No Team Has Capitalized on Having Two of the Top Four Draft Picks Since the 1950s. Can the Woeful Cleveland Browns Do What so Many Others Failed to Achieve?
By Chris Malumphy
In the history of the National Football League, a team has had two of the top four draft picks on a dozen occasions. The 2018 Cleveland Browns are track to become the 13th team.
The hopes of the team and its remaining, truly diehard, fans are high. The Browns have suffered through a miserably record-breaking two-year period in which they have won just one of 32 games as an integral part of a master tear-down plan preparing for this opportunity.
Former general manager Sashi Brown and analytics guru Paul DePodesta purposefully stripped the team bare to amass an unused salary cap fortune and draft picks galore all to the consternation and detriment of Hue Jackson whose football reputation and career as a head coach have been placed in severe jeopardy by those very actions.
Somehow Jackson has miraculously survived the 1–31 record, the apparent undermining of the front office, and a mercurial ownership that has already sent several coaching staffs on their way in a few short years, and will return for his third season. Following weeks of meetings with players by co-owner Dee Haslam, Jackson has been permitted to stay.
Touted as a quarterback whisperer when first hired by the Browns, Jackson has gone through Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan with just one victory for the team under his leadership. A worse two-year period has never been seen in the annals of NFL history.
Harvard educated lawyer Sashi Brown has been the only one, as of yet, to take a fall for this debacle. Some speculate that Brown got the ax for the front office having bungled, perhaps purposefully, a mid-season trade for former Cincinnati Bengal’s quarterback AJ McCarron, a Jackson favorite who he thought he could win with. Nevertheless, Brown has received some praise during the past few weeks for the assets he was able to amass for the team that is now being put in play. Some of the salary cap money and draft picks have now been used to buttress the team at quarterback (Tyrod Taylor), running back (Carlos Hyde), offensive line (Chris Hubbard) and defensive backfield (E.J. Gaines).
The cornerstone of those assets are the 2018 draft picks which currently include two first round and three second round selections, although much could still change as general manager John Dorsey has not been shy about putting his imprint on the team by cutting deritus, signing talent, and using future picks as currency to maneuver into a better future.
The pinnacle of his aspirations lay however with the first and fourth choices of the first round. Certainly, he’ll tab a quarterback, a need to stretches back beyond the reformulation of the Browns’ franchise in 1999. The other choice could be used on a running back, a pass rusher or a defensive back, each a significant need with talented collegiate talent waiting to be picked like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, and Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.
One team having two of the top four draft picks is somewhat of a rarity. It has happend only 12 times and only twice in the prior 25 drafts. Certainly, the Browns maneuvering and good fortune will lead to a decade of playoff runs and perhaps not only the team’s first Super Bowl appearances, but also victories. After all, that is what usually happens when teams are stocked with top draft picks. Or is it?
Here is the history of the 12 occasions in which teams had two of the top four choices. The results haven’t always been pretty.
|Teams with Multiple Picks Within the Top Four Draft Choices|
|Team Record with Player|
|2||LaVarr Arrington||LB||Penn State||3||0||44-52-0||1||1-1||0|
|2||Quentin Coryatt||LB||Texas A&M||0||0||42-54-0||2||2-2||0|
|4||Art Schlichter||QB||Ohio State||0||0||9-31-1||0||0-0||0|
Los Angeles Rams
|2||Roman Gabriel||QB||North Carolina State||3||1||76-67-9||2||0-2||0|
|2||Norm Snead||QB||Wake Forest||2||0||9-30-3||0||0-0||0|
|2||John David Crow||RB||Texas A&M||3||0||39-48-5||0||0-0||0|
Green Bay Packers
|1||Paul Hornung||RB||Notre Dame||2||2||73-42-3||5||6-1||5|
Green Bay Packers
|3||Art Hunter||T||Notre Dame||0||0||4-8-0||0||0-0||0|
|4||Veryl Switzer||B||Kansas State||0||0||10-14-0||0||0-0||0|
2000 Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins were the last team to have two of the top four selections, having the second and third picks back in 2000. Neither choice originally belonged to Washington.
The Redskins obtained the second pick in the draft from New Orleans when Saints’ coach Mike Ditka bet his coaching career on a trade to draft Texas running back Ricky Williams. To obtain the third pick, Washington sent the 12th pick in the draft, obtained as part of a compensation package from the Carolina Panthers for signing franchised defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, along with the Redskins original first round choice at number 24, to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Redskins were coming off a 10–6 record under coach Norv Turner in 1999 and had just won a 27–13 wild-card playoff victory over the Detroit Lions followed by a one-point loss (14–13) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round. Washington had finished second in points scored with quarterback Brad Johnson. With the two early picks, Washington seemed primed to assure themselves long-term playoff success and solid Super Bowl chances for the next decade.
The Redskins drafted Penn State linebacker LaVarr Arrington and Alabama tackle Chris Samuels. Arrington played for the Redskins for six seasons and earned three Pro Bowl selections. Samuels played 10 years with Washington and was selected for the Pro Bowl six times.
With all that, you’d think the Redskins would have had overwhelming success. They did not. Washington went 44–52 in the years that Arrington and Samuels played together and 26–38 with Samuels alone after Arrington left the team, joining the Giants for one season before retiring. The team ran through a string of coaches: Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs in his second stint with the franchise, and Steve Zorn. Arrington and Samuels were together for one winning season, 10–6 in 2005, when they won their lone playoff game. Samuels also played for the 9–7 Redskins’ 2007 season which ended in a wild-card week playoff loss. Despite entering the 2000 draft with long-term playoff hopes and potential, the Redskins came out of the Arrington-Samuels era with an overal record of 70–90, and just one playoff victory. All of this was done during the early years of Dan Snyder’s ownership.
1992 Indianapolis Colts
Ten years before the Redskins blew their big opportunity, the Indianapolis Colts had both the first and second choice in the draft. The Colts had the first pick by virtue of having the worst record in 1991. The second pick was gained by trading quarterback Chris Chandler to the Buccaneers. The Colts selected defensive tackle Steve Emtman from Washington and linebacker Quentin Coryatt of Texas A&M. The Colts went 1–15 in 1991 under coaches Ron Meyer, who was let go after an 0–5 start, and Rick Venturi. The team’s quarterback was Jeff George. Things did not look bright in Indianapolis and the coaching job was being turned over to Ted Marchibroda for the second time, having previously served as head coach of the Colts from 1975–1979 while the team was in Baltimore, going 41–33 with three playoff appearances, losing each time, once in overtime.
Emtman played three injury-filled seasons with the Colts, appearing in just 18 games. He played two more years with the Dolphins and finished with the Redskins a year afterwards.
Coryatt played six seasons with the Colts and another with the Cowboys. Neither player lived up to expectations. The Colts did improve, however, going 9–7 in Emtman and Coryatt’s rookie season, although the two rookies had little to do with it, and 21–27 in the three seasons they were both on the team. The Colts were also 21–27 with Coryatt in the three seasons after Emtman left the team. Despite receiving little of any benefit from having the top two picks in 1992, Indianapolis did have three 9–7 seasons with two playoff appearances adding some excitement in 1995 under Marchibroda with quarterback Jim Harbaugh and running back Marshall Faulk by going deep into the playoffs beating the Chargers and Chiefs and losing a heart-breaker in the Conference Championship game to the Steelers 20–16. The Colts also made the playoffs in 1996 under new caoch Lindy Infante but were murdered in the playoffs during wild-card week by the Steelers 42–14. The injuries to Emtman and the lackluster play of Coryatt meant the possession of the top two picks in the 1992 drafted added little to the franchise’s success.
1982 Baltimore Colts
More than most franchises, the Colts have a tradition of being led by some of the league’s most stellar quarterbacks interspersed with total mediocrities and on occasion, wildly talented passers unable to meet the other demands of the most key position in team sports. Johnny Unitas, Bert Jones, Peyton Manning and Oliver Luck are among the most celebrated talents of their day. Jeff George is an example of a talented passer who never reached his full potential. Unfortunately for the 1982 Baltimore Colts, use of the fourth pick on Art Schlichter ranks among the worst quarterback selections of all time, perhaps even worse than the selections of Ryan Leaf by the San Diego Chargers with the second pick in 1998 and the Oakland Raiders’ pick of JeMarcus Russell with the top pick in 2000.
Baltimore finished the 1981 season with a 2–14 record which earned the team the second pick in the 1982 NFL Draft. They obtained the fourth selection that year from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for former star Bert Jones who had plagued by injuries for years and who unknown to the Rams, would have just four games left in his career.
The Colts used the two picks to select linebacker Johnie Cooks from Mississippi and quarterback Art Schlichter from Ohio State. Things didn’t go well for the Colts. The team finished the strike-shortened 1982 season winless at 0–8–1 under new coach Frank Kush, but the task-master rallied the team together to 7–9 in 1983. Schlichter had nothing to do with the team’s improved play, however, having been suspended by the league for the full-season for gambling.
Schlichter was out of the NFL after four years, never winning a game in six starts, throwing only 202 passes in his entire career, completing 91 (45%), for just 1,006 yards, three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His gambling addiction gained him a suspension for his sophomore season and legal problems plagued him during his playing days and beyond. Contrast Schlichter with JeMarcus Russell who was 7–18 in his uninspiring career and who threw for four times as many yards (4,083) and six times as many touchdowns (18) or Ryan Leaf who won four games, threw for three times as many yards (3,666) and nearly five times (14) as many touchdowns. When thinking of the biggest quarterback busts of all time, Schlichter’s name should be foremost on the list.
Cooks played six unremarkable seasons plus one additional game for the Colts in 1988 before being traded to the New York Giants where he played nearly three years followed by a final year, two-game stint with the Cleveland Browns. Cooks was never named to the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team. Cooks had only one full season with the Colts in which they had a winning record, 1987 when the team went 9–6 under coach Ron Meyer in another strike abbreviated year in which the Colts lost their only playoff game in the Cooks-Schlichter era. It is certainly a draft the Colts would better forget.
1965 Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears 1965 first round draft was undoubtedly one for the ages. With the third pick the Bears selected Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus. Butkus was selected for the Pro Bowl each of his first eight seasons. He was first team All-Pro five times. Butkus intercepted 22 passes and recovered 27 fumbles during his career.
With the fourth choice the Bears added Hall of Fame running back and dazzling kick returner Gale Sayers. Sayers went to the Pro Bowl four times and was first team All-Pro each of his first five seasons. He twice gained 1,000 plus yards rushing and topped 800 yards three other times in 14 game seasons, including some years in which he missed games due to injury. During his career he returned six kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns. Overall, he had 56 touchdowns in 68 games, once scoring six touchdowns in a single game.
Already on the roster was Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka. The Bears were just one year removed from being the NFL Champions having beaten the New York Giants in 1963. They were led by owner/coach George Halas, the winningest coach in NFL history at that time, and currently second only to Don Shula in victories. In present context, Halas is still 68 victories ahead of Bill Belichick and has a higher life-time winning percentage than both Shula and Belichick.
Butkus (51), Sayers (40), Halas (7) and Ditka (89) all have their numbers retired by the Bears. Each is in the Hall of Fame. Surely this draft was destined to lead the Bears to glory for many years to come.
Afraid not. After going 11–1–2 and winning the Championship in 1963, the Bears fell to 5–9 in 1964. The Bears had traded a second and a fourth round pick in the 1964 draft to obtain the Pittsburgh Steelers first round pick in 1965, which turned out to be the third pick in the draft. Their 5–9 record earned them the fourth pick. No one could argue that they didn’t draft the best players available and that those players lived up to their expectations. But the franchise was never able to capitalize on the picks for a variety of reasons, including recurring injuries to their star picks, an owner whose career as a coach was coming to an end, a temporary falling out between owner and his star tight end, and franchise juggernauts that had arisen in Green Bay, Baltimore and Los Angeles. Having starting quarterbacks like the aging Rudy Bukich, Jack Concannon, Virgil Carter and Bobby Douglas didn’t help.
The Bears went 9–5 in 1965 following the addition of Butkus and Sayers, but neither of the two would ever play another year on a team that finished a full-game over .500. In the seven seasons Butkus and Sayers played together, the Bears 41–54–3. Butkus lasted two more years with the Bears going 48–74–4 during his career. During the two seasons Butkus and Sayers played alongside of Ditka, the Bears were 14–12–2 in 1965 and 1996. Ditka was jettisoned to the Eagles and finished his playing career with the Cowboys. The Bears were 7–6–1 in 1997 and Halas called it quits as a coach. Coaches Jim Dooley (1968–1971) and Abe Gibron (1972–1974) proved to be no George Halas and the team did not finish above .500 again until 1977, long after Butkus and Sayers retired. It was many years before Ditka returned to Chicago as coach and led the Bears to a Super Bowl. Despite such bright prospects and great talent, neither Butkus nor Sayers ever played in a playoff game.
Ditka got out of Chicago when the getting was good. After winning the championship with the Bears in 1963, he did not get to the playoffs again while in Chicago even after the team drafted Butkus and Sayers. Although his years in Philadelphia were relatively uneventful, he went to the playoffs four consecutive seasons with the Cowboys (1969–1972), participating in nine playoff games, including two Super Bowls, a loss following the 1970 season and a victory in 1971.
It might be considered blasphemy in Chicago but the Bears would have been better off if they had passed on one of their future Hall of Famers and had selected the fifth player drafted in 1965 instead. Few consider quarterback Craig Morton a Hall of Fame caliber player. Nevertheless, he led both the Cowboys and Broncos to Super Bowl appearances. The best player available may not always be the best player to draft. Team need and the importance of a position should undeniably be a factor.
1962 Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams went 4–10 in 1961 earning the third choice in the 1962 NFL Draft. The Rams obtained the second pick by trading wide receiver Del Shofner to the New York Giants who had obtained the pick from Minnesota for quarterback George Shaw prior to the Vikings’ 1961 inaugural season. The Vikings should have kept the pick since rookie Fran Tarkenton took over as starting quarterback by the fifth game of the season.
The Rams drafted quarterback Roman Gabriel from North Carolina State and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen from Utah State. Other than Butkus-Sayers, this was the best duo drafted by one team in the top four selections.
Olsen played with the Rams for 15 years and was named to the Pro Bowl his first 14 seasons. He was a main member of the Fearsome Foursome which included Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. Olsen was first-team All-Pro five times and is a member of the Hall of Fame.
Gabriel played 11 seasons with the Rams before playing 5 more with the Eagles. While he was not as good as Olsen, he was no slouch and the position he played was of greater importance. Gabriel was named to the Pro Bowl three times with the Rams and once again with the Eagles. He was first-team All Pro with the Rams in 1969. As the Rams starting quarterback, he is credited with a 74–39–6 record with 154 touchdown passes to 112 interceptions. In 1964, Gabriel collaberated with wide receiver Bucky Pope, the Catwba Claw, for a fantastic 31.4 yard average with 10 touchdowns on 25 catches. From 1962–1972 when Olsen and Gabriel were together the Rams went 78–67–9 despite being 1–12–1 during their rookie season when Gabriel spent most of the time on the bench. From 1967 thru 1970, Los Angeles was 40–11–4 under coach George Allen including seasons of 11–1–2, 10–3–1, 11–3–0, and 9–4–1. Despite that, the pair only went to the playoffs together twice. In 1967 the Rams lost 28–7 to the Green Bay Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. In 1969, the Rams lost 23–20 to the Minnesota Vikings, who eventually fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
Gabriel went to the Eagles following the 1972 season and Chuck Knox succeeded Tommy Prothro as coach of the Rams.
During Olsen’s last four seasons, the Rams were 44–11–1 under Knox and went to the playoffs each year. The Rams lost to the Cowboys in the 1973 divisional playoffs, then won the divisional playoffs three years in a row, only to lose in each of the Conference finals.
The Rams went to the playoffs six years that Olsen was with the team, winning three playoff games and losing six. While the Olsen-Gabriel draft never led to a championship, the Los Angeles had to be very pleased with the production of their top picks in the 1962 draft. Perhaps if coach George Allen had stayed with the team longer, or Chuck Knox had been named coach earlier, the 1960s and 1970s Rams might have grabbed a championship ring.
1961 Washington Redskins
The 1960s ushered in expansion years for the NFL as it sought to keep cities from the upstart American Football League. The Dallas Cowboys entered the league in 1960 and finished their inaugural season with an 0–11–1 record. The Washington Redskins finished 1–9–2. The expansion Minnesota Vikings would play its first game in 1961 and were awarded the first pick in that year’s draft. The Cowboys had traded their first in the 1961 draft to Washington the year before for quarterback Eddie LeBaron. Washington therefore had both the second and third picks in the draft following the Vikings. The Vikings selected running back Tommy Mason and the Redskins followed by taking quarterback Norm Snead from Wake Forest and then defensive tackle Joe Rutgens from Illinois. The Redskins promptly finished 1–12–1 in the league’s first 14 game season.
Snead showed some promise at quarterback but threw 71 interceptions in his three years with the team which was 9–30–3 during that period. Nevertheless he was selected for the Pro Bowl in both 1962 and 1963. He was then traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, who was one of the most prolific passers of the 1960s. At the time of the trade, Jurgensen was 30 and Snead only 25. Snead went on to a long, but mediocre career.
In additions to his three seasons with the Redskins, Snead spent seven years with the Eagles, one with the Vikings, two and a half with the Giants, two and a half with the 49ers and back to the Giants for his final year. After 16 years of play, he had 196 touchdown passes but 257 interceptions and has been credited with a 52–100–7 record. Overall, he was selected for the Pro Bowl four times.
Rutgens spent his entire nine-year career with Washington and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1963 and 1965. During the years in which Rutgens was on the roster and either Snead or Jurgensen served as the starting quarterback (1961–1969), Redskins were 45–73–8 under coaches Bill McPeak, Otto Graham and Vince Lombardi despite having Hall of Fame receivers Bobby Mitchell (1962–1968) and Charley Taylor (1964–1975 & 1977), both of whom had also played running back during their careers. The only time the Redskins played better than .500 during that span was in 1969, the one season with Lombardi as coach, when the team finished 7–5–2. Lombardi, who died before the 1970 season began, was replaced by Bill Austin who was 6–8 with Jurgensen still the starting quarterback in his lone season as Washington’s head coach. It was only after majority owner Edward Bennett Williams turned the coaching reigns over to George Allen in 1971 and Allen replaced Jurgensen at starting quarterback with journeyman Bill Kilmer that the Redskins went on a string of four straight playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl loss in 1972. The Redskins had not been in the playoffs since losing the 1945 championship 15–14 to the Cleveland Rams in 1945.
Coincidentally, Kilmer had been taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the 11th pick in the first round of that 1961 same draft in which Snead and Rutgen were drafted. Kilmer would continue to quarterback the Redskins throughout the Allen years ending in 1977. During the seven seasons Allen and Kilmer spent together, Washington was 67–30–1. Perhaps Washington should have gone after Kilmer rather than drafting Snead in 1961 or trading for Jurgensen in 1964.
1958 Chicago Cardinals
The Chicago Cardinals were the 1958 recipients of the “bonus pick” which was provided at the top of the draft to one franchise each year from 1947–1958 with no team being provided with the bonus more than once. By virtue of their 3–9 record in 1957 the Cardinals also had the next pick. They selected quarterback King Hill from Rice and running back John David Crow from Texas A&M. The Cardinals finished 2–9–1 in 1958 and 2–10–0 in 1959 before moving to St. Louis in 1960 where their performance improved a bit.
Hill was never much of a factor. He barely played as a rookie in 1958, went 2–8 as a starter in 1959 and 1–0 in 1960 before being sent to the Eagles where he played for seven plus seasons often serving more as a punter than a quarterback. In the midst of the 1968 season, Hill went from the Eagles to the Vikings where he served exclusively as a punter. In 1969 he returned to the Cardinals as a punter for his final season. Overall, he threw just 882 passes in his career, completing 48.7%, for 5,553 yards, 37 touchdowns and 71 interceptions. Certainly not the career expected of the top pick in the draft.
John David Crow was another matter. While no Jim Brown, Jim Taylor or Gale Sayers, Crow put together a fine, productive career both as a runner and receiver. Crow gained 1,071 yards rushing in 1960 during a 12-game season with a league leading 5.9 yard average. His additional 462 yards receiving yards gave him 1,533 yards from scrimmage, the best in the league. Although he missed portions of the 1961 and 1963 seasons due to injury, Crow was a mainstay of the Cardinals offense throughout his years with the team. He was traded to the 49ers in 1965 for defensive back / kick returner Abe Woodson. In San Franciso, Crow continued his under-stated, yet productive play for four seasons including his final year in 1968 when he converted to tight end and caught 31 passes for 3,699 yards, 17.1 yards per catch and 5 touchdowns. Crow was named to three Pro Bowl teams with the Cardinals and one more with the 49ers.
During the three seasons in which both Hill and Crow were on the team, the Cardinals went 10–24–2. The Cardinals were 29–24–3 during Crow’s final four years with the team. The Cardinals best finish during that period was their 9–3–2 record when they finished second in the NFL Eastern Conference behind the ultimate league champion Cleveland Browns who were 10–3–1.
Despite decent play from John David Crow, the Cardinals were never able to truly take advantage of having the top two picks in the 1958 NFL Draft.
1957 Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers had the “bonus pick” to lead off the 1957 draft as well as the fourth pick for finishing 4–8 in 1956. The Packers took the versatile Paul Hornung from Notre Dame and end Ron Kramer from Michigan. Hornung was a more than capable runner, receiver, passer and placekicker. While not in the ranks of John Mackey or Mike Ditka, Kramer was an excellent tight end as the new position began to emerge.
The Packers had not had a winning season since going 6–5–1 in 1947 under Curly Lambeau, although they were 6–6 in both 1952 and 1955. The team had just begun gathering the players that would form the nucleus of their championship teams of the 1960s. Quarterback Bart Starr, the Tom Brady of his day, had been drafted with the 7th pick in the 17th round, the 200th player overall in 1956, but had not yet come close to showing the prowess that would establish him as most accurate passer of his day. It was still two years before Vince Lombardi would take the coaching reigns and mold the team into a juggernaut.
Green Bay was 3–9 in 1957 with both Hornung and Kramer having some moderate success. The Packers dropped to 1–10–1 in 1958, a year that Kramer missed due to military service. Then Lombardi took over in 1959 making Starr the starting quarterback resulting in a 7–5 record, Green Bay’s first winning season in 12 years. Although Kramer had rejoined the team, he hardly played in 1959 and 1960. Hornung, on the other hand, was becoming a star by virtue of his versitality. He scored 176 points in 1960 with 13 touchdowns rushing, 2 more reciving, with 15 field goals and 41 extra points. That scoring stood for 46 years (it was broken by LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006) and still stands second best all-time. The 147 points Hornung scored in 1961 remains among the top 25.
In 1960, the Packers played in the championship game for the first time since winning it in 1944. Green Bay lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 14–10 in the final career game of Eagles’ quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. Chuck Bednarik went both ways that day for Philadelphi, playing center and middle linebacker, the last player to do so. It was the only post-season loss of Lombardi’s career.
Hornung played for the Packers through the 1966 season. He was named to two Pro Bowls and was first-team All Pro twice. He missed the 1963 season, along with the Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle Alex Karras, for gambling.
Kramer finally gained Lombardi’s good graces and regained his starting position full-time in 1961. He continued with Green Bay through the 1964 season and was then traded to the Detroit Lions. Kramer was first-team All Pro and selected for the Pro Bowl in 1962. During his tenure with the Packers, he caught 170 passes for 2,594 yards, a 15.3 yard average and 15 touchdowns.
Hornung was elected to the Hall of Fame and while Kramer was no superstar, he joined Hornung as an intergral part of the Packers championship teams that combined for a regular season record of 24–4 in 1961 and 1962. While Hornung served his suspension in 1963, Kramer played on the Green Bay team that went 11–2–1 but finished second to the 11–1–2 Chicago Bears, who beat the Giants for the league championship.
The Packers drafted several future Hall of Famers in the 1950s including: center Jim Ringo (1953), guard Forrest Gregg (1956), quarterback Bart Starr (1956), running back Jim Taylor (1958), middle linebacker Ray Nitshke (1958), and guard Jerry Kramer (1958) so it couldn’t reasonably be said that the Green Bay’s 1957 first round turned the team around. But the 1957 draft of Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and Ron Kramer was undoubtedly a success.
1955 Baltimore Colts
The Baltimore Colts had only been in existence for two seasons when they were assigned the “bonus pick” of the top selection in the 1955 draft. Their first two seasons ended with identical 3–9 records and the Colts had earned the third pick in the draft as well. Baltimore used those picks on quarterback George Shaw from Oregon and fullback Alan (The Horse) Ameche from Wisconsin. Both Shaw and Ameche became instant starters and the team improved to 5–6–1 under coach Weeb Ewbank. Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas joined the Colts in 1956, wrested the starting quarterback position from Shaw as the team went 5–7, and remained a Baltimore stalwart for 17 seasons.
After Shaw lost the starting role to Unitas, he remained with the Colts as a backup in 1957 and 1958 and was then shipped to the New York Giants where he played for two seasons before spending 1961 with the expansion Minnesota Vikings and his final season with the Denver Broncos of the AFL in 1962.
Alan Ameche’s career was short, but highly productive, he led the league with 961 yards rushing and 9 rushing touchdowns as a rookie and followed that up with 858 yards rushing and 8 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore.
Ameche made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons and was first-team All Pro as a rookie. He played six seasons during which the Colts were 41–30–1 and won two championships. His key runs in the Colts 23–17 overtime victory over the Giants in the 1958 championship game have gone done in football lore. After Ameche retired, it took the Colts ten years to win another championship despite the continued presence of Unitas and the coaching of Ewbank and then Don Shula and stars like Gino Marchetti, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Bobby Boyd and John Mackey. Perhaps Ameche was the heart and soul of those championship teams. Certainly, the Colts can call the 1955 draft a success even if Shaw didn’t pan out as their quarterback and was a gigantic miss as the number one pick.
1954 Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers didn’t get much value from drafting tackle Art Hunter from Notre Dame with the third choice and Kansas State Back Veryl Switzer with the fourth pick in the 1954 draft. Hunter played only one season with the Packers and Switzer only two. Switzer’s career was over but Hunter played for the Browns from 1956–59, the Rams from 1960–64 and with the Steelers in 1965. He was a Pro Bowl selection with the Browns in 1959. The Packers had been 2–9–1 in 1953 which earned them the second pick in the draft. They obtained the third pick from the Giants. Green Bay improved to 4–8 with both Hunter and Switzer on the roster in 1954 and reached 6–6 after Hunter left and Switzer still remained in 1955. The last time the Packers were good was in 1944. The next time would be 1959 at the dawn of the Vince Lombardi era. Hunter and Switzer didn’t make much of a difference to Green Bay.
1948 Washington Redskins
After making six championship game appearances and winning two between 1936 and 1945 the Washington Redskins fell on relatively hard times in 1947 by finishing 4–8. Luckily, they were awarded the “bonus pick” which provided them with the first pick in the draft. The team also had the fourth choice due to their record the prior year. The Redskins drafted Alabama quarterback Harry Gilmer and Alabama back Lowell Tew. The Redskins were 7–5 in 1948.
Gilmer spent six seasons with the Redskins as a quarterback / running back and two more with the Detroit Lions. As a quarterback, Gilmer is credited with a 0–10 career record with eight of the losses coming while he was with the Redskins. Nevertheless, he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1950 and 1952. Gilmer did not play in 1953. During his six seasons with the Redskins, the team went 26–45–1. During his career, Gilmer tossed 579 passes, completing 45.4% for 3,786 yards with 23 touchdown passes and 45 interceptions. He also gained 923 yards rushing.
Tew never played for the Redskins, but appeared in 1948 and 1949 with the New York Yankees football team.
Since it would take the Redskins another 23 seasons to make the playoffs, the 1948 draft should be considered a dud.
1941 Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears went 8–3 and won the 1940 championship by thrashing the Washington Redskins 73–0, yet they ended up with the first, third and ninth picks in the first round of the 1941 Draft. The top pick in the draft was obtained from the Philadelphia Eagles, while the third pick came in a trade with the Steelers. The Bears selected Michigan back Tom Harmon with the first pick and Stanford back Norm Standlee with the third selection.
The war years threw everything amiss. Harmon didn’t play pro ball until 1946 and 1947 when he played for the Rams and not the Bears. Standle played 10 games for the Bears in 1941, gaining 414 yards rushing and earning a Pro Bowl selection, but was then out of football until the war ended, returning to play the 1946–1952 seasons with the 49ers.
Nevertheless, the Bears won the championship in 1941 going 10–1 with Standlee and then finishing 11–0 but losing the championship game to the Redskins 14–6 in 1942 and going 8–1–1 and beating the Redskins 41–21 for the 1943 championship.
The 1941 draft seemed to mean little to the success of the Bears during the war years who were already a class unto themselves.