No NFL Draft? The History of the 12th Overall Pick


The Giants are picking 12th on Thursday, and to have some fun and kill time waiting for the 2014 draft to finally get started, let’s take a look at the history of this slot. It’s a rich and interesting history, and includes three hall of famers, one of the most famous trades in NFL history, and a man who almost ended the draft altogether.

Pete Rozelle, Former NFL Commissioner
Pete Rozelle, Former NFL Commissioner

The modern era of the NFL draft is considered to have started when the AFL and NFL decided to end their feuding and player bidding war, merge leagues, and started holding a common draft starting in 1967. There have been 47 Annual NFL Selection Meetings held since that decision and the Giants will be making their first pick in slot 12 in 2014. Unless otherwise stated, all of the facts below are for this “modern era.”

It’s not the first time the team held the 12th overall pick, but the last time they did, in 2005, the spot belonged to the San Diego Chargers, as final payment in the Eli Manning trade, and Shawne Merriman was drafted. He played his last down for the Chargers in 2010 and was out of the NFL in 2012 following three injury plagued seasons in Buffalo. The Giants got the better end of that deal, as Eli’s two Super Bowl MVP awards will attest.

Prior to the modern era, the Giants selected 12th three times, with poor results. In 1955, running back Phil King joined the team, lasting 6 seasons and scoring exactly 6 touchdowns. In 1960, defensive tackle Lou Cordileone was taken, and played one season with the Giants. He was in the NFL until 1968, bouncing between five teams, and his career was less than memorable. But in 1964, they drafted their biggest disaster of all.

"Aptly Named" Joe Don Looney
“Aptly Named” Joe Don Looney

Frank Gifford once said of Joe Don Looney, “Never was man more aptly named,” and Looney did his best to live up to his surname. Fined $50 by then Giants head coach Allie Sherman for being 10 minutes late to bed check, the running back protested stating that he went to bed an hour early the night before and the team still owed him fifty minutes. He lasted less than a month with the Giants before being traded to Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts. Upon leaving New York, Looney stated that he never cared much for big cities or Allie Sherman’s attitude.

In Baltimore, he had a league best 64 yard punt, was sparingly used as a running back, and lasted through the season, but was soon traded again, this time to Detroit. He seemed to fit better in the motor city until head coach Harry Gilmer asked him to bring a play into the huddle and Looney told him, “If you want a messenger boy, call Western Union.” Looney bounced around the league until 1968 and then finally wore out his welcome. Having been convicted of illegal possession of a firearm in 1974, Looney served three years probation, and received a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan in 1988. He died later that year at age 45 when his motorcycle ran off a rural Texas highway.

Jim Plunkett, 49ers
Jim Plunkett, 49ers

The twelfth pick has been changed hands 16 times and been involved in some memorable transactions. We already discussed the Eli Manning trade, but another Super Bowl MVP also changed hands for the twelfth pick. In 1976, this pick was send to New England, together with two additional first round and two second round picks by San Francisco for Jim Plunkett. Unfortunately for the Forty-Niners, he didn’t win two Super Bowls for them, but for the cross town rival Raiders. However, the Forty-Niners made out fine in the long run. How much better might Bill Walsh’s teams have been if they had kept all of those premium draft picks?

In 1989, the pick was part of the “Rozelle Rule” compensation received by the Chicago Bears when the Washington Redskins signed away free agent linebacker Wilbur Marshall. Prior to 1993, free agents were not technically “free” and steep compensation was owed when signing a top player who had finished out his contract. The Bears received Washington’s 1988 first round pick in compensation as well.

A decade later, the same twelfth pick was part of one of the NFL’s most infamous trades. The Redskins received the Carolina Panthers 1999 and 2000 first round picks as compensation for the Panthers signing franchise tagged defensive tackle Sean Gilbert. The Redskins then dealt one of the picks, fifth overall, to Mike Ditka in return for the 12th pick and every other New Orleans Saints 1999 draft pick. The Saints then selected Ricky Williams and closed up shop.

The Rare Namath Cardinals Draft Card.
The Rare Namath Cardinals Draft Card.

This slot has been kinder to other teams as 3 Hall of Famers were drafted here. Warren Sapp by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995, Herb Adderly by the Green Bay Packers in 1961, and Joe Namath by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965. Say what now? You read that correctly – Namath was taken in the NFL draft by the Cardinals 12th overall and 1st overall by the New York Jets in the AFL draft. How different would NFL history have been is he signed with St. Louis?

Since the combined draft in 1967, defensive tackle is the most frequently drafted position, with ten players selected. Sapp, with 188 career games started, and 2006 Baltimore Raven draftee Haloti Ngata, with 120 starts through 2013 are the best of the bunch. Both players were in part of draft day trades. In 1995, The Philadelphia Eagles traded up to get workout wonder Mika Mamula in the 7th slot and a third round pick, returning the twelfth pick (Sapp) and two second round selections. The 2006 Ravens moved up one spot to grab Ngata twelfth, sending a sixth rounder to the Browns, who then took Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley is with his third NFL team and started 1 game in 2013.

Running back is a close second, with nine selected players. The most recent successful pick is Marshawn Lynch by the Buffalo Bills in 2007, although he did not find his groove until he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. Vikings 1970’s mainstay Chuck Foreman was taken in this slot in 1973 and carried the ball in three Super Bowl losses. First round disappointments Knowshon Moreno and Ryan Mathews were taken in back-to-back years by the Denver Broncos, 2009, and San Diego Chargers, 2010. Warrick Dunn, drafted by the Buccaneers in 1997, is the career rushing leader for this slot, gaining 10,967 yards for Tampa Bay and Atlanta before retiring in 2008.

Alvin Harper
Alvin Harper

The leading career receiver for pick twelve is Alvin Harper, with 191 receptions. He also holds the distinction of being the only wide receiver drafted in this slot. Harper was taken by the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, but will best be remembered as a gigantic free agent bust. He signed a 4 year, $11 million free agent contract with the Buccaneers in 1995 and quickly learned that life in the NFL is much harder without Michael Irvin drawing coverage away.

If the Giants draft Eric Ebron on Thursday, he will be the first tight end drafted 12th since Tony Hunter by Buffalo in 1983. Hunter is the sole tight end drafted and, in his 4 NFL seasons, caught 134 passes. It is hardly what one would call a memorable career as the tight end representative for this draft position. Only one offensive guard was taken, Kurt Schumacher, by New Orleans in 1975. Schumacher started 17 games, blocking for Eli’s father Archie Manning, and was out of the league by 1979.

"Hog" Jim Lachey
“Hog” Jim Lachey

In my second mock draft, I project the Giants taking Michigan Offensive Tackle Taylor Lewan. If he works out as well as three of the four offensive tackles previously drafted, Giants fans will be elated. Stan Brock played in NFL for 16 seasons and started 223 games for San Diego and New Orleans after the Saints drafted him in 1980. Jim Lachey, a 129 game starter, was drafted in 1985 by San Diego, but is best remembered for his time in Washington where he was part of the second incarnation of the Redskins famed “Hogs” offensive line. In 2008, the Denver Broncos selected 82 game starter and current left tackle Ryan Clady who looks after Peyton Manning’s blind side. The fourth tackle, Marv Montgomery, was also drafted by the Broncos, in 1971, and started 53 NFL games for Denver and New Orleans, before retiring in 1978.

Twelfth overall is a poor slot to draft a quarterback, Namath notwithstanding. In 1986, Detroit selected Chuck Long, who while lasting in the league until 1991, started only 21 games and managed to throw 28 interceptions against 19 touchdowns. Cade McNown was the Chicago Bears selection in 1999. Out of the league after two seasons, McNown threw 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his 15 starts. Namath, save his one magical Super Bowl, had a less than stellar stat line with more career interceptions (220) than touchdowns (173). He also lost more games than he won as a professional, posting a career record of 62-63-4. Christian Ponder rounds out the modern era quarterbacks as the Vikings top selection in 2011. Widely considered a disappointment, Ponder does have 38 career touchdowns against 34 interceptions, the only member of this group to hold that distinction.

Clay Matthews, Jr.
Clay Matthews, Jr.

Presumed 2014 top 10 selection offensive tackle Jake Matthews has a connection pick twelve as his uncle, Clay Matthews, Jr, was picked there by the Browns in 1978. The iron man of the group, linebacker Clay Matthews, father of the current Packers all-pro linebacker Clay III, played in 273 games, starting 248, and played until 1996, when Jake was only 4 years old.

The Jets have made the most selections in this slot, having used it four times and were successful with three of them. In 1994, cornerback Aaron Glenn was the pick. He started 176 games for 5 NFL teams and had 41 career interceptions. Shaun Ellis was one of Bill Parcells four 2000 first round selections. Ellis played all but one of his twelve seasons with the Jets and had 73.5 career sacks. Jonathan Vilma joined Gang Green in 2004, but had most of his career success after his trade to the Saints in 2008. The only clunker in the bunch was 1967 selection, center, Paul Seiler who started 1 game in seven seasons with the team.

The Packers earned the twelfth slot more than any other team, landing there for the 1969, 1971, 1974, and 1984 drafts. They only made three of the selections, however, trading the pick in 1971 to the Broncos, who took Montgomery. The Jaguars, Texans, and Titans have never been associated with this slot in the draft, not having earned it or traded for it.

The U
The U

When it comes to colleges, Miami University (FL) is the leader with four players selected. Sapp, Vilma, Foreman, and 2001 Rams pick, defensive tackle Damione Lewis all attended the Florida football factory. California University and Florida State are close behind with three picks each.

Along with previously detailed busts McNown, Long, and Seiler, three defensive tackles’ careers are among the shortest lived on this list. The 2002 Rams selection of Wendell Bryant was disappointing as he started 9 games and had 1.5 sacks before exiting the league in 2004. Phil Dokes was taken by Buffalo in 1977 and made it through 10 starts in 2 seasons. In 1969, Green Bay drafted Rich Moore. Also lasting only two seasons, Moore managed just 6 starts. However, the most potentially infamous pick of all is a safety from Oregon University selected in 1968 by the Washington Redskins.

Jim "Yazoo" Smith, The Man Who Almost Ended the NFL Draft.
Jim “Yazoo” Smith, The Man Who Almost Ended the NFL Draft.

Jim “Yazoo” Smith played in 14 games with no starts as a rookie before suffering a neck injury in the final game of the season that ended his career. Dejected and seeing limited career options post NFL, Smith decided to retain a lawyer and challenge the validity of the NFL draft, arguing that he would have received additional compensation if he was free to shop his services among all 26 teams in the combined leagues rather than being consigned to the team that drafted him. The draft, argued Smith, was a violation of the Sherman Anti Trust act and should not be permitted as it was an illegal restraint of trade. Had he prevailed, the NFL draft that we will watch Thursday through Saturday would not exist.

Smith won his initial court case in the District Court, receiving a $276,600 award. The NFL legal team, which included future commissioner Paul Tagliabue, appealed, and won based on their argument that the draft assures competitive balance in the league, allows smaller market teams to compete on equal footing with big market teams, and that NFL franchises are not competitors, but partners in a joint venture. Fortunately, the appeals court agreed, citing the Cleveland Browns declining attendance during their utter dominance of the old All-American Football conference, Smith lost his award, and the NFL draft has become the media extravaganza we know today. Still, the NFL  and the NFL Players Association include the draft as part of every collective bargaining agreement to keep it safe and a legally negotiated part of our off season entertainment.

In reviewing all 47 modern era selections, teams successfully drafted half the time in twelfth overall slot. Since free agency began in 1993, the results are slightly better; with 6 of every 10 players selected having what can be considered successful NFL careers. There is every reason to believe that whomever the Giants take on Thursday evening will become a lineup mainstay for the next decade.


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