clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The #4 pick is a great spot to be in the NFL Draft, per NFL Draft history

If history is to be our guide, it’s one of the best spots to be in, so Atlanta should think long and hard before they move.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

If the Falcons don’t choose to indulge crazy old Jerry Jones swinging up for Kyle Pitts or a team like the Broncos, Football Team, or Patriots who seem desperate to get their next franchise quarterback, they’ll be selecting at #4 in the first round of the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Is that an advantageous spot to be?

It appears so, for multiple reasons. Just taking the current view, Atlanta will have an opportunity to select the best non-quarterback on their board, given that Jacksonville, New York, and San Francisco are all expected to take a quarterback with the first three picks. If they love the best quarterback remaining on the board more than any of those guys, well, he’s going to be sitting right there, waiting to spend a year or two learning before taking over for Matt Ryan. It’s not very often that the Falcons find themselves in a position like that, frankly.

There’s another reason to feel good about it, though, and that’s because the #4 pick historically has yielded a lot of very good players. The number of true draft busts with the selection is surprisingly small, and only Aaron Curry makes that list in the past 30 years. Generally speaking, you have a great shot at a long-term starter with considerable upside with this selection, and that’s without the somewhat unusual circumstance of having three quarterbacks go right in front of you.

A tip of my cap to Will McFadden, who researched this history in the modern era (1967-2020) before handing the keys to me. Let’s get to it.

Hall of Famers: 11 (Tied-2nd among top 10 selections)

  • QB Bob Griese
  • DT Joe Greene
  • OG John Hannah
  • RB Walter Payton
  • DE Dan Hampton
  • S Kenny Easley
  • DE Chris Doleman
  • LB Derrick Thomas
  • OT Jonathan Ogden
  • CB Charles Woodson
  • RB Edgerrin James

All-Pros: 5

  • OT Lane Johnson
  • DE Justin Smith
  • OT Chris Hinton
  • OT Marvin Powell
  • OG John Hannah

Pro Bowlers: 13

  • QB Philip Rivers
  • OT Trent Williams
  • WR Amari Cooper
  • OT Matt Kalil
  • WR A.J. Green
  • OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson
  • DE Peter Boulware
  • DE Willie McGinest
  • WR Desmond Howard
  • RB Joe Washington
  • WR Ahmad Rashad
  • WR J.D. Hill
  • DT/OT Russ Washington

Multi-year starter: 14

  • WR Sammy Watkins
  • RB Leonard Fournette
  • RB Darren McFadden
  • RB Cedric Benson
  • DT Dewayne Robertson
  • OT Mike Williams
  • WR Peter Warrick
  • WR Michael Westbrook
  • LB Marvin Jones
  • LB Mike Croel
  • OT Paul Gruber
  • DE Jon Hand
  • DE Bruce Clark
  • OT Chris Ward

Bust: 7

  • DE Aaron Curry
  • DE Keith McCants
  • RB Brent Fullwood
  • WR Kenny Jackson
  • QB Art Schlichter
  • LB Waymond Bryant
  • DT Phil Olsen

TBD: 4

  • OT Andrew Thomas
  • DE Clelin Ferrell
  • CB Denzel Ward
  • RB Leonard Fournette

Other: 1

Gaines Adams was a damn good player who tragically died of an undiagnosed heart ailment after just three years in the NFL. He doesn’t belong on any of these other lists as a result.


It should be noted that the line between Pro Bowlers and long-time starters can be blurred, as there are multiple Pro Bowlers on the list who had only one berth. With draft busts, too, my criteria was heavily weighted toward players who either didn’t finish four years with their initial team, started under three full seasons of games in the NFL, or were just brutally bad players. If you have a looser definition, some of those multi-year starters might go on that list.

Unsurprisingly, the best gets tend to be along the lines, where 10 of our 16 Hall of Fame and All-Pro players made their living. The only option who has generated any buzz for that in this draft class is tackle Penei Sewell, who looks like he could be a 10 year, very good starter in this league. Unfortunately for Atlanta, which badly needs pass rushing help and quality defensive line starters, there’s nobody in this draft class who even figures to go top 10. Wide receivers, running backs and linebackers have also tended to be worth it at #4, as many of those selected have generated at least quality, multi-year careers.

Quarterback is a bit of a wild card based on the history of this position. The only three selections in the post-merger era are Bob Griese, a Hall of Famer, Phillip Rivers, a potential Hall of Famer, and Art Schlichter, one of the most notorious draft busts in NFL history. If the Falcons do pick one this year, they’ll not only spark the first #1-#4 quarterback run in history, but also skew the ratio of the Hall of Famer to bust tie here, for good or for ill.

The net view of the #4 pick suggests it’s an advantageous place to be. Teams haven’t come away with useless players very often in the last 30 years with the #4 pick, and it’s yielded Hall of Famers and All-Pros at a rate that’s almost as good as it gets in the top ten. History suggests, in other words, that Atlanta’s going to have the opportunity to get a good player here, if not a great one.