#1 – Carson Palmer — 2003 No. 1 overall, Bengals
It may be hard to remember now, but Carson Palmer actually had a couple good seasons with the Bengals. He even quarterbacked them into the playoffs in 2005 and 2009 — pretty heady stuff for that organization. Was he great? No. Good even? Also, no. But Cincinnati could have done worse. (Other quarterbacks taken in the 1st Round in 2003: Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman.) And on the way out of Cincinnati, he got the Bengals two high draft picks. All in all, Carson Palmer was a decidedly sort-of-okay draft pick.
#2 – LaVar Arrington — 2000 No. 2 overall, Redskins
LaVar Arrington was not a bust. He made three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons in the league. Then he just sort of disappeared and was out of football by 2007. No doubt you would like more out of a No. 2 overall pick, but Arrington didn’t single-handedly sink his team or anything. His career was undeniably meh.
#3 – Cadillac Williams — 2005 No. 5 overall, Buccaneers
Williams best season came as a rookie when he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and ran for 1,178 yards. After that he was a serviceable, but injury-prone back and was arguably not much worse than the two backs picked ahead of him: Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson. A very C+ pick by Tampa Bay.
#4 – Levi Brown — 2007 No. 5 overall, Cardinals
If you take an offensive tackle with the fifth pick in the draft, you’re expecting him to be a dominating force and possible future Hall of Famer. Brown has never been that. In six seasons with the Cardinals he had zero Pro Bowl appearances and the Cardinals never had much of a running game. Yet he has started every game during the first five years of his career and Arizona thought enough of him to re-sign him before the 2012 season. So that’s sort of decent.
#5 – Darrius Heyward-Bey — 2009 No. 7 overall, Raiders
The Raiders were ripped for reaching to take Heyward-Bey with the 7th pick when most teams didn’t even project him as a first rounder. Yet Heyward-Bey improved every season, going from 124 receiving yards in 2009 to 366 in 2010 and 975 in 2011. That silenced some critics. But not all. Those still really aren’t good numbers for a No. 7 overall pick, but not terrible for someone many deemed an immediate bust. History will probably judge Oakland’s pick of Heyward-Bey as “questionable.”
#6 – Chris Long — 2008 No. 2 overall, Rams
Chris Long was deemed a bust after his first two seasons in the NFL. But from 2010 to 2012, he put up 33 sacks. So he’s a bust that has shown marked improvement. That’s very sort-of-okay.
#7 – Mario Williams — 2006 No. 1 overall, Texans
Williams struggled as a rookie, but came on as his career in Houston progressed. Yet he never played in a playoff game for the Texans and after the 2011 season left to sign with the Bills. For a No. 1 overall pick, you want a longtime cornerstone of a playoff team. Houston taking Williams No. 1 overall? Fairly acceptable.
#8 – Bryant McKinnie — 2002 No. 7 overall, Vikings
McKinnie was a solid offensive tackle for the Vikings who has made one Pro Bowl during his 11 years in the NFL. That’s the kind of player you’d love to find in the 2nd or 3rd Round, but if you get him 7th overall? Sure. Fine. Whatever. Every pick can’t be a home run.
#9 – Shawne Merriman — 2005 No. 12 overall, Chargers
For three seasons, Merriman was considered the best player in the 2005 draft. Then he became a complete non-factor in the league. If a team could get three great years from a high first-rounder — and absolutely nothing else ever again — would they take him? Sure, some would. Because that would be a sort-of-okay pick.
#10 – Philip Rivers — 2004 No. 3 overall, Giants (traded to Chargers)
Rivers has put up some big numbers in his career, yet has never managed to get his talented team over the hump and his play has declined in recent seasons. Meanwhile, quarterbacks drafted before and after him in the 2004 Draft – Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger – both have two Super Bowl rings. And the Chargers dumped Drew Brees, a superior quarterback who moved on to win a Super Bowl, to keep Rivers. Taking Rivers is as close to a bad pick as a sort-of-okay pick can get.
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