NFL Draft History: First Picks Over the Years from Trevor Lawrence to Alex Smith

Football fans look forward to the annual NFL Draft to see which college football players will go to what pro team. Many fans are curious about how the NFL Draft works and its history. During this exciting three-day event, fans gather to cheer on eligible players and start making friendly bets on who the first overall pick is and how that player may change the franchise’s overall standings in the upcoming season.

How Does the Draft Selection Work?

The purpose of the NFL Draft is to recruit new players for NFL teams. Every season, the Draft follows specific guidelines. The non-playoff team with the worst regular-season record gets the first pick and the team with the best record picks last at number 18. For playoff teams, the first pick is based on the postseason progress starting at number 19, and the Super Bowl winner picks at number 32.

The NFL Draft is held over three days in the spring and is made up of seven rounds. All first picks happen on the first day, second-round and third-round picks on the next day, and fourth through seventh picks on the next day. In each round, teams get a certain amount of time to decide which player they want to draft, and this time decreases as the rounds progress.

While a player that gets drafted is not mandated to sign a contract with the team that drafted them, they also aren’t allowed to sign with another team. Sometimes, if the player doesn’t sign with the team that picked them, the team can trade the player and the signing rights to another football franchise.

Who’s Eligible for the NFL Draft?

Players are eligible for the NFL Draft after they have used up their college eligibility before the next college football season. In addition, the player must have finished high school three years prior to be eligible for the Draft. The NFL completes an extensive process to verify the candidate’s eligibility status before going to the Draft.

What Is a First-Round Draft Pick?

A first-round draft pick is a player an NFL team chooses at the beginning of the Draft. Typically, these players are high-priority picks who the team expects to succeed.

Peyton Manning is an example of a first pick in the Draft who became a successful NFL quarterback. Manning was picked first by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and went on to play 14 seasons with the team. Later, he went to the Denver Broncos, where he played for four seasons. Throughout his career with both teams, Manning won two Super Bowls.

NFL Draft First Overall Picks Over the Years

Many NFL fans want to learn the history of the NFL Draft. Here’s a list of first overall picks from the last several years:

2021: Trevor Lawrence

Trevor Lawrence comes from Clemson University in South Carolina. In 2019, Lawrence won the National Championship Game with the Clemson Tigers. In 2021, the Jacksonville Jaguars picked Lawrence as their first overall pick.

2020: Joe Burrow

Joe Burrow, who is now the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, was the first overall pick for this team in 2020. Burrow played for Louisiana State University, where he won the Heisman Memorial Trophy and National Championship in 2020. He also led the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI in 2022.

2019: Kyler Murray

The Arizona Cardinals chose Kyler Murray as their first overall pick in 2019. Murray played for the University of Oklahoma, and in his junior year, he won the Heisman Memorial Trophy.

2018: Baker Mayfield

In 2018, the Cleveland Browns chose Baker Mayfield as their first pick. Mayfield also came from the University of Oklahoma, and in his first year with the Browns, he had the most touchdowns for a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

2017: Myles Garrett

Defensive end Myles Garrett, who came from Texas A&M, was the Cleveland Browns‘ first draft pick in 2017. The NFL considers Garrett one of the top 100 football players of 2020.

2016: Jared Goff

The Los Angeles Rams snagged quarterback Jared Goff in 2016 as their number one pick. Goff played football at California State University in Berkeley before being drafted by the Rams. In 2020, Goff was traded to the Detroit Lions, yet he still wears his number 16 jersey as a tribute to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.

2015: Jameis Winston

While playing quarterback at Florida State University, Jameis Winston won the Heisman Memorial Trophy. He was the youngest player to win this prestigious award. In 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked Winston as their first pick. In 2020, Winston signed with the New Orleans Saints.

2014: Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney played defensive end for the University of South Carolina. The Houston Texans chose Clowney as pick one in 2014. He went on to play with the Seattle Seahawks and the Cleveland Browns. In 2021, he became a free agent.

2013: Eric Fisher

In 2013, the Kansas City Chiefs picked Eric Fisher in the first round of the Draft. This offensive tackle from Central Michigan University helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl in 2019. During his time with the Kansas City Chiefs, he made the Pro Bowl twice. As of 2021, Eric Fisher is a free agent.

2012: Andrew Luck

After playing for Stanford University in California, Andrew Luck became the Indianapolis Colts‘ first pick in 2012. This quarterback played with the Colts for seven seasons before retiring because of injuries. While playing for the Colts, Luck helped the team win two division titles.

2011: Cam Newton

Cam Newton played for Auburn University in Alabama, and in 2010, the Carolina Panthers picked him up as their first overall pick. Newton has many awards, including NFL Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year, and in 2011, Offensive Rookie of the Year. In 2020, Newton played quarterback for the New England Patriots, and in 2021, the Panthers re-signed him on a one-year contract.

2010: Sam Bradford

In 2010, the then St. Louis Rams chose quarterback Sam Bradford as their number one pick. That same year, Bradford won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Bradford played at the University of Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Memorial Trophy. After four seasons with the Rams, Bradford went on to play with the Philadelphia Eagles for one season, then to the Minnesota Vikings from 2016 to 2018. Bradford became a free agent and signed with the Arizona Cardinals. After one season, they released him. He’s now retired.

2009: Matthew Stafford

Coming from the University of Georgia, quarterback Matthew Stafford was the Detroit Lions’ first pick in 2009. Stafford played with the Lions until 2020. In 2021, the Los Angeles Rams traded for Stafford with the 2016 first pick Jared Goff. Stafford helped them win Super Bowl LVI in 2022. In 2011, Stafford became the fourth quarterback in the NFL to throw 5,000-plus yards in a season.

2008: Jake Long

In 2008, offensive tackle Jake Long was the first overall pick for the Miami Dolphins. Long played at the University of Michigan before becoming a pro football player with the Dolphins, where he played successfully for four seasons. In 2013, Long moved over to the St. Louis Rams and to the Atlanta Falcons in 2015. He finished his career with one season with the Minnesota Vikings. Jake Long retired from NFL football in 2017.

2007: JaMarcus Russell

JaMarcus Russell is a quarterback who played at Louisiana State University. In 2007, the then Oakland Raiders drafted Russell in the first round. He only played with the Raiders for three seasons, and in 2010, Russell left the NFL.

2006: Mario Williams

In 2006, the Houston Texans picked Mario Williams as their first pick. This outside linebacker and defensive end played football for North Carolina State University, where he received the school’s all-time sack record. Williams played with the Texans for five seasons. In 2012, Williams signed one of the most lucrative contracts for a defensive end when he signed a six-year deal for $100 million with the Buffalo Bills. The Miami Dolphins signed Williams for two years, but after one season, they released him. Mario Williams is now retired.

2005: Alex Smith

Coming from the University of Utah, quarterback Alex Smith joined the San Francisco 49ers as the first pick in 2005. This three-time Pro Bowler played with the 49ers until 2012. The 49ers traded Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, where he stayed with them until 2017. By 2018, Smith moved over to Washington, and in 2021, he retired from football.

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