It’s draft day. We have reached the most exciting event of the NFL off-season. To some, the draft is more exciting than the Super Bowl. Over the next three days, dreams will come true, and teams hope to steer their franchise in the right direction. Building a great team starts in the draft; all it takes is one player to change your franchise. Let’s look at five players who altered their teams to a new level.
Let’s kick things off with the league’s most valuable player. The Kansas City Chiefs surprised everyone by trading up from pick 27 to pick 10 with the Buffalo Bills to select the Texas Tech product.
Before this draft, the Chiefs had already fielded one of the most talented teams in the league and were coming off a postseason appearance. At the time, the Chiefs already had a pro bowl talent under center in Alex Smith. However, the feeling was that an upgrade at quarterback to help elevate the team to a new level. Therefore in his final draft as the GM of the Chiefs, John Dorsey would gamble by taking Mahomes. However, many draft experts had different opinions on Mahomes, including Mike Mayock, due to his reckless style of play and the fact that he was coming out of an air-raid system.
“He’s either going to be really, really good, or he’s gonna throw a lot of picks,” said Mayock
It’s safe to say the investment paid off. After redshirting his rookie season in 2017, Mahomes became the starter in 2018 and immediately put the league on notice. He would go on to win league MVP and, over the next four seasons, he would lead the Chiefs to two super bowl titles while both being named super bowl MVP and secured a second league MVP title in 2022. He is currently playing under a historic half-a-billion-dollar deal, but no doubt worth every penny for how he has uplifted an entire franchise that had won only one super bowl title in the last 50 years before his arrival. As we look ahead, we can expect the all-world quarterback to continue adding to his hardware.
The 1998 NFL Draft will always be remembered for one thing Manning vs Leaf. The two quarterbacks were on top of the college football world and destined for greatness at the next level.
The Indianapolis Colts held the number-one pick in the draft and had a decision to make. As we all know, one player can alter a franchise for good or bad. While many favored Leaf for his arm talent, Manning had a higher IQ and was all-around more pro-ready. The pressure was on legendary general manager and hall of famer Bill Polian to make the right selection. Manning let Polian know how he felt in a pre-draft meeting.
“He gets up to leave and says, ‘I’ll leave you with this thought: If you take me, I promise you we will win a championship. If you don’t, I promise I’ll come back and kick your ass.” said Manning
Polian would go on to select Manning first overall in the 1998 draft, and years later was the best decision the Colts ever made. During his time as a Colt between 1998-2010, Manning led the Colts to 11 postseason appearances and twice appeared in the Super Bowl, with one resulting in a Lombardi trophy in 2006. Manning won four NFL MVP awards, made 11 pro bowls and eight all-pro teams, and broke numerous records. The Colts made the right decision. Imagine if the Colts went with Leaf. History would tell a different story.
All dynasties in the making have that one player that sets them over the top. Babe Ruth to the Yankees, Magic Johnson to the Lakers, and Jerry Rice to the 49ers. I am adding Cowboys legendary running back Emmitt Smith to that list.
The Cowboys were in the midst of a rebuild and were hoping to make the most out of the legendary Herschel Walker trade. But, of course, when you trade a great player, you must find his replacement. The Cowboys did that when Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson selected Smith 17th overall in the 1990 draft out of Florida. The Cowboys were slowly fielding a team of talented players. They already had names like Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Jay Novacek on the roster. Over the next few drafts, they would continue to build the dynasty of the 90s. I believe Smith was the center of that dynasty. Over the next 13 seasons, Smith would have one of the most storied careers in professional sports. He was selected to eight pro bowls and six all-pro teams, won four rushing titles, and won league MVP in 1993. More importantly, Smith helped lead the Cowboys to three super bowl titles, won super bowl MVP, and holds the most prestige record in all of football as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 career rushing yards.
How valuable was Smith to America’s team? In 1993 Smith held out for a new contract. The Cowboys started the season 0-2, and owner Jerry Jones wasted no time making Smith the highest paid-back in all of football. Smith returned to action and helped Dallas become the first 0-2 team to win a Super Bowl. Fun fact Coach Johnson was not Smith’s first choice in the 1990 draft. The Cowboys hoped to land Baylor linebacker James Francis, but the Bengals took him instead. I guess we can also call this the best rebound pick ever.
The 1970s was an all-time low for the New York Football Giants. They were absent from the postseason every year. Entering the 1980s, the Giants were hoping to flip the script but to do so; New York needed someone who could bring the franchise back to greatness.
That someone appeared in 1981 when the Giants selected a highly talented linebacker out of North Carolina, Lawrence Taylor. Drafting Taylor was a major step forward in the right direction. The original “LT” wasn’t just a player who altered an entire franchise, but he completely changed the way the game was played. He is the reason left tackles are highly paid. Taylor made opposing offensive coordinators rethink their game plan and was anyone who played offense their worst nightmare.
Taylor could do it all: stop the run, rush the passer, drop into coverage. Overall he had the complete package. As a rookie in 1981, LT helped the Giants make the playoffs for the first time in nearly 20 years. He anchored New York’s famous Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense in 1986.
“Taylor is in a class of his own.” said former Giants defensive coordinator and Patriots legendary head coach Bill Belichick who coached Taylor from 1981-1990.
In his storied career. Taylor appeared in 10 pro bowls, was named to 10 all-pro teams, three times was selected as defensive player of the year, helped the Giants to a pair of Super Bowls, and remains to this day the last defensive player to win league MVP overall, if you asked me who is the greatest defensive player ever I’d take number 56 any day.
As you scroll down, you’re probably wondering where the most obvious name of them all is. I saved the best for last. If I told you this skinny kid out of Michigan who appeared at the combine looking like he had never seen a weight room before would be the best to do it, you would look at me like I’m crazy. Well, that’s exactly what Tom Brady would go on to be.
In the 2000 NFL Draft, six quarterbacks were taken ahead of Tom Brady. Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spergon Wynn. In the sixth round, with the 199th overall pick, the New England Patriots would select the seventh quarterback of that draft, Michigan’s Tom Brady. The rest was history.
The six QBs taken ahead of Brady were out of the league by 2012 while Brady was still making an impact. In his storied 23-year career, Brady achieved everything a professional athlete could ever achieve.
Let’s focus on the team that brought him into the league. The Patriots had a new head coach in Bill Belichick, and an already proven starter at quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. It seemed like Brady was there to be a developmental player and a backup. That all changed in 2001 when the Patriots were playing the New York Jets early in the season, and Jets all-pro linebacker Moe Lewis knocked Bledsoe out of the game and in came the young kid from San Mateo, California.
The story is one of the most well-known in sports Bledsoe would never reclaim the starting job, and Brady would lead the Patriots to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in 2001. The rest of Brady’s Patriot career was unimaginable. In his 20 years with the franchise, Brady led the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles and appeared in nine Super Bowls overall. He was MVP in four of those six titles, won three league MVPs, made five all-pro teams, was named to 14 pro bowls, and twice was selected to the all-decade team for the 2000s and 2010s. The list goes on and on. One thing is for sure I don’t think there has ever been a player who has changed and altered an entire franchise more than TB12.
Just like any draft, the 2023 NFL Draft will give us plenty of surprises, and in a few years, we will look back at the players that changed the direction of their franchise. Will this draft have another generational player like Tom Brady? Who knows? One thing is for sure the journey to turning your team around starts on draft day.