Best of the Firsts, No. 31: Nnamdi Asomugha
As part of our offseason coverage, we’re taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.
The No. 31 Pick: Nnamdi Asomugha, 2003, Oakland Raiders
His Credentials: Three-time Pro Bowl selection; four-time All-Pro; two-time winner of Raiders’ MVP award; 350 career tackles; 14 career interceptions
Others in Consideration: Al Wilson (1999, Broncos), Todd Heap (2001, Ravens), Greg Olsen (2005, Bears)
While Heap and Olsen both have been solid tight ends (especially Heap), the decision here came down to Asomugha and Wilson. Had Wilson’s career not ended prematurely, after he was unable to come back from a neck injury sustained in December 2006, the vote might have swung his way.
Wilson played eight seasons with Denver and was the heart and soul of the defense, recording 580 tackles and 21.5 sacks in his career. He made five Pro Bowls from 2001-06 and twice landed on the All-Pro team (2005, 2006). There is no diminishing what Wilson accomplished during a stellar career in the NFL.
Asomugha, though, at least prior to a somewhat substandard 2011 in Philadelphia, has been considered arguably the premier player at his position.
He developed into such a pure lock-down cornerback during his eight seasons with the Raiders that offenses avoided him, often at the expense of their top receivers. Asomugha played in 14 games during the 2010 season … and allowed 13 completions on passes thrown in his direction. The receivers he was on were targeted just 29 times, the lowest number for any regular defensive back.
Even in a very disappointing 2011, as Asomugha struggled to adjust to Philadelphia’s defensive approach, the 30-year-old still managed to pick off three passes, his highest total since 2006.
That 2006 campaign ended with the first of Asomugha’s All-Pro selections. He finished the season with eight interceptions, behind only Champ Bailey and Asante Samuel for the NFL lead. From then on, he had fewer and fewer opportunities, with QBs turning their attention to the other side of the field.
The big negative on Asomugha’s career resume is that he has never seen the postseason — heck, he’s never even been on a team that’s finished better than .500. This year’s 8-8 Eagles team and last year’s 8-8 Raiders squad mark the two best records that Asomugha has been a part of in the NFL. While you can hardly pin the blame on Asomugha for the Raiders’ bumbling, that franchise went a disastrous 29-83 during Asomugha’s first seven seasons.
Wilson, for argument’s sake, made four playoff appearances (though Denver won just one game in those trips) and enjoyed one division title, too.
Asomugha should have a couple more chances to break his non-playoff streak — he has four years left on the five-year, $60 million contract he signed with the Eagles prior to last season. Getting to the postseason would help solidify Asomugha’s standing as one of the NFL’s top defensive backs in recent years.
Until then, he’ll have to settle for being the best No. 31 pick ever made in the first round of the draft.