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New England Patriots

NFL Draft History of the Number Three Overall Pick

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) talk after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Atlanta. The Falcons won 40-14. Both were No. 3 overall picks in the NFL Draft. (AP Photo/John Amis)

The 2024 NFL Draft in April will be here soon. The New England Patriots are scheduled to select third overall. It is the highest draft position for the Patriots since they made Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. New England has not selected third overall since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger.

New England holding their highest draft pick in 31 years has brought a lot more attention to the choice than in recent years. At the least, the targets have certainly been narrowed down considerably. With USC QB Caleb Williams expected to be the top selection, there are four potential targets for the Patriots at three. Quarterbacks Drake Maye (UNC), Jayden Daniels (LSU), wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State), and offensive tackle Joe Alt (Notre Dame).

Expectations are high for such a pick. Of the 54 players selected third overall since the merger, 31 have gone on to earn a Pro Bowl berth. Seven active NFL players could still increase that number. Sixteen players drafted third have been named first-team All-Pro. Three have won the NFL Most Valuable Player. The number of Pro Football Hall of Fame players in this group will grow to six as soon as Larry Fitzgerald becomes eligible.

Quarterbacks (13)

This seems to be the most likely position for the Patriots to target. Despite having had the most selections, there are no Hall of Fame players from this group. Matt Ryan won an MVP and led the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance. Steve McNair did the same with the Tennessee Titans. Both quarterbacks came incredibly close to raising the Lombardi Trophy. If New England drafted a QB that worked out as well as Ryan or McNair, it would be difficult to complain about the pick, even if they fell short of Canton.

A look at recent history shows why many Patriots fans are skeptical of selecting a quarterback in this spot. Aside from Ryan and McNair, there have been seven QBs selected third in the past 30 years. The others are Heath Shuler, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Vince Young, Blake Bortles, Sam Darnold, and Trey Lance. Other than a strong start to Young’s career, there isn’t much to feel good about in that group. The first four quarterbacks had a much better hit rate. Jim Everett, Dan Pastorini, and Mike Phipps all had solid NFL careers, with Jack Thompson the lone exception.

Running Backs (7)

The Detroit Lions were lucky enough to grab Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders third in 1989 after the Green Bay Packers opted for offensive tackle Tony Mandarich at two. This group runs the gambit from Sanders to Trent Richardson, the last running back selected third. Several players had NFL success, despite not coming close to Sanders’ lofty standard. Freeman McNeil, Garrison Hearst, Chuck Muncie, and Curt Warner (not to be confused with Kurt Warner) all had periods of excellence. Newly hired Patriots executive Alonzo Highsmith, whose career was cut short due to injuries, rounds out the running backs.

Wide Receiver (4)

All four of the wide receivers selected at No. 3 made at least one Pro Bowl. Andre Johnson recently became the first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee of the four, with Larry Fitzgerald sure to follow. However, it is worth noting that nobody in the group, which also includes Wes Chandler and Braylon Edwards, won a Super Bowl.

Johnson and Fitzgerald, like Harrison Jr., were considered sure bets to be excellent, and they lived up to the hype. But Andre Johnson was selected third when the Texans already had QB David Carr, who they had taken first overall the year before. Fitzgerald was taken third despite the Cardinals not having a franchise quarterback. He played through Arizona using three first-round picks on a QB during his career: Matt Leinart, Josh Rosen, and Kyler Murray.

Even knowing how great Larry Fitzgerald wound up being, would Arizona still select him third overall knowing quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were there for the taking based on their respective careers? Tough to say.

Tight End (0)

Georgia’s Brock Bowers is an elite prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft, but he’s unlikely to become the first tight end to be taken with the third pick in the draft.

Offensive Line (7)

Arguably the greatest offensive tackle in NFL history, Anthony Munoz, was taken at three by the Bengals in 1980. Munoz helped Cincinnati win two AFC Championships. Unfortunately, he was unable to win the big game either time.  Joe Thomas is another Hall of Fame tackle taken No. 3. in the NFL Draft But despite Thomas’ excellence, the Cleveland Browns didn’t reach the playoffs once during his eleven-year career.

Chris Samuel made six Pro Bowls with Washinton in his ten NFL seasons. If Joe Alt performs close to Munoz, Thomas, or Samuels, it would be an awesome pick. Obviously, with the hope New England would have more success than their respective squads.

There has not necessarily been a bust in this group since Lionel Antoine in 1972. Jerry Sisemore and Ken Huff both had long, solid careers. John Hicks won UPI Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1974 but was out of the NFL after only four years.

Defensive Tackles (7)

The long Hall of Fame player among this group is Seattle Seahawks legend Cortez Kennedy. The New England Patriots owned the third pick of the 1990 NFL Draft. The Patriots traded the pick to the Seahawks, who selected Kennedy. New England wound up with picks eight and ten, taking Chris Singleton and Ray Agnew. While trading down can be attractive, it does not always work out for the best.

All Pro selections at DT include Quinnen Williams, Marcel Dareus, and Gerald McCoy. Sean Gilbert made a Pro Bowl. Gerard Warren and Eddie Edwards played 11 and 12 seasons, respectively. This makes defensive tackle look like the safest pick here, but it is not one New England is likely to consider.

Defensive Ends (9)

The Houston Texans selected Will Anderson Jr. third a year ago. He was picked for the Pro Bowl and named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year for 2023.

There are no Pro Football Hall of Fame players in this group, but there are several standouts. Simeon Rice had 122.0 sacks, made three Pro Bowls, and won a Super Bowl. Ray Childress played in five Pro Bowls (four after moving inside to defensive tackle). Joey Bosa, selected third by the Chargers in the 2016 NFL Draft, has been outstanding when healthy.

There are solid careers as well, from the likes of Dante Fowler, Solomon Thomas, and Tyson Jackson. The only real misses in the entire group are Dion Jordan and Andre Wadsworth (injury issues).

While there are several talented defensive ends in this draft, none are expected to be in consideration third overall.

Linebackers (2)

The only two linebackers selected third happen to share the same last name. Chip Banks was taken No. 3 by the Cleveland Browns in 1982. Two years later, the New York Giants selected Carl Banks in the same spot. Although not related, the two each had excellent NFL careers. Chip Banks sat out a year of his prime in 1988 due to a contract holdout. In his first five years with Cleveland, he made four Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro, and won the 1982 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Carl Banks was an outstanding outside linebacker for the Giants, opposite Lawrence Taylor. He helped the Giants win two Super Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro in 1987.

Cornerbacks (4)

The most recent selection from this group, Derek Stingley Jr., could end up being the best of the bunch. The Houston Texans corner had five interceptions in 11 games in 2023. Stingley has missed 14 games in his first two seasons, so staying healthy is going to be key.

The Atlanta Falcons hoped to pair Bruce Pickens with Deion Sanders as a dynamic duo at cornerback when they took him third in 1991. Unfortunately, it caused the athletic but raw Pickens to be picked on. He was out of the league after 48 games with four franchises.

Shawn Springs had a 13-year NFL career in which he made a Pro Bowl and retired with 33 interceptions. Very solid career. His fellow Ohio State alumnus Jeff Okudah went third to the Lions 23 years later. After four seasons Detroit traded Okudah to Atlanta in 2023 for a fifth-round pick.

Safeties (1)

Miami, Fla. safety Bennie Blades went third in the 1988 NFL Draft. He is the only safety to be selected third overall, an honor that will remain his alone after the 2024 NFL Draft. Blades was part of the dominant Hurricanes teams of the 1980s. He played his first nine seasons with the Detroit Lions, the team that drafted him, before playing his final season with the Seattle Seahawks. Blades was selected for one Pro Bowl, following the 1991 season.