Best of the Firsts, No. 6: Walter Jones
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. 6 Pick: Walter Jones, 1996, Seahawks
His Credentials: Nine-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s, started 180 games, number 71 retired by Seattle Seahawks
Others in Consideration: Torry Holt (1999, Rams); Tim Brown (1988, Raiders); Lomas Brown (1985, Lions); James Lofton (1978; Packers); John Riggins (1971, Jets)
There were a number of options at this spot in our draft countdown, and no fewer than four other players could have supplanted Walter Jones as the best No. 6 draft pick since 1970.
We have a pair of current Hall of Famers: sensational wide receiver James Lofton, who racked up more than 14,000 yards receiving in his career, and rugged running back John Riggins, the Super Bowl XVII MVP.
Two more wide receivers were in the mix as well, starting with the electrifying Tim Brown, who scored 105 touchdowns and accumulated nearly 20,000 total yards throughout his thrilling career. The recently retired Torry Holt, with his 920 career receptions and 13,382 yards receiving, also stayed in the conversation.
In the end, though, the honor falls to the player that Mike Holmgren once called the best offensive player he ever coached — high praise, considering Holmgren called the shots for guys like Brett Favre and Joe Montana.
Jones, who could be a shoo-in Hall of Famer when he’s eligible beginning in 2015, played 10 of his 12 NFL seasons during Holmgren’s time as head coach in Seattle.
During Jones’ Seahawks days, he helped pave the way for eight separate 1,000-yard rushing seasons (five by Shaun Alexander alone) and was part of a terrific turnaround for a once-struggling franchise, as the Seahawks made five straight postseasons from 2003-07, advancing to the Super Bowl once.
According to the Seattle Times, the Seahawks attempted more than 5,500 passes with Jones as their left tackle. He allowed just 23 sacks in all those plays. Perhaps even more incredibly, over 180 career starts, Jones was whistled for holding nine times.
“It took me a year of being here before I realized this,” former Seattle quarterback Trent Dilfer said. “Every time we lined up, the best player on the field was my left tackle. …
“The game was never easier my entire life than it was when Walter was blocking for me. You just never were pressured from your left side.”
Jones’ career ended when he could no longer play through a knee injury, and Seattle continues to search for a worthy replacement on its O-line.
Given the Seahawks’ relatively short history (they came into the league in 1976), it’s easy to put Jones to the top of their list of greatest players, alongside wide receiver Steve Largent. The franchise’s glory days, at least to this point, included Jones protecting Matt Hasselbeck and paving the way for Alexander.
“”All I wanted to do was get my foot in the door,” Jones said at the press conference to announce his retirement. “I just wanted to play in the NFL.”
He accomplished far more than that, walking away from the game as one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time.