The 26th pick in the NFL draft has been an interesting spot over the last decade. The slot has seen a mix of a few contributors and quite a few players who have failed to live up to expectations. The impact on a draft pick’s success can’t be understated and one first-round selection can go a long way in setting up, or setting back, a franchise for years.
Historically speaking, from a scout’s stand point there can typically be up to roughly 20 players viewed as “first-round grades” after evaluation, so more times than not you’re forced to select a second-round talent with your first-round selection. Such decisions force front offices and organizations in charge to trust their process and make a selection with conviction and hope that they get it right for the long term betterment of the team.
Let’s take a closer look into the history of the 26th pick over the last decade to get an idea of what Cowboys Nation may be able to expect with this months first-round selection.
The Green Bay Packers selected defensive end Datone Jones out of UCLA with the 26th pick in 2013. Jones played four seasons with the Packers, recording nine sacks and 79 tackles. He had a brief stint with the Detroit Lions in 2017 before bouncing around to a few other teams, including a stint with Dallas, and is currently an unsigned free agent. Ultimately Jones was not much of a needle mover and not exactly what you’re looking for out of a first-round selection.
In 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles selected outside linebacker Marcus Smith out of Louisville with the 26th pick. Smith struggled to make an impact in the NFL, recording just four sacks and 29 tackles in three seasons with the Eagles. He spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders in 2017 but has not played in the NFL since then and can widely be viewed as another first-round miss by the franchise.
The Baltimore Ravens selected wide receiver Breshad Perriman out of UCF with the 26th pick in 2015. Perriman had a rocky start to his NFL career, struggling with drops and injuries in his first two seasons. However, he had his version of a breakout year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, recording 645 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He signed with the New York Jets in 2020 but was released before the season started and has since latched on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the last two seasons, tallying 20 total receptions and providing minimal impact.
In 2016, the Denver Broncos selected quarterback Paxton Lynch out of Memphis with the 26th pick. Lynch simply struggled and never got any footing in his two seasons with the Broncos, recording just four touchdowns and four interceptions in five games. He was released by the team in 2018 and has not played in the NFL since then and is currently a member of the Orlando Guardians franchise in the XFL. Lynch is one of the league’s bigger first-round misses and is often mentioned as a lucky miss for the Cowboys who were interested in picking him during that draft.
2017 saw the Atlanta Falcons take pass rusher Takkarist McKinley. His career has been underwhelming for the most part without his true potential or expectations being reached to this point. McKinley has found himself on four teams in six years where he has tallied 20 sacks and 25 tackles for loss and is looking to fight his way onto the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster in 2023.
Editors Note: We regret that the wrong player was originally placed here. It should have been Calvin Ridley instead, Penny was the 27th pick. We apologize for the error.
The Seattle Seahawks selected running back Rashaad Penny out of San Diego State with the 26th pick in 2018. Penny had a solid start to his NFL career, rushing for 823 yards and five touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Seahawks before doing his best work in 2021 where he tallied 749 yards and six touchdowns. Penny’s 2022 was cut short by injury and he only saw five games of action as a result. Penny has since signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in hopes to start fresh with a new organization.
In 2019, the Washington Commanders selected Montez Sweat, a defensive end out of Mississippi State, with the 26th pick. Sweat had a productive rookie season, recording seven sacks and 50 tackles. He continued to impress in the 2020 season, recording nine sacks and 20 quarterback hits solidifying his status amongst the franchise. 2021 and 2022 saw continued promise from Sweat and is seen as a potential cornerstone piece talent in the NFL and is expected to continue to elevate in the coming years.
In the 2020 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers shocked the NFL world by selecting quarterback Jordan Love out of Utah State with the 26th pick. The selection of Love was the start of a new chapter in the Aaron Rodgers saga that put into motion what is now looking to reportedly be a fresh start for Rodgers with the New York Jets. As we look ahead to 2023 this looks to be Love’s first real shot to show what he is capable of in the NFL.
Greg Newsome II
In the 2021 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns selected corner back Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern with the 26th pick. Newsome had a solid rookie season, recording 41 tackles, six passes defended, and one interception in 12 games. He was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team and is seen as a promising young talent in the NFL. Newsome’s sophomore season saw his play step up once again as he started all 15 games he was available for and recorded 42 tackles along the way. The jury is still out on Newsome but the signs are pointing in a positive direction.
Jermaine Johnson II
Finally, the latest 26th selection in the NFL draft was Jermaine Johnson II out of Florida State to the New York Jets. Obviously with only one year to evaluate, the rest is unwritten for Johnson and his career trajectory, however he has shown some flashes of the talent they are banking on early by collecting 29 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 14 games.
Overall, the decade has seen some promising talent emerge, with Sweat and Newsome both showing potential to become impact players in the league, with other possible breakthroughs hovering as well. However, there seems to be a good amount of underwhelming careers from the 26th draft spot, not to mention the selection of Jordan Love by the Packers remains a massive question mark to this point as it is unclear if he will be able to step up and make a positive impact in place of Aaron Rodgers and his expected departure.
The Dallas Cowboys front office and scouting department has been complimented for their first-round efforts and have earned the benefit of the doubt in many cases, but there is no doubt that they will have their hands full this time around.