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History of No. 1s: Overall, top pick is as likely to be a bust as star

by | National NFL Insider

Some team personnel men are saying the Kansas City Chiefs are making it clear they are willing to trade out of the top overall spot.

They are basically advertising this, I'm told, in neon lights. Like a special at Macy's. One scout called it "begging." The Chiefs aren't giving the pick away but they are letting many people know the pick can be had.

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The concern in the Kansas City organization is not unfamiliar to many teams that have held the top overall pick. When a franchise has as many holes as Kansas City does, how much can one player help?

There's an even bigger issue: it's the bust ratio of the top overall pick. It's astoundingly high, perhaps higher than generally known.

A look at the top overall picks since the 1970 merger shows a mixed bag, at best. There have obviously been Hall of Fame talents and all-time greats selected No. 1 but also busts who would only get to Canton via bus ticket. A quick breakdown:

1970: Terry Bradshaw -- One of the greatest winners ever.

1971: Jim Plunkett -- One of the great pros at the position.

1972: Walt Patulski -- Played five years. Bust.

1973: John Matuszak -- Played in two Super Bowls but was known more for partying than playing.

1974: Ed Jones -- Excellent, longtime player for the Cowboys.

1975: Steve Bartkowski -- Still holds many Falcons passing records.

1976: Lee Roy Selmon -- Six Pro Bowls.

1977: Ricky Bell -- Tragic story but unfortunately still a bust.

1978: Earl Campbell -- Hardest runner in history.

1979: Tom Cousineau -- Bust.

1980: Billy Sims -- Played five seasons, made three Pro Bowls.

1981: George Rogers -- Had his moments, so maybe not a total bust, but a No. 1 overall pick is supposed to make more than two Pro Bowls. Pseudo-bust. 1982: Ken Sims -- Magnificent bust.

1983: John Elway -- Maybe best ever.

1984: Irving Fryar -- Fifteen years, five Pro Bowls, still considered a bust by some.

1985: Bruce Smith -- One of the best pass rushers in history.

1986: Bo Jackson -- The greatest athlete perhaps in sports history but career was shortened so was never worth top pick.

1987: Vinny Testaverde -- Long career but a bust.

1988: Aundray Bruce -- B-b-b-bust.

1989: Troy Aikman -- A classic example of how a top pick can help to transform instead of destroy, like the example above.

1990: Jeff George -- Bust.

1991: Russell Maryland -- Bust.

1992: Steve Emtman -- Bust.

1993: Drew Bledsoe -- Solid player.

1994: Dan Wilkinson -- Bust.

1995: Ki-Jana Carter -- Bust.

1996: Keyshawn Johnson -- Excellent player.

1997: Orlando Pace -- Seven Pro Bowls.

1998: Peyton Manning -- Will float into the Hall of Fame.

1999: Tim Couch -- Bust.

2000: Courtney Brown -- Bust.

2001: Michael Vick -- Interesting discussion but does the dog fighting conviction make him a bust? Maybe.

2002: David Carr -- Bust.

2003: Carson Palmer -- Average.

2004: Eli Manning -- Beat Bill Belichick twice in the Super Bowl.

2005: Alex Smith -- From bust to contributor.

2006: Mario Williams -- Entering bust territory.

2007: JaMarcus Russell -- Bust.

2008: Jake Long -- Good player.

2009: Matthew Stafford -- Not a bust, but overrated.

2010: Sam Bradford -- Jury still out.

2011: Cam Newton -- Electric.

2012: Andrew Luck -- Ditto.

So, 43 No. 1 picks since 1970.

By my count, approximately 20 of the picks are either flat-out busts or close. That's almost half. That's insane.

That almost makes the No. 1 overall pick is basically a flip of the coin.

The reason why goes beyond the obvious: That these players, in most cases, were headed to bad teams. If you look at the 1970s, the bust ratio is lower. That could be coincidence, but I think it's more about the lack of pressure.

There was no social media or 24-hour sports networks (the latter started with ESPN in 1979). Players had time to grow, steadily get better and overcome mistakes without 24-hour coverage of everything they did.

From 1990 to 2001 there were 11 total players selected first overall and seven of them were definite busts. It's not a coincidence that the bust ratio increased in that time period as media scrutiny grew.

It's not as big a risk for the Chiefs as it once was because of the rookie cap but there is a still a great price to pay for a failed top pick. It can set an organization back for years. Picking badly at the top of a draft can also get people fired.

This is the history the Chiefs are facing and why they wouldn't mind dumping that pick for additional picks and less pressure on the organization and the player(s).

Sure, for every Couch, there's a Manning. But for every Manning, there might be two Ki-Janas.


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