When the Indianapolis Colts took on the Houston Texans in Week 18 of the NFL's season, most were concerned about other games going on. In the sportsbook, the game would be played in the very corner, barely in sight as its ugliness should've scared away most viewers. Somehow, a game with such little appeal had dramatic consequences. With a loss, Houston would have qualified for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. There was plenty of incentive for the team to lose the game. Instead, the Texans pulled off a miracle.
On fourth-and-20 with less than a minute to play in regulation, Texans quarterback Davis Mills fired a pass over the middle of the field. Through a loaded Colts secondary, the pass was caught by tight end Jordan Akins for a touchdown. With a successful 2-point conversion, the Texans took the lead.
Afterward, the Colts failed to respond on their last drive, losing 32-31. As a result, the Chicago Bears — once owning a 2-1 winning record earlier on in the season — earned the first pick in the annual April draft, as they were subsequently blown out by Minnesota 29-13 in Week 18.
So much had to go right — or wrong — for the Bears to earn this selection, with those variables ranging from miracle passes to dramatic losses. The real question remains unanswered, though: How much did the Bears add to their franchise by winning the first pick in the draft? Does it even mean anything?
Looking back over the past few seasons, things have been kind to those who earned the first pick in the draft.
The Value of the First Overall Pick in the NFL Draft
The Jacksonville Jaguars have owned the first selection the past two seasons. In 2021, the Jags took Trevor Lawrence as their future quarterback. After a disastrous year with Urban Meyer as the head coach, Jacksonville again gained the No. 1 selection and acquired Georgia defensive end Travon Walker.
Since adding these pieces, the Jaguars have been able to turn things around quickly. Jacksonville made the postseason for the first time since the 2017 season and lost its divisional game against Chiefs this past weekend after a wild comeback win against the Chargers.
The Jaguars are far from the only team in the past decade to have their big picks turn into big wins. In 2020, Cincinnati took LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. After a season-ending injury in his rookie season, Burrow returned to lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl last year and created another strong 12-4 regular season in 2022.
A big question for Chicago will be how it decides to use the first pick in the draft. Franchise-changing quarterbacks such as Burrow and Lawrence were selected with the first pick in recent years. Others — such as Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman — have had very successful careers and years with the teams that drafted them.
These players have had the most influence on their teams' success, as the quarterback position means so much to a team. Newton, Manning, Aikman and Burrow have all been to Super Bowls with the team that drafted them. Aikman was the face of the Cowboys during their dynasty years in the 1990s and thus earned a spot in the Hall of Fame. Manning did the same while earning a ring with the Colts, and another with the Broncos, and he put himself high up the record leaderboards.
Bear-ing It All with the First Pick of the Draft
With all this in mind, the Bears already have a quarterback, potentially changing how impactful the first pick can be. Former Ohio State signal-caller Justin Fields has led Chicago over the past two seasons and was selected high in the draft in 2021. Fields has shown some promise as a mobile quarterback who is still trying to develop his accuracy at an elite level. The 6-foot-3 quarterback threw for 2,242 yards in 15 games in 2022, completing 60.4% of his throws, while rushing for another 1,143 yards.
Knowing the history of the No. 1 pick, the Bears could decide to select a quarterback as they search for a player who can completely change the franchise. Since that player is a rarity, however, Chicago would be taking a big gamble while probably crushing its relationship with Fields — who could turn into a prominent star with the right complementary pieces around him. If the Bears don't like the value of the first pick, they could trade down in the draft to get more picks to help Fields and company. There is no obvious route for the Bears to take, but they will need to determine if they want to go for broke or try to build the team.
While winning seasons are greatly appreciated, the Bears will eventually look to capture a Super Bowl if all things work out. Unfortunately for Chicago, that championship success hasn't always correlated with owning the first pick in the draft. After the Bengals, the most recent team to own the first pick and win a championship was the team's Super Bowl LVI opponent at SoFi Stadium, the Los Angeles Rams. Interestingly, the Rams didn't seem to use their pick to directly help them to a championship, either. In fact, the Rams used the No.1 overall quarterback Jared Goff to help themselves trade for eventual Super Bowl-winning quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Few teams have been able to win a championship close to the year they picked first in the draft. Since 2000, no team that picked first has been able to win a Super Bowl within three seasons of doing so. Winning the best pick in the draft is far from a lottery ticket or a franchise fixer. The Bears have a lot of work to do.
Months away from the draft, the Bears will also have a lot of decisions to make. Is it best to gamble and select a quarterback? After all, Chicago got the No. 1 pick from a miracle completion on fourth-and-long. If not, it may be smartest for the Bears to trade the pick to get multiple selections or use the first pick to get a guaranteed selection of their favorite player.
Ultimately, whatever Chicago decides to do with the pick will have unknown ramifications on the league for years to come, creating the annual mystique and chaos surrounding the first overall pick.
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