Top NFL draft picks who made the postseason as a rookie

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, April 21, 2022

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Top NFL draft picks who made the postseason as a rookie

Top National Football League draft picks are rarely able to immediately translate college success into postseason wins. Coming out of Tennessee, Peyton Manning went #1 overall in the 1998 Draft, but his Indianapolis Colts wrapped up that season 3-13. Manning eventually won two Super Bowls and many awards en route to a Hall of Fame career, but only completed 57% of his passes in his losing rookie season. He also threw more interceptions than touchdowns that first year.

Stacker compared every #1 overall pick in NFL draft history to every playoff team in NFL history to reveal the top overall picks who made the postseason as a rookie, using data from American Football League results are counted for the purposes of this list. Tom Cousineau, the 1979 top pick was excluded, however, because he played in the Canadian Football League prior to his NFL debut.

Since the first NFL Draft in 1936, 14% of the top overall picks made the playoffs in their rookie season. Since the NFL’s 2002 expansion, only three #1 draft picks have qualified for the postseason in their first year. Teams are 6-9 all-time in the postseason with the reigning #1 draft pick on their roster and just 1-6 since 1978. Read on to see what other successes and setbacks these prized prospects achieved in the NFL.

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Sam Francis, fullback for the University of Nebraska, posing on the football field

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Sam Francis

– Year drafted: 1937
– Team: Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, played rookie season for the Chicago Bears
– Postseason: Lost NFL Championship 28-21 to Washington

Despite using the top pick on Sam Francis, the Eagles traded the All-American fullback from Nebraska to the Bears for Bill Hewitt. It was the first of a series of moves made by the Eagles to contend for the NFL Championship. However, it was the Bears who went deep into the playoffs, going 9-2-1 before losing in the championship game. Francis did not rush for a yard in that loss, but he did punt the ball 62 yards. Francis’ first season with Chicago ended with 129 rushing yards over eight games.

Charley Trippi of the Chicago Cardinals tries to avoid being tackled by Rams defender Pat Harder

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Charley Trippi

– Year drafted: 1945
– Team: Chicago Cardinals
– Postseason: Won 1947 NFL Championship 28-21 over Philadelphia

Charley Trippi is the only player on this list to start his rookie season more than one year after getting drafted into the NFL. Trippi missed two seasons due to World War II and then elected to stay in college at Georgia for the 1946 season, where he finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. Trippi ended his pro rookie season with 84 rushing yards and a touchdown in an NFL Championship win over the Eagles. The 1947 championship is the last time the Cardinals franchise has won a league title. Trippi finished his rookie year with totals of 401 rushing yards and 240 receiving yards.

Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles eyes his opponants, late 1950s or early 1960

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Chuck Bednarik

– Year drafted: 1949
– Team: Philadelphia Eagles
– Postseason: Won NFL Championship 14-0 over Los Angeles

After starring at Pennsylvania, Chuck Bednarik played center and linebacker for 13 seasons with the Eagles. In his rookie season, Bednarik compiled seven starts at center and the Eagles went 12-1, eventually defeating the Rams in the NFL Championship. Bednarik would make the All-Pro team as a linebacker from 1950-1954 and earned the honor in 1960 as a center.

Billy Cannon runs for a 24-yard gain against the New York Titans

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Billy Cannon

– Year drafted: 1960
– Team: Drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, played rookie season for the Houston Oilers
– Postseason: Won AFL Championship 24-16 over the Los Angeles Chargers

Louisiana State University halfback Billy Cannon started a bidding war between the American and National Football Leagues. Cannon originally accepted a deal with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, but later signed a much bigger contract with the AFL’s Houston Oilers. Cannon ended up playing with the Oilers after some legal disputes, and he rushed for 644 yards and picked up 187 yards receiving. He also totaled 173 total yards and one touchdown in the AFL title game versus the Chargers, and Cannon became the last first overall pick to win a league championship as a rookie.

Ron Yary of the Minnesota Vikings provides pass protection against defensive tackle Ron East

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Ron Yary

– Year drafted: 1968
– Team: Minnesota Vikings
– Postseason: Lost Divisional 24-14 to Baltimore

Ron Yary didn’t start any games at right tackle his rookie season, but he eventually made six consecutive All-Pro teams from 1971-76. Yary was selected #1 overall after two All-Pro seasons at the University of Southern California. He saw action in all 14 games his first year, blocking for a rushing attack that included Bill Brown and Clint Jones. Yary’s Vikings lost to the Baltimore Colts team that eventually fell to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Yary himself eventually played in four Super Bowls.

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Earl Campbell finds a big hole during the AFC Wildcard Playoff

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Earl Campbell

– Year drafted: 1978
– Team: Houston Oilers
– Postseason: Won Wild Card 17-19 over Miami, won Divisional 31-14 over New England, lost Conference Championship 34-5 to Pittsburgh

Earl Campbell is the only #1 overall pick to win two playoff games as a rookie. Campbell won the Offensive Player of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards one year after capturing the Heisman at Texas. Campbell accumulated 1,450 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in his first season with the Oilers. Campbell’s rookie campaign ended with a loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship, where he only managed 2.82 yards per rushing attempt.

Kenneth Sims of the New England Patriots looks on during an NFL football game circa 1982

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Kenneth Sims

– Year drafted: 1982
– Team: New England Patriots
– Postseason: Lost Wild Card 28-13 to Miami

Kenneth Sims went #1 overall after two All-American seasons at Texas. He registered three sacks in nine games and finished fifth in defensive player of the year voting during his first year in New England. The Patriots lost to the Dolphins in the playoffs, only a few weeks after beating them 3-0. There was much more offense in the rematch; Sims started for a Patriots defense that surrendered 246 passing yards on 16 of 19 passes by Dolphins quarterback David Woodley.

John Elway of the Denver Broncos drops back to pass against the Los Angeles Raiders

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John Elway

– Year drafted: 1983
– Team: Drafted by the Baltimore Colts, played rookie season for the Denver Broncos
– Postseason: Lost Wild Card 31-7 to Seattle

John Elway dominated for three seasons at Stanford, then infamously forced his way out of Baltimore. One week after the ’83 draft, the Broncos sent their own 1983 1st round selection Chris Hinton, a 1984 1st round pick, and quarterback Mark Herrmann to the Colts for Elway. In Elway’s rookie season, he picked up two wins against Baltimore before losing his first playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Elway eventually won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, and won another as an executive with Peyton Manning under center in Denver.

Russell Maryland of the Dallas Cowboys puts pressure on Mark Rypien of the Washington Redskins

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Russell Maryland

– Year drafted: 1991
– Team: Dallas Cowboys
– Postseason: Won Wild Card 17-13 over Chicago, lost Divisional 38-6 to Detroit

Russell Maryland is the last first overall draft pick to secure a playoff win with his team during his rookie season. In 1991, Notre Dame receiver Raghib Ismail was expected to be the first pick, but Ismail received an offer he could not refuse from the CFL. That led to Maryland becoming the first selection when the Cowboys traded with the Patriots for the top pick. Maryland, a high-motor defensive tackle from Miami, registered 4.5 sacks his rookie season.

Jake Long of the Miami Dolphins pass blocks against the New York Jets at Dolphin Stadium

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Jake Long

– Year drafted: 2008
– Team: Miami Dolphins
– Postseason: Lost Wild Card 27-9 to Baltimore

Ironically, Jake Long was taken one pick ahead of Chris Long, but the two are of no relation. Coming out of Michigan, Jake instantly made an impact in Miami. The Dolphins not only won the AFC East that year, but he made his first of four consecutive Pro Bowls. Chris, meanwhile, eventually won two Super Bowls; he is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long.

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Andrew Luck throws a pass during a game

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Andrew Luck

– Year drafted: 2012
– Team: Indianapolis Colts
– Postseason: Lost Wild Card 24-9 to Baltimore

Andrew Luck was drafted as the heir to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis after the Colts released Manning due to concerns about his injury history. Almost three decades after John Elway spurned the Colts, Luck—also a Stanford alum—threw for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season. However, Luck’s luck ran out in the playoffs when he threw an interception and was sacked three times in a loss to the Ravens. Luck’s career ended abruptly with retirement at age 29 after an injury-laden career.

Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs standinf before a game against the San Francisco 49ers

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Eric Fisher

– Year drafted: 2013
– Team: Kansas City Chiefs
– Postseason: Lost Wild Card 45-44 to Indianapolis

Eric Fisher played in 14 games his first year despite having a concussion as well as hand and shoulder injuries. Fisher then ended up missing the Chiefs’ Wild Card game versus the Colts due to a groin injury. Kansas City almost passed on Fisher for Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel. In 2013, Fisher, who played college ball at Central Michigan, became the highest-ever draft selection from the Mid-American Conference.

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