The No. 1 overall pick is the most coveted in the NFL Draft and while some players live up to the expectations, many turn out to be mediocre talent or disappear from the league within a few short years. With the 2021 NFL Draft set to start Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, here is a look at every No. 1 overall draft pick of the past 20 years and how their careers panned out.
2001: Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech - Atlanta Falcons
The mobile passer changed the quarterback position from the moment he first stepped on the field. He was selected to four Pro Bowls and got the Falcons within a game of the Super Bowl in 2004. Vick did a stint in federal prison for a dogfighting operation and missed two seasons before resurrecting his career in Philadelphia. He finished his career with more than 22,000 yards passing, 6,100 yards rushing and a combined 169 touchdowns in 13 seasons.
2002: David Carr, QB, Fresno State - Houston Texans
He was the first pick of the expansion Texans and his career never took off. Over 10 seasons, he ended up throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Getting sacked 76 times as a rookie didn't help. Carr ended up a journeyman with a career 74.9 passer rating.
2003: Carson Palmer, QB, USC - Cincinnati Bengals
The Heisman Trophy winner helped lead the Bengals back to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But frustrations with the organization led to a threat: Trade me or I retire. He was eventually sent to Oakland before playing his final three seasons in Arizona. He finished with more than 46,000 yards passing and nearly 300 touchdowns.
2004: Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss - San Diego Chargers
Manning refused to play for the Chargers, so was he was traded to the New York Giants during the draft. It would pay off as he won two Super Bowls, taking the MVP trophy both times. Take that away, though, and his career was solid but not spectacular: His 57,000 passing yards put him in the top 10 all-time, but he had a mediocre 236-234 win-loss record and 244 touchdown passes. He retired after the 2019 season.
2005: Alex Smith, QB, Utah - San Francisco 49ers
Smith struggled early in his career, but saw a turnaround when Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2011. However, he was replaced by Colin Kaepernick in 2012 after suffering a concussion. Smith was traded to Kansas City the next year, where he flourished for five seasons before being traded to Washington. In November 2018, Smith suffered a horrific injury that nearly cost him his leg. After the 2019 season, he did the improbable by returning to the field in 2020, earning him the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. Smith announced his retirement in April.
2006: Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina State - Houston Texans
Williams was a force for most of his 11 seasons in the league, mostly with the Texans and Bills. He recorded double-digit sacks five times and finished his career with a total of 97.5 sacks.
2007: JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU - Oakland Raiders
One of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Russell held out during his rookie season and ended up starting only one game that year. He was out of the league after three seasons. Russell finished with 4,083 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
2008: Jake Long, T, Michigan - Miami Dolphins
Long is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, all in his first four seasons. He was also named an All-Pro in 2010. Long was hindered by injuries the final three years of his career, missing 33 games over that span. He retired after the 2016 season.
2009: Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia - Detroit Lions
Twelve seasons into his career, Stafford has put up more than 45,000 passing yards, 282 touchdowns and 144 interceptions. He's one of only eight quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. After more than a decade with a struggling franchise, Stafford is getting a second chance at success after he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams this offseason.
2010: Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma - St. Louis Rams
Bradford had a promising rookie season, but injuries hounded him. After stints with four teams, he's been out of the league the last two seasons. Bradford sits with less than 20,000 career yards passing.
2011: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn - Carolina Panthers
The physical specimen was a force early in his career, passing and rushing. He led the Panthers to an NFC Championship and won league MVP honors in 2015. But injuries have taken a toll, causing him to play only two games in 2019. He bounced back somewhat with the New England Patriots in 2020, putting up more than 3,200 combined yards passing, rushing and receiving, and 21 total touchdowns.
2012: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford - Indianapolis Colts
After Peyton Manning left for Denver, Luck was the heir in Indy. When he was on the field, he showed why he was worth the top pick. But injuries bedeviled him. Luck missed half the 2015 season and all of 2017. In a surprise, he announced his retirement following the Colts' third preseason game of 2019.
2013: Eric Fisher, T, Central Michigan - Kansas City Chiefs
Fisher has started nearly every game of his career, but he missed half the season in 2019 with a core muscle injury. He came back to help the Chiefs to its first Super Bowl title in 50 years.
2014: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina - Houston Texans
Injuries led to a slow start for Clowney, missing most of his rookie season. He has played in all 16 games only once in his seven seasons. He had 32 sacks combined for the Texans and Seahawks, but none in eight games for the Titans in 2020. Clowney will join 2017's No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett on the defensive line in Cleveland in 2021.
2015: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston's talent and production are matched by his propensity for mistakes. He is one of only eight quarterbacks in history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, which he did in 2019. But in doing so, he also was the first to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in one season. Seven of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns, also a record. After spending 2020 as a backup to the now-retired Drew Brees, he'll compete with Taysom Hill to be the new starter in New Orleans.
2016: Jared Goff, QB, California - Los Angeles Rams
Goff struggled his rookie year, but saw significant improvement under head coach Sean McVay in 2017 and 2018. After an NFC Championship season, Goff had a couple of average seasons in 2019 and 2020 and struggled by turning the ball over in key moments. He was traded this offseason to the Detroit Lions.
2017: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M - Cleveland Browns
One of the most feared pass rushers in the league. Garrett has 42.5 sacks in 51 games over his first four seasons. His 2019 season was cut short due to a suspension after an on-field incident in which he pulled the helmet of Steelers QB Mason Rudolph and hit Rudolph in the head with it. Garrett returned in 2020 to post 12 sacks, helping the Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years. He'll be joined by 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney on the Browns' defensive line in 2021.
2018: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma - Cleveland Browns
Mayfield had a formidable rookie season with 27 touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 93.7 before struggling in 2019 with a 22-to-21 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But under a new coach in 2020, Mayfield was outstanding with 26 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and a 95.9 quarterback rating to help the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002.
2019: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma - Arizona Cardinals
Murray improved on his promising rookie season in 2020, going from 24 touchdowns passing and rushing to 37 scores combined in 2021 while throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 12 interceptions and adding 558 yards on the ground. He also has a career 65.8 completion percentage. Although he has not missed a start, injuries have slowed him down in a handful of games.
2020: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU - Cincinnati Bengals
A promising rookie season ended prematurely due to ACL and MCL tears. In ten starts, Burrow threw for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions, posting an 89.8 quarterback rating. He also ran for three scores. It's hoped he will to be ready to go for the 2021 season opener.