A Look Back at the Last Four No. 1 NFL Draft Picks

As the 2024 NFL Draft approaches, all eyes are on Caleb Williams, who has emerged as the odds-on favourite to be selected first overall. The 22-year-old junior has been in scintillating form for the USC Trojans since making the jump from the University of Oklahoma. In his maiden campaign at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, he racked up over 4,500 throwing yards en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. Last term, he continued in a similar vein, throwing for well over 3,000 yards and declaring himself for the 2024 draft. 

His exceptional ability to command the field has been on full display, leading his side to an impressive offensive output in which they embarked on a streak of scoring over 50 points in three consecutive games—a feat not seen in seven years. 

Despite facing challenges, such as a tough outing against Notre Dame where they were outclassed in a 49-20 defeat, Williams’s resilience and leadership qualities have shone through. His dynamic playmaking ability and consistency have made him the major talking point of the 2024 draft, with a prominent online sportsbook making him the overwhelming -1200 favorite to be the first overall pick. 

Decision Time for the Bears

Whether that is with the Chicago Bears or not however remains to be seen. The Soldier Field side has a tough decision to make under center, do they bring in Williams or do they trade away their number one pick and keep faith with Justin Fields? The 25-year-old headed to Illinois as the 11th overall pick back in 2021 with plenty of hype behind him however, he has yet to find any kind of form. His Bears were the worst team in the league last year and the former Ohio State standout has come in for plenty of criticism due to that, but is that enough to see the franchise cut their losses and seal the deal for Williams? 

The anticipation surrounding the projected number-one pick mirrors the excitement that has accompanied the last four men to have gone first overall. But who are those stars and how have they fared since leaping? Let’s find out. 

2023 – Bryce Young

Quarterback Bryce Young from Alabama was selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers last year and he came into the league with high expectations. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 and his playmaking ability was seen as a cornerstone for the Panthers’ rebuilding efforts, with the powers that be in Charlotte hoping that he would fill the cleats of a certain Cam Newton. Unfortunately for them however that hasn’t yet happened. 

The Panthers managed to pick up just two victories all season in 2023 and had the worst record in the entire league by some distance. To make matters worse, C.J. Stroud, the man who was overlooked in favor of Young, had one of the greatest debut campaigns in history, securing Rookie of the Year honors and leading the Houston Texans to the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time in four years. 

2022 – Travon Walker

Defensive end Travon Walker was taken first by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022 – their second straight pick at the top of the board – and brought an imposing physical presence to the defense in Florida. Coming out of Georgia, he was praised for his versatility, athleticism, and ability to disrupt the opposing offense. In his short time thus far at EverBank Stadium, the former Bulldog made significant contributions to the team’s defensive lineup, showcasing his skills in pass rush and run defense. 

2021 – Trevor Lawrence

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence was selected first overall by the Jaguars in 2021, coming from Clemson with a reputation as a generational talent. His rookie season was a learning experience, marked by the typical ups and downs of a young QB adjusting to the NFL. 

However, he has since shown considerable growth and his potential is undeniable. He led his team to the postseason in 2022 where they were narrowly defeated by the Chiefs in the Divisional Round and they only just missed out on a return last season courtesy of the aforementioned Texans. Expect them to be battling it out for a postseason berth once again next season, and Lawrence will be integral to their success. 

2020 – Joe Burrow

Joe Burrow has completely revitalized the fortunes of the Cincinnati Bengals since being picked first overall in 2020. His impact was immediate; despite suffering a significant knee injury in his rookie season, he bounced back stronger and led the Bengals to a first postseason victory in 31 years the following campaign. Two more victories followed and they headed to Super Bowl LVI to face off against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFI Stadium, but ultimately they were downed by a last-gasp Cooper Kupp touchdown. 

They returned to the Conference Championships in 2022 but unfortunately for them, Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs would have their redemption for the previous year’s defeat. Last term, Burrow and the Bengals headed into the season as one of the championship favorites. Unfortunately for them, the former LSU Tiger was plagued with injuries and missed the second half of the campaign. As such, Cincy missed the playoffs altogether, but expect them to come back stronger next season.