Drafting a non-QB at No. 1? Recent history is iffy, at best

Georgia defensive end Travon Walker (left) or Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson will likely become the seventh non-quarterback to be drafted with the first pick of the NFL draft since 2000. (Getty Images, Getty Images)

Barring an unforeseen 11th-hour trade, the Jaguars will select a player who does not play quarterback with the first overall pick of the 2022 draft. That doesn’t happen very often anymore.

Between the start of the draft in 1936 and 1997, there was a blend of positions taken at No. 1 Some quarterbacks, a lot of running backs and plenty of defensive linemen, too. But starting with Peyton Manning’s selection as the top pick in 1998, the quarterback position has been the focus of the top spot. In fact, in the 24 drafts going back to 1998, only six non-quarterbacks have gone No. 1. And most of them have not lived up to their draft spot.

Here’s a breakdown:

In 2000, the Browns followed up the selection of quarterback Tim Couch the previous year by selecting defensive end Courtney Brown. He played six years in the league. He never made a Pro Bowl team and only played one full season due to injuries. He was out of football by 2006.

Grade: Bust.

It should be noted that the 2000 draft did not produce many great players. Brian Urlacher was the ninth pick of the draft and he is now in the Hall of Fame. The only other player from the draft worth noting was a sixth-round selection by the New England Patriots named Tom Brady. He’s done alright for himself.

Best Jaguars’ pick from the draft: Brad Meester, center, North Iowa, second round, 60th overall selection (with honorable mention to seventh-round pick, 241 overall Rob Meier).

Worst Jaguars’ pick from the draft: First-round pick R. Jay Soward

In 2006, the Houston Texans held the first pick. Despite questions at the quarterback position, the Texans selected North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. Williams would play 11 seasons in the NFL, earning four Pro Bowl nods and two second-team All-Pro selections. He was once named as a first-team All-Pro but that was with the Buffalo Bills.

Grade: B+. Williams was certainly a good player. He was drafted to sack the quarterback, which he did with five double-digit sack seasons and 97.5 sacks in his career. Very good. Not great, but very good.

The 2006 draft included a lot of conjecture picks. Players who had shown staggering potential for big plays in college. Reggie Bush, Vince Young, A.J. Hawk, Matt Leinart and Santonio Holmes were among the high-profile players to be drafted in the first round. None of them quite lived up to the hype.

Best Jaguars’ pick: Maurice Jones-Drew, second round, 60th overall)

Worst Jaguars’ pick: Brent Hawkins, defensive end from Illinois State, fifth round, 160th overall. Recorded only 5.5 sacks in two NFL seasons.

Two years later, the Miami Dolphins held the top spot and their decision came down to a quarterback (Matt Ryan) and a pair of players named Long -- Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long and Virginia defensive end Chris Long. With 32-year-old Chad Pennington on the roster, the Dolphins decided they were set at quarterback, so they selected Jake Long. Long would play nine years in the NFL, but only five with Miami. In his third year in the league, he was a first-team All-Pro pick and made the AFC Pro Bowl team in each of his first four seasons before signing a free agent deal with the St. Louis Rams. He would finish his career with one year stops with the Falcons and Vikings.

Grade: B-. A promising start, but only five years with a player who was developing into the cornerstone player on the offensive line is just too few.

Others in the draft with notable careers include Calais Campbell who, like Ryan, is still playing in 2022, quarterback Joe Flacco and two-time All-Pro running back Jamal Charles.

Best Jaguars’ pick: Quentin Groves, defensive end/outside linebacker, Auburn, second round, 54th overall. And that’s saying something because the late, former Auburn star didn’t amount to much in the NFL. Only 9.5 sacks.

Worst Jaguars’ pick: Derrick Harvey, defensive end, Florida, eight overall selection. Only eight sacks and was out of football after four years in the league.

2013 was another poor draft year. It saw the Kansas City Chiefs holding the top pick (the Jaguars had the second pick of the draft). No quarterbacks were selected in the top 15 and the decision came down to two offensive tackles. Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel. While neither became fixtures at left tackle, Fischer has played in 132 games at several spots along the line and is still active in 2022. Joeckel, the Jaguars pick at No. 2 played in 50 games and never looked the part.

Grade: C-. Fischer did make two Pro Bowls with Kansas City, but it took six years for him to develop into a top player. He played in 2021 with the Indianapolis Colts.

Best Jaguars’ pick: Johnathan Cyprien, safety, Florida International, second round, 33rd overall. This was another bad draft by the Jaguars.

Worst Jaguars’ pick: Joeckel.

The following year in 2014, Jadeveon Clowney was expected to be the top pick and the Texans made him so. He was the top prospect in his high school class and had a meme-worthy play when he tackled Michigan running back Vincent Smith on a fourth-quarter play, dislodging Smith from his helmet and the ball.

Clowney has enjoyed a good, not great career. His 41 sacks in eight seasons is far below the expectations most had for him. When you consider that the first round included two other notable defensive linemen, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, the pick doesn’t hold up as well.

Grade: B. Clowny has been good, making three Pro Bowls, but never earned an All-Pro nod.

Jaguars’ best pick: Brandon Linder, Center, Miami (FL.), third round, 93rd overall selection.

Jaguars’ worst pick: This was a pretty good draft for the Jaguars. One that included Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Linder, Aaron Colvin and Telvin Smith, so this isn’t much of a criticism, but the Jaguars spent a fifth-round pick on Arkansas defensive lineman Chris Smith. He played three years with the Jaguars, never playing a full season until he signed with Cincinnati. The guy went from being a fifth-round pick to an eight-year NFL veteran, finishing his career with stops in Cleveland, with the Raiders and the Houston Texans last season. He might still play in 2022. We probably shouldn’t give anybody “the worst” label here, but to show how good the draft was, I’m naming Smith.

The 2017 draft saw the Cleveland Browns holding the top pick and had nothing to speak of at quarterback. Cody Kessler had been a third-round pick the year before. Instead of going for Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes or DeShaun Watson, who all went in the first 12 picks, the Browns went with Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. They dodged a bullet with Trubisky, but missed on Mahomes and who knows how things would have gone with Watson.

As it turned out, Garrett has done exactly what he was projected to do when he came out of college. In five seasons, he’s totaled 58.5 sacks and has twice been named a first-team All-Pro. Sure, JJ Watt was also available, but

Grade: A. Garrett is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

Jaguars’ best pick: Cam Robinson, tackle, Alabama, second round 34th overall. Robinson was tagged as the Jaguars franchise player twice and agreed to a new three-year contract on Wednesday. While he hasn’t been a Pro Bowl-level player, he’s played a lot of snaps at a premium position.

Jaguars’ worst pick: Leonard Fournette, running back, LSU. fourth overall pick. Whether Fournette’s career winds up living up to the fourth overall pick remains to be seen. But taking a running back that early, then being unable to sign him to a second contract means it was a bad draft pick for the Jaguars.

The moral of the story? If you aren’t picking a quarterback, be sure you get the right guy, and then keep him.


About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.