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Top 5 Most Shocking First Round Picks in NFL Draft History | Where Does Michael Penix Jr. Rank?

The NFL draft is usually pretty chalky at the top. Sometimes we get a modest surprise, but rarely are we absolutely floored by a pick to the point that it shakes up Vegas or strongly defies betting odds. These picks are the ones that took consensus and chucked it out the window — a la Michael Penix Jr. to the Falcons in 2024. Here are the top 5 most shocking first-round picks in NFL Draft history.

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Most Shocking First Round Picks in NFL Draft History

5. Todd Blackledge, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (7th in 1983)

This is one of roughly 20 bonkersville decisions made by NFL franchises in the 1983 draft, and it is also by far the most inexcusable. This draft is probably the greatest in the history of the NFL, boasting a whopping EIGHT Hall of Famers. And in the Chiefs’ defense, only five of those were still on the board.

Some of those Hall of Famers include legendary lineman Bruce Matthews, one of the greatest corners ever in Darrell Green, four-time AFC champion quarterback Jim Kelly and some guy named Dan Marino. Marino ended up dropping to 27th due to off-field questions, but he was still in play here at No. 7, as was Kelly. Ken O’Brien was also available and had a Pro Bowl career. Heck, even Tony Eason, a borderline bust himself, had some moments in the league. Blackledge had no upside then and did eff all in the NFL.

Decent analyst, though.

4. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders (7th in 2009)

Everyone — and I mean everyone — thought Michael Crabtree was the best receiver in this class, followed closely by Jeremy Maclin and then maybe the high-end playmaking of Percy Harvin. Prior to the combine, Heyward-Bey was not in this discussion. But then he ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at 6-foot-2. At that point, one person thought he was the best receiver in the class: Al Davis.

The Raiders under Davis had a reputation for drafting speed but not football ability. That pretty much bore out with Heyward-Bey, who had a reasonably lengthy career and one season of nearly 1,000 yards but never peaked as high as the other three.

3. Trev Alberts, LB, Indianapolis Colts (4th in 1994)

Is this making the list for the memes? Maybe, but it’s also hilarious and undeniably surprising.

The mid-1990s Colts were not a dumpster fire, but they also were not relevant. In 1994, Peyton Manning was still four years away, and Indianapolis had blown its previous No. 1 overall pick by drafting Jeff George in 1990. George left for the Falcons that offseason.

To replace him, the Colts brought in longtime Bear Jim Harbaugh, who had a passable but unspectacular career in Chicago. The assumption was the Colts would take the top quarterback on the board in Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer.

Instead, Indianapolis continued a trend of taking mediocre front seven players by going with Alberts. That prompted Mel Kiper’s rant about Indianapolis’ front office, and Colts GM Bill Tobin responded with nary a minced word.

Alberts, an outside linebacker out of Nebraska, played 29 whole games in the NFL, starting only seven and recording four sacks and 69 total tackles.

To be fair to Tobin, Dilfer was pretty garbage himself and only salvaged his reputation with a coattail-riding Super Bowl win with the Ravens.

Somehow, the best quarterback in the 1994 draft ended up being Gus Frerotte, whom Washington took in the seventh round. Frerotte started 93 games, made a Pro Bowl and had a serviceable career as a backup as well.

2. Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos (25th in 2010)

It’s not too much of a reach to say that 2010 was one of the strangest quarterback drafts of the last 20 years. Sam Bradford was the consensus No. 1 at the position and the likely first overall pick. Most had Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen second (Bleacher Report’s Kevin Roberts had him first). Come draft day, these two were the only ones considered locks to go in the first round.

The rest of the quarterbacks had scattered opinions on them. A retrospective look seems to favor Colt McCoy as the No. 3, and then Tebow, Dan LeFevour and Tony Pike as Nos. 4 through 6. McCoy was thought to be a second-round pick, however, and Tebow was expected to fall to the third.

Alas, the Broncos were losing their minds in 2010; coach Josh McDaniels hated Jay Cutler for some reason and traded him to the Bears the year prior, and thus he was stuck with just Kyle Orton. With Clausen slipping in the draft and still available at No. 25, this seemed like the lock spot for him.

Nope — Tebow, the uber-famous but mechanically deficient and personality-divisive Heisman winner from Florida. Not a soul saw this coming.

Alas, Clausen ended up being nothing more than a career backup, while Tebow had a moment or two, so maybe the Broncos made the right call? Or they could have just not hired McDaniels and kept Cutler …

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1. Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans (1st in 2006)

Now we get to the one spot where the shocking pick ended up being proven right. Reggie Bush was the most electrifying college player that year and seemed like a can’t-miss running back prospect. His all-around ability was going to be a game changer for the Texans and get them on the right track for the first time ever.

But the day before, we learned that the Texans had actually told Williams, a stud defensive end from North Carolina State, that they were taking him. It was a massive upset and a huge news story that got Saints fans pumped that they were landing the true best player in the draft at No. 2.

Well, as it turned out, Williams became a high-end pass rusher in the NFL, with 14 sacks and an All-Pro in just his second season. He made four Pro Bowls total in his career, two with the Texans and two with the Bills, and recorded five seasons of double-digit sacks.

Meanwhile, though Bush won a Super Bowl in New Orleans, he was mostly a glorified gadget player and kick returner. His rookie season was his best with the Saints to the tune of over 1,300 scrimmage years — but he only hit 1,000 twice in his five years with the Saints.

2024 NFL Draft: Michael Penix Joining the List?

Michael Penix Jr. was +5000 to go in the top 5 of the 2024 NFL Draft, and while that longshot didn’t quite come to fruition, his selection at No. 8 is now a potential addition on the list of most shocking NFL Draft picks ever. Penix exceeded expectations with his athleticism and arm strength at his pro day, and the thought of a team liking his tools more than J.J. McCarthy‘s was not out of the question.

What was out of the question, though, was that team being the one that just gave a soon-to-be 36-year-old QB a four-year, $180 million contract. Oh, Falcons — 28-3 finally broke your brain for good, huh?

Penix is also an older rookie who will be 24 when the season starts. If all goes according to the Falcons’ offseason plan and Kirk Cousins stays works out, Penix will not be the Atlanta starter until he is pushing 30.

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