History of the number one overall pick – pretenders or contenders?


It’s a strange concept to believe that one of the most valuable things in the NFL is also one of the most fragile.

Perhaps best described as the most prized possession of the off-season, the first overall pick in the NFL Draft is exactly that. But is it all it is made out to be? Has every previous number one pick been a surefire starter? Who were they and why were they so good?

Firstly, a quick look ahead. Trevor Lawrence is being touted as the best college prospect for years and some experts are saying that he could go down in history as one of the best rookies ever. But what about his predecessors? Is Lawrence a statistical anomaly or in line with the trends of old? Over the course of this article, we will revisit the last five first overall picks and discuss their impact on their respective teams. 


2020 – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU 

While it seems unfair to judge Burrow, who still in the infancy of his career, it would be unfair to this article to omit him. Following a Championship winning end to his college career,  Burrow wound up in Cincinnati with the Bengals. Despite his Rookie season being cut short due to injury, Burrow showed a level of promise and resilience that should fill Bengals fans with hope for the years ahead. 


2019 – Kyler Murray, QB, OU 

Murray became the second Quarterback from Oklahoma University to be taken first overall in as many years. Joining a Cardinals team, who, a year prior selected another QB in the first round, Murray knew he was wanted. Hand-picked by Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, he and Murray have shown growth through their second season and pose as a viable threat in the NFC for 2021.


2018 – Baker Mayfield, QB, OU 

Entering the League as a brash, cocky, and confident player, Baker Mayfield was a polarizing character. Like Marmite, some loved him and others, well, not so much. But what cannot be denied is the injection of life and positivity Mayfield has brought to the Cleveland Browns. He has energized a once desolate and despondent franchise, bringing them to the brink of unimaginable success in the playoffs. The Browns are the team they are today because of Baker Mayfield.


2017 – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M 

Another key piece of the Browns’ recent success has been down to the defensive acumen of Myles Garrett. Garrett has helped give the Browns an identity in defense and made them a unit to be feared across the League. He signed one of the highest-earning contracts in NFL history and will be instrumental to Cleveland’s success moving forward.


2016 – Jared Goff, QB, Cal 

Jared Goff is the only member of this list who is not still with the team. Goff was the Rams’ first overall selection in 2016 and the Rams gave up a king’s ransom to get him. Moving from 17th to 1st overall in a trade with the Titans, the Rams surrendered six total draft picks to get their guy. Five seasons later and the Goff experiment is over in LA and Goff will be playing with a new team in 2021. One of the examples that a number one overall pick doesn’t guarantee a life long success.


Selecting a player with the first pick in the draft does not guarantee success. Sam Bradford, Jameis Winston, and Jamarcus Russell were all selected with the first pick. So was Peyton Manning – a true testament to how much of a lottery the first pick really can be. For context, the widely considered ‘GOAT’, Tom Brady, was selected #199 overall – and his career success has become insurmountable for any individuals wishing to follow him.

So, while Trevor Lawrence has been unofficially penciled in as the next number one pick, his career success in the pros is no guarantee and will rely heavily on a lot of other moving factors. And although it may be unlikely that Lawrence will follow suit, the actions of Jamarcus Russell will be etched into the memories of all active GMs and will serve as an active reminder of the fragility of the draft pick.


Michael Lavery writes on behalf of the Irish NFL Show who are in partnership with Pundit Arena. Tune into their Sunday, Monday and Thursday shows every week on Facebook.