Top 15 first-round values of last 10 NFL Drafts: Lamar Jackson among stars to outperform their draft position

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The NFL Draft is seven rounds long, but nothing draws headlines like Day 1, where the first 32 picks of the event set the stage for an entire weekend of activity. It makes sense: This is supposed to be when the best of the best college prospects come off the board. But even Round 1 can be unpredictable, as history so clearly reminds us.

Some of today’s biggest names — C.J. Stroud, Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase — have also been some of the earliest players taken. But many others have been mid- or even late-first-round hits, proving to be good value even as Day 1 targets.

With that in mind and the 2024 NFL Draft right around the corner, here’s a look at 15 of the top first-round values — or players who’ve clearly outperformed their draft position — of the last 10 years:

Honorable mention

QB Jordan Love (Packers, No. 26 overall); WR Jordan Addison (Vikings, No. 23); WR Brandon Aiyuk (49ers, No. 25); OT Laremy Tunsil (Dolphins, No. 13); OT Christian Darrisaw (Vikings, No. 23); C Tyler Linderbaum (Ravens, No. 25); DT Dexter Lawrence (Giants, No. 17); DT Jeffery Simmons (Titans, No. 19); DT Kenny Clark (Packers, No. 27); CB Trent McDuffie (Chiefs, No. 21); CB Tre’Davious White (Bills, No. 27); S Minkah Fitzpatrick (Dolphins, No. 11)

Draft: 2018 | Overall: 7th | Team: Buffalo Bills

When you draft a quarterback No. 7 overall, you expect him to become a perennial Pro Bowler. But Allen has been a repeat MVP candidate for a year-in, year-out contender, eclipsing 40 total touchdowns in four straight seasons. Risky as his play style may be, he’s one of the NFL’s premier talents — and durable at that, missing just a single game since 2019. In a class that saw Baker Mayfield go No. 1 and Sam Darnold go No. 3, Allen has already more than lived up to his potential.

Draft: 2018 | Overall: 24th | Team: Carolina Panthers

Interestingly enough, Moore was the first wide receiver taken in his class. Even still, he’s proven to be a bargain: Fresh off a 1,300-yard breakout with the Chicago Bears, he’s quietly topped 1,100 yards in four of his first six seasons — all with mercurial, if not downright shoddy, quarterback play for two rebuilding teams. Anywhere he goes, he’s steadily explosive.

Draft: 2021 | Overall: 12th | Team: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas expected instant results by spending a borderline top-10 pick on Parsons, but they couldn’t have expected generational results. Three years in, the hulking speedster is already up to 40.5 sacks, 89 quarterback hits and three All-Pro nods, scaring any and every opponent with his sideline-to-sideline physicality. He’s the centerpiece of a play-making defense.

Draft: 2015 | Overall: 18th | Team: Kansas City Chiefs

Peters is perhaps best known for his mercurial personality, but the feisty cover man was an instant lockdown artist for K.C., winning Defensive Rookie of the Year with eight picks and 26 pass breakups in 2015. He would also be instrumental to playoff runs with the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens. Only two active players have more career interceptions (33).

Draft: 2018 | Overall: 20th | Team: Detroit Lions

Fans might roll their eyes when a team spends a first-round pick on an interior lineman, but Ragnow has done nothing but carve out a reliable career as one of the game’s top centers for an upstart contender, anchoring a highly regarded front with two All-Pro nods to his name. His sturdy blocking has played a big part in the revival of quarterback Jared Goff’s career.

Draft: 2014 | Overall: 20th | Team: New Orleans Saints

Sammy Watkins went No. 4 overall in Cooks’ class. Meanwhile the latter is going on Year 11, having already secured his place in the top 70 of the NFL’s all-time receiving leaders. An instant playmaker for Drew Brees in New Orleans, Cooks hasn’t stayed anywhere for long, enduring four different trades. But he’s been a 1,000-yard route-running savant for three different clubs.

Draft: 2017 | Overall: 32nd | Team: New Orleans Saints

In retrospect it’s hard to believe Ramczyk lasted until Round 1’s final pick. Quickly summoned to man right tackle duties, he’s racked up more than 100 career starts as the steadiest blocker on a front that powered four straight playoff runs from 2017-2020. The three-time All-Pro may be slowing down now, but only after more than a half-decade of top-tier production.

Draft: 2014 | Overall: 7th | Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Like Josh Allen above, Evans clearly entered with high expectations; you don’t draft a wideout in the top 10 if you don’t expect a difference-maker. But Evans’ steadiness has him on a literal Hall of Fame trajectory. He has an NFL-record 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, close to 100 career scores and played a key role in Tampa’s 2020 Super Bowl title.

Draft: 2020 | Overall: 17th | Team: Dallas Cowboys

Lamb was the third wideout off the board behind Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy back in 2020, but Dallas is getting the last laugh: Lamb has gotten better every year as a pro, approaching 1,800 yards and leading the NFL with 135 catches as a big-play monster in 2023. And he’s still just hitting his prime at age 25. Re-draft this class, and he’s much closer to a top-five target.

Draft: 2014 | Overall: 16th | Team: Dallas Cowboys

Seems like Dallas is decent at getting first-round value, eh? Martin saw three other linemen go ahead of him in 2014, but he may well be headed for the Hall after he hangs up the cleats. The most reliable member of a vaunted front, Martin is going into 2024 looking for his eighth All-Pro and 10th Pro Bowl honor, but he’s already a Cowboys great for his work in the trenches.

Draft: 2017 | Overall: 30th | Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

How on Earth did the younger brother of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt fall to No. 30? The Steelers are still wondering the same. Their Watt sibling has been practically un-blockable when healthy, with 96.5 sacks and close to 200 quarterback hits in seven seasons, serving as the relentlessly imposing tone-setter of Pittsburgh’s always-tough defense.

Draft: 2020 | Overall: 22nd | Team: Minnesota Vikings

When Jefferson was coming out, some figured he’d be little more than a solid slot receiver in the NFL. Boy were they wrong. Effortlessly electric, he quickly became the face of the Vikings with routine home-run plays, and not even a 2023 injury could stop him from logging his fourth straight 1,000-yard season. No one is better at making getting open look easy.

Draft: 2018 | Overall: 32nd | Team: Baltimore Ravens

Considered both dangerously athletic and erratic coming out of Louisville, Jackson nearly slid all the way to Round 2 before Baltimore traded up to make him Joe Flacco’s heir apparent. Six years later, he’s got an NFL MVP, two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and four playoff appearances under his belt. He’s still got hurdles to clear to match the resumes of fellow elite signal-callers, but there are but a few quarterbacks — maybe one? — with as many unteachable traits and game-changing dynamism.

Draft: 2014 | Overall: 13th | Team: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams made a big investment in their defensive front by taking Donald so high. But the degree to which he influenced L.A.’s defense — and every opponent’s game plan for the next 10 years — was something else. A surefire future Hall of Famer, the freak of nature was constantly in the quarterback’s face, finishing his durable run with 111 career sacks and 176 tackles for loss. A 10-time Pro Bowler and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he had a direct hand in the Rams’ 2021 Super Bowl win as well.

Draft: 2017 | Overall: 10th | Team: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs traded up to select Mahomes, but it doesn’t really matter where the Texas Tech product was drafted; already one of the best quarterbacks to ever take the NFL stage, he would’ve been a “steal” even at No. 1 overall. In just six years as a full-time starter, he’s mastered both deep-ball acrobatics and crunch-time precision to deliver K.C. three Super Bowls, six AFC title-game appearances and a world of record-breaking production. The guy is the contemporary standard for NFL quarterbacking.

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