Updated: Sep 6
Written By Aaron Ussery
With the NFL Draft now bearing down on us, now is a great time to check back on how teams have fared over the last few years. In this article I take a look back at the one player each team selected over the past five years that has had the most positive impact on their team's fortunes.
Baltimore Ravens - QB Lamar Jackson
As if it could have been anyone else.
Prior to Lamar, the Ravens had always been known as a franchise defined by excellent defense. Offensive firepower, particularly at the quarterback position, was never really on the menu (Joe Flacco's supernova stretch in the 2012 playoffs aside).
Obviously, Lamar has changed all that. From the moment he stepped onto the field he proved to be a dynamic threat, and the team's entire identity now revolves around him and his dual-threat ability. He has taken the Ravens to the playoffs in three of his four years as their signal caller, and already brought home an MVP trophy. The team seems a bit hesitant to extend him thus far, but it's hard to see a reality where they don't reward him for what he's done thus far.
Honorable Mentions: TE Mark Andrews, CB Marlon Humphrey
Cleveland Browns - EDGE Myles Garrett
As Baker Mayfield's time with the team comes to an upsetting and unceremonious end, the choice here is almost certainly Garrett. No player has had a larger impact on the field and on the team's culture.
Garrett has finished with double digit sacks four years in a row, dominates against the run, and is the defacto leader of their defense, which was one of the better units in the league last season. Looking back over the years, it's been difficult for players selected number one overall to live up to that billing -- but Garrett is most certainly one of the ones who has.
Honorable Mentions: RB Nick Chubb, CB Denzel Ward
Cincinnati Bengals - QB Joe Burrow/WR Ja'Marr Chase
Alright, maybe this is cheating -- but it didn't feel "right" to select one of these two over the other. They are too linked at the hip, and I think the impact that each has made on the team wouldn't be the same without the other.
Burrow was the correct choice at number one overall back in 2020, even though Justin Herbert has put up better numbers and generally has a much higher ceiling. He's been a very very good player on the field, but it's also clear that he's changed the culture of the locker room and the Bengals organization as a whole -- which is no small feat when you think about the history of this franchise.
But Burrow wouldn't have taken this team to the Super Bowl last season without Chase in the fold. Despite all the furor about him being selected rather than an offensive tackle, his playmaking ability both helped Burrow further settle in as an NFL passer AND added a missing dynamism to the offense. Even going back to their time together at LSU, these two complement each other too well for one to be the choice here over the other. They are both the future of this team, and the future looks very bright.
Honorable Mentions: WR Tee Higgins, S Jessie Bates III
Pittsburgh Steelers - EDGE TJ Watt
I was surprised at how obvious of a choice this one was. Not that Watt isn't a tremendous player, but it was a bit unexpected to see just how unspectacular the Steelers have drafted over the past five years. There have been a few other decent contributors added to the mix, but it's beyond clear who has been this team's most impactful pick over that timespan.
The reigning defensive player of the year, Watt has led the league in sacks two years in a row and is the clear face of the defense (similar to Garrett in Cleveland). He makes a good case to be considered the most disruptive player in the league, and the rest of their defense is made better by the way he's able to consistently dominate upfront.