The good, bad and ugly history of the No. 3 pick of the NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft
2021 NFL Draft / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

Considering how much time and money teams invest in scouting and how many players are available when they pick third overall, you might imagine they would always pick a stud. Right?

Wrong! Most concerningly for the Patriots headed to the 2024 draft the list of quarterbacks who have been taken with the third overall pick is less than inspiring. 

The good players to be drafted third overall give hope for the Patriots

Larry Fitzgerald is probably the best third-overall pick in recent memory. However, Joe Thomas and Andre Johnson fans would argue that their guy takes the prize. The third overall pick in 2004, Fitzgerald played 263 games for the Cardinals and made 11 Pro Bowl rosters!  

Thomas was the third overall pick in 2007. He didn’t last quite as long as Fitzgerald, but he managed to play 167 games at left tackle for the Browns and made the Pro Bowl 10 times in an 11-year career.  

Andre Johnson was drafted third overall in 2003 by the Texans. He played 193 games in the NFL: 169 as a Texan, 16 as a Colt, and eight as a Titan. Johnson ended his career with an average of 13.1 yards per touch! He made the pro bowl seven times in 14 seasons. 

Gerald McCoy was a third overall pick, too, for the Buccaneers in 2010. McCoy was undoubtedly a stud, but his career was cut comparatively short by a knee injury in his first game as a Raider. He played 123 games for the Bucs in nine years, though, so he was a great draft pick.

Another defensive lineman, Quinnen Williams, was the third overall pick in 2019. He’s made a solid start to his career for the Jets, making 33 sacks and 44 tackles for a loss. He’s not in the legend category yet, though. 

The bad history of the pick makes the Patriots' decision a bit scarier

Well, obviously, there are no bad players in the NFL. Your mate Steve from Peewee football, who dropped six passes every game, was a bad player, and he works in a bank now. But this is all relative. These are players who didn’t really work out after being drafted with the third overall pick.  

In 1999, the Bengals took Akili Smith with the third overall pick. He was one of five (!) quarterbacks taken in the first round that year. Tim Couch was the first overall pick in 1999, and Donavan McNabb went second. Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown were the other two taken in the first round.  

Smith’s career in Cincinnati began with a contract dispute that caused him to miss part of the preseason. He went on to play 22 games for the Bengals over the next four seasons, only winning three of his 17 starts, and he ended his Bengals career with a 46.6% completion rate. 

Smith’s is just the first cautionary tale for the Patriots heading into the draft.

Vince Young was the third overall pick in 2006. After an absolutely mind-blowing performance for Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, the Titans drafted Young to replace Steve McNair. And it wasn’t terrible; when you consider Young had to deal with Jeff “8-8” Fisher as his head coach, he did well. Young won 17 of his first 28 starts in the regular season but lost his only playoff start in 2007. But he suffered a knee injury during his third season's first game and was featured only in three games. 

It all went wrong in 2010 when Young suffered a thumb injury during a game in Washington. Fisher prevented Young from returning to the game, and the game ended with Young throwing his shoulder pads into the crowd and having a locker room disagreement with the coach. The Titans cut Young in 2011; he started three games for the Eagles in 2011 but only managed one win.

What began as a promising career fizzled out pretty quickly. 

Smith and Young aren’t the only quarterbacks to be selected with the third overall pick, though. Blake Bortles, Sam Darnold, and Trey Lance also appear in that rogue’s gallery. 

Other noteworthy players picked at No. 3 proves there's more uncertainty with the pick than anything else

Some third-round picks have been fine. They are definitely not good enough to be considered legends, but they are not Trey Lance bad, either.

Joey Bosa looked like he was going to be a very good pick for the Chargers after his 23 sacks in his first 27 starts. He’s only completed one season since. Most Chargers fans probably couldn’t tell you what he looks like; they just remember he’s got a brother named Nick. 

Solomon Thomas is an incredible human who has suffered terrible tragedy in his young life. But he’s a defensive end who has only made 15 sacks in his 99 games; that’s not much of a return for a high pick. 

Talking of defensive ends with underwhelming numbers, Dante Fowler was a third-overall pick too. The Jaguars selected Fowler in 2015, and after blowing his knee out at his first practice session as a rookie, he would make one start in three seasons. He played in 39 games in Jacksonville but only recorded 14 sacks! Not very “Sacksonville” of him. 

Many Patriots fans are excited at the prospect of picking third in a draft loaded with talent. But if history teaches us anything, the third overall pick isn’t a surefire thing.  

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