Best of the Firsts, No. 20: Jack Youngblood
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. 20 Pick: Jack Youngblood, 1971, Rams
His Credentials: Inducted into NFL Hall of Fame in 2001, seven-time Pro Bowl selection, five-time All-Pro, NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1975 and ’76, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1970s, missed just one game in 14-year career
Others in Consideration: Tamba Hali (2006, Chiefs); Steve Atwater (1989, Broncos); Haywood Jeffires (1987, Oilers); Mike Quick (1982, Eagles)
This may be all you need to know about Jack Youngblood’s Hall of Fame career: During a 21-19 divisional-round win in the 1979 playoffs, Youngblood fractured his left fibula. One week later, he slapped a brace on his leg and suited up in the NFC title game — Los Angeles won, 9-0, to advance to the Super Bowl, where the Rams lost to Pittsburgh.
Youngblood is the type of player that comes to mind when you think about the NFL’s bygone eras. He was a relentless and punishing defensive lineman, and his career hit its heyday from 1973-79, when he made seven straight Pro Bowls and led the Rams to seven consecutive playoff berths.
The NFL did not begin counting sacks as an official statistic until 1982, shortly before Youngblood’s retirement in 1984. He recorded 24.5 sacks in those three seasons, but unofficial totals put him at 150 career sacks — a number that would have him fifth on the all-time list, just ahead of Michael Strahan.
“A great all-around player, his strength was the pass rush,” said Youngblood’s ex-teammate Merlin Olsen at Youngblood’s Hall of Fame induction. “He just had this insatiable desire to wrap his arms around that quarterback’s neck and he did it again, and again, and again, becoming a giant pain in the neck to the offensive tackles that tried to play against him, and a genuine health hazard to the quarterbacks of the league.”
Youngblood missed just one game during his entire career, sitting out Week 15 of his final season. Prior to that, he had played in 201 consecutive games, a Rams franchise record.
Youngblood came into the league after a college career that rivaled his NFL one. Not only was he an All-American and All-SEC performer for Florida in 1970, but he later was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
That success with the Gators foreshadowed what was to come in the NFL. Youngblood’s performance is all the more impressive when you consider that he essentially replaced Deacon Jones on the Rams’ defense — Jones was a 1980 Hall of Fame inductee and was rated the No. 15 player in league history by NFL.com.
The fact that Los Angeles barely took a step back from Jones to Youngblood is proof positive that Youngblood was a force.