The History Of The Top Pick In The NFL Draft Getting Traded

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Written by: Alex Kielar



Entering the day on Friday, March 10, the Chicago Bears still held the first overall pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft. But just shortly after 5:30 p.m. on the East coast, the draft was shaken up. Chicago’s general manager Ryan Poles got on the phone with Scott Fitterer, the GM of the Carolina Panthers, and agreed to send the first pick to Carolina in exchange for four picks and wide receiver DJ Moore. The picks the Bears received from the Panthers are the ninth and 61st pick in the 2023 draft, a 2024 first, and a 2025 second. The first pick getting traded doesn’t happen too often, as it has happened just twice since 2000. With Jalen Carter’s concerns, it made sense for Chicago to trade down for more draft capital in order to build around Justin Fields. That still didn’t mean that a team would be willing to send a haul in order to get the pick. But Carolina is desperate for a new quarterback and now will be able to draft whoever they deem the best in this draft, either Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, or Anthony Richardson. Here’s a look at the history of the first overall pick in the NFL Draft being traded.

Rams Trade Up With Titans in 2016

The previous time the first overall pick was traded was five years ago, when the Los Angeles Rams sent six picks to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for the top pick and two other picks (a fourth and a sixth rounder). With this pick, the Rams and general manager Les Snead drafted quarterback Jared Goff out of the University of California, Berkeley. Looking back at the trade, the Titans came away very well. With the 2016 second round pick they received, they drafted star running back Derrick Henry. Then, with the 2017 third-round pick they got in return, Tennessee drafted tight end Jonnu Smith. The Philadelphia native had four strong seasons with the Titans before signing with the Patriots in 2021.
The interesting part of this draft was that the second overall pick was also traded, with the Philadelphia Eagles acquiring the pick from the Cleveland Browns. The Eagles took quarterback Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State, who is currently a free agent after the Washington Commanders released him. Both Wentz and Goff are no longer on the teams that drafted them, but they each had a different hand in their respective former teams winning the Super Bowl. Wentz was the NFL MVP frontrunner in 2017 before tearing his ACL in Week 14, setting them up to lock up the top seed in the NFC. Coincidentally, the Eagles were playing Goff and the Rams at the LA Coliseum when
Wentz got hurt. Nick Foles took over after that and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl, defeating the New England Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl 52. Goff, on the other hand, made it to Super Bowl 53 with the Rams but lost in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, 13-3, to those same Patriots. After being a middling quarterback and being carried by the Rams’ defense, Goff was traded after the 2020 season to the Detroit Lions. The trade sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams, who in turn helped the franchise win Super Bowl 56, the second one in their history.

Falcons Trade Up With Chargers in 2001

The only other trade of the first overall pick prior to the draft in the 21st century, the
Atlanta Falcons traded wide receiver Tim Dwight and three picks ( 2001 fifth overall pick, 2001 third-round pick and a 2002 second-round pick) to the then-San Diego Chargers for the first pick. With the first overall pick, the Falcons took some quarterback named Michael Vick, while the Chargers wound up drafting 2017 Hall of Fame inductee
LaDainian Tomlinson at fifth overall. Vick, of course, revolutionized the game while in Atlanta, as the left-handed quarterback picked defenses apart with his dual-threat abilities. While quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham had similar play styles prior to Vick, no one changed and was more of the face of the game than Vick. Everyone’s favorite Madden player may have had his ups and downs in his career – on and off the field – but overall he was an unbelievable player. He really opened the door for other mobile quarterbacks to succeed in the NFL. Some believe Anthony Richardson could be a similar type of quarterback in the NFL as Vick, which could entice the Panthers. That is certainly a high bar, but Richardson has the toolset to vastly succeed with the proper development.
Rams Trade Up With Jets in 1997
19 years before they traded up for Goff, the Rams sent four picks to the New York Jets for the first overall pick in 1997. With the top pick, the Rams selected offensive tackle Orlando Pace out of Ohio State. Pace was an integral member of the “greatest show on turf” St. Louis’ offense, and he was at the forefront of the Rams’ most dominant seasons. Of his 13 NFL seasons, Pace was named to seven straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004. He is also a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s and was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. With that said, all in all that trade turned out extremely well for the Rams. In turn, the Jets didn’t turn the picks they received into players that were anywhere near the level of Pace.
Bengals Trade Up With Panthers in 1995
In one of the lighter returns for the first overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals sent the fifth overall pick and 36th overall pick in the 1995 draft to the Carolina Panthers in return. With the first pick, the Bengals drafted Ki-Jana Carter, a junior running back who was seen as nothing less than a sure thing and the future for the Bengals at tailback. Although he was runner-up to the Heisman trophy in 1994 to Colorado’s Rashaan
Salaam, Carter was the most-feared running back in the country. The former Nittany
Lion had Barry Sanders-type upside and showed it on the biggest stage in the 1995 Rose Bowl. He won the MVP of that Rose Bowl after rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns as Penn State defeated Oregon. Following a junior season in which he ran for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns on 198 carries, Carter decided to forgo his senior season. Overall, he had 2,829 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on 395 carries in his three seasons in Happy Valley. After drafting him, the Bengals signed Carter to the most lucrative rookie deal in history at the time, $19.2 million for seven years. The Bengals hoped that he would turn their fortunes around after they missed the postseason for the fourth straight season. But unfortunately, in his first preseason game, Carter injured his ACL on just his third carry and missed the entire 1995 season. The Ohio native would make a valiant comeback effort, but never really fully recovered. He scored a combined 15 touchdowns in 1996 and 1997 as a primary goal-line back. But he would flame out in the jungle, playing just four games between 1998 and 1999 before being released in 2000.
The player that the Panthers took with the fifth overall pick was another Penn Stater, in quarterback Kerry Collins. The Lebanon, Pennsylvania native would play three and a half seasons in Carolina and made the Pro Bowl in his second season of 1996. Collins wasn’t too successful, though, as he had more interceptions than touchdowns during his time there. The second round pick the Panthers received was used on a player who was only remembered by his numerous drug suspensions. Defensive end Shawn King was a member of the Panthers from 1995-98 and the Indianapolis Colts in 1999 and 2000, but missed a total of 42 games in his career from suspensions. So when it was all said and done, both teams in this trade essentially lost.
Cowboys Trade Up With Patriots in 1991
The Dallas Cowboys sent the 11th overall pick, the 41st overall pick, and three players (CB Ron Francis, LB David Howard, LB Eugene Lockhart Jr.) to the Patriots for the first overall pick in 1991. The Cowboys took defensive tackle Russell Maryland with the top pick, while the Pats took offensive tackle Pat Harlow and defensive back Jerome Henderson with the two picks they received. Maryland placed fourth in the voting for defensive rookie of the year his first of five seasons with Dallas. He finished that season with 4.5 sacks, 33 total tackles, and three forced fumbles while starting seven games and playing in all 16. The Chicago native made his lone Pro Bowl in his third season with the Cowboys. None of the players that the Patriots received through the deal had much of an impact on the team. But there would be plenty of great years to come when they took a flier on some kid from the University of Michigan nine years later.

Colts Trade Up With Falcons in 1990

While not having a 1990 first round pick prior to the trade, the Colts traded a 1991 first rounder, a 1990 fifth rounder, wide receiver Andrew Rison, and offensive tackle Chris Hinton to the Atlanta Falcons for the first overall pick and a fourth-round pick. The Colts wound up drafting hometown kid Jeff George, a quarterback out of Illinois, but he only lasted four seasons in Indianapolis before being a journeyman for the rest of his career. The Colts took him over future Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Junior Seau.

Bengals Trade Up With Buccaneers, Patriots Trade Up With Bengals in 1984

This was the only time that the first overall pick changed hands not just once, but twice prior to the draft. The Buccaneers acquired quarterback Jack Thompson from the
Bengals in the initial trade of the pick, then the Patriots sent two first-round picks, a 10th-round pick, and a 1985 fifth-round pick to acquire it. With the pick, New England drafted wide receiver Irving Fryar who had nine decent seasons with them. He made the Pro Bowl in his second season of 1985 after recording 39 catches for 670 yards and seven touchdowns.

Oilers Trade Up With Buccaneers in 1978

While the Houston Oilers are no more, they made out the best of any team that traded for the first overall pick. To acquire the pick, the Oilers traded tight end Jimmie Giles, the 17th overall pick, the 44th overall pick, a 1979 third-round pick and 1979 fifth-round pick. In turn, the Oilers drafted a running back out of Texas who wound up becoming one of the greatest players of all-time, Earl Campbell. He was an All-Pro in his first three seasons, a Pro Bowler in five of his first six, and the offensive rookie and player of the year in his rookie season of 1978 while also being the runner-up for MVP. Campbell won the MVP in 1979, runner-up again in 1980, and the OPOY in both those years. The Tyler, Texas native recorded 8,574 yards and 74 touchdowns on 1,979 over his seven years in Houston. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 and made the All-1970s team.

Falcons Trade Up With Colts in 1975

The Falcons traded the third pick in the draft and offensive lineman George Kunz to acquire the first overall pick from the Colts. They drafted the 1975 runner-up for the Offensive Rookie of the Year, quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who led the league in passing touchdowns in 1980 (31) and made two Pro Bowls. He did have a solid 11 seasons with the Falcons, but Atlanta passed on three future Hall of Famers, Randy White (No. 2 pick), Walter Payton (No. 4), and Robert Brazile (No. 6).

Cowboys Trade Up With Oilers in 1974

The Cowboys traded two players, defensive end Tody Smith and wide receiver Billy
Parks in return for the first overall pick and a 1974 third-rounder. They took edge rusher Ed Jones with the first pick, who helped Dallas to a victory in Super Bowl XII and was a first-team All-Pro in 1982. “Too Tall” Jones played all 15 seasons of his career with the Cowboys and briefly retired to pursue boxing, in 1979.

Vikings Trade Up With Giants in 1968

The Vikings traded just one player, quarterback Fran Tarkenton, to the Giants in return for not only the first overall pick but two players drafted in 1967 (Clint Jones, Bob Grim) and a 1969 second-rounder. They drafted offensive tackle Ron Yary who turned out a
Hall of Fame career and was a six-time All-Pro. Minnesota won the championship in
1969, the last NFL title game before the AFL merger, and wound up trading back for Tarkenton in 1972. Tark played for the Vikings through 1978 and led them to three NFC titles.

Colts Trade Up With Saints in 1967

In trading the first overall pick, the New Orleans Saints received quarterback Gary Cuozzo from the then-Baltimore Colts. With the pick, Baltimore selected defensive tackle Bubba Smith. While Cuozzo only lasted one year with the Saints before being traded to the Vikings, Smith was an All-Pro with the Colts and was there for six years.
The Colts won a championship in 1968 and Super Bowl V in 1970.


Now who will the Panthers draft with the first pick that they acquired from the Bears? Who will the Bears wind up taking with the picks they received? It is only a matter of time before we find out. Could the Panthers even trade the pick themselves and make it the second time the first overall pick is traded twice? No matter what happens, it will be fun to look back on the trade several years from now and see how it ranks among the other trades on this list.