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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).

THE CLUSTER:Lions will pick one of these 5 players at No. 7 in this week's draft

ANALYSIS:Drafting QBs trickier than ever, which could prompt Lions to pass

The Lions

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

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.


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. 

Related:50 years ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were NBA champions: An oral history of the 1970-71 season

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.
Oscar Robertson's 1971 NBA Championship ring.

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.

The NFL draft begins a week from Thursday and two former Cal players are expected to be selected.

Neither cornerback Camryn Bynum nor offensive lineman Jake Curhan figures to go early, but the Golden Bears have a significant place in the history of the draft.

We found four stories ranking the top picks historically in the NFL draft that provide an insight into where Cal fits in that history.

Here goes:

*** CBS Sports ranks every No. 1 pick in the 21st Century:There are 21 of them and former Cal quarterback Jared Goff is in that exclusive company after being taken first overall in 2016 by the Los Angeles Rams.

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:

1. Eli Manning, Ole Miss, 2004

2. Cam Newton, Auburn, 2011

3. Carson Palmer, USC, 2003

4. Andrew Luck, Stanford, 2012

5. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech, 2001

6. Alex Smith, Utah, 2005

7. Matthew Stafford, Georgia, 2009

Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez

Tony Gonzalez

*** College Football News Ranks the 32 All-Time Greatest Draft Picks: This is an interesting list, which excludes top-5 picks in each drat, presumably because they are expected to approach greatness.

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:

1. Tom Brady, Michigan, 2000

2. Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State, 1985

3. Deacon Jones, Mississippi Valley State, 1961

4. Joe Montana, Notre Dame, 1979

5. Ray Lewis, Miami, 1996

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

*** CBS Sports ranks the best 5 picks at each 1st-round draft position: This list still is being unveiled, one day at a time, but already six Cal players have made the cut.

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.

*** 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 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 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


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