Ranking the 10 biggest NFL Draft shocks
The NFL Draft is one of the most dramatic experiences in sports for all involved. Teams are banking their future on the shoulders of one player, while players are on the verge of being called a professional and being set for life financially.
With the stakes being this high, the public interest in the NFL Draft is monumental and is only growing with every passing year. This, however, comes with certain moments of madness.
Pressure can make people do funny things, make mistakes and even lose all sense of reason. We’ve seen this throughout the years of the NFL Draft.
What are the top 10 biggest NFL Draft shocks?
10. Washington trades the farm for RG III
Robert Griffin III would have been the standout quarterback in pretty much any other NFL Draft class, yet in declaring for the NFL Draft in 2012, he ensured he would be taken behind Andrew Luck.
With the Indianapolis Colts’ "Lose for Luck" campaign having worked a treat, it was the St. Louis Rams who held the #2 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but they already had their quarterback in Sam Bradford, who they selected first overall in 2010.
As such, teams around the NFL knew that the Rams were open to trading down and allowing someone else to take Griffin and his prodigious talent.
Washington was a team that had a strong roster and felt they were only a quarterback away from really challenging, and the chance to secure Griffin opening up felt like a miracle.
However, the price was to be heavy and remains one of the most shocking trades in NFL Draft history.
Washington gave up three first-round picks over the course of 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as a second-round pick in 2012.
While not quite the bounty that Mike Ditka once gave away… we’ll get to that later ... it was a rarity in the modern era of the NFL where draft selections are so highly valued.
9. Aaron Rodgers’ green room nightmare
There was something rather poetic about the 2005 NFL Draft. The best quarterback prospect in it, Aaron Rodgers, came from Chico, California, and the San Francisco 49ers had both the first-overall selection and a need for a new quarterback.
In no universe did the 49ers not take Rodgers, yet there was a huge shock when, on draft day, the Niners threw a curveball into the proceedings.
Alex Smith was their chosen signal caller, picked with the first overall selection, while Rodgers would be condemned to a dramatic slide down the NFL Draft board.
With the NFL Draft now a televised event and the age of the internet giving fans a lot more access to information regarding the collegiate career of a player, Rodgers dropping so much was massive.
As were the regular camera shots we got of the crestfallen quarterback sitting alone in the green room, waiting for his phone to ring.
What was even more shocking was where he eventually got taken. Pick no.24 which belonged to the Green Bay Packers, who had a certain Brett Favre already in place.
It was the worst possible end to the worst possible day for Rodgers, and we got to see it play out right on our screens, although history will show the Packers were the perfect home for him.
8. Mel Kiper Jr vs Bill Tobin
“Who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?”
These were the famous words spoken by the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Bill Tobin, in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 NFL Draft.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. made a name for himself with his draft analysis and vocal criticism of the selections teams had made, especially if they didn’t match up to what he had predicted prior to the draft.
However, this spilled over into a dramatic argument in 1994 after Kiper took aim at the Colts selecting linebacker Trev Alberts over quarterback Trent Dilfer, with the fifth overall pick.
“I think it was a typical Colts move, the Colts needed a quarterback. To pass up Trent Dilfer when all you have is Jim Harbaugh… give me a break. That’s why the Colts are picking second every year in the draft,” Kiper exclaimed.
The subsequent row between Tobin and Kiper was television gold and is one of the major contributing factors as to why the NFL Draft is such a well-watched television event in the modern era.
7, Minnesota Vikings miss their pick two years running
Missing your NFL Draft selection due to running out of time on the clock is an occurrence so rare that it barely figures into the thoughts of fans… aside from those in Minnesota.
You see, the Vikings made NFL history in a spectacularly bumbling fashion when they missed their first-round selection in two successive years.
Starting in the 2002 NFL Draft, the Vikings had a chance to move up and take advantage of the Dallas Cowboys being slow on the trigger. The Cowboys surrendered their sixth overall pick due to running out of time, and this put the Vikings on the clock.
However, confusion reigned in the Minnesota war-room, and they didn’t put in their card quickly enough, which allowed the Cowboys to control the fate of the pick, despite not technically having it.
The Dallas franchise was able to execute a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, which the Vikings weren’t aware of, and the Chiefs moved above them to select defensive tackle Ryan Sims.
Technically, the Vikings didn’t lose out, as they retained the original seventh selection, but the chance to move up was missed due to their lack of awareness.
Fast forward to 2003, and it was, once again, the Vikings making draft headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Vikings held the seventh overall pick for the second successive year, but they were attempting to trade down with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens wanted to select quarterback Byron Leftwich, and Minnesota believed they had completed all facets of a trade with the Baltimore club and immediately put their feet up.
The problem was, an issue with Baltimore meant the trade hadn’t been officially filed, and time ran out on the pick, which still belonged to the Vikings.
Again, chaos was the overriding feeling in the Minnesota war-room, with the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars both putting their picks in quickly to move ahead of the Vikings.
Minnesota would select at ninth overall, but had missed out on receiving the two picks in the later rounds that Baltimore offered, and the franchise was, once again, the laughing stock of NFL Draft day.
6. Raiders select a punter in round 1
Al Davis’ NFL Draft legacy is one that is admired around the league. He may well have not always got things right, but the legendary Raiders owner was always willing to give players and positions a chance.
No better example of this came than in the 1973 NFL Draft, when the Raiders selected a punter in the first round.
While Ray Guy ended up being, arguably, the greatest punter of all time, using a first-round choice on a punter was shocking, and still would be to this day, but that was Al Davis.
5. Denver Broncos trade up to take Tim Tebow
Tebow Mania swept the United States in 2010. His performances with the Florida Gators and immense religious positivity built him a huge platform across the country.
NFL Draft experts and player analysts alike were stunned to see the meteoric rise of Tim Tebow, especially with few people having anything more than a third-round grade on him.
Question marks around his throwing power were present, while few thought he was anything other than a good leader.
So when the Denver Broncos moved up to the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the world was stunned when they took Tebow.
All of a sudden, Tebow Mania hit a fever pitch, and he was now going to be the starting quarterback for the Broncos, who had given up second, third and fourth-round picks to secure the deal.
Overwhelming positivity was the emotion coming out of the Broncos’ fan-base, as well as the watching public, but this was a move nobody could have predicted, and it stunned everyone.
4. Laremy Tunsil’s gas mask incident
Social media has had an irreparable impact on professional sports, and it is completely down to a person’s personal beliefs whether or not they feel that impact is positive or not.
Laremy Tunsil was the best offensive lineman in the 2016 NFL Draft and, perhaps, the best player on the board outright.
He was the lock number one pick in 2016, with the Tennessee Titans expected to select him there once the evening began, until they traded the pick to the Rams.
However, drama was just around the corner as in the hours leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, an image of Tunsil wearing a gas mask and smoking a bong emerged on Twitter.
What was so bizarre about this whole episode was the fact that the image was uploaded on Tunsil’s own account, with his agent declaring that the player had been hacked.
This quick explanation wasn’t enough to convince teams of Tunsil’s professionalism, and they were simply terrified of using such a high pick on a player that may well face disciplinary action for the act depicted in the image.
With rumors and speculation being the subject of NFL Draft coverage that year, Tunsil slid down draft boards, to an alarming degree.
As fans scrambled to figure out who was behind the picture leak, mathematicians among the audience were trying to figure out how much each dropped pick was costing the offensive lineman.
The Miami Dolphins eventually selected him with the 13th overall pick, but he should never have been down that low in the draft, with fans getting the first glimpse of just how damaging social media could be.
3. Eli Manning refuses to play for the San Diego Chargers
The 2004 NFL Draft was one of the better classes for quarterbacks, with Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers all tipped to be selected within the first 10 picks.
Manning was seen as the standout talent and the natural choice first overall, a pick that belonged to the San Diego Chargers.
When it became clear that the Chargers would hold the first pick, the Manning media machine began working in overdrive, making it clear he didn’t want to play in San Diego.
Many believe that Archie Manning had a concern that the Chargers weren’t built to ever succeed, and he didn’t want his son to be stuck in a dead-end spot like he was with the New Orleans Saints.
Nobody knew what the Chargers would do, with the team suggesting they wouldn’t be bullied into selecting another player, or even trading the pick. Eli Manning stayed, somewhat, quiet during the process, with this supporting the belief that Manning Sr. was in the driving seat of the plan.
However, the camp wasn’t afraid to leak that Eli would be happy to sit out the 2004 season, and by the time the NFL Draft arrived, speculation was at a fever pitch as to just what would happen.
The Chargers stuck to their word and selected Manning with the first pick, which made for perhaps the most awkward commissioner/jersey picture in league history… yet the drama wasn’t over.
The Chargers had selected Manning as leverage, knowing that holding his registration was more valuable than the pick itself, and later in the night a trade was completed with the New York Giants, which saw Philip Rivers traded to San Diego and Manning head to the Big Apple, satisfying the Manning family’s demands.
2. John Elway refuses to play for the Baltimore Colts
The Baltimore Colts held the first overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, and the standout prospect in that class was the prodigious quarterback, John Elway.
What preceded the draft was a long period of speculation that Elway would refuse to play for the Colts if they drafted him.
The makeup of the NFL Draft was different back in 1983, yet Elway was able to virtually say, for months, that he didn’t want to play in Baltimore, although never giving a reason. Instead, he threatened to head to Major League Baseball where he was drafted by the New York Yankees.
Elway’s father tried to orchestrate a trade with the Colts prior to the draft, with Elway wanting to play on the West Coast. This didn’t happen, and the Colts ended up drafting Elway with the first overall pick.
“John will never play for Irsay or Coach Kush,” declared Jack Elway Sr at a press conference held on draft day.
“Right now it looks like I’ll be playing baseball with the Yankees,” John Elway himself added.
The story, however, didn’t end there, and six days after he was drafted by Baltimore, Elway was traded to the Denver Broncos, where he would become a Hall of Fame quarterback, winning two Super Bowls.
1. Mike Ditka’s Ricky Williams trade
While it is somewhat tempting to put Kevin Costner’s incredible draft day trade for the fictional Cleveland Browns here, there is no competition for the most shocking moment in NFL Draft history.
Mike Ditka’s coaching record is historic, as was his success with the Chicago Bears. However, it is impossible to remember the flamboyant character without pointing to the biggest trade in NFL history, which he instigated.
Ricky Williams was a phenomenal running back for the Texas Longhorns, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1998 and setting the National Collegiate Athletic Association record for rushing yards.
He was set to be the darling of the 1999 NFL Draft, and Ditka fell in love with his talent, to the degree he bet the entire farm, and more, to bring him to New Orleans.
Ditka felt Williams was the second coming of Walter Payton, although other teams had doubts over his professionalism and commitment to the sport.
The Saints were positioned 12th in the NFL Draft order and had little to no leverage in the trade market, especially after Ditka publicly claimed he would trade his entire draft for Williams at the owners' meeting.
After initially offering a bundle of picks to the Bengals, the Saints were eventually able to move up to fifth overall after executing a trade with Washington.
It was an explosive moment, with Washington receiving the 12th overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh round picks in the same year.
This wasn’t all as the Saints also gave up their first and third-round picks in the 2000 NFL Draft.
It was a huge deal, with stakes never before seen being offered up by the Saints, and upon announcement, it was the most shocking NFL Draft moment ever recorded, although only slightly more eye-catching than the wedding-themed ESPN Magazine cover featuring both Ditka and Williams.