Hidden Gems: 1986 Front Seven
The 1986 NFL Draft produced a number of great NFL defensive players. 8th overall pick Leslie O’Neal was a 6 time Pro Bowler and racked up an impressive 132.5 career sacks. Giants second rounder Pepper Johnson (now a promising coach with the Patriots) was an integral part of two Super Bowl winning teams. Surprisingly though, the rest of the front-7 standouts came later on. The first two rounds produced O’Neal, Johnson and a bunch of guys who were mediocre at best. Take a look (note that not all teams officially tracked tackles until 1994, so some players do not have any recorded):
Casillas was useful, but never lived up to the expectations that come with being the 2nd overall pick. Jon Hand had 10 sacks in in 1989 but never had more than 5 in his 7 other seasons as a starter. Joe Kelly, Gerald Williams and Erik Howard were useful players and Offerdahl was one of the best LB’s in the game but couldn’t stay healthy and was out of the league by the time he was 29 years old. The rest never amounted to much. 1st rounders Dorsey, Robinson, Green and Buczkowski were all pretty much busts. The Eagles’ Alonzo Johnson (drugs) and Patriots’ Mike Ruth (knee injury) were out of the league within 2 years.
So, the first 2 rounds produced 20 front-7 players, only a few of whom were impact players. There were 85 more DL & LB selected between picks 56 and 331. Of those, a few names stand out:
Pat Swilling (60th) and Charles Haley (96th) turned out to be premier pass rushers. Tim Harris was perhaps better than either, (and on his way to a Hall of Fame career) posting 13.5 sacks in 1988, 19.5 in 1989 and 17 in 1990 before drug, alcohol and injury problems pushed him out of the league. Phillips was a long-time starter at NT, Fagan and Brent Williams were useful contributors and Mark Pike is the (unofficial) all-time leader in special teams tackles.
But the team that really hit it rich in the 1986 draft was the Philadelphia Eagles. They landed two hidden gems, first grabbing Seth Joyner (8th round, 208th overall) and then landing borderline Hall Of Famer DE Clyde Simmons with their next pick (9th round, 233rd overall). Both guys, benefiting from playing under top defensive coordinators Wade Phillips (1986-88), Jeff Fisher (1988-1990) and Bud Carson (1991-1994), anchored an Eagles defense which was consistently a top-10 unit.
Joyner enjoyed a 12 year career and is the only player in NFL history to record more than 50 sacks and 20 INTs. To put that in perspective, only six 50+ sack players have even gotten to 10 INT’s (Joey Porter is the only active such player with 98 sacks and 12 INT).
Simmons led the league in sacks with 19 in 1992 and was a 1st team All Pro in back to back seasons (1991 and 1992).
Other late rounders included special teams player Garth Jax, reliable starter Kurt Gouveia (best known for his INT in Super Bowl XXVI) and journeyman starter Jesse Solomon.
Ultimately, most of the top prospects in the 1986 draft didn’t work out the way their teams had hoped, but the later rounds produced four of the best pass-rushers of that era and a number of solid starters.