Does Trading For The First Overall Draft Pick Work?

Does Trading For The First Overall Draft Pick Work?
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First overall Draft pick Eli Manning
NEW YORK – APRIL 24: Eli Manning holding up a San Diego Chargers jersey was selected first overall by the Chargers then traded to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and 3 draft picks during the 2004 NFL Draft on April 24, 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Panthers owner David Tepper has a stock market trade named after him on Wall Street. So it stands to reason he’d try to spark Carolina’s 2023 season with a risky football transaction. On the 10th of March the Panthers traded DJ Moore, the 9th pick in this year’s draft and two future picks to the Bears for the first overall pick in April. It’s just the 13th time a number one overall pick has been traded in the last 56 years. Having the first pick obviously removes uncertainty when it comes to making your first pick and saves having to adjust the big board in the first round. But it doesn’t guarantee you will draft a star. What can history teach us about football’s risk-reward ratio? 

A Young Colt

The first time a team traded for the first overall pick happened back in 1967. Baltimore traded with the expansion team from New Orleans, the Saints. Don Shula’s Colts drafted the incredibly famous Bubba Smith with the first pick. Smith had hoped to play his college football at the University of Texas, but racial segregation put paid to that. Instead he attended Michigan State University where he would become an All-American in 1965 and 1966. 6 feet 7 inch defensive lineman Smith is now as famous for his on-screen work as his on-field travails.

After nine years in the NFL he became a movie star. These days Smith is more commonly remembered as Officer Hightower in the Police Academy films, but his football career was equally as successful.  

Baltimore became NFL Champions in 1968 (before the Super Bowl era), Smith’s first year as a starter. He started all 14 games; recording 10.5 sacks and recovering a fumble. The following season they ended the season 8-5-1 and as the relationship between Shula and Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom disintegrated the Colts coach left. Shula would move to Miami in a deal that was described as “smuggling”. That move resulted in The Colts receiving the Dolphin’s 1971 first round pick as Commissioner Rozelle decided Miami had broken tampering rules. Miami and tampering, a tradition like no other. 

At the end of the 1970 season the Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V. Smith recorded 10 sacks in the 1970 season and was named to the Pro Bowl. The following season he was named an All-Pro. Trading up definitely worked for the Colts, Smith played there for five seasons (he missed all of 1973 with a knee injury) and they won 53 games he played in. 

Copy Cats

In 1968 it happened again; the Giants traded their first overall pick to the Vikings for Quarterback Fran Tarkenton. The Vikings sent the Giants two first round picks and two second round picks in total. After six seasons in Minnesota Tarkenton had only had one winning season and had thrown 95 interceptions. He had been named to two Pro Bowls as a Viking though. Tarkenton did win 33 games during his five years in New York and is fifth on the list of passing yards in New York, but in 1972 they traded him back to the Vikings. Between 1972 and 1978 he won six NFC Central division titles and the Vikings played in three Super Bowls. 

The Vikings used the first overall pick in 1968 to select offensive tackle Ron Yary. Yary spent 14 years with the Vikings, retiring in 1982 after a single season with the Rams. Minnesota definitely won that trade, Carolina are dreaming of drafting a Hall of Famer who plays for them for the next 14 years.  

Cowboys from Hell

On the third occasion, in 1974, the Houston Oilers traded the pick to near neighbours the Cowboys. Dallas selected another defensive lineman, Ed “too tall” Jones (standing 6 feet 9 inches tall). Jones spent 15 seasons as a Cowboy, “retiring” briefly in 1979 to become a boxer. Jones would eventually finish his career in 1989 at the age of 38. He played 224 games for Dallas making 196 sacks and recovering 19 fumbles. Jones was a Cowboy when they won Super Bowl XII under the guidance of legendary coach Tom Landry. Jones’ career in Dallas lasted so long that he played with both Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. In Jones’ final season in Dallas the offensive coordinator was Dave Shula, son of the Colts’ Don. 

The Oilers received two players. Tody Smith a defensive end who would make 21 sacks in his 47 games for the Oilers and wide receiver Billy Parks. Parks would only catch 64 passes in 26 games in Houston.

Colts ’75

In 1975 the Colts were involved again as they traded their pick to the Falcons. The Falcons would use it to draft quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Bartkowski played 11 seasons in Atlanta, throwing for 23,470 yards and 141 touchdown passes. Bartkowski only had three winning seasons in Atlanta though and one of those, the 1982 season was shortened to nine games due to a players strike. 

The Colts received the Falcons 1975 first round draft pick, the third overall and an offensive lineman, George Kunz. They used the first round draft pick to select a guard who had attended the University of North Carolina, Ken Huff. The next pick in that draft saw the Bears select Walter Payton. Huff would spend eight years in Baltimore before he joined the famed “hogs” offensive line in Washington D.C. Huff would appear in Super Bowl XVIII; Bartkowski didn’t even appear in an NFC Championship game. 

The Tyler Rose

Three years later the Oilers were back in the game, deciding to “sell the farm” to ensure they could draft running back Earl Campbell. To achieve this, they sent tight end Jimmie Giles, their first and second round picks in 1978 plus their third and fifth round picks the following year to Tampa Bay. It was an extreme move but in Campbell’s first season the Oilers made the AFC championship game. Campbell would also take Houston to the playoffs in the following two seasons. In his seven years as an Oiler Campbell averaged 94.2 rushing yards per game and scored 73 touchdowns. He was named All Pro in his first three seasons and made the Pro bowl five times as an Oiler. Campbell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. 

On the other side of the trade Jimmie Giles would spend nine years in Tampa Bay being voted to the Pro Bowl on four occasions. They used the first-round pick in 1978 to draft quarterback Doug Williams, Williams would only win 33 games in Tampa Bay throwing 73 touchdowns and 73 interceptions over five years. The other draft picks would only go on to play 42 games for the Buccaneers between them. 

Trade And Trade Again

Trading for the first overall pick became less common in the 1980’s, it happened just once, in 1984. But that pick was traded twice. In June 1983 the pick was traded from the Buccaneers to the Bengals only for the Bengals to trade it to the Patriots in April 1984. When it was originally traded the Buccaneers received a quarterback, Jack Thompson. Thompson had only made five starts in Cincinnati in four years as he backed up four-time Pro Bowler Ken Anderson. In Tampa he started 16 games, but the Buccaneers only won three. Thompson threw 26 interceptions compared to 20 touchdowns in those two seasons.  

The second time that pick was traded the Bengals received two first round picks in 1984, a tenth-round pick in 1984 and a fifth round pick the following year. The Patriots selected wide receiver Irving Fryar; Fryar was the 1984 Japan Bowl MVP after his senior year in college. In his second season in New England the Patriots reached Super Bowl XX. Fryar caught the Patriots only touchdown in that game as the Bears ran out 46-10 winners. In his nine-year career in New England Fryar would score 42 touchdowns, be charged with weapons offences and miss the AFC Championship game after breaking his hand in a domestic dispute. 

Those Damn Colts

Trading up became de rigueur in the 1990’s, it happened four times in eight years. The Colts were involved again in 1990 as they traded two players and two picks for the first overall pick and a fourth-round pick. The Falcons were the lucky recipient of that haul, one of the players, offensive lineman Chris Hinton has a son who played for the Chargers in 2022. The second player involved in the trade, Andre Rison, spent five seasons as a receiver in Atlanta, hauling in 423 catches including 56 touchdowns! The Falcons used the two picks to select offensive lineman Reggie Redding and a receiver, Mike Pritchard. Redding didn’t start a single game in Atlanta and moved to the Patriots the following season, Pritchard played three seasons as a Falcon. He caught 201 passes and had a 69.3% catch rate before he signed with the Broncos. 

The first overall draft pick in 1990 was used to select Purdue quarterback Jeff George. George would start 124 games in the NFL but only 49 of them as a Colt. The Colts only won 14 games when George started at quarterback. Ironically at the end of the 1993 season the Colts would trade George to the Falcons. 

Dallas Buyers Club

The following year the Cowboys were back in the mix trading three players and two picks to the Patriots for the overall first pick. New England received Dallas’ first and second round pick in 1991 and cornerback Ron Francis alongside two linebackers, David Howard and Eugene Lockhart Jr. The Patriots released Francis before the 1991 season even started. Howard was 29 when the trade happened but stayed in Foxboro for two seasons, playing 32 games. Lockhart was 30, but like Howard he played 32 games in two seasons.

The Patriots used the draft picks on Pat Harlow who played on their offensive line for five seasons and Jerome Henderson, who is now the Giants defensive backs coach. Henderson had two stints as a Patriot. he played in Super Bowl XXXI but that was after he spent two seasons in Buffalo and one in Philadelphia. 

1991’s first overall pick was Russell Maryland, a defensive tackle who attended the University of Miami, where Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson had coached before moving to Dallas. Johnson and Maryland would win two Super Bowls with the Cowboys. Maryland would win another as a Cowboy in Barry Switzer’s second season as Cowboys coach. It’s lucky Raghib Ismail, who was expected to be the number one pick, chose to sign with the Toronto Argonauts. 

A Very Bengals Bungle

In 1995 the Panthers were in possession of the first overall pick, but the Bengals made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. In actuality they could have refused it very easily. The Bengals only sent their first and second round picks to Carolina. The Panthers used them on Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins and defensive end Shawn King.

Collins started 42 games for the Panthers, winning 22. After starting the 1998 season 0-4 asked to be traded but the Panthers released him and signed with the Saints. The Saints went 2-5 in Collins’ seven games in New Orleans. Collins would go on to play for four more teams and eventually retire in 2011. Collins still holds the record for the most interceptions in a single season by a Panthers quarterback. He threw 21 in 1997! King recorded seven sacks in his four seasons in Carolina. He retired in 1999 after spending a single season in Indianapolis. 

Cincinatti used the first overall pick to select another player from Penn State, running back Ki-Jana Carter. Carter tore knee ligaments on his third carry in preseason and missed his entire rookie season. The following season Carter started four games, averaging 2.9 yards per carry and scoring nine touchdowns. After a year out of the league Carter signed a deal in Washington DC in 2001, he didn’t play at all in 2002 and spent the final two years of his career in New Orleans where he played 10 games, carrying the ball just 29 times. 

Pace Yourself

The Rams (of St. Louis in those days) traded up with the Jets in 1997 to draft Orlando Pace. The 6 feet 7 inch, 325lb Pace would be the Rams left tackle until 2008, he then spent a season in Chicago. Pace was on the Rams’ “Greatest Show On Turf” Super Bowl winning team. The Rams definitely won that trade. They would trade four of their 1997 draft picks in return for the first overall pick. The Jets received St. Louis’ first, third, fourth and seventh round selections.

That was apparently too many picks for the Jets, they ended up trading the first rounder, the fourth and seventh round picks away. That first round pick became nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Walter “pork chop” Jones who played 180 games for the Seahawks.

The Broncos would use that second-round pick to select Dan Neil who would go on to play 108 games for them at right guard. Terry Day, who was selected by the Jets with the fourth-round pick would only play 1 game in the NFL. Finally, the seventh-round pick was used to select Koy Detmer who would be a backup quarterback in Philadelphia for nine seasons. That one was really a good trade all round, but the Jets decided to not use the draft picks to their advantage. 

Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame

In 2001 one of the biggest trades in the history of the NFL happened. The Chargers traded their number one pick overall to the Falcons. The Falcons chose Michael Vick first overall. The Chargers drafted LaDainian Tomlinson with the fourth pick they received! Along with the fourth pick the Chargers received wide receiver Tim Dwight, a third-round pick in 2002 and a second-round pick in 2002.

Dwight was a bit of a swiss-army knife player for the Chargers. He caught 91 passes in four years in San Diego, returned 80 kick offs and returned 46 punts. The other picks were used on defensive back Tay Cody and receiver Reche Caldwell who only started 25 games between them. The 153 touchdowns Tomlinson scored in San Diego make the Chargers a clear winner though. 

Goff Their Rocker

There were no trades for the overall first pick again until 2016. The Rams decided they wanted a young quarterback from California as they tried to ingratiate themselves to a “new” fan base. They returned to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum for the first time since 1979.

Jared Goff became a Ram and the Titans acquired six draft picks. Tennessee had to send some picks the other way too though. The Rams received the first overall pick, a fourth rounder and the Titans’ sixth round pick. In return they received the Rams first round, two second round, a third-round and two of their 2017 picks. 

Tennessee traded the first-round pick to the Browns so they could move up and pick Jack Conklin. Conklin started 57 games at right tackle in Tennessee in four years.

One second round pick became Austin Johnson; the defensive tackle would play 58 games in 4 years as a Titan. With the other second rounder Tennessee would select Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Henry is the Titans’ rushing touchdown leader and currently third on their rushing yardage list.

The Titans picked Corey Davis with their 2017 first round pick. Davis had a mixed time in Tennessee catching 207 passes but only 11 touchdowns in 48 starts. The final pick became Jonnu Smith; Smith was a reliable receiving option in Tennessee, catching 114 passes in four seasons. 

The Rams would trade away the fourth round pick they received from the Titans to the Bears. They would use the sixth-round pick to draft Temarrick Hemingway who only played eight games in Los Angeles. Neither team won a Super Bowl as a result of this trade but drafting Derrick Henry counts as a win. 

Here’s The Problem

When it works it’s spectacular but trading the first overall pick for a quarterback hasn’t worked yet. If the Panthers wise, he’ll take an offensive lineman when Roger Goodell calls their name. They won’t though, the draw of the limelight and the romantic notion all coaches hold about moulding a young quarterback into a superstar will take over. 

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