Unfortunately, they didn’t get any protection for the poor guy and he was sacked 249 times in 5 seasons. It’s no wonder he was never able to develop.
Best: Dwight Freeney – 2002 Draft – #11
No, Dwight Freeney may not have run the entire Colts offense from the line of scrimmage as Peyton Manning did, but the Colts would still have zero Super Bowl wins if he wasn’t anchoring that stout defense. Freeney was a 7-time Pro Bowler and is awaiting his call to Canton.
Worst: Bjorn Werner – 2013 Draft – Pick #24
It was nice of the Colts to give a German guy a chance, but they’re much better at the other kind of football. Werner made it through just 3 seasons on an NFL roster and the defensive end recorded just 6.5 sacks and 81 tackles. He’s now a commentator for football games on German television.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best: Patrick Mahomes – 2017 Draft – Pick #10
The Chiefs just sat there and waited for a future Hall of Famer to fall into their laps at #10. Unbelievable. Of course, Mahomes has gone on to be the heir apparent to Brady as the greatest QB in the league right now. Now the race is on to see how many MVPs he will win before he hangs it up.
Worst: Ryan Sims – 2002 Draft – Pick #6
In Ryan Sims’ defense, he did manage to spend 9 seasons on NFL rosters, but he didn’t contribute much while he was on them. He retired with a grand total of 8.5 sacks and 112 tackles. That’s not nearly good enough for a defensive tackle taken at #6 overall.
Las Vegas Raiders
Best: Khalil Mack – 2014 Draft – Pick #5
Khalil Mack is probably the greatest player to come out of the MAC in a decade. The Buffalo alum dominated for years in Oakland and then was inexplicably traded to the Bears where he’s continued to earn All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods.
Worst: JaMarcus Russell – 2007 Draft – Pick #1
Things started poorly for the Raiders and JaMarcus Russell when he held out until the second week of the season. Things got worse when it was discovered that Russell wasn’t even attempting to learn the playbook. Turns out the NFL is a whole lot harder than college. Russell was out of the league at the end of his third season.
Los Angeles Chargers
Best: LaDainian Tomlinson – 2001 Draft – Pick #5
LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the best running backs of the 21st century. He retired ranked 5th in career rushing yards, 7th in all-purpose yards, and second in career rushing touchdowns. He won an MVP and was the league’s rushing yards leader twice. Tomlinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.
Worst: Craig Davis – 2007 Draft – Pick #30
When you take a wide receiver in the first round you probably expect more than 51 catches in his first year. Craig “Buster” Davis managed just 51 catches for his entire career! 51 catches, 558 yards, and 2 touchdowns are the statline for 4 years of NFL service. Yikes.
Los Angeles Rams
Best: Aaron Donald – 2015 Draft – Pick #13
Aaron Donald has been a dominant force in whatever city the Rams have been playing in since the day he put on the blue and gold of the Rams. When he retires someday he’ll go down as one of the greatest defensive players of all time. He’s already got 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards and you know he’s hungry for more.
Worst: Jason Smith – 2009 Draft – Pick #2
Left tackles get taken at the top of the draft all the time because they’re the insurance policy on the franchise quarterback. It’s usually a safe bet drafting a 6’5” 310-pound insurance policy, but it wasn’t with Jason Smith. Smith was out of the league after three seasons and never was trusted with the left tackle position.
Best: Maurice Jones-Drew – 2006 Draft- Pick #60
Maurice Jones-Drew’s draft spot was not a reflection of his talent, but rather of his size. There’s no way a 5’7” running back could be successful in the NFL, right? MJD spent 9 years in the league proving people wrong. He led the league in rushing in 2011 and was a 3-time Pro Bowler.
Worst: Blane Gabbert – 2011 Draft – Pick #10
Two data points illustrate just how bad of a selection Blane Gabbert was. In three seasons in Jacksonville, Gabbert threw 2 more interceptions than touchdowns. Also during his time in Jacksonville, the Jaguars were a putrid 5-22. Somehow, Gabbert has stayed in the league and just picked up a Super Bowl ring with Tampa Bay.
Best: Laremy Tunsil – 2016 Draft – Pick #13
Laremy Tunsil’s draft night got off to an interesting start but the Dolphins benefitted. Now sure, Tunsil isn’t the best left tackle in the league but he was good enough to get the Dolphins a boatload of picks and players in return for his services when the Texans traded for him.
Worst: Dion Jordan – 2013 Draft – Pick #3
Dion Jordan may be the most anonymous top 3 pick in NFL history. Seriously, does anyone outside of the teams he played for know who this guy is? Technically he’s still in the league and is searching for work, but he’s got a grand total of 13.5 sacks in 8 seasons as an NFL defensive end.
Best: Adrian Peterson – 2007 Draft – Pick #7
The only thing that has been able to derail Adrian Peterson in his incredibly dominant NFL career is legal issues and injuries. Other than that, he’s a toss-up with LaDainian Tomlinson for best running back of the 21st century. He’s a future first-ballot Hall of Famer when he retires.
Worst: Troy Williamson – 2005 Draft – Pick #7
They unbelievably fast Williamson had scouts drooling. But there was just one problem. He couldn’t catch the ball. He was near the top of the league in drops his first two seasons with the Vikings and the following year he was traded for a 6th round pick. Ouch.
New England Patriots
Best: Tom Brady – 2000 Draft – Pick #199
Not only is Tom Brady the GOAT quarterback, but he’s also the GOAT draft pick. The story is so legendary by now that it’s nauseating, but Brady was a sixth-round pick and through an injury to starter Drew Bledsoe was allowed to become the greatest quarterback of all time. Unbelievable.
Worst: Dominique Easley – 2014 Draft – Pick #29
Apologies to Easley for the cheap joke but he’s proof that Belichick doesn’t always get them right. Easley couldn’t stay healthy, even when he was finally given the starting job. That stunted his development and the Pats released him after two seasons and 25 tackles.
New Orleans Saints
Best: Cameron Jordan – 2011 Draft – Pick #24
Cameron Jordan is the perfect draft pick. He filled a need, it didn’t cost the Saints anything and he was highly successful. He’s been named an All-Pro three times, a Pro Bowler 6 times, and was named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team.
Worst: Johnathan Sullivan – 2003 Draft – Pick # 6
Sullivan may have had a good time in New Orleans, but it wasn’t with the Saints. The defensive tackle was supposed to be a defensive bulwark for the Saints, anchoring the team from the defensive line. Instead, he recorded 1.5 sacks and 77 tackles in 3.5 seasons in the league. Oof.
New York Giants
Best: Saquon Barkley – 2018 Draft – Pick #2
The Giants have a questionable draft history in recent years, but Saquon Barkley was such a no-brainer not even Dave Gettleman could mess it up. Barkley is an all-purpose offensive machine who is a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. He already owns numerous Giants’ franchise records.
Worst: Ereck Flowers – 2015 Draft – Pick #9
There are fewer cardinal sins in the NFL than being accused of quitting on your team. Football is a pugilistic sport that requires 100% commitment from all parties or someone could get seriously injured. That’s exactly what Flowers was accused of by former teammate Geoff Schwartz. Also, he just wasn’t very good. The Giants cut him midway through his 4th season.
New York Jets
Best: Darrelle Revis – 2007 Draft – Pick #14
The worst part of Darrelle Revis’ career is that he signed with the hated New England Patriots to win a Super Bowl after spending most of his career with the New York Jets. It would have been a shame if “Revis Island”, the greatest cornerback of his generation, retired without a Super Bowl win though.
Worst: Vernon Gholston – 2008 Draft – Pick #6
Vernon Gholston was the ultimate workout warrior. He wowed scouts with his workout performances, but that didn’t translate to the field. Gholston spent three seasons in New York and failed to record a single sack. Tough to keep your job as a defensive end without a single sack to your name.
Best: Fletcher Cox – 2012 Draft – Pick #12
Fletcher Cox must have been so relieved when the Eagles finally won a Super Bowl. After years and years of building the team, with Cox as the steady backbone of the defense they finally got it done. Cox is no glue guy either, he’s a 6-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team.
Worst: Danny Watkins – 2011 Draft – Pick 23
Danny Watkins was actually drafted twice. Once by the CFL and then a year later by the NFL. The British Columbia native probably should have gone home to Canada when the BC Lions called because things didn’t workout stateside. He spent 3 bad seasons with the Eagles and Dolphins before retiring to become a firefighter in Waco, TX.
San Francisco 49ers
Best: George Kittle – 2017 Draft – Pick #146
George Kittle is one of the best values anyone has gotten out of the draft this century. A 5th rounder? Come on. Kittle is now a two-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, and is helping to revolutionize the tight end position.
Worst: A.J. Jenkins – 2012 Draft – Pick #30
Giovanni Carmazzi is AJ Jenkins’s biggest fan right now because Jenkins kept Carmazzi off this list. Jenkins spent three years in the league trying to catch passes. He caught just 17 for 223 yards and no touchdowns. That’s not much return on that $6.94 million contract he signed.
Best: Russell Wilson – 2012 Draft – Pick #75
Teams always hope to find a future starting quarterback in the second and third rounds, but it rarely happens. Russell Wilson has been more than just a starter. He’s been a great weapon for the defensive-minded Seahawks to have on offense. He’s made 8-Pro Bowls and has led the league in passer rating and touchdowns.
Worst: Malik McDowell – 2018 Draft – Pick #35
Malik McDowell is a case almost too tragic to tell. Shortly after being drafted, McDowell was injured in an ATV accident. Those injuries, combined with off-the-field issues meant that this second-round pick never played a snap in an NFL game. None.
Best: Troy Polamalu – 2003 Draft – Pick #16
Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu is one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of the NFL. Wherever he was taken he would have been a bargain. Polamalu was an 8-time Pro Bowler and a 6-time All-Pro, but he was also the defensive leader of some great Pittsburgh Steeler teams that won two Super Bowls.
Worst: Jarvis Jones -2013 Draft – Pick #17
Jones was twice a consensus All-American at Georgia but never could get it going in the NFL. Jones had an unfortunate history with injuries that prevented any real development from happening. Every time he’d get a few games in a row, he’d get hurt. Eventually, the Steelers gave up giving him chances.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best: Mike Evans – 2014 Draft – Pick #7
Mike Evans finally reaped the rewards for suffering through years of bad quarterback play in Tampa when Tom Brady showed up. Evans was outstanding with guys like Jameis Winston throwing him the ball, but his job got a whole lot easier when Brady showed up. He also got a Super Bowl ring, so that’s a bonus.
Worst: Roberto Aguayo – 2016 Draft – Pick #59
After an incredible college career, Roberto Aguayo left school early. Aguayo lasted just 1 season on an NFL roster, after finishing his rookie year with the worst field goal percentage in the league. He’s yet to make an NFL roster since.
Best: Chris Johnson – 2008 Draft – Pick #24
Drafting Chris Johnson in the first round out of East Carolina was a risk, but he repaid the Titans organization for their faith. In his second season, he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year when he rushed for over 2,000 yards, something that only 8 other running backs have ever done.
Worst: Chris Henry – 2007 Draft – Pick #50
Draft analysts have long said that the second round is the best place to get a running back. Well, even the second round was too high for Chris Henry. The guy played two seasons in the league and ran it 32 times for 122 yards. Yikes.
Washington Football Team
Best: Brian Orakpo – 2009 Draft – Pick #13
Washington hasn’t had the best luck in the draft over the last couple of decades, but Orakpo was a hit. He was named to 4 Pro Bowls in his career and was a great leader in the locker room. After he retired in 2018, Orakpo opened up a cupcake shop in Austin, TX. No, really.
Worst: Dwayne Haskins – 2019 Draft – Pick #15
Dwayne Haskins wasn’t ready for the NFL and the rigors of being a professional football player. That’s on him. It’s on Washington for not recognizing that and drafting him with the 15th pick. It would have been great if it worked out, Haskins being a hometown kid, but it ended with the team cutting him during his second season in the league.