It's been 10 years since University of Wisconsin pass rusher J.J. Watt was selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, brought into the league by the Houston Texans on April 28, 2011. Check out video from his draft party that night at SandBar Sports Pub in Pewaukee.
Watt went on to win three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, matching Lawrence Taylor (and since equaled by Aaron Donald) for most in NFL history. He's been named first-team All-Pro five times, twice led the league in sacks, and was a unanimous choice to the NFL's 2010s All-Decade Team.
The Detroit Lions are on the clock. Well … they’re six picks away from being on the clock, with the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Cleveland.
It’s the franchise’s third straight year drafting in the top 10, after a run of four years drafting in the 11-20 range. While it’s too soon to tell how those picks — T.J. Hockenson at No. 8 in 2019 and Jeff Okudah at No. 3 in 2020 — will work out in the long term, we have 54 drafts to parse since the AFL and NFL merged their draft in 1967. With that in mind, let’s look back at the good and the bad from the Lions at No. 7 (though you can probably guess where the Lions slot in, more often than not).
Let’s start in Detroit, where the Lions have selected No. 7 overall four times since the AFL/NFL merger, but not since 2004, when then-general manager Matt Millen made the pick of …
2004: WR Roy Williams
The buzz: Williams was a star for four seasons at Texas, racking up 241 catches for 3,866 yards and 36 TDs in 48 games with the Longhorns en route to a ranking as the No. 2 wideout on most draft boards. (Williams’ speed made him No. 1 on some boards, but the consensus No. 1 was Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald.) Williams wasn’t nearly as successful right away with the Lions; he hauled in 99 of his 212 targets for 1,504 yards and 16 TDs in his first two seasons, though that was with Joey Harrington throwing to him.
In Year 3, with Jon Kitna at QB, Williams broke out with 82 catches for 1,310 yards and seven TDs, earning a Pro Bowl nod. It was his only 1,000-yard season. Williams caught 64 passes for 838 yards in 2007 and was traded to Dallas about a month after Martin Mayhew replaced Millen as GM and 15 minutes ahead of the 2008 trade deadline. Williams played three more seasons, but never caught 40 passes or reached 600 yards again.
Ware won the Heisman Trophy after putting up nearly 4,700 yards passing at Houston, playing in the run-and-shoot offense. Lions offensive coordinator Mouse Davis was an early architect of run-and-shoot — what could go wrong, especially with previous Heisman winner Barry Sanders in the backfield? Plenty, it turns out.
Drafted with the expectation he’d sit behind one of the five other QBs on the roster, Ware held out and didn’t sign until late August. Then, injuries and incompetence forced him to start in mid-November. His lasted a half, going 5-for-11 passing for 48 yards and two interceptions and was pulled for veteran Bob Gagliano in a 17-7 loss to the Vikings. The Lions shelved the run-and-shoot after the season, and Ware appeared in just 10 more games over the following three seasons — five starts — and finished with a 51.6% completion percentage for 1,112 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Rogers attended Washington on a basketball scholarship, but also played football; upon focusing on the gridiron, he became a consensus All-American with 95 tackles and seven sacks as a senior. His time with the Lions was troubled even before he started training camp, clouded by the death of his brother Don from a cocaine overdose in 1986, lawsuits against his first agent and a misdemeanor assault charge from a fight with a former girlfriend. He even missed his first meeting at rookie camp.
A players’ strike disrupted his rookie season, as did a dispute with Lions coaches over his technique: “In no way am I saying the defense should be built around me,” Rogers told the Free Press in late October that year, “But they say everything I did in college was wrong. How can you be an All- America and the first defensive end taken in the draft if something you did wasn't right? I see better when I'm up. Then I don't worry about the blocker, but just go to the quarterback, to the ball. Doesn't it make sense to even try it on passing downs?" Less than two weeks later, Rogers entered an emotional counseling center in Pontiac, missing more than a month. He finished his rookie season with five solo tackles.
Year 2 was worse. Demoted to the pass rush on the nickel defense, he started slowly but began to impress his coaches.
And then, on Oct. 20, 1988, a nightmare: Driving drunk, Rogers slammed his Jeep Cherokee into a Dodge Omni carrying three teenagers in downtown Pontiac. The teens were killed; Rogers suffered a broken neck and a nearly severed right thumb. Charged with three counts of felony involuntary manslaughter in April 1989 and released by the Lions in July, Rogers was finally found guilty of a lesser negligent homicide charge in December and served 12-and-a-half months in Jackson on a 16-to-24-month sentence. After prison, he attempted a comeback and played two games each with the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
1967: RB Mel Farr
Farr averaged 6.3 yards a carry in his final two seasons at UCLA, picking up 1,630 yards and 17 TDs on 260 carries in 1965-66. He was electric as a rookie with the Lions in 1967, leading the team in rushing (206 carries, 860 yards) and receptions (39) en route to a Pro Bowl and the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. (Though he wasn’t even the Lions’ best pick that year: Second-rounder Lem Barney was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and a future Hall of Famer at DB.)
Farr’s career was limited by injuries, and he never hit those heights again; he played in 12 games in a season just once more — 1970, when he made the Pro Bowl with 166 carries for 717 yards and nine touchdowns, and 29 catches for 213 yards. Still, Farr’s most lasting contribution came 50 years ago in March: He and Barney sung backup vocals on Marvin Gaye’s hit, “What’s Going On?” (Farr also became one of the first Black Ford car dealers, opening his first in Oak Park in 1975 and growing his “Mel Farr, Superstar” empire to become the largest Black-owned company by 1998.)
Farr was the first No. 7 pick in the AFL/NFL era, but he wasn’t the greatest at the spot. Here are three of the best at their position:
2007: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Peterson rushed for 4,041 yards in three seasons at Oklahoma, including 1,925 in 13 games during his 2004 freshman season, in which he finished as Heisman runner-up to USC QB Matt Leinart. He was an instant star in Minnesota, with at least 1,200 yards rushing in six of his first seven seasons — an ACL/MCL tear in 2011 left him at 970 in 12 games — and 2,097 yards rushing in 2012, good for No. 2 all-time in a single season. Since 2017, he has suited up for the Cardinals, Saints, Washington and, last season, the Lions, for whom he picked up 604 yards on 156 carries (3.9 yards per carry). He’s a free agent looking for a team, and 450 yards from passing Sanders for fourth all-time in rushing yards.
1999: CB Champ Bailey, Washington
Bailey did everything at Georgia, with 47 catches for 744 yards and five TDs on offense plus three interceptions on defense as a senior. He made an instant impact for Washington with 80 tackles and five picks in 1999, though he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. No worries; he made it in 12 of his next 13 seasons — four times with Washington and eight times in Denver. He retired with 52 interceptions in 215 games, and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2019.
1979: QB Phil Simms, Giants
Five QBs have gone at No. 7, with Buffalo’s Josh Allen the most recent. The most successful? Simms passed for 5,545 yards and 32 touchdowns at Morehead State, albeit with 45 interceptions in the Missouri Valley Conference. Simms made his first start for the Giants in Week 6 of the 1979 season — with an unimpressive 37 yards passing on six completions — but led New York to four straight wins in October that year. He played 14 seasons for the Giants, finishing with a 55.4% completion percentage, 33,462 yards passing, 199 touchdowns, 157 interceptions, two Pro Bowl nods and two Super Bowl rings.
The Lions' picks of Rogers and Ware are arguably two of the worst at No. 7 over the past 54 drafts. Three others:
2015: WR Kevin White, Bears
White was seemingly unstoppable for West Virginia as a senior, piling up 1,447 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 109 catches in 2014. But his pro career has been mired with injuries, starting with a stress fracture in his left shin during OTAs as a rookie. He missed all of that season, then appeared in four games in 2016 before fracturing his left fibula. White made it one game in 2017 before fracturing his left shoulder blade. His tenure in Chicago ended with a 2018 season featuring four catches for 92 yards over nine games. After sitting out 2019, White saw limited time — with no catches — with the 49ers in 2020.
2013: OG Jonathan Cooper, Cardinals
Cooper started 48 games at North Carolina and was an All-American his senior season. But a broken left leg in Week 3 of the 2013 preseason cost him the year. He didn’t work his way into the starting lineup until Week 14 of 2014. In three seasons with the Cards, he appeared in 24 games (11 starts). A trade to the Patriots started Cooper on a journeyman run in which he saw action with Cleveland, Dallas — including 13 starts — and Washington, plus time on the roster in San Francisco and Oakland, which released him in 2019.
1986: OG Brian Jozwiak, Chiefs
At West Virginia, Jozwiak was a dominant force in becoming the Mountaineers’ sixth-ever consensus All-American. In Kansas City, however, he lasted 28 games over three seasons, including three starts before degenerative arthritis in his hips failed him in a 1989 physical and ended his career. He returned to West Virginia for his degree and became a physical education teacher and football coach in Florida.
The Milwaukee Bucks' rise from an expansion team (1968-69) to championship team (1970-71) over three years remains the quickest such rise in the history of what we consider today's major pro sports leagues, although several other teams have gotten close.
Plus, there's a caveat (or two).
If we count pro leagues that no longer exist, but fed into the current leagues, then Milwaukee's achievement counts only as a tie for the fastest ascent. The Indiana Pacers, founded in 1967-68 as part of the American Basketball Association, won the ABA title in 1969-70, their third year in the league. The year before, the team lost in the finals.
The Pacers went on to win two more titles in their fifth and sixth years of existence before merging into the NBA in 1976-77.
That may not fit the strict definition of "expansion," with the modern interpretation including a draft, and there are other technicalities to consider.
There's also the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, a squad that won the MLS Cup as an expansion team in 1998. The fledgling league was only in its third season (with the Fire and fellow expansion team Miami Fusion making it a 12-team league), and though it doesn't possess the tenure of history from MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL, the league has grown to 27 franchises today and fits the bill of major pro sports.
Then, there's the Atlanta United FC, an MLS expansion team that won the title in its second season in 2018, giving the city of Atlanta its first major title since the 1995 Braves in Major League Baseball.
If you felt MLS represented an unequal comparison or didn't quite have the historical equivalence of the other four "major" leagand wanted to use the "expansion" terminology, you could still get away with saying the Bucks were the fastest.
These others came close to the three-year window:
The Arizona Diamondbacks, founded in 1998, went on to win the 2001 World Series (fourth season) in a thrilling seven-game series against the New York Yankees.
The 1951-52 Minneapolis Lakers won the first of three straight titles in 1952, their fourth year in the NBA.
The Florida Marlins, founded in 1993, won a seven-game series over Cleveland for the 1997 World Series title (fifth season).
The Baltimore Ravens were technically an NFL expansion team in 1996 and thus reached a Super Bowl title in five years with the victory after the 2000 season, though that's misleading. Owner Art Modell relocated the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, but as part of a legal settlement, Modell was required to leave the name and records of the Browns in Cleveland, and that franchise was re-activated in 1999. Baltimore had Cleveland's players, just not its history, and had a head start.
Likewise, the Houston Dynamo won back-to-back MLS titles in what was technically the franchise's first two seasons after becoming an "expansion" team in 2006 and 2007, though the team was relocated from San Jose and featured many members of that longstanding team.
Some near misses:
The Las Vegas Golden Knights made major waves by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their first NHL season, 2017-18, but lost to the Washington Capitals in five games.
The NHL's Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup Final in their third season during the 1995-96 season but lost to the Colorado Avalanche in four games. Colorado, formerly the Quebec Nordiques, had just relocated and rebranded before the season, but that was a fully formed organization and not an expansion team.
The early NFL had a couple of near misses. The Portsmouth Spartans reached the NFL championship game in their second year of existence in 1931. In 1924, the Pottsville Maroons reached the NFL championship game in their first season as one of four new teams to the 20-team NFL.
The Atlanta Dream of the WNBA reached the league finals in its third season, 2010, but lost to Seattle, 3-0.
Then there are a host of technicalities and other tidbits worth noting:
One could argue the first league championships are won by "expansion" teams. The Houston Oilers won the first two AFL championships in 1960 and 1961, for example, in the first years of the franchise. The Philadelphia Warriors won the 1946-47 NBA (or Basketball Association of America, if you prefer) championship in the first year of the organization and league, then made the finals in the second year.
The Boston Americans, founded in 1901 as one of the eight charter members of the American League (and later became the Boston Red Sox) won the first World Series in 1903, in the team's third year of existence.
In baseball, there are some other examples from what many fans won't consider the modern era, such as the Providence Grays, who won the 1879 National League one year after founding.
The 1947-48 Baltimore Bullets won the title in their first year with the Basketball Association of America (what became the NBA) but had relocated from the American Basketball League after three seasons.
Likewise, the Rochester Royals won the 1950-51 NBA title in their third season but spent three years in the NBL beforehand.
The Cleveland Browns won the 1950 NFL championship in their first year in the league, but they had been part of the defunct All-American Football Conference, which played its first season in 1946. Not only did Cleveland win that first title, it finished as runner-up the subsequent three years and won the following two titles in 1954 and 1955.
The Cleveland Rams won the NFL title in 1945, one year after rejoining the league. The squad did not compete in 1943 because many players and team personnel were drafted into the military. The franchise moved to Los Angeles immediately after winning the title.
The NFL's expansion teams haven't enjoyed anywhere near the success of other leagues. Of the six expansion teams added since the AFL-NFL merger, Tampa Bay was the fastest to win a Super Bowl, needing 27 years. The Carolina Panthers reached the Super Bowl in their ninth season.
The Tennessee Titans reached the Super Bowl in 1999, two seasons after relocating from Houston (and their first season with the new name after changing it from Tennessee Oilers). But that's not an "expansion" team. The Los Angeles Raiders also won the Super Bowl one year after leaving Oakland.
The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl IV in the first year of the AFL-NFL merger under the NFL umbrella, though the Chiefs were a longstanding franchise in the AFL, and the Super Bowl layout had already existed for three seasons. Another AFL team, the Miami Dolphins, won the third and fourth post-merger Super Bowls (Super Bowls VII and VIII).
UPDATE: This story has been updated to add instances of Major League Soccer expansion teams.
Where does CBS believe Goff ranks among those 21 picks?
They put him at No. 9, which actually makes him the No. 8 quarterback taken in the top slot this century. Here’s their analysis of Goff:
Goff has developed into a quality franchise quarterback for a perennially contending team. After enduing a rocky rookie season that saw him fail to win any of his seven starts, Goff flourished Sean McVay, who joined the Rams prior to Goff's second season. During his second and third seasons, Goff completed nearly 64% of his passes while averaging 4,246 passing yards per season. He also threw 60 touchdowns against just 19 interceptions while posting a 26-9 record as a starter. Goff's performance during the 2018 playoffs helped the Rams advance to Super Bowl LIII, where they managed to score just three points in a loss to the Patriots.
Despite helping lead the Rams to the playoffs in 2020, Los Angeles traded Goff to the Lions (in exchange for Stafford and several draft picks) this offseason. How well Goff does in his new surroundings will determine if Goff can move further up this list.
The top seven No. 1 picks this century are quarterbacks, according to CBS Sports. Topping the list is former Ole Miss star Eli Manning, who went No. 1 to the San Diego Chargers in 2004. Manning had made it clear to San Diego he did not want to play there, so the Chargers orchestrated a trade to the New York Giants.
A total of 15 quarterbacks were chosen No. 1 in the 21st century. Here’s the top-7 — all quarterbacks — according to CBS:
This list grades picks that were slightly less sure things and ranks players who meet the follow four criteria:
— Must be a Hall of Famer or a sure-fire future Hall member
— Must be a five-time All-Pro selection (or in the case of quarterbacks, must be at least a two-time All-Pro or have a Super Bowl victory)
— The player must develop his Hall of Fame credentials for the team that drafted him
Given those parameters, two Cal players — one current, one retired — make the College Football news list.
At No. 24 is tight end Tony Gonzalez, chosen 13th in the first round in 1997 by the Kansas City Chiefs. Here’s what CFN wrote about Gonzalez:
You had a pretty good career when Jerry Rice is the only guy who caught more passes. The 14-time Pro Bowl and six-time All-Pro Hall of Famer came up with a few amazing years with Atlanta – he didn’t fade or slip a bit, even into his late 30s – finishing with 1,325 catches for 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns. The only reason he’s not higher – along with being a 13th pick – was because his last five seasons were with the Falcons.
At No. 22 is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who went with the 24th pick of the 2005 draft by the Green Bay Packers. CFN’s remarks on Rodgers:
Remember, it’s hard for a quarterback to be named First Team All-Pro. Rogers is a three-time NFL MVP, and he’s just a three-time All-Pro. However, he’s an eight-time Pro Bowl producer with a Super Bowl win and close to 43,000 yards with 338 touchdowns.
Here’s how College Football News ranked the top-5:
No. 24 pick of the 1st round: Aaron Rodgers was judged the best-ever selection at this spot, which is hardly surprising given how many foolish teams passed on a player considered a possible No. 1 overall pick. Defensive end Cameron Jordan of Cal is rated fifth-best here.
No. 21 pick of the 1st round: Center Alex Mack lands the fifth spot in this group, headed by wide receiver Randy Moss.
No. 15 pick of the first round: Defensive back Deltha O’Neal secures the fifth spot here. Topping the 15th picks is defensive lineman Alan Page.
No. 12 pick of the first round: Marshawn Lynch was picked fifth, which seems a little low to us. At the top of the No. 12 picks is long-ago Packers defensive back Herb Adderley.
***NFL.com rates every No. 1 pick in the common draft era: This list ranks the 52 players chosen first since 1967 after the NFL-AFL merger. The article was published prior to the 2019 draft, meaning that top picks Kyler Murray (2019) and Joe Burrow (2020) aren’t represented here. But they don’t have a real body of work yet, anyway.
Two Cal QBs have gone No. 1 overall, starting with . . .
No. 18 Steve Bartkowski, QB, Cal to Atlanta Falcons, 1975. Here’s how NFL.com evaluated its choice as the 18th-best No. 1 pick:
Bartkowski played 11 seasons in Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the playoffs three times. His finest campaign came in 1980 when he led the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. He also paced all passers with a sterling 97.6 passer rating in 1983. Bad knees, not an inability to play quarterback, shortened Bartkowski’s career.
33. Jared Goff, QB, Cal to Los Angeles Rams, 2016. Would be interesting to know where NFL.com would rate Goff two years after this was written. We’re guessing his status has dropped a bit, but he’s getting a fresh start in Detroit and he’s still just 26. The analysis:
Goff more than displayed his long-term potential in 2017 by leading the Rams to the playoffs, or at least becoming a major part of the equation. He tossed 28 touchdown passes against seven interceptions while pacing the entire league in yards per completion at 12.9. In Year 3, Goff equaled that sterling yards-per-completion figure, threw for more yards and more touchdowns, completed a higher percentage of passes and helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl.
Cover photo of Jared Goff by Kirby Lee, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo