As draft day approaches, ESM looks back on the best players chosen in the New York Jets’ current draft slots.
The New York Jets currently own eight draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday night in a virtual setting (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/NFL Network).
To commemorate the path to the draft, ESM counts down the greatest picks chosen in their respective positions. Our series concludes with none than the No. 11 pick, the Jets first selection once things get underway in the virtual arena. Our final installment is particularly special, so we rounded things off at the 11 best picks in the 11th slot…
1950: OL/DT Leo Nomellini, San Francisco
Nomellini was born in Tuscany before immigrating to Minnesota as an infant. He would go on to star with the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers, earning All-American honors twice before becoming the first NFL Draft selection of the San Francisco 49ers upon their transfer from the All-America Football Conference. Two-way exploits awaited Nomellini in the NFL. He wound up playing 14-years in the league, with ten of those seasons ending in Pro Bowl visits and six All-Pro nominations. Post-football, Nomellini also worked as a professional wrestler, as seen above. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
1952: RB/WR/DB Frank Gifford, NY Giants
Gifford’s eight career Pro Bowls were earned through three different positions. His story is one of the more inspiring in NFL history. A hard hit from Philadelphia’s Chuck Bednarik forced him into an early retirement in 1960. But, after nearly 18 months on the mend, he returned to NFL action and won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Other accolades include 1956’s MVP and a spot on the 1950s All-Decade team. Gifford reached Canton in 1977 and later served as an analyst on Monday Night Football.
1953: DE Doug Atkins, Cleveland
Decades before the sack became an official stat, Atkins was striking fear into the hearts of quarterbacks everywhere during a career spent primarily with the Chicago Bears. Many contemporary NFL Network viewers were introduced to Atkins last season when he was named to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary team. He also appeared on the 1960s edition of the All-Decade team. He used his track and field prowess, particularly that in the high jump, to invade opposing backfields. Appropriately, the final play of his NFL career was a sack, with Pittsburgh throw Dick Shiner being the victim. Atkins got his invitation to Canton in 1982.
1964: WR Paul Warfield, Cleveland
Yet another Canton invitee, Warfield continues to hold the NFL record for yards per reception amongst players with at least 300 receptions (20.1). Warfield accomplished plenty during a six-year tenure Cleveland tenure, he’s perhaps best-known for his exploits with the Miami Dolphins. So great was Warfield’s reputation (he reached eight Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro squads) that President Richard Nixon personally suggested a play to Miami head coach Don Shula during their 1972 Super Bowl appearance against Dallas. The Dolphins lost that game, but Warfield wound up being their leading receiver during the ensuing route to perfection.
1988: WR Michael Irvin, Dallas
Irvin was a metroplex trivia answer long before he took the field at Texas Stadium. He was the last first round pick of the holy Dallas decision-making trinity of Tex Schramm, Gil Brandt, and Tom Landry. The Miami alum was granted starting duties immediately and was also bestowed the numeral 88, becoming the first Cowboy to wear the number since Drew Pearson’s 1983 retirement. Schramm predicted that the drafting of Irvin would “speed (Dallas’) return to the living” after a string of losing seasons. Irvin did that and then some, forming the legendary “Triplets” group with fellow first-rounders Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Dallas won three Super Bowls and Irvin and his 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns landed him in the Hall of Fame.
2002: DE Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis
New York serendipity was not to be for Freeney, a Syracuse alum who grew up idolizing Lawrence Taylor. Instead, he went to a Colts squad desperate to surround Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison with a competent defense. Freeney almost accomplished the task on his own. The first nine of 47 career forced fumbles came in his rookie season, the debut of an 11-year career with the Colts. That championship finally came in 2007, when the Colts topped Chicago. Freeney is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022.
2004: QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
The 11th pick of the 2004 draft yielded one of the historic selections of the quarterback class. After the chaos of the Eli Manning-Phillip Rivers situation, Roethlisberger went to the Steelers. He usurped the job from Tommy Maddox early in his rookie season and won his first 13 starts. One year later, Pittsburgh earned its fifth Super Bowl, and Roethlisberger would author a sixth journey during the 2008-09 season. In spite of his many accomplishments (including six Pro Bowls and topping the passing yardage list twice), controversy hasn’t eluded Roethlisberger, who was accused of sexual assault at the turn of the decade on numerous occasions.
2005: LB DeMarcus Ware, Dallas
Controversy initially reigned when the Cowboys took Ware out of Troy with the 11th pick, passing San Diego-bound Shawne Merriman. While Merriman had a decent, if all too brief, career, Ware turned himself into a legend. After nine years in Dallas (in which he built a sizable lead on the team’s sack list), Ware moved onto Denver, where he captured an elusive Super Bowl title. He tallied five tackles, including two sacks, in the 24-10 win over Carolina.
2007: LB Patrick Willis, San Francisco
Unfortunately, injuries ended Willis’ career in 2014 before it could truly get going, but he made the most out of what he had. He led the league in tackles twice, and also put up 53 pass defenses and 16 forced fumbles. His career ended with a Pro Bowl appearance in all but his final season (which was cut short due to the fateful toe injury that led him to a premature departure) and he was able to reach the NFL’s All-2010s team, despite playing only three full seasons in the decade.
2011: DE J.J. Watt, Houston
The face of the NFL almost always appears to be a quarterback, and this current state of the league doesn’t appear to afford an exception with Patrick Mahomes looking like the most likely candidate. Watt, however, is doing what we can to turn favor over to the defense. His impressive resume, earned despite dealing with numerous injuries, speaks for itself (three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 95.5 sacks), but Watt has also made an impact off the field with numerous charitable endeavors, notably raising over $37 million to help his loyalists from the Houston area recover from Hurrican Harvey.
2012: DT Dontari Poe, Kansas City
In 2012, the Kansas Chiefs found the quarterback they were looking for. Patrick who? It’s actually Poe, who owns a perfect career passer rating of 158.3 thanks to his Christmas Eve toss in 2016 that went for a score. He hasn’t been so bad on defense either, putting up 278 tackles and 20.5 sacks over eight seasons so far. The 2013 All-Pro nominee and two-time Pro Bowler recently inked a two-year deal with the Cowboys.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags